Traveller is a role-playing game that I’ve been playing since 1981. I’ve been an actual member of the official Traveller online forum for sixteen years. I even became a paying member, to show my support for a game that I love. Today, I read a thread there where a group of the resident pundits shook their heads and decided that if you want to play a star marine, you should certainly be a combat veteran. If you’re not, they disapprove. They would limit your choices of character type because you just don’t have the required experience. You couldn’t possibly play the character. How about a nice retail cashier instead, does that sound like fun? Oh, don’t cry. One guy said he’d give you some required reading in military tactics, then coach and test you on what you’ve read in order for you to qualify to play the character. The next comment was that after that, he’d let the “chips fall where they may.” They were so condescending.
I’ve been running and playing role-playing games since the 1970s. That’s when our modern rpgs came into being. And you know what? It’s just make-believe. It’s “let’s pretend.” It’s kids running around in the backyard shouting and laughing while screaming “bang-bang, I got you!” With dice, so there’s a random element to decide whether you succeeded or not. We get little toy soldiers. Little vehicles, little ships. The grown-ups shake their heads and smile at our silly games.
Once, decades ago, I was running a game and described how the party found a body buried in a shallow grave by the side of the road. One player, one of my very best friends who I miss to this very day, asked me to describe the body that they dug up, so they’d know how long it had been buried. I gave it a shot, and he quietly corrected me. He was a Vietnam vet, and he certainly knew better than I. I nodded my thanks, because it was a serious matter that he knew that. And then the game went on, and we had fun, laughing and rolling dice, and we went out for beers afterwards.
Another of my very dearest friends passed away last year. She was from Vietnam. She fled when she was a little girl. She damned well didn’t know how quickly a dead body decomposes. Why the hell should she? Isn’t that why she fled, why wars are fought? Did she somehow deserve less respect than my other friend, who as a pilot dropped napalm on her country?
Smug condescending bastards always get me riled up. So after all their nonsense I replied that since I get to play generals in my games, I guess I’m not qualified, and should retire my dice. Obviously I can’t play in our make-believe games, because I don’t have the relevant experience; how could I possibly play the parts correctly? Then I added that I’d better run out and sell two other games, Bunnies and Burrows (where you play “Watership Down” -esque intelligent rabbits), and Vampire: The Masquerade (where you play – bet you can guess this one – vampires). Because, obviously I can’t play a bunny rabbit or a vampire, either.
This got me a reprimand from the “admin” of the web site. This guy has been a member for one year longer than I have, so obviously he’s more qualified than I am to – what? – well, to comment correctly on a forum, apparently. He accused me of “trolling.” Funny, I don’t think I’m qualified to play a troll, either. But after looking up the term, I’ve been accused of “provoking.” Well, I thought I was pointing out the ludicrous nature of their position, which provoked ME, with very specific examples. Instead of those posters being responsible for their reactions to my post, it seems that the “admin” finds ME responsible for their yet-to-be-realized reactions to my post.
In recent years I got involved in social media. I wasn’t really interested in it before. In fact, go far enough back and I wasn’t interested in computers, either. Not until things got to the point where I could play some neat games on them. As for social media, I was trying to network, for work. Then I realized that a lot of fandom, science fiction, fantasy, gaming, was out there in social media too. But I learned the weirdest thing. People act different online.
I mean, don’t get me wrong. People act different everywhere. Civil behavior has been abandoned by the wayside along with that dead body from my game. But people also have some very strange ideas of what behavior is acceptable, and when. My grandmother would’ve been offended. My father would’ve shaken his head. But online, all the dials are up to eleven.
First, I’ve run across people so foul that I have to block them. Because I’m not having fun. Second, I’ve run across sites that are so offensive, that I’ve turned my back on them. They just seem to cultivate a toxic attitude. But in the last couple of years, I’ve come across “admins,” folks that have a little extra power to chastise online activity. These guys are the thought police of the internet. They let this little tiny bit of extra power go to their heads. I’ve seen them proudly boast about how someone isn’t showing them the proper respect, so they “ban” the perp. Someone disagreed with their opinion of something, blocked them, and now have had their accounts deleted. They BOAST about it. They take their little turn on the catwalk, and their sycophants all chime in. I blow those places off, too.
I actually had a guy look up my email from the account I deleted, just so he could send me a note about how he’d been absolutely justified in whatever punitive action he’d taken against some dude. He HAD to tell me that.
How in the hell have these people been raised?
There’s a series of books that I like very much. The author commented that he’d like to write more in the series, but he realized that they wouldn’t be very popular any more. Because, you see, they’re in the genre known as a “comedy of manners.” And we are no longer a society of manners.
Let that sink in.
So, I now have a sour taste in my mouth. I’m a customer. It’s a game. Over the years I’ve corresponded with the game designer. He’s a decent guy. I’ve been playing the game for almost as long as it’s been in existence. But I won’t go back to the official site ever again. Ever. Again.
That’s customer service for you.
7 thoughts on “Do We Hate Fascists? Sadly, a Traveller-related Rant”
Funny coincidence, there is a 3rd edition of the Bunnies and Burrows game on Kickstarter right now! Too bad you’re not a bunny in real life; you’re not qualified to play.
