GM Advice: Prejudice is Good

By Shamus
on Feb 18, 2009
Filed under:
Tabletop Games

When I’m running a game and I need to populate a town quickly, my favorite thing is to season the place with a dash of prejudice.

Now, serious racial prejudices have been covered, and then some, by most campaign settings. Yes, Elves and Dwarves don’t get along, and Gnomes never invite Drows to their office parties. That’s all obvious stuff and won’t add much to the NPC’s you’re trying to color in before your players realize you’re a fraud and turn on you. I’m not interested in adding another layer of that sort of thing to the game. Not everyone you meet in a roleplaying campaign is going to be brimming with anger and hatred, and too much of that can wear thin and make it feel like the players are stranded on Planet of the Jerks. I’m not talking about bitter racial tension, I’m talking about the sort of generalized, mostly harmless form of prejudice that nearly everyone drags around with them.

When I worked at McDonald’s (if you’re just old enough to vote, then we’re talking about stuff that happened the year you were born) there was the agitation and rivalry between people who opened the store and those who closed at the end of the night. It went something like this: The closers resented the openers, who got a spotless store every morning and who were free to leave at the end of their shift regardless of the state the store was in. To them, openers were leeches and vandals who repeatedly wrecked the place, left messes, and never planned ahead. The openers thought of closers as a bunch of slackers who get to laze around the place all evening and handle the very occasional customer before doing a few dishes and some half-assed cleaning.

The two groups rarely met. By three in the afternoon, the last of the early morning crew had cleared out, and the closers didn’t usually arrive until five or six. They resented each other at a distance, and each group thought they worked harder than the other. Mention closers to an opener, and you’ll get an eyeroll: “Oh. Those guys. Well if one of them trained you then it’s no wonder you don’t know what you’re doing. You see, we do things right here in morning shift.” And so on.

The closer / opener is the perfect situation for creating petty little prejudices like this. You have two groups that depend on each other, yet who don’t have a great deal of contact. They never see the challenges the other group faces, only their mistakes. Having some kind of low-level animosity form is almost inevitable. (I worked both shifts. No matter which shift you work, it’s eight hours on your feet dressed in clothes that are both unflattering and uncomfortable. Neither shift was harder than the other in a way that warranted all of the grumbling between the two.)

You can see these sorts of interpersonal fault lines appear all over the place where you find slight differences in cultures and attitudes. Urbanites think suburbanites are a bunch of soft-spine plastic people. Suburbanites think of rural folks as yokels. Rural people think of urbanites as a bunch of thuggish jerks. Officers think enlisted men are shiftless slackers. Enlisted men think of officers as clueless and petty. (And both have the anecdotes to prove it!) In a university town, it’s townies vs. students. Cashiers vs. stock boys. Management vs. Employees. The writers vs. the actors. Programmers vs. Artists. Engineering vs. marketing. You can even take some groups and sub-divide them down in an almost fractal manner, revealing smaller and smaller divisions until you’re finally dealing with individuals again. (Example: Professionals » Engineers » Programmers » Open-source developers » Strident “information wants to be free” types» Richard Stallman. The final step brings us a group with no more possible divisions, assuming Stallman likes and agrees with himself. But in every level above that one, we can find groups of people bad-mouthing one another over the differences that seem laughably minuscule to anyone outside the group.)

I do not for a moment place myself above this sort of behavior. Browsing through the archives of this site should reveal that I’m probably at least as guilty as anyone else of this sort of thing. It’s just part of human nature. Aside from a few hurt feelings it’s almost always harmless, and sometimes humorous.

In a tabletop game, I try to color my NPCs with a few of these harmless prejudices. If the players encounter a random NPC (someone I haven’t planned) then the first thing I do is come up with what they look like. The second thing I do is decide who gets on their nerves. It can quickly add color to a town if the players get the impression that there is some gentle in-fighting between the shopkeepers and the dockworkers. Or the farmers and the people who live in town. The town watch and the mages. The folks in Hobbiton and the ones in Buckland. The Jedi and the politicians. The soldiers who work in the castle and those who work out in the city itself. The bean farmers and the grain farmers. The tanners and the weavers.

