In the world of RPG’s there are several classic RPG arguments that float around on various RPG blogs, message boards, and even raise their head in seminars at gaming conventions. I like to call these arguments, “spam arguments” because they are as original as the Nigerian 419 email message, and are just about as pointless. In hopes to have some kind of exorcism or cleansing ritual for Gnome Stew, I am going to present these 5 pointless arguments, discuss the root cause for each one, and ways to resolve or avoid the argument. It is my hope by discussing them in one article that they never have to appear on this site, leaving Gnome Stew to be a home for more enlightened RPG thought.
Argument 5: “Thats not how it would happen in real life!”
This argument seems so obvious, that it is a wonder that this comes up, over and over. The crux of this argument is that someone believes that the way the rules address a specific situation, is not realistic enough for the person’s taste. The most recent version of this argument, that I heard, was that in D&D a person with more than 10 hit points, can fall off a horse, something that is very dangerous in real life, and not be in any real danger of being hurt; that the mechanics did not sufficiently address the danger of falling off the horse. To the argurer’s point, they are right, with more than 10 Hit Points you are not in danger of falling off a horse. That was the mechanical trade off of not having your character turned into a pile of broken bones and ruptured organs on the first swipe of the dragon’s claw.
The truth is, that rarely are the mechanics of an RPG overly realistic or so complex to completly model every situation. In most cases RPG mechanics are geared for a more of an action-adventure feel, where falling off of a horse is just not as life threatening as standing in a cone of red dragon breath. Game mechanics are often designed to balance realism with entertainment, and a game that was super realistic is verly likely to be rule bloated and not much fun.
There is no real way out of this argument, other than to acknowledge that rules have mechanical styles and limitations, and that they are not perfect models of the real world. If your group finds a rule system too unrealistic, then shop around for another one. If you think that d20 Modern gun combat is not dangerous enough, try something like first edition Conspiracy X. Eventually you will find a model that best suits your group.
Argument 4: “Yes, my character is single, an orphan, and has no real attachments.”
This is the case where a player has created a character background that had left nothing for the GM to hook into for plot development. There are a few reasons why the player may have done this: lack of imagination, lack of interest, or fear of the GM doing something to the character during the game. Lets assume that your players have adquate imagination and that you have done a fine job creating and sustaning intrest in your game. That leaves a fear that you are going to take one of the characters loved ones, put them into harms way, and force the character into rescuing them.
Of course you are going to do that. As a GM you would be remiss in your duites not to take some part of a characters background and develop a story from it, even if that means hanging a loved one over the jaws of a red dragon. The catch is that as a GM, you need to establish with your players that you are using their background elements to make a more interesting and engaging stories, and are not dangling the character’s loved ones for your own enjoyment.
On the player’s side of this argument, it is your job to create interesting background material for the GM to take and use. In a way similar to the Burning Wheel beliefs system, the NPC’s and relationships you create, in your background, are your way of telling the GM, “Hey, these are some cool things about me, that I would like to explore.” Planning to have a spouse in your background, why not have them hate that you are an adventurer, and it has created tension in your relationship, every time you leave for a quest. How about instead of having a plain close friend, have a close friend with a substance abuse problem, or an obesession with the kingdom’s princess. Put some material out there that you find interesting, and bait your GM into letting you play it out.
Argument 3: “I am not being a jerk, I am playing in character!”
This sounds like it is part of the previous argument, but this is its own unique argument and is a much worst problem than the previous argument. In this case, a player has decided to become a disruption, in the game, and is defending their actions by using their character design. This is a social contract issue, plain and simple. Either the GM has allowed the player to create a disruptive character concept, without challenging the build, or the player has decided to take their character into a new direction…jerk. In either case, as the GM, you need to step in and talk with the player and address the character/player’s disruptive actions, before things boil over at the table.
