Don’t be a Rule Zero, be a Rule Hero

This probably looked pretty weird on the day it happened.  Let me explain.

The tabletop RPG hobby has ossified. The conventions have been established, and everyone that follows those conventions can only innovate around the margins.  Or worse, they engage in a complete deconstruction without the re-construction necessary to create something new and different.  In the case of this hobby, the de-construction has been there from day one in the form of gentle and not-so-gentle paragraphs within the texts of rulesets that remind the reader that they can do whatever they want with the rules.  The conventional approach to tabletop RPGs interprets these missives as permission to play Calvinball: The RPG-enning while continuing to claim that they are playing the game whose title is on the cover.

Nothing means anything and all is one and do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law is the order of the day.  This is the conventional approach to the hobby.  And that refusal to commit to anything beyond DM Supremacy has enervated the quality of play for decades.  It is the opiate of the RPG masses, offering a short term hit of pleasure at the expense of long-term growth and health.

Don’t believe me?  Take a look around the wasteland.  The only thing anyone will talk about with respect to the Dying Coastal Wizard Empire is how they are abandoning races, decolonizing, and ensqualmating* everything they can get their hands on.  The bulk of the advice peddled by merchants in the hobby consists of long-winded validations of bad play, rather than the cold and harsh realities that the true seeker of excellence needs. The much touted OSR has reached the a point that makes Jack’s heart sad, with its copy of a copy of a copy.  It has become the Hollywood of hobbies, offering endless deconstruction and rehashing of once-beloved titles.

And all because no one will commit to the bit.

Well, not exactly ‘no one’.

This post isn’t meant to lay out a case for Rule Zero.  There’s a video for that already.

This post is, as mentioned above, about why the message has to be delivered so strongly: You don’t shift the course of a hobby by half measures.

We’re talking about ground breaking stuff here.  Revolutionary, one might even say.  To break the cycle of dependency you have to have an intervention, and those need a healthy mix of gentle and severe.  When you’re trying to break the cycle of addition, you don’t offer an alcoholic ‘just one more drink’ because there is always ‘just one more drink’ beyond that.

When discussing matters like this – and we’ve seen the cycle countless times – the addict will look for any weakness, any excuse to get onto the slippery slope.  And the hobby just can’t afford that kind of weakness anymore.

Not when there is so much life left in it.  Not when there are so many new avenues of gameplay to explore.  Not when an open and honest effort to play the game the way it was written offers new paths of growth.

And finally, let me just downplay having levelled up to the point that people look to me for approval. You know good and well my power and authority end when you click away from this post.  No one needs my approval to deviate from the rulebook.  There’s no way for me to stop anyone from following the same path they’ve followed for the last four and a fraction decades.  They don’t want me, or the guys that I run with on social media, to give offer up our blessing of bad play because we are authorities.

They want us to assuage their guilty consciences.  Deep down, they know that ersatz RPGs are the domain of the weak and the lazy.  They aren’t looking for permission.  They are looking for cooperation.  The slightest voice pointing out that the Emperor’s RPG has no clothes shatters the collective illusion.  What they really want is to silence outside voices that break the illusion, so that they can suppress the inside voice that longs for reality.

And if we truly do want to help gamers play better games – and we do! – we cannot acquiesce.  We have to shout all the louder.

* Here, let me google that for you.

Postscript: This same process plays out in a host of other aspects of modern life.  Demands to share in and voice support for collective illusions are commonplace.  Identifying those are left as an exercise for the reader.  The safe and tidy world of RPGs is a great place to practice standing firm in opposition to the Great Big Lies of our days.  Which may be another reason so much effort is expended by the Death Cult to co-opt our little hobbysphere.