I like this because it gives the impression the city is alive with different sorts of people with different agendas, even if the players have only just met the first person in town and you’re scrambling to fill in the rest as they go. It not only fills in this NPC for the conversation at hand, but it offers a bit of narrative scaffolding for you to use for the next one.

This is particularly true when you’re dealing with high fantasy players. Those guys can be jerks sometimes.

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From the Archives:

  1. Arndt says:

    Those damn cityfolk take their ice-scraped roads for granted and never stop to realize that nature itself makes every winter-time commute potentially deadly, regardless of the state of traffic.

    EDIT – first!

    They also take for granted their fast internet and the FACT that I have to commute ten miles or more simply to render YouTube to be a casual tool instead of a dedicated bandwidth sink, taking thirty minutes to load ten minutes of video into my buffer.

    Then again it’s also the people who abhor gun ownership that rely on people like me to create the invisible deterrent, the home invaders’ fear that any and every home they may invade may contain a cantankerous homeowner with a belief in Castle Doctrine. I actually do not have a prejudice against “the people who abhor gun ownership” and think the broad deterrent effect is funny.
    My prejudice against the people who think rural life is easy…. is apparently never-ending.

  2. Strangeite says:

    As a former McDonald’s employee from the early 90’s, I have to disagree with your assertion that closers and openers work equally hard. I was a closer but openers worked a hell of a lot harder than us closers. I worked breakfast two times and would never do it again.

    On topic: Excellent post and lots of good ideas.

    • Shamus says:

      Strangeite: I’ll bet the balance depends a lot of the business patterns of the store. If you’re right along a morning commute artery, then breakfast might be the biggest push of the day. If you’re near a shopping center then dinner might be the big push.

      In a Taco Bell where I worked, closing was MURDER, and openeing was a cakewalk. (Who wants tacos for breakfast? (I mean, besides me?))

      • Jupiter says:

        I know exactly what you mean. I worked at a Burger King that had rushes morning noon and night. Of course, we weren’t too far from the local high school and near a bunch of residential areas, so we generally got commuters in the morning and evening and kids at noon…along with other patrons. I opened and closed and encountered the same “openers got it easy”/”Closers are lazy slackers” attitudes. Of course, I had friends on both shifts, so I was immune to this idea…0:-)

  3. UnknownGuy says:

    Interesting post!

  4. Heather says:

    I think a lot of this applies to writing stories as much as to D&D.

    And @Strangite Shamus and I worked together (its where we met before we dated and extra long time and eventually married.) I was a weekend/evening worker until I graduated. I believe it all depends on how pristine your managers expected the place (ours expected it to be perfection) and how busy your morning crew was (ours was super busy, especially transition.) They were both incredibly hard work just different sorts.

  5. Viktor says:

    Former Subway employee here. It was a small store(~8 people employed at any given time) and we had no real divisions along group lines. But that was really because everyone had to do every job at one time or another. Even the district manager would stop by any store that needed people and help out during lunch. The only ones that we hated was corprate. Those bastards were lazy. ;)

  6. That is brilliant. I’ve been GMing for donkey’s years and never consciously thought of this, although I’ve used it a couple of times now that I think of it. This is an awesome tool! I must remember it.

  7. Sharon says:

    Those farmers are fencin’ up my grazin’ land! The cowboys and the farmers can’t be friends.

  8. Luke Maciak says:

    How about the classic ones:

    IT people vs Users. IT thinks that all the users their support are complete and utter idiots incapable of doing anything on their own. Users thing the IT people are jerks who use their arcane, inacessible and incomprehensible clark-tech (ie. indistinguishable from magic) to sabotage their projects.

