Poor Bard. Dude just wants to sing for his supper and maybe hit on a few elf chambermaids. He didn’t expect to have to rework his entire repertoire. Maybe he should have though.

If you’ve read this far in the comic, then I hope you’ve learned that RPGs are full of tropes. Our hobby is replete with horny bards, pyromaniac mages, drinking contests, and a vast array of murderhoboism. But just as our games fill up with familiar situations and stock characters, our heads fill up with stock advice. Today, I’d like to talk about one particularly popular adage:

There’s no wrong way to game. 

Or how about this variant?

If you’re having fun, you’re doing it right. 

These truisms knock around message boards and advice columns until they become common wisdom. But even though they’re generally true, I think it’s important to remember why they’re true. And that’s because they’re friggin’ useless outside of RPGs.

Imagine a meeting of game devs working on the next Triple-A blockbuster. The question of quick time events pops up.

“What do you think?” says the team lead. “Should w keep ’em or lose ’em?”

“Well,” says Junior Game Dev #1. “As long as they’re fun, I think they’re a good idea.”

Or a film director asking an editor if bullet time is still cool.

“There’s no wrong way to make a film,” comes the reply.

Or even a fiction writer talking to her beta readers.

“What did you think?”

“It was fun.”

“Which parts?”

“Well I mean… If you enjoyed writing it, that’s what counts.”

Cue boardroom suggestion meme.exe

If you’ve ever asked for feedback on a creative endeavor, then you know that these non-opinions are less than helpful. When you’re trying to figure out how to tell a better story / build a better game / make better art, you’re looking for concrete, actionable advice. That’s because you’re building a particular artifact for a general audience.

In RPGs however, the players are the audience. You’re building a narrative / storyworld / experience together with your fellow players in order to entertain one another. And in that sense, hearing the phrase “there’s no wrong way to game” can serve a useful reminder. For example, dropping a +5 greatsword on a 1st level party in 5e D&D isn’t very balanced. Assuming that your group enjoys those kinds of shenanigans however, then there is indeed ‘no wrong way to game.’ That’s because the tiny audience of “you and your buddies” are all that matters. Opinions like, “Robbing other party members is a great way to create drama,” or, “It’s my job as the GM to kill the PCs,” may not be generally popular, but those attitudes can still work within specific group dynamics.

The critical thing to remember is that other people game differently. When you get out into the wilds of the Mage’s Forum, the constant refrain of, “There’s no wrong way to game,” and, “If you’re having fun, you’re doing it right,” serve as a useful reminder. Every group is unique, and what works at one table won’t necessarily work at another. That’s a healthy thing to keep in mind.

And so, at long last, we return to Bard and his unhappy choice of set lists. When you move beyond your familiar home table, whether it’s at a gaming con, with a new group, or in a forum, it’s important to put your own preconceptions on hold. Before you offer up advice to your fellow gamers, remember that every one of them comes paired with a unique set of preferences. That means that checking your own personal version of “the right way to game” at the door is Step 1 in talking shop with your fellow dungeon delvers.

So in the spirit of cultural exchange, what do you say we compare our differences down in the comments? Name a technique or design choice that your group enjoys, but that is generally unpopular. Do you love no-holds-barred PVP?  Perhaps you think an adversarial GM can be a fun challenge. Maybe you enjoy alignment mismatches, tracking encumbrance, or putting your own spin on crits. Sound off with the most unconventional elements of your gaming style down below!


ADD SOME NSFW TO YOUR FANTASY! If you’ve ever been curious about that Handbook of Erotic Fantasy banner down at the bottom of the page, then you should check out the “Quest Giver” reward level over on The Handbook of Heroes Patreon. Twice a month you’ll get to see what the Handbook cast get up to when the lights go out. Adults only, 18+ years of age, etc. etc.