Friday, September 3, 2010

Dirty, 11-Letter Words

In the wee hours of this morning, Ben Brooks got a handle on what I was going to write today, scooping me.  His words were, simply, "Conditions won't improve until we do."

There are a great many out there who will have as their argument that there is nothing wrong with the present conditions.  These are the same people who are heavily invested in things as they are.  People with products to sell, People who are getting their thrill out of managing bulletin boards and encouraging the endlessly violent dialogue, People who depend for their importance or their credibility on the appearances they make at conventions that are there to exploit players.  Opposition to any sort of change is expected, it's natural and it is - admittedly - sometimes positive.  Conservatism helps restrain the headlong rush into stupidity.

I want to make it clear, as I did in the last post, that a great many people are unsatisfied with the present state of the game and of the community that promotes it.  They are sick of the game being defined according to its marketable qualities, they are sick of the cruddy, maintained-by-troll backrooms of gaming stores being the only affordable places they can play, and they are sick of watching slap-fest after slap-fest engaged in on the internet.

But no one thinks this can change.  Beyond those who don't want it to change, there is a huge mass of people who simply believe that change is impossible, this is the only option, and they don't give a shit any more.  I can't blame them.  There's no force for any kind of alteration in the pattern.  Every time a new entity pokes its head above the covers, it is something like TARGA, which was more interested in promoting its own importance than in accomplishing anything - and predictably, it collapsed under the weight of its own squabbling bullshit.

Zak asked me, "Do you see no advantage in having a thousand different variations on the game run in different styles by different DMs?"

And the answer to that is NO.  At least, not the way its being done now.

We've had chaos.  And it has created this ... chaos.  One of the principal reasons why I have no interest in playing in any stranger's game comes from the reality that I haven't a fucking clue what I'm sitting down to play.  I have no direct experience with later editions, and even if I did, how am I supposed to know what game I'm playing?  Whenever I've tried to play these last twenty years in someone's campaign its been a lot of fresh rules that everyone at the table seems to know except me - and the other people at the table always seem to be the sort of people who are smug pricks who think its fucking funny that they know and I don't.  There's no percentage in it for them to explain the system they're playing, and so they drive off player after player ... this being the standardized process for people at a convention.  Whenever a game goes well at one of these things, a blogger comes online and says, "I was amazed by how well it went ..." thus indicating clearly how often in their experience it has gone like total shit.

Now for guys like Zak and me and a fair number out there, who dwell in our islands of play, who have had the same players for years, this isn't very annoying.  Zak and James C. and others can fairly say, "Well, I've got my game -" and they'd be right.

But I'm not satisfied with that.  To begin with, I'm not convinced like so many others that this is the ONLY way the community can run.  I believe that conditions can improve.  And judging from some of the later comments from people on the last post, I'm not alone.

And here is where we come to the dirty 11-letter word:  Monoculture.  It sounds ominous.  It sounds like proto-nazis are going to break into your D&D session and throw your dice into solitary.  When I see it in context, it seems to me almost as though players spit - from habit - when they use the word.

All right, big sighs here.  Yes, I am proposing a 'monoculture.'  I'm also telling the opposition to get a goddamn grip.  I am not advocating that everyone must play one particular edition or one particular world.  Give me some credit, all right?  I don't want to compromise my world or my efforts for anyone else, either.  But I would like to outline a strategy that my gentle readers can at least think about.  It doesn't cost anything to think.

And I want to be very clear about this - I don't want anyone's money.  I have no interest in forming any incorporated entity of any kind.  You can give me donations if you want, but that's because you like me, and not because of any goddamn solution I'm proposing.  I am not, repeat NOT, proposing a solution.  When I say a 'strategy,' I mean a strategy.  If there is a monoculture that will form out of the maelstrom of isolation and bullshit that is the present community, it isn't going to happen this year, it isn't going to happen next year.  I wouldn't expect to see anything comprehensive for at least a decade.  So for now, your world is safe.

3 Points.

Develop an association of players which is not based upon any existing marketable edition, nor upon any specific game-playing ideology, nor upon the promotion of an event.

Even the use of the word 'association' makes me bristle.  I thought about 'confederation' but I'm not sure that Americans would know what the hell I was talking about.  I am merely thinking along the lines of a collection of players who are capable of expressing respect for - as is constantly repeated to me - the way other people play the game.

