RPP-099: Mad Brew’s Gaming Philosophy

Roleplaying Philosophy Series:

Mad Brew Labs celebrated its 1st year of existence last Thursday. It came and went without fanfare because I was actually gearing up for a more important celebration, 5 years of marriage with my lovely wife. I was pondering about what I have and haven’t done with the blog in the last year and where I want to be a year from now.

One of the things that I realized I have yet to do is give my readers an idea about what kind of gamer I am. Sure, most of it could be gleaned from how I have presented certain topics in one of the last 141 posts here at the labs. I just think it’s a good idea to write it down and I do it more for my own benefit than anything else.

Why I Play

There are many reasons why I play roleplaying games and the following list is not exhaustive:

  • manages my imagination (because I need an outlet)
  • stimulates my creativity (wouldn’t be cool if…)
  • provides interesting experiences (I never could have elsewhere)
  • accommodates my puzzle solving fetish (which leads to character optimization)
  • gives me a break from the home life (necessary to maintain healthy marriage)
  • allows my wallet to breath (because paper is cheap and dice last a lifetime)

All of the above are wonderful reasons to play, but the number one most important reason I play is because it allows me to have fun with my friends. Roleplaying is a social engagement for me. The actual game and story take a back seat to the social event; RPGs are just a vehicle for us to get to the destination of fun.

Play Style

On a recent episode (Season 1, Episode 3) of the RPG Circus podcast, the ringmasters had Phil, the Chatty DM, as guest. He said, “The age of the tyrannical DM is dead” and attributed the death knell to the design of modern RPGs (specifically 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons). I say the age never existed.

I’ve been playing since about ’88, and I never had a tyrannical (meaning adversarial) DM. Sure, that was 15 years after the inception of D&D, but I believe the adversarial DM, while existed, was not as common as many believe. Also, no rule system to date prevents a DM from being a dick.

That being said, I do believe Game Masters (or Dungeons Masters or referees) should have the final say in any situation. The GM does most of the work and receives that power by merit. The only entitlement players have is the right to have fun (so if the GM is not providing that, it’s time to for something to change).

Some might think that places me firmly in the classic gaming camp (they call themselves the “Old School Renaissance”), but I dig crunchy mechanics, tactical miniature play, character options, and story. Yet, I don’t feel like I am part of the “new school movement” either.

I take a sort of hybrid approach to my gaming. I reward both player AND character skill at the table. I do have story and plot running in the background of my adventures while still allowing the freedom of “sandbox” style play. There are consequences for actions (as well as non-action in the case of plot). I roll everything openly and pull no punches, so character death is a reality in my games (though I do offer options that help soften the blow). I pay attention to mechanics, yet let them take a back seat during outstanding roleplay.

As a player, I tend to do heavy optimization. Why? Well, because I like watching everything come together; traits supporting and enhancing each other. I also feel there is a skill involved in optimization, and enjoy applying that skill. It gives me something to do in the downtime between sessions and it makes for interesting backgrounds.  Yeah, I tend to write lengthy (2-3 page) histories for my characters, and everything on the character sheet has a rationale. These backgrounds in turn give me things to use during roleplaying.

I tend to believe that those who hate optimizers are either weak GMs who have not learned how to handle them or players that have weak GMs and their lack of optimization keeps their characters in the shadows. A good Game Master can give everyone a chance to shine, no matter what kind of character a player has.


I think I am a very middle of the road roleplayer and I don’t let any zealousness blind me to the benefits of any play style. I don’t wear my game of choice as a badge (I can play many systems, and enjoy most of them) and I try to keep from being pigeon-holed into any of the insular play style movements. I welcome any good-natured gamer at my table, no matter their preference.

Oh, and this is my own personaly philosphy and have no desire to force them upon anyone (though it would be cool for me if many people adopted them), nor do I claim my philosophy is the one true way, it just works best for me.

What I’m listening to:  White Zombie – Crow II: City of Angels OST – I’m Your Boogieman

2 thoughts on “RPP-099: Mad Brew’s Gaming Philosophy

  1. The whole concept of a tyrannical DM reminded me of a story:

    Probably round 1979, I first visited a wargaming store — the War House (aka Balboa Game Company), in Long Beach, Calif. (it’s still there).

    They had a big gaming table in the front part of the store, and there were probably 7 or 8 people playing DnD at the time. While I was looking at Ral Partha Miniatures, I overheard the DM say, “Welcome to my birthday garden. The only magic that works here is mine.”

    I agree that tyrannical DMs are rare, but when you encounter one, boy, do you remember it.
    .-= Stu´s last blog ..Happy Jacks RPG Podcast 000 =-.

  2. @Stu: Oh yeah, I agree with that sentiment. The bad DMs will stick with people, which helps perpetuate the myth of the tyrannical DM.

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