The way to avoid this issue is when starting up a game, you need to define in the social contract what kinds of character builds, alignements, amount of intra-party conflict is going to be allowed in the game. This is a group decision, and needs to be a unanimous agreement, or this issue will creep its way into your campaign. Perhaps you do not want to GM a Chaotic Evil party, or that you do not want the Rogue to be stealing from the party between encounters; put it in the social contract and you wont have to worry about it coming up. If it does, refer back to the social contract and tell the player to get back on track.
Argument 2: “That’s not what is written in the rules!”
What can be said about this argument that hasnt been said on countless discussion boards. Hell some discussion boards (I am not naming any names, but you know who you are..) drive post after post over these very arguments. This argument arises when the rules for the game do not cover some specific application of a spell, ability, etc, forcing the GM to make a ruling. Often the ruling is in conflict with the player in question, and the fireworks begin. The discussion heats up and eventaully it is a showdown between the GM and the player. In the wake of this conflict, the fun of the game as been sucked dry, and there is nothing but hurt feelings and some teritorial pissing.
The heart of this argument is the concept of the letter of the law vs. the spirit of the law. The rule book of an RPG is finite. There are limits of how many rules can be put between the covers of the book. At some point some rule description is not going to make it into print. A good RPG has a clear central mechanic that allows a GM to make a reasonable ruling when there is a gap in the rules. Central mechanic or not, ultimately the GM must become the Supeme Court of the game, translating the spirit of the rules to address things that were not laid out in the rule book.
Where the argument really comes in, are with the people who belive that if it is not written in the rule book, then the rule does not exist. They are not comfortable with the GM making rulings, and fight the GM by pounding on the rule book trying to negate the GM’s ruling citing that the GM can’t go around making up their own rules. I like to call these people Rules Fundmentalists, and I think that history has shown us that Fundementalism has never really made anything any better, and often have made things much worst. There is no easy way out of this argument, until the Rule Fundementalist has a revelation and comes to understand that the GM is the final arbitrator of the rules for their campaign. That is not to say that players cannot have input, but ultimatly the GM is charged with the responsibility and the power to translate how the rules apply to their campaign. As long as that is done fairly and consistently, and not done with an agenda, there is no ground for the Rules Fundementalist to stand upon.
Argument 1: The Sanctity of the Dice
This argument is so polarizing, that even as I write it, I am scared to even bring it up. I once saw this very topic turn a rather easy-going, and fun, GMing seminar at GenCon into a raging debate, in under five minutes. The sancity of the dice: should the GM roll their dice in front of the players or behind the screen, and should the GM be allowed to “fudge” the roll to the betterment of the story. Every group has a feeling about this. Personally, I am for keeping my dice rolls hidden and sparingly fudging the rolls to maintain the story. But I am not without understanding of my open-rolling brothers and sisters.
The center of this argument, so that you can avoid it in the future, is based around two issues: the players trust in the GM, and the importance of playing the game vs. telling a story. Lets start with trust. If a group does not trust their GM, they are not going to trust that he is rolling fairly. If trust is the issue, there are larger issues within the group that may have to do with GMing style, GM vs. Player mentality, etc. Trust issues are hard to resolve, but by laying out some ground rules in the social contract, and making a leap of faiith, you may feel comfortable enough to let the GM roll his dice behind the screen. It won’t be easy, but it can be done.
The second issue, which I think is more common, has to do with what is more important to the group, playing the game as it was designed, or telling an engaging story. If playing the game is the most important issue, then the rolling of the dice can be done in the open, as you would if you were playing Monopoly, and if the next roll the GM makes leads to a TPK, then so be it, that is how the game is played. If the story is more important, then a GM needs some wiggle room to push those dice around, and take some liberties with the rolls they get. You don’t want that opening fight with the Kobolds to turn into a TPK, so you are going to let that natural 20 on the Rogue turn into a miss. The way to avoid this argument is to establish this firmly into your social contract. Discuss with your players what is most important in the game, then make that part of the contract, so that it works for your group. It does not matter how other groups handle this as long as your group is comfortable with the choice you made.
