Sunday, August 31, 2014

Busy

I know, you miss me.

Believe me, I miss writing. I am here at the Expo, where we are doing so well, we almost ran out of product yesterday - we left half our books back at the hotel.   Today, we brought everything.

As I write this, my daughter is pitching to a Pathfinder player - and I had to interrupt this SENTENCE twice to sell a book.

Going home tomorrow. Maybe I'll have time to write soon.


Friday, August 29, 2014

The Unexpected

Well, we did very well on our first day. . . And against my will I'm learning to text. Yes, it's taking me a long time to write this, but I'm at least doing  it with both hands.

There is something magic that appears in a role-player's eyes when they see something they don't expect - like people promoting a role-playing book in the middle of a fan dome.   They see us and we can see their spirits warm. Then they head straight for us with their minds and hearts open.

It's wonderful.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

It's On!

Sitting here at my table at the Expo, texting this. 25 minutes before the event starts. Here we go.

Ah, for a keyboard!



Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Stuff

I just have a little list of things I'm going to take to the Toronto FanExpo with me, just things that have been kicking around.  I'm going to take the most money I can for them, as I don't care if I sell them or not . . . but here's a list of prices that eBay gives me:

$38 - $54 – Advanced Wizard The Fantasy Trip (2 copies)
$15 - $26 – Adventure 8 Prison Planet
$27 - $31 – Adventure Module U3: The Final Enemy
$10  – Battle System Fantasy combat supplement
$27 – 1984 Fantasy Gamer (Dec/Jan 84, Jun/Jul 84)
No price – HarnDex Glossary & Reference (1983)
$11 – Map of Harn (1983)
$27 - $30 – Blackmoor (2004 reprint)
$142 – $350 – Chainmail (3rd edition)

Anything interesting?

Never Fight a Cornered Beholder

I'd meant to write this last week, but this and that got in the way.  Hm.  I'm leaving for Toronto tomorrow.  24 hours from now (7:38 am) I will either be sitting on the tarmac waiting to leave or I'll be in the air crossing the Alberta-Saskatchewan border.

There are several ways in which you can enhance or develop existing creatures into 'deeper' or more threatening monsters.  I thought it might be helpful to review them and consider some of the effects of each, as a helpful overview in making new monsters and appreciating the aspects of old ones.

Let me pause first and explain that monsters are not targets.  They can be used as such, and many a campaign will see them as nothing but video game pigeons to stand up and be shot down - hacked down, melted down - in order to measure the luck or success of the players.  The stand-em-up, shoot-em-down process is the principle reason why combat is seen as boring in most campaigns, as little or no investment is made in making monsters squeal, bark, shout orders at one another or otherwise interact with the party during melee.

I don't know if the reader has considered this.  Envision the players as participants in a football scrimmage, speaking the same language (as they would in my world) or not.  Have one of the goblins on the other 'team' point at a player and shout, "You!  You're going down, you bastard!" while another cries, "Your people killed my mother!"  Another cries "GELF!" at the elf while another screams "Your mother was a human fucker" at the half-orc and the stage is very quickly set.

Most combats - even my own, when I'm hard-pressed for time - are played out in a sort of role-play cone of silence.  I have found that it is always more effective to have creatures snort, yelp, bawl, bellow in pain, clamor, whoop with pleasure (try this after a character drops unconscious or dead) or otherwise make a racket.

The more personality, the better - so in considering how to create or enhance monsters, the reader should definitely keep this in mind.  Statistics are far less interesting or meaningful to the players than purpose and behaviour.

Make monsters bigger.  This is the most obvious and most employed tactic.  No matter what it is, making it bigger makes it more interesting.  All the giant forms of earth creatures employ this, while it is equally as much fun to double or triple the size of something already made huge.  A 7 hit die giant crocodile is already 30 feet long - why not a 21 hit die titanic crocodile too long to be seen all at once?

I must admit I've never had any trouble with this sort of creature.  Bigger is always better, even if the bigger expands to incomprehensible size.  Players are amazed and effectively terrified by mass - just so long as there's still a chance of retreating or hiding when things reach dimensions of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox.  I once had my party (with all their henchmen and followers in tow, a total of some 60 people) combat a roc with more than 1,000 hit points, so big that its most effective combat was landing, beating its wings and rolling about on the ground (1d20 incidental damage to everything).

