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Author Topic: Plucky Underdogs and Complicit Illusionism  (Read 8877 times)

Posts: 168

« on: November 28, 2005, 09:27:23 AM »

I'd rather see a world where the plucky underdogs make a change for the better.

I've heard this before.  This sentiment that "I like games in which I get to play an underdog."

I should clarify the definition of the term in question:

Underdog:  one at a disadvantage and expected to lose a contest or struggle.

I've met lots of people who claim that they want to play underdogs.  I've never met anyone who actually meant it.

But, hey, don't take my word for it.  Go ahead, try giving them what they ask for.  Give them a game in which the most probable outcome is failure.  Let their characters struggle valiantly and fail most of the time, again and again.

If you find someone who actually enjoys that, you've done better than I have.

So, if they don't really want to be underdogs, what do they want?

They want the illusion of being underdogs.  They want to enjoy the Colour of underdogs without suffering any of the System effects of being underdogs.

It's complicit illusionism in one of its most overt forms.  The players want the illusion of being underdogs, rather than the reality of being clear favourites.  The DM gives them the illusion of facing steep odds, rather than the reality of near-assured success.  "Wow, we sure were lucky to overcome those impossible odds!" they'll say to each other, and some may authentically believe in the illusion, and some may not.

Of course, it's not my place to judge styles of play.  There is every indication that all the parties complicit in this grand illusion are enjoying themselves, and it'll do no good to jump up and down, yelling that they're doing it All Wrong.

However, I think it's worth pointing this out to prospective GMs and prospective game-designers.  If you intend to construct a game in which the players really are underdogs, tread carefully.  One runs the risk of deeply disappointing the players, which may raise perplexing questions, as it seems they've been given all they've asked for, yet are not at all satisfied.


Posts: 3702

« Reply #1 on: November 28, 2005, 09:33:57 AM »

I think you're reading too much into it.  The underdog is the one who is expected to lose all other things being equal.  When I hear a player say "I want to be the underdog" I read it as saying that they (the player) want their skill, guts, and overall coolness to be the factor that means that all other things aren't equal.  They're saying "Handicap me!  Tie one arm behind my back, and tie my shoelaces together, and I'll still beat you hands down!"  It's gutsy, and I respect it.

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Ron Edwards
Global Moderator
Posts: 16490

« Reply #2 on: November 28, 2005, 09:41:35 AM »


This is a perfect example of why I want to shut down the RPG Theory forum.

Roger, you've posed an opinion in an "agree with me or I'll fight ya" way. Tony, you're being trapped in an untenable interaction, without realizing it.

The solution? Roger, go to Actual Play and post about a real experience with real other people which illustrates the point you're making. Then we'll have context to talk about it, and see things from your point of view in a constructive-analytical way. Otherwise, you're merely going to elicit counter-reactions by posing "your way," out of context, especially because no one likes to be handed an "agree or fight" choice.

In the interest of making my point to all and sundry, this thread is closed. Roger, you have my recommendation as to your next step.

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