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Author Topic: "The Gamers" as actual play, take two  (Read 6617 times)
Jack Spencer Jr
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« on: October 26, 2003, 02:47:29 PM »

Over a month ago, John Laviolette tried to get discussion going about the Gamers movie from Dead Gentlemen Production as an example of actual play. The resulting thread didn’t go as deep as it could have, I think (now that I have the DVD) so I'm going to go into a more in-depth look at Gamers as an example of actual play. A few things first.
    [*] I will discuss the movie in its entirety, pretty much. This means spoilers. So unless you have already seen the movie or you have no intention of seeing it, I suggest see the movie first.
    [*]  I am well aware this movie is fiction and, in most cases, exaggeration of typical situations for humorous effect. I want to put that aside for the moment and examine the situations as if it were indeed actual play.
    [*] I am less interested in the “wince factor” of seeing gamers made fun of yet again. I plan to observe what I see before I bother thinking that anything going on at the table is dysfunctional or not.[/list:u]
    Now, onto the film.

    First off, the characters have names but the players don’t. If necessary I’ll refer to the actor by name when I mean the player. I’ll refer to the DM as the DM. The game system use is basicly D&D changed to avoid copyright infringement, more or less.

    The first issue that arises when they sit at the table is one of the players is going to be late. This is more a social issue than a game issue. The DM doesn’t even know about this until they sit down to the table. This is the sort of thing that would be just polite to call ahead if you’re going to be with your girlfriend instead. More on this later.

    As they are setting up, the DM makes an off-handed remark that they’ll need their dice. This got the players excited, especially Matt who players Rogar the Barbarian. “That means battles, guys, big battles.” This suggests that combat is the raison d’être for playing. Matt also mentions a desire to use a magic sword he had acquired previously, Sword of Ogre Decapitation.

    The DM starts off with asking the players where they were last week. The players got it wrong twice before the DM just tells them about the mission to save the princess.

    The players decide to go to the common room of the inn to see if they can gain some information. However, instead of doing any of this, Matt has Rogar drink some strong ale, fails the Stamina check, and Rogar passes out. Phil decides wine would be better and has his thief, Nimble, picks the pocket of a bar patron to pay. Succeeding, Phil then steals the man’s knife and pants.

    This is something I had seen often in play. Stealing the money had a purpose, perhaps, but stealing the pants and drinking the ale served no purpose whatsoever in regards to rescuing the princess.  All Matt would have gained by succeeding the role is "Mmm, I like Dwarven ale." It seems to be about the players testing their characters' effectiveness. In the audio commentary, Monte Cook notes that Matt wishes to do manly things and does so, or attempts to do so, through his character. Phil is doing a more “pure” variety of “let’s see what I can do.” The DM even asks him “Why do you want his pants?” Phil replies, “I don’t want them. I just want to see if I can steal them.”

    Interesting side note: Rogar passing out led to Matt delivering the line “Am I still unconscious?” This went right by me in the film since I would hear that almost every game session. Someone at Dead Gentlemen recognized this line for being as rediculous as it really is and put it on a T-shirt.

    Next the characters are confronted by Hunk, a mercenary the characters had left for dead. Not much more is told to us about Hunk. It is possible Hunk worked for the bad guys, but he may have been a hireling for the party who turned out to be expendable. Or, possibly he was slain because it was cheaper than paying him. We really don’t know.

    Nimble was not spotted at the bar and decides to backstab Hunk for the triple damage. However, he decides that neither a dagger nor a sword tripled would be sufficient to kill Hunk so he backstabs him with a ballista. The DM check to see if there is a rule against it, but can’t find one and allows it, which spatters Hunk all over the common room.

    This may be one of those instances of exaggeration. Even a mediocre GM wouldn’t allow something this outrageous unless that was the tone of the campaign. I could see backstabbing with a trebuchet in Elfs, for example. But a similar rules-bending happens all the time as the player tries to gain effectiveness.

    The characters then head out and that night, while the others are sleeping and he’s on watch, Rogar is visited by an ethereal image of the Princess who tells him she is held captive by the Shadow. The other players try to participate and the GM has to keep reminding them that they are still asleep.

    I find this interesting. When someone plays an RPG, they want to be able to participate. Strange that no one tried to horn in on the thief while he was stealing pants. It seems that some situations lend themselves to wanting to participate while others do not as much. Participation can be anything from being reminded that your character is not there to simply quipping an apt Monty Python quote.

