[Burning Wheel] Anti GM Bias?

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JavaApp

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I have to admit, I am somewhat surprised at the way this thread seemed to explode this afternoon/evening. I was also taken somewhat aback at how intense it seems to have become.

I sat back a moment, and thought to myself, "Why are the OP and some others upset by this trend, which the OP calls limiting GM authority and fiat?"

It does seem a truism that any offering of an alternative way implies some amount of criticism of the original way. That seems inevitable. Luke Crane would not be offering an alternate way of doing things if he didn't think that original way of doing thing was fucked up to one extent or another.

Right Luke? Or am I distorting what you are saying?

That being the case, there are those who, liking the old way of doing things, will be upset/threatened/offended by the inference that they are doing something wrong.

Cucumber, if you are happy with the way you run your game, then it's not wrong. More power to you - no irony meant at all.

But many of us, for years and years prior to the indie game movement, did feel something was wrong with our games. And we tried (some of us, anyway) to do something about it, which meant doing things differently - changing - in order to have a better game.

Sharing authority in a game is just one way of doing that. Just one, in fact, of a number of different ideas. Some of these will work for you, some won't.

I would, respectfully, ask that if you have the opportunity to play in a BW game in the future at a con, give it shot. See how it works for you.

Thanks,
 

Burning Luke

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Mm, finally getting some heat from this fire!

Reverend,

I have no clue why my friends stuck with my through the bad years. We had plenty of screaming matches, quittings and walkouts. I imagine that they'd give the reasons that you proposed and that they'd also say that in between the bouts of bad, there was a whole lot of good. Which there was.

A main goal in the rules design was to smooth over those rough patches so we got more good stuff in a shorter time. It worked.

Mr Sigil,
Way to move the goal-posts, sir. This is not the first time I've heard strident bitching over the tone of the game. You might reflect that I spent years reflecting on what I wanted my game to do and made sure that it presents itself so it does exactly that. You may not like that, and that's cool. The game's not for everyone. But if you come out to a convention in the states, you should definitely sit down and play with me if you can.

Mr Hat,
I am not a product of the Forge.

My .02¢,
Read this carefully before you grab your torches and pitchforks: I think the cult of the patriarchal GM is corrosive and destructive. I think it holds back the hobby and the medium from great heights. Every other game medium out there can deal with having clear cut rules and defined power/roles for the players, but we're too special to have that. I think this creates weird social dynamics and mutant power-structures that are off-putting to a lot of people. Other side of the coin: Make no mistake, Burning Wheel is designed for strong, assertive GMs. If you GM Burning Wheel, you must step up and be ready to play the game, manipulate the rules for your benefit, be part of the team, cheer the players on and simultaneously lay down hard choices and challenges in front of them. For anyone who cares to pick their copy of Burning Wheel out of the trash, or unwrap it before it's sold on ebay, you can read the Role of the GM and the Role of the Players on pages 268 and 269 of the brown book.

Garret, Eye, Paul, Daniel, et omnes,
Thanks for the props! Mighty appreciated, pardners.

-L
 

One Horse Town

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It's endemic within our hobby. We learn bad habits from others and pass it on to others. Our hobby is one of human relations and there's a power structure embedded in the gameplay at the table. I've had cases where people have flipped over tables, dumping stuff on people, I've seen people give others the silent treatment of the cold shoulder, GMs who favor their girlfriends or boyfriends, I've seen GMs capriciously kill characters for stuff that happened in real life. And we pick up these habits in the sense that this hobby is one where we tutor each other how to play and even if we leave a bad GM we may have picked up some behavior or expectations that are not entirely healthy or conducive to positive experiences at the tables with peers.

I don't think it's wrong to acknowledge that there is a power relationship at the table, and it needs to be done in a manner that acknowledges that there is the potential for abuse. Look at your own favorite game: "Should anyone start querying the rules, ciiting martial arts training, historical precendent, or even, Gods forbid logic, the GM is fully within their rights to throw dice, food, or even this book at the offender."

It's done in a humorous fashion, but let's face it, that passage from WFRP is suggesting that there is a power relationship, and one that shouldn't be questioned. Compare that to Burning Wheel where they consider the rules a fundamental factor in creating equality at the table, where WFRP dismisses player protests over what forms the common ground (rules) and suggets the primacy of the GM over the needs of the players.

It shocks me that people are taking Burning Wheel to task for being anti-GM when so many games, like WFRP and AD&D are dismissive if not down right insulting about the players. Where's the outrage and inevitable comparisons to sexual abuse and alcoholism in this particular case?
Erm, i'm not sure where all that came from. I wasn't critical of BW at all. I'm hoping that the second part of your post is a general one commenting on the thread in general and nothing to do with my only short statement on this thread.

