261 Why So Serious?

RPGs can be taken very, very seriously. Sometimes, we don’t even understand that someone at our table is taking it as seriously as they are. We share our personal perspectives and we touch on whether you can separate the art from the artist!

If you’re a patreon and downloaded it quickly, you will have a bad copy. I don’t believe deleting it and redownloading it from the same player will fix it. I had to used the Patreon app to listen to the revised, error-free, version.


Some very interesting topics coming up in this episode. I think one important thing to note about authors like Lovecraft and Howard is that they have already been foundational to the fields they worked in. For better or worse, horror would look much different without Lovecraft’s influence, and fantasy would look much different without Howard.

Since they have already been so instrumental in establishing the structure, at least in my opinion, it’s less important to try and rebuild a new, parallel structure and hope nothing of theirs creeps in (which is going to be a very difficult task), than it is to point out what’s problematic and destructive about their work and try to divest the modern genre of the worst aspects of those works.

When it comes to modern works, it’s a bit easier to at least say “from this point forward, now that I know, I’m not supporting this person any longer,” but its difficult to separate out what they have worked on in the past, especially if that were was as part of a team.

The bigger something is, the more difficult it is to separate individual elements. I love D&D 5e, but there were several problematic people involved in previous editions, and in the current edition, and there is one big unresolved issue that I wish would be addressed in order to make me more comfortable about continuing to support the line, but despite that, I also know there are people that work for WOTC that I like and respect, and it makes it harder to just cut everything off for me.

I do think that “politics” at the game table is a nuanced thing. I would say it is a true statement to say that all games are political, in that, we bring all of our biases and our interactions with the real world into the games we run and the characters we play. I do think there is a difference between directly referring to real world politics, religion, and current events, and showing what political agendas motivate you in what you add to your games.

As an example, my Tales from the Old Margreve game is a game about dark horror fairy tales, with the underlying theme of fey versus cosmic horror, and I wouldn’t bring literally references to modern politics into the game. However, I did have a villager in the Margreve that was a logger make the statement to the PCs that if his village cleared out an area, anything in that area that wanted to trade with them or become part of the village was fine, but if they got in their way of harvesting materials, it was perfectly alright to wipe them out. The PCs immediately saw this NPC as someone that needed to be set straight.

Obviously, my biases about environmental resources and colonialism inform how I portrayed this NPC, but it was also almost comically over the top as well.

To bring in the Consent in Gaming topic, this is why session zero, lines and veils, and ongoing safety tools can be very important, as well as checking in with players. Sometimes people aren’t going to be able to game with one another, and sometimes they aren’t going to be able to game together in certain genres, but will do fine in others.

And on that note, thanks for the plug!


I don’t allow this at any of the former at any of my tables - home or FLGS. I don’t make a big deal about it (session 0) - but just shut it down politely if it crops up (very rare.) I think of this like me activating the X card.


After they died, and I’m not sure they faced the scrutiny like some of today’s creators given the advent of social media and the internet. So we can say HP/Robert have influence, they did so in a point in time that allowed them to do so. In today’s world…I think they might get hunted down and banished.


I think that depends. They may have been the kind of celebrities that could get away with saying “it was a joke!” when they got called on their BS and still have a career.

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Good episode.

(It was either type 2 words or 2,000. I chose brevity.)


Fabulous episode! Seriously.

PS- I wish I was going to GameHole Con as “RPG Cop” would be a great costume. Lol


@OldSchoolDM - I can’t even say I shut it down politely, I just shut it down. Even if it’s a sentiment I agree with, I drop a “come on, I don’t want real life now. Let’s keep playing pretend.” I just don’t want that door cracked.

@sean - incidentally, I brought this up at work recently, due to a recent local “controversy” where someone got in a bunch of trouble for stupid things they said 10 years ago on facebook as a 14 year old. (Not excusing the behavior, but I think context is relevant.) I asked everyone why Francis Nobel was famous “because he made the peace prize!” do you know why? “no”. Because he was the “merchant of death” in all the papers because he invented TNT. Levels of scrutiny matter. I feel they don’t automatically absolve or condemn, but I think they should act as a reminder of the lack of absolutes.


Thanks for having the courage to be serious, Sean and Brett. Kudos.


As I was listening to this I was thinking about how I teach Freud in my classes. You can’t ignore or dismiss him outright IMHO if anything because of the influence he had on the field. Clinically (and literature wise) I think there are aspects of his ideas that are useful and provide a set of lenses for understanding people and forcing us to reflect on ourselves.