If there is a limitation to this, it's that not everything can be BIG.  It gets tiresome.

Make monsters smarter.  This only works if you're the sort of DM that runs your smarter monsters differently than those that are dumber.  I have seen many a campaign where a so-called 'genius' beholder uses a frontal attack like an orc running forward up a hallway.  For me, any creature above extraordinary intelligence will interact with the party in only one of two ways.  They may want to talk, in which case they're more likely to encourage the party towards an action rather than threaten them. If they wish to fight the party, they're more likely to do it through minions - sending wave after wave against the party until these run out.  Whereupon the intelligent monster would make itself scarce.  The only way that a party would ever likely encounter a beholder in my world would be if it were cornered.

I've had a party fight a beholder once.  But I was very young and I never did think I did a good job of it.

I would hate to be a party fighting one in my world now.  As I have grown smarter, so have my genius-level monsters.

Of course, I've tried creating a scale of tactical/weaponry advantages for very intelligent/high intelligent monsters, but I haven't quite incorporated that into my mindset.  It's something that will come with time.

Smart monsters make for more role-play outside the normal character-vs-authority figure or character-vs-criminal dynamics.  Monsters should have other motivations, even irrational motivations, that should serve to make the game more interesting.  They want things other people don't want or feel offended by things that would never bother a human or demi-human.  Both will need a DM to stretch their imagination.

Make a lot of monsters.  If the individual monster isn't particularly dangerous, that's no problem - make sure they exist in great numbers.  A few days ago I introduced the 'purple frog,' an ugly little beast that's only three inches long and therefore no particular threat.  Naturally, the first inclination is to make it bigger, even if it is only goblin-sized; or alternately to give it an intelligence, since talking to a little ugly frog that's 3 inches long probably would make a party stop and think.

Alternately, we could make thousands of them.

Ever experienced an insect invasion?  I remember a two-week tent caterpillar infestation when I was young - several communities in northern Alberta had one this year.  Here's a nice short video for viewing.  The experience is somewhat less than appealing, let me say.  The sound of rain that can be heard is actually caterpillar droppings falling on leaves, while the crunching of caterpillars under car tires reaches a decibel level that can be heard fifty meters away.  All one can do is escape - and still the occasional caterpillar can be found crawling over the carpet, on the window, poking through the garbage and so on.  So much fun!

Imagine millions of completely harmless, completely normal purple frogs scampering underfoot continuously for two weeks of game time.  Imagine a party unable to get free of them, unable to sleep at night, unable to step without crushing them, vomiting and taking damage from the smell, possibly incurring a disease, having to fight a maddened beast driven crazy by the infestation while the party slips and slides on purple frog guts.  There are all sorts of places.

Of course, everyone knows to increase the number of orcs or kobalds as a party increases in levels - but true infestations hamper everybody.

More to come.  I have other ideas, of course - above are simply the most common three things.  I don't, however, have the time to continue.  I promise to do so, along these lines, when I return.  This is enough for today.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Horses, Robots & Humans

I like C.G.P. Grey.  He's a professional educator and he's done a mess of very fine videos.  He generally keeps to straightforward, direct subjects and as he does his homework, I appreciate him highly.  A little more than a week ago, however, he released a 15 minute video that . . . well, watch the video in its entirety before I continue.  It's well done and interesting, and shouldn't have any problem holding your attention.



As the youtube video presently has 17,741 comments, there's little point in my commenting there (though I did).  If I'm going to address my problems with the video, there's little point in doing it anywhere except my own space.

Besides, I can stretch out here and write as much as I want.

Allow me to begin with a few stipulations.  Everything that Grey says about technology is - to the best of my knowledge - true.  'Baxter' will replace jobs, people don't care where they get their coffee from, robots are getting cheaper and faster, there is no rule that states that better technology is guaranteed to make more jobs for humans, the statistics quoted are accurate, present-day 'unions' will not prevent the spread of technology, the stock market has been vastly rewritten by 'bots,' bots do research, bots write music, bots write books, computers are able to be 'creative' and technology is able to replace many 'talents.'  And yes, the roboticization of culture is a problem.

