Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Beer Mug Paladin

We have our first guest story! I'm excited! Behold, anonymous' tale of the Beer Mug Paladin:

This was back when D&D 3.0 was in its heyday, with entire libraries of first and third party splatbooks and campaign settings. Though some of the frustration with the 3.0 rules as they were written lead to the widespread use of house rules. This DM, who we'll call "Leo," had his share but we'll get to those. Nearly all DMs wrote their own campaign setting as well, Leo did so as well. The players were sent to an island as enforcers and peace-keepers by the king. This island turned out to have things like undead and demons living there, in addition to a rampaging horde of barbarians... Maybe colonizing this place was ill-advised?

Now a brief rundown of the players:

Hector played the group's fighter, Leo told him to optimize and Hector was never good at that so he just built a really weird character that used a double-sword.

Harris played the group's paladin, Harris had something of a long-standing reputation as a really goofy player. So obviously being a paladin seemed like a weird choice for him.

Finally, Max who played the PC villain barbarian leader. Now, I'm generally of the opinion that PC villains are a bad idea anyway but Leo had an... odd relationship with Max. Leo was very macho and competitive, and Max was very good at exploiting rules in D&D and was an accomplished martial artist as well. That aside, people admired and looked up to him. It seemed to me that Leo always wanted to impress Max. It was probably a bad idea for any of us to enter the game knowing that the DM clearly favored one player over everyone else, but obviously we did anyway.

There were other players too, which included a wizard, a rogue, and a druid. The only reason why I chose to focus on Hector, Harris and Max is that they were easily the source of the most personality conflicts in the group.

The first session introduced us to Leo's house rules:

1.) In ordinary D&D 3.0 Armor Class is is calculated like as 10 + Dex mod + Armor + Shield + Misc. In Leo's D&D it is calculated as D20 roll+ Dex mod + Armor + Shield + Misc.

2.) In ordinary D&D 3.0 Initiative determines the order in which players act for the combat. In Leo's D&D Initiative is re-rolled at the start of every round, so order of player actions changed frequently.

3.) Skills like "Spot" and "Listen" represent your character's ability to notice something. In Leo's D&D you must declare that you wish to make these checks, it's not the DM's responsibility to tell the players when they may attempt them.

The latter rule was met with some confusion, the way were introduced to it didn't help. As our band of adventurers moseyed to our next destination Leo informed us that, "Since none of you declared making a Spot check you are taken by surprise."

Afterward we were jumped by a Bodak and a Succubus, the latter of whom managed to summon a Hezrou. We were able to survive and defeat the monsters, though afterward there was a debate on why Spot now worked the way it did. Now, one could be forgiven for thinking that you were supposed to guess when Leo expected you to make a Spot check but it apparently does not work that way. As Leo explained he would always, "Look at what was in a room before entering it."

Harris was the one to point out that the party was not entering a room, there was no change in scenery to prompt making the check. Harris then asked rhetorically, "Am I supposed to roll a Spot check each time I take a step?"

Leo did not even flinch or pause when he replied, "Yes."

The few sessions that followed are something of a blur but there were two major highlights. The first was the first and only time I had seen a DM chew out a player for missing a session. Hector had a special lady-friend that he spent the evening with instead, he was also good enough to have Harris tell Leo that he couldn't make it. Leo did not like this one bit.

The next time Hector showed up Leo told Hector that he couldn't just skip out like that because it was irresponsible. Hector reminded Leo that he did have Harris give him the message, which was the surest way to keep Leo informed. Leo retorted, "It's not Harris's responsibility, it's yours!"

To hear Leo go on you'd think that Hector had skipped a day of work or something, even worse is that Hector just stood there and took it.

The second major highlight was the introduction of our DMPC, a cleric whose name I forget but "Mary Sue" seems as good a name as any. Later we found out through Max that Leo had made her some levels higher than the PCs. I can't remember how many but I do recall that Mary could cast better healing spells than the druid and was a better melee-fighter than either the fighter or the paladin. It's also worth noting that Mary Sue was completely immune to the kinds of misfortunes that befell the party and unlike the rest of us she always knew when it was appropriate to roll Spot checks. Of course she always made them too. Now I don't think DMPCs are necessarily bad ideas, I do resent being made to play second fiddle to an NPC though. In my opinion if the PCs aren't the main heroes of a campaign, then they should be the main villains. In Leo's campaign it was clear that we were the mooks.