But when I teach him I gotta also lay out the many clear criticisms of his work and at least more the controversies about it.

Applied to these kinds of gaming things, I think I’d take the same approach be honest and direct about what you find valuable, be similarly so about what’s problematic and ost importantly be willing to have that discussion.


When you’re boycotting people/things, where does it stop? Seriously? Brett can’t podcast with Sean because of Sean’s beliefs. If Sean’s beliefs are reprehensible, then what about people that support the podcast? They are monetarily supporting someone who thinks a way I don’t like. What about Sean’s employer? Why would you ever do business with someone who would hire a guy like that? What about people that are consumers of his employer’s goods? Don’t you know that company pays Sean, and Sean does whatever he wants with that money? That’s like paying a hate group! How could you ever do business with his employer? Do you know there are people who do business with Sean’s employer? Those people all hate me!

This can go on, and I find it a bit much.


I both agree and disagree with you. I agree that people take this shit WAAAAYYYY too far, but I think there is something to be said for voting with your dollars. I loathe what Walmart has done to American smalltowns and downtowns, so I haven’t set foot in one for nearly 20 years, but I also don’t wave that as a flag, I merely bring it up due to the context here. If someone choose not support a business because of their practices, I get that, I even usually respect that. But, that said, yes, I think people playing 7 degrees with it is for sure over the top. As with most things, shades of gray.


But if someone is really, truly so violently opposed to a thing, none of that is hyperbole.

Do you know the political leanings of the person who made your clothes? Do you ask your cahier for their views on feminism before you buy? What does your landlord or mortgage company think about sexuality?

(Of course that’s a general “you,” not anyone here specifically.)


I have a gaming group for over 2.5 years. We met at the table and gamed and never asked each other about politics. I am now enlightened. I will issued a survey, and anyone not in 100% agreement with my views is out.

In order to be successful we can only work people that agree completely with ourselves, just like Paul McCartney and John Lennon. Those two guys were two peas in pod agreeing on everything, never fighting.

Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, two people with nearly completely opposite views in politics. What were they thinking when they co-wrote the Declaration of Independence?

Jesus of Nazareth once said “A new command I give you: Love one another.” Who did He think He is, giving a command like that?

I will not buy from Amazon if I do not agree with Jeff Bezos. I will not drink Coke or eat at McDonalds if I do agree with Warren Buffett. I will not eat Kraft or Heinz foods if I do not agree with Robert Kraft. I will not watch a movie if any of the performers disagree with me. I will not listen to music made by a musician that does not agree with me. I will not read a book if I disagree with the author.

This would be a better country if it burned all books, films, and movies that had political disagreement with the government. We should learn from Joseph Stalin, Leon Trotsky, Mao Zedong, and Adolf Hitler. They controlled descent.

Here are some quotes from another dummy “Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?” and “America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.” Who was this dummy?..Abraham Lincoln.

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I can understand a plea not to give into knee jerk reactionary impulses, but I also think hyperbole can very easily minimize the actual pain and hardship that marginalized people have suffered. When it comes to the RPG industry, for example, one of our biggest bad actors set his followers on people to dox them, threaten them with bodily harm, run them out of the RPG industry, and blacklist them with publishers they worked with. That’s not the far removed, impersonal practices of an organization that doesn’t know who you are. That’s targeted personal destruction.

To you use own example of Abraham Lincoln . . . he may have said that, but he was also willing to go to war and commit troops to take lives to take a stand.

To quote Patrick Swayze in Roadhouse, “Be nice, until it’s time to not be nice.”


The old me would have let anyone play at the table as long as they wanted play. The only general rule was to be respectful of the others at the table and let everyone have fun. That would have consistent with Lincoln and Washington, both of whom were against attacking, restricting, and censoring their political opponents. They were against burning down the houses and gathering places of their opponents. Of course there are laws against assault and harassment, and they applied equally to everyone.

The new me is enlightened by a podcast. Screen all the players for incorrect political opinions. If you cannot find a group of players to agree with you, just sit in house alone and contemplate what is wrong with others. Compromise and cooperation are wrong. Jesus, Lincoln, Washington, Franklin, Jefferson, Hamilton, and many others that encouraged respect for different opinions must have been wrong. If you think an author has different opinion from you destroy the books.

