Fairness As Practice

New site! You should update your bookmarks, and there’s an rss button just to the right, so that’s cool. I’m still working out the design, so if you think there’s something which should be added, let me know. I’m definitely going to work on updating my blogroll, and work on a new About page, as well as an index for posts. I’d been holding off on it until my term was over, but now I can really put some time into it.

In the meantime though, I want to look at fairness as a practice. I hope I made a sufficient case last week for why fairness should be considered an ethical principle at the table, so I want to take the opportunity to talk about some ways in which you can ensure fairness as a practice .

The two watchwords for today are transparency and accountability. In any other situation where fairness is a consideration, whether that’s casino games, the judicial process, or even politics, we view these as desirable qualities, and I think the gaming table is no different. Most of what I’m talking about today are various ways of improving transparency and accountability.

Post Res Revelation

Too much transparency

How much transparency? Well, that’s a good question. There’s certainly something to be said for the value of mystery and hidden information, and games will often require the GM to keep things hidden from the players. What I prefer to do in these cases is offer to reveal the relevant information as soon as it stops being relevant. Sometimes that means revealing the mechanics behind a foe’s abilities  after the fight is over, or the kinds of actions going on out of view of the player characters after the outcome of those actions has already been made public. I do this upon request, and find that by being open to doing so, it helps build trust. People trust that there are mechanical explanations and things going on behind the scenes, rather than arbitrary fiat decisions being made on the spot. It improves my accountability by making me accountable for having those kinds of explanations and having them be consistent with the ruleset and setting, rather than generating them on the spot.

Rules As Fairness
Following the rules is another way of keeping things fair. Being able to show that you’re following the rules, and being willing to be accountable to that. one of the ways I’ve found to do this started when I began running a game online, using Gametable and Skype, is public dice rolls. I don’t include the modifiers (it’s just too much of a pain to make all the macros I’d need), which leaves a little mystery left, but I roll all the dice in the public chat. The result of this is that there’s been a lot less concern about dramatic results. The bit of information they have tells my players that I’m playing by the same rules as them. A 20 is a 20, and a 1 is a 1, whether I like it or not. It also helps them hold me accountable when I make errors with the modifiers, if they see the same roll hit when it missed before, despite nothing else having changed.

Don’t Play Favourites
I actually want to come off a little stronger on this. We all know that the GM shouldn’t play favourites, but I think that you really want to avoid any situation wherein it could be seen as playing favourites. One of the things I stand pretty firm on is the list of the sources we use for our games. It’s pretty large, and covers everything made by WotC for 3.5, as well as 3.0 material which is explicitly compatible, and certain elements of Dragon and Dungeon magazine. I’ve been open to expanding this when we’ve sufficiently explored the source material, but periodically I’m asked to allow individual pieces of 3rd party materials such as feats, spells, classes, etc. There seems to be a strong argument against doing this unilaterally. Each case introduces a new possibility for someone to ask, “Why did case Y get approved when case X didn’t?” Lawyers and judges have to deal with this all the time, and they get paid a great deal of money for it. You don’t. If concerns of fairness are the only relevant consideration, a different way to do it might be to bring it to the group and have them make a case for how it will improve the game as a whole, and have them vote on it. I already do this with house rules.

Next week I’ll wrap up by talking about some ways to address claims of unfairness, and talk a bit more about how to understand it. In the mean time, these are just a few of the practices for improving fairness that I know are out there, and I want to hear some of yours. What have you tried that worked? What have you tried that didn’t?

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