Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The Number

Hm.  Seems to be I am without anything to say on how a DM might better manage their game.

Some years ago, I remember there being a series of arguments - not just here, but elsewhere in other blogs - about whether or not a DM could be 'made.'  In effect, there was a side of the argument that insisted that DM's were born, not made.  If an individual didn't happen to be a good DM, well, too bad.

Did we really have those arguments?  Oh well.  I suppose that being a DM is overwhelming; that it is enough just to handle what's going on; that the expectation of becoming 'better' seems an unfair challenge.  "Isn't it enough that I'm doing it?  I have to be better, too?"

I am unquestionably a better DM today than I was 9 months ago.  My games are better focused, we get more done, the players interrupt for irrelevant observations less and there seems to be a stronger desire to participate and become more conscious of the game's purpose.  The same is true of both campaigns, because I have changed.  My exhaustion seems reduced, my concern about the game has lessened before I start and even the drop I feel afterwards has lightened.  I'm glad for the change.

It is part of my looking at a lot of things differently.  For example, other blogs on gaming.  Oh, they still don't interest me, they're still largely caught up with re-inventing the wheel.  But they do seem to have changed their focus.  A lot of the old blogs that were their six years ago are long gone.  With them has gone much of the fetishistic approach to gaming - perhaps because there are less people who remember the 1970s.  Perhaps because the collectors have finally sapped their collections, leaving them with nothing to post.  Perhaps become 'collections' have become passe.

Much of the content I read now seems concerned with the future.  The write about what they plan to do or what they're trying to do.  They highlight their specific game.  There's also a greater concern with the artistic side of it - a lot less of showing what some other artist drew in 1981 and a lot more of what look at what I drew today.  This is all positive change.  It encourages me.

Arduin made a comment a couple of posts back where he talked about fanatical young people being super into things.  Thank gawd for fanatical young people.  They don't care about how it was done or why it used to be done that way and they really don't give a crap about corporations, tradition or bottom lines.  They love jumping in and doing things their way and they're only sensitive about when they're physically restrained from doing something.  They're not afraid of the internet.  They know that words alone, written by someone thousands of miles away, are not a threat.

I think we should realize that a lot of the old arguments that used to plague the role-playing blogosphere were created by old gamers bringing their old shit from isolated play and isolated convention chatter onto the internet.  These were guys - and a few women - whose mindset wasn't built by the internet, but by high school and college, which they attended in a time when there was no internet.  When the shared opinion of 15 people wasn't challenged - except by that one dude no one liked, who thankfully quit playing after one session.

We forget how obstinate and bigoted those little cliques were back in '85 and '95.  We forget how two or three personalities dominated and pushed around everyone else, making policy and declaring who was a 'good' artist and who didn't make the cut, what was a 'good' module and what was shit.  Who was there to disagree?

All those cliques were set to clash with the beginning of the interet.  All the opinions that had been created by Dragon Magazine; all the messages sent through the materials direct from the company; all the habits and rules set by the Old Guard (and they're syncophants) about what the game had been or was meant to be or should have been or was changed from being . . . all that was set to dump itself onto the public forum like so much dogma that had never been vetted, dissected or debated.

Then the internet went ahead and did its thing.

This is not the first time that I've written about this.  I did only three months ago.  I am recently fascinated by the separation of things by time - and I am not alone.  The idea behind xkcd's chart has been running in my head for years now.

My favorite?  George Harrison's tribute to John Lennon, All Those Years Ago, released in 1981, came eleven years after the end of the Beatles.  Thirty-four years ago.  "All those years" don't seem like very many.

I digress.  I mean to say that there are an increasing number of participants in D&D who have never met Gary Gygax and care.  There is an increasing number who have never experienced a role-playing environment where two or three tyrants, ideologues, had the final word on the principles by which the game ought to be played.  There is an increasing number who aren't afraid to share on the internet, who aren't afraid to steal or break or change or fix whatever doesn't suit them.  There is an increasing number raised on game cheats, self-made apps, workarounds, personal social commentary and having thousands of opinions at their fingertips.

This number does not care about the past.  They only care about what they can get, what it will do for them and how soon they can start.

Gawd love 'em.


JB said...

That's an awesome chart.

I'm torn. It irritates me to no end the ignorance of younger folks who blithely ignore (or don't care about) what has gone before. It reminds me of Huxley's Brave New World or something.

But I suppose I'm old, and doomed to be swept away by the younger generation anyway.

Ray Doraisamy said...

I would just like to say that I love this post. The thousands of gaming experiences, systems, and idiosyncracies that I have had access to are a major part of what I love about the game.