Look, I don't like 4e.  I think its a bloody joke.  Everyone I play with thinks its a joke.  But if a fellow sits down at my table and says, I've never played anything but 4e, it's my responsibility to respect that he has a base comprehension of role-play, that he's open-minded to playing in my system, and that a supercilious superiority has no place here.  Whatever I may say about the system he's been playing, it's inappropriate to paint the player with the same brush.

Of course, if the bastard sits down and my table and every third sentence begins with, "We do it this way in 4e," then he's the one being inappropriate.  The mutual respect must cut both ways.

I would like to see more proponents for this kind of thinking beyond just the use of the words themselves, and I'd like to see this kind of thinking built into some sort of agreed-upon entity that could devise a bulletin board where one screed of insult was enough to get the individual banned - not by a single moderator, you understand, but through some kind of wiki where hundreds of members would potentially flag an individual.  If the individual hits fifty percent of the flags possible, he or she gets a warning and a suggestion that they should write something immediately to encourage members to remove their flags.  If the flags don't drop back below 50% within, say, a week, that's it.  You're gone forever.

Understand, this is coming from me.  I'm one of the most likely people to get flagged.  I'm crude, nasty, impatient, intolerant and yes, I spit.  All this is tolerated because I also have something to offer.  I would like to see THAT be the standard.  Not what modules I have for sale or how many people have personally met me at a convention, or how many people in the industry I know or even how long I've been online.  This sort of nonsense that there are some who have a proprietary (another 11-letter word) ownership of the game that some seem to adopt (because they've played a long time, because they personally knew Jackoff Jerkface) has got to go.  Are they contributing?  Fine.  Let them stay.

I can't begin to explain how important it is that this imagined entity has no market interests whatsoever.  It must exist upon the same line as thousands of leisure organizations run by volunteers for the sake of the participants.  The moment that any of these groups begins to charge a fee for entry, and another fee for participation, and then starts to sell tee-shirts and ball caps at a concession, the political strutting of the few in charge over the money quickly sucks the the life from the whole venture.  And yet there will always be those who will see the money-making potential, who will leap upon it with both feet, giving not one wit for the organization's ideals but thinking only of their own greed.

There's no defense against it.  At the moment, we are all running these blogs, providing entertainment for each other and doing it free of charge.  We're not miserly about the effort to write and debate issues - and perhaps because we do it with this degree of flexibility we have a chance of creating a unified perspective.  Perhaps not.  But I keep an open mind.

But back to Zak's perspective.  To what end?

I feel there are two helpful, practical tasks that a generalized group could undertake:

One:  Create a reasonably complete list of common rule variances by which the game is played.

Right off, there again is that 'impossible' argument.  What, ALL the rule variances?  Seriously?

Since wikipedia has managed to take a rather impressive shot at comprehensibly piling together all the world's knowledge, I don't see that it would be beyond reason to compile an RPG database ... one that was NOT controlled by money interests.

Oh, I don't mean a reprint of the rules, you understand, but just a general outline of how, say, this combat system works.  Ultimately, we could have a list of two or three hundred combat systems, all in one easily viewed list, organized as a wiki so that any member of the above group could clean up the crap as it appeared.  The wiki could be limited to those individuals who were part of the group, and changing the wiki could include an individual's avatar ... so that changing the wiki for the worse would pile up those flags mentioned above.

Yes, I can hear the doubt, the derision, the laughing ... but please, consider.  I'm not saying this could be slapped together by Christmas.  I'm saying, how absolutely awesome would it be to be able to look at an overview, several hundred or even several thousand words, describing how this game treated levelling vs. that game; or alignment, or weather or travel or economics or whatever the hell you'd want it to include.

Wouldn't it be more convenient to have access to a singular source for those millions of ideas Zak is harping on about, rather than in the form of thousands of poorly organized blogs?  If we must have multiple ideas, let's have them were they can be picked over and compared, immediately, so that a DM can go through one idea after another in a fact-finding effort.

And then, perhaps, in some future idealistic sense, bloggers could have a complete outline of which generalized system that their worlds participated in.  I use this combat system and this character generation method and this means of experience.  Right now, if you haven't read the damn box set or the 89th issue of the dragon, no one else knows what the hell you're talking about.

