Hit the brakes

When someone uses gaming as a lever for being a total asshole, there is a strategy I see again and again.  When someone uses the fiction you all take part in at the table to treat someone at the table like shit  they will refuse to talk about the real world.  They will want to talk about wookie sociology, orc anthropology, elven philosophy or a dragon’s moral compass.  They don’t want to talk about the real world because they know, damn well that in the real world they were a total fucking dickwad.

When you talk about this after the game, do not let the conversation get steered toward fantasy bullshit that has nothing to do with the fun being annhiliated at your table.

“But Judd,” you wisely ask, “shouldn’t we stop the game, shouldn’t we talk to our players?”

Yes, you should be honestly, most people won’t.  Most people will sit through a shitty game and leave in silence rather than stop play, stop the game (even a shitty game (especially a shitty game)) and talk about how their feelings were hurt.  For some reason, there is this code among gamers that it is okay to make little dice towers, it is okay to pick up a book from a nearby shelf and read it but it is not okay to say, “Man, I am just not having a good time at all.”  For some reason, stopping play is seen as a dick move, as if you are ruining the game for everyone and should have just suffered a lame night in silence.

Stopping the game is taken as a direct insult to the GM’s abilities because there’s still a whole lot of oomph left in the idea that the GM is the host, who takes the lion’s share of the blame/glory for the game being unfun/fun.

Repeat after me:

“I’m not having fun.  I don’t understand why you did what you did.  Could you explain it?”

This is where an asshole will try to insert fantasy bullshit.

“In this world, orcs are rampaging rapists, so that is why I raped your character while she was under the Hold spell,” or some such bullshit.

When that happens, hit ’em with:

“This really isn’t about anything fictional.  This is about my feelings.  Could we talk about how this game just made me feel, becuase it was pretty shitty.”

To use yet another lame-ass sports metaphor: Great race car drivers are not the ones who push down on the gas the hardest.  Great race car drivers are the ones who know when to downshift and when to hit the damned brakes.

When someone is an asshole, hit the damned brakes, get the car off of Fantasy 500 and back into the Pit Crew, back into reality and talk about what feels wrong.


This post was inspired by this RPG.net thread, though not directly.  It just reminded me of the worst gaming I’ve done.

11 thoughts on “Hit the brakes

  1. “Dick move! DICK MOVE!”

    I read the post and I got really freaking upset with the situation.

    I realized that the sage advice you’ve given here is something that is afflicting some of my fellow GMs out there who write or call me for advice.


    I’m glad I’m away from this kind of thing.

  2. Shit, Judd. That hits home. I’ve been in those situations, and I wish I’d had this to reference. Your suggested “script” is well put. *prints off copies*

    Hopefully, you didn’t have to go through this with someone recently.


    • It has been some years since I have had to deal with this kind of bullshit but it isn’t as far behind me as I would like.

  3. Great post Judd. I sometimes wonder if the silence you explain sometimes occurs when there is one person at the table ruining it for everyone, taking the whole group hostage. You get together afterwards and talk behind their back about how shitty they are(terrible behavior!), but no one’s got the guts to confront them face to face or ask what’s up. I’d like to think my friends and I are more mature now, but I have memories of these sorts of situations plaguing games. Anyways, perhaps a bit of a tangent, thanks again for blogging.

  4. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat in silence. Too many times due to the GM. I would go through old journaling posts and remember the times I had to sit back while the train wreck happened because I felt like I didn’t want to be a dick.

    Judd, is this coming from the idea that you are gaming with friends? Many of my worst experience were at convention games, and even if I was among people I knew I’d feel bad shutting a GMs game down due to dysfunction. Once or twice I’ve walked away from a table and I know people I’ve been with get upset with me when I vocalize my concerns (with the caveat that I realize that some of that may have been the WAY I vocalize it *blush*)

  5. It is astonishingly hard to stop a game or walk away from one. I remember doing this precisely once, at WorldCon, years ago, where nothing dickheaded per se happened — it was just a badly run, boring game. And, I would not have been able to bring myself to walk away from it if Josh hadn’t been there with me.

    “It has been some years since I have had to deal with this kind of bullshit but it isn’t as far behind me as I would like.” — Alas, it is not as far behind any of us. In the early aughties, I went to a “Women in Gaming” panel. A friend of mine who had not attended this panel said, “Can’t we retire that panel topic already?”

    I thought about this, as it seemed a legitimate question coming from someone who is totally not a dick. “We can retire it when I stop hearing stories about how the male GM or other male players decided that their male NPCs or PCs raped the female players’ female PCs.” (I think I said it more succinctly.)

    This was not something either of us had ever had to deal with. I mean, not ever. I have never had to deal with crap about being a girl or a woman at the NYC gaming stores. But it’s there. Oh lord, it’s there.

    The play by email medium, at least the idiosyncratic way I’m doing it, allows for “Whoa, that was uncool” a little better than face to face games, in my experience. I had one interesting sequence of out of character emails.

    So, one player said, “Ick! The NPC phrasing it _that_ way means X, and that just squicks me!”

    I said, “Oh, I’d meant Y. I’ll rewrite the line.”

    The player said, “Yes, thanks.”

    Another player said, “I don’t see why you think it means X, when it obviously means Y.”

    I said, “Time out. Someone has just safeworded. Line gets rewritten.”

    Now, no one was being a jerk here. The player who thought Y was obviously what I meant genuinely thought it was obvious, and didn’t argue when I said we’d had a clear “Stop, I’m squicked.” But, I think in a face to face game, this might not have happened — I think the game would have continued, and, if we were very on the ball, we’d have found out after the game what had happened. If not, we might not have known for weeks.

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