Receipt Checking Denial

It seems that there is a new leisure activity called ‘receipt checker denial.’ What these people do is pay for a purchase inside a store and then deny the minimum wage flunky who has to work at the door the ‘right’ to check their receipt. Proponents of this activity state that they are standing up for their rights, citing state laws in the places where they do this as stating that it is illegal for a person to be compelled to provide ‘proof of ownership’ once a purchase has been made. If you read the story above, it also sounds like it consists of giving the employee who works at the door of th rather e local Wal-Mart a hard time than just reaching into their pocket, pulling out a slip of paper and showing it to the worker.

I buy groceries at Costco. Every time I walk out of the store, someone standing at the door looks at my receipt, then looks in my cart and compares what is on the receipt to what is in the cart, then swipes the receipt with a pen and says, “Have a nice day,” or something similar. “Receipt deniers” would seemingly prefer to spend more time denying the employee a look at their receipt rather than a few seconds to just show and go. The receipt deniers cite state law and individual rights. I’ll admit I don’t enjoy having my receipt checked, but I don’t hate it either… but trying to school the Wal-Mart employee on a certain interpretation of a state law regarding whether or not you will just show them a bit of paper that says, “paid” on it seems unproductive. I suspect (correct me if I am wrong here) that some “receipt check deniers” are taking their frustrations out on the low wage employees.

If there is a law on the books in most states that states that you cannot be ‘compelled’ to prove ownership after purchase, the creators of that law probably had a very different scenario in mind when they created it. If I were to be asked to ‘prove ownership’ of my pants before I left a store, or ‘prove ownership’ of my car as I tried to drive it or ‘prove ownership’ of my home while I am in it, such demands would (naturally) become quite onerous and could even result in unprincipled individuals and organizations enriching themselves by challenging other people’s ownership of common items at every turn. If a non-employee is pushing a cart or carrying an item out of a store, I guess I can understand why the store owner would make sure they paid before leaving. I don’t steal things from stores, but I don’t think having someone ask me for a receipt as I leave means that I am being ‘treated like a criminal,’ especially if no one leaving the store is being singled out. If the ‘checker’ were to be profiling whom to ask for receipts on the basis of race or dress, for example, I would feel differently (I would also think such a method would be ineffective since shoplifters would then attempt to simply fit the profile of someone who doesn’t get asked).

(edited for snark)

Dungeons not characters (again)

The “Other Side” blog has continued the ‘Dungeons not Characters’ discussion, although I get the feeling that
a) the participants don’t understand what I was trying to say, and
b) they seem to think the question presents a strict dichotomy of choice: I suspect they feel I am presenting the reader with a choice between 2 extremes: they think I am saying that one must either just plod around mapping out the dungeon and look in every room OR explore your inner feelings for your character in a gassy-ass larp… no happy medium availible.
c) the Other Side statement and responses seem pretty snarky. I posted a response there but removed it and brought it here because I didn’t feel like paddling my canoe upstream.

Consider the following heavy-handed illustration of my position on the matter:

I’m not going to pretend to know what other people think ‘exploring
dungeons instead of characters’ means. But as one of the early adopters of the
phrase and the dude who dragged it into the blog-o-sphere (having no idea of the legs it would have), I can only tell you what I mean by it. And it is not complicated.

People sit down to play a game of D&D. Player A has a written backstory and has decided that his character likes elves, does not like the color yellow and has a secret enemy whom the dungeon master will introduce later
— someone who killed his parents and he will one day seek his revenge… and
there is a magic relic in there somewhere too… and an evil twin… or
whatever. The character has yet to do anything in the game and yet there is already a lot of information “about” him. This level 1 character is named “Elphegor Dragonsbrother” even though the fantasy character has never met a dragon since the player thinks it would be cool to have a character who is fascinated with dragons. Whenever the DM introduces something yellow (like an NPC wearing yellow clothes), the player announces that since his character hates yellow he will be negatively disposed towards the NPC in the yellow shirt. When elves enter the picture, his player cites his character’s life-long fascination with elves as a reason why he should
be allowed to negotiate favorably with the elves. Player A spends game time
trying to make whatever events unfold in the game fit the backstory and vice

