Monday, January 19, 2015


We say that change sucks.  Yet everyday I see evidence of people seeking out and embracing change - something, anything, to invigorate themselves, knock back the ennui, making this Monday night or that Sunday afternoon less dismal and ordinary.  It is only that we don't think of it as change.  We call it doing something new or having a 'break.'

Yet every time we see a new movie, try a new restaurant, make the tandoori chicken with a dash of curry or end something (usually with relief), we are making a change.  Incrementally, we're attempting to inject something into our experience that we feel is missing or getting rid of something that we have to admit isn't working.  Granted, most of the time the change is a failure.  The movie doesn't meet our expectations.  The service in the restaurant bites.  As it happens, curry and tandoori is a bad idea.  Change is often disappointing.  Yet it is nothing near as bad as not changing.

The reason for change having such a bad reputation comes from change that's forced upon us.  We don't mind taking up a project to rebuild the bathroom as much as we mind having to replace the bathroom floor because the toilet crapped out on us.  When we decide to move across the country to begin that great job, we're happy; when our friends do it, that chokes.

Examine these two experiences and you'll find the two camps on either side of anything.  There are role-players who were waiting for something new, something that would change their lives because they needed the change.  The game as it was left them with a feeling of melancholy.  Even though 4e hadn't been around very long, it was tandoori mixed with curry and for some, playing the game that way produced a edition fatigue that didn't break until 5e was released.

For others, the change has had all the appeal of getting a phone call saying a favourite uncle was hit by a bus.  They didn't want something new and they didn't need it.  Now that it's here and in their face, they have to deal with it and fuck, who wants that?  To make it all worse, every voice proclaiming the new as "great!" and "wonderful!" sounds like a campaign for more pedestrians being hit by more buses.

I go back to the change I made when I started this blog.  Coincidentally, the first post I wrote was May 28, 2008, 9 days before the release of the 4e Player's Handbook, the 6th of June.  So for a breath of time this blog existed in a 3rd Edition world.  Or more to the point, when I started this blog, I was only two editions behind.

Today I am four.

Yet the mindset I had when I began this blog was never to preach the superiority of AD&D.  I remember clearly that discovering other blogs on the general subject of role-playing inspired me to write my own, and in writing my own to pitch my gaming philosophy to the public.  I already knew the strange, certain to be unpopular perspective that was going to be.  I had been preaching my views privately for a long time, whenever I could find a conversation about role-play in a non-internet world. From those first few years it was explained to me by other DMs and by players that I was "out there," asking for and expecting to receive a kind of game that no one was prepared to deliver.  Except, of course, me.

As oddly self-promoting as this anecdote is, I remember a conversation in 1987 (or thereabouts) with a friend, Mike.  This is the same Mike I spoke about in this post back in 2009.

Mike had been running in my world since High School.  I was telling him that I'd decided to quit being part of the community, that attending game cons in the city had begun to depress me and that no, I wasn't going to run any more tournaments.  Mike was concerned about that, concerned about my turning my back on the community because of what that might do to me.  He had experienced some bouts with depression in his own life and he associated separation with denial, despondency and the threat of suicide.  I was 23 at the time and Mike was 21 - it seems to me at that young age that the subject of suicide seemed to come up a lot.

On top of worrying about my separation from the community, he argued with me for several hours about what I was taking away from other people.  Keep in mind that I was still running my campaign and that I hadn't intended to quit doing that - but from Mike's perspective, I could only run my campaign for a few people, whereas the contribution I could give to the community was a lot more.  At the time, Mike was closely connected with one of the organizers of the local city, a fellow named Woody that I knew and been acquaintances with off-and-on since '82.  Woody and I had never seen eye-to-eye, but each year when the convention was set up Woody would call me and ask me to come be one a tournament DM.  I'd do it, but I'd hate it, since it meant running the game in a way I didn't like - a hated way that I have been on about in this blog many times.

In the middle of that heated, lengthy, somewhat ungracious argument between Mike and I, he told me that I ran the best world he had ever known.  This is the self-promoting part of the tale.  I had never been told that before, by anyone, and I respected Mike.  He was never the sort to blow smoke up anyone's ass; there's a reason we were friends, we were straight with each other.  In the way I have that tends to piss off some people.  So I did believe him; but I never considered his opinion to matter much in the bigger scheme of things because Mike was a friend; of course he understood me.  That did not mean very much where it came to the vast majority.

I did turn my back on the community (I already had, months before Mike and I went round and round that afternoon).  I turned my back on the community for 22 years; I didn't step back in until I started this blog.

Where the response has been predictable.  Some of you get me.  Some of you have ranked me on the same scale Mike did.  You were looking for answers, you were ready for a change.  You like a straight talker.  When I trash something you've held dear for years, you nod your heads and admit, yes, that always has bit.  You just couldn't see how to fix it.

And some of you don't get me.  You're not looking for answers and my sort of approach to this makes you feel defensive about things you've adjusted and adapted to, right or wrong.  It isn't so much that I'm forcing a change on you, it is only that I'm arguing vehemently that a change is possible and necessary.  Hearing that makes you unhappy.

I wish I could say I was a miserable asshole because I was out of the community and that made me mean and contentious.  Unfortunately, I left the community because I was mean and contentious and that made relations between me and other people disappointing.  I got sick of throwing content at people who were happy with things as they were - those being the days when I and the existing edition were contemporary.  I wasn't behind at all.  I was a long way ahead, however.

I wanted change, right from the beginning.  I just didn't want the change we got.  And as I grew out of touch with the corporate agenda that spat out 2nd edition and then 3rd, I dug into other communities with other agendas and made their lives unhappy by insisting on other changes that other people did not want to make.  Because that is my nature.  I am always looking for change - even the bad sort, because very often those changes that are forced on us make us better people.

I'm afraid of change just as much as anyone.  I can't praise fear, however.  Fear has to be hated.  And for me, contentment and complacency are just another form of fear, a comfortable form, where time passes and things don't get better for anyone.

I quit the community in '86 because it wasn't making my life better.  Here in '15 I stay and fight with the community because it is making my life better.  That's because thirty years ago I had no control, whereas here I have plenty.  Here it's been given to me in exchange for writing and writing and writing.

Thank you, everyone.  And thank those of you who feel as Mike did - but my quality or your quality doesn't mean shit if it isn't a better quality tomorrow than it is today.  That's my philosophy.  Change is good.  I hate that for most people it has had to come in the form of another edition . . . but really, the more editions out of the company, the better.  Increasing that number can only reduce the value of ANY edition.

That will only increase the value of the worlds we make ourselves.

1 comment:

Scarbrow said...

Here's a cheer and a raised glass of spirits (the good kind) for continued change.

I'm now two generations behind too. Feeling a little bit old, y'know? But then, good design (and even more, good design principles) never die. To the drawing board!