Real Men Don't Play GURPS
or Vampire, for that matter
Back in the good old days the "Golden Era" of roleplaying it was easy to separate the men from the boys (sometimes called "Real Men" and "Quiche Eaters" in the literature). During this period, the Real Men were the ones who played Dungeons and Dragons, and the Quiche Eaters were the ones who didn't.
A Real Man said things like "save vs death or die" and "THAC0" (they actually pronounced the zero in THAC0, you understand), and the rest of the world said things like "Dungeons and Dragons isn't that Satanic?" and "dragons don't exist". Real Men brush off such trivial issues, and have never had problems killing things that don't exist.
But, as usual, times change. Dungeons and Dragons is no longer the only force in roleplaying. We are faced today with a world in which vampires can be player characters instead of monsters, and rules exist for creating microwave ovens and toasters that are more detailed than those for creating humans.
There is a clear need to point out the differences between the typical pasty-faced goth poseur or aspiring gearhead, and a Real Man. If this difference is made clear, it will give these people something to aspire to a role model, a father figure. It will also help explain why, despite 25 years of progress in roleplaying games, the Real Man continues to be the force that he is today.
The easiest way to tell a Real Man from the rest of the roleplaying crowd is by the game he plays. Real Men play Dungeons and Dragons. Quiche Eaters play GURPS and Storyteller. Mark Rein-Hagen, the designer of Storyteller, was once asked, "How do you pronounce the dot in your name?" He replied, "It's unpronounceable, and symbolises how meaningless are the labels that we attach to ourselves." One can tell immediately from this comment that Mark Rein-Hagen is a Quiche Eater. Real Men don't need the abstract concepts introduced by Quiche-Eating games like characterisation, immersiveness or realism to get their jobs done. They are perfectly happy with a sword, a spellbook, and a beer.
- Real Men use swords to kill monsters.
- Real Men use swords to tame the wilderness.
- Real Men use swords to negotiate peace treaties.
- Real Men use swords to romance the opposite sex.
If you can't do it with a sword, do it with a fireball. If you can't do it with a fireball, it isn't worth doing.
Roleplaying pundits have gotten into a "gamist/simulationist/dramatist" classification rut over the past several years. They claim that roleplaying has many purposes, and games should be designed to emphasise the particular purpose that the designer has in mind. They don't all agree on exactly which purposes should be emphasised, of course, which hasn't stopped megabytes of tedious discussion on one forum or another. These people have obviously never played a Real Game. My first adventure in a Real Game involved tracking down a demon with six arms, a snake-like tail and a bad attitude, and killing it before it destroyed an entire kingdom. Any Real Man will tell you that all the Dramatist Existentialist Angst and Simulationist Verisimilitude in the world won't help you solve a problem like that it takes violence. Some quick observations on Real Men and violence:
- Real Men aren't afraid to kill orcs.
- Real Men aren't afraid to kill giants.
- Real Men aren't afraid to kill dragons.
- Real Men aren't afraid to kill kittens they might grow up to become an evil wizard's familiar.
- Real Men don't have to justify killing things the need is obvious.
Games emphasising free-form storytelling and non-violent interaction have gotten a lot of press lately. "The story is the thing", according to these games. The people who write these games believe that they offer an alternative to how roleplaying games have historically been played, namely as a series of encounters involving killing things. Real Men know better than that; they know that the story is merely a convenient device used to set the stage for the important parts of the game, namely killing things.
What kind of dice are used by a Real Man? Six-sided dice? Naturally everyone and his dog uses six-sided dice; the d6 is the iconic die. But a Real Man isn't satisfied until his dice collection includes every platonic solid and regular polyhedron, and possibly irregular ones as well.
A Real Man's dice collection includes multiple examples of four-, six-, eight-, ten-, twelve- and 20-sided dice. Some particularly dedicated Real Men also have two-, three-, 30- and 100-sided dice. The fact that it is physically impossible to have a polyhedron with only two faces (sides) is but a minor inconvenience to a Real Man.
Real Men are also discerning consumers who demand value for money from their roleplaying purchases. Dice are expensive, and justifying their existence is a key requirement from any game that a Real Man plays. A ruleset that doesn't use ten different polyhedra simply isn't worth considering for a Real Man.
