I’m a big fan of Wil Wheaton. Aside from the fact that I grew up watching Star Trek: The Next Generation with my mom who was an unashamed Trekkie, and the fact that Wesley was just enough older than me to be a role model, now that he’s older I find his writing to be sensitive and spot on. And he said something a while back that is related to something I want to talk about for a minute.
Rule Five: Don’t be a dick.
This one is for fans and promoters and celebrities alike. If you’re a promoter and you’re just doing whatever you can to separate the fans from their money, you’re a dick. If you’re a guest and and you’re just there to take whatever money you can from the fans without giving them any of your time or energy, you’re a dick. If you’re a fan, and you’re determined to be unhappy no matter what happens at the show, you’re also a dick. There are always fans at conventions who will not be happy no matter what happens, and we’ve all seen them. I will never understand why someone will spend the time and money to go to a show just to be miserable and complain the entire time they are there, but they are certainly a square on convention bingo.
Wil is talking about conventions here, obviously, but it applies in a myriad of social settings– organized play for just about any convention as well as things like D&D Game Days and Living Forgotten Realms (or Living anything, really).
It also applies to D&D Encounters. And that’s what I want to talk about for a minute.
See… Killeen, Texas is home to Fort Hood, the home of America’s Armored Corps. More soldiers deploy out of this city than any other station than the world. More soldiers per capita have 3, 4, or even 5 deployments of 12+ months under their belt at this post than any other in the Army (super-badass Special Forces and Ranger types not withstanding. Those guys are so hardcore the normal metrics of measurement don’t apply to them). Because of this fact, I’d make a guess that organized play events here tend to be a little more…well… organized than they are elsewhere. It comes with being such a military-indoctrinated community that even the civilians tend to fall into step when it comes to certain mentalities. It’s because of this that I post here a few truths of military life that apply to organized gaming as well.
- If you’re early, you’re on time. If you’re on time, you’re late. And late is unacceptable. In the Army, every time there is a group formation where information is going to be put out to an entire mass of people, or there is some kind of group activity like physical training sessions in the morning, it’s expected that everybody, from the highest ranking officer to the lowest private just out of Basic Training (especially this guy, actually) will be at the location where the formation is to be held at least 10 minutes prior to the beginning of the formation. This is so that everybody can get into formation where they need to be, leaders can make sure everybody is present and accounted for, and basically make sure their ducks are in a row before everything kicks off. This applies in gaming life as well. Don’t be the guy who comes in 15 minutes after play begins and has to get caught up. Don’t be the guy who shows up right as play begins, either, because you’ve missed the chitchat that happens as people get their brains into the gaming mindset. Get to the gaming location early enough to help the GM set up, because he’s likely to have a large amount of miniatures, books, electronics, and other gaming swag to cart in (if it’s not his home) or to get set up in the gaming area (if your game is held at the GM’s abode). If food is present, it will need to be set up. The gaming area itself will likely need to be re-organized or configured for optimal gaming efficiency. Be the guy that the GM can depend on when he’s getting ready to run his game. If you don’t want to do it just because it’s the right thing to do to facilitate your group’s fun, think of this: the GM is far more likely to go a little more leniently on you if you’re helping him get the game going every session. You might not notice it, but I’d bet good money that the dice will get fudged a little more in your favor, the treasure lists might look a little more favorably for your character, etc. Call it earning Brownie Points if that motivates you. Just do it. Everyone at your table will benefit.
- If you’re at the right place, at the right time, in the right uniform, it’s hard to get in trouble. This one is slightly more self-explanatory than the last. All branches of the military have varying degrees of alternate uniforms that are issued. The Army has the Army Combat Uniform, the Physical Fitness Uniform, not one but three versions of the dress uniform (Class A Greens, Class A Blues and now the unified Army Service Uniform) and the Navy… ugh. Those poor seamen have so many different uniforms it’s gotta be hard to keep track of all of them. I really don’t envy those guys when it comes to packing their bags. It’s gotta be a nightmare. Regardless of what the uniform is, though, there is either an explicit or implicit order involved in regards to what is the right uniform to wear. You aren’t going to wear your Physical Fitness Uniform to a military ball, even if nobody specifically said not to. You just don’t. Other times, depending on mission requirements, you might just wear your Army Combat Uniform to PT in the morning if you’re training for Unarmed Combatives or something. At those times, the order will be explicitly given to wear a different uniform so everybody knows what the correct uniform is. Applying this to gaming is just as easy as the previous axiom. There are things that should be implicit when it comes to gaming–and Organized Play in particular. Depending on the kind of event, actions like “bring your entire, updated character sheet” or “bring your own dice” are tasks that are pretty universally understood. Your GM, however, might add explicit tasks to that. For instance, if you’re at my gaming table and you don’t have a notepad and writing utensil to take plot notes or NPC information or treasure descriptions with, you’re wrong (“you’re wrong” being military-speak for unprepared or just plain messed up) . Likewise my player who keeps track of the initiative for me deliberately sits directly across from me so everybody can see the magnetic whiteboard he uses. That spot at the table is designated as his alone. Whether you are playing in a home game or an organized public event, if you have the option to talk to the GM about his explicit table tasks, do it. Again, the entire group will benefit from it.
