Critical Thoughts

Sarah Darkmagic - Posted on 19 March 2011

Today I commented on twitter that I didn't find the article how to punish kids who don't play D&D "right" particularly thoughtful and I wanted to provide more information on that lest anyone think I was just trying to be a jerk. However, I first wanted to provide some comments on the original article.

Comments on the D&D Kids: Punishment:

1. Spend a few words explaining that the content of this article was meant for the times when rewards failed to produce the desired outcome. This would have helped sidestep the issues of people complaining that rewards should be used instead.
2. Reorganize the first section. Start off with the rewards system and then follow with the punishments to use if that fails.
3. Give a bit more information about his experiences with children especially that sometimes the groups are created for him instead of him having control. People seem to assume that the kids playing want to be there or that he has control over the group composition.
4. While the tone was meant to be tongue-in-cheek, that can be hard to convey in written form, particularly online and the conversational tone isn’t the most efficient way to give this information and may lack a degree of clarity.
5. I’m not sure Punishment is the best theme for this article since very little deals with punishing players for “bad” behavior. It’s use in the title and the introduction frames the discussion in a way that does the rest of the content a disservice. Given that it’s an article on children, it’s likely to be incendiary.
6. Add a heading before the paragraph that begins with “Now, in my work...” to make it clear that this is different from mere reward or penalty. I would keep it neutral on the word punishment, perhaps saying “Common Trouble Spots”
7. Some people are very much against labeling children. Yet the subheadings/groupings make it easier for the audience reading the article. It might seem obvious to the author, but adding a disclaimer that one shouldn’t actually call children these names might help.
8. Use of the Wizards of the Coast style guide would help here. I understand that traditionally “he” is considered gender neutral, but there is enough resistance to that idea in the US that many companies, including Wizards of the Coast, has changed their style to reflect popular opinion.

Now that I've provided some comments on the original article, I'd like to discuss the response article.

Comments on the response article:

1. The tone of the response article sounds combative to my eyes/ears right from the start. For instance, she describes Uri as someone “who is apparently a professional ‘teacher of RPGs’ in Israel.“ First, nowhere in the 4 articles does he use the phrase “teacher of RPGS.” He says he plays D&D with kids in a variety of settings. He doesn’t state anywhere that his aim “to punish and humiliate children between the ages of 7 and 11 who don't fit his idea of what a roleplaying game should be.” In fact, he says that some of the issues are minor enough that a DM shouldn’t pay too much attention to them while a few deal with situations where the actions of one child make it hard to have a game at all. In other blog posts, he talks about D&D in pretty expansive terms defined by what the children want. In fact, in the first article of the series he talks about letting kids create their own races. “Another approach, one that entails much more work on the part of the DM, is asking kids to draw and describe the character they want to play and then to design—with or without them—appropriate statistics for their creations. You’ll be surprised at just how creative and original (and occasionally random) kids will be!”
2. She oversimplifies the author’s statements in an exaggerated manner. He does not say that the Antagonist type “should just be banished for being a threat to the DM's authority.” Instead, he explains that it’s very hard to get a child who takes this stance to play the game in a manner that the other kids will enjoy since the goal of the child isn’t to play the game but to defy authority.
3. She brings up the "Real Men / Roleplayers / Loonie / Munchkin" and loses me. He wasn’t categorizing all children who play but rather trying to detail some player groups that might make the game hard to play and provide some support for how to deal with the issues that may come up. He even states that “While the below archetypes are gross generalizations, they might help you to identify and solve the problem in some cases.” In the cases he mentions, these are not merely different play styles or goals, but potential trouble spots for keeping a game going. I’m sorry but I fail to see how a player intent only on proving that he or she is not subject to the DM’s authority is a valid and reasonable play style. In fact, none of these are play styles with the possible exception of the serial character changer.
4. She assumes a meaning of seriousness that doesn’t make sense to me given the context of the article and the ones that came before it.
5. She claims “the article focuses almost entirely on the idea that it's the role of the adult Dungeon Master to inflict punishment on the children.” Yet when I read it, there is actually very little punishment going on. In addition, yes the article focuses on dealing with problems at the game table, but it’s part two of a two part article, the first of which focuses on rewards.
6. Her post goes on from there with a bunch of “I’m offended” claims without any information to backup her claims other than a presumed “It’s obvious why this is an issue.”

At least those are my thoughts.

Thank you, Sarah. You did a much better job of replying and refuting that debacle of a response article then I would have. Used FAR less #$%@ and !*$#, that's for sure. Thanks for being calm, rational, and most of all, professional.

Thanks for writing up your responses. I don't agree with you and your criticisms of my blog post, but I'm glad we're not just hashing this out via twitter sniping.

Hope you have fun gaming today!


The article was not thoughtful, yet it produced a huge amount of thought? More thought then I have seen in a very long time on any Article?

Maybe this is just my perspective, perhaps this is because I play with Kids and follow this topic more closely? I follow & post to the community D&D Parents group:

Maybe it is because a lot of players learned to play as kids and any analysis of that time creates strong feelings of judgement? I have no idea...

What I do know is that The Original Series of Articles demonstrated WotC is actually listening to a large segment of their audience who are clamoring for more Kid Content. Less half-naked undead nightmare creatures & more of the fun Heroic Stuff from previous editions...The Adventure for Kids last year was universally regarded as brilliant, the Practical Guide series of books, and this series of Articles all point towards WotC moving in a direction that I, for one, support.

Great blog post! I have to say, my dander was definitely pointing in the up position when I started to read this latest D&D Kids article. But upon reading, it seemed much more reasonable. Having been in charge of groups of kids of that age, a lot of what he says makes sense. The flaw with this article is that it's written from the author's own point of view, which is an unusual one. Most folks aren't trying to DM random groups that include unwilling kids. My suggestion for the author henceforth is that he apply his experience to the likely scenarios of adults DMing for their own relatives and family friends.
Also Sarah, I'm guessing that the author chose to use the masculine pronoun because the vast majority of his players are in fact male (possibly even all of them). Other cultures sometimes have greater gender differences than we're used to.

I think there's a clash of expectations here between the direct, abrasive Israeli culture and the more touchy-feely American culture, especially when it comes to children. Americans who are used to a more deferential, "let them show the way" approach to children often get angry at a more traditional mentoring/parenting style and can even associate it with child abuse.

From what I can see, Uri is talking about ways to prevent misbehaving kids ruining the fun for the other kids, which is a good thing to do. I hate seeing adults abnegate responsibility and letting badly behaved kids run wild; my 3 year old just returned from a US vacation visiting my in-laws with bruises inflicted by his bullying 5 year old cousin, because his cousin's parents would not do anyting to control their son.

Sarah Darkmagic? Of the New Hampshire Darkmagics?

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