Tuesday, January 28, 2014


I hate this term. If we could invent a tag for the recognition of stupid people, we couldn't do better than this.

First off, it's a troll term. Trolls use it. On the surface it is supposed to mean, "We have different experiences, so we're likely to have different opinions." Under the surface, however, it says, "Fuck your experience. I have MINE."

Secondly, it's a shyster's term. It was invented in the 1970s, during the oil crisis, when drivers suddenly got really interested in cars that could get a lot of mileage to the gallon, so much so that it became a deal breaker on buying a car. Because manufacturers wanted to still sell the cars they'd already built and designed, they wanted to make claims about mileage that were basically untrue ... but so they wouldn't get sued, they slapped 'your mileage may vary' after the ad's claim. Some lawyer dreamed up the argument that not every car that came off the line was guaranteed to be exactly like every other car, so sorry, poor you, you got the random dodge that still did 8 miles to the gallon, instead of the 16 mpg we advertised. Tough shit.

So, basically, it evolved as a term that meant, "We may actually be bullshitting you, but we'd like to pretend that what we're saying is true." That's just perfect for the typical troll out for a day on the net, who is more than ready to bullshit and back that shit up with a lawyer's trick. Well done you, fuckwit.

There is something really profound in cognitive dissonance that I think explains a lot of human history. Historians - in case you haven't met many - are absolutely Monday morning quarterbacks. They love to tell you how Hitler would have won the campaign in Russia or all the mistakes that Napoleon made, or why the Catholic Church really didn't slap Galileo around the Vatican and make him like it (he and the Pope were friends, don't you know?). Feminist Historians in particular are spectacular in this regard - none of the bad women in history ever did anything bad - it was all press and misunderstandings.  All of the moderately talented women in history were talented beyond all reason, it was just a sexist thing that kept them down. If there hadn't been any sexism in the world, George Sand wouldn't have been named George and her books would be hailed as the greatest literature humankind has yet to produce.

This need to rewrite the past or pretend things could have been different shows a complete failure in justifying poor human behaviour. The quarterback didn't make the brilliant pass because the quarterback was sad or distracted or unfairly challenged - not because he blew it. The tendency is to think the quarterback saw the opportunity to pass and was unable to throw it that way. As though every action we take, all day long, is a decision we are unable to make - due to our inability, not our choice.

Take these the same trolls who say, 'IMO' or 'IMHO' ... "Yes, jackwit, we know it's your opinion." In pulling another shyster trick, dodging the consequence for speaking their minds, they've dropped the IMO bomb to say, "I know I've completely ignored everything you've said, but we're all egalitarian here, so don't judge me." There's that dissonance again. "I want to say what I believe, but I don't want to be judged for it."

Tough shit. You are judged for it. I'll be honest here and say that I'm judging you. I think you're a fucking idiot. I think you lack the faith you ought to have in your convictions. I think you're weak. I think you're incapable of producing a meaningful argument. I think you're living in a bubble of self-love that deludes you. I don't think you matter.

Let me let you into a little secret. No one else does, either. And that hurts, doesn't it? It hurts to know that people think all the things I'm thinking, they just won't say it out loud. They don't take you seriously, either. And because they don't take you seriously, they won't hire you. Or give you a promotion. Or care if you can pay your rent. They won't care if they hurt you. They won't care, because you don't matter.

That's mean. But shit, brother, I got all kinds of people who are going way out of their way to hurt me. They're trying really, really hard. They're spending far more energy on trying to hurt me than they're spending on making their blogs worth reading or improving their lives.

If you want this game to be respected, the game has to be serious. If the game is ever going to be good, it has to be serious. Does the game need to be serious? Well, no. Of course not. But that doesn't matter. No game needs to be serious. They evolve that way because the people playing those games WANT the games to be serious. Over time, those wanting it to be serious, who are themselves serious, play the game longer, harder and more meaningfully that those who consider it a joke or a lark. Eventually, the people who take it seriously become the center of the community, and those who think it a lark are pushed more and more to the outside of the circle. Because those people, the frivolous people, DON'T MATTER. They have no effect on anything. They're there, but they're just bodies sucking air. Evolution simply erases them from the equation. Time passes, and those people get bored with all the seriousness, and they go away.