The final session is when the group came up against Max's band of barbarians raiding a village and occupying part of it. The party determined that the thing to do was to get the villagers to safety so the druid offered to turn into a hawk and scout the area. Now, the druid's player was always a very level-headed sort of player and probably our group's greatest asset. His plan really should have worked too but... well, it went like this:

Leo: "Max, you see a bird flying over your camp."

Max: "I have my archers shoot it down!"

and shoot it down they did. I think Harris even said, "Oh, come on! How many birds fly over that camp every day?"

The rogue, wizard and fighter started to evacuate the villagers to the best of their ability. I think. I know that's what they said they were doing, but nothing Leo said in response suggested that their efforts were successful. He was too busy having Mary Sue engage Max's barbarian in direct combat to the point of ignoring the other players. At one point somebody asked about where everyone was, Leo determined that the rogue, wizard and fighter are all close to the combat and unsure where Harris's paladin was said, "He's in a bar or something."

Harris had pretty much had enough by this point so he just said, "OK, if you want me to be in a bar, I guess I'm in a bar."

Armed with this new information Hector started asking if he could roll for initiative and getting flat out ignored. Perish the thought that anything interrupt Mary Sue's epic showdown with Max's barbarian! Anything except Harris of course, who declared what actions he was taking in the bar such as, "I find the deadly nightshade behind the bar and drink it because it looks good."

This actually got Leo attention enough to pause his encounter to explain that this village was built by a Lawful Good society and would certainly not have nightshade behind the bar. Leo then resumed to ignore the other players, Hector continued to ask if he could roll initiative to no answer. This continued until the combat no longer favored Mary Sue, it was around this point that Leo became outright mean. He bemoaned that it wasn't his fault that the players didn't know when to make their spot checks. Hector took this to be a hint to roll one and asked, "Does a Spot check of 5 notice the battle in front of me?"

Leo then shouted, "What do you think?" as though Hector had asked the dumbest question in the world

As Hector sat uncomprehendingly he was treated to an explanation of exactly why he couldn't not notice the battle in front of his face. Hector then asked if that was the case, could he roll initiative to which Leo responded with an exasperated "Yes!"

Hector's initiative wasn't good and he would not be able to participate in combat until the next round. This meant that Mary Sue might not survive, (oh no.) Leo then asked Harris why he wasn't trying to participate in combat, Harris told him that he was in a bar and probably couldn't see or hear what was outside. Leo was furious and demanded, "How could you go to a bar at a time like this?"

Harris reminded Leo, "You said that I was in a bar so that's where I am."

This frustrated Leo to the point that he declared Harris's god teleported him out of the bar into the middle of the combat and told him to get his act together.

Harris got a much better initiative result and got a chance to hit Max's barbarian, though I suspected that he'd rather mess with Leo because it was the only way left to have any fun so he noted that his attack had a penalty because he was not proficient with a beer mug as a weapon. What followed went something like this:

Leo: "Why would you use a beer mug? You have a Holy Avenger!"

Harris: "I set it down in the bar when I got a drink. The beer mug was in my hand when I teleported into the combat so I'll use that."

Leo: "You set down your Holy Avenger? That's the dumbest thing I've heard! If I had a Holy Avenger I'd never take it off for any reason!

Harris: "Even in the shower?"

Leo: "Yes! I'd bring it with me in the shower!"

I can't even comment on that. Max killed Mary Sue and Hector's character and Harris's blase reaction to all of this caused him to fall. The game and the group mercifully broke up after this and Harris was something of a blacklisted player afterwards. Even so, the beer mug shenanigans at the end are what most people involved remember. That's why when they talk about this campaign they usually call it "Beer Mug Paladin.”