    Or software developers vs management. The former think that their bosses have no clue about how software is developed, and that they inadvertently sabotage each project by setting unrealistic goals, deadlines and etc. Management things software developers are all lazy slackers who make up excuses for not delivering on time and pepper them with tricky jargon – after all, they just type in code all day. Anyone can do that, right?

    You have to admit that there is always a grain of truth in each of these things. Especially when it comes to technical and non-technical people. There is a vast gap of knowledge between a software developer and an accountant or marketing specialist. Both sides will be ignorant about the other guys area of expertise.

    Then again, a programmer may need to learn basics of accounting or understand the marketing strategy to develop an app for that department. It almost never works the other way. So technical professionals are an insular group whose job is usually misunderstood by 90% of other employees and managers. They do understand the value of their work, but not the nature of it. This leads to the sort of animosity or friction you described.

    I imagine it would be the same in a high fantasy setting with Mages and non-mages. People who do not understand magic would be largely ignorant about the nature of magical work. I do draw this parallel quite a lot actually – view wizards as programmers, and engineers of the fantasy worlds. They would have similar user problems with clueless users.

  9. Gregory Weir says:

    I have totally been in a Planet of the Jerks one-shot. The GM actually had racial slurs for the various fantasy races, and I don’t think we ran into a single NPC who wasn’t a racist (speciesist?). My halfling character finally had to call an NPC on his continual use of the term “peck.”

  10. Strangeite says:

    Heather and Shamus: I think you are both right. Our store managers were stickler’s for cleanliness (we won the regional Golden Spatula three years in a row) but our location was near the interstate and a Toyota manufactoring plant. The night shift was dead until 10:15, when the second shift crew got their lunch break, then we were slammed for about 20 minutes. It was funny because you would pre-fill about 100 cups with soda in anticipation for this rush.

    Even more off topic: I saw a King of the Hill episode where the plot was about a character falling in love with a woman that takes orders for the drive-through but she was in a call center several states away. Since I used to work at McDonalds I thought this idea was crazy and would never work; however, I did some digging and it does look like most fast food restaurants (including McDonalds) outsources the drive-through ordering to national call centers. We don’t have flying cars, but the future has brought us the ability to outsource fast food employees. Crazy.

  11. OddlucK says:

    @Luke: Arcane Support joke follows.
    Arcane Support (AS)–“Hello. This is the Help Orb. How can I assist you?”
    User (U)–“My Bag of Infinite Holdingness Thingy is broken. You promised me it would hold anything at all and no matter what I do it won’t hold anything.”
    AS–“I’m sorry to hear that. What exactly is the bag doing when you try to put something in it?”
    U–“Nothing. Nothing at all. The thing just sits on top of the bag as though the bag is full, but I’ve never been able to put anything in it!”
    AS–“Well, we’ll try to get this worked out for you. First, step me through the process. Give me an example and step me through what you did so we can see what went wrong.”
    U–“Well, I wanted to put a sword in there. So, I set it on the bag and nothing happened. It’s just laying there on top of the bag.”
    AS–“Hmmm… Okay. So, you opened the bag-”
    U–“Wait. What?”
    AS–“…You opened the bag?”
    U–“What do you mean, ‘opened the bag?’ There’s no…”
    AS–“Sir?”
    U–*Throws cloak over orb*
    –Session Ended–

  12. lebkin says:

    The other fun thing about these little prejudice quirks is that they can often seem irrational to outsiders. Having luckily avoided ever working in fast food, the opener/closer argument is somewhat foreign to me. But I can greatly sympathize with a high school wrestler complaining about how the basketball team gets huge crowds, cheerleaders, and excess attention, despite the fact that wrestlers worked harder, longer, and in my HS, were actually a much better team. That divide between those who understand the prejudice and those that don’t has a lot of role playing potential.

  13. illiterate says:

    I typically closed, opened a few times. Closing seemed to be more work to me.