I have a few quibbles.  I'm only going to mention one.  The 'original music' turned out by the program Emily Howell is boring.  Insidiously boring.  If you listen to some of it, you'll find it fits with Grey's and other assessments - it is complex and original and momentarily interesting.  If you listen to it for more than five minutes, however, you'll quickly find yourself pushing it out of the front of your mind, while after an hour you'll realize you haven't been listening to it at all for nearly an hour.  In this way, it is very like most of the human-made music you listen to, but it is 100% unlike the human music you listen to that you like.  Music that you really, really like is infectious and dopamine-rich.  I weep for the poor dumb bastard who gets a dopamine rush from Emily Howell.  Actually, I weep for the bastard's family, friends and co-workers who have to live anywhere near him.

Very well, let's look at the 'problem' that Grey proposes:  robots are cheaper and just a tiny bit better technically than humans, so they will replace human jobs, leaving many humans jobless and therefore possessing no way to make a living.  There will be nothing for them to do, and therefore they will simply have to go.  Like horses.

For those who haven't seen the video (though you should), Grey employs an analogy regarding the replacement of horses by the automobile, in which millions of horses were killed because they ceased to be a functional part of society.  As humans cease to be a functional part, Grey alludes, they too will find themselves at risk of being treated as horses.  As the point is stress several times, it's quite clear that the theme behind the video is to promote FEAR of technology.  It tries to promote this fear very rationally and reasonably, suggesting that we need to deal with this issue before something really, really terrible happens.  Because it will.  Be afraid.  Be very afraid.

There are a few relevant ways in which humans are very different from horses that are completely ignored in this analogy, however.  The first is that the horses themselves had no actual part in the decision-making process surrounding the getting rid of horses.  Horses did not invent the cars, they did not buy the cars, they did not find the cars superior and they were not in anyway empowered to resist or improve themselves in order to adapt to the sudden existence of cars.

Of course, some humans won't be empowered to stop the plans and progress of other humans, either. Some humans will make robots, other humans will buy robots, then implement robots, while many humans will not be considered or permitted an opinion on the matter.  Of course, I say 'permitted' colloquially.  'Permitted' is a limited word that exists in a limited context, but for the time being let's just say that within the law, and according to the principles of respect for property and employment, workers will be fired and no one will care.

Unlike horses, however, these humans will understand what's happening.  They will have a very clear understanding of the reason why they're now unemployed and why they and their families are starving.  This is the second way in which humans are very different from horses.  With horses, when we 'fire' them, we let them keep working while trying to sell them - and when that doesn't work, we take them into a nice building and kill them.

We don't do this with people.  We inform them that they're no longer permitted to draw a paycheque and then we calmly expect them to wander away and figure it out for themselves.

That's where the whole horse/human thing breaks down - because one of the ways that huge numbers of unemployed, starving people figure it is to destroy everything and anything that contributed to their being unemployed and starving.  And NONE of these people will give a shit about how many robots they destroy.  Or what else they destroy in the process.

Finally, there's a third missing point in Grey's horse analogy.  Horses are not consumers.  We are already living in a society where very poor people are awarded ridiculous amounts of credit because it is the only way we have to incentivize a population that has lower and lower wages - and therefore less money to spend on products being made.  When we are replacing all these humans in order to make more products more cheaply, what will these humans buy these products with?  More credit?

It's interesting that Grey completely ignores this, despite drawing the connection between the prospective unemployment (45%) with the unemployment during the Great Depression (25%) - failing utterly to remember that the rich and powerful (the ones who would be replacing us with robots) had to be saved by a war - where the government bought things from them, even things the government didn't need, in order to stabilize the economy (J.K. Galbraith, economist during the Roosevelt administration, makes some fun points about that in this video).

And where did the government get that money?  Taxes.  Which large corporations - the kind to implement robots on a grand scale - don't pay.  What are we going to do when the vast population has no taxes to offer to pay a government to give welfare to the rich to stimulate an economy based on consumers that have no money?

Well, they'll create more money from the air, of course.  That always goes to good places.

Thus we have several valves here that must be considered, none of which are accounted for in Grey's video and none of which involve the replacement of humans with technology.  What we have is a possible attempt by bean-counters with very short vision to replace humans with robots, only to be surprised horribly when these humans turn around and begin to destroy the country and every bean-counter in it.

