I decided to try an online game with people I did not know recently. It was using The One Ring game system, which looked pretty good on paper.
As I have experienced before the number of people that actually show up was about 50% after the second session, and then the game stopped. I haven't returned to pursue it because the more I thought about the game to more it occurred to me that I probably should drop it as I was thinking about its problems too much.
So what were its problems? Not overly much really, which is why I wondering if the problem is me.
First up, the game is LOTR, bleeding obviously. I love the books, the movies etc etc. The GM however was a serious aficionado and opened the session with a quiz on whether I could identify the names of some the characters. He then got us to expand on our depth of LOTR knowledge. By now I was beginning to feel uncomfortable.
He then went on to give what was a disturbingly patronising introduction to the game and the genre, even after I gave a bit of a bio and said I had been playing rpg's since 1974. IE I am experienced in the concept, if not the detailed mechanics of this specific game. I think he was working from a script to some degree, and I let it go as nerves, plus I wasn't the only one there, maybe one of the others needed a spiele.
He then went over the pre-gen characters in detail... too much detail about who they were and where they fitted into the LOTR encyclopedia. Yet another quiz on names.
So the first session was cut short as one player had to leave early, so we didn't get very far. With the second session there were only 2 of us present so that caused a problem.
So the two of us have spotted some orcs looting near the lake, we go to investigate. We get close and my partner, a beorning, makes a comment about simply attacking. The GM snaps back "That would be stupid."
Now I can't believe that this one simple comment has stuck with me so much. "Stupid". Really? For some reason I just found the word and the tone so totally offensive, and it wasn't about me, it was about the other player. I just can't let go of the memory, hence this purgative attempt to write it down and look at it somewhat more dis-passionately.
a. GM's should NEVER say strong depreciative words like this to their players unless they know each other really well. When my close friends call me a moron I don't get offended because I know they don't literally mean it, but I know that from exposure and an accepted dictionary. When someone I dont know at all calls me stupid, the word holds a totally different context and level of strength. We don't have a common dictionary yet and I naturally assume that the words usage is accurate and genuine - ie he really thinks I am stupid. Combine with the patronising introduction, and the growing sense that this is more a opportunity for him to tout his depth of knowledge in the subject matter, and I have a serious issue.
b. A players character's actions are rarely "stupid", they can be ill-informed, they can be based on poor information, they can be a really poor call, they can be a mistake. Players only do things that the GM provides scope for. Players do not get their characters to act stupid, with some rare roleplaying exceptions, because generally players are trying to WIN, and the last thing they want to do is stupid things.
When he said that line I think it was due to the fact that he knew the orc was really powerful and we would get slaughtered. So with his GM knowledge it was probably stupid... but that happens all the time, you don't vocalise that to your players. Plus if you present that option to your players and they take it up, who is the stupid person?
In roleplaying we are all stupid together, so if a GM calls one of his players stupid they are really meaning that they are running a really stupid game. Its a co-operative medium.