Saturday, June 15, 2013

The SUE System: Charge of the Derp Brigade

And now, the war.
I’m deviating a bit from script here, since this part was mostly non-interactive. Partly (mostly) this is because I’m still recovering files from my decrepit laptop’s latest hard drive explosion, but there was a lot of the war that the players did not see. I, on the other hand, got to have the whole sodding war explained to me bit by bit, before and after it took place around the players, because I was a handy target for unwanted exposition.
He built his campaign around Space Empires V. Specifically, a spare copy of SEV I had lying around. He subsequently “patched it up” and added a boatload of “purely aesthetic” mods, hypocrisy be darned, before playing it more than most WoW addicts. Not with other people; according to him his modifications meant he couldn’t use multiplayer. He also didn’t like the AI, because it kept beating him; he’d either play with the AI at a significant disadvantage or just iterate through the sides in hotseat mode, ostensibly because the AI didn’t play the empires he’d made up “correctly” and so was suitable only for generic enemies.
Admittedly, I’ve played strategy games against myself before; it’s the only way to explore the mechanics under controlled conditions, and I don’t know any other way to figure out the basics of Dominions 3. I don’t, however, think that bears any resemblance to an actual strategy, and this is where Marty and I differ. Efficiency has never been a concern of his, given he has all the time he wants, and so obviously the biggest guns are the best ones; given SEV’s rather simple weapon mechanics, this applied physically as well as economically. Then, too, he’d learned to avoid extraneous components, because he was exclusively firing guns so ludicrously enormous that armor couldn’t mass-effectively soak the burst damage. (Multiply redundant) shields could, but they consume Supply, which means every time he recharges his shields he’s losing gunshots. His ideal, then, was as many of the biggest gun he could come up with, welded onto the biggest hull he could get, and as little else as possible. Turtle up, race up the technology tree, and build them in huge hordes to be flung at the enemy en masse.
Enter Star Wars.
By any measure, its technology is laughably advanced; their civilian propulsion systems can drive them at several million c. Setting aside magic hyperdrives, they have twelve meter long starships that can accelerate at 37,000 m/s2 (survivably!) while firing terajoule lasers indefinitely. Now, I look at this and call it magic. Chief looks at this and decides clearly it’s better technology than anything else out there and is therefore the logical choice. Oh, but not the starfighters. They are tiny and carry tiny guns. No, he needs the Eclipse. Quick Star Wars primer: The Eclipse-class Super Star Destroyer is a Star Destroyer scaled up by about a factor of ten with a miniature version of the Death Star superlaser mounted axially. (Yo, dawg, we embedded an enormous cylindrical cannon in your ludicrously huge pointy spaceship so you can overcompensate recursively.) Building one of these monstrosities is an exercise in painful stupidity. Building a second one after the first is the textbook definition of insanity.
Marty, last I asked him, figured on needing “at least a hundred thousand, to start with”. The existing Imperial Navy was apparently intended to be a feint while his REAL firepower was under construction. Admittedly, even with the “extra Kuats” he intended to put in place, this was a tall order, and he intended to economize by removing “extraneous components” like the fighter bays, point-defense gun emplacements, most of the armor, and a good deal of the life support.
“Using SEV as an estimate, I can get them to only cost a third as much to build and take a tenth of the crew.”
Oh, yes, that’s much more economical. Now each one only needs seventy thousand people willing to board the SSD Freudian Nightmare II and be flung into the far corners of the multiverse to die. See, he had a very short list of possible fates for his ships, most of which involved a ship that could no longer shoot ramming into either its targets or anything handy; he’d learned from SEV that extra ammo bays were a waste of space, because none of his ships lived long enough to run out.
I did try to explain that presenting this as a fait accompli was begging for disaster. I even rebuilt his ships in my copy of SEV, set them up, and showed how badly he lost at force projection to even my amateurish parodies of carrier battle groups. He always had one of two responses: “I’d have more ships than that” (a 5:1 resource advantage wasn’t enough, apparently) or “I see I won all the actual battles”. See, he counted a battle won if he had more ships surviving than his opponent did, but I counted the victor in terms of the relative industrial output expended. (Too simple, I know, but I was bad at strategy back then.) In short, if two of my ships and one of his mutually annihilated each other, but mine are produced more than twice as quickly, we’d both call the same engagement a win. So that was a waste of time.