Yes, it is ridiculous to require “real life” experience before playing a game role. It kind of defeats the whole point – unless in a specific game, declared at the outset that the intention is to use characters with skills that resemble the player’s experience. Although that would clearly berg the question of why.
However, I would say that games _designed_ by people with real world experience or knowledge often work better than those that don’t, and DMs with some knowledge and real world experience work better than those without. My favourite pet peeves are DMs who don’t understand the most basic economic principles, or ecological principles – specifically as they relate to the game in question – and so they effectively block avenues of action from the players because they cannot envisage the outcome, and are unwilling to entertain a conversation from the players about how their actions could have the impact they seek.
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I hear your frustration on the economic and ecological issues. While there aren’t many things I claim expertise in, I usually acknowledge such in others. If I have players who’d like to apply their expertise to their characters, I try to accommodate them if I can. I’ll let them explain the how and the why, and how their character would or should be aware of those things as well. It’s not impossible that an RPG character could have a good grounding in a subject not directly related to their “profession.” But I’d like to hear the rationale. For instance, in my current fantasy campaign, I have some characters who come from a small island clan mainly concerned with fishing. Others come from a wealthy trading clan with ships and caravans that traverse the limits of the known world. I grant the islanders some background knowledge as they’d like to apply it: they can swim, recognize the approach of inclement tropical weather, understand the value of various plant and animal products of the tropics, those that have spent any time on boats can hold their breath and dive, steer or row a boat, navigate by the stars, understand the meaning of knots tied to indicate a voyage at sea, and so forth. The world traders understand economics, trade, taxes and tariffs, maintenance of ships and beasts of burden, ins and outs of bureaucracy and politics, and so forth.
Where there are subjects I’m not that familiar with, — that may have an impact on the type of game I’m running — I will certainly ask the player to explain. For instance, I once had a player who wanted his character to start an Anarchistic movement. He professed to know the subject thoroughly. I asked him to prepare a short persuasive “speech” that would be representative of his character’s message, and he recited it for our gaming group. At the end of it I shook his hand, and told him that he’d been so personally persuasive that I, myself, could find no fault with his propositions. His character got what he wanted.
On the other hand, if I present my campaign as one revolving around pulp-action small-scale battles in scattered mountain cities, and that’s the game we’ve been playing, then I’d be less likely to allow for someone wanting their character to establish a network of canals for trade and start a business collecting payments from bargemen. If I wanted to play Merchants and Merchandise, I would’ve said so when I proposed running the campaign. If someone had mass transportation systems in mind for my pulp-action game, well perhaps they should propose starting a different type of game that would easily accommodate that type of endeavor. See what I mean? Don’t spoil my genre. We signed up to play action heroes. No one wants John Carter of Mars to become a chemist and fill prescriptions.
“No one wants John Carter of Mars to become a chemist and fill prescriptions.” nicely stated. I am more concerned about the middle ground, where what is presented as a sandbox game is actually run more like something that comes with signals and a timetable.
I am all for dispensing with the whole “why are there 12 trolls and a vial of alchemists fire in a locked room” and just killing the trolls with fire. On the other hand an open ended city of plots and intrigue should allow the characters to delve into various activities – and of course if the DM were to say “hey guys, I don’t mean to spoil your ideas – but I kinda didn’t want to play Merchant of Venice tonight” we would get the cue. However, I think by far the better cue would be “while you guys are chatting to the decorator for your new canal-side coffee shop, a couple of goons and a woman with well tailored body and a hard face stroll up and ask if you want some protection for your swanky new business”.
In other words, show me, don’t tell me.
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Excellently stated, sir! And as for Merchant of Venice, might I recommend that most excellent of supplements, Principalities of Glantri? Fantasy Europe in all its brightly-painted D&D goodness! That canal-side coffee shop would fit in perfectly in Glantri, with chocolate fresh from Aalban and cinnamon imported from the islands of Ierendi!
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In a previous life I would have loved to run or play a campaign in Glantri, but right now I am heavily invested in Eberron (time wise). Sadly, being a full time father, full time coder part time farmer leaves precious little resources for polygamery.
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That is a shocking, sad, but not too surprising story. I can relate with it in two ways: For one thing, those roleplayers who treat the game as a kind of military dry training are deplorably quite numerous, and they are just as annoying and repulsive as you describe them. I haven’t made that experience with Traveller, but with Star Frontiers, RIFTS and Twilight 2000 (okay, the latter shouldn’t have come as a surprise, but I was new to the hobby back then).
Secondly, I have essentially given up on forums and similar “social” media activities, because experiences like yours have become standard fare for me. 15 years ago, trolls were already an everpresent problem which admins and mods did often not fight dedicatedly and consistently enough. Nowadays, the trolls have won – they RUN the forums. Many companies (Wizards of the Coast comes to mind) would rather shut down their boards than put in the effort to properly moderate them. Most decent people tired from the endless flame wars, the troll posts rendering serious discussion impossible, and the increasing online abuse, leaving the field to the instigators and mobbers.
As alarming as that development has been in gaming and hobby forums, disaster struck when that process permeated all aspects of the internet. The worldwide political situation as it presents itself since ca. 2016 directly follows from that dynamic. We lost the fight for decency, responsibility and truth on the internet.
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