    Best shift was mids. Show up at a reasonable hour, make food, chat with customers, stock some stuff, go home. No “oh my god it’s early” and no “must finish cleaning so can go home”

    And my players will be revisiting a largish town soon. I will consider using this.

  14. R4byde says:

    1 1
    Arndt:
    February 18th, 2009 at 12:10 pm

    Those damn cityfolk take their ice-scraped roads for granted and never stop to realize that nature itself makes every winter-time commute potentially deadly, regardless of the state of traffic.

    They also take for granted their fast internet and the FACT that I have to commute ten miles or more simply to render YouTube to be a casual tool instead of a dedicated bandwidth sink, taking thirty minutes to load ten minutes of video into my buffer.

    Then again it’s also the people who abhor gun ownership that rely on people like me to create the invisible deterrent, the home invaders’ fear that any and every home they may invade may contain a cantankerous homeowner with a belief in Castle Doctrine. I actually do not have a prejudice against “the people who abhor gun ownership” and think the broad deterrent effect is funny.
    My prejudice against the people who think rural life is easy…. is apparently never-ending.

    QFT

    Amen, Bother! Bash them damn yuppies!

    I’m one those rural guys who can’t get a snowplow down by my backroad town, for love or money.

  15. Dev Null says:

    Connect two people in any way, and you get prejudice. Three and you get politics too.

  16. gorthol says:

    Good to see GM Advice has returned after a hiatus. I love reading these.

  17. Nick says:

    I worked at McD’s for 4 years. The openers had it hard. I tried it once, and hated it a ton. Breakfast at our store was always so busy, you constantly do work from open to ~11 at lunch. Short break, then lunch rush. long break, dinner rush. Long LONG break, closing time.

    There are times where we get maybe 10-20 customers an hour staying open. We close at 11, at which point most of it was already done as you wander the store looking for SOMETHING to do.

    Then management made the brilliant decision to close at midnight. Then 1 AM. Then all night. I quit before graveyard shift started. Wasn’t surprised to hear months later they stopped it.

  18. Nothing makes a GM feel warmer than players taking an active interest in the local fictional culture.

    Another thing I find really useful is coming up with local slang. For example, we all have our generic slang that’s used across the country. But in Newfoundland, they have a few of their own sayings. It’s more than just an accent, but rather a few slang phrases they use alone. Like describing an antique as being “older than Buckley’s goat.”

    I find it fun to come up with a few phrases that set the region apart from the rest of the world and maybe even describe what the region’s culture is really like. And yes, this sometimes involves a few cuss words and racial slurs when the locals get angry.

  19. Yonder says:

    Memebers of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department dislike those of the Los Angeles Police Department. My father works with the former and there is a little eye roll thing that goes on if the latter comes up in conversation. Similar thing for fire fighters, but to a lesser degree.

    At my school there is a rivalry where the Aerospace Engineers look down on the Mechanical Engineers for having lamer positions. “They design toaster ovens, we design jet planes” stuff like that. I’m sure to them it’s “They design space toilets, we design tanks” but screw em.

  20. Yar Kramer says:

    You know, I don’t actually play RPGs, but I just realized I know enough of the lingo to make myself sound like a really huge dork. To whit: I pondered the idea of thinking of these little snippets as “low-level prejudices”, whereas species boundaries are “epic-level prejudices.”

  21. Hal says:

    Here’s a question: How do you add such flavorful details without distracting your players?

    Example: You add colorful snippets to an NPC’s dialogue to the extent that the local dock workers and their merchant employers are in a bit of a labor dispute. The PCs decide that their goal is to insert themselves as mediators in the dispute and/or mercilessly butcher the leader of their preferred faction. So how do you keep this sort of mix-up from occurring?

    You could just tell them, “Move along, nothing to see here.” But what does the savvy GM do to keep this from happening in the first place, to distinguish flavor from critical?

    • Shamus says:

      Hal: My players don’t usually sep into local affairs unless it gets in the way of the main quest, or if I throw them an NPC begging for help. I’m not sure how I’d handle it if I had sidequest-happy players.