Player B shows up and rolls dice and decides that since his
character had a decent CON he will be a hobbit fighter. He chooses a name and
buys the weapons and armor he can afford. His hobbit is level 1, so he is pretty
much a blank slate. He goes off on adventures and, when he gets betrayed by an
NPC, the player then has an enemy that he hopes to get revenge upon in the
future. If he nearly gets killed by a blink dog, his character might avoid blink
dogs in the future. If he nearly drowns in a river, when he encounters rivers in
the future the player might annouce that the hobbit is going to be very careful
because of what happened last time. There is no backstory (other than what
happened to the character before in the game). The more the character does, the more the players ‘know’ about the character. The ‘events’ of the characters
life, that form him/her/it, take place at the game table. There is no
“backstory” that player B made up before the game and then has the other
players and DM play along with.

I prefer player B’s mode of play.
I’m not claiming its the right way or the only way, but, after trying it both
ways it is the way I like. Thus, I explore dungeons, not characters, and through
the course of exploring the dungeon and having the adventures, the character is
formed. The character is not a collection of adjectives, he or she is the
product of events.

I’d add that I don’t think any way is the wrong way of doing it, just that one way seems more fun (and more suited to my conception of a ‘role playing game’ as opposed to ‘acting’ or ‘improvisational theatre.’). If you enjoy writing out a ‘character background and using that to guide your actions in the game, more power to you.

Zodiac, ‘We explore Dungeons…" etc.

First, nods to Al over at ‘Beyond the Black Gate’ for his brilliant Aulde Schoole Gamer’s Zodiac. I’ve just discovered that I am a displacer beast… which explains a lot.

I’m glad to see that my earlier thread on “We don’t explore characters, we explore dungeons,” struck a chord with some, but, again, I am not the originator of that phrase. Someone who calls himself ‘Evreaux’ (sp?) originally posted that over at Dragonsfoot (and I’m not certain if I got the quote 100% right or the original context right — but that isn’t bothering me since I am interested in the way the conversation has developed regardless of the author’s original intent). If the original author wants to contact me and set me straight on how I mangled or misrepresented his ideas I am ready to apologize and issue a full retraction.

On a related note, recently there was this post on a similar subject over at DF (it’s not a very good one so I wouldn’t bother). But as I have continued to read some other people’s response to Evreaux’s (sp?) neat aphorism, I’ve been thinking more on it. My basic premise is that when a half-a-dozen people sit around a table and pretend to be ‘Grizzo the Fighter’ or ‘Pablum the Elf,’ I’m less interested in seeing them reach inside of some ‘character concept’ in order to figure out what to do in a given situation and instead have the players decide for themselves what they might want to do in that situation. One of the great things about ‘rpgs’ is that they can offer a pretty complete range of choices without consequences. If I and my fellow players decide to save the village (or rob and murder the villagers!), at the end of the day no real harm is done, but we can have fun exploring the actions and just ‘seeing what happens.’ One of the phrases I hate hearing around a game table is, “My character wouldn’t do that.” Instead of hearing my fellow players tell me what their pre-determined character concept would make them do, I’d like to see more emphasis on players deciding what they (the players) want to do.

Finally, if you want to send me hatemail, go ahead. But if you want to make it seem like the hatemail is coming from multiple people (rather than just you), using multiple email accounts is probably not enough. Using the same basic syntax and flawed spelling in messages from “different people” makes you look like a pathetic douche with an axe to grind (hint: “patriot” has only one ‘a’ in it). It is also probably best that you not send it all from the same IP address.