- Do the Right Thing. In military terms, this has a myriad of meanings. Basically it stems from the adage that “Integrity is doing the right thing when there is nobody else around.” Everything from combat operations to service support is influenced and affected by this, because the military requires its members to be able to accomplish the mission at all times in the absence of direct explicit leadership. Reporting back to your senior after you have finished a task instead of “shamming” and deliberately avoiding more tasks is one of the primary applications for most Enlisted members. It’s kind of a catchall to cover a lot of scenarios. In gaming, this has a few specific applications. Don’t screw the other players. Don’t be the guy who is only out for his own character’s good. RPGs and 4E in particular are team-oriented games. Just like in the military, sometimes the only way to “win” a scenario is to get everybody through to the end of the mission and bring everybody home alive. This is even more applicable in Organized Play events where you might be gaming in a party with 4 strangers. If you don’t work towards the party’s overall good you’re gonna get squashed. End of story. The mechanics of the game system are built so that a party of lone wolves is going to get slaughtered. The Defender, Leader, Striker, Controller system at the core of 4E ensures that team play and cooperation are vital. Group tactics and synergy can turn an otherwise average group into a tactical terror for their GM. I speak from personal experience (more on that in another post). Do the right thing.
It’s this last point that I want to cite a personal example in regards to. Tomorrow is Wednesday night. I should be playing D&D Encounters. I want to be playing D&D Encounters. But I won’t be. Why, you ask? Because someone decided to be a dick. Killeen has a small but thriving D&D community, and there was only one venue in town that was going to run DDE. March 17 rolls around, and I can’t make it because of family issues, but I get the email of the person listed on the Wizards site and ping him asking what his group needs to fill out the party for the next week. I get no response, but knowing the world and especially a military town is full of busy people, I don’t worry about it. I check the Wizards site last Tuesday and strangely, the pushpin for my local DDE session is gone. I call the location where the game was supposed to be held, and he says that as far as he knows the game is still going to be on.
I catch a break and manage to get to the location last Wednesday just before the game was to start. There’s a thriving group of Magic: The Gathering players there, but no DDE. I understand that people are late sometimes, so I wait. 30 minutes go by, and I ask the proprietor of the store where the people are at. He doesn’t know. I ask him if the game materials are at the store (I really wanted to see the awesome swag supposed to be in the DDE pack), and again he says no. The guy who was to run the game took them home with him after the first week and hasn’t been seen since. This is, apparently, the second week the guy has been a no-show and I gathered from the shop owner that at this point he doesn’t expect the game to ever run again. It appears that the person who was supposed to run a public, organized game took the money and ran, so to speak.
That, ladies and gentlegeeks, is being a dick. I’d say it’s a textbook example of Mr.Wheaton’s statement above, putting your own greed and self-importance first and abusing others in the process. It would be one thing if the person had family issues come up or scheduling conflicts arise and suddenly they couldn’t run the game. Life happens, God knows. But have the decency to call or at least email the person whose shop you’re supposed to be running the game in and let them know. Even if it’s only one night you’re not going to make it, let them know. You never know when a stranger off the street might show up and wait two hours hoping you’ll show so they can play some D&D. That randomness is part of what makes Organized Play so much fun– not knowing who is going to be at the table next time.
And for the love of all that is good and holy, don’t take the materials intended for public use and keep them. That, to me, is taking “don’t be a dick” to a whole new level. It’s the height of selfishness in my eyes because not only are you not running the game for the public, because a town like Killeen has such a small gaming community, you might just be the only game in town. Taking your toys and going home in this way ensures that you’re not only splashing cold water on the fires of fun that might be— you’re also preventing anybody else from picking up that torch and re-lighting it so that others can keep on dice-chucking when you decide that’s not what you want to do.
Wil Wheaton said it best when he implied that everybody is responsible for making the convention floor (and by extension, the gaming table) fun. Everybody is responsible for their own piece of helping the gaming session function efficiently and making all the cogs, wheels and gears of the machine we call Gaming run in a smooth and well-oiled manner. It’s everybody’s responsibility to make sure that everybody has fun.
The easiest way to do that is listening to Wil Wheaton.
Don’t Be A Dick.