Was Leeroy Jenkins Playing Boldly?


Sarah Darkmagic - Posted on 17 May 2010

Since I started spreading the word of Chris Sims' "play boldly" philosophy, a number of people have asked me about Leeroy Jenkins. For those who might not have heard of this Internet meme, Wikipedia has a good summary:

The video was released by the World of Warcraft player guild "PALS FOR LIFE". It features a group of players discussing a detailed battle strategy for the next encounter while one of their party members, Leeroy, is away from his computer. Their plan is ruined when Leeroy returns and, ignorant of the strategy, immediately charges headlong into battle shouting his own name in a stylized battle cry. His companions rush to help, but Leeroy's actions ruin the meticulous plan, and all of the group members are killed.

While his actions certainly were bold, they really don't fit into the play boldly mantra. For me, the mantra isn't about playing each individual PC acting as boldly as possible. Rather it's how to turn the game from the monotony of dice rolling and regurgitation of mechanics that honestly can be done with a computer to a telling of legendary tales that will keep you and your friends entertained for years.

On one hand, the Leeroy Jenkins moment did that. In fact, it went from being a tale between friends to being an Internet meme to becoming part of our cultural literacy and being mentioned in a number of TV shows, movies and commercials. We love it because it illustrates a frustration shared by many players of MMOs. The difficulty of the dungeons in World of Warcraft caused groups to spend a lot of time on strategy. While some people really love these planning sessions, a fair number of people do not. For those people, the focus on planning was taking the fun away from the game. Leeroy Jenkins brought some of that fun back, even if it was only vicariously. Now, whenever someone insists on spending a ton of time planning instead of exploring or going after the bad guys, they can point to this cautionary tale of what can happen when one player decides to not go along with the plan.

However, for those who like planning and spent a lot of time and energy helping craft one, Leeroy's move was a bit of a dick move. Time is a valuable resource for people on both sides of the planning coin. If a player at my table left for 20 minutes, came back to the party standing outside of a cave and decided to just go for it, I would be a little upset. At that point, the game isn't about the party, it's about him and that's a bit unfair to the other players. Thus, while his actions could be classified as bold, he was not playing boldly.

So what does this mean for our tables? To me, it means that Leeroy Jenkins moments usually do far more harm than good. Most tables have a mixture of player motivations with few being comprised solely of those who like to just go for it. For most tables, an occasional Leeroy Jenkins moment might help break people out of a gaming rut. Even then, however, the occurrence might point to something deeper being broken at the table. Perhaps the planners far outnumber those who like to dive directly into the action. Or maybe there is a player who feels continually left out of the group decisions. If these sorts of problems exist, it's important for the table to recognize them and, hopefully, find a way to accommodate everyone's wishes. For DMs, mixing in some "seat-of-your-pants" encounters with ones that allow for planning is a good start. Likewise, trying to figure out something special about the PC of the player being left out and make that particular character play a pivotal role in the story. For players, it means checking in with the responsiveness of the other players to your ideas. If you really like strategy but see half the table not engaged in your planning, it might be time to back off a bit or maybe come up with plans that spotlight another PC. And if you find yourself bored by yet another planning session, speak up. By working together, you might just be able to create something as bold as Leeroy Jenkins without being a jackass.

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I think the threat of such a moment is the only thing keeping a lot of groups on track. The one player who says, "If you don't figure out what we're doing in five minutes, my fighter is going to start busting up doors until he finds a way out of here" puts a timer on the decision and keeps the party from spending half an hour debating their next course of action.

I'm with @SwordGleam on that one.

My group can (and has) actually spend 30+ minutes arguing how to open a door that might or not be trapped.

I often play unwise characters who get fidgety when planning gets too long.

How I handle it as a player? I do my own personal skill challenge - I get a dumb idea and I test it against a WIS challenge. The longer the wait, the less wise my PC acts.

My fellow players have plenty of clues that my PC is about to do something stupid... and should he decide to act, I warn the other players in advance who always have a chance to stop me.

My PC had quite a few bruises this way and even a sex change (weird cursed door handle / RPing challenge).

Fun times.

@Swordgleam and @Eric, yup, it can be a useful tool. However, it's not "playing boldly," and often comes as a result of some other issue at the table. Hopefully the table can come to some sort of agreement in regards to the differing motivations, but if not, giving clues about what you are about to do is fair too. Heck, DMs are given the same sort of advice in the form of having a random monster or five show up.

Like a bit in the mouth of a horse one player can control the actions of the entire group. Playing bold to me means putting your self at risk for great reward. Playing like a dick means putting others in the party at risk against their will, reward or no.

I think the idea of "playing boldly" is really just playing unexpectedly in-character. By this I mean that you are being first and foremost true to the character concept you developed and then trying your best to react to a situation presented to you without over-thinking it.

One of my big problems with D&D 4e is the inherit message behind the fact that the game is so finely balanced. Yes, I'm going to argue against extremely fine balance in a game. It makes it too much of a war game and sets the tone of competition instead of storytelling.

Acting unexpectedly in-character takes out the over analyzing and half hour strategy sessions (we, too, have had 30 minutes spent on opening a door) that really slows down and makes a game of D&D so tedious. I'm going to start trying to act more on instinct with how my character would act and try to think less about how I can "win" D&D.

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