The only statement i have made is basically asking whether BW is singing to the choir on this issue or not.
 

Old Scratch

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Right. But that's not the point. The issue isn't that "GMs never make mistakes", the issue is that "GMs have too much power".
You'll note that my point was more than just mistakes. But yes, GM's typically have a disproportionate amount of power. I think that's true, and I think it limits the creativity of the players and the GM.

They can though. They were done "unilaterally" for pretty much all of the late 70s and 80s for starters, and nobody seemed to have a problem with it then. It's only recently when people have started to experiment with more 'consensual' gaming experiences that people have started to try other approaches.
Rubbish. Nobody knew what they were doing early on. Some early D&D games were nothing more than miniature battles or an endless set of macros. Others tried and experimented with different things early on, but with its dominant market share, D&D quickly set the standard. That doesn't mean that there wasn't experimentation by individual groups or that it wasn't happening. Some people who were discontent with it walked away, some merely put up with it, and others explored different creative avenues.

And you're painting a monolithic and authoritative picture of what gaming was like back then, but by all accounts, there was a remarkable amount of experimentation attempted then, and a corresponding effort at shutting down experimentation.

... this all happened in the 70s and 80s too. GMs didn't just say "we're doing this because I say so and you have no say in the matter". Most of the time the "power-wielding GMs" did and still do care about what their players thought and were open to their input and ideas for their characters... but that happens between or outside of game sessions, not during them.
I don't buy this one bit. The play is happening at the table then and there. You can see the peoples' faces, hear their voices, and know what is going on at the table. I feel that you can't wait until two or three hours later or the beginning of the session next week, you need to address the issue when it arises, then and there. I've had my players call me on things and I've always grown from the experience, by listening to what my players had to say, responding, and coming to a compromise or at least an understanding. Power wielding GMs in a game are just as likely to wield power outside a game, I don't expect to see anything different from them.

Very often, at the end of the game, I ask players for their feedback and what I can do to be a better GM. None of the power wielding GMs I have ever experienced have ever asked that question.

Yes, and I think all that should be done outside the game, not during it. But I don't see a need for any kind of "equality" in this. Ultimately, the GM is taking the time to run a game for his players, so damn straight he should have the most power.
I disagree with you 100 percent. I'm GMing an rpg because I value and facilitate the players experience. It is THEIR characters. Their characters set the agenda. I'm running the game for them, for their characters, for their agenda, telling their stories. I'm there as a creative foil and a co-facilitator. Players have always managed to surprise and delight me and come up with ideas and concepts and adventures that I as a GM could never have come up with. One person coming up with ideas is nice, but a half a dozen feeding off of one another is like nothing else I've experienced in a game.

In this case, you'll see, the players have the power: they create the characters and set the agendas and make the critical decisions that shape the narrative. I'm along for the ride, and it's always a wild ride. I never know what the players have in store for me, and that's worth a lot more than what I used to do: mapping out a story and trying to get the players to jump through the hoops. There's no comparison for me, seeing the players as equal contributors has done nothing but enhance my game play experience and made me a better GM.

Now if you want to try an experimental way of running the game where everyone's input is equal then fair enough. But that's a whole different ballgame to the traditional GM-Players way of doing things.
And since WoW does this sort of gaming 24/7, with graphics, without the need to put up with no shows or an unprepared GM, I don't really see the point. I want to experience a story with twists and turns where the players contribute meaningfully, rather than roll dice on command. Now I realize that this debate is starting to shape up into a false dichotomy of two completely divergent play styles. I don't see it that way, but I do think that traditional rpg game play (which BW is very closely related, but also different) needs to offer something more since there are now very effective alternatives.

I sure as hell couldn't. I couldn't even run two rounds of one-on-one combat without dying of boredom and being overwhelmned by a ton of unnecessary complexity.
Well, I wouldn't either. But the point is that BW has some commonalities with traditional rpging, and I'd argue that for many, this is an ideal game to be introduced to new concepts in a more familiar package. That was my point.

No I'm not. I'm saying that the traditional way of gaming works -
For some people. It does not work for others. So why not have a range of opportunities to reflect different needs and play styles?

there's nothing in there about it being better or worse than anyone else's.
Well the use of the word "true" suggested to me otherwise. But I'll acknowledge your clarification here. Thanks for elaborating.

