Hello Gentle Entities and Parboiled Enemies! Today is a celebration of surprise alliances and intense public violence. Also a folkloric warning of why when you get specific information from an Oracle it really doesn’t prepare you for much of anything as today is the Ides of March! It also happens to be Buzzard’s Day, which one could reasonably believe might be someone aviary aficionado’s humorous commentary on the aforementioned Ides of March incident BUT instead ends up being the date that migrating buzzards return to Cleveland, Indiana every year and so when it was observed became a bit of a holiday. Therefore one must assume that the buzzards are the ones who are celebrating what must have been a fairly good feasting day for their ancestors. I suppose we’d have to go to Cleveland to find out.

As this is our twelfth column, we at Mizz Mizzet’s School for Complicated Lifeforms would like to remind you that we answer between 1-3 letters from our interrogative entities across the multiverse each week. If you missed our initial column, you may peruse it at your leisure at this location.

Content Warnings

Mizz Mizzet’s Guide to Magical Manners is pleased to provide Content Warnings, given that solving bad behavior often means describing bad behavior.

Dear Mizz Mizzet;

Recently I have been running D&D games for a few children as a part-time job, with the occasional game including only 1 player. In one of these solo-games, my player, a 12 year old boy, has a worrisome joy in the act of violence. I myself enjoy violence from time to time, but the amount of gore and mutilation the player indulges in feels excessive, and I worry that I may be giving a bad example/influence to the child by allowing them to indulge in such acts so frequently. 

Here I come at a crossroads, because as an employed DM, I feel contractually obligated to grant the child a fun time and setting where they should feel free to both express themselves in a welcoming environment and not feel judged for the things they enjoy. But as a caretaker, I feel worried that not addressing such acts like this may be allowing the child to foster a series of socially problematic interests. 

So far, I have introduced various NPCs that show this concern and attempt to steer the player onto better paths, but so far the fear, disgust, and revulsion shown by these NPCs in the context of witnessing his acts only further his joy by making him feel more noticed. This child is not mine, so I wonder what exactly I should be doing, if anything. Is this just a job, or am I ethically pressured to help the child become a more socially accepted person? Am I overthinking this? 

An Overworked Narrator

Dear Overworked,

How wonderful that you are engaged in the development of imagining things with rules for younger beings. How problematic it is that younger beings are barely civilized by the standards of the society they live in! The games we play with our younger fellow travelers sometimes are to teach, but sometimes they are to safely let out the uncivilized parts of being full of meat and lightning in a socially acceptable way. The tricky bit for every society is trying to figure out what’s the “safely” part and what’s the “Oh my! your brother is considering a full genocide of your entire kind just because he refuses to tell a lie like “I am the only intelligent dragon on this plane” when he knows he is not. 

At Mizz Mizzet’s School For Complicated Lifeforms we frequently discuss the nuances between protocol, etiquette and manners. In your case as a paid provider of an experience you are covered by “protocol” – which is a set of rules that are followed formally that do not require you to “feel” them but ARE required otherwise there are consequences outside of the two individuals interacting. If you were a teacher at school, a coach for a team, any form of professional who supervises the whelp in question while interacting during their workday, you might have ritual phrases or clearly delineated behaviors that would trigger the protocol of “reporting” the youngling’s behavior. On some planes the bloodthirstiness would be an excellent sign and help them get a prestigious internship with the appropriate military or clerical hierarchy. Alas, since you are writing into Hipsters of the Coast, that means you are most likely in a space where being identified as above the regular amount violent will not necessarily benefit the youngling. 

I have noticed that human beings under the age of twelve rotations of the sun around the solar center have a tendency to be called “innocent” in local parlance but when left to their own devices come up with all sorts of extremely violent stories and storylines with their play objects. I was invited to join with some local friends’ offspring playing Barbie’s Dream House specifically because they thought having a real dragon would enhance their penthouse warrior sisterhood and they gave me a small battalion of Bratz dolls to either ally, fight or use for ritual sacrifice. It was a very pleasant afternoon! 

It would have been unmannerly of me to report back to their parents who lived in a coastal town without a local murder solving septuagenarian that their definition of innocent play did not match the actual expected use of dolls and penthouses. Especially after I took a blood oath. 

However if any of that play looked like it had targeted one of their playmates, or was done specifically in a way that looked like it was bullying anyone present or absent, it would have been IRRESPONSIBLE for me not to inform their keepers. Protocol AND etiquette would both demand that I step and stop any actual physical violence to sentient or living beings. Preventing direct harm without cause overrides manners. Etiquette (because of the blood oath) would require that I inform my allies that if they did not cease and apologize I would have no choice but to report the aberration to their caregivers. That is their signal to stop. Any sprite still attempting unwarranted violence after such a warning is then being rude and therefore is fair game for being eaten by a dragon, but parents on the prime material plane are generally looking to handle disciplinary actions themselves, so it’s rude to eat minors even if they are being rude. Especially when one is under contract as an employee or when one is a guest. 