Scott Driver said...

"Thank gawd for fanatical young people. They don't care about how it was done or why it used to be done that way and they really don't give a crap about corporations, tradition or bottom lines."

Young people, bright and dull, are prime marks for indoctrination. They're pleasantly willing to reject the mainstream but unpleasantly willing to become the most close-minded and shrill doctrinaires for truly stupid "outsider" causes. There's a reason that cults hand out their lit on college campuses.

Most teens (like most "rebels") are reactionaries, not rebels. Visceral reaction against tradition is the opposite of not caring about it.

We need more skeptical teens, not fanatical ones.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Conflation, Scott.

Alexis Smolensk said...

I just mean, I'm not very concerned about D&D players.

Scott Driver said...

"I just mean, I'm not very concerned about D&D players."

Goodness, would you really paint D&D players as outside-the-box non-doctrinaires? The folks who gave rise to From the Sorcerer's Scroll, Sage Advice, and the OSR?

(Again, probably conflation, as you meant people who actually play the game.)

You have the good fortune/design to have players and a daughter with an acceptable level of skepticism and cognition, but you might have some availability bias, particularly since you were a bright iconoclastic kid.

You remember what most people in high school were like, you've posted about it ...

(And I think your main irritants were how athletics were rewarded over intellectualism, where I still seethe over class issues.)

I think it's a fairly small percentage of D&D players who question the default assumptions about the game. It may be better than in the mass culture analogs, but it's never seemed that much better.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Ah, but my point is that the 'default assumptions' are shifting from company/small group to the whole internet.

I do expect D&D players to continue to accept the default assumptions - but what will those be now?

Algol said...

The default assumptions have definitely shifted I would say. My group has an average age of 25 and there are three main differences I've seen when compared to playing with older GM's and players.

The first one is yes, the internet. People getting into d&d never ask what books, modules, or magazines they should get. They always ask what forums and blogs give good advice. There's a sort of unspoken assumption that any pre-made adventures or rules are either given for free or "internet free" on the pirate bay. The size of someones physical collection seems tied to their age, not just due to the detritus of buying books building up, but due to the idea that "d&d costs only as much as you want it to, there's no real reason to EVER spend money on the hobby." Things like game mats and dice are viewed as more important to buy than rulebooks are. Cause hey, you can have the basic rules explained to you and it's somewhere for free on the internet if you look hard enough.

the second is that I've never seen someone under 25 say a d&d game is supposed to go like a book. Movies seem to be a bigger influence on younger folks but the biggest change is video games. I know a lot of people like to say how terrible this is. The main way I see d&d explained to new people though is "It's like skyrim but 100% more realistic, way more depth and it's more open ended. D&D is what sandbox rpgs wish they were."
Every gm I've met who started running in the 90's runs brutally railroaded adventures with dull game mechanics so it's a welcome change to compare it to video games rather than a novel.

The third big change I've seen is an embrace of collaboration between GM and players when deciding setting details. Aside from the concept of a zero session, there's that players assume if they bring a point up, as long as it's not conflicting with canon, it'll be considered by the GM. It's hard to explain but it's the idea that the player can bring outside knowledge into the game such as "I read some cool goblin lore on the net where goblinoids are born without teeth so they jam bits or rock or humanoid teeth into their gums. So could my goblin replace his teeth with shards of iron?" It is a bit "uppity" compared with the idea of GM's having 100% control of setting details like that. The degree varies but younger players seem to come with the assumption that players will have a degree of input into the setting with their ideas at least being considered.

This wanting to have a degree of input into the gm's world comes in large part from a simple fact. People under 30 are currently the most highly educated generation in american history. ime, when a player calls bullshit on something the gm is doing they often have taken classes on the matter and are very willing to speak with authority on it. It naturally ends with players having "spheres of influence" on things with the pre-med major somewhat seizing control when he describes what the herbs the party has do in the real world. Or the guy with a comp sci degree half creating the computer security for the ship in a sci fi game. That higher ratio of people with some higher education leads to a greater willingness to speak with authority on subjects during player/gm disputes.

I'm fairly optimistic about the state of role playing. Newcomers to the hobby are open to new styles, to experimentation. A copy of ad&d got shown around once. There was respect for it but when someone brought up playing it, we grew increasingly uneasy reading it(We could barely make sense of the rules and the drunkard organization didn't help) and somewhere around race/class limitations and "Why are all gnomes illusionists?" the phrase "This is dogshit." was used.

Alexis Smolensk said...


My book How to Run has 'modifying the game for players/DMs' as one of its principle themes.

I'm encountering the same arguments you describe. And I think it is great!