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The Gentleman's Agreement
(Or "Why are we not all just Wizards?")
We are all aware that the wizard is the be all end all of everything ever with his variety of spells available to him, his ultimate arcane power capable of locking down an entire battle within the matter of seconds. That upmost super power at the fingertips, ready to crush everyone to their deaths with awesome combinations of magic spells. If you're not aware of this, you've been missing out on the power of Wizards (LogicNinja's Guide to being Batman, TreantMonk's Guide to being God) or just full casters in general (Druid's Handbook, Cleric's Handbook).
So, with this access to the internet; anyone and everyone can optimize (except those roleplays, of course; we all know you can't be powerful if you're roleplaying (roleplaying is all about accentuating FLAWS!)). This is because of the variety of handbooks and guides and statistical spreads printed by experienced gamers and people who may have a little too much time on their hands. But, there are still people who play the monk (even those that know it's not very good) and fighter. Hell, some people even play Truenamer or the Complete Warrior Samurai. Why isn't everyone just plowing through the game with their full casters?
I know what you might be thinking; maybe these people weren't aware of the true power of these classes (or lack thereof) because they're not as frequent to the dwellings of the D&D 3.5 internet community as you are! For a percentage; this is true, I confess. I played with a group who weren't very knowledgeable on power scales at all, but that's because they were new to the game (although, one of them was going Wizard / Initiate of the Sevenfold Veil which was very suspicious). The DM had only banned Tome of Battle (because it was a sort of "vanilla" game, to get people into the swing of things and not wanting to get everyone using Warblade immediately, I assume).But, what about the rest of the people? Those people who do frequent the haunts of the internet that supply us with out optimization and squabbling? Why do they do it? Why don't they just whip out the nightsticks and CoD it up for every game they're in, ever?
Rule 0? More like The Gentleman's Agreement. The Gentleman's Agreement is an unspoken understanding between two or more people, not necessarily men (who don't even have to be gentle!), who understand that they're all there to have fun. Most often in a game, the Gentleman's Agreement is between the players and the DM. The DM is there to tell a story for the enjoyment of the players, so they may play in his world and frolic with their characters. The players are agreeing to this by accepting the condition not to balls it all up by playing super powerful characters. Many people make this agreement by simply arriving at the game, but, of course, there are those few that aren't gentlemen... We'll come back to them later.
We go back to the group I was discussing earlier. It was an Eberron campaign and people had taken a variety of classes to create a diverse group. There were alot of us; about nine, infact. Here is the breakdown;
I joined the game last, as my friends were playing the Bard and Rogue and they directed me to it. The first time I started making a character, I was informed that I was not allowed Tome of Battle and I was fine with it (the DM knew I was more experienced than the others), so I made a Human Barbarian. His name was Jarith. He was focused on tripping and actually had relatively low health (bad rolls). I could have made a super powerful wizard to contend with others, or I could have made an ubercharger quite easily. But, I felt that these guys deserved to be able to work as a team. Unfortunately, the first enemy was faced was a Construct Hydra/Kraken (dubbed the CYBERKRAKEN for later use). Yes, with an ubercharger build I could have charged it, leap attack anal rape feat butt kill it within one turn and then reaped the glory of being AWESOME AND SHIT. Or shut it down with one or two spells cast in rapid succession. Instead, Jarith ran in, did some damage; got hit and ran away.
Was this more fun? Of course it was! The entire group were actually implemented into the battle, rather than just one or two guys destroying him. It wasn't about the numbers; it was about the interaction between players.
Second session, Jarith died. Did he die against an enemy? Nope. He was killed by another player. I was fine with it and I didn't hold a grudge or a vendetta against them for this; I didn't go to a forum and demand that someone make me a super powerful build to destroy my enemy in the ranks for this treacherous act! No. I laughed about it and remembered the Gentleman's Agreement. We're here to have fun and play a game. It's a game, after all, and the attack was justified. So, I spend the rest of the session working a new character and watching what was happening in the game.
You may be wondering "What's the point to this little story?". If you did, you probably missed the little bit about the vendetta there and the Gentleman's Agreement. But, my next character was... A Grey Elf Wizard. That's right, Batman Begins and such. Throughout the creation process and the spell selection I remembered The Gentleman's Agreement. I made the character first, not the crunch. His "fluff" was made as a humourous indication of what possibly could happen.
His name was Judas "Priest" Xion, the priest was inserted for more laughs than anything. I envisioned him as a great intellectual grey elf with racism to every single being that ever existed and utter contempt for their continuing existence. The joke, of course, was that he may possibly betray the party after he joins them (forcing the phrase "Curse your inevitable betrayal!"). But, I made a generalist wizard and I felt myself slowly slipping into the idea of making a powerful wizard with the exact spells picked out that are theoretically the most powerful abilities ever and such. But, I stopped myself and picked up spells like Lightning Bolt and Fireball (although, I did have other spells like Force Wall, Orb of Force, Phantom Steed, Overland Flight and such). I prepared spells on a day-to-day basis (the other spellcasters were allowed to pick any spell they had to cast at any time, but I forfeited this right). Judas could have easily dwarfed his team in power, but instead I kept myself doing what was right and kept myself at a power level so that others may shine (and indeed they did).