China has a government that controls all its nations businesses… and even religions. All businesses and religions allowed to operate in China must comply with the views of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Organizations that do not comply are forbidden. Individuals that do not comply are sent to reprogramming camps. In 1989 thousands of protesters in Tiananmen Square wanted democracy and freedoms similar to Bill of Rights in the USA. China knew what to do. Thousands of people no longer protest. Today it’s Hong Kong protests. Recently China destroyed RPG books written by Western game authors, because the CCP did not approve of some of the text. It looks like the gaming community in the West is starting small, but following the lead of China, not Lincoln or Washington.

As I write this, I still find hard to change a lifetime of beliefs about freedom. I live in a large Chinese neighborhood. I know many neighbors that survived Chinese reprogramming camps. After that they moved to other side of world to find something. They moved for the same reason my family moved from Eastern Europe to the same city over 100 years ago. Today, in this same western city, I know people that lost jobs, because new bosses arbitrarily decided that by their look they must have the wrong old-way politics, and the wrong politics are not welcomed.

Many RPG books start with a foreword explaining that this is only a game. Maybe every session zero needs to start with this Alexander Hamilton quote:

“For in politics, as in religion, it is equally absurd to aim at making proselytes by fire and sword. Heresies in either can rarely be cured by persecution.”

Now breakout the dice!

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  1. Deciding what products you want to buy, or what people game with you at the game table does not, in any way, equal governmental control of what you can buy or who you can associate with. This is a discussion about where people draw their personal moral lines, and if others in a similar community agree with those lines.

  2. You mention the time of Washington and Lincoln, and mention that “Of course there are laws against assault and harassment, and they applied equally to everyone.” Except that is 100% not true. Washington and Jefferson lived in a time when their grand experiment of a new, free country did not include freedom for the slaves that kept their economy running. Some human rights could be compromised in the face of ongoing prosperity. Lincoln’s defining political moment was actually completely about this issue, and maybe ask Atlanta about how opposed Lincoln was to burning the houses of his enemies.

  3. No one in the RPG industry that has been fired by a company or is no longer popular for freelance work has been sanctioned by the government. It has been people deciding, through discussion, that they no longer want to support that person, and companies deciding that it wasn’t profitable to continue that association.

I didn’t want to invoke his name here, but let’s look at the Zak Smith situation. You can say “live and let live” because we’re all gamers, but in this case, Zak was actively using his connections to get other people blacklisted in the industry. Which is it? If we “let live” Zak, then he actively campaigns to get a host of other people cut out of the industry because they don’t meet his standards. If you have a 100% “hands off” policy, and not everyone else follows that stricture, then suddenly, you are tacitly approving of someone having the power to blacklist people from the hobby and the industry.

  1. If you play at my table, even if we aren’t playing a modern game or referencing real-world politics or religion, I’m not going to facilitate a group that thinks its okay to enslave people, or marginalize others because they disagree with themselves, without my introducing consequences in the game, and having discussions outside of the game about what I’m comfortable happening at the table.

If you were at my table and didn’t like that, you are free to go play with someone else. If the only people available to game with are terrible people that I am not comfortable around, then, yes, I’m actually better off not gaming.

  1. You keep citing Jesus, Lincoln, Washington, Franklin, Jefferson, and Hamilton as the baseline for right behavior. Those may be figures that guide your structure for proper behavior, but citing them, especially as an assumed baseline that “everyone should know,” communicates that you don’t care about people that may be wary accepting those figures as moral authorities.

Not everyone has Jesus as part of their religious tradition. Citing the founding fathers, and not just some of their principles, as moral guides communicates that sometimes suspending humans rights is okay, as long as it works in the interest of your fledging country whose economy you want to boost.

Again, I can see saying that you aren’t comfortable with absolutes like “never buy from this company because at one point in time they did X,” or “I’ll never game with someone that has ever voted for party Y,” but saying that the game table is some sacred space where no one should ever question the ethics of a company producing games, or the principles of the people at the game table, is, itself, an absolute.

We need to determine the context under which we make exceptions, and discussions, like the one had in the podcast, are part of the discussions we have to establish boundaries.


I just think it’s best to live life accepting different opinions and ideas. I think it is best to be consistent that way. I only bring up political examples, because many people seem to want to make political ideology the deciding factor in everything. However, looking at the politicians and others that helped make the USA the beacon to people around the world, their friendships and politics usually did not align.

I think the best gaming group is one where the players have mutual respect for each other. If they respect each others differences that is probably going to be a great group. If I buy a game, I buy the game based on my understanding of the way it plays, cost, value, etc. I do not consider the politics of the authors.