"We don’t explore characters, we explore dungeons…"

“We don’t explore characters, we explore dungeons…”

The above quote (which is only approximate; I’m quoting from memory), is from one of the heroes of the ‘Megadungeon’ revival who was known as ‘Evreaux’ (sp?) on Dragonsfoot. I don’t know if he is still active on that discussion board (I used to enjoy that board a lot, then, either I changed or the general character of the board changed and now visits are painful. I usually end up leaving after getting hit in the eye by someone else’s dick AGAIN because most of the current crop of users are all wagging their dicks so forcefully in all directions… but, I digress…).
But it’s a good quote and one that (perhaps) sums up what I am missing when I talk about the allure of ‘old school’ versus the ‘new school’ of play in rpgs. After having expressed my love for OD&D and 1st edition AD&D, I’ve been told, more than once, that ‘new editions exist for a reason — because the old edition was flawed and they needed to fix it’ or something similar. And it is true that having picked up those tattered old books and reread them again as an adult, I have encountered a lot of “huh?” moments in reading these old rules that I either didn’t bother to read or didn’t absorb years ago. I can’t see myself using initiative in the way that Gygax fails to explain it in the AD&D Dungeone Master’s Guide. And unarmed combat? Huh?
At the same time, page long ‘character backgrounds’ and extensive character building sessions that usually use computer programs or spreadsheets seems to be the average for 3e, 3,5e, Pathfinder and similar ‘newschool’ games (I won’t talk about 4e because I don’t know anything about it). Players need to know a lot more about where they want their character to be at level 10 when they are picking their feats and skills at level 1. In terms of game mechanics, each character needs to be a ‘unique’ creation, with skills and feats selected from a baffling array of books and options. And somewhere along the way, most players that I know seem to have become attached to the idea that an in-depth ‘background’ story which includes notes on a troubled childhood, etc., are necessary. We no longer seem to sit down to create a character minutes before the game begins, roll the dice, see what we get and then say, “My dex is better than my wisdom; I guess I’ll be a thief,” or similar. Creating a character in the 3e and post 3e world feels more like a visit to the career counselor.
Back in those benighted 1e days when dwarfs couldn’t be wizards and paladins had to be humans, we didn’t see ourselves as deprived. We thought our handful of characters and classes was actually a lot to choose from. Little did we know. And, if memory serves, we did have characters that we tried to make unique. One of my favorites was a dual-class (if I remember right) Cleric/thief named ‘Odekin of the Purple Moon.’ He wore all purple and could both sneak around and cast cleric spells (he worshipped some sort of ‘purple moon god’ — I have no idea). He was mysterious and cryptic and liked to jump out of the shadows and stab enemies in the back and help himself to extra treasure when my fellow players were not looking. I really thought he was the shizzle. Nowadays, no one would look twice at poor Odekin. My friend Alan had the brilliant idea of deciding that his cleric would carry an ‘iron holysymbol’ in the shape of a mace(iron holy symbols are in the 1e price list; look it up)… so he could cast his ‘turn undead’ and whack people in the head without having to put one thing away and get another thing out. His was some god of great violence and head bashing I guess. And there were others.
I think one of the differences that I feel most keenly is that back in the old days, our characters might have ‘become’ special through play; they were not ‘designed’ to be unique. So your character might have been more of the sum of where he/she had been or what he/she had done rather than the result of character design. Which was fun. Because it felt like the choices made in the context of the game, even the small ones (do we turn left or right at the intersection?), were more important. These choices we made in game sometimes led to memorable events. I remember, as players, we defeated the giants in “Steading of the Hill Giant Chief” and actually decided to move in and make the steading our home. I enjoy imagining normal size humans and dwarves living in that massive place and needing stepladders to get into bed or up on the table.
So, as Evreaux (sp?) said, we were exploring dungeons, not characters. And it was good.

Fact or Fiction: Why does it matter?

James over at Grognardia was waxing nostalgic about Erich Von Danikken(sp?) and “Chariots of the Gods?” over on Grognardia. ‘Chariots of the Gods,’ TV programs like, “In Search Of” and similar ‘pop science’ that blurred the line between fantasy/fiction and reality (or at least tried to) was a big part of my growing up in the 1970s. Since the cover of von Daniken’s book is so boring looking, I thought I would dress up my blog with some ‘Eternals’ artwork by the great Jack Kirby.