That said even in a contractual position – you personally are allowed to have boundaries. Is the violence the child indulging in making you personally uncomfortable? Does the child act in any way that creates discomfort with their peers when you are running in groups? If this is the case protocol is less clear but etiquette works well. It is possible the child has made a game of seeing if they can gross you out or make you flinch. It is possible that they are just saving up their bloodthirstiness when they play solo because they know they can’t do it in a group. It is possible they are just a baby vampire and the violence feels like what their grown ups might do so they are role playing through it in the safety of a paid entertainment.

In running games for natural predators who have to eventually grow up not to commit siblicides, my own culture makes significant use of rewards being disproportionately unbalanced for the behavior we would prefer to encourage. So the discomfort of an NPC isn’t a deterrent – that NPC is simply acting like the child would fully expect a responsible member of their culture to behave. It’s also not going to be read the same as a peer calling attention to antisocial themes. You are not parent, teacher or counselor so even if you desired to, you should not be the one looking to use negative feedback to change this whelp’s behavior BUT you can increase the experience points, treasure, or direct attention given to the child’s character by NPCs when they do the more prosocial thing you would advise.

Alternatively if they are reveling in being evil in play you could simply have a villain NPC come and offer to have them as an apprentice and slowly teach the youngling that being overly bloody is immature and tacky and there are MUCH better ways to acquire power while appearing to be friendly. Then have them cause a different kind of anti-establishment chaos, or teach them malicious compliance. It’s NEVER too early to teach resistance to tyranny but you might surprise your young usurper when their actions accidentally end up toppling an unjust king. Twelve is an odd age for humans – see if you can figure out what your gamer thinks they are challenging and subverting and instead of adding a layer of the game that looks like annoying adult limiting actions – see if you can get them to participate in their character’s one intentional or unintentional redemption arc. If they are trying to shock you – having every NPC believe that they are heroic or saw worse from the neighboring kingdom next door will at least disrupt their script.

If it continues or you are no longer amused by attempting to subvert expectations a polite way to extract yourself would be direct honesty with said twelve year old “Well hatchling, we’ve completed this adventure, but I have to be honest with you. I don’t enjoy running this kind of campaign, tell me what part of gaming and playing characters you like best and we’ll make something that’s fun for you but with less graphic violence so it’s still good for me – let’s use movie terms – I prefer a PG for violence rather than an R. And in the next campaign if you go on a murder spree you’ll have to deal with the consequences like local sheriff’s with higher levels than you, avenging families, accruing curses from the dying breath of victims and getting your character stuck in jail. It won’t be “easy mode” after this. Now what kind of campaign would you like to play in with those parameters”

There is a possibility that this child is just about the ultraviolence. If you try the above techniques and there is no success you can resort to office politics. This is your place of employment after all and there are  strategies benefits to simply being hired talent.

If you see them for a brief entertainment mode, but they are not actively causing problems for the other children, it is not proper protocol to bring it up to their progenitors, however you CAN discuss it with the shop keep, academic or clergy who hired you and ask them to request *in front of the child* that you tone down the violence for the games. That way the child is not singled out, when the child goes a bit too far you can appeal to authority “Our Patron Soandso won’t allow that now,” and it gives you a professional response.

You may even find that you and the child will now be aligned in “not wanting the parents to get involved with the game”

If there is real concern after this form of mitigation you should approach your employer to discuss how to handle it and if the parents should be informed – as the organizer that is their responsibility.

Just remember you are contractually obligated to provide an opportunity for fun but you are NOT contractually obligated to indulge antisocial behavior to your own discomfort. It is the participant’s choice to continue to play what is offered through your hard work.

May this simply be a phase like when human children pretend to worship slugs and place colored slime trails over all and sundry, it’s charming but quite messy.


Thank you to Adrienne Reynolds, for her interplanar transcription services.
Mizz Mizzet Portrait by Andres Garcia

Delightful Readers, Please Submit Your Questions to Mizz Mizzet.

You may submit your questions to Mizz Mizzet using this form.

New Mizz Mizzet columns are posted every Wednesday right here as well as in Hipsters of the Coast‘s weekly email newsletter. You are also encouraged to follow her at @MizzMizzet on Twitter.

Any questions answered publicly will be made anonymous, and noms de plume will be created to represent any parties mentioned.

Born a perfect dragon in an imperfect multiverse, Mizz Mizzet (she/her) is the pioneer broodmother of today’s multiplanar civility movement.  She is now working to persuade Planeswalkers to participate in it.

Her tireless efforts to expand the understanding and exercise of etiquette beyond the stereotypical terror of too many pieces of silverware, and whether to use poisons or explosives at celebratory conquest dinners, have not escaped official notice.

She specializes as a consultant in seating arrangements for inter and intra planar political events as long as contracts include the option to eat the rude.

Out of respect for her relative’s delicate sensibilities regarding draconic rank, she does not reside on the plane of Ravnica.

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