Monday Lab: Nutz R Us

It is crazy how common and how widely-developed craziness is, in role-playing. As much as world-building, as much as combat options, as much as magic systems, this is a definite feature of the hobby with its own schools and aims. It is clearly a primary path toward characterization, character development, player agency (through its managed lack in many cases), and emergent plot.

It might be the winner so far among Monday Labs for many game titles are packed in there, and I’ll bet that viewing and comments will yield at least as many more. I know I forgot to mention Personality Traits in Pendragon as a great example of “acting out” design, and  Silence Keeps Me a Victim by Clyde Rhoer and The Dreaming Crucible (author name by permission only), as what might be called the Processing zone of this topic. In chatting beforehand, Jared Sorensen suggested we need a mosaic of all the RPG covers that feature distorted screaming faces … and I wore out before completing it, it was endless.

The question, and I think a genuinely fruitful one, is how mechanics which constrain or dictate character behavior, and in many cases remove immediate player agency, play such a powerful role in validating characters and events, and why we as players often seek them eagerly. Students of catharsis, tread carefully.

As a minor point, I would love to play in a game featuring only Malkavians, but my stumbling block is that I don’t understand why it would have anything to do with vampires.

I mentioned my game in design, Estimated Prophet, so here’s the direct PDF link. le mon mouri certainly qualifies for similar reasons.

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3 responses to “Monday Lab: Nutz R Us”

  1. Lamentations (?) approach

    For some reason I associate the following approach with Lamentations (and some other self-aware D&D-type play); no idea whether it is rules textual, Jim's blog posts, or picked up from elsewhere and falsely associated.

    We do not need rules for encorcing insane behaviour, because player character behaviour (of D&D-type adventurers) is already there. Some of it is stereotypic behaviour like wishing to go heavily armed and armoured into civilized settlements without thinking much of it, while some is paranoia that is harder to claim to be completely inappropriate, especially after a few Lamentations adventures. Plus, of course, the consequences of being a wandering adventurer used to violence; such people are not sane, would more socially integrated people say.

    Thinking about this, this amounts to a radically different view of the game world than the others have, which is a theme that can be seen in many other games.

    • I agree with you, for a lot

      I agree with you, for a lot of people and a lot of tables in play. It isn't entirely a bad thing but when I'm playing a game of this sort, I tend to watch the others at the table fairly carefully to decide, after a few encounters, whether I really want to be playing it with them.

      This comment of mine in "Monday Lab: Racist is as racist does" addresses some of the political origins of this point of view, or rather, my personal speculation about its components or expressions.

      The negative side of it is pretty bad and has driven more than one person away from the activity of role-playing, and in a few cases, to open hatred for it and anyone who does it. For example, most of Greg Costikyan's RPG work is aimed at showing the players' own faces to themselves, by caricaturing or extending essentially psychopathic and murderous content. Paranoia was billed as a comedy or satire, but his later titles like Violence. and John Tynes' closely-related game Power Kill, are openly contemptuous and outright state that their purpose is to get people to stop playing. Nor is there anything, in these games or in the authors' other written work, which indicates they think that role-playing is or could be anything else.

    • When it comes to Lamentations

      When it comes to Lamentations and similar games, what I see is a combination of a lack of empathy combined with anti-social behavior. In many cases the characters are or are close to being sociopaths and they certainly have a well developed sense of the other. And this leads to anti-social and extreme behavior. One examples I found recently are the German conquistadors and their pursuit of El Dorado. The hardships they endured and the death they handed out on their quests would shock most people. And all of it in pursuit of gold and treasure. But I do not think they were crazy or insane as much as they lacked empathy for other people, especially those wholly unlike themselves. This did not make it impossible, for instance, of leading normal lives back in Europe or of fraternizing with the indigenous people, or even settling down. 

      I guess my own prejdice is that insanity suggests a certain lack of control. Where as empathy there is at least some control over whether to react empathetically to a situation. And Lamentations (D&D esque) characters are really not out of control. 

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