I have an unabashed love of these ‘Fortean’ type studies… including the story of Richard Shaver and the Shaver mystery, so it probably does not come as a surprise that I’m enthusiastic about seeing Grognardia include von Daniken and similar ‘the pyramids were built by aliens’ and similar psuedo scientific theories in his sources of inspiration for fantasy, science fiction and pulpy stuff. However, reading the comments that followed his post, I was surprised to read several people take issue with the inclusion of von Daniken and his ilk because ‘Chariots of the Gods’ was not intended as a work of fiction.

I guess I find that idea really puzzling. That von Daniken claims that these things are true doesn’t make it ‘ineligible’ for inclusion in inspirational material (at least to me). One person wrote, “This isn’t pulp fantasy. If this is included as pulp fantasy then every book in the New Age or Metaphysical section at Border’s book store is pulp fiction. A dreadful misrepresentation, James.”

“A dreadful misrepresentation?” What did I miss? I don’t get it. Is this just a matter of taxonomy? And, if so, where do you draw the line? If you have strong feelings on the subject (especially if you feel that Grognardia was wrong to include von Daniken in a list of ‘potential inspiration sources), please reply and explain your views; I want to understand where you are coming from because this just makes no sense to me.

Sexy Sexism

It seems that conversations about what does or does not constitute sexism or exploitation (more specifically in RPG and related genre art) have been making the rounds of the blog-o-sphere lately.

Never one to avoid attempting to ride on the coat tails of what appears to be a sure thing, I decided to try and throw my own bloggy hat into the ‘lets try to talk about sexism in RPG art’ discussion. Full disclosure: I’m a hertero male, married, white and probably lead a pretty boring life by most standards. I like to draw and paint and do other stuff and do some illustration work for OSR publishers. I’m not really good at drawing sexy women posing in chainmail bikinis and similar stuff. I sometimes think that I would have better luck getting work if I was better at drawing those ‘cheesecake’ type pictures (or even ‘beefcake’ pictures), but somehow, either because I can’t or don’t want to, I just don’t draw those kinds of things. I also suspect that there are a lot of other people already hoeing that particular row, so, instead of competeing with all of the aspiring Larry Elmores of the world, it might be best just to pursue that which I’m good at (or, at least “better at” than some).

I don’t think I’m a prude, but much of what the mainstream identifies as ‘good fantasy art’ really bores me. Of course, people like Larry Elmore have had long and successful careers and I’m just a work-a-day amateur, so what do I know? But I know what I like. Take the painting by Elmore at left. It’s certainly very competently painted. The anatomy and skin has a more realistic look than anything I could do. Every hair in her yak-skin boots and fur loincloth is lovingly rendered. So why don’t I like it?

If you had asked me to describe a good painting when I was 12, I might have described a painting like Elmore’s. All the detail and the almost photographic rendering of every blade of grass looks hard to do (much like a 15 minute guitar solo sounds hard to do) and I would have just admired Elmore’s illustrator chops and his obvious discipline. And the woman is sexy and she’s looking right at me — the prospect of having a sexy woman without a shirt on look at me would have been pretty appealing at age 12. I remember being in an art class and we were taking a tour of the museum and there was one sculpture that was a series of red metal sticks welded together on the floor and then a painting by some lesser known old Dutch painter on a wall and the teacher asked me which one I liked better… and of course I said the Dutch painting. When she asked me why, I pointed at the metal sticks and said, “I could have done that. This (me pointing at the painting) looks hard to do.”