There you have it…5 of the worst RPG arguments, listed, discussed, and disarmed. Now we can go forth in this beautiful new blog together, and not have to worry about these arguments raising their ugly heads. What are some of the other classic arguments you have heard, and perhaps we can dissect these as well.
Nice setting of the table Phil.
I used to go bonkers when someone would bring argument #1 at the table… I’d answer “It’s a freaking game! If you want real life go step in front of a speeding truck!”
I’ve mellowed out since. 🙂
As for the dice issue I thinks it’s also a social contract thing. Have the group agree and then go with it. I myself am flip floping on this rather often, and I will bring the point up when we reconvene to discuss the social contract for D&D 4e.
Great post dear friend….
The sanctity of the dice argument drives me a little nuts too. It is totally the group’s decision to make as to whether the GM can fudge dice rolls or not, yet I’ve had people literally yell at me as to how fudging/not fudging is wrong regardless of what another group does.
I now realize that the best approach with those people is the same approach that you should take with a game of global thermo-nuclear war. The only way to win is not to play. 🙂
Totally agree on argument 3 – Being in character is no excuse for being a jerk. This goes double for when you’re introducing a new character to the party, and double again when that new character is played by a newb player.
I had someone laugh as they told me how they invited a tabletop newb to join their game. When she (a girl!!!) showed up with her new character, the party threw her in chains and declared her a slave, all the while justifying this with “We’re an evil party! That’s what we would do.”
When I asked the obvious follow-up question: “Did she ever come to another game?” he laughed and said no. So, thanks to that ass, there is a girl out there somewhere who might have thought that RPGs could be fun and that gamers weren’t all ass-hats, but now she knows better…
Interestingly, argument 5 seems to be the heart of the division in the 3E/4E split in the D&D community.
There is a real divide between whether the (as yet, still unseen) 4E rules replace too many simulationist solutions to gaming issues with gamist ones — hit points just being the first stop on the edition wars train.
Argument 4 isn’t so much a problem when one character goes that way, but it is when the whole group goes that way. I run for a fairly imaginative group and have for a long time, and rarely, if ever, do I run into this problem anymore, but at some point when everyone was in their late teens/early twenties it seemed like everyone was falling into the tough, silent loner trap.
Too many Wolverines, not enough Cyclopses; it makes for a very boring game.
Fortunately, now that everyone’s in their late twenties/early thirties, we don’t really run into it anymore … when we can actually find the time to get together and play.
Argument three (â€œI am not being a jerk, I am playing in character!â€) has significantly interfered with the last few campaigns I’ve played/GMed. I’ve addressed this problem in character creation by specifying that 1. Everyone is a member of an Adventuring Party, and enjoys going on Adventures with the rest of the Party. 2. Everyone trusts everyone else.
This is an awesome article and I wish more role-playing game advice and design sites would have something like this (or at least a special section in their FAQ for it). You are so right; these arguments plague the forums and boards and do nothing except impede any real discourse. And any quality play.
However, my experience suggests a few different responses to these arguments.
The sad fact is, the correct response to Argument Five would be, “games with dragons and magic aren’t realistic for this reason alone.”Â¹ But that just denigrates into an argument over the meaning of “realism” and ends with the fact that we are actually arguing about verisimilitude. This still doesn’t solve the argument; as stated, there is no solution.
This is because this statement is just code for, “I don’t like what just happened in the game and I want to argue until it goes away!” I’ve found the best response is to keep the code in mind and simply ask the person what they think should happen. I do not even touch the word ‘realism’. Then I take the role of negotiator and create a situation that solves the coded desire of the player and the direction this happening should take the game.
The Argument Four section has many great solutions to this argument and I’d like to add a couple. Before that, on the face of it, treating this as an argument turns many things in the game into a confrontational relationship between gamemaster and players. That’s bad. (Ask yourself why you look at your players that way, what you can do to change how you think and the fact that they have picked up on this attitude.)
