September 11, 2012

Gamers With English as a Second Language - by Choice

Gamers with English as a second language
First off, I apologize to anyone who does actually happen to speak/read English as a second language and to those who have some sort of reading disability.  My commentary simply does not apply to you.

The rest of you....not necessarily you dear blog reader, but those gamers who choose to ignore their basic English and reading education....listen up.  This is as close to an "open letter" that you are going to get.

For a while now I've been moderating a forum for gamers hosted by the publishers of a certain game I like to play.  It is perfectly normal for new folks to come to the forums and ask questions about rules that may not be so clear.  They may be questions that have been asked time and time again, which bothers some of the "old guard" forum members, but fuck 'em....that is what the forums are for.

What bugs the ever-living-shit out of me are those people who try to seek some advantage by declaring a well-written rule as "ambiguous" or more often "unclear".

Free Copy of HackMaster Basic
Now to my twelve readers who probably don't play any role-playing games (seriously though, pick up a free copy of HackMaster Basic and give it a try) the rules are normally written from an additive standpoint in that they tell you what you can do, not what you cannot do.  I have yet to see a fantasy role-playing game state that your PCs cannot have lightsabers and AK-47s, or pull gold coins out of your ass.  It is simply impossible to write down all of the possible permutations of what cannot happen in the game.  Still, this doesn't stop players from trying to strong-arm their Game Master into something because the  rules don't expressly prohibit it.

The "the rules-don't-say-I-can't" gamer is a completely different, but closely related ass-hat to the gamer who conveniently forgets that English is their mother tongue.  This latter group simply tries to cheat at the game and improperly use the rules as a crutch to make themselves feel like they aren't cheating.  Now to be fair, sometimes there are rules that are unclear.  Maybe the core rule is in another rulebook (like the Game Masters Guide) and just a snippet of information is made available to the players.  Sometimes the rule isn't actually posted, but the effects are.  I've had this happen once:
  • The HackMaster rules for possible shield destruction are that when a shield absorbs 2x its damage reduction it has a save with a +6, 3x an even-up save, 4x a save at -6, and 5x automatic destruction.  These rules aren't actually written out, but instead in a chart showing the actual amounts for a small, medium, and large shield.  If you look at the chart you might not see the underlying formula.
Writers have a lot more going on in their heads that don't always get down on paper.  What makes perfect sense to them doesn't to the end reader because they have other info that fills in the gaps while we don't.

What my target population likes to do is not make shit up or exploit an actual ambiguous rule, but attempt to create an ambiguity that nobody else would reasonably be able to follow...assuming a decent comprehension of written English.

There are two recent examples I can think of.  In at least one of the examples, as it was presented to me, the person making the forum post wasn't the one attempting this malarkey, but an observer looking for back-up more along the lines of, "Am I missing something here?"
  • HackMaster has a rule allowing players to swap around ability scores.  In short, if you keep your stats as rolled you get a large bonus.  If you swap two stats you get a lesser bonus and if you move more around you get no bonus.  The actual rule reads like this: "You may rearrange your ability scores any way you wish or opt to (1) swap only two ability scores and receive 25 bonus BPs or (2) leave all ability scores as-is and receive 50 bonus BPs. Add the bonus BPs (if any) to your starting total from step 1."
No some folks are thinking that they can swap two sets of ability scores around and still get the 25 bonus build points (BP).  I just don't know how much clearer a writer can be than "swap only two ability scores.." Even if they left out the qualifier "only", I think a six grade reader of the English language should be able to get it.
  • Later on in the character creation process players can pick or roll for quirks and flaws for more build points.  There is a diminishing return on build points such that for every addition one taken, you get five fewer build points.  This keeps a player from gimping their character out since most quirks or flaws aren't worth that many build points to begin with.  Player Characters (PC) gain build points as they level and if a player wishes to "buy back" a quirk or flaw they can do so, paying the full amount that the quirk or flaw is worth.  Because of the diminishing returns, that PC's quirk may have possibly been worth 20 build points, but only awarded 5 build points because it was the third quirk or flaw taken.  If the player wants his PC to "buy back" the quirk it will cost the full 20 BP to do so.  The actual rule written is, "By dint and perseverance, characters may overcome their Quirks or Flaws. In game terms, this is handled by allocating Building Points equivalent to those listed under the particular malady. This may be done at any point in a character’s career."
There is only one BP amount listed with each quirk or flaw.  There is no reasonable way that a proficient reader of English could read into this rule and the quirks or flaws and think they get any other number out of it.  I don't care how often you re-read a quirk description, that number 20 will not magically change into a 5.

I just don't get this particular behavior.  All it does it give everyone who actually tries to play the game as written a headache.  Please......please don't be that guy.  Don't skim the rules, read them.  If something doesn't seem right, re-read them.  Read them again before asserting that the English language doesn't work the way you want it to.

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