Friday, August 19, 2011


Fun times.

Between people wondering if I've gone off my nut, and those running around on other blogs claiming the solution to creating a better game is to have people list off three great things they do as a DM, today has been one great festival.  Yes, that's what I said.  Write three great DM things and you'll get a gold star.

The defining thing about rhetoric is that it tends to be rhetorical.  That means, to use language to persuasive effect, you've got to get a little crazy.  You've got to stand on a car's roof and wave your arms about and scream, or people won't listen.  I mean, they won't listen anyway, but if you still have to risk sounding like an idiot, even if they can't digest what you're saying.

I am on my own path here, so we needn't worry about the parade going past on the next street over.  We can get serious.

I don't like to embed videos on the blog, since they soak up memory, but this is special.  Some of the brighter among you may have seen this before (it's quite old):

I have to explain that I began working with statistics like the ones Hans Rosling describes going back to the 1970s, so over the years I have intensely studied these.  I mention this because I remember the first time I saw this video.  It was shown to me by my partner - she stumbled across it and knew I'd like it.  She was right.

Funny story.  When we got to four minutes into the video - as he is discussing those changes happening to family size - I paused the video.  "Wouldn't it be great," I said, "If instead of showing a bunch of slides clicking the shift from one year to another, we saw the thing move like a video?"

Then I started the video again, and it happened.

Now, that's not a huge prediction story.  What is important is that for me, studying statistics all this time, what you see in the video is the way statistics always play in my mind.  Just as my first wife Michelle, a trained musician, could look at a page of notes and hear the music, I have always been able to look at a page of statistics and inherently see the pattern.  It is a talent that has served me wonderfully in D&D.

But here is an example of not needing the talent, at all.  The computer graphic has been created so that Hans Rosling, whose talent must exceed virtually everyone we shall ever hope to know, can paint the world of statistics in a fashion that people who have no comprehension of them can grasp them immediately.

In no way does Rosling's demonstration change the numbers; the facts haven't changed.  But the demonstration makes the numbers real for those who can't see them in the way of a statistician.  Can you see how this demonstrative process, appropriately adopted, could revolutionize the game of D&D?

I beg the gentle reader (far more gentle than I) to recognize that numbers are not in themselves meaningful.  Numbers are representative labels which we hang upon things which are meaningful.  But any label, provided it is consistent, will do.  Numbers have that wonderful quality of consistency.  But computer graphics composed of numbers carry that consistency forward, making it possible not only to know the measure of a 17 strength, but to see it as well.

When we speak of the generation of a character in these terms, along with the generation of world, of the monsters in that world and of the combats and interactions taking place between that world and those characters, THEN we are speaking about D&D, my friends.

The only thing is - and this being the point of the previous post - it has to be thoroughly understood that this interaction CANNOT be automated.  Automation destroys variety, because Automation cannot be innovated beyond its point of programming.  However, if you put the power in a DM's hands, to change the perameters of what is a 17 strength, and what defines a 'hit' in combat, and what effects a spell has - just as the DM defines these things in the DM's game - then the computer program is a tool, and not a straightjacket.

The weakness of video games to this point is the insistence of programmers that they themselves must be the DM.  They want to build a machine that will come and build your house for you.  That is their thinking process.  What you want, what every DM wants, is a hammer.  We will build our own house thank you very much.  Give us a cyber universe that lets up stop the motion, change the shape, weight, range and effect of a thrown hammer however we wish - along with every other condition of the D&D universe, as the rules allow.

Every bit technological know-how needed to do this exists.  At the moment, the only people able to do it are brain-trained to think they know what is best for everyone.  But it could be done - and when it is done, and players can really envision what a DM wants them to envision, the long-crippling weaknesses of pen, paper and poor writing will be dealt a death blow.

This is my point.  This is what I've been saying.  Ramp up the visual presentation to the modern age, and we are cooking with gas, people.

Hey.  Am I serious?


noisms said...

and when it is done, and players can really envision what a DM wants them to envision

Can't they do this already, with their imagination? I'm not trying to be facetious (well perhaps a little); there is a genuine point here. When a DM describes a room in a dungeon, say, what the players envisage may not be EXACTLY the room in a dungeon he envisages, but it is close enough and it will indisputably be a room in a dungeon.