Humans, see, are smarter than horses.  We compete for survival much better than horses do.  This is evident by the fact that horses are our slaves.  IF the robots become the next form of competition against the survival of humans, anywhere, then the solution to the 'problem' becomes self-evident. Humans survive, the very dumb and lack-of-awareness robots do not.  It isn't a question of, do humans win over robots, but how much pain and suffering do we plan to go through before the inevitable balance is reached?

We're already running pell-mell towards that balance - and by all accounts, at the way government is allowing business to run the system, we are already planning for a great deal of inevitable pain and suffering.  Robots may be here right now as Grey says in his matter-of-fact statements (no argument there), but the coming war isn't going to be human vs. robot.  It is going to be between humans that want robots and humans that only see robots as a threat.

Grey has it wrong.  The humans aren't like horses. The robots are.  The robots will be the ones that quietly die when we decide that for them.  Unlike Skynet or whatever the hell the robots in the Matrix called themselves, robots are not going to suddenly 'become aware' and have a say.  We'll experiment with them for awhile and then we'll decide just how much of them we're willing to tolerate.




We Interrupt This Blog for a Computer Commercial

Lately, I've been reading or hearing from pundits about the Mac vs. PC issue, particularly from people who are still trying to get traction from the old "I'm a Mac I'm a PC commercials." - which now feel like they were made in such ancient times that I should probably include an example for the young people who have never seen them.  I would, except Apple is such a lame freaking company I think I'll just embed this one instead:


Yes, it is true, I don't like Macs.  For five years I worked for a publishing company that insisted on using only Mac computers - and for those five years I would work on a Mac all day long and then go home and work on my PC evenings and weekends.  I did it for so long that muscle memory meant I didn't even have to think about what system I was on.  If I was at the office, my hands automatically did Mac things, while at home my hands automatically did PC things.

I do not in any way miss the Mac.

None of this matters, however, since the point I wanted to make was this:  Nobody really gives a shit about these things except computer companies - who logically care because they want to sell their product.  For all the rest of us, however, the computer itself - even the operating system - doesn't mean shit.  Anyone that spends enough time with one particular operating system will get used to it, as repetition will eventually insert the operating system into your brain wave path until it seems normal.  The only issue with this will come when a user has been using an operating system for a long time, and that operating system has now ceased to exist.  Which means that another operating system will need to be learned.  Which will take months.

This means that the only people who complain about operating systems are morons who don't spend enough time on a computer to get used to the system they have.  Which is fine for people checking their facebook or playing games, who aren't actually doing anything with the computers they have.  They're not designing, they're not programming, they're not collaborating or developing any particular skill set.  They're just tourists.  And like tourists, they're bitching that there's no fucking cream of mushroom soup on the menu.  Like tourists, they're complaints are about how pretty the computer looks, or how light it is to carry, because that is the shit that matters only to tourists.

I remember some thirty years ago having a conversation with a musician who was seriously into sounding boards - stop me if you've heard this one before.  He had sent to Japan for a massive, complicated synthesizer, one he had to put together himself (he later became an electrical engineer) and he was going on and on about all the things this incredible device was going to do for his music and his control of ambience and all this shit.  After twenty minutes of his using terms I did not understand or care about, I finally said to him, "Rob, you should see the shit I can do with a typewriter."

Which was then the exact thing I'm doing right now.

At the moment, I happen to be working on a Dell.  I actually have no idea what company's computer I have at home, even though I've been using that computer for five years now, because there's no huge logo on the computer to tell me.  It's a PC.  It operates like a computer.  It lets me write things when my fingers strike the keys.  It allows me to operate the programs that let me make maps and spreadsheets and edit music and video.  Every computer allows me to do this.  These are the things that matter to me.  What I can do.  Not whatever fucking thing I do it on.

I leave that to the tourists.  They haven't any special use for a computer.  They only have one because everyone does.  And when everyone goes out and gets something else, the tourists will too.

And I will still be writing.


Sunday, August 24, 2014

Rank #1

Well, good news.  How to Play a Character & Other Essays is sitting at #1 for the past month on Lulu's top 100 Games Books' list.

How to Run: an Advanced Guide to Managing Role-playing Games is #22.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Honest Questions

And honest answers, hopefully.

Hey, all.

I was hearing that you had gotten books, you were reading them, that things were great - and then nothing.

What's up?  Is there any news?