He did, however, come up with a  third answer: Thrawn and Lelouch. He’d bought fully into the idea of the military genius with the single perfect plan, and that was what he intended his chosen generals to provide. Of course, given his ego, he really expected them simply to implement his own plan, as defined by his completely inflexible, one-unit military structure—but still relied on them for the kind of impossible victories they’d pulled off in the source fiction. He more or less halved his own losses down from what his chosen simulator indicated “because of the generals”.
He defined a strategic plan, too, although he never flatly admitted to implementing it: fly the fleet through the portals to simultaneously reach every inhabited point in the target reality, blast randomly selected planets to shards, then issue his standard join-me-or-die ultimatum. I can’t help feeling the sequence of events is suboptimal here. At any rate, he’d just wreck one planet every [unit of time] until they complied, and he’d go back to doing that at the first sign of noncompliance. Quite how he expected a military genius to implement that intelligently is beyond me; it’s not really the kind of plan you can optimize without chucking it entirely. Oh, but he had a propaganda department to deal with the backlash!
In sum: he intended to steamroll everyone with an immense fleet of thousands of ludicrously oversized disposable starships, relying on a cadre of “military geniuses” to optimally implement his planned heavy-handed omnicidal terrorism according to a plan devised by playing a completely unrelated videogame against himself for weeks. 
To be fair, this is his plan as he explained it to me; the PCs didn’t deal with most of it, even tangentially, and what they DID see was slightly different. Remember, they were members of the MIC, so for most of the initial war they saw very little. From the accounts I’ve gotten, they had a bunch of agents die and a bunch of realities drop off the grid before actually getting to respond.
Then Marty showed up, and Rick decided not to give up instantly, which was a problem. Naturally, Marty’s immune to everything, not that Rick doesn’t iterate through everything in his arsenal—including a hug while wearing half a dozen thermal detonators. These were psychically deactivated, then Marty decided to ignore him, walk into the MIC’s vault of reality-ending superweapons, take everything vaguely useful, and leave.
I have to give him an atom of credit here. The ensuing space battle saw them win, although from what I can tell it was against an insignificant fraction of Marty’s navy. That said, the GM was quick to point out that Marty’s forces were infinite, while the MIC’s were not, and so they were doomed no matter what they did.
A lot of silliness ensued with superweapons, propaganda-induced mass defection, and MIC-approved FLEIJA deployment out of Code Geass into critical Star Wars facilities including the Maw Installation…where they met clones of Marty taking the place of both the scientists and the guards. Because, you know, Marty’s the best they’ve got, and the whole galaxywide proscription on human cloning is just a technicality. Stormtroopers show up and are incredibly accurate (which I could see) and impenetrably well-armored (which I can’t). Seriously, they’re apparently almost immune to blasters, no matter what the movies show. Still, they pull it off…although the GM is quick to note Marty has built a backup Maw. Not a backup Maw Installation; he’s replicated the black hole cluster around it, too. It’s like a deranged cooking show: “and here’s an impossible gravitational anomaly we assembled earlier”. Anything to make the players’ actions irrelevant.
Oh, and Rick killed Darth Vader with a crapload of explosives, because Marty didn’t care enough to save someone so whiny. As the GM later explained to me, this was wholly intentional—Vader was too unstable to use and this was the most convenient way  to have him removed.
Then came the final battle, explicitly brought on by the players’ “terrorism”. Marty “himself” showed up, kicked the crap out of the base, and fought Rick one-on-one while the GM was constantly laughing about how easy he was going on the players. Of course, Marty’s still totally immune to everything up to and including a turbolaser, and he’s instantly healing any incidental damage. One would think someone would point Blackhawk at him and they’d ineffectually flail at each other for eternity, but Blackhawk’s long since disappeared. The players were simply told he’d disappeared before every mission they’d sent any agent on had failed; as per normal, it was exposited to me that he had in fact switched sides at the earliest opportunity. In his absence, there was only Rick, who kept firing until Marty once more got bored and gave everyone five minutes to leave via the newly constructed portal to who knows where before the entire base was annihilated. In his infinite mercy, the remaining MIC personnel could take anything they liked except for an immense list of things, and five minutes later the party was sitting in a field somewhere with two starfighters, assorted hand weapons, a hundred and fifty engineers and precisely nothing else.
And that was how he ended that semester of the campaign.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The SUE Files: Succession