      Generally I wouldn’t allude to a specific labor dispute. I’d just work the animosity into conversation:

      City Gate guard: You want to see the duke? You’ll need to talk to whoever is in charge at the castle entrance today. Just look for a couple of guy with the most polished armor and the dumbest look on his face. That will be your man.

      Castle Guard: The gate guard sent you? I’m surprised to hear they’re awake and sober at this hour. Anyway, if he had any IDEA about protocol he would have told you…

      And so on. It comes off less like “Oooh quest!” and more like, “Ahhh. Local politics.”

  22. unitled says:

    I realised my campaign was becoming a bit of a cliche when my players stopped in a little town on their way somewhere; it was meant to be a quick pitstop (there was an incident with a mad pig) but they refused to leave until they’d found the ‘dark secret’ all villages seem to have. Or failing that, when someone came and asked them to rescue their daughter.

    There’s a pretty good supplement for Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay which has a couple of tables specifically for giving flavour to towns… To me, they’re things that really bring the game to life (you’ve touched on this before, Shamus, but local customs are a great touch… they give plenty of “Do you remember when we were in that town…” moments).

  23. guy says:

    At my school i’m in a robotics club that has programming vs. mechanical to an extent.

    mechanical: “When will you be done?”

    programming: “SHUT UP AND LET ME WORK!”

    I’d complain about how mechanical kept missing their deadlines except that programming spent a week locating a single bug because no one thought that the functions we’d been provided were causing a problem in a completely unrelated section of code. As with many bugs, fixing it took about 30 seconds of typing including dealing with an unsuspected system bug where one of the two relay boards was a very pretty piece of worthless metal and plastic when the other was in use.

    Mostly, the amosity is a carryover from last year, when mechanical redesigned the robot and complained when the code didn’t work properly. There may have been somthing involving totally untested replacement code getting used in the final competition because it wasn’t even started on until after the test period was over. I heard the details secondhand but a large number of people agree on the rebuilt part.

  24. Slycne says:

    I think we all know what the real reason for the openers vs closers argument. Openers are cranky at having to wake up early, thus cutting into their previous nights free time. Closers are cranky for having to stay late to close the store, and likewise loosing that very same free time.

  25. Allanon says:

    Yonder: lol, I know what you’re talking about. I’m studying Aerospace too and we’re constantly name calling all other students. Programmers are “code slaves”, EE are “sinus engineers”, etc. It doesn’t help the faculty is built on the higher ground then the rest of them :)

  26. Kristin says:

    I opened. I closed once.

    Part of it at our store was a generation/gender gap. The closers were the high school kids, and mostly male. The openers were moms and dropouts, and mostly female. This caused a lot of “those lazy kids at night” and “those picky morons that open”.

    I didn’t mind opening except for the early hours and the shifts when the night shift the night before really had been lazy and not cleaned or stocked or done a damn thing. Oh, and working both breakfast rush AND lunch rush, rarely getting off on time because I was supposed to get off at 1, lunch rush would end at 1:15, and THEN I was told to stock the condiments or mop the lobby or something stupid that could have been done by my replacement.

  27. guy says:

    @allanon

    I’m suddenly tempted to find the most horribly resource consuming way to do division just for you.

    I think i can manage to add two extra variables without adding stupid delay timers or compromising the quality of the results (much, depending on the system you might get the remainder ignored instead of rounded, but the system might do that anyway). three if using floating point numbers.

  28. Simulated Knave says:

    University exemplifies this.

    Engineers/science majors are (if you ask the other departments) jerks with no feelings and who need a calculator to think for them.

    Arts majors are wispy little morons who express themselves solely through free-verse poetry and who are easily distracted by shiny things.

    The things people say about business majors ought not to be repeated in polite company. However, both engineers and arts majors will agree that, despite the faults of the other program, those business majors really need to shape up.

