I was reading this really interesting and quite long post about the change Games Workshop has made to the old Warhammer Fantasy Battles game to Age of Sigmar. In particular, some of the interesting rules they have put in asking players to, in essence, roleplay a character a specific way for a benefit. The example that immediately struck me was the one where the player is asked to insult, in whatever way they believe might get a reaction out of their opponent, for a re-roll. Given there has been a rather open and honest discussion in recent times about the amount of harassment in tabletop gaming, this is an incredibly poorly advised rule. Especially because the rules and mechanics of Age of Sigmar definitely trend to a younger brand of player, which aren’t going to use this rule well at all (not that I suspect older people will either).
There are other examples of similarly dumb to generally inoffensive roleplaying style rules in Age of Sigmar, which are worth looking over at the link above. Of course, I get why Games Workshop has added these rules, but I think they’re an incredibly bad concept and idea in general. Warhammer and its futuristic cousin, Warhammer 40k, have always been naturally prone to be of in character factionalism. People commonly like to yell out Waaaagh!!! when charging as orcs, or saying For the Emporer as Empire and so forth. Trying to force this kind of interaction into the game just feels forced, silly and more prone for abuse than literally anything else. Especially when those rules deliberately encourage players to actually abuse another.
I don’t intend to do an analysis on all of this, but I did want to point out that these are all generally terrible ideas. For one thing, roleplaying out things, even in many actual roleplaying games, is always best when they’re not 100% codified by rules. Trying to force roleplaying through rules has a lot of problematic connotations, especially with how the players might actually feel about it themselves. This is especially important to consider in games like Call of Cthulhu or Trail of Cthulhu – trying to make someone roleplay “madness” can often just be degrading to people who actually have a mental illness. If you want to see how not to do it, just check out the rules for the imaginary horse in the above link.
Here’s the thing with roleplaying and mechanics like this, is that the point of roleplaying is to embody someone who isn’t you to feel more comfortable doing things you wouldn’t in real life. Usually that’s doing things like fighting dragons or dealing with seedy people in illegal organ chop shops or whatever else. Even so, games have a social contract people the people at the table that they’ll only go as far as they’re comfortable with. When players step over those lines into making another player uncomfortable, which has happened at my tables and will continue to happen, as DM (and rules arbiter) you need to step in. You need to make sure that social contract is constantly kept, that everyone is comfortable and happy at the table. One persons great “roleplaying” isn’t acceptable if it’s making another player at the table uncomfortable or unhappy.
Which really is why I dislike so many of thee rules that Games Workshop has put into the game. They’ve literally codified degrading and uncomfortable roleplaying mechanics into their tabletop wargame. I honestly can’t see what they are thinking when they shove in rules that make people worry about their bodies (the moustache rule), deliberately insult other players or act whacky for whackies sake. Gaming already has a bad image about being non-inclusive, especially to minorities with women and LGBTQIA individuals being good examples. Some of these rules in particular, seem particularly worrisome when I think about a male and a woman playing together. What do you think most men might go to as an insult to get a rise out of a female opponent?
The fact games workshop ever thought including rules like this just flabberghasts me. Are they trying to drive people away from their own game, let alone the hobby itself? What is the point of a rule that’s “Make your opponent feel uncomfortable for an actual benefit in game”? Even most RPGs that have a mechanic where roleplaying is rewarded, frequently leave it to either the DMs discretion or they’ll have the rest of the players (as a group) decides who gets it. So making everyone feel creeped out and uncomfortable is definitely not the goal. I’ve run horror games for years, where part of the genre is deliberately making players anxious, uncomfortable and afraid – but within a certain limit. If you push that limit or even, in rare cases, go over it you don’t get angry at the player. You apologize and work around it, so they can continue enjoying your game and having fun.
I have been a huge fan of Warhammer and Games Workshop games for numerous years, since I was a teenager. If it wasn’t for Warhammer, I wouldn’t have met the wonderful people I did who subsequently drew me into the world of roleplaying games. For a while, I was quite into Warhammer and while moving country made me sell a lot of it, I’ve always thought about getting back into it. After seeing this though? There is absolutely no way I could support a Games Workshop product right now. Those rules are ridiculous, offensive and beyond ill-considered. So instead, I’ll leave you with my favourite model from back in the day I painted, Lord Kroq Gar riding on his pet Carnosaur. I’m not the best painter in the world, but I still have this model and the numerous happy memories associated with it.
It’s a shame that many of these off-putting rules in Age of Sigmar, may prevent others from developing the same kind of community and happy memories I gained from my time playing Warhammer.