What kind of system does a Real Man use to resolve tasks in the game? In theory, a Real Man could use any task resolution system he liked. Back in the days when adventures consisted solely of 10-foot-square rooms occupied by 50-foot-long dragons, this was of course moot. The only task resolution systems that mattered were the attack roll (see "Real Gaming" above) and the saving throw. Your typical Real Man knew the class attack matrices in the 1st Edition D&D Dungeon Master's Guide by heart, and exactly where the breakpoints were for optimal dual-classing. (Back then, classes were REAL classes. Every cleric was the same as every other cleric, every fighter was the same as every other fighter, and so on. This made it very easy to create new characters after your original ones got killed. These days, you can spend more time creating new characters than actually gaming.)
Let it not be said that the Real Man is averse to progress, however. Many of the innovations that have appeared in the last 25 years have been incorporated into rulesets that Real Men use today. For example, Dungeons and Dragons originally had no task resolution system for non-combat situations, so not surprisingly, people tended to gloss over them. Today, there are lots of ways of handling such situations, so Real Men now have the luxury of glossing over them for its own sake. Some people have claimed that the latest version of Dungeons and Dragons places more emphasis on nonviolent solutions to problems, but after careful study I have come to the conclusion that they were mistaken.
The Real Man might compromise his principles and use a ruleset that is not Dungeons and Dragons, if there are enough opportunities to cause violence. There are several Real Men playing GURPS, for instance, and they talk about Real Men's issues like wound ballistics and the physics of laminate armour and long rod penetrators. Those Real Men who play Storyteller also find no lack of opportunities to kill things. Indeed, Storyteller, despite its Quiche-Eating sensibilities, is perhaps even more suited to epic violence than Dungeons and Dragons; some 2,000-year-old elder kindred make 50th level wizard-paladins look like kids in the park.
- Real Men play hardened, violent adventurers in GURPS.
- Real Men play hardened, violent adventurers in Vampire.
- Real Men play hardened, violent adventurers in Call of Cthulhu.
- Real Men play hardened, violent adventurers in Elfquest.
As we can see, the determined Real Man can instigate violence in any ruleset.
What of the future? It is a matter of some concern to Real Men that the latest generation of roleplayers are not being brought up with the same outlook on life as their elders. Many of them have never seen a 10-foot-wide corridor, let alone heard the tale of Eric and the dread gazebo. Hardly anyone in gaming clubs these days has had the experience of mapping out a dungeon on grid paper. Gamers these days are soft protected from the realities of roleplaying by diceless systems, computer games, and "player-friendly" modules. Worst of all, some of these alleged "roleplayers" manage to become game developers without ever having had a character die on them! Are we destined to become a community of goth poseurs and aspiring gearheads?
From my experience, I can only report that the future is bright for Real Men everywhere. Dungeons and Dragons doesn't show any signs of dying out, despite all the efforts of Storyteller and GURPS fans the world over. Even more subtle tricks, like adding nonweapon proficiencies, skills and powers to D&D have failed. Oh sure, TSR came out with the Players' Option books, which were almost certainly D&D's darkest hour. However, all of them simply just gave us more and better ways to kill monsters to cause violence as God meant it to be. Furthermore, on the computer gaming front, games like Diablo and Counterstrike are giving rise to a whole new generation of Real Men. They may use a strange lingo containing words like w00t and 3l33t, but the truth is that Real Men speak the same language everywhere even if the words are different.
Even D&D itself is not as bad on Real Men as it once was. The latest release of D&D has the potential of a roleplaying game worthy of any Real Man unlimited hit dice, all classes gaining multiple attacks per round, and plenty of strange and arbitrary special abilities. If you ignore the fact that it contains skills like Diplomacy, Craft and Profession, 3rd Edition contains much can be appreciated by the Real Man. After all, there's no multiclassing limits, three-quarters of the core classes use spells, and the added bonus of the prestige class is thrown in like having the best parts of kits and dual-classing in one place. To add to the fun, bonuses can have different types, so not only do you have to remember which numbers to add up, you have to remember which ones to throw away too.
No, the future isn't all that bad. Why, in the past year, even the classic Real Man's roleplaying game 1st Edition Dungeons and Dragons has been revived and republished under the Hackmaster brand. From all evidence, the spirit of Real Men lives on in this excellent ruleset. As long as there are ill-defined campaign worlds, quirky challenges, and bizarre dungeons, there will be Real Men willing to jump in, Kill the Monsters and Take their Treasure.
Long live Dungeons and Dragons!
Adapted without permission from the infamous "Real Programmers Don't Use Pascal", itself inspired by the book Real Men Don't Eat Quiche.