At the age of 12, however, it might of been hard for me to understand why some women wouldn’t like the Elmore picture that much. These days I would understand that view a little better; although I don’t think it’s just the ‘tits and ass’ content that pushes a painting like this into a somewhat condescending view of a woman heroine (at least not for me). It is maybe not just the nudity or even the sexuality; maybe the general sense that the woman here is just someone for us men to look at and saw, “woah, what a hot ass,” and for women to look at and say, “I wish someone would look at my ass the way people are looking at her ass.” I guess it approaches what (someone else) might have been talking about in his blog when he said that he thought that women were attracted to men that seemed competent (OK, now I can’t find it… so maybe I imagined it, or maybe someone else said it, or maybe I just can’t find it). The thing that kind of annoys me about so many of Elmore’s pictures is that the women are just standing there to be gawked at. Smarter and better read people would talk about ‘the implied male gaze’ or ‘the female body as an object of delication.’ I’m not well versed in those arguments/ideas, so I won’t do more than mention that they exist, but even with my somewhat rudimentary understanding, the ‘stupid pictures’ in rpg/genre fantasy art are currently at a kind of a “I know it when I see it” standard. Others (especially those to whom this matters a good deal more than me) probably have better informed thoughts.

The probablem I have with Elmore’s picture is that it is so utterly unimaginative and unambitious. She doesn’t look like she has a thought in her head, and, looking at the picture, all I can think of is, “Well, I’d tap that.” For a lot of people, the discussion of sexuality in genre art seems to one of taste. Perhaps the Elmore might be found ‘tasteless’ by some because the subject is (mostly) naked. I don’t like it just because I feel like all the thinking has already been done for me when I look at the picture. Elmore is saying, “Here’s a picture of a girl’s ass!” Bang. We are done.

The picture from the cover of the ‘Rogues Gallery’ by Erol Otus evokes a different feeling in me. Although it is hardly as ‘photographic’ or polished as Elmore’s airbrushed lady, the characters and the linework are quirky (in a good way). The wizard-guy in the horned hat appears to be sticking his hand down the front of the lady warrior’s shirt, so this picture is not absent ‘sexual content,’ but I don’t feel like the picture is as cheesey or brainless or as trite as Elmore’s. Perhaps because the illustration itself does not seem to take itself as seriously just on the basis of “how it was done.” Everything from the half-orc’s grass skirt and orthopaedic-looking shoes to the wizard guy copping a feel is more cartoonish and wierd/fun. Although sword-lady is sexy, I don’t feel like Otus was trying to inspire me to take the picture to the bathroom and rub one off. The “hand down her shirt” seems more of an ‘easter egg’ than anything else since unless you were looking for it, you might not notice it.

I don’t really have clear ‘rules’ for what is or is not ‘exploitative’ genre or RPG illustration art; and I don’t know if such rules would be helpful. But I think there are qualities to some illustrations that interest me more than others, and that is the aesthetic I would like to pursue. If I may express some hopes for the OSR, I hope that is the aesthetic that more of us will pursue. I tend to like some pretty strong stuff, and I love older pulp magazines (including many with S&M scenes), classical art, underground comics and the like. I’ve drawn some stuff that other people have told me is disgusting and/or disturbing… like this and this and this. I amuse myself by drawing pictures of people getting castrated or violated or their eyes gouged out. I’m not setting myself up as a beacon of decency and good taste (and I would hope you wouldn’t trust me if I tried to do that). But I do think that if fantasy art wants to be something beyond just “cheesecake,” the artists have to get more interested in things other than just drawing nice asses and tits… and the viewers have to get more ambitious in their viewing habits. I suppose you can have those things and a lot of people will beat a path to your door, but, if that’s all there is, then I am probably going to get bored. To me, given that the OSR is supposed to be all about ‘creating our own’ and ‘going crazy with it,’ boring is unforgiveable.

Speaking of which, why hasn’t anyone hired this guy to do any OSR work?

OK, when I started this I thought I had a point. Now I’m no longer sure if I did.

(edited to remove references to another blogger who said he was getting tired of being misquoted on this issue on another blog)

Happy Birthday to the Gipper

Three days ago, much of the nation celebrated what would have been President Ronald Reagan’s 100th birthday (if he were still alive). I did not celebrate the occasion.