Friday, August 22, 2014

Full Circle

Last night, my partner Tamara was telling me about the events surrounding a game she's been involved with - that I'm not playing.  She began in another campaign when I was working on my book and she's gone on with it, so that Wednesday's I get some private time to work on things while she adventures into the world of other DMs.  It's good experience for her, as mine was the only campaign she'd previously played.

She was asking me about a DM's ruling, one that had annoyed her.  Seems she had mis-fired her bow. The DM - without any tables, previously created rules or established framework of any kind - simply ruled that the arrow struck another character standing to the left of Tamara.  Why?  Well, the DM called it 'role-playing' - which failed in Tamara's opinion to justify the incident.  There was some discussion at the table - apparently - and then it got dismissed by DM's fiat and their game continued.

It really bugged Tamara.  I have a rule that friendly fire can occur with missile weapons.  Roll a 2 on a d20, and IF there's a character standing in a 30 degree arc directly in front of you, then yes, you hit him or her in the back.  But this was another character standing 90 degrees to the left, completely outside of where Tamara was aiming - and she wanted to know "What the hell?  Why did he do that?"

I don't pretend to know the DM's motive.  I would imagine he was trying to make the game more interesting, to use the randomness of the die to create tension by having something odd happen.  That's my best guess.  For my purposes, the incident serves as an example of why things that happen have to make sense.

It's very simple.  Because the incident didn't make sense, Tamara's reaction is to a) immediately compare it to another world where there IS a rule that does make sense; and b) to distrust the DM's motives for running his game.  Distrust in turn breeds disinterest, which only causes her to feel less immersive in the DM's campaign.  Knowing she has an alternative campaign provides a greater reason to feel less committed to any campaign where random, non-rational decisions are made by the DM, encouraging her to simply stop going to games.

Will she bother to explain this thinking process to the DM?  No.  She will not.  She's already tried to argue the point about the arrow when it occurred and she was shut down.  Why would she bother to express to the DM the larger point of why the DM's world isn't working for her?

For most, it seems like such a minor issue.  Okay, he made something happen, it was five seconds of game time, what's the big deal?  The game isn't supposed to be about what's real, it's supposed to be fun.  Right?

It surprises me that a culture that can scream at a television set because an umpire makes a marginal call about a ball moving 90 miles an hour over a plate in a completely different game can be so dismissive of a highly questionable call during a slow moving game in which the player is directly involved.  It is all a question of degree.  The DM that handles the game so casually that even an umpire in a company softball game would pale to think of it rarely understands or even considers the consequences of such rulings.  It is as though the DM perceives that he or she has an inexhaustible well of ad hoc calls that they're entitled to make, upon which the player will make no judgement or have no negative reaction.

This mindset can derive only from cognitive dissonance - which I admit I find myself face-to-face with again and again where describing the behaviour of other people.  Do they not realize the crops they're sowing?

The begged question becomes, "How many questionable rulings can a DM make before consequences occur?"  But does it really matter?  Would it help knowing that you had twelve or fifteen, knowing that if you weren't steadfast in never making a bad ruling that you'd eventually use them all up out of sheer laziness?

In fact, every bad ruling made is a potential character kill - if we define 'kill' in this case of the player deciding that enough is enough, I'm not coming back to that campaign.  The only reasonable alternative is to get rid of the DM's fiat, embrace interchanges about rationality when they occur - to ensure that every member of the party understands why something has occurred - and to take the whole matter of ruling very seriously.  As a DM, you do yourself a tremendous disservice if you make rulings which you cannot explain by a means less general than 'role-playing' or 'because.'  You're driving players away from your table.

And because they will probably never tell you that's the reason they've left, you'll never know why. You'll never make the connection.  You've treated them dismissively, and now that dismissiveness has come full circle.

Is this really what you want?

P.S.

Although I talk extensively in my Guide about Dungeon Mastering, this post has been an original point that was not included in my book.  I said that I was inexhaustible.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Western Ghats

All right, going back to the jungle post.

Some have recommended that I turn to previous existing data bases in order to create my own - and I must admit I dislike this idea.  To begin with, I have no idea what sort of actual research has gone into these data bases.  Secondly, they are no doubt non-geographically specific, which I already stated I need to have. Finally, I doubt very much that the behaviour of the animal in included - and at any rate, I need behaviours that are tailored for my world.  For all these reasons, someone else's data base for someone else's world simply isn't going to work.