And I think the vast majority of gamers don't need and aren't interested in alternative ways of distributing the power around the table (and I think the sales figures bear that assumption out - these Forge/Indie games don't sell anywhere near enough to be even remotely significant in the RPG market overall).
This is a problematic point. You argue that the vast majority of games don't need or aren't interested. Well, that's a self selected sample. That's like stating that most football players enjoy football and thus there's no need for basketball. There are plenty of people who have tried gaming and found it lacking and walked away. There are those who don't like certain aspects of play. There are those who like the hobby but aren't excited about the mechanisms. If you've only played D&D, it's hard to have a perspective if that is the only thing you've experienced.

I would argue that the existence of LARPS, fan fic, indie rpgs, quasi-rpgs like card games and board games, simulations, and the like suggest that there are a lot of creative expressions and endeavors out there and that D&D and traditional rpgs serve only their adherents rather than broaden their hobby. Traditional rpgs catered to a particular audience and limited its appeal, and I don't think it was good for the hobby. Indie rpgs and others often explore other avenues and broaden the audience for the hobby. Who cares if DitV doesn't sell as well as D&D, are people playing it and enjoying our hobby? Hell yes! So why begrudge them that experience?

People seem to take the existence of indie gaming and other alternatives as an indictment of the hobby and their own play styles.

That's not to say that this isn't worthwhile for some people, or that it isn't worth exploring. I just don't think the majority of gamers are interested in adopting that way of doing things, and I don't think the alternatives are necessarily a better way to run games either. It's very much an acquired taste, and one that I don't think is easily converted to.
I disagree with you. Anecdotally, I've found indie games to be far more effective at bringing in new people and many old gamers find the new twists to be novel and invigorating. Is it for everybody? No. But we've got a hobby that has served one small particular segment of our society and I don't see why games can't seek to broaden their appeal and draw others and in present new opportunities to those in our hobby.

And I'm not saying that those experiences don't happen. But as someone else pointed out, I don't think that GMs who are "abusive" are likely to want to run BW, and I don't think that players who are "turtles" are that way because they were "abused" in the past by GMs or because their games aren't encouraging them to "come out of their shells". Ultimately all the stuff that Luke says about gaming is just his opinion, nothing more - and as such people are entitled to disagree with it or dismiss it.
Except that he's an author, it's more than just his opinion. It's an artifact of his productivity and his opinion provides insight into the design choices he made. In other words, its more than just an opinion, it's another piece of data to inform our opinions and to decide where the author is coming from. It's the same reason why they give books and paintings titles: creative pieces don't exist in a vaccuum outside their creator, they are embedded in a context, and in the case of gaming , part of that context is our personal experiences as gamers. It's worth discussing, particularly when so many of have been burned by our own gaming experiences. If Luke made conscious choices to empower everyone at the table, I'd say that it's more than just an opinion, it's a statement of intent and a voiced and present design philosophy intended to inform the reader. Just an opinion? I would tend to disagree.
 

Old Scratch

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Erm, i'm not sure where all that came from. I wasn't critical of BW at all.

The only statement i have made is basically asking whether BW is singing to the choir on this issue or not.
Sorry, I could have been projecting or carrying baggage from one post to the next.

Singing to the choir? Good question, I suppose it could be. But if any game is going to cross over to your typical gamer, I'd suspect BW would be one of the better bets. It's more likely than most to get picked up and disseminate its ideas.

Now, this thread has posited whether or not its likely to ruffle feathers in a potential crossover crowd. I'd think this is difficult to pull off here in this forum since there's a lot of baggage on all sides. I'd like to see the game given to someone not plugged into the forge/indie/traditional debate and see what they think of the book.
 

Codename: Omega

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But if you come out to a convention in the states, you should definitely sit down and play with me if you can.
Again, you're not getting the point. I've made it quite clear that this game isn't for me and how bad my experience with it was, so why on god's green earth would I ever want to willingly sit down and play it with anyone again - let alone the game's author, the very font of all the ideas and concepts that I found so disagreeable in the first place?


I think the cult of the patriarchal GM is corrosive and destructive. I think it holds back the hobby and the medium from great heights.
And you don't claim that your way is the "One True Way"? :confused:

Let me get this straight - you were, by your own admission, a lousy GM to start with. Apparently you were so lousy that you didn't actually learn from your mistakes or from any feedback your players were giving you (given that apparently you had lots of shouting matches and walkouts etc) - at least until you decided one day that you'd sit down and codify everything you did wrong and then write a game that deliberately had rules to prevent those things from happening?

But instead of just blaming yourself for being a bad GM, you instead take it out on the whole concept of "traditional GMing"? Did any of the RPGs you played tell you to be abusive to your players (and no, jokingly suggesting that you throw dice at them does not by any means, or in any way shape or form, imply that it's OK to be abusive)? I've not seen any that say "the GM must be abusive to his or her players". I've seen plenty that say "if you have any conflicts or arguments then during the game the GM is the one that is the ultimate decision-maker, and if you have a problem then talk about it with him after the game", but that is vastly different.