By the way, a CYBERKRAKEN didn't appear again, nevermind my persistence in attempting to get it back in the game. Just if you were wondering.
Even though I wasn't super powerful and such, I was having a good time. Everyone else was having a good time. This is a sign of a good game. Everyone was at roughly the same level (even the Druid who was morping into so many different types of creatures and using all their abilities (which, to be honest, wasn't minded)) and, in the end, we won our big fight and the group disbanded happily ever after, with no accusations of being too powerful or arguments about things like this. No-one was singled out as trying to steal the spotlight and, infact, no-one did steal the spotlight.
This is the effect of the Gentleman's Agreement. An experienced player can go into a group full of new people who have an offsense of balance and continue to have fun without overshadowing everyone. But, what about if it's different? What if everyone's optimizing? Then. keeping to the same power level is fine; this is not about OPTIMIZATION IS BAD or OPTIMIZATION MEANS CANNOT ROLEPLAY or something stupid like that. The Gentleman's Agreement is everyone having fun within the context of the gaming table. If a group of experienced players using optimized characters get a nth person to their table who's not as experienced, then they should make sure to help him out, so that he can play with the group as an equal; rather than a lesser, so that everyone may have fun.
I keep saying that word; fun. Your sense of fun may differ from everyone else's view on fun. But, the game's not about you. It's about everyone. Everyone can have collective fun by reaching the agreement point of what they want to get out of the game. If you want to the center of attention, bad ass at all times, spot light, killing, slaughtering and just making everyone redundant... Sure you're going to have fun, but no-one else is. That's a breach of the Gentleman's Agreement and you lose your status as a D&D Gentleman until you redeem yourself. People don't like playing with King McBadass, Mary Sue or Mr Carbon Copy.
Still confused to what the Gentleman's Agreement is? I can't give you an exact definition of every single term listed in the agreement because it's a mutating agreement. It changes from table to table, group to group, person to person and such. But, here; I'll give you biggest part of it.
We agree to provide a fun environment and gaming experience to all those that we game with.
The various other bits are to do with co-operation, things you just DON'T DO (like take Theoretical Optimizations if you're not playing in a game specifically designed for them, they're theoretical!). But, as I've been repeating ad nauseam; it's about the fun, not the power. It's not about shining a light upon your character, playing a fanfare and everyone throwing roses at you because you're so fabulously awesomer then everyone else. No. It's about being a team, you're meant to work with these people to achieve a common goal. If a person is doing something that detracts from your experience, talk to them about it, don't just be vindictive and spiteful, skittering off to the DM to whine about it. If you're not sure about things, ask; everyone should help. If someone else needs help, help!
But, what about those people who don't like to play nicely and those people who think The Gentleman's Agreement doesn't apply to them? You get the question on gaming forums about Player X is doing something stupid and such. These are people who want to steal the spotlight, these are people who want to be the best (the very best!) and make everyone bow to their various awesome abilities. So, these people make the biggest and baddest character ever and unleash it upon a party and laugh at other weaker people and comment on the degrees of bad ass he can achieve, especially whenever he does achieve them. Or maybe they're the kind of person who wants to have X and they want it NOW. Or maybe someone who plays the Chaotic Stupid and so on and so on. These people are a bane to the gaming table and they stagnate it! But, it's not just a "KICK THEM OUT NOW" type of thing, no. It's a "take them to the side and talk politely about it like a gentleman" type of situation. Remember; you're a gentleman because you're in The Gentleman's Agreement! The Gentleman's Agreement doesn't have a clause that says you can be a prick because someone else is. It says...
Quid Quo Pro
Put something in and, hopefully, they'll see the error of their ways and reconcile. If they don't, then you raise the problem to the next level. Which, possibly, is removal from the game.
The worst ones are the ones that you can't remove from the game, for some reason. These people should be worked on to try and get them to play along because griping about it is not going to go anywhere. Explain why you feel problems are occurring to the next level of authority in the game (most likely the DM) and explain why you feel you're not having fun due to Player X. If other people are having problems, rally together and try to solve the problem...
Those that abuse the Gentleman's Agreement should be informed of the breech and attempts to reconcile are mandatory
So, in this closing statement, I will reiterate for prosperities sake: Fun is what the Gentleman's Agreement is about in relation to gaming. It's a game and everyone's there to have fun; which doesn't normally occur when everyone's being outshined or just a single person is lacking behind and feeling useless. Be gentlemanly, work together towards a common goal. For my final words, a plug! The Balance Point System gives you power levels that fit well within the structure of the Gentleman's Agreement for balancing a party for fun. It's not about power, it's about everyone having fun and feeling that they're contributing equally to a party and not just leaving anyone in the dust.
Remember, in the words of the Beatles; Help!