The other day I was playing Dungeons and Dragons with a new player. Our characters were fighting on a rope bridge. Well, the other party members were—I was standing around the corner shouting words of encouragement.
Ah, the life of a Bard.
Me: “You know, you can fly into a rage since it’s your turn. You’ll get *insert list of benefits*.”
Her: “I know, but I don’t want my character to rage. She might cut the bridge.”
Me: “Yes, but you don’t have to attack the bridge if you don’t want to.”
Her: “But she might.”
To which I respond, “That’s fair.” In my head I’m thinking, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?! WHY AREN’T YOU RAGING?? You’re like a wizard not casting a spell but instead running up and hitting someone with a sword! You are a barbarian. RAGE!” But I didn’t say it. I held back.
I used to play “Magic: The Gathering” competitively and had this conversation a lot.
Me, with glee: “I just got a playset of this new card. I’m super excited to put it into a deck themed around it!”
Them, with dead eyes and no emotion: “That’s a bad card. I don’t even know why they printed that trash. It’s such a garbage card. If you aren’t playing *insert deck name here* then you are just giving people wins.”
To which I would respond, “Oh…cool.” While in my head I was thinking, “DON’T TELL ME HOW TO BUILD MY DECK. YOU AREN’T EVEN MY REAL DAD!!”
I’ve always struggled with the idea of the “right” way to play a game. I hate it when it happens but I’ll inevitably tell someone how to play their character. The whole thing gets exacerbated by the fact that I’m often teaching new players how to play RPGs. They can be pretty dense games with a lot of easy-to-forget rules.
This struggle is one of the greatest challenges I face while teaching people how to play games. I’ve been playing RPGs for eighteen years now. Let’s just say sometimes I have an inflated sense of my own competence. But, I remind myself, there is no “right” way to play.
I once DM’d a game with a player that had a warrior, healer and caster character. He’d made each one out of the bard class. None of these unique, incredible characters would have existed if he had played “right”—by making the bard a lute-toting musician. He did such an incredible job pushing the class to its absolute limits that to this day I have a dream to run a game where each player plays a character that’s a different aspect of one single class.
But of course that wouldn’t be any fun if we were all just raging barbarians. Or would it?