Hey, look, Wikipedia is already doing this, except the pages are low on data.  I'm suggesting that gamers do the work ... hell, even if all we're doing is creating links to created pages on Wikipedia, its better than the jumble we've got now.  Isn't it?

Two: Do the same thing, but do it for people's worlds.

Look.  My world is scattered through the various posts of my blog, and Zak's world is scattered through his, and James C.'s world isn't online at all.  If we're going to talk wikis, why not a database where the worlds can be organized, where the maps of each world can be put in this area, and the descriptions of the worlds can be put in that area.  As it stands right now, if I don't happen to run across, say, David's World from the RPG Corner, because I don't know his blog is out there, how the hell do I know it exists.  Even if I find his blog, where do I start?

Is it so hard, people, to comprehend having a system by which your world could be catalogued, ordered, explained and even co-opted by participants reading the wiki?  Hey, here's Italy.  And here's my city data.  And here's a outline of ruins and such, or here's all the links on Wikipedia you'll want to look at.  And here are descriptions of the countryside.  And here's the weather.  Good, now you're ready to run it.

No?  Well, how about the page is potentially open to those who know Italy better than I do, who can write their own descriptions.  Or what if someone, having a good look at Zak's world, wants to run it  for his own campaign and for which he has some ideas ... that he can then run by Zak, and ultimately ADD to Zak's world as it appears in this database.

Impossible, you say?  Nonsense.  It is a question of getting out of this dumb-ass anti-cooperative headspace because we believe we're the only people good enough to work on OUR world.  If it happened that the new stuff was shit, what difference would that make?  Zak or others could go clear it out, Zak's world or my world could grow and become unrecognizable to either one of us ... but it would be a source to turn to anyway.  My world will always be on my computer.  What do I care what happens to the version of my world that gets played with and hacked on said database?

I could always just create another file, "My World Traditional," and watch it all happen again.  And again.  And again.

I lose nothing.  I continue to run my world with my people.  And others get the benefit of seeing what happens when others make use of my world for their own purposes.

This is what I call monoculture.  Not the suppression of knowledge, but the healthy distribution of it.

If I die first, fine.  I'm not in any hurry.  But perhaps we could try moving in an particular direction.  Perhaps we could take these three ideas of mine and scrap them for better, more practical possibilities.  But it would still be movement.  It would still be better than what we have.


Snarls-at-Fleas said...

Once again - why do we need any standarts at all?

Zak S said...

All that sounds totally reasonable.

"Organize the variants on the game."

Ok, sign me up.


I also have to say it sounds a lot different than :

"can they draw a dungeon that doesn’t look like it’s done with crayons by a six-year-old? Hooray, you’re competant now"


An RPG knowhow library: Sure.

An RPG academy (in the French painting academy sense): That deeply confuses me.

Brendan said...

Okay, so start the library already.

Roger the GS said...

The rules variant wiki idea, I can certainly get behind. Which will require some definition of the starting point I suppose - some minimal definition of the original system, with later editions encoded as rules improvements.

A few notes:

I asked for any pointers toward such a resource on Dragonsfoot a while ago. Crickets. Doesn't mean it can't be done, just that there is a certain preservationist crowd that is just not interested.

Telecanter is collecting house rules, although seemingly more selectively.

Greg said...

I think the big problem Alexis is that your solution involves a lot of work.

The number one thing that I have people ask me when they hear that my game is free is "why aren't you selling it?" People feel like if you work on something, you MUST get paid or else the work has no value. These people ignore vast swaths of human endeavor from religious service to volunteer fire departments to wikipedia writers. But this belief is ingrained.

People generally don't want to do work, especially not hard work, and not get paid. That kind of ingrained belief is hard to shake.

I think your vision is admirable but impracticable. "Herding cats" springs to mind. With my game, I have chosen to just jettison the chaotic community that exists and try to build a new one from brand new eyes. That has involved a lot of work setting myself up in communities that I had not formerly been a part of (for example, I have been talking with a lot of female political bloggers). But again, more work.

Sorry to be pessimistic, but I just think people are too lazy. It will have to be spearheaded by a few hard-working souls instead of the masses.

Zak S said...

L'escalier pensees...

