50 Shades of Greyhawk: How Your RPG Group Is Like A BDSM Relationship
A gaming group is sort of like being in a relationship. It requires trust, good communication, and the desire to achieve a common goal. It can be emotional and often requires a lot of effort to really make it work, but in the end, it is worth it to see the mutual satisfaction on the faces of everyone involved, and that warm feeling of knowing something you did made them happy.
However, the kind of relationship a gaming group resembles is something a bit different than what many are used to. I had intended to write a fun little article about how gaming is like being in a relationship, but somewhere along the way, I took a hard left turn into uncharted territory, to a place with significantly more leather.
"Not exactly what I meant by Dungeon Master..."
So, let this be a disclaimer of sorts. This article will deal with some mature themes pertaining to the power dynamic of alternative relationships. It is some heavy stuff not for the faint of heart. If the topic of Dominance, submission, bondage, or sadomasochistic behavior offends you or your beliefs then I urge you to stop reading now and check out one of my less leather-bound articles, please click here for a gander at my complete archive.
Parental discretion is advised.
Not for the faint of heart.
Yadda, yadda, yadda...
Still here? Good. Strap yourselves in (see what I did there?), because today the Bard is getting a little kinky.
I have friends. Lots of friends. That happens when you are a friendly, good-natured person like me that can get along with just about anyone. I tend to make friends from just about every walk of life, from politically conservative and liberal people, highly religious folks, atheists, gay, straight, transgender, you name it. I am an equal opportunity bard, and if you have dice, want to throw down in a dungeon, and can respect everyone in the group, then I want you at my table.
A lot of my friends play Dungeons & Dragons. Some of my friends have taken the dungeon angle a bit literally, as they are engaged in the BDSM lifestyle. For those of you not hip to the lingo, BDSM is an abbreviation for bondage & discipline, Dominance & submission, sadism & masochism. It is also a catch all for a number of fetishes and what not, but today we are really just going to focus on those 6.
A lot of research went into this article. The subject matter is sensitive, so I wanted to portray everything in such a way where I would offend as few people as possible (and maybe enlighten a few while I am at it). In doing all this research I learned a lot about the BDSM community and how certain myths lead me to believe certain things that just weren't true. The more I learned, the more I was able to see some very striking similarities between a typical BDSM relationship (if indeed there is such a thing) a typical gaming group (see previous parenthesis).
Power exchange is a huge part in a number of BDSM practices. Power exchange happens when one party hands over power to another for the purposes of mutual satisfaction. That power could be free will, the use of one's limbs, or any number of things. It's this exchange that gives us the Dominant and submissive, or Dom/sub (or D/s if you hate spelling out words).
A Dominant (or Dom for the fellas and Domme for the ladies) is an individual whom takes great pleasure in wielding power over someone else, often as a position of authority. A submissive is someone who enjoys giving up control to someone, letting them take charge in whatever capacity two consenting adults see fit. The Dom/Domme is freely given this measure of control by the sub for mutual satisfaction.
Before that control can be given, trust must be first be established between the two parties. The Dominant typically gets to know the would-be sub, their likes, and dislikes, and learns things that the sub is uncomfortable with and does not wish to do (these are called hard limits). Once limits have been established, the sub consents to give the Dominate control. The Dom/Domme, while in charge, knows that while they hold power, the real power still belongs to the sub, who can rescind that control.
Pretty simple, stuff, right?
"The party of the first part... Article 37... I think I need a notary to finish the rest."
Now, let's take a hard look at the typical gaming group...
A Dungeon Master (or Game Master, depending on your system) is a person that takes great pleasure in wielding power over a group of people often as a position of authority. A player is someone who enjoys giving up control to the DM, letting them take charge of the campaign world that they intend to play in. The DM is freely given this measure of control by the player for mutual satisfaction.
Before that control can be given, trust must be first be established between the two parties. The DM typically lays out their campaign world and gets to know the players and their characters, what classes they have chosen, and asks the players what things they would and wouldn't like to see in the campaign. Once the expectations for the campaign have been established, the players consent to give the DM control over the campaign. The DM, while in charge, knows that while they hold power, the real power still belongs to the players, who can rescind that control.