Listen close, my brethren - don't let others do your work for you.  You rob yourself of the benefit of exploring the world for yourself.  You steal from yourself all the skills you'll develop, the learning you'll gain - and most of all, the inspiration that will be yours from having read the materials for yourself!  Have you learned nothing from university?  We do not innovate and invent by depending upon the possibly lacklustre, lazy work of others.  We gain genius through doing the work ourselves and doing it well.

With these habits in mind - good habits, gathered with wisdom - I took up a region of the earth where a relatively small jungle occurs:  the Western Ghats of India.  These are a string of mountains down the west side of the Indian Subcontinent, 2000 to 4000 feet high, extending from near the equator some 1200 miles towards the north.  And from within that area, I obtained the following list of large animals.  I'm afraid I skipped birds (for the most part) and fish, partly because those are both huge databases and at the same time not especially useful for what I have in mind.  However, I know I will go back and do some reading about both, and perhaps see if inspiration hits.  Aha.

Here's the list of real animals I found:


Now, let's compare that with the list from the good ol' DMG:


Well, as I said before, the couatl is certainly not common to India; the same with the African, or loxodont elephant.  The lion is from Africa also and the jaguar is an Amazon cat.  I couldn't locate any scorpions, snakes that were in fact poisonous, or even large.  Those creatures exist in India, but not in the Ghats.  Giant ants aren't prevalent, nor are toads.
Still, this leaves a few original creatures.  The black bear is clearly the sloth bear.  We can replace the baboon with the macaque.  The DMG should have included the wild boar and giant boar on their list, but we're here to fix that.  We have the muntjac, the gaur and the sambar for herd animals - though the Monster Manual does provide figures for cattle and the stag.

The only purely magical creatures AD&D offers are the lamia and the weretiger.  But I think we should be able to do better.  The trick isn't to come up with a way to use the smaller animals, but to imagine better, more profound versions of the smaller animals - that's the way to expand the creatures that inhabit our little jungle.

The strangest is certainly the purple frog, also the pig-nosed frog.  It's far too small to be anything on its own, but the details about it being bloated, with oral suckers, and making the sound of a chicken clucking must suggest something.  We might imagine it six feet in diameter, preferring to live in shallow pools, being able to flatten itself or puff itself up to twice its ordinary size (bloating) - it could thereafter spit water perhaps mixed with slime, that transfers a disease, a sort of mild acid; the clucking might be a form of mind control (drawing the victim towards the oral suckers).  The creature might be intelligent or not - though given its extreme ugliness, I like the idea of a superbrain controlling other creatures, perhaps clucking them into attacking.  Alternately, the purple frog might be a gentle yogi-like creature, ancient and with wisdom, rare and sought out by players seeking knowledge.  The field is wide open.

The civet is prized for its glands, that are used to make perfume - and while some might imagine making the small creature into something that steals food, I prefer a more elaborate, larger animal that uses it's perfume to transmit a pheromone - which may alter the party's perception of reality, produce slavery, produce odd lovemaking incentives, drive away interlopers or lure them to their deaths.

An intelligent form of the hornbill - ordinarily used in tribal ceremonies - might be in command over a village, directing the human tribe towards acts of evil, war, butchery or even kindness and gentle adoration.  This is India, after all.

I'm only riffing.  A proper action would be to take each creature and create at least one derivation from the original.  A giant, non-poisonous snake that at least causes considerable damage.  Bats that are independently weak and easily killed, that in large numbers produce a wind so intense that it scatters tents and animals - or, in swirling around a party member, potentially suffocates.  The deer that exists as a familiar for a local swami.   The langur that, from the trees, throws poisonous feces.

Steadily, we create a unique, independent jungle from the base materials - and the more we learn about the jungle itself, it's nature and it's singular effects upon its inhabitants, the better equipped we are to decide which sorts of profound, elaborate creatures ought to dwell there.  Better than riffing, coming up with things off the tops of our heads, are ideas which suggest themselves from the source material.

I haven't read near enough on the Western Ghats to properly decide what monsters ought to dwell there - and in the process, I improve myself, too.





The 100%

Yesterday, Tim Brannan left a fairly positive comment on my Jungle post - but for reasons having to do with the internet, he felt the need to begin with the following:

"This is the first post I find myself agreeing with you 100%."