All right. It looks like we’re not going to be able to get our missing writer back, so it falls to us to pick apart what the heck happened during the interim period between when I left the campaign and when I started hanging out with the actual players at the request of the DM. Since these are so fragmented, I’m going to blow through the points I can elaborate on; I’ll try to indicate elapsed times when I can, but for the most part these are just events.
So here’s the short version of Marty Stu’s rise to power: it starts with “politely” asking Emperor Palpatine for the Empire—and getting it after five minutes’ conversation. The central tenet of his argument was, to judge from the emergency speech the Emperor gave announcing the immediate transfer of power, that he’s clearly a much better person than Palpy so he “deserves” the empire.
The logistics of this are immensely amusing to me. He put this event in his timeline around Return of the Jedi, so he’s simply walking into the tower of the Second Death Star and the Emperor is so “intrigued by his audacity” that he waves off the Royal Guards—because clearly a sense of self-preservation is not a prerequisite for running a galaxy-spanning polity with an iron fist. Genre savvy? What’s that? At any rate, Marty points out that Palpatine is a speciesist and this means he’s dismissing potentially useful officers. This revelation has him running to the nearest communications terminal to ad-lib the formal transfer of power over the Galactic Empire to a total stranger. The whole process takes less time than the speech itself.
And it works flawlessly. Now, I admittedly don’t know everything I should about Star Wars, but I’m fairly sure the protocol for succession, if there even is one, is a bit more complicated than just saying “obey him as you would me” and changing the name on the office door. It seems like the kind of thing you might want to call a meeting about, for example, just to defray suspicion that someone had stolen the Emperor’s cell holophone and was having a laugh. It might also be a good idea to talk the new Emperor over the mechanics of running a very centralized Empire—especially when many elements under his direct control, like the Emperor’s Hands, depend on Force sensitivity the new guy does not possess. That, however, would take too long; Palpatine simply throws Marty the keys to the Death Star, hops in a shuttle, and happily retires. Total elapsed time is somewhere around ten minutes.
Even weirder, everyone just goes along with it. Given the type of person serving in the upper echelons of the Imperial Navy, I have to think they’d react to news this sudden rather differently. Less “oh goody, new management” and more “welp, the Emperor’s gone full-on Caligula. How much of the Empire can I grab?” It happened after Endor, did it not?
According to the GM, no it did not. You see, our GM has always had a tumultuous relationship with the idea of canonicity. For most works, he rules like this: if it’s not part of the show in the format of the show, whatever the show might be, it’s not canon. Star Trek’s canon is exclusively the movies and the TV series, for example, and not any of the books. Star Wars is a special case: he allows Zahn’s Heir to the Empire series and everything else is not canon. Functionally, this means very little: later on, when I suggest to the players that they go grab some of the superweapons scattered around the ROTJ-era galaxy, the immediate and slightly frightened response from the GM will be “EU is not canon”…right before he starts gushing about Thrawn again.