Two extra credit ideas: give that player a powerful, useful McGuffin. Then serve up problem after problem that comes as obvious results of them having it. For example, give the farm boy the droids with the Deathstar plans or let the goblin have the unicorn hornÂ², he’ll get in so much trouble (read that, ‘teh phun’).
There’s also ‘leaving them out’ of the fun. If they see everyone else is having fun due to their origins and background and you come by later and as them if they’d like to modify theirs, they will probably agree (what’s better than the secret origin? Mebbe their parents weren’t really dead?). The important point here is to always go out of your way to avoid using the players’ backgrounds to ‘attack them’ (what the reticent one fears, anyway).
Finally, this is actually the way reserved players like to play. You can tell them from the defensive types because they are quiet almost all the time and only join play to do ‘teh cool’. Defensive players spend a lot of play effort trying to ensure success and guard against failure; that’s heavy play involvement. Leave the reserves alone, trust me, they are having loads of fun.
Build! Don’t attack.
Argument three is another code phrase, “I’m bored | tired | unhappy | angry | etc with the game right now.” Again, turning this into an argument or even hearing the argument’s title (or similar) is the mistake in, and of, itself. It gives in to the player’s disruptive intent completely, giving them control of the social situation. Better to call a break and fake a trip to the bathroom (that’s how I get all of my genius gamemastering ideas – taking the extra time to think them up); when you calm down and start looking at the player as someone who’s in trouble rather then looking at them as trouble, you can go out and pull them aside. Ask them point blank, “You’re not having enough fun, what can I do to help?” No amount of policing or negotiating ahead of time will prevent people from not realizing when their bad day is spilling over into the game.
Be a friend!
Argument Two is also a code, but a nasty one with a lost lead. Again, the player is not really concerned with adherence to the rules; what they’re saying is, “I do not like how that came out!” This is mostly because it wasn’t how they expected.
I remember an example of a player interrogating the gamemaster about the length and composition of a bridge the party was being chased across. Why? Eventually we learned that they had planned to use Turn Stone to Mud to collapse the bridge, stranding their pursuers (who wouldn’t be able to jump). Frankly, you can’t anticipate that (only psychic GMs can). What you need to learn is how to say, “How long would it need to be?” and “What do you think it would be made out of?” It may seem like a cop-out of weak gamemastering, but this is the essence of bringing on teh phun!
Taking this down the ‘the gamemaster is god’ road is falling for the lost lead and sacrificing fun for confrontation. While it’s true that repeatedly bending to this kind of player can often overwhelm a fledgling gamemaster, keeping them happy is truly the name of the game. If you think that limits your abilities as a gamemaster, my suggestion has always been, “Give them enough rope to hang themselves.” Give them what they want and more; especially the problems associated with having such surplus. (Someone’s got to notice!)
Trust is most definitely the central issue in Argument One. Those who don’t trust want the sanctity; those who do trust don’t understand the need for an argument. As clever as it sounds to work out a ‘social contract’ ahead of time, it’s almost impossible in fieldwork. Most people don’t know what a social contract is (and explaining it is a phun-killer), the rest don’t care (meaning they don’t see how it can be consciously affected).
The real power of the gamemaster is not being able to ‘fudge’ the dice. In fact, if you practice this power, you can simply avoid bringing them out when you need a specific result. Whether telling a story or running a dungeon, everyone looks to the gamemaster to cue when the dice come out. In the kobold example, by rights as an opening fight, the odds should be extremely in the players’ favor. Thus you can either gloss over it, “…And you make short work of this gang of kobolds” or run it. If you run it and the balance begins to shift, narrate something that the players are doing that causes the kobolds to rout; shouldn’t the players be that scary? (It makes them feel cool.)
The three most important uses of this GMing power is pacing, pacing and pacing. Playing many games, as written, with no regard of pacing will turn every combat into a huge impediment to play. With strict attention to pacing (i.e. taking your cues from the attention span of the whole group), you will find that your games will run much more smoothly (especially if every up-pacing moment simply goes in favor of the players – and it should).