    All of these, from my brief experience in all three faculties are true for the majority of students there. :P

    EDIT: I didn’t even like my old wavatar. But I like this one less. :P

  29. Mari says:

    So I just finished reading the comments, turned to my husband and said, “I love how when geeks talk about prejudices some things come up over and over. Tech support vs. users. And of course code monkeys vs. the hardware engineers. Wow, did I really just say that? Showing my biases, I guess.”

    The older I get the more of these little biases I see in myself. Once upon a time I was youthful and arrogant and considered myself “open-minded and accepting” while growing disgusted with “all those hypocrites.” I’m starting to suspect it may have been a case of pot vs. kettle.

  30. Teppesh says:

    I work in the Business Service center for a wireless company, and mainly deal with various companies’ IT departments, and it can sometimes be very revealing what they have to say about their bosses and co-workers. To hear some of them tell it, their offices are idiocracies with the knowledgeable technical elite at the very bottom enabling the mindless idiots further up the food chain in their stupidity what with their advanced networking.

  31. Derek K. says:

    I hate to do it. I really do. I typically despise people who do it. But I have to.

    “SPLITTERS!”

    I try to never use Monty Python quotes, but it’s just so appropriate here.

    I love this idea. You can do almost any applied vs theory – travelling clerics vs administrators, etc.

    As long as we can all agree that everyone hates the elves.

  32. Noah Lesgold says:

    As a nurse, there’s definitely a bit of day shift vs. night shift going on, which is interesting for me since I work about half of each. If there were a couple more male nurses on my unit (I’m one of 3) gender would also be a line of division.

  33. Phobiac says:

    Shamus, the whole time I was reading this all I could think of was this comic.
    http://www.viruscomix.com/page471.html

  34. SolkaTruesilver says:

    Beh. You folks in North America & Europe all have it easy. You have all the RPG books and specialised computer store right where you are looking for them. Here, the most supplied D&D store is lucky to have more than 6 disparate RPG books (only 2 of them Core Rulebook, the others are expansion of OTHER game system which they never sold the Core rulebook)

    Also, when I went to buy a video card, I was amazed to notice that there IS ONLY ONE CHOICE AVAILABLE AT ONE OF THE BEST COMPUTER STORE OF THE COUNTRY!!! This isn’t Zimbabwe, this is Dubai, for freaking sake!

    On the other hand, I don’t have to fight a lot to get a nice toaster.

    On the other hand, I once worked in a Dunkin Donut-like restaurant. I was the “opener”. There were only 2 men working on week-end, me and the closer (long 1-man shifts..). It really helped that we see each other everytime we worked, so we could sort out difference when it came to respective duty (I cleaned up before leaving, and he pre-prepared some of the stuff I had to do for the opening)

    Contact and communication means peace. Separation and ignorance brings conflict.

  35. Sesoron says:

    Proper idea, Shamus. I work at a second tier (i.e. not a national brand, but we have a number of different locations in the area) pizza place, and we have a clear division of labor: drivers (my people) and insiders. Since we’re such a small, tight-knit group, we get along pretty darn well (it helps that some of the others are friends who went to the same high school) despite the high turnover rate of employees (after 2.5 years, only three of the people who were there when I was hired are still around). There is potential for animosity, though, bred by lack of understanding: one of the newer insiders asked me about a month ago about something that was utterly fundamental from a driver perspective, and it brought to mind how critically different our pizza-making and pizza-delivering skill sets were. While, as I said, it’s not the case for us, segregation by labor type within the same organization can be another dimension of this sort of prejudice. I don’t know, I always thought of us as like pizza cavalry and pizza infantry.

  36. brashieel says:

    @Phobiac:

    That makes two of us.

    As to the actual topic, it does seem like an easy way to add a little bit of depth without having to think too hard. Always a good thing.

  37. Luvian says:

    You know, this really really remind me of this specific comic. I think you’d like it:

    http://www.viruscomix.com/page471.html

  38. Captain Kail says:

    You worked at a McDonald’s AND a Taco Bell? Shamus, I have a whole new dimension of respect for you now.

