Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Les Miserables Philosophy of Tabletop Gaming

It is an age old tale of the line drawn between right and wrong and the gray areas in between, if they exist at all. I'm talking about the struggle between players and Game Masters, of course.  Although the analogy fits for Les Miserables as well.  There are as many types of Game Masters, Dungeon Masters, and Story Tellers as there are characters in everyone's favorite French Revolution masterpiece.  Perhaps you know someone who fits these descriptions, or even see yourself in them.  If not, then maybe you'll want to go out and watch a Broadway play or read a classic novel after reading this.  Or maybe you'll just want to go steal a loaf of bread.

1.  The Jean Valjean-The Jean Valjean school of GMing is probably the most popular.  This game master has good intentions.  He knows the rules and sets out to follow them staunchly. However, he has a soft heart.  He can't say no to a sultry little elf who doesn't quite have the comeliness to seduce an ancient map from a dungeon sentry.  He will bend the rules here and there and sees no wrong in it.  He is also the story teller who will let the party take a little bit longer to lose all their SAN than the numbers show.  This type of game mastering can be fun and help a blundering party of poor dice rollers play a little bit longer before they're eaten by a giant bugbear.  However, hidden within his group may be the NEXT type of gamer who will toss his pack to the ground and disrupt the fun for everyone.

2.  The Javert-The Javert philosophy of dungeon mastering is the bane of existence for the Jean Valjeans.  Javerts, the 2nd most common game master, is also known as the Rules Lawyer.  He does not bend.  He has every Dungeon Master handbook that has come onto the market since 1982 and he can flip to the page that correspond to any argument you may try to bring up.  He has every Vampire the Masquerade clanbook since 1st Edition and do NOT bring up the new stuff to him.  He is a purist and you will not get him to allow your Assamite to know three dots of Vicissitude no matter how you try to justify it! He follows your cultist through time and space and if you so much as THINK of stealing a loaf of bread, he is on you like a Tzimisce at a Sabbat Ball.

3.  The Fantine-Yes, this is the girl GM, of which I've been, although I've been more of a Javert than a Fantine.  She may be cute, but  mostly she is a GIRL who is GAMING! and we know where that might lead.  You've come down off the high of defeating a cave of giant spiders.  Everyone's laughing, sharing stories, pointing out war wounds.  And then the dreaded words..."I'd like to run the next campaign." Several pairs of male eyes dart together, rolling mental dice to figure out how to get out of this.  The group loses 4 points of SAN. There's a trapdoor in the corner through which they could escape, but who knows where it might lead.  There is the slim chance that Fantine might wear that nearly see-through top to one of the gaming sessions.  And if you say "No" she might whine like she did to Jean Valjean that time when she wanted him to go to the innkeeper and take her little snotty nosed brat and raise it.

4.  The Marius Pontmercy-Marius is perhaps more of a bane to the existence of gamers than Fantine.  Marius is head over heels with Fantine (or the other girl in the group who plays but has no designs on being a GM).  When thieves ransack the campsite in the night, any female in the group miraculously has nothing of her own stolen.  When a superhero group of Champions is fighting a rampaging robot taller than the tallest city skyscraper, the girl always saves the day.  And in the end, there is Marius with his eyes glittering behind his glasses, drool on his bottom lip, hoping that THIS time she'll realize he did this all for HER! Luckily, there is usually a stalwart Javert in the group who can squelch this lovelorn young man faster than you can say 24601.

5.  The M. Thenardier and Grp-Yes.  Them.  Fortunately, this pack usually lurks in larger gaming groups.  Unfortunately, this makes them harder to weed out.  M. Thenardier has a bit of all of the above in him and appears at first to be jolly, goofy, everybody's bosom friend. But, behind every M. Thenardier is his Mme. Thenardier, who may or may not be female.  Mme. Thenardier floats amongst the gamers, laughs and talks and befriends them while M. Thenardier is doing his Game Mastering.  When everyone breaks for the bathroom, M. and Mme. Thenardier go to get more chips from the kitchen, at which time Mme. Thenardier drops all the secret plans and plots of the unsuspecting gamers right into the lap of M. Thenardier who is quick to devise ways to destroy players' hopes of having a favorable outcome.  But he cannot do this alone.  And he won't have to.  For, lurking in the depths of the gaming group, is a sweet little scamp known as Gavroche.  He probably knew the Thenardiers from before, in the last group they were kicked out of.  He is their henchman.  He takes the evil plans of the M. Thenardier and uses them to guide the group into the wicked clutches of the game master.  How? Because Gavroche and Mme. seem to always roll the best dice, always have the best powers, and have lady luck at their sides.  Before long, Fantine is stamping all over the heart of poor little Marius. Javert has Jean Valjean against the wall at the end of his blade.  And the character sheets are trampled like so much ticker tape in the dust of their feet.

So, about now that much hated Javert in your group is looking PR-ETTY good, eh? Turn your rules lawyer loose on occasion.  He'll sniff out those Thenardiers and break the will of the annoying Fantines.  I like to think that he brings balance to the force.

1 comment:

  1. A girl gamer who learn to play in the army, I was a bit of javert from lack of GM practice {as in none as GM only playing D&D/AD&D} but over time I relaxed so much depending on the game, WOD/Exalted tends to be How are power heavy anyway So they need little additional help outside of the book. By the same token is easy to hide rules-raping powers in Champion, and so on.
    On the other hand brand new players especially in difficult to understand games are not going get the book thrown at them.
    So javert with a bit of valjean or valjean with a bit of javert, your choice...