Pacing over even looking at the dice!
p.s. This is truly a beautiful blog! Everyone spread the word. This is the place to be! \m/^.^\m/
Â¹ We have always called this the ‘realism in space combat’ problem. Since no one has ever fought in space in human history, space combat has no basis in realism.
Â² From the underappreciated ‘Legend’ starring Mia Sara, Tom Cruise and Tim Curry.
Oh god, fudging. 😉 Not counting blatant social conflicts, this is by far the most contentious gaming issue I’ve ever run across.
I’ve found that for argument four (Wolverine), having a character generation session with your whole group is a big help. That way everyone will start bouncing ideas off each other, and you can chime in to help as needed. It’s also good to have clear expectations in mind, and communicate them — asking for three NPC contacts in each character background, for example (and then using those contacts, of course).
I love the approach you took with this post, Phil, and it’s very well thought out. Great first post!
On fudging: Personally I am pretty story-focused GM and yet I loathe fudging. I do not care much about the game aspect. Also, given that the GM is worth your trust, he/she has absolutely no reason to hide those rolls.
The real essence of the argument is: With a perfect system fudging is not necessary. The question is: Are you and your players willing to create the perfect system for your group and are you even able to do it? Here “system” includes game mastering and playing styles.
Great opening round, Phil. I was at that GM Seminar on the fudging of rolls, and you hit it spot-on. What an issue! 🙂
Me? Yeah, I fudge. My players suspect sometimes, but I’ll reveal “true” dice rolls now and then, and don’t do it too much. I keep the fear of character death there and random madness there, but for us, our “perfect system” includes fudging sometimes. I don’t bend all the way to sacrificing the dice roll to the imagined sanctity of some “story”, but when it keeps us rolling when we’ve hit a good hot spot, I have no qualms about doing it.
Also: I’m a huge proponent of Group CharGen. In my campaigns now, Group CharGen is sort of an opening night party–we bring snacks (more than usual), have a meal, make it a special night, and only brainstorm and do chargen. Its saved a lot (though not all) of Wolverines from showing up unexpectedly.
Wow. Way to knock the first one out of the park.
On #3 (the “in character” jerk), I have a player’s response to that problem: React as your character would react, without regard for “group cohesion”. You wouldn’t let an NPC treat you this way, why a PC?
Simply put, if the player in question isn’t respecting the “hands off the rest of the party” rule, why should anyone else? Stealing from the party generally leads to a quick and painful death. Thwarting the party’s already-agreed-upon plans leads to suspicion of a traitor in our midst. Dragging the rest of the party into a no-win situation gives them full rights to step back and watch you destroy yourself (see the Firefly episode “The Message” for more).
If the “jerk” is open to it, talk about it above-game. A five minute “what the hell are you doing?” conversation may point out the error of his ways. Or it may give him a chance to repeat that he’s doing what his character would do. At which point the gloves are off, and the night’s entertainment has been postponed until the ‘current issue’ is disposed of. 😉
When it’s all said and done, be willing to let bygones go if he is willing to create a character who can play well with others.
Great post – keep up the good work and I’ll have a wonderful new time-waster.
With argument #5 I usually point out the fact that I ride horses and also motorcycles. And indeed, I have fallen off both at one time or another. But since I am an experienced rider, when I fall I know how to fall in such a way that I minimize damage. Hence I can still type here… So, someone with 10 hit points should have some experience riding a horse, thus when falling off they can minimize damage and not die. Now if I have an inexperienced rider jumping on an unbroken horse and playing rodeo – well then that person is in danger of taking a lot more than 10 points of damage.
This sort of leads into the realism argument – I had someone fall off a vehicle in a modern-era game and, feeling realistic (and physics minded) we figured out based on speed the equivalent fall in feet (as in from a cliff) and rolled said damage. Was it fun, sure it was a one-off experiment, but if I rolled for each bounce of the cannonball or computed diminishing armor value as you slide along the ground; well then I’d not be role-playing, I’d be simulating – which is a whole other genre of game.