    The character travels and come upon a river. Justin has to be reminded that Ambrose the mage has a fear of water. Once reminded he worked with it, but he had to be reminded. This has me thinking about all of that stuff that gets written on a character sheet, especially character backgrounds, which gets pretty much ignored or forgotten.

    They decide to knock Ambrose out to cross the river and accidentally kill him. This sort of demonstrates that character death is not very meaningful. Just roll up another character. The others decide to bury him because you get 15 piety points per level when burying a party member…whatever the heck piety points are. Once buried, they divided his stuff and move on.

    In the forest the characters are ambushed by bandits and accosted by the bandit king. Nathan, who plays Newmoon the Elf, is first upset that he didn’t get his surprise roll for the ambush and keeps trying to kill the bandit king during his speech.

    This part is my favorite because there is lost of stuff going on here. First of all, the other players look bored and uncomfortable while Nathan and the DM argue. Well, except for Justin who is busy rolling up a character and grumbling. Monte Cook notes that there may be an out-of-game issue between the DM & Nathan since he let Phil do weird things like steal pants and backstab with a ballista but is not letting Nathan do a few things that are rather reasonable. That may be, but I am not so sure. Whether there is friction between Nathan & the DM is not as relevant as the situation. It appears that little was planned in the inn except for the players fighting Hunk. Letting Phil go in that scene was trivial to the DM. But he had this scene planned for the bandits where the party is ambushed and the bandit kings gives a speech before the players fight. Nathan was just running over that plan first with the rules, second with a lack of patience with the speech.

    I do know how annoying it is to have the player say “I should have gotten a roll” when they had some appropriate skill. Maybe its poor GMing, but it’s also about the plot and what if Nathan had spotted the ambush? Then no speech, along with the “useful” information contained in that speech.

    As the characters are fighting, Mark finally shows up and send his character, Mark the Red, into a berserker rage and kills the bandits. (Another humorous line missed by roleplayers used to hearing it: “Can I go into a berserker rage?” You have to ask permission?) After the Elf kills the bandit king, Mark has to leave again because he promised to take his girlfriend out to coffee.

    There’s a social issue here. Apparently Mark would rather spend time with his girlfriend and he just doesn’t know how to tell the guys this. This means he arrives late and leaves early. We can only assume what his girlfriend thinks of him playing adventure games, if she even knows. The others seem to be at least a little jealous or bitter about Mark preferring to be somewhere else on a Friday night.

    Later the characters arrive at the ruins of an evil, accursed castle and meet Justin’s new character, Magellan. The DM reminds them to roleplay it appropriately but they just let him join the party, no questions asked.

    To be fair, this is the most expedient way to do it. What else should they do? Fight him? Justin would be rolling up another character. I was in a WFRP game where one player roleplayed it right and almost walked right out of the game.

    They come upon an iron gate. Rogar attempts to lift it with his 19 STR but rolls poorly. Newmoon attempts it with his STR of 6. This sounds like an issue of niche protection.

    They enter the ruins and Phil keeps redoing a scene where Nimble walks into a trapped hall. “Did I say walk? I mean sneak down the hall.” “Did I say sneak…? …I crawl down the hall an inch at a time looking for traps.”

    I have never run into this sort of “Did I say ___ I meant ___” I wonder if anyone else has?

    Eventually Matt sent Rogar down the hall. His 120 hp easily absorbed the 35 pts of damage from the trap.

    Finally they meet the Shadow. Justin has Magellan prepare a spell, but he needed time. To try to stall the shadow, they sent Mark the Red in, whom the Shadow killed handily. “Jeez. Mark’s going to be pissed.”
    Justin needed more time so Nathan makers a called shot to the nuts, which stuns the Shadow for one turn. Magellan gets his polymorph other spell off and turns the Shadow into an ogre. In this way, Matt is finally able to use the Sword of Ogre Decapitation.

    From here the movie ceases to resemble an actual game. Rogar fought the Shadow Ogre alone when in a real game, the other three would still try to help. There is a brief bit where the players feel an enormous release and elation for finally defeating an enemy that had been hounding them for weeks, possibly months. But then it dives head first into unreality.

    There’s quite a bit here. I now welcome comments.
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    MonkeyWrench
    Member

    Posts: 160


    « Reply #1 on: October 26, 2003, 04:18:37 PM »

    Quote from: Jack Spencer Jr
    I have never run into this sort of “Did I say ___ I meant ___” I wonder if anyone else has?