Ronald Reagan is a significant president in my life because he was the first politician than I voted against. I can’t honestly say that I was very excited about Mondale back in circa 1985, but Reagan had been elected to his first term when I was still in High School and had already been around long enough for me to figure out that I did not think he represented the aspirations for my culture or my nation. When Reagan was up for re-election I was finally old enough to vote and I voted against him. Perhaps I owe Reagan a measure of thanks because he did help me form my own opinions; mostly by embodying everything I hated, from his condescending avuncular platitudes (“There he goes again!”) to his cabinet’s Orwellian talent for spin — i.e.: call a ‘death squad’ in Salvador a group of heroic freedom fighters and the majority of the slack jawed public and self interested politicians who don’t have the stomach to fight you on it will acquiesce and agree to re-categorize your illegal sponsorship of terrorism in another country as ‘doubleplus good.’

Watching his spectacle funeral a few years ago, complete with the coffin laid on a gun caisson and boots inserted backwards in the stirrups of a horse without a rider (a bizarre bit of political showboating that seems more at home in some part of a titless PG-rated a Mardis Gras parade than anywhere else) and hearing so many lining up to suck the dead man’s cock (or at least stroke his balls) was a truly strange experience. Ronald Reagan was an American war hero who, unlike actual soldiers, never got his hands dirty or made any reference to the fact that when you go to war, a lot of suffering and death takes place. Eisenhower was well before my time, and, in the lens of history, he seems to be regarded as a ‘merely average’ president, but since Eisenhower had been an actual general you would think the pomp and circumstance of dead generals would be reserved for him, but Ronald Reagan warmed the cockles of our American hearts and never expressed doubt or regret over anything he did. Never mind that his war service consisted of making training films. There is no doubt about it; even in death, Ronald Reagan is and always was a winner who could piss on the public and then get thanked for it.

The current trend of whitewashing Reagan’s legacy reminds me of the overwhelmingly positive obituaries that came from every corner after Senator Jesse Helms died. Journalists in the supposedly ‘liberal media’ mentioned Helm’s blatant racism at the time of his death only as a personal peculiarity, like a preference for seersucker suits or bow ties, rather than calling Helms what he was: an evil old man who rode racism to power. They talked about his long “service” to the nation but did not delve too deeply into what his “service” entailed. Similarly, on Reagan’s birthday the old platitudes came out and got polished up.

I think Reagan’s true gift to America was his cheerful but ruthless demeanor that insisted everything he did was ‘ok,’ and, by extension, everything WE did was OK. Jimmy Carter was a downer — faced with an energy crisis, Carter wore sweaters and turned down the thermostat. Reagan, on the other hand, denied the problem. If America had suffered a famine, rather than telling people to ‘eat less and don’t waste food’ like Carter might have done, Reagan would have thrown a banquet for the beautiful and powerful and then blamed the poor for starving themselves to death. In a master act of denial-of-facts equals victory, Reagan’s administration lowered the Federal poverty threshold and then announced that their policies had resulted in a reduction of people living below the poverty line. Moving the goalposts equals progress. Faced with a choice, Reagan would just damn the facts and pick the answer he wanted. He didn’t sweat the details or the shades of grey because he knew the public wouldn’t either. He was the Lone Ranger (not the troubled “Shane” or the angry Sheriff of “High Noon”). He was NEVER guilty of doubt or hesitation and never needed to think things over. He wasn’t really a warrior, but he looked and acted like one from the movies. He told us pretty platitudes that we found more comfortable than uncertain and difficult decisions. He was a jolly Gordon Gecko who gave jelly beans to visitors, made us feel like greed and intentional stupidity were virtues and he looked good in a cowboy hat. And when we looked at him: the eternal, sunny optimist, we believed that our shit did not stink. And that was what we wanted.

MONSTER BRAINS (and why I have monsters on the brain)

