Thursday, July 31, 2014

Retrospective, August 2010

I had it suggested to me by my partner Tamara that I should 'recover' some of the posts I wrote in years past, in some manner that highlights not just that they were written, but how I feel about them now. I suggested that on the first day of every month I could highlight those posts that had been written throughout the month four years previously. Thus, as it is August 1st, I should write about those posts I wrote in August, 2010. Well, why not?

That month I wrote a 4,000 word post on Theology that is certainly among my longest at the time. This was part of the Civilization Posts that I was still writing.  Naturally, I overwhelmed the reader with anything so long and so involved, but the three comments I received were supportive. I haven't much to add; the article needs more examples and needs to quote its source material and would probably be ten times as long if I sat down and rewrote it a thesis.  It also needs references to D&D throughout the post, not just at the end; but then, how interested are people in truly understanding what is behind the religions they invoke in their worlds.

I'm sure I just read this post from Caffeinated Symposium a couple days ago about how religions need to be more about knowledge and community structure than one-paragraph descriptions of gods.  Dave Cesarano makes a good point and it's definitely worth reading the article.

August 2010 was the month those Chilean miners were trapped underground, and I wrote a post about playing in pitch darkness, Gaming Under Duress.  The comments seemed to suggest that I am not alone in thinking of ways to play in order to pass the time.  I have led people through spontaneous games during camping trips, long-distance drives and occasionally while working with them at less-than-interesting jobs.  Imagination is a game that can be played anywhere.

I wrote some of my reasons for why I don't let people buy or sell magic in my post, Ewoks with Napalm, forever a contentious issue.  One of my offline players, upon hearing the possibility of making a vintage wine in large quantities that could heal hit points, immediately annoyed me by exclaiming, "Imagine what I could sell that for!"

This brings to mind three scenarios.  The first, if the wine can be sold very easily, then there ought to be tons of it at the market, depreciating the price and more or less making it worthless to sell, or even to bother making.  Why would a player make magic wine if magic wine is available cheap at the grocery store?

Secondly, if its not easy to sell, because its expensive, then why would a grocer buy it to sit on his shelf where it's not going to easily find a buyer, while at the same time is a screaming sign for thieves to break in and rob the place?  It's always interesting to me that the players walk into a perfectly ordinary shop, drop 5,000 gold for a magic ring and the proprietor is like, "Sure, I keep it right here next to the hair gel," because obviously there's no need for a place like this to have the sort of security Tiffany's jewelry possesses.  There are only about a dozen non sequiturs there.  Does the state really sanction this shop to sell off magic potions and swords and wands without feeling any compulsion to control the distribution of magic for the sake of retaining authority?  I guess not.

Finally, how exactly does the shop keeper ensure that every bottle of 200 is in fact 'magical'?  How does the buyer ensure quality control?  Even if we assume everyone in the kingdom is born with a magic tooth that let's them detect magic at will, how do we know that THIS bottle's magic actually heals hit point and doesn't just make hair a little softer and bouncier?  We surely can't count on identify magic, because even if you have the spell you need to above 4th level before it gets to be reliable.

I'm not going to pay 40 g.p. for a 'magical' bottle of wine when I don't know if it works or not.  Sure, the store owners in video games may be perfectly honest, all the time, but my world just doesn't work that way.  If there's a way to scam someone, a scam will be managed - and a whole population will have experience with the scam, meaning they won't trust anyone when it comes to buying magic.

So why do I sell healing salves at the apothecaries if all of the above is true?  Pity.  I sympathize with a party's desire to stay alive.  I'm not going to let a party manipulate that sympathy into easy bucks, though.  Push too hard on my good nature and that good nature evaporates.

In August I wrote four posts on Duty - Intro, Society, Self and what I called 'The Flow.'  Pretty heady stuff, a bit preachy, all on role-playing and interaction between the DM and the Player.  Funny, I don't find it much reflects the content of the Advanced Guide I've just released; the last one does, however, make allusions to recent events.  Curious how that always seems to happen.

Those posts didn't get much attention - or rather, they didn't receive much feedback.  I've read through them and I find the thinking a bit scattered.  I was struggling to nail down where the responsibility in gaming lies, towards others, towards ourselves, in our behaviour and in what we deserve to respect or the respect we deserve to be given.  It's a difficult subject.  I handled it better in How to Run, albeit very differently, as I approached the subject more from the point of view that we're not in as much control over our actions as we'd like to me.  Research done since those duty articles has taught me that I'm fighting uphill against issues that are hard to isolate and manage even as they're happening.  In 2010, I gave no attention at all to stress.

And, too, those were coming after an abusive and unforgiving post I wrote, one that still gets a bit of attention, Creativity and Breast Feeding.  Ah, Alexis.  Will you never change?

That's one of those posts that probably lost me the approval that I've gained with posts like The Great RPG, where the comments call me 'sensei' and 'fucking brilliant.'  There's no question in my mind that the hardest, most galling thing about me as a writer is that I will, one moment, shake a person down to their core with something they wholly agree with, then piss on all their loves and dearly held beliefs the next gawddamned day.  Most of the time, I don't do this intentionally, though that only makes it worse. It helps feed the theory that I must be psychotically unaware that I've only just made someone like me, and now I'm making someone hate me.  Jeez, don't I get that?

I suppose I do.  Thing is, I'm not your sensei or your worst critic - I'm just a guy who is taking the data and compiling it as I see it.  Then I'm writing it down in the way that makes the most sense to me, at the time.  Like a scientist, the last thing I'm concerned about is the 'comfort' level of the material. No matter what I write, some people are going to really like it and some people are not.  Sometimes, two days apart, these two extremes will be felt by the same people.

We're all pretending to understand this game - and in a wider sense, the whole system.  We're all doing our best with the material.  I happen to be in love with the material, more in love with it than I am with myself.  This has made me into a sort of dangerous, thought-spewing robot without any morality or sensibility to the sufferings or emotional dogma of others.  Made worse by my willingness to abuse the shit out of the reader in order to make my point.  Which I will do because if I make my point lightly, it will be viewed lightly.

Looking back at the August posts, I see I had readers who commented then but who never comment now.  So it goes.  I know you're still reading me.  I know you're there, I know you're grinding your teeth and I know you won't comment now because, well, it's personal, isn't it?  That's fine.  My numbers go up.  My books apparently sell, much to my appreciation for those of you who are willing to let me in yet again.  I'm grateful for that.

Still a lot left to write yet, however.  There always is.


Arduin said...

I dearly miss the Civ posts, just to mention. I was super looking forward to unit and improvement descriptions, to say nothing of how frequently I've gone over the tech posts in the past.

That aside, I'd say the blogs' rapid apparent shift in tones from day to day is something I've just sort of come to expect. It's part of why I check each morning: I have no idea when you're going to find something worth writing about, and therefore no idea when something worth reading and discussing is going to come into view either.

It's certainly never boring, comments or no.

Scarbrow said...

I think Tamara's a great idea. I've personally seen your progress over the past years, your changing style, how you've (almost impossibly) deepened your coverage of the topics you write about. Your reviews of past topics may offer interesing insights on how your viewpoint has changed.

I will suggest two things:
1) Linkback from the reviewed post to the post reviewing it, plus the whole "Retrospectives" label
2) A link to "Retrospectives" a little more visible on the right column. I think in time they will become a very valuable resource, for a blog with such a deep archive.