1-I didn't see the connection at first but maybe I do now: academies are traditionally attached to museums. The museums were generally started by philanthropists in hopes that the works there would spur innovation and higher standards in art.

2-One could argue this library already exists in the form of the blogs, though it's organized by author rather than subject.

3-Maybe we just need a Dewey Decimal cross-blog tag system for posts:
3.16.76PCQ is: Combat systems/alternate/AD&D/descending AC/shield rules

(And some monomaniac to run it.)

jgbrowning said...

Have you checked out

under the "Major Projects" heading?

Alexis said...


Well Goddamn.

mhensley said...

see also-

Anonymous said...

Count me in. I've stopped writing one blog to immediately start another with the idea to get my D&D world and rules online.

To Greg: Take a longer view of this. It's only a lot of work if you need it up and running in weeks or months. I agree, though, that its chances of making it will depend on a handful of dedicated souls, at least in the beginning.

Anonymous said...

Such a community could begin simply by linking that wiki from their own sites.

Alexis said...

The problem begins with who comprises that 'handful of dedicated souls' ... especially when I say about a dozen times that it needs to be without a commercial aspect, and mhensley directs me to a site crawling with advertising and self-promotional aspects. Major dissonance there.

It's an age old problem: Who?

Symeon Kokolas said...

The rpgnet wiki is not quite what Alexis is describing, nor is it something useful for quickly comparing various systems. It would be very useful if I was looking for a new system of the week.
Instead of that layout, you would have categories like 'weather' and 'experience' and 'encounter tables' and 'economics' and 'combat', with articles like 'd20 count-down AC' and '3d6 hit vs. dodge'. I could see an integration topic for the math required to make very different mechanics work together with reasonable level and wealth progression. This would also explain the statistics of dice so that one could learn to understand and compare various die systems.
You would have a worlds category, with a subcategory for each person's world. This would likely duplicate a lot of info in the mechanics categories, but it would be presented to guide the reader in playing that world rather than to explain the various mechanics without backstory.
I could definitely see a resources category, graphics and storyline subcategories. Alexis' maps could certainly serve as a master reference for earthlike settings. Storylines would be more like sketches, where the major npc figures are outlined as far as position and motivation and association. Getting more detailed than that would require choosing a world as setting. That could make running the same plot in a very different setting much more difficult, but it would improve the quality. This area could be a bit questionable since it would be a lot like a module book, but it would be very useful for less experienced DM's who need good examples of plot and character development.
In keeping with the non-commercial purpose of this resource, all posts would have to be free to use, not licensed for commercial use. Anonymous or attribution-required would be at the author's discretion, or perhaps non-attribution by default to keep things simpler and because this site would be a primary resource, not to be diluted into various modules.
If this wonder-site existed, you can bet I'd be signed up. I'd probably mostly do the occasional clarification or math conversion along with sanity checking and grammar, but I could be at least a little bit useful.

Zak S said...


We're all looking at you.

Plus, y'know, if anybody else was in charge of it, could you ever possibly be satisfied?

Anonymous said...


Chris Weller said...

If it was easy, I already would have done it.

I posted that a few weeks ago, hoping it would bait the a GM who I know is an MLIS candidate into volunteering to build the damn thing. I don't think he reads my blog, and now I don't remember who it was. I'll have to do for the moment.

I'm talking about the digital library. Not the association or community or whatever.

Wikis have their uses, but they are also subject to withering and the community issues that come with them are astounding. One of the more difficult issues with wikis is that they have to enforce a certain style and format or they aren't very useful. And even then, they don't lend themselves well to certain uses and reuses. Metadata is terrible and at the end of the day, you can only reuse it in wiki-style systems.

What I would suggest is a digital library project. The objects in the library would include rules variations, spells, monsters, traps, treasure, abilities, etc. as outlined, coincidentally, here:

Thanks to Jeff Rients for posting that. I stay away from forums (you'd be shocked how much that can help your perspective). I would add to that some advice, some public domain inspirational materials, etc. Tables. Lots of tables.

For each object, you would need to track metadata (data about the object) the author, rights information, the game system it's designed for, tags, author notes and many other things. This means you need to pick a standard and extend it so it works in out little world.