The image at right is from an old comic cover by L.B. Cole (circa 1940 or so) and comes to me courtesy of one of my favorite image blogs, “Monster Brains.” The Cole pictures are particularly wonderful, but Monster Brains always has something good. Do yourself a favor and subscribe today.
Earlier today I had an epiphany of sorts. I was looking at the Cole images on Monster Brains and just enjoying their lurid wonder. Later I went to my therapist (yes, I go to a therapist) and he and I spoke about how I take personal responsibility for the feelings of others (and how that’s not a good thing) and subconsciously seem to believe as though other people’s unhappiness is my fault.
Later, I thought back on a conversation with an ex-girlfriend where she was somewhat taken aback by the fact that I was always writing short stories in which one of the characters would transform into a ‘monster’ (not literally, like a werewolf, but they would transform in their behavior and their might be some outward sign of that transformation… like a story in which a guy had a big boil on his forehead — or another story where a man wakes up to find that someone has attached a dog’s head to his body right next to his human head). I was also always drawing weird shit and admiring pictures like the one at top right… or medieval art (particularly scenes of hell or mythological creatures)… or Indian art (like this image of Kali), etc., and she was saying, “What is it with you and the monsters?”
This is where the epiphany comes in. I think the fascination with monsters comes from identifying with the monsters. Now that it occurs to me, I am shocked that I never thought about it before. Weird, huh?

D&D with Pornstars question & answers

I was reading the responses to a question by Zak, the author of “playing D&D with porn stars.” He asked for straight females and gay or bi males to respond with answers to the question, “From your viewpoint, what constitutes a sexually attractive male?” (I’ve probably mangled the question, but that is the gist of it).

I find the answers to such questions interesting, even though, as a hetero male, my opinions were not wanted for the poll. If nothing else, it’s a way of at least trying to get inside someone else’s skull for a moment and try to see the world through their eyes.
In the many responses to Zak’s question, everyone was responding with adjectives like, “muscular, fit, trim” and examples like “Nathan Fillion” or “Aragorn.” No one was saying, “pudgy white dudes are so sexy.” That kind of hurt.

"But your character wouldn’t know about that!"

Bochi, over on Dragonsfoot, posed a pretty simple (but thought provoking) question about whether or not players should be allowed to peruse books like the DMG and the Monster Manual. This opens up the whole, “player knowledge” versus “character knowledge” debate.

After people play in several games (or play in many games over a course of years), they come to know all sorts of information that a first level character probably wouldn’t know. I used to play with a guy who would loudly say, “But your character wouldn’t know about that!” whenever another player would dare to utter something like, “Green slime? Get out the oil and torches!” or, “A potion? I hope it’s a potion of flying!” or something similar. And this was even when he was not DMing. It was as if he expected us to play ‘stupid.’ Often he would do stupid things that other players did not want him to do and then claim, “I was just playing my character.” I’d describe his ‘malady’ as a form of reverse rules lawyering. I found it very tiresome.

That said, I find it fun (and refreshing) to play with people who don’t know the Monster Manual inside and out. I think as a fellow player, the “gee whiz I wonder what will happen next” idealism of new players just introduces more fun and a less jaded energy to the group.

If I were to DM, I would not mind that player characters acted on player knowledge… to expect a seasoned player to sit there and let a rust monster eat his character’s +5 sword just because the character never encountered a rust monster before (but the player HAS) seems the height of folly to me. It’s a game, not a pure simulation. Just like someone playing their 10,000th game of chess is going to have an advantage over a new player who is still asking, “How does the horse one move again?,” so, too, the player who has been playing D&D for years can be expected to have a few advantageous nuggets of wisdom that may help his character in a pinch… then again, players that assume that everything is going to be the same in my campaign as in the one run by their chum in highschool might be dissapointed (I think it’s fair game to introduce variant monsters like a variety of green slime that is vulnerable to cold instead of fire or traps that strike the area that most seasoned players might expect to be safe). If you need a justification, just allow that the new character sat on his grandpappy’s knee every night while that retired adventurer told him about rot grubs, green slime, harpies and gelatinous cubes.

Now, I also think it’s perfectly fine to introduce house rules and rules variants to your home campaign. If these rules would possibly directly impact the player’s decision making process, it’s only fair that you would try to let them know ahead of the time when they are in the middle of a situation and trying to decide what to do. Failing that, allowing a player to ‘take back’ one action (especially if it seems obvious that the player would have chosen differently if he knew about a house rule), seems only fair. If the player isn’t a dick, they can probably be trusted not to abuse your patience by invoking the, “But I didn’t know” clause too often.