"Casting 'Silence' and 'Hold Person' just took on a whole new meaning."
That's right. Your Dungeon Master is, in fact, the rough definition of a Dominant. The players step into the role of the submissive, giving the DM free reign to entertain them. The DM enjoys seeing their players so happy, and thus likewise gets satisfaction, much the same way a Dom receives satisfaction from knowing their sub is enjoying themselves.
Well, that sure was eye opening. But surely that is where the similarities begin and end...
Sadism and Masochism
Game Masters, have you ever run a brutal game session where the player characters scramble to survive the God-forsaken abomination you've thrown at them and felt a sense of glee in the ensuing chaos? Perhaps the rogue didn't quite disarm Players, have you ever heard of a little place called the Tomb of Horrors? Most folks have, given its infamous reputation. Despite that though, have you ever wanted to play it?
If you answered yes to either of these, you might be in for a surprise, my friend.
A sadist, by definition, is a person that derived pleasure by inflicting pain or humiliation on others. A masochist is similar except they take that pleasure by experiencing that pain or humiliation.
Now, it seems obvious that the Game Master would fit neatly into the sadist category. After all, they are the ones that control every adversary, trap, pitfall, and challenge the player characters encounter in the game. It would seem only fitting for them to feel tingly bringing the pain train down on the PCs' collective heads. In the same respect, players seem built for the role of the masochist. They love the game, and it's many monsters and challenges. When things get insane and death is on the line, you will, more often than not, see the players more animated than when their characters go shopping.
"Shop til you drop. Now open in Whitestone."
But, dear readers, let us flip convention on its head and take another gander through the looking glass. The Game Master, with all their monsters and diabolical plans, wants nothing more than their players to thwart them. Enemies are created just so they can be defeated. This is how the game runs, and the Game Master enjoys running the game. Doesn't that seem a little masochistic to you?
The players, little chaos generators that they are, will have their characters swoop into a goblin village like a goddamn plague and wipe it out. They will hack and slash as the crazy little blighters, and they will have fun doing it. Now that, my friends, sounds like the very definition of a sadist.
Game Masters and players seem to burn this candle at both ends, indulging in a sadomasochistic sort of relationship. One built on bringing ruin to one another over several days, weeks, or even years.
Ah, but what about bondage and discipline, hmm? Looks like I missed a couple.
Or did I...?
"You can't spell 'Drow' without an 'Ow'."
Bondage and Discipline
While I am somewhat confident the average Game Master doesn't bind their players to their seats with lengths of rope or leather straps, there is a sort of bondage that happens with each group. It is an unspoken, but nearly universal bondage that exists.
The players are almost always sitting.
This may sound like a stretch, but hear me out. While sitting is comfortable, especially for game sessions that can last from 2-8 hours or more, it is how everyone is seated that is important. The players gather around the Game Master, that is to say, that the GM is given a seat where they can best convey what they need to convey, often at the head of the table, or in a comfy chair. This is a seat of power and authority, and the players gather to it.
When players get up and start moving around the room, it is usually out of excitement (and hopefully not boredom). However, when the Game Master calls to them to sit down, they do. As I mentioned before, the player has already given up a degree of control to the GM and has given them authority over the game. The table, the living room, wherever it is your game, that central point (as well as the GM) is what the player is bound to. Call it good etiquette or adhering to a social contract, but the player enjoys being part of that closeness.
Discipline is pretty straight forward. If players goof off, aren't paying attention, or are otherwise being distrustful or disrespectful, the Game Master will and should speak up. After all, they were given authority over the group by the group. Most players are respectful of the GM's rules, but many a horror story is written about when those who behave badly are metaphorically spanked.
"Because this is a paddle, and it exists!"
So, the next time you and your gaming group get together, really take a long look at how everyone fits into the roles. You may be surprised at the similarities. In the same respect, you might not be (insert wink emoji here). Either way, whether you are rolling dice, or breaking out the ball gag, be safe, have fun, and let your kink flag fly!
Roll well, my friends
+Ed The Bard
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