I remember watching a postgame interview with one of my favorite hockey teams, the New York Rangers, a few years ago. Now, I realize that some of my readers won’t have the sports expertise that I do, so I ask that you just bear with me. I think my meaning will be pretty clear.
The Rangers had just won the World Series (and were thus proclaimed the best ice hockeying team in the world). They had played amazingly, shutting off the other team completely (shutting off being a sports term for not allowing the other team to score any touchdowns). I think the final score had been 98 to zero.
Anyway, the sportscaster was interviewing one of the Rangers’ defensive hockeyists about the victory (a defensive hockeyist is someone whose job it is to stay back in the teams own territory and help the goalie stop the other team from scoring). The following exchange took place.
Sporstcaster: Your team just won the World Series of Hockeying. Not only that, but you completely shut off the Seattle White Socks and ended with an amazing 98 to nothing victory. You must be pretty excited.
Borrison Natasha (Defensive Hockeyist): Are you kidding? It was terrible.
Sportscaster: What do you mean? You won! You are the best hockey team in the whole world.
Borrison Natasha: Yeah, right. Our offending line did all of the work. They spent so much time keeping the ball in the Socks’ territory that I really didn’t play at all. I didn’t get to tackle anyone. I didn’t get to make any bounce passes. I just roller-bladed around in circles. The Socks never got near us.
Sportscaster: But you… you’re part of the winning team! You still get a championship pennant and there will be a statue of everyone on the team in the hall of fame!
Borrison Natasha: But I didn’t get to play at all!
Sportscaster: Well, what about the semi-final game? The London Marlins offenders were all over you guys. Your team wouldn’t even be playing the World Cup if you hadn’t shut them down with your teammate Pierre Derrier, right? And your offending line only scored one touchdown. If you hadn’t held them at zero, they’d be here instead of you.
Borrison Natasha: But I didn’t get to play in this game!
At this point, the interview ended with the petulant hockeyist sinking into a whining sulk and insisting that he “didn’t wanna” go to Dairy Queen for postgame ice cream. Except that this never happened. If a profesional athlete behaved like this, he would be traded to the Siberian Huskies faster than you can say:
Why do I bring this up? And, more importantly, why do I risk confusing and alienating my devoted (and, ultimately, misguided) fans by lording my sports expertise over them? As I disucssed last week (Winning D&D), I made some controversial remarks on Twitter. I’ve explained a few of them already and, in the process, encouraged all of the DMs out there to strongly consider becoming brutal, competitive, and unforgiving because its more fun that way. Well, now I want to discuss the last of my treasonous statements and, in so doing, have a frank discussion with you players out there about sportsmanship, leadership, and winning. The statement was this: “D&D is a competitive, team sport.”
Last week, I spewed out 4,000 words about Dungeons and Dragons, 4th Edition, as a winnable game. I told your DMs that you, the players, like to be challenged and that the DM should be doing his best to get in the way of your victory. I also told your DM that sometimes its okay for you to get a little frustrated in the name of challenge because, in the end, if everything goes your way, you haven’t really won anything. And you like to win. I’d apologize for speaking for you and making assumptions, but I’m the Angry DM. Remember, if you don’t agree with me, it’s because you don’t know how to play this game.
A D&D adventure or campaign is about acheiving a goal. At the beginning of the game, the DM will stick you in a scene that establishes that something is wrong and something must be done to fix it. For instance, while escorting a shipment of the latest pre-teen romance parchments to the Keep on the Land of Borders, the caravan might be attacked by a group of bandits. As the fight ends, your party could discover that the bandits are actually paladins and clerics of Iuon from a local monastary. The devotees of Iuon believe that the Midnight parchments you were protecting are an attempt by an evil sorceress to brainwash young women. This is called a hook. It’s designed to draw you into the story and establish the goal of the adventure. In this hook, your party is supposed to realize that these parchments are evil and you need to hunt down and eliminate the evil sorceress before she can do any more damage and certainly before she leverages her popularity into a distribution deal and bards are performing the adaptation in every theater in the nation.
Legal Notice: Any similarities between the previous example and any other insipid, fictional work is purely coincidental.
Thus, from very early in the game, you and your party probably have a goal. The goal might change along the way and the party may have to hunt for information, which can be a goal in itself, but there is a way to win the adventure. There is probably also a way to lose. Obviously, all of the PCs could be killed (if the DM is really doing it right), but time limits and other factors might make it possible for you and your party to survive and still fail to acheive your goals. This probably isn’t really news to most of you, as players, because its an assumption built right into the game. And we’re going to run with that assumption.
By the way, if your DM doesn’t run games this way and you’re fairly sure he’d never let you lose or fail, you might want to casually ask whether he reads this site and whether he found anything interesting last weekend. To be absolutely sure, ask him if he’s an “Angry DM” or a “Sissy DM.” If he knows what you mean, there will be blood. You’re welcome.