For argument 4: I find that character background should be a Collaboration between the Gm & player. I find that as a player I need campaign information from the Gm before I can really come up with a background.
I also prefer to keep my characters backround open to compensate for a lack of knowledge about the Gm’s campaign. It also depends on what the other players are doing . If I come up with a background that isn’t compatable with another palyers, it may cause problems in joining the party.
I also want to start playing as soon as possible & would rather come up witht the background afterwards.
For argument one: If I didn’t fudge an occational die roll, my players would be dieing left & right. I find,much to my irritation, that when I don’t want to roll high I tend to roll high with a vengence.
I have too many games ruined by letting the die roll ecide the outcome.
Ofcourse I’m talking about fudging the roll in the players favor or to keep an npa that I need later from dieing too soon.
I think the real problem comes from Dm’s that want to win & fudge rolls to railroad their palyers or to keep their favorite npc’s alive.
I don’t think about winning when I Dm, I just want the players to have fun & having a Player die at the wrong moment can kill a game.
Argument 5 has been a thorn in my side so many times. Especially, with self proclaimed gun bunnies, expert swordsmen and martial arts gurus. One time we actually ended up in the middle of dark street late at night to settle an argument over how far some one could throw a grenade.
This may be the best bowl of stew the gnomes have served up to now…
Argument 5: â€œThats not how it would happen in real life!â€
“Okay everyone… there’s been a request to play ‘real life’ for a bit. Please push your books and dice to the side, take out a clean sheet of paper, and please spend the next thirty minutes preparing a disseration on the logistical challenges of medieval food distribution, starting… now.”
Your players all make smart-ass comments about pigs flying and global cooling in hell. Of course, the argument is usually a bit more subtle. In those situations, I like to have the discussion with all of the arguments presented by the players and myself as the dispassionate judge. I steer the group to a concensus that I can live with. Often, the groups concensus is that the ruling (or rule) may not be completely realistic, but a reasonable trade-off between reality and playability.
If most of your players are reasonable, you’ll come to a reasonable conclusion. If they aren’t, why are you wasting your time with these guys? In the games that I participate in, the players are always the most jealous guardians of game balance–to the point that they will voluntarily avoid using exploits that are known game-breakers or that prove to be game-breaking on the first use.
One of my prime directives is that, if someone is serious, take them seriously. If you want to be a benevolent dictator, buy and island in the South Pacific and dictate to the gulls and turtles. Otherwise, you are exactly 1/(you+number of players) of the people seeking enjoyment from the game. Be reasonable.
Argument 4: â€œYes, my character is single, an orphan, and has no real attachments.â€
Reward your players, discretely, according to the amount of creative effort they put into the game. Some will lead with elaborate back-stories full of opportunities to hook into the game. Others will put less into the history of their character, but work like dogs to develop relationships within the game. Everyone has their own style, and all should get out of it what they invest.
For those who try to remain invulnerable by offering nothing of themselves to the game, they will quickly see the benefits that others derive from their investment and start investing themselves, or they will remain aloof and accept the lack of reciprocity. Either way, they’ve gotten what they want from the game. If everyone seems to Rambo on you, it might say more about your GM’ing than their playing.
Argument 3: â€œI am not being a jerk, I am playing in character!â€
If you’ve got a solid group, that type of behavior will never survive to adjudication. A disruptive character will be chased off or neutralized. If the other players are too passive to challenge the disruptor, call a break and pull that person off for a side discussion. If you’re reasonable and non-confrontational, you’ll put him or her in the position of either moderating their character’s behavior or leaving the game.
This type of thing is more common in an evil party, but isn’t that what the players are looking for when they agree to play evil characters? The characters are that period’s equivalent of reality-TV contestants, and their shallow, selfish behavior is a feature, not a bug.