Whereas the serious people keep playing. And playing. And playing.

There is no variance in the mileage here. We're driving, and we're getting plenty of distance for the fuel we're using. Whereas the trolls, tourists and losers are in the passenger seat, whining about when we're going to get there. Like children. Who don't know what the hell is going on, because they're children.

Just shut the fuck up. We'll get there when we get there.


Matt said...

I think it's really strange that the trolls and tourists assume that the game becoming more serious breaks their game.

A load of people play chess. There are a lot of awful chess players in the world. I wouldn't even be a mild challenge for a serious chess player. I've still made sure to own a chessboard throughout most of my life.

When RPGs become a serious hobby there will be nothing stopping people from buying the books, and burning down the barn because they don't give a shit about the game. They will get to have their fun with the game they bought.

But conventions will stop being awful cosplay merchandising fuckwit territory and be about actually playing a serious game.

Lukas said...

I have never seen a house clear out because I brought out a chess table. I've had people refuse to play with me because of some delusion I'm good, but I can still play a casual game when I want.

I would love to be able to play a serious DnD game when I want. Seriously. I want a game where everyone sits down, shuts up and stops wasting my time with youtube videos, random internet images and so on during live play.

I've got 16 hours every two weeks to fucking play games, (if I'm lucky) let's do this shit.

Jay Murphy said...

As usual, I am picking up what you are laying down Mr. Smolensk.

Zrog (ESR) said...

The comment from Lucas just made me think: maybe the problem with D&D is that when you sit down to "do this shit", you can never really be sure what you're getting.

Wouldn't TSR/WotC make a lot more money and a larger player base if they just called every edition by a new game-name, and in the meantime, worked on their old material and re-released it while ACTUALLY FIXING THEIR SYSTEMS?

I would LOVE to see Alexis' entire D&D material published, called by another game-name, and in several dozen books, with a few other how-to books, with titles like: "Stop being a spineless twit, you noob DM", and "Don't make me throw you out, you whiny, bitchy player (even thought you're my RL friend)".

... and Alexis, I would also hope you'd make a TON of money, for all the work you've done. Not play. Work.

David Kramer said...

For these questions, I'll give two examples to consider: Baseball has umpires who judge plays, and whether or not their judgement was accurate, it is still final, and has made the difference between winning and losing, yet baseball has legitimacy. Then there is Warhammer 40K, a tactical warfare game that is able to account for nearly all possibilities by limiting your characters potential actions to strictly combat, and therefore doesn't need a GM. This has allowed for serious competitions, because everyone plays by the same rules, and because of that they are able to practice and develop strategies that would work with anybody they play with that agrees to play by the official rules. I am not familiar enough with 40K to give any kind of judgement on legitimacy or "seriousness" of it, but I think it is at least considered more serious than standard D&D specifically because they eliminated the possibility for unexpected situations.

So, to summarize everything I was rambling about, can a game that is designed around applying rules that were written for anticipated situations towards ones that weren't, requiring the need for a judge to say "Yeah, I'll allow you to do that, but I'm gonna have you roll [etc]", ever be considered serious? If so, how would this role need to change? Maybe the rules and abilities of the DM himself would need clear definition and limitations as to what he's capable of and requirements of the situations he's allowed to intervene in, balancing him in as an intelligent, adaptive check system, instead of the all-deciding god of the game that is above the rules, or at least definition of the special rules a DM is allowed to invoke and to what extent. Or is the randomness of D&D and the "god" aspect of GMs why people enjoy playing role-playing games? Knowing that no matter how well-prepared you are, you can never fully anticipate everything, and you'll have something happen that no one else ever has? I know I certainly enjoy D&D more than 40k because 40k doesn't have the same kind of random life that D&D has. Lastly, for clarification, seriousness of a game can happen today, at your own table with your own friends. What I've been talking about is what I think the game might need to be serious enough to know that if I played the game across the road or if I played it across the ocean, I'd still be playing the same game, and know that everything I've put in towards being a better player will apply in any game I play. Although, considering that the official Dungeon Master's Guide even has a section for "Optional Rules" makes me wonder if that is even possible with the way the game is currently built.