    I used to run into it all the time, and interestingly enough it was often the player of the thief that said it.

    As near as I can tell it comes from two things. 1) The DM assumes that the PCs are (for example) walking down a hall and doesn't give them the opportunity to search for traps before having one set off, or 2) the DM gave the opportunity but either the player wasn't paying attention or didn't know that they should be doing anything.

    As a player I've been in this sort of similar situation, especially when it comes to suprise and encounter distances. In this case I was playing a fighter/mage in DnD who was fairly high level and had alot of dungeon crawling experience. Realistically my character would be looking on the ceiling for dangers from above, keeping an eye out for monsters, etc. but I as a player hadn't said I was doing that, so when a giant bat attacked from above I was a little miffed. I was even more miffed when I specifically stated I was looking above for monsters and they still got the drop on me.

    Whenever I GM now I judge each case of 'my character would do that' on an individual basis.
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    -Jim
    GB Steve
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    « Reply #2 on: October 26, 2003, 04:43:09 PM »

    Quite frankly, I'm stunned! Are you going to review the D&D movie in the same way?

    Even with your stated aim of "to observe what I see before I bother thinking that anything going on at the table is dysfunctional or not.", how do you expect to get anything from what is obviously a parody.

    At this point, I'd be tempted to review your review of The Gamers, as an example of Roleplaying Theory and why it is dysfunctional. But no.
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    Jack Spencer Jr
    Guest
    « Reply #3 on: October 26, 2003, 05:05:47 PM »

    Quote from: GB Steve
    Quite frankly, I'm stunned! Are you going to review the D&D movie in the same way?

    No, because the D&D movie had no scenes of players at a table to observe.

    True enough, it is a parody, but consider, a parody only works if it is rooted at least somewhat in truth. At least that's the level The Gamers works. Ity's not just Ha Ha Funny. It's Ha Ha I actually know somebody like that/who does that, etc.
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    Brian Leybourne
    Member

    Posts: 1793


    « Reply #4 on: October 27, 2003, 11:47:16 AM »

    Just a quick aside...

    Quote from: Jack Spencer Jr
    The others decide to bury him because you get 15 piety points per level when burying a party member


    ... which leads to the best line in the entire film:

    "Dude... he was 6th level, so that's, like, 90 piety points..."

    "Yeah, and that'll totally make up for that orphanage we burned down!"

    heh :-)

    Anyway, on to what I actually wanted to say...

    Quote from: Jack Spencer Jr
    Monte Cook notes that there may be an out-of-game issue between the DM & Nathan since he let Phil do weird things like steal pants and backstab with a ballista but is not letting Nathan do a few things that are rather reasonable. That may be, but I am not so sure. Whether there is friction between Nathan & the DM is not as relevant as the situation. It appears that little was planned in the inn except for the players fighting Hunk. Letting Phil go in that scene was trivial to the DM. But he had this scene planned for the bandits where the party is ambushed and the bandit kings gives a speech before the players fight. Nathan was just running over that plan first with the rules, second with a lack of patience with the speech.


    To be frank, both you and Monty Cook are completely overanalysing this situation (in fact, Monty Cook overanalyses the entire film).

    The thing you're both forgetting is that this is not an actual representation of 5 guys sitting around playing an RPG and what they really do and how they really react. It's a hammed up-for-film situation with, frankly, little relationship to reality (albiet it's just close enough that we can all smirk and realise that we have known someone much like one of the players).

    I can't really see any value in analysing this film (other than to have a laugh). Are you going to move on to American Pie next and use it to study typical American teenage behaviour?

    I'm not trying to be sarky, but I just don't get it...

    Brian.
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    Brian Leybourne
    bleybourne@gmail.com

    RPG Books: Of Beasts and Men, The Flower of Battle, The TROS Companion
    Jack Spencer Jr
    Guest
    « Reply #5 on: October 27, 2003, 03:09:46 PM »

    I'm trying really, really hard not to be snarky back. I'm a little ticked off, you see, for the reasons I'll get to in a minute. I took a break and baked a nice pumpkin pie and I'm *still* teed. It was either beat my cat or tell you all how I feel. I love my cat. So, I'm going to tell you how I feel.

    First of all, analyzing Gamers as if it was actual play wasn't my idea in the first place. It was John's idea in the previous thread linked above. I was skeptical myself at the time but after watching the movie in it's entirety, I decided that the idea may have had some merit. Reading over the previous thread showed that it had gotten a bit derailed early, mostly talking about game-inspired things like Knights of the Dinner Table and such. So, I decided to try again and started a new thread.