  39. Anonymous Botch says:

    An easy way to give depth to an instantly created NPC, and one which I will be using.
    Also such low level predjudices are ripe for exploitation. Either for PCs to get what they want or for some demagogue or other to buld a mob/army/band of follwers.
    Its worth remembering who in the real world, simmering low-level resentment got whipped up into genocidal rage. Just the sort of thing a decent CE big bad would delight in.

  40. Sauron says:

    My university definitely exemplifies this…. We have six majors: Mathematics, Computer Science, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, and Engineering. While there are partial truces between mathematicians and computer scientists and between chemists and biologists (and a few other pairings, but it’s not worth listing them all), there tends to be a lot of “ewww… chemists at work” from the computer scientists and similar from the other pairings. And, of course, the mathematicians are pure math vs. applied math, and the computer scientists are systems vs. theory vs. industry, the chemists are split with the physical vs. organic vs. computational, and the engineers with digital vs. chemical vs. mechanical vs. etc. My knowledge of the subsets after that are limited to within my branches of mathematics and computer science, but I’ve seen, among pure mathematicians, number theory vs. algebra, for example (which pains my little algebraic number theorist soul). I could keep going, but it is absolutely ridiculous.

    And this coming from a relatively small (800-ish students) and tight-knit university!

  41. Divra says:

    Dev Null: I am so quoting you on that!

  42. MattF says:

    First of all, it’s good to see GM advice return.

    What you are driving at, I think, is what I’ve heard referred to as the tyranny of the small — that groups not only consume themselves with infighting over details that would confuse an outsider, but also simultaneously believe that anyone who disagrees with their entire group is part of a monolith dedicated to trampling everything decent.

    For example, I enjoy rocketry. That thing in the back of your rocket that makes it go is either a motor or an engine (even though it’s got some salient differences from either device), but there are people who insist that only one is the correct term and who are willing to educate you if you err. It’s bad enough that in some circles, I’ve taken to calling it the WG (“whoosh generator”) rather than pick a side.

    As this thread will attest, you find this attitude everywhere from politics to sciences to business to faith. It’s strange that we, as a social species, want desperately to belong to a group but at the same time maintain our distance.

    I can’t help but think that this is also tangentially related to why, when Hollywood makes a movie about your favorite subject, they will get it wrong.

  43. Rats says:

    Shamus,

    Thanks for another post on GM Advice after such a long time without. I really love these posts, and how well you explain each idea. Such small things add so much to a game.

  44. Katy says:

    @Sharon
    Those farmers are fencin’ up my grazin’ land! The cowboys and the farmers can’t be friends.

    I’ve been forced to dig out my Oklahoma CD. (OK, find the album in the MP3 directory.)

  45. Hal: You asked,
    “Example: You add colorful snippets to an NPC’s dialogue to the extent that the local dock workers and their merchant employers are in a bit of a labor dispute. The PCs decide that their goal is to insert themselves as mediators in the dispute and/or mercilessly butcher the leader of their preferred faction. So how do you keep this sort of mix-up from occurring?”
    Now Shamus pointed out ways to keep the description small-time enough that it didn’t represent a conflict significant enough for PCs to have any reason to intervene.

    BUT, the problem you describe is wider. Another way to give the campaign depth is with gossip and current events, which will likely lead to that kind of situation. So to the question “how do you keep this sort of mix-up from occurring?” my answer:
    You don’t. If they want to do that, presumably it’s because they think either it’s the kind of thing their character will do, or they think it will be fun, or both. Time to do some winging it. Of course, if a bit of investigation would make it obvious to their characters that there isn’t really anything that constructive they can do in the situation, you can find ways to pass that on. But hey, maybe there is something. It’d be a chance for the Face characters to shine.