(To be fair, this is my fault. You see, he had gotten into the habit of giving me unsolicited descriptions of the considerable body of RPG material he created alone in his dorm. One of them was an insectoid race with a bunch of varying phenotypes that bore an uncanny resemblance to the Killiks, and I made the mistake of pointing that out. His vehement if intermittent insistence that everything he writes is wholly original led him to decide that the Killiks were “not really part of Star Wars”, for whatever good that was supposed to do him, and that snowballed into a small part of his present madness. It was only after this, for example, that he decided that any modifications to a video game by anyone other than the original publisher make it “not really the same game”, based on which he has insisted he’s the only one of us who’s ever really played the Elder Scrolls series. He’s also decided that modding itself is a form of plagiarism, somehow, although that’s nothing compared to the vitriol he reserves for indie devs and “their toxic effect on the sales of real [AAA] games”. )
That’s the closest explanation I’ve ever gotten from him on the matter of canonicity: it’s not what’s written, it’s the net worth of the writer. This will come up repeatedly in future setting hops, especially where WH40k is concerned: he’ll use The Black Library’s licensing mechanics to deny the remaining players access to Lord Castellan Creed, for one.
But in the present, the players are watching the speech in which control of the Galactic Empire is ceded to a total unknown, followed by the departure of the Imperial Fleet through inter-universe portals to conquer foreign lands. The whole fleet. Fans of the EU (I used to be; I kinda got tired of it, but I recall much useless data) might recall that the Navy’s critically shorthanded for most of the war, trying keep about a million old tensions from flaring back up into two- and three-system wars against a backdrop of piracy. This is of course lost on Marty, who apparently thinks the whole fleet sits around playing lawn darts with Star Destroyers when they aren’t invading Hoth.
Admittedly, he does explicitly leave behind all the support and logistical vessels that don’t have nice big guns on them so he can move their crews onto more Star Destroyers. This, too, will be a fixture of this “war”: military hardware, regardless of era, will effortlessly maintain itself against anything but deliberate enemy action. If, say, an aircraft carrier holds fifty aircraft, all fifty of them can be endlessly deployed simultaneously for as long as possible, because all you need to do is land them, refuel them, rearm them, and relaunch them, right? Not only that, it can do all that with a fraction of its crew complement, because it is itself a magical self-repairing wonder. The GM’s military is essentially a very efficient reactor: it takes in bullets and fuel, and only bullets and fuel, and spits out victory. The concept of regular wear and tear has never sunk in with him, nor the idea that a two-kilometer ship exposed to the vacuum of space will essentially be halfway broken all the time, which is why it needs a small army of engineers. No, in the GM’s world, the entire manufacturing capacity of the galaxy can be switched over to brand-new Eclipse-class SSDs with no real problems, because Marty wants his big guns. I mention this because one of the remaining players was a bit of a military nut, and would attempt a preemptive strike against the Navy’s supply lines only to be told “what supply lines? You haven’t fought them yet so they don’t need refills.” Followed shortly by  “what spare parts?” Ladies and gentlemen, Marty Tzu!
So that’s the start of the war: Marty takes over his favorite setting by asking nicely and fires its navy across the cosmos to murder everything. Next time, I can get into the mechanics of the war, which provides a handy explanation for why it’s his favorite.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Sort of SUE: Local Environment Variables