Admittedly their vision will be imperfect and they may require clarification on certain points, or get confused if the description isn't complete. But on the other hand their vision will be arguably more vivid and potent to them, because it is something they are conjuring from their own inner psyche or whatever you want to call it. There is a trade off between vividness and accuracy, you might say.

I think this is one of the charms of a tabletop role-playing games.

Alexis said...

Utter bullshit.

This argument is exactly what I meant when I wrote this morning, "It is far more likely for persons in this game to redesign their perception of how the game "should" work, or what the game "should" be about, or what everyone else "should" consider important, before just admitting that they suck at winning."

We've had this "imagination" solution all along, because it's been the ONLY solution. Here's what I suggest: let's try the alternative, and if the imagination is better, we'll give up technology and prove noisms right.

ckutalik said...

Bullshit. Big, steaming, flies-a-circling pile of bullshit.

Not a single person involved made this claim: "the solution to creating a better game is to have people list off three great things they do as a DM".

There are no solutions that simple and you know I know that.

Alexis said...


You're damn right I know you know that. Which is why I can't understand that your answer to Beedo was so flippin' weak, or why you took it up on your blog without any reference to my flogging this issue all Day. I didn't write it because it was true, I wrote it to flush you out and get you pissed at me. I'm not going to get anywhere if one of the smartest damn people in the blogosphere is going to run from addressing the real issue, am I?

noisms said...

I'm perfectly happy to be proven wrong, but I'd like a definition of the word "better". Better for what? A better version of D&D, more "fun", what?

It's not that I'm trying to pooh-pooh your vision; I'm enjoying reading your thoughts, and there's a lot I agree with. I just happen to like the fact that I can play D&D with just a pencil, some paper, and a few dice, along with a couple of other people I get along with, and while that game is hardly perfect, it has certain merits and charms that the kind of computerised version you advocate would not (I don't think) have.

Alexis said...


That is just more of the same poop. We don't know what the thing I'm advocating would offer, so that makes this an easy argument for you: "Nostalgia is good. Old is good. Tradition!"

I've answered that already. Your traditional game sucks.

Anonymous said...

What if having the players see exactly what I see wasn't my goal? What if rather than achieving that I was not just satisfied with but preferred that we each imagined something related but also independent and personal? That perhaps this was a strength of the game and not a drawback.

In some ways the future you describe reminds me of seeing the movie adaptation of a beloved story. Even if done well, I'll never be able to imagine a particular character as I first did, but rather now always as the actor portraying them appeared.

While I agree much about the execution of the game may be broken, I'm not terribly interested in fixing it in the way you propose here.

Kenwolf said...

are you saying that to make D&D a better game for the masses that it should be turned into more of a video game ? what is so wrong with just the dm describing the setting and the player going from their ? to me it seems like you want to change how rpg's are played. not about the quality of them that you was talking about yesterday.

noisms said...

Well, I submit that is just more of the same poop, and an even easier argument for you than mine is for me: "What I am advocating is entirely unclear - but it will be better than what we have now!" You're sounding like Dr. Pangloss in reverse.

But this isn't a particularly fruitful discussion, is it? Suffice to say I'm interested to see what comes of it, and supportive (for what that's worth).

ckutalik said...

Alexis, you are one crafty son of a bitch. And I mean that from the bottom of my heart.

Here I was thinking I could kick up my cowboy boots, sip my margarita, and cruise into the weekend, provocation-free. Damn you.

Off to read about the neurotic horde at the gates.

JDJarvis said...

I myself would love a tool set that let's me use all of my abilities not just some of them and a game that takes advantage of that.

It's not the same as a book turned into a movie as it will be my vision realized through the tool set not the vision of a director, screenwriter and producer interpreting an author. The DM is the DM.

In my regular game I play with folks I've been gaming with 40+ times a year for well over 20 years and we got into a ridiculous yelling match over an insignificant detail and the inability of the players to understand what I described is exactly what happened there was no room for a different view, the image in their minds eye wasn't open to their interpretation or imagination as what was happening was exactly what I described. I luckily had an independent witness to confirm the players were being amazingly obtuse.
Players I know well and have gamed with for decades weren't able to understand what was going on.

So yes, I want a toolset that let's me describe exactly what I want in the manner I want, down to the physics/rules of the game being modifiable to aid presentation and game play.

The written and spoken word can work amazing wonders but not everyone is equally schooled to use them or to comprehend what they are being presented with.