I took my daughter to the beach today. I set up my beach chair near the water's edge, and prepared to enjoy a little Vance while watching her frolic in the water. Alas it was not to be. An officious teen-age life guard made her get out of the water and told me that she couldn't go back in without an adult in the water within arm's reach. This might seem reasonable, except that in this circumstance she has had two years of swimming lessons, was splashing in knee-deep water while wearing a floater jacket, and I was only a few meters away watching. There was no possible harm that could have come to her, but that doesn't matter. Rules are rules and must be strictly obeyed, right? Apparently, Surf Nazis really do exist.
This whole thing got me to thinking about how our society is becoming increasingly regulated by 'zero-tolerance' policies. A common example that frequently irks me is school buses. Whenever a school bus embarks or disembarks passengers a battery of flashing red lights signals the imminent demise of the world and a big stop sign is displayed to drive the point home. There is even a big long bar that swings out to physically prevent kids from running in front of the bus and into the street. All traffic in both directions must stop until the lights stop flashing. Again, a reasonable precaution. In some circumstances. But, more often than not, the bus ends up bringing four lanes of traffic to a grinding halt on a main thoroughfare at rush hour for the sake of one child whose parent holds her hand while she gets on or off the bus. There is no possible threat to the child from street traffic unless said parent physically hurls her in front of a passing car, yet everyone must still stop. This continues on from pre-school right through high school, and I sat waiting a few weeks ago, for a group of seventeen and eighteen-year old students some of whom have the right to vote, but can't trusted to get off a bus without killing themselves.
I could cite many other such examples of ridiculous safety precautions to protect us against non-existent or extremely improbable threats, that I'm sure exist, primarily, to increase my blood pressure. It isn't just the inconvenience that annoys me, but also the social implications of artificially selecting for stupidity by weening common sense out of the gene pool and raising a generation of narcissists who have been taught their whole lives that the world, literally, stops for them. But, every time someone dies of improbable circumstance, the Maude Flanders' of the world embark upon crusades to make sure that it never happens to anyone ever again. The end result is that we are plagued with yet another 'zero-tolerance' policy.
Now, I'm all for rules and guidelines, but I have absolutely no patience for stupidity, and in my experience zero tolerance = zero brains. The people whose job it is to enforce rules usually fall into two camps; they either are not allowed any latitude in applying the rule, which is likely the case with bus drivers and officious teen aged lifeguards, or they lack the wit to understand the rules they are paid to enforce, which covers most bureaucrats and administrators, though some are just bullies who like to bludgeon people into submission, wielding a rule book like a truncheon. I ran into into far more than my share of these latter two types of administrators during my years in the navy, and I'm sure that anyone in any branch of civil service has as well.
Stand by for segue in 5....4....3....2....1....
For nearly as long as role playing games have existed there has been conflict between rules-lawyers who insist on strict interpretation of the rules and are quick to jump on the slightest infraction, and those who prefer to wing it and use the guidelines to adjudicate situations on a case-by-case basis using common sense to modify the rules to fit the circumstances. And, yeah, just like those administrators, there are game masters who just don't understand the game or who are bullies who empower themselves with the rules.
But it occurs to me that a sort of zero-tolerance policies are making its way into modern game systems, creating a third type of rule-Nazi; game masters who are not allowed any latitude in the interpretation of the rules. Games like 4E have such complex tapestries of rules, designed to cover every situation without the need for much thought or common sense, that even if you wanted to, winging it would only cause the tapestry to unravel.
It is interesting that our hobby parallels society as a whole, and that as our lives become increasingly regulated by rules that often don't make any sense, so do our games. Coincidence? I don't know, but it's interesting to ponder.
I was confronted by the rules-as-written vs. rules-as-intended dilemma just other day while playing in a Warhammer 40K mega-battle. We're running a huge multi-session battle with three teams of six players and no less than 12,000 points worth of miniatures on the table. At one point my partner proposed firing on a group of Space Marines and Dark Eldar who were locked in close combat. According to the rules you are not allowed to shoot into close combat, but the rules assume a fight between two sides and the intent is that there is too great a risk of hitting your own men to shoot into a melee. In this case, because the melee involved two enemy forces, it would make perfect sense to shoot at them, because no matter who dies, we win. There was strong objection by one of the Space Marine players who argued that the rule was the rule and should not be broken (though I doubt he would have mounted such a ardent objection had it not been some of his troops involved in the melee), and it is another interesting example of rules applied when it doesn't make any sense.
Now, I'm a 'spirit of the law' kind of guy, both in life and in gaming, but obviously not everybody agrees with that philosophy. So, I guess all you can do is try not to let the bastards get you down and take heart in knowing that some day, even Surf Nazis must die.
Welcome Back to the Labyrinth
"We have been away far too long, my friends," Ashoka declared, his face lit by the eldritch green glow of his staff. "But we have finally returned to the labyrinth whence our adventures first began."
"Just imagine the treasures that lie within," said Yun Tai, flexing his mighty muscles. "Wealth enough to live in luxury the rest of our days."
"And arcane artifacts of great power," added Ashoka his words dripping with avarice. "All ours for the taking!"
"Umm...guys?" Nysa interrupted. "Do you hear something dripping?"