David Kramer said...

I agree with what you're getting at; in games we consider "serious", like chess for example, no one would ever say anything like "well, in my games, the bishop only moves diagonally, but ymmv." They would get laughed out of the room. A game needs clear, defined rules to be able to properly hone your skills and strategies. This is why games like chess are considered legitimate - your rules are the same as everyone else's, so your knowledge will always apply. If you wanted to study chess strategies, only to have every person you played with have their own "interpretation" of how the pieces move, it would be impossible to build or hone skills. It would have been in this interpretive space between the rules that would have held chess back from legitimacy, because as you said, its the serious players who care who define it, and push out the people who don't know. Without that strict rule-set, that core group of serious players would likely not have risen and studied, and built strategies that forced everyone to become even better to win, proving chess a legitimate competition.

I understand the need for this kind of clear understanding and acceptance of the rules-as-written, but you will always have people who say "It's just a game. You're supposed to have fun.", and I understand their point as well. People who play basketball with the hoop above their garage under "house rules" don't take legitimacy away from NBA games. However, if they were to try and say that they believe that the way they play is a possibly legitimate interpretation of the rules set by the NBA, that's a different matter, and I believe that is the behavior you are referring to.

That being said, I think we are dealing with a fairly unique situation. Role-playing games are meant to simulate everything that could potentially happen. Rules are made for whether you're able do something, what the parameters are for succeeding or failing on such an attempt, and allows differently built players to be accurately portrayed as more or less suitable for such a task. Back to the chess example, crystal clear rules are possible because of the game's narrow focus. Your knight doesn't have to account for whether or not the moon's light and cloud cover causes dim conditions that may affect his ability to move two spaces forward and one to the side. In attempting to being able to simulate everything, and the nature of role-playing, it is impossible to completely anticipate and eliminate all situations where there are no rules written specifically for them. For these situations, we have somebody special, which leads me to the unique situation I mentioned earlier: The Dungeon Master.

We have a game where there is a person whose most important job is to make judgement calls. Yes, they do many, many things, and the more ambitious DM would even be the creator of the entire campaign the players are experiencing. However, with proper programming, many jobs of the DM could be replaced by software. These responsibilities are the ones I am referring to as "unimportant" (and only for matters of categorization, not that I believe that they aren't important or necessary). The job of a DM that CAN'T be done by software, is making judgement calls they when the rule-set didn't anticipate the situation. Computer software would crash if you did something the programmer didn't anticipate.

So, my point and question is, how do we incorporate the DM into a "serious" game? Chess games don't require someone to judge whether a move is allowed - there is no situation that isn't anticipated within its rule-set. Will D&D never gain legitimacy until the DM is no longer necessary, and all situations are specifically accounted for? And if that is an impossible expectation (which I believe it is when you try to role-play "life"), then how does the DM's role need to change - or should it even? (continued in next comment. Sorry for the long post)

Alexis Smolensk said...


I seriously enjoyed and appreciated the long post - don't ever apologize for describing your whole position. Effort is a thing of beauty.

I haven't read this post since January. Wow, was I angry. But I take none of it back. I did do a little fixing here and there - but writing is editing. Sometimes I have to fix.

I think you have it right, David. But I don't know if replacing the DM is ever a possibility. Do you know an old story by Isaac Asimov, Olympics? Ought to be required reading.

Briefly, without recounting the story - just now I am immersed in a process of writing rules to apply to situations that are not addressed or managed in the basic rules. Situations that I would have to deal with should they come up in a running on the spur of the moment. That dealing would be compressed into a few minutes, else the game would be dragged down.