Rights information is critical and needs to be enforced. If Zak is OK with me riffing on his monsters and posting it as a derivative work, then that can be specified with a CC license. But if DM Dagobah has a problem with me messing with his work *AND POSTING IT* then that needs to be respected.

This project would need some experts on the content and a few librarians/taxonomists/IA types to hammer out a scheme and a controlled vocabulary for exchanging data and metadata about these game objects.

Then you need some way to ingest all that data from the rss feeds. When possible, get the author to fill in missing metadata.

And then a system for managing the data, probably a mySQL database and a CMS, although that's not important right now.

Then an interface for browsing, searching and otherwise discovering all this stuff.

I agree with Alexis that a library like this would be useful.

Worlds would be a harder project, but not impossible.

If all this data is released under at least a creative commons attribution license, then it could be archived in many places so when there's only three of us left, we'll have it all.

So yes, it could be done. It would take at least a year, unless some expert in digital libraries has lots of free time.

I would suggest that this be done quietly, as a prototype, and involve as few people as possible to keep the politics low.

My two copper bits.

Chris Weller said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ben Brooks said...

Wow, and here I thought I was laying into it too much.

For the community might I suggest Diet or Compact? As in the North American Strategic Role Playing Game Proliferation Compact. (NASRPGPC)

It would be very interesting to have such a database and a body of academic writing to go along with it. Nothing says respectable like a textbook of philosophy on the subject. :)

I wish I could help, but If I knew how to do stuff like this I'd have better job prospects.

Snarls-at-Fleas: "Once again - why do we need any standarts at all?"

To create a common point of reference, a place for discussion to begin, and a place for newbies and latecomers to find out just what the hell you're talking about.

A standard doesn't necessarily have to be followed, it's just something that's easy to point to and say, "This is where we started from, and this is where our group is now."

Ben Brooks said...

Maybe you mean something like this site for Science Fiction science, but for fantasy:

Higgipedia said...

I think a great start would be a free-to-download PDF which compares the different versions of D&D, its clones, as well as other fantasy games.

You can talk about the tone of the games, the mechanics, character creation, etc.

It would come to the point of view of "If you are reading this, you've played ONE of these games before. This i to help you either find a new game or know what to expect in a game you are looking at joining."

You could eventually branch out into other genres (Horror, Sci-Fi, Superhero, etc), but I could see this being a dog-eared book by the counter of every FLGS, allowing players to get an idea of what else is out there... and subsequently purchase from said FLGS.

I think THAT would be a better service for building and growing the game than an overwhelming database of worlds and house rules.

Anonymous said...

Alexis, 2 years ago I moved to the UK and, having no friends, had to find a new group of players the old-fashioned way - going to gaming clubs and shops.

So I saw a lot of different gaming groups in the first 6-8 months I was there. And I have to say, anyone who thinks that there aren't a lot of train wrecks out there is kidding themselves. Anyone who thinks that most groups are satisfied with the way things are working, is kidding themselves.

What happens is that the people with higher standards, of both social behaviour and of gaming practice, gather together a few players from those places and they leave together. I bled players from 3 groups to get my group together.

Also lots of players stop very quickly.

This is not evidence in favour of the idea that most people are having fun whatever their gaming style. They're tolerating the shit in order to be able to game at all.

To me that's not acceptable, and standards need to be higher.

Alexander said...

Alexis, what you are proposing has been done for massively multiplayer games, where communities have self-organized to create exhaustive collections of maps, play guides, best practices, raiding tactics, and so on. I personally ran a site like that (WarCry) for many years.

One lesson we learned over time is that a Wiki was a better way to organize the data than a database. With a database you have to know the structure of the data in advance, and while it is definitely easier to search and manipulate, it is harder to create and vastly harder to adapt and grow. With a wiki, the growth can be purely organic, it is easier to solicit user expansion, and far easier to adapt to reinforce the areas where you are growing.

I think I could set up a wiki on a server with essentially unlimited bandwidth and data crunching capability and can maintain and administer the list of registered users with a complete permissions systems. It would be the same back-end that powers The Escapist and our internal wiki, but I'll set it up with no branding (apart from any "assocation" you come up with) and no ads, etc. Just a private wiki for this project.

So, take cost of software, hardware, and bandwidth out of the equation. Would people donate the time and creative energy to add data and manage the wiki?