    Frankly, I'm disappointed with the thread. We got one decent reply from Jim. A good point, but I couldn't think of anything to add to it. And two post that are nearly identical in spirit. "Why bother? It's a movie. It's not real. Are you going to do the same with other movies?" That both posts contained the equivelent of this last sentence irks me, but not as much that both posts chose to ignore the second bullet point I posted at the begining of this thread:
    Quote
    I am well aware this movie is fiction and, in most cases, exaggeration of typical situations for humorous effect. I want to put that aside for the moment and examine the situations as if it were indeed actual play.

    In other words, two people pretty much ignored as overt a mission statement as a thread can have. I probably wouldn't mind if there was anything else going on in the thread, but aside from Jim's post, there isn't. I would have been happier if the thread fell off the front page without any replies than to have replies of this sort.

    Now that I've gotten that off my chest, the second such post had a more inquistive vibe running through it. As in "I don't get it, can you explain it to me?" I see if I can't do so.

    Here in Actual Play, we discuss experiences and observances from game sessions and learn what we can from them. The Gamers is unique because it is one of the few sessions we can all observe first-hand. So long as DGP continues to sell it, every newcomer has the potential to view it. (Unless someone decides to video tape their sessions and puts them on the web as streaming video or something, but that will have to be someone else. I'm too shy) Often actual play discussion can go Post> reply comment> clairification> question> further clairification> etc. The Gamers allows us the ability to all be on the same page about a session, not to mention view it multiple times.

    Also, the game is based at least a little bit on reality. When we discuss someone's experiences in a session, it brings our own experience to bear on the subject. So actual play discussion is not so much about the one person or group's as it make you look at your own sessions to really think about them.

    And the value of this depends on what you take away from it.
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    Brian Leybourne
    Member

    Posts: 1793


    « Reply #6 on: October 27, 2003, 06:22:04 PM »

    Jack,

    Fair comment, and I apologise for any frustration/annoyance I caused you.

    Brian.
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    Brian Leybourne
    bleybourne@gmail.com

    RPG Books: Of Beasts and Men, The Flower of Battle, The TROS Companion
    Jack Spencer Jr
    Guest
    « Reply #7 on: October 27, 2003, 07:32:35 PM »

    No harm no foul.

    I think I'm in such a sour mood home sick from work.
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    Brian Leybourne
    Member

    Posts: 1793


    « Reply #8 on: October 27, 2003, 11:51:14 PM »

    Fair enough. I got made redundant today, so I'm right there with you :-(

    Brian.
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    Brian Leybourne
    bleybourne@gmail.com

    RPG Books: Of Beasts and Men, The Flower of Battle, The TROS Companion
    Lxndr
    Acts of Evil Playtesters
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    Master of the Inkstained Robes


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    « Reply #9 on: October 28, 2003, 06:44:18 AM »

    First:

    To increase the number of potential responses, I'd like to point people to the fact that, at least for the moment, "The Gamers" is available free, online, and as far as I'm aware legally, as a streaming video on the virtual gencon site.  There's no audio commentary from Monte Cook, which you may or may not care about.  Watch it here:

    http://virtual.gencon.com/ff03.asp

    There.  Now that people know where they can watch it for free, more might watch it and, therefore, might have commentary.  I checked both the preceeding thread, and this one, and did not find this link anywhere, and I think the lack of easy access to "the Gamers" is really killing the # of potential repsonses.

    That said, I feel analyzing "The Gamers" as an instance of "Actual Play" makes a certain amount of sense - the movie, while not being an actual instance of play, is certainly the collection of many gaming experiences into some sort of cohesive, comedic whole.  Keeping in mind that the movie is a comedy, and that certain things have been exaggerated for effect, one can still view the film as a commentary on common gaming behaviours.

    (For what it's worth, I don't see the film as anti-gamer at all - it's just a humorous look at gaming, through the eyes of actual gamers.  It's no more anti-gamer than a comedic love story is anti-monogamy.  And this is why I think it's a possible source of evaluation: it shows us what at least a certain portion of the gamer world sees as the common-enough-to-resonate-and-be-funny elements of their gaming experiences)

    (Oh, and did anyone else get the feeling that the whole "Sword of Ogre Decapitation" bit was a homage to the older voice-only D&D skit by the Dead Alewives?)

