Friday, January 11, 2013

Positioning The Work

Twice in the last 24 hours I've bumped into someone making the argument that people are more willing to believe something when it is presented authoritatively, in the sense that THIS IS WRONG and THIS IS RIGHT.

The more notable example (the second was a CBC podcast about risk-taking) was put forth by Bill Bryson in his recent book, At Home ... which is an spectacular resource for D&D that I started into a few days ago.

For those who don't know, and who haven't read him, Bryson is a genius.  In this case, I'm defining 'genius' in the sense that if you don't agree with what he says and the research he does, you're a fucking idiot.  I understand some people define genius in a completely different way.

Bryson was discussing the book published in 1861 by Isabella Beeton (actually, published by her husband) which became THE standard for homes for the next 75 years or so, Beeton's Book of Household Management.  I read it years ago, as my university had a copy of it in the library and if you've done any extensive research into pre-twentieth century life, it's impossible to overlook.  I would strongly recommend having a careful look into the many, many pages of cookery and other subjects.

What is interesting about the book is how truly, remarkably wrong it is in SO many ways, and the manner in which it refutes itself constantly - which Bryson discusses at length over many pages.  As I worked as a chef and cook for many years during my theatre days (between work), its impossible not to notice that many of the recipes would be thoroughly unpalatable as written.  And still, Beeton was to the home as Dana was to geology, as Groves was to music and as the World Almanac is to statistics.
There is something to the very sad fact that where it came to a quintessential text about womens' home lives, half the material is sadly wrong, plagiarised (whole passages are lifted from Florence Nightingale, word for word) or even incomprehensible (seriously, read the book).  Still, as Bryson says, the book is written with such a firm, definite, There's No Possible Way I'm Wrong About This air, it was embraced en masse by the culture of the time ... even though it wasn't the first book of it's kind (Eliza Acton had famously produced an earlier book, which Beeton also stole from).  The sheer arrogance of Beeton clings to the pages like rancid lard, in a way that even this blog has not been able to achieve.  It is truly awe-inspiring.

So the question arises, as I get set to write a book on How To DM, and the community is so firm on no one having any right to say "this is the right way to play D&D" ... should I, or should I not, take the stand that there is a RIGHT way to play D&D.

Because I really think there is one.  What's more, from various places (not just the two examples from the last day), I'm getting the message that if I want to be taken seriously, I have to say there's a RIGHT way.  Because being wishy-washy about a subject doesn't get it done.

Which might explain why everything that comes out of WOTC is such unmitigated shit.


Lord Gwydion said...

Could you write a book about DMing and NOT claim that there's one right way? I've been reading this blog for a long time primarily because you do just that.

I don't always agree with everything you say and every position you make, but I don't think I'd be interested in a book you wrote on the subject that didn't take a definitive authoritarian stance.

And just for comparison, among us English teachers, there's a similar Victorian grammarian (forget his name because he's really not that important) who came up whole cloth with the "split infinitive" and "sentence ending with a preposition" rules, as well as a few others, simply because those are the way sentences work in Latin. And then everyone's English teacher suddenly started marking them as wrong - and many still do.

Carl Nash said...

You are not afraid to state something as if it were, unequivocally, true.

I personally would be disappointed if you wrote a book about DMing and did not stay true to this aspect of yourself.

There have been a hundred other DMs Advice books written out there that would fall into the wishy-washy category.

Anonymous said...

+1 on what Lord G said.
Also: I don't think there is an "objectively" right way to DM. But what kind of a standard is that? Of course there can still be subjectively and even intersubjectively correct ways to do it.
And a preposition *is* a terrible thing to end a sentence with.

Charles Taylor (Charles Angus) said...

When I read your book on DM'ing, I want to be reading about the *right way* you so often speak of.

Don't pussy-foot around.

Steve said...

I'm all for having a position and stating it strongly, but it helps if that position isn't contradicted by all my years of experience around the table. There might be just one best way to run the kind of D&D game you prefer, but there's more than one way to play D&D. A book that states "here's the kind of game I like, and here's the best way to manage it" would get a warmer reception from me, anyway.

Arduin said...

I totes get what Steve here is saying, but think that's a terrible way to write it anyway.

What does your experience count for, per se? Are you paid to do this? Handsomely? Indeed, are you famous in the circles of roleplayers from places far and wide? Known by all and indeed feared for your DMing might?

If not, you've got exactly as much worth as the next person, I.E. none at all. If you ARE any of the above, you really have no need for a book on the subject, except perhaps as a quiet diversion and intellectual exercise.

We're using the hypothetical "you" in this instance, not the specific "you" person. Obviously.

With all that in mind, as someone who isn't paid to do this, isn't famous for it, though a little admired in a specific, vanishingly small circle of individuals, I'm going to be very glad when this book does come out.

It should offer a lot to talk about, at a modest minimum.

Alexis said...

What Steve suggests would be shit, but not from the perspective you suggest, Arduin. It would be shit because it wouldn't be an ADVANCED discussion of the roleplaying game. It would be a fairly cheesy, soulless exercise in Martha Stewartism, which is precisely the worst sort of pap I have no intention of writing.

Steve said...

Alexis: Should we conclude, then, that you ARE saying there is one true way to play D&D and all others are false? That anyone who plays D&D differently from you, and enjoys it, is either mistaking disappointment for enjoyment or is lying about their experience? It's hard to reconcile your comments with a position short of that extreme.

Alexis said...

I am saying, Steve, that if you think that my purpose is to write a book bent on little stories that happened to me while I was playing the game, then you sorely underestimate the level of discourse this book intends to provide. I am NOT writing a how-to book about D&D. The book is not to be called "How to Play."

It is intended as an academic thesis on the art and science of dungeon mastering. Thus, ask yourself is Charles Darwin meant to be right; or if Voltaire meant to be right; or if Jean-Paul Sartre intended to be right ... and if you can comprehend the sheer silliness of that question from a perspective of describing and deliberating upon knowledge itself, you may begin to understand that RIGHT is not what I'm attempting.

I mean to produce a book that describes how to FIND the right way to play D&D.

Steve said...

"I mean to produce a book that describes how to FIND the right way to play D&D."

Now THAT is an interesting and laudable goal, and not at all what I understood you to be tackling.