  46. Luke Maciak:
    On mages and non-mages. I do think there are parallels between mages and both techies and scientists. But there would be fundamental differences between the ways wizards interact with the rest of the world and the ways techies, programmers and scientists interact with the rest of the world.
    The difference is power. In a technological world, techies programmers and scientists have power and status of a sort–but it is a power which depends on society, on organization. Thus, they have to suffer the slings and arrows of organizations that misunderstand them–they are dependent on managers and money-men for those paychecks, research grants and so forth, and even for access to the equipment and software they need to accomplish anything interesting. More: much that they want to do requires a team of people; they are dependent on organizations for access to *each other*. A lot of these requirements go away in the case of Open Source/Free Software, but not all.

    At any rate, wizards are different. Their power is inherent, internal. It operates on a direct personal level. They don’t need anybody to be powerful, they just are. As a result, their relationships with the outside world are going to be different. Different as in,
    “Sirrah, allow me to introduce you to the last Castellan who gave me difficulties over scheduling my work. I forget his name, as I normally refer to him as ‘pile of ash number 3’. Do we have an understanding?”

  47. Luke Maciak says:

    @Purple Library Guy – very true. But then again it does depend on how magic is viewed in society and how rare it is. If magic is very rare, and wizards are in very short supply then yes – they will be able to get away with murder.

    On the other hand, if we assume a setting where magic is more common and individual wizards are less powerful then the situation may be different. They must still obey the law of the land and may need to deal with annoying nobility (managers) whom they serve. It really depends on the setting.

    But yeah, in most cases an angry wizard is much more intimidating than an angry software developer.

  48. Felblood says:

    That’s bleeding brilliant!

    I can think of several times that this little tip would have helped me, and one whole campaign it might have saved.

    One thing worth bearing in mind is professional prejudice that gets passed on to new trainees.

    In the wildlands, contractors and agency employees have a long standing rivalry. The agencies view contractors as a bunch of irresponsible thieves, who steal equipment, and don’t care about the job as much as they care about their reputation and pay. The contract companies view the agencies as oppressive, wasteful fools, who abuse their power over the lands and files, and leave hundreds of tons of the taxpayers equipment laying in the forests every year.

    Contractors cannot typically become Incident Commanders, not because there’s a rule, but because a contractor who completes his IC training will find that his file has been “lost”. However, a lot of contractors really do steal large amounts of equipment, and not just stuff that was getting thrown away, either.

    The agencies need contractors for more than just manpower, because a lot of ranchers will shoot at any vehicle with an agency logo on it, but are generally willing to negotiate with contractors, before they start shooting. These situations generally reduce the tension between the two groups, in a common enemy sort of way.

    Naturally, every veteran Wildlander tells his new crew members horror stories about the very worst examples of evil on the other side, to make sure that their prejudice exists in the next generation. This kind of makes sense, because some of the more vindictive overseers will deliberately send contractors into danger, and some contractors will steal the nozzles right off your fire engine, if you don’t watch them.

    The bad eggs ruin it for everyone.

  49. houser2112 says:

    @Yonder:
    At my school it was “Mechanical/Aerospace Engineers design weapons, Civil Engineers design targets”.

    @Allanon:
    “Sinus Engineers”? I don’t understand the reference, and I WAS an EE in college…

  50. Kyle says:

    Great post, and so, so true! If you were looking for something to put in your “best of” archives, I would throw this in there.

  51. […] Credit where it’s due: I got some of the inspiration for the Outreach/Warder interactions from this Twenty Sided post: […]

  52. Matt says:

    At my jobs it’s always been front of house vs. kitchen. The waitstaff sees the cooks as tempermental and high strung and the cooks see the waitresses & bartenders as spoiled primadonnas who get all the tips but don’t have to get their hands dirty. I’ve worked both sides and can say both stereotypes tend to be fairly accurate.

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  1. […] Credit where it’s due: I got some of the inspiration for the Outreach/Warder interactions from this Twenty Sided post: […]

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