    More specific commentary:

    1.  It's quite obvious that the player of Mark the Red (whose name is also coincidentally Mark, which feels like a telling statement) is someone for whom his hobby is way down on his priority list.  While he's actually in the room, he's obviously having fun (see the shit-eating grin on his face re: barbarian rage) but he's a flake.  Maybe other parts of the game don't interest him, maybe socially speaking the game itself doesn't interest him... I don't know.

    2.  I understand drinking the ale, as perhaps an exploration of the character ("that's what my character would do.")  I can even understand stealing the money (to buy drinks) and stealing the knife.  But stealing the pants is something that is less... understandable.  

    In general, though, it really feels like this thief character gets all the breaks.  Backstab with a ballista, just because the rules "don't have anything against it"?  Multiple uses of "did I say...?" that ends with sending someone else down the hallway altogether?  Meanwhile the poor elf doesn't even get a roll to catch the ambush.

    3.  I also found the "you guys are all still asleep" bits of the night-watch solo scene with Rogar to be somewhat interesting.  It's obvious they all wanted to participate more... (which was, I think, the ONLY reason the guy whose character died was mad - he wasn't allowed to participate).  Though I wonder if having the vision appearing to Rogar was giving him a chance to participate after the whole dwarven ale shenanigans.

    4.  Even for an "expedient" introduction of a character, the replacement for Ambrose after he was rolled up was... well, too unbelievable.  The fact that the DM, after saying "hey, roleplay it out" let such an unbelievable introduction slide without even a cut to his disappointed face or something, I found interesting.  It's obvious they're not playing it for any sort of simulation of reality.

    5.  I've seen the "did I say X, I meant Y" stuff.  But never to the extent that we saw Nimble do it in the game, and rarely for such an obvious purpose of "cheating."  And by the time they sent Rogar in, the DM had pretty much given up, it seemed - he didn't even argue.
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    Alexander Cherry, Twisted Confessions Game Design
    Maker of many fine story-games!
    Moderator of Indie Netgaming
    Jack Spencer Jr
    Guest
    « Reply #10 on: October 28, 2003, 09:43:33 AM »

    Interesting comments, Alexander. Some replies:

    1.  I think that is the movie took place a few weeks or months ago, before Mark was going out with Molly, that he would be at the table with the rest and not noteworthy at all in regards to his attendance.

    I think Mark finds himself in a unfamiliar social situation dating a girl. I mean that not in a "gamers wouldn't know what to do with a woman if you gave them one" sense but in a he's young and still going to college sense. Lots of social situations are unfamiliar to people his age so it shouldn't be surprising that they handle them poorly. To be honest, Mark either needs to tell the group he won't be able to play with them for a while or tell his girlfriend that he has a prior commitment on Friday nights. Playing for about 10 mintues is not satisfactory for anyone, the guys, him, or his girlfriend. He needs to make a choice.


    2. I can understand the spirit of stealing the pants. It is a matter of seeing what your character can do and interacting in the world. My ex-roommate ran a game for a total newbie once. It was a basic dungeon crawl. There was a chair like an electric chai with the manticles and such. She went "Ooh I always wanted to sit in one of those chairs" and sat in it. The manticles snapped shut and the chair started flying around the room.

    I suppose the card from Munchkin applies here "You should know better than to pick up a duck in a dungeon."

    So it's about testing you sea legs ot just getting the feel for interacting with the game world. Being a thief, he steals stuff. Doesn't necessarily want or need it. He just steals it because he can and it's what he does.
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    Alan
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    « Reply #11 on: October 28, 2003, 04:30:30 PM »

    Hi Jack,

    The incident with Mark illustrates the PC effect - a character run by a player almost always has more influence on the fantasy than an NPC with the same abilities.  When Mark isn't present, his character is always in the background with an idiotic stare.  Sometimes, the players forget he's in the party and he is just forgotten.

    But when the player shows up, just as the party is on the ropes, his character bursts to life and slaughters their opponents.  This might be a tip to the fact that player characters are far more effective when their player is actually running them and even what I call the "PC effect"

    Also, I think I detect some gamist humor.  The players joke about killing Sir Mark while Mark is absent.  In fact, they use Sir Mark as a pawn against their final opponent, buying time for the mage to cast his polymorph.

    - Alan
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    - Alan

    A Writer's Blog: http://www.alanbarclay.com
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