At this point I am not sure if we agree or disagree, but if you were ever in town, we could probably get a good game going.

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Reading through these posts—and particularly this last exchange—I wonder if people are simultaneously referring to two or more kinds of “politics” and sometimes bringing the overall topic into confusion. I’m one of those people who believes that “all things are political,” meaning that all our attitudes and beliefs, implicitly or explicitly, are “statements” and that they consciously or unconsciously influence our daily interactions within our communities. When I hear about “politics at the gaming table,” this is what I think is under discussion. The aim of such politics is to ensure kindness and inclusivity in the hobby. When exclusion is necessary, it must be because that person cannot abide by the “political contract” of kindness: either that person amends his or her behavior, or that person can’t play (at least not at the particular table or community in which the social difficulty arises).

This kind of politics can be expanded into the realm of social and economic justice. Hopefully just one example will clarify this and simultaneously underscore how complicated such politics can be (and why I sometimes think that services that arguably are drifting close to becoming “essential,” such as Amazon and Facebook, should be nationalized): I strongly disagree with Kickstarter’s anti-union position, but choosing to no longer use it will likewise penalize some of my most favorite creators.

To further clarify my perspective, I have some anecdotal experiences with identity politics at my gaming tables.

Gender. For many years I ran Pathfinder at my FLGS. Most of my players were young and new to gaming, and they came and went as their schedules necessitated. One young gamer, enamored with Game of Thrones, sought to “guest-GM” in my game with myself as consultant. To my horror, he planned to script a narrative that removed most player agency, but his most problematic intention was to have a female character in the group (played by a female) raped. First, I said, “Don’t do this,” and, second, if you insist on this, you first have to get that player’s permission. (Thankfully he sought permission and, naturally, wasn’t given it.) I hope the lessons and observations here are obvious, but what’s most interesting is that the guest GM seemed to “naturally” believe that his railroad should involve the female character (none of the males) in sexual violence.

Language choice. Sometimes I’m a child about my influences. At a con, I played in a game of a great creator who, when asked if characters survive below 0 hp, declared, “What kind of a pussy game is that?” I thought his response was so funny that, later, I found out I was using a specific word way too much myself. Two gamers in my home group told me that maybe I shouldn’t use that term when I ran a game at an upcoming convention. Thanks, guys! I probably dodged a bullet with your advice.

Is it really that funny? At a con game, I roleplayed an NPC claiming that “all Dwarves look the same.” One player looked at me, for a moment, with confusion, then shrugged and said, “Oh. Casual racism.”

I’m such a dude. For about a year I ran a campaign in Middle-earth. Slowly I realized (with some interest, because of my personal politics) that the game’s world depiction was strikingly heteronormative and homosocial, probably because it was taken up with Tolkien’s milieu and manner and that all we gamers were straight men over 30. Now my game is a homebrew, however, and though I’m in my own home and free to have whatever “fun” I want, I find myself determining NPC gender from a percentile roll and consulting lists of names for culture.

I hope no one feels attacked by my politics here. I feel moved to share in the interest of empathy and clarification.


Politics in gaming can be a campaign ending road. I try to avoid current politics in my fantasy games and I will shut a player down right away when they start talking current politics. My fantasy games have too wide a group to allow them to start fighting current events. The Age range in two games runs from 19 to 75, they are in several parts of the U.S., Canada, U.K., Germany and Russia. (We play online, I don’t spend my off hours in a 747). Politically they run from Hard Right through Hard Left with spatterings of Greens and Anarchists.

The politics in game are different, xenphobia, rascism, and bull headed belief systems are the mother’s milk of plots. “Us and Them” thinking is essential, nobody brags about “arriving at a fair distribution of virgins between the town and the local dragon.” you kill that sucker that is stealing your virgins and burning your crops. The ancient dragon was sleeping the year people moved in and scared the wildlife away from the dragon’s hunting ground and when he woke up hungry he found slower softer prey had moved in, so who could blame him?

I also try to stop players from talking sports, wives, girlfriends/boyfriends, kids projects… after the initial 15-20 minute usual tech checks, “let me run and get a cup of tea”, or quick “tell you why I was not here last week” banter that starts any group of friends. The guy in Germany doesn’t want to hear about your football team, he thinks it’s a different sport anyway.

Managing the table is job #1 for the GM. He or She has to be the one who shuts down conflicts, or throws gasoline on the simmering fires as needed. The GM needs to be a combination of Attila and Buddha at times.