I don't think that there is anything wrong with the traditional GM role in itself at all. There's everything wrong with GMs misusing their power though, but all the evidence I've seen is that this is something that is down to individual GMs, not because of the methodology of gaming itself. Again, "traditional" RPGs do not encourage GMs to be abusive toward their players. Sometimes they may not particularly discourage it either, and they may give it the opportunity to happen (even if they advise not to let it happen, which they do most of the time), but none of them say "go be abusive to your players because you're the GM".

Every other game medium out there can deal with having clear cut rules and defined power/roles for the players, but we're too special to have that.
Um, RPGs have that too - the GM is the guy that runs the game and describes the setting to the players, and the players play the characters in that game. I don't know how much more clearly defined you want that to be.


I think this creates weird social dynamics and mutant power-structures that are off-putting to a lot of people.
I'd say the reality is that it's off-putting to some people who resent not being able to play an equal part to the GM in the creative process. If it really was as generally off-putting as you claim it is, then I don't think the RPG hobby would be anywhere near the size that it is, and I don't think that people would have anywhere near as much fun as they do with the traditional way of doing things.

I just think you're being unnecessarily adversarial about all this, and that you're seeing an enemy (in the traditional GM role) where none exists, based on your own bad experiences with it. And while I agree that some people may be abusive GMs, I profoundly disagree that this is entirely because of the traditional power structures around the table. I would agree that there is potential for abuse there because the power is structured like that, and that it'd be nice to be able to limit that - but I certainly don't believe that you need to change the way people play or think about RPGs to do that.

And frankly, claiming that there is a "cult of the patriarchal GM" that is "corrosive and destructive" and "holding the hobby back" does not make you sound like someone who is particularly rational - again, if you can't communicate your message without sounding like a shrieking, paranoid lunatic (which I'm sure isn't your intent, but when you make statements like that I'm not sure what else to think) then you're not going to be taken seriously by people who disagree with you.
 
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One Horse Town

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Sorry, I could have been projecting or carrying baggage from one post to the next.
Quite.

Singing to the choir? Good question, I suppose it could be. But if any game is going to cross over to your typical gamer, I'd suspect BW would be one of the better bets. It's more likely than most to get picked up and disseminate its ideas.

Now, this thread has posited whether or not its likely to ruffle feathers in a potential crossover crowd. I'd think this is difficult to pull off here in this forum since there's a lot of baggage on all sides. I'd like to see the game given to someone not plugged into the forge/indie/traditional debate and see what they think of the book.
I think you're right. BW seems to be doing that right now. Whether it can take that final step is another matter, however.
 

Old Scratch

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Again, you're not getting the point. I've made it quite clear that this game isn't for me and how bad my experience with it was, so why on god's green earth would I ever want to willingly sit down and play it with anyone again - let alone the game's author, the very font of all the ideas and concepts that I found so disagreeable in the first place?
Thank you!

Thank you!

Thank you!!!

You've just proved my point! Traditional gaming isn't for many people, so why on god's green earth would someone who found a game not to their liking want to play it again. That's why variety is so important. Yet you've been suggesting that alternative methods aren't needed because we've got traditional gaming.

Secondly, you've had a bad game play experience, and you've noted that the GM themselves can be a factor. Now perhaps you can appreciate why some people think we should be a little more conscious of what GMs and players bring to a table.

Damn, talk about being hoisted by your own petard... Your own response indicates why so many of us are disillusioned with some aspects of traditional gaming and why alternatives are healthy for a hobby. I couldn't have possibly illustrated the need any better than you just have.
 

Christopher V. Brady

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Actually, I think Dread has a point. At no time does Mr. Crane take responsibility for his 'bad GMing days', instead he writes a game with the assumption that EVERY single GM will be or is like he was.

I disagree, there ARE BAD GMs out there, but at the same time, a book written with the assumption that ALL are is defeating itself. A book should take a neutral tone allowing the reader/players to decide how they want to play it.

But then I'm one of the 'enemy', as I rather enjoy the 'traditional' and apparently wrong way to play the game.
 

walkerp

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Actually, I think Dread has a point. At no time does Mr. Crane take responsibility for his 'bad GMing days', instead he writes a game with the assumption that EVERY single GM will be or is like he was.

I disagree, there ARE BAD GMs out there, but at the same time, a book written with the assumption that ALL are is defeating itself. A book should take a neutral tone allowing the reader/players to decide how they want to play it.
What bizarre defensiveness causes you to make this incredible extrapolation? The assumption of his game is that if you find traditional style not working for you, than you should try this style. Anything beyond that, you are just adding yourself.
 
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