The Von Show #11 – “I cast Detect Asshat!”

Slightly shorter than usual this week ’cause my throat’s packing in. Sorry if the voice isn’t quite as sultry as usual, too.


We come to it at last.

I’ve been dancing around the whole issue of what to do with Undesirables at the gaming table for three months. Is this because I’m a spineless loser so desperate for friends that I’ll put up with anything, or is there something more to it?
Well, it’s the second one, innit?
GMort’s comments on the previous post re: death have me feeling that there’s some ‘splainin’ needs doin’ before we can get into the matter of keeping these unholy arses from our bosoms.
See, there’s being an asshat and being an asshat. There are levels of asshattery, as it were, ranging from a delicate little beret perched atop the left buttock at a jaunty angle to a gurt big pointy wizard hat rammed right up –

[CENSORED BY ORDER NEW FAMILY FRIENDLY HOUSE OF PAINCAKES]

– and a sink plunger.
In particular there’s the issue of in and out of character asshats. BIG RICH, on his excellent and notable blog WRECK MARKER (which also has an interesting thought or two about character death), had this to say on the matter. Consider, if you will, Peregrin Took…
He is young, inexperienced, and impetetuous. His actions are usually born out of greed, boredom, or unthoughtfulness. Whatever he does usually goes to hell and despite the scolding of those around him, he refuses to learn from his mistakes. It’s like he’s doing it all on purpose, although we all know that Peregrin is innocently acting a fool without overt malice.
Every roleplaying group has a Peregrin Took. And more often than not, there’s a Meriadoc Brandybuck along for the ride. Pippin is bad enough, but then Merry joins in and all hell breaks loose. It can ruin a night of gaming.
You know the type. It’s the player who makes sure that his character does nothing but disrupt the overall game, refuse to co-operate with the players or GM, and generally makes the entire group frustrated with his antics. All the while, he is laughing and having a great time ruining everyone else’s fun. He’s thoughtless, and annoying.”
Now, here’s a question for you – which one’s an asshat?
It could quite easily be both of them.
See, the thing about Pippin’s player is that he might be playing an endearingly bumbling comic-relief character. It’s possible. Or, and I venture this merely as a possibility, he might be indulging in the RPG equivalent of hiding from the Kurgan in holy ground: “my character would…”
It’s all too easy to use what “your character” would do as a cover for all sorts of things. Pippin is just one example – if “your character” would dither around, interrupt, grab the potentially cursed item and whack it on their finger, drop the bucket down the well, well obviously that’s what you should do even if the other players around the table end up wanting to throttle you. Right?
Maybe. There’s a difference between knocking the bucket down the well by bumbling into it and actually taking it in both your fat hobbit hands and chucking it down there. The first one isn’t necessarily a deliberate choice of the player, whether in character or not. It could come from the player not asking the GM what’s in the room before they start prattling about (a failure of player skill that should have consequences), or even being asked to make a Reflex save by the GM who wants to spring a surprise on the party (which is how I read the whole ‘well’ situation myself).
What about if “your character” is the classic Paladin among Thieves?  When playing an AD&D Paladin, failing to live up to your character’s fictional code of ethics means that character irrevocably loses everything from their self-healing to their undead-turning to their horse, essentially becoming a fighter without any of the real benefits from that class. It’s meant to promote characterful, theatrical play, as the players of Paladins have to actually think through their actions in some sort of moral terms. Their strength is as the strength of ten because their hearts are pure. No purity, no strength.
Which is fine unless every other character in the group is the standard issue Chaotic Neutral murder-hobo.
Which is fine unless some of the players in the group don’t care for that kind of Fancy-ass play and just want to kill monsters and nick stuff without you putting on your King Arthur voice and insisting they desist.
Which is fine unless, Eris forbid, someone in your party is playing an evil character (i.e. anti-hero), in which case you may conceivably be obliged to cleave them in twain on Paladinly principle, depending on how strictly your DM is playing that principle. Ignorance is no excuse: Paladins have a magical Evil-dar built in from first level, and Evil in the strict terms of AD&D is explicit. There’s no moral relativism in Greyhawk.
Which is fine unless the Paladin’s player is an asshat. There’s nothing quite like “my character is divinely appointed to know what is Right and what is Wrong and obliged to smite those who do Wrong and will know, immediately, if they have failed to do so” for bringing out the worst in people. Being the moral authority of the group, telling people what to do, and being obliged to by the game?
That’s pretty open to the sort of accidental bumbling of the Took or the deliberate trolling of the Brandybuck. That’s sort of why “my character would do this” doesn’t hold much water for me. Not when it’s being used as an excuse to ignore the frowny faces of the other players. Especially not when some of those players don’t operate on the same level, and their frowny face is actually them annoyed with you and not Sideways the Rogue annoyed with Sir Arsewipe the Brave.
How do you tell?  
For everyone who says Sir Arsewipe’s player is an asshat for putting his fictional morality in the way of their monster-lootin’ fun time, there’s someone who says Sir Arsewipe’s player is an excellent player who’s actually doing the Paladin properly by having their morality be a real concern; someone else who points out that in the source literature Sir Galahad would send an unvirtuous knight on their way rather than travel with them, and the Paladin does not belong in a group of murder hobos; someone else who refuses to allow Paladins in their game because of that shit; someone else who thinks the inevitable fall of the Paladin justifies the existence of the class.
Only one of those people actually thinks Arsewipe is an asshat. Maybe two, if we take the Arthurian scholar as trying to say “why the hell did you roll that character when you knew this was going to happen?”
I don’t know whether he is or ain’t myself. I just know that I wouldn’t roll a Paladin unless I’d talked it through with the group beforehand and knew they could deal with it. I definitely wouldn’t hide behind that character if I’d pissed off the other players. I’d want a prospective Paladin player to talk through their idea of the class with me, see how they wanted to play it, and test it with the group. Treating your fictional character as more important than the other, real players, or acting like you do, is probably the most asshattish thing you can do at my table.
How about you? What’s the big red button for you? What flashes on and off when you cast Detect Asshat?

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