Recently a Tumblr post about some awful tabletop stories came up again. I did a piece on it, so I won’t rehash that. It’s since lead to a conversation and hashtag on Twitter and a lot of angry postings by both sides, or all sides of this issue. There really are a lot of sides, and it’s a very complicated conversation, but I’ve seen a trend of the pro and anti arguments that’s both right, and wrong, and neither side seems to be doing a good job of explaining it, or even understanding each side. Someone broke down the origin of all of this in a Reddit post that seems to get pulled down from time to time so we have an archive.
First, and most obvious is, the tag is #NotAtMyTable, it’s not #NotAtYourTable. Some people on both sides of the issue seem to be forgetting this. I see people using this movement to say how every table or group should adapt to a creed, or how even publishers and writers should conform when writing and creating games. I also see people shouting about how this shouldn’t be imposed on everyone. The tag is not at MY table. This is no different than how it’s always been. Each group has their own ground rules, most of which involve a basic level of decency out of character. No fighting, no grudges, be decent to each other, and honestly no group works with a member that’s constantly causing problems. Those people quickly find themselves without a table to game at. Each group sets these standards on their own, and most gamers know that when they sit down at a new table or among a new group there’s always some adjustment. If the table doesn’t fit your style, or your personality, you find another table. That’s how it’s always been. To the people that expect everyone to conform to the same standards, well like it or not you’re in the wrong too. So are the folks expecting publishers and writers to tone down the dark nature of gaming. There’s adventures and games out there for everyone, and almost any game system can be adapted to whatever players want out of their game, but to expect people to only put out one type of product is completely out of line. I even have an adventure that puts the players in the role of monsters trying to protect their homes from invading adventurers.
The folks on both sides of this that have it right are the ones that are looking clearly at what the tag says. Not at MY table. A group has every right to have their own expectations and standards, and when a new person comes into the group they adapt or move on, that’s how it works for everyone. The group’s a little too aggressive or the story is a little too dark, just like any form of entertainment you pick up your dice and move on. The table is a little too light-hearted with story, and doesn’t take kindly to an off-color joke in character, you adapt or pick up your dice and move on. This is how gaming has always been, it’s the way it should be because it’s the only way to make sure every gamer experiences the game they way they want to. You don’t go to a party or gathering of friends, as a new person, and expect the entire group to cater to your list of expectations, just like you wouldn’t accept such a thing from one person showing up at a party you’re hosting.
It is understandable that people have reacted to this on both sides. Newcomers to tabletop believe a lot of what they read or are told, and they fear that every experience with tabletop is a minefield of horrors. Veterans of tabletop know that it’s simply not the case, and when stories like the one that sparked this come to light it makes us skeptical. When people start asking for new rules, and changes to products based on these stories, it makes us understandably defensive. Of course, just like everything else people do in life there are bad apples in tabletop. Of course there are going to be growing pains when change happens, but the fiery vitriol on both sides of this one are seriously out of line and that’s what is preventing an honest conversation about this with anyone. Saying I don’t allow bad behavior out of character at my table, but do keep the story moving between the dark and heroic, in no way deprives anyone of the right to say their table is handled differently. My game won’t be for everyone, it doesn’t mean I don’t want them to play tabletop games, or that I don’t want them to find another table that fits their style. I have sat at tables that didn’t fit my own way of gaming, and I moved on, I certainly didn’t demand they change. It doesn’t mean I think they are worse gamers, or that I think they should be kept out of the hobby, it just means our styles didn’t mesh and that’s fine.
As for changing things in character, that’s up to you and your own group. It’s not my cup of tea but that’s all right. I prefer conflict, good and evil, dark and light, and something to drive the heroes on to great deeds. Conflict between characters happens, and at my table I expect those conflicts to remain in game. That’s one of the rules at my table, and it’s one I don’t budge on. Keep the IC stuff from bleeding into OOC, and a lot of people have to keep in mind the difference. The point is to role play your character, like a character in a play or a movie. To act out the things they would do, the things they would say in game, but keep it in game. Take on the role of someone who isn’t you, be someone else for awhile. It doesn’t make you that person, it’s just a way to tell a story together and see where that story goes. When your character comes across another character, or NPC like that, react in-character. If your barbarian priestess doesn’t like jokes made about how she chooses to wear her fur bikini, then she should punch the drunken tavern rat, don’t drag it into an out of character argument as if the other player, or DM are somehow as bad as the imaginary drunkard.
At the end of the day the hashtag should be exactly what it is, a declaration that every table is different. Every table has different expectations of what is acceptable and what isn’t. Each group forms around these expectations, people come and they go, and tables adapt as players do. It doesn’t need to be a fight. The people expecting everyone to conform to one standard are wrong, so are the people using this to start a fight. Tabletop is inclusive, it is accepting, and it is tolerant. Tabletop is for everyone, whether your table is strict about every single thing everyone can say in and out of game, or is no holds barred. You can’t claim to be tolerant if your tolerance is only for what you like.
To new gamers, and people interested in getting into the hobby, don’t believe everything you read or everything social media vomits out. Gaming is not dangerous, and tabletop is not full of white terrorists. I’m disgusted I even have to say that and even more so that any tabletop player wrote that, or shared it. You won’t be turned away, attacked, or hated on. Most of us are introverted, awkward geeks that just want people to share our hobby with. We may seem standoffish at first, but that’s because we’re just as shy as you are. We make silly jokes, try to be funny, tell stories about our characters no one really wants to hear, and will discuss the history of Krynn in elaborate detail for hours, but what I don’t see is the hate and awfulness that some people like to say is a plague on our hobby. I’m sure it happens in some small corners of the community, just like anything else, but if it were so common you’d think I’d have seen it sometime over the last 26 years.
What I have seen is a loving community of people who just want to get together to tell stories, slay dragons, and save innocents from evil wizards. We don’t all do it the same, but we all love it or we wouldn’t be doing it. This community has become more diverse over the years, which means more diverse stories, more entertaining adventures, and more interesting characters, none of which is bad or unwanted. We’ll keep growing and changing, and these little growing pains will crop up from time to time, and I hope that the vast majority of us can have a conversation rather than a shouting match. See where we’re all coming from in this thing we all love, and accept we are all going to go about it a little differently, and there’s nothing wrong with that.