This is less a full post and more me mashing together bits of things I had sitting around in an effort to give our absent writer as long as possible to get back here.
It occurred to me as I was looking through my note folders that there’s a weird spectrum of extremes to which DMs here gravitate on the subject of electronics, and it was especially noticeable in college because we were all forced to either buy or lease (and then break, and then buy) laptops from the school. With everyone having one, people would naturally try to use them for RPGs. Usually they would want to use a dice roller, since we were all so critically sleep-deprived we were terribly forgetful and people would invariably forget to bring their dice.
 The DM from whom I learned a great deal of my craft was against this with a vehemence I’ve rarely seen, and it actually took me a while to notice it when I was hanging around and assistant DMing. People just did not have anything out during the game; no phones, no I-devices, no laptops. This DM also showed up chronically late to everything, and that was how I eventually noticed he’d open every session with “okay, guys, laptops away, etc.”.
This was very much in line with his DMing style; in many ways it exemplified it. To play in his games was to enter a cadre of backstabbing lunatics who were out to screw each other over as much as the antagonists; the party was working so many angles you needed a sextant to say hello.  I think he liked being the only one who knew everything, what with how cryptic he made his clues. At any rate, he’d carefully parcel out useful information and work it into the adventure, and at any given second an inattentive player could miss something vital to him or her personally. It was very like a poker game. Then, too, he played with an enormous group, and mass inattention could grind things to a screeching halt.
Of the people who played and assisted with his games, two would go on to regularly DM things of their own here.
My approach to electronics in games was dictated by practicality. Thanks to motor dysgraphia, I’ve been shackled to a computer since elementary school. I built my first desktop at age five by digging through the dumpsters of a bunch of companies in the middle of replacing their hardware, dragging the parts home in a little wagon, and matching plugs to ports until everything worked. Since then, I don’t write; I type. I don’t draw, I use Paint (or, for a long time now, Inkscape). This means I cannot pass notes in the conventional DMing sense, let alone sketch a battle grid with any degree of legibility, without a computer—and I depend on my players having access to one as well, since otherwise we’d blow through paper by the crate.  
This means that my players are in a constant state of information overload. For one thing, I’ve been spoiled rotten by being able to distribute things electronically. I work through the machinations of my campaigns by making in-universe documents out of my notes, and most of them find their way to my players eventually—so by the time the campaign is in full flow, they’re usually sorting through reams of stuff trying to make sense of the world. I’ve gotten better about being concise and omitting extraneous information, but still, without a Find function my players and I would be hopelessly lost.  In a larger sense, though, I’m competing with the whole Internet for my players’ attention by necessity. I don’t like trying to control my players out of that; I’m not their warden. Instead, I use it as a combination safety net and rubric. If one player requires my exclusive attention for a moment, it’s not like everyone else is trapped with nothing to do; conversely, if I haven’t heard from someone for a while, I’m probably not engaging them more than the Internet, and I need to address that. It’s a handy way of allocating time for large groups, anyway.
I can actually understand those two approaches as valid. Then we have the SUE Files method: “you can have your laptops out, but don’t use them except for game-related purposes”.
In practice, this translates to “if at any time you are not paying attention to me, I will harp at you, regardless of what I’m actually doing”. This works about as well as you can imagine; the percentage of DM time spent controlling players rises exponentially with player number, since no one in their right mind is going to sit attentively through an hour-long exposition fest directed exclusively at another player when they’ve got an endless source of entertainment in front of them. It’s especially noticeable if he feels you’re overpowered, since he’ll usually open a combat by somehow inactivating you. If, for example, you cast spells, you can look forward to, at worst, eight real-time hours of combat during which you are irreparably grappled, unable to meaningfully roll dice because even the 1/400 best-case scenario changes nothing. Oh, but how dare you not pay attention to the session. The one redeeming quality of the resultant farce is that he’s not usually attentive enough to notice when people aren’t listening to him.
It works fairly well as a partial explanation of the psychosis underlying our existence here—which itself might help elucidate our reasons for continuing to play with someone so preposterously inept as long as we did. If you’ve ever asked where I find these people, here you go:
This university is not, in any way, a nice place. Our student orientation (the real one, the one after the parents leave) opens with a detailed explanation of just how little anyone cares about us or any issues we might have, and we have the astronomical self-harm rates to prove it. Every class is taught with the attitude that all you wastes of student loans might have skated along in your previous classes, but here, ah, here’s where we separate the people who deserve to be here from the other 90% of you. The ones who don’t say that outright, we call “the nice professors”, and even they’re a little weird. My first faculty advisement meeting (these happen with everyone of your year and major) included this little gem: “If you’re 4.0, there are additional programs available to you. We know who the real students are.”
This attitude continues outside of class. For a start, everyone cliques up pretty quickly, assuming they have free time (meaning they do not study architecture). If you’re an international student (roughly 1/6 of our student  body) , you join the [National] Student Association and they’re your social circle. I’m not generalizing; 100% of the eligible students are members. The level of blatant racism here from all quarters is astounding, by the by, assuming you’re polylingual enough to pick up on it. The other big bloc is the stupid rich legacy students, who will join a frat with other stupid rich legacy students and spend their off hours hosting closed parties and generally acting like assholes because they know they’re being hired by their parents after this. I’ve seen the bottom of so many blueblood noses I could be an ENT. Premed students have their own little gang, too. The general advice we get regarding our associates is “make the friends your career will thank you for”, and the premeds, among others, take it to whatever they have in place of a heart. It’s like taking classes alongside the Borg version of ‘80s Guy. The engineers and scientists hang out; these people have “informal networking sessions” and will actually refer to them as such in conversation with other ostensibly human beings. The sheer amount of calculation they do is chilling. They introduce each other by major, GPA, and lab (not name), and that’s how they decide who to suck up to. Elsewhere, athletes exclusively self-associate for the same reason architects don’t talk to anyone; there’s just no time. I’d go into campus sexism, but it’s so laden with school-specific jargon there’s a real risk of someone figuring out where I went from it.
People don’t talk in the halls here, and not just because there’s usually someone trudging around on the verge of crying.
It’s a bit difficult to get a group together, under the circumstances. Especially given how clubs work here: they are not generally for recreational purposes. They exist to enrich the resumes of their officers, and you join to become one. There isn’t an RPG club here because it’s not marketable; so says the Student Union. To be fair, there is a traditional games club, but it’s something of a special case. Good place to play Arkham Horror, but in general people there are there because it’s the only time they have free, and the desperation hangs in the air like ozone.
Assuming one overcomes all that and gets 5+ people with enough simultaneous free time to play, there’s the matter of sanity. This is not a trivial problem. Usually the people who get full-blown PTSD leave (or more accurately flunk out; most students are far too in debt to leave and start ticking down the grace period on their student loans), but that still leaves ASD along with generalized anxiety, depression, the occaisional nervous breakdown and a battery of defense mechanisms on top of whatever we came in with. Our first reaction to bizarre behavior, then, is generally to accept it and move on, since it’s probably the result of another administrative/academic screwing-over. It’s why I put up with the SUEthor’s bullcrap for so long, actually; we’ve all taken leave of our senses at some point here. I just didn’t realize how thoroughly some of it had stuck.
Or, to put it another way: Our president reacted to a vote of no confidence by disbanding the faculty senate. Our professors see no issue with assigning literally impossible problems “just to test how you react to them” and see no problem with still marking them wrong. Our local police respond to noise complaints but not muggings. This is all happening while we’re absorbing debt like sponges getting degrees in STEM fields in an economy that will never see us hired. In that kind of environment, if someone tells me they think they’re psychic … how is that supposed to stand out from all the background insanity? And how am I supposed to differentiate stress-induced control freakery from pathological control freakery when they’re indistinguishable coming from my professors?