Why, I ask, is it necessary to say this?

Without any fault directed at Mr. Brannan, this is the sort of thing that gets said very casually all the time - and defended just as thoroughly as a completely acceptable way to begin a comment.  Only, really, it isn't.  It is just the sort of thing that I've been letting myself off the chain in the past - and I want to explain why.

"This is the first time there hasn't been something wrong with your cooking."

"This is the first time I haven't found something wrong with the way you dress."

"This is the first time I've enjoyed an entire evening in your presence."

And so on.

From the above comment, I assume that Mr. Brannan has agreed with some of what I've said in other posts.  I assume he's agreed with enough of the things I've said to keep coming back and reading the blog.  But has he, all this time, been carefully keeping some record of what percentage of my posts he has been agreeing with or not?  I never yet received a comment that begins with, "I agree with 63.5% of the things you say," yet does it not follow from the above that some sort of reckoning has been made every time?  From comments made in the past, I know that this is a reader that has been reading me for literally years - so finally, AT LAST, I have written a post that he completely agrees with.  Pardon me, he 100% agrees with.  Not 99.7%.  One hundred per cent.

Without allowing myself the luxury of getting very sarcastic at this point - and believe me, several sarcastic options present themselves - I just want to talk about how this paints the rest of the statement that follows.  Mostly, it suggests that somehow I'm being rated.  Not read, not considered, not interpreted or applied to the present mode of thinking, but measured.

That is never a comfortable feeling.  Very few of us would like to have ourselves evaluated.  It is the strongest reason why would-be artists fail - because of this attitude.  The concentration on the small bit that 'doesn't pass.'  The little bit of distaste that the critic feels because - while everything else was wonderful - the hat that the woman is depicted wearing is hideous.  It isn't 100%.

I fully expect - one hundred per cent of the time - to be disagreed with.  In fact, I would say that is a central tenet of everything I write.  I expect the reader to disagree.  I expect to advance ideas that the reader has never considered or which the reader considers to be in error, and then to argue those points and prove the reader wrong.  That is the stance.  I am the voice in the wilderness that dares to say, your ideals, your perceptions, the measure by which you claim things to be right or wrong, is in error.  Let me explain why.

This is what makes good writing.  If I were to write that most young boys love their mothers, that your homeland is a wonderful place that you've grown to love or that beer is something good to drink on a hot day, without going further to challenge your perceptions about these things, then this would be a gawdawful boring blog.  I would have nothing to say except the very obvious, the very trite and the very redundant.  Which explains why so many of the blogs you read are execrable.  As the saying goes, they have nothing to say.  Except that which has already been said.

Thus, an assessment of this blog that begins with the reader never quite agreeing with me says a couple of things - in fact - that are not bad.  First, that I'm doing a good job kicking the cocks out of people's mouths.  Second, that the reader has failed to see past the reader's own prejudices.  The reader shouldn't be looking for the post that agrees, then making a point of saying so when a post does - the reader should be looking inward and admitting that he enjoys reading those don't agree with him.  Given that this particular reader, Mr. Brannan, has been helpful to me in the past - and that he continues to read the blog - the reader should be wondering about all those posts that didn't reach 100%.  Whose fault was that?  Mine, for failing to make the argument, or his, for failing to see it?

Well, that is the crux of all human discourse.  Argument, interpretation, comprehension and most of all, change!  It's not a static measurement.  While today it may be 56%, with more thought it might turn to 71%, then to 73%, then later to 89%.  Depending on the day, and the experiences of the reader as those accumulate over time, after reading the post, it may go up or down.  Change demands that what you read today as right or wrong may change tomorrow as you continue to learn and grow as a person.  Measuring opinion as an absolute only demonstrates a lack of awareness about thinking or learning.

It isn't as though this is the sort of comment made only on my blog.  The bulletin boards are full of them.  As a species, we should be aware of the message we're sending when we start with, "Allow me the luxury of making a judgement about your value before beginning to make my point."  The judgement - and the insidious emotionality behind it - isn't lost on the listener.  It is very definitely heard.  It paints everything said afterwards with a whitewash that diminishes all that you have to say.

If you want to be heard for what you have to say, say it without the judgement first.  Just say what you believe.  I, more than anyone, have had to learn this lesson the hard way.