The result is that my inventing rules in the moment means the creation of a lot of half-conceived, rushed, crappy solutions. How much better is it to take several hours to craft a solution? And how much better than that is it if the crafting of a solution doesn't just solve that problem (should it ever come up), but also enlightens the player, since now they can do something they never imagined doing before?

90% of my DMing is fabricating a world that runs smooth as silk during the actual running. Not because there are a lot of rules that narrow the game, but because there are structures in place that allow the players to blast out into multiple directions. Because I thought the game out AHEAD OF TIME.

(continued . . .)

Alexis Smolensk said...

I don't think it is a question of computers replacing DMs. I think it is the DM, with decades of experience, taking the computer potential and turning it on its head, expanding the characters past the 64 squares of ordinary role-play into directions and possibilities never attempted.

If I make the perfect computer program that will run the world I have created today, without me, that still isn't good enough to present the world I will run tomorrow, with 24 more hours of thought.

It isn't just the mechanical process of running the world! The game is invention - short term, when that's necessary, and long term, when that's possible.

Fundamentally (and this is one more year of experience beyond where I was when I wrote this post - a year that was filled with me writing a book that changed ME too), my bigger argument is this:

If role-playing was a better GAME, players would want to play it more seriously. People only play it as a joke because they cannot understand its potential. I believe that potential is greater and more amazing than anyone right now conceives - and that it is growing in that direction in spite of the original company insisting that the game be reinvented over and over again the same terrible way.

This role-playing thing - we are only seeing the game in its infancy. The real game hasn't come along yet. It will. And those people who think it is all a joke and just a game will be terrified when they see their descendents playing what the game becomes.

David Kramer said...

Just to clarify, I didn't mean to suggest that I thought replacing a DM with capable software was preferable or even a goal that should be worked towards, I was more so trying to highlight the large effect and responsibility of the DM's role in giving the game its legitimacy. A binary experience would not be enjoyable, and is counter to the point of the style of game. In this day and age of crowd-sourcing, I think people like yourself - the serious people - have more tools than ever to build and add (and trim and optimize) balanced rules that expand whats possible in your worlds.

However, even if you were to continue to come up with solid solutions towards solving new problems as they come up, my other point was in the definition of the role of the DM. I just finished reading your Dungeon's Front Door trio post, and I believe that ties into this. (Way to bookend the year!) Many DM's aren't fully aware of what they can do, and/or what they should do. The DMG gives you statboxes and scenarios, and tools to implement them, but does not focus as much on how to properly apply them. Sure, different parties will be happy with different situations, but I also think it is important to explain that the part of the job of a DM is to gauge their group and design accordingly. As far as I am aware, there is no certified dungeon master etiquette book, or training sessions to teach someone how to successfully see opportunities in a campaign for being creative, and how to use what you've already been given to create something new. Players are told exactly what their characters are capable of, but the DM is just expected to get better at "it". It's that "it" that I think would benefit from definition. Their job is similar to that of an author, but of a story that relies on others choices. There are lots of things DMs have to consider, but just as any writer who has taken writing classes has learned the basics of proper storytelling, pacing, and even the more fundamental tools of grammar has realized that this is just where you start and that you need to know these things before you can know where you can bend or break those rules to make something special of your own, I believe that there should be the same kind of agreed upon foundation of what a DM should/can do when it comes to the actual creative aspect of a campaign.

Considering the relationship between the DM and the player, I guess a DM doesn't have the same extent of freedoms that an author does, because his decisions need to relate to the player experience in some way - preferably in an enjoyable way. That is what I'm trying to get at - explaining how to act in that role and use those tools to deliver an experience to the players in a positive way. I think proper definition of the DMs role will lead to making the game better as a whole.

Alexis Smolensk said...

You're doing an excellent job asking the right questions and pointing out where the work needs to be done. I believe we are on the same page there.