Sunday, February 2, 2014

Drink Up

I'd like to start by taking part of the comment by Yagami on the previous post; be sure to go there and read the whole comment:

"Naturally, players that made decisions they later regretted (either because they were bad decisions or because they failed to make the decision a good one) inevitably complained enough to get wiggle room to start changing/learning spells, etc. Essentially, the Wizard who was already versatile and powerful, especially in the hands of a clever player, became even more so by leniency given towards their long-term planning.  Of course, this inevitably leads to the 3E wizard that can conceivably learn any (and all) spells and have them ready quite easily.  Naturally, people then complain about getting what they kicked & screamed for in the first place.  This, of course, leads to the 4E mentality where homogenization kicks in and, as someone pointed out on the other thread, the impact of decisions is undermined in general...because we don't want to upset people. We want everyone to feel as if they are doing exceptionally well because we don't want anyone to "feel bad" about how they are doing."

It serves us well to remember that the purpose of business is to make the buyer happy.

Games like Monopoly (1933), Yahtzee (1952) and Scrabble (1938) were released in a time when 'playing by the rules' was something entrenched in the public mind.  When the rules of Scrabble evolved in 1953 and again in 1976, those evolutions were clarifications of the rules, rather than outright changes to the concept.  Players had noticed issues, such as someone drawing a blank to discover who went first, and in time the company changed the rules on their box to address those issues.

The public had been raised on card games, for which an Englishman named Edmond Hoyle had written a series of books codifying the play of Whist (1741), Backgammon (1743), piquet and chess (1744) and quadrille (1744), among others.  These were no published by Hoyle, but rather by his publisher Cogan, who would ultimately go broke - but the copyright was sold forward and in 1748, a collected work under the title Mr. Hoyle's Treatises of Whist, Quadrille, Piquet, Chess and BackGammon was sold.  This went into fourteen editions during Hoyle's lifetime.  The book would be published throughout Europe in many languages, and thus it cemented its authority.  By the mid-20th century, the book shared a near Biblical reverence.  The recognition that games had specific rules, and that the company making the game had the right to define those rules, was bred into the public mind and remains there, for the most part.

D&D, however, was invented by a bunch of slovenly hacks whose conception far surpassed their ability to clearly define rules of play, given their limited budget.  This was NOT improved by a host of others associated with the originators who, themselves lacking any real wealth, proceeded to produce more poorly considered rule books also written haphazardly and with a disregard for continuity that could at best be termed unfortunate.  This was THEN exascerbated by a company, TSR, less concerned with codifying the rules than with producing more and more of them at the whim of various writers of modules on their staffs, while the matter was more firmly goofed up by a magazine, The Dragon, whose approach to consistent rule-making on an article by article basis was something like trying to perform an appendectomy with a shotgun.  It was not a concern that the patient should live.

The only answer to this maelstrom was to presuppose that the players would decide for themselves which rules to play and which to ignore, which was established for all time in Gygax's famous 'the rules are a guideline' passage in the DMG.

Eventually, the mess would be tranferred into the hands of the WOTC, who would then follow forward according to the complaints they received, as Yagami above describes, in order to generate ever more greater and convoluted controversy, expecting that all the past rules would be forgotten in favor of new rules that in turn would be the new game.  And 40 years after the fact, the WOTC in their wisdom has decided to do it again.

Companies want to make buyers happy.  Hoyle, along with the creators of early board and dice games, did not give concern to that which has become central to modern business - 'market research.'  The place where the game is at has been wholly the result of "the systemic gathering and interpreting of information about individuals or organizations using statistical and analytical methods and techniques of the applied social sciences to gain insight or support decision making."  Whatever value market research may truly have in the hands of an expert, it is far too often employed by stupid people as a means to avoid using their own brains, supplanting thoughts they may have had for the thoughts of thousands of other persons who may or may not have the power to be informed upon the subject in question.  Since this research depends largely upon a willingness of the public to surrender an afternoon or even a few minutes to answer questions which they may be unable to answer cogently (see Malcolm Gladwell's full work, Blink), the most willing persons taking place in market research, and the most vocal, are certain to be those who come under the heading, 'the squeakiest wheel.'  Thus the newest game of D&D will be one that has been invented almost certainly by persons who were, a) unhappy; and b) lacking for anything better to do.

Never in the history of man has a popular game been created that shares the kind of reprehensible, irresponsible, random, stumbling, injudicious history that D&D has had.  It's all rather ... impressive in its way.  We're all overwhelmed, are we not, by the extent of the idiocy that has been incorporated these past decades.  Yes, its been 40 years since the invention of the game that needs more rules.

I'm as guilty as anyone, as I add more rules every week.

Perhaps that is the point.  Perhaps the personal satisfaction we truly receive from playing the game is that it is all a sort of Calvin Ball, satisfying our need to drink from the cup of our own egos rather than adhere to a format that constrains our so-called inventiveness.

Drink up, then.  Happy anniversary.




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