Argument 2: â€œThatâ€™s not what is written in the rules!â€
You should be clear up front if you are going to modify some of the rules. You should also retain the right to exercise discretion when necessary (like when someone drops a game-breaker on you). If there are players who do not understand the concept that not everything is covered in the rules and that you will have to resolve things that fall outside of the rules from time to time, explain it to them. Most people understand that implicitly without being told. But barring that sort of thing, you really should play the rules as they are written so that the players will feel comfortable that the rules do mean something.
Argument 1: The Sanctity of the Dice
The best GMs I’ve played with have never had to deal with this issue. The GM rolls behind the screen or on the table for a myriad of reasons, most of them having to do with what’s most convenient at that moment. If a GM fudges so much that the characters can’t seem to get themselves killed for love or money, the players will catch on and complain, and eventually quit. Nobody wants to play a game they can’t lose. But I don’t expect a GM to allow a TPK of a moderate to high-level party because the dice aren’t behaving. As a GM, you have a lot of tools in your toolbox to prevent that from happening, fudged rolls being only one of them. I wouldn’t give that tool up though. Your function as the GM is to weave an entertaining yarn around the characters, and be entertained by where they take it. It is silly to think that you would be required to watch a carefully planned campaign go down the tubes because your players don’t trust you. We all have to learn to strike a careful balance. Do the best you can, and let the players pay for their mistakes, to a point.
As to argument 5, there are things that no game system can really simulate accurately.
Take throwing. Most systems let you throw lighter things further and that’s that. But I think we all know that you can throw a baseball a lot further than you can a wadded up sheet of paper, even tho the baseball weighs more. Can any game simulate the fact you can throw a 1″ ball of stone or lead much further than you can throw a 1″ ball of low density styrorfoam?
There are just some things either no amount of rules can simulate, or that the rules to simulate would be too much trouble for, like having an exhaustive rules section that took into account mass, density, aerodynamics, etc, to get a set of throwing rules that let you throw a small lead ball further than a small styrofoam one…
#4 – It’s the GM’s job to tell the player what he needs from a character. It’s also important for the GM not to make assumptions about a character. I recall one time a GM tried to dangle a family member in my face, but I actually had a poor relationship with him. He was shocked when I showed up to watch him fall.
#2 – This depends upon the game you are playing or the social contract you have developed. In the groups I play in, the GM is not the final arbiter of the rules. Instead, the final arbiter is determined by a vote. We do, however, only do this for bigger conflicts.
As to argument 4, I think a lot of fictional archetypal characters are “loners” with no close family. I mean, look at conan for the fantasy archetype character, no family or close friends he couldn’t cut loose if he had to.
Lots of superheroes have few close family members, what with a lot of them being orphaned by criminals and so on.
It’s more a problem with lazy writers in the early days deciding that it was easier to write stories about the brooding, mysterious loner type than have to create a guy’s whole family….
Recently a neophyte GM handed the group a party of pregenerated loner-types and started us off in a bar. The rest of the group rolled our eyes and… decided we were The Beer Hunters; a group of functioning alcoholics who adventure only as an excuse to drink and screw. My female Barbarian turned out to be from a moderately civilized part of the world but she’d run away to join the circus after being seduced by the ringmaster. Her barbarian persona and name was from her act and she’d been taught to fight by the circus’s blade master; a fallen paladin. When she discovered the ringmaster with another young thing he’d seduced about to sacrifice her on a dark altar she got a little overworked and the rest is history (and in the case of the ringmaster, geography).
When a player handed me a character who had no known family a dead master, but a known rival, I immediately used them to do a pastiche of Star Wars, with half the big-bads turned out to be immediate family, including the rival, and allowed me to utter the line “…I *am* your mother”.
When another player in the same campaign announced that his elven druid had absolutely no history at all I set into motion a series of events that revealed that his family were infernalists and that no matter how far or fast he ran he could never escape his dark past.
My players have learned that I take an absence of background as permission for me to go to work and invent something for them.
@Grogtard – Umm, so what did you use to represent the grenade?