Wednesday, March 14, 2018


As I write this, the number of pages that have been transferred on the wiki has now reached 437.  This is not bad for work that began on February 20th.  That's 22 days.

More than 200 of those pages have been straight up spell descriptions.  Much of the balance has been sage fields and studies.  But I have a considerable number of pages remaining ... and as I proceed, I am stunned at the amount of material I've been able to accumulate ~ just as I'm surprised that I launched the wikispaces wiki as long ago as 2011.  Somehow, it doesn't seem like six years.

I try to relate this experience of building a wiki to the first six years of my playing D&D, between 1979 and 1985.  Back then, I could never have imagined a project on this kind of scale.  I was still scrambling then, learning how to play, full of doubts about everything I started ... and constantly throwing out material and starting again, because nothing seemed to work, nothing satisfied.  Not that I cared.  I was so happy to be working at the process, blissfully ignorant that all the work I would do in those days would be nothing more than practice for the work I do now.

Practice is a funny thing.  Look back at the 2,500+ posts on this blog and think about how each post represents an hour of my life; and then think how this is only the start of the time I've spent writing since this blog began in 2008, adding in books, some of which are meant to be finished, some which will never be finished.

Add to that the 300 paid-for freelance articles I wrote for real estate magazines between 2001 and 2009, along with the article-a-week I wrote for five years for the business magazine I worked for between 2004 and 2009.  There's 600 hours of writing, plus 1,200 hours of research ... and that takes no account of the freelance writing that was never bought and paid for, or the work I did for myself in those years, that no one ever read, because it was never put up on a blog for examination.

So what does that come to ... about 6,000 hour of writing that I can account for between 2001 and the present.  I'll let the reader roll that around for a moment.

Think on this.  I began to write for my own pleasure in 1976.

I have no idea how much time I've spent writing.  I was published first in a school magazine in '82 ... and then here and there as a runner-up for insignificant writing contests throughout the 80s.  I didn't get any real notice until I started writing for the university newspaper in 1988 ... and then I wrote two or three articles, op ed pieces or reviews for four years.  I got some freelance work after university, started a couple of Zines, small-circulation self-published magazines that we distributed around coffee houses in the city.  I wrote virtually all the content for those, between 12 and 15 pages worth, whatever I could think of fill pages.

Okay, I'm sorry.  I've been going on for too long and I'm just hammering the anvil at this point.  I'm trying to explain that most of that time, right up to time spent on this blog, has all been practicing.  Most of all that writing isn't worth showing to anyone, ever.  I threw out about two hundred pounds of writing just a couple years ago.  It had only one value: that doing all that then makes it possible for me to do what I do now.

Now, think on this.  I have spent more time working on my D&D world than I have spent writing.  Granted, they are often the same thing ~ one feeds the other.  But with map-making, table-making, drawing dungeons, running the game, whatever ... it has been uncounted thousands of hours since I discovered this game in 1979.

Those first six years, working on the game was like a fever.

I drew scores of maps just like this, once.

If sometimes I sound recalcitrant, or doubtful, or resistant to a "new" idea, I can only explain that it's not a new idea and I've tried it ... or at least, something very like it.  Once upon a time, before many of a reader was born, I tried alignment.  I tried hit location.  I tried weapon-defense mechanics.  I tried mega-dungeon making.  I tried most everything that I've ever condemned on this blog (with the exception of stat arrays; jeez, who would need to?); or I've slimmed it down so tight that it doesn't need further examination.

Take this new fad, "session zero."  This is nothing more than introducing a player to the campaign and rules of a campaign.  On a need-to-know plan ~ what does a player really need to know in order play in my game ~ I can do this in about five minutes.  Or less.  If you're the kind of player that can't adapt to "not knowing" stuff that doesn't need to be known, or shouldn't be known, I don't need to cater to you; I need to move you along.  You're in the wrong place.

I don't couch this compulsion to make the game inclusive; I can't afford the time to run everybody.  I just need enough people to make up my game ... and after thousands and thousands of hours spent in practicing my craft, I can either entice those people into my game right up front, or convert them from the thinking they've acquired from DMs who have practiced only a few hundred hours.

I mean to disparage no one.  Nor to make anyone despair.  I was lucky when I started.  There was no one around who could claim to have played for thirty or forty years.  Starting just five years after the invention of the game, in a climate where so few people played, it was easy to feel as entitled as anyone to "knowing how to play."  It is a lot harder now ... with old horses like me around, carping on our time spent ... it's almost necessary to say to oneself, "Fuck him, what does he know."

I get that.  But if you are starting, and you have only a few years behind you, with one or two thousand hours to your credit, realize that this is all just practice for you.  You're a long, long way from really understanding what you can add to the game, or what the game means.

There's a lot more here than you can begin to fathom.


Charles Taylor (Charles Angus) said...

> But if you are starting, and you have only a few years behind me, with one or two thousand hours to your credit, realize that this is all just practice for you.

Humbling, but true. Good to be reminded.

Alexis Smolensk said...

That should have read, "you only have a few years behind you ..." My fault. Sometimes I wonder about this muscle memory thing, where I think "you" and my hands type "me." Is it early Alzheimer's. My father has fallen prey to it now. Perhaps it is coming for me.

Ozymandias said...

One can only pray that that is not the case.

Zilifant said...

Great stuff, Alexis. It made me think of one of my current gaming groups, in which I stepped aside as DM for a while because another member wanted to try his hand at it. I like the person very much, but with only a few dozen hours of practice under his belt, the sessions are painful to play in. Any thoughts or advice on how we can be supportive of new DMs and provide them the opportunity to improve their craft through practice, while at the same time not sacrificing everyone's limited gaming time sitting through these painful sessions? I think it's different when both players and DM are learning for the first time together, but when you have experienced players in a game being run by a noob DM, it can be a challenging dynamic.

Alexis Smolensk said...


The issues of starting out as a DM are enormous, meaning that there has to be a lot of support from the more experienced players. These can't be concerned with their "limited gaming time;" they must view the "painful"ness of sessions from a charitable stance, seeking a different kind of compensation than the privilege to play ~ helping out a fellow human, for example.

I would suggest the new DM set a different time of the week for shorter sessions, with players who are prepared to sacrifice their short-term fun for long-term reward. Sowing crops is never fun; it's done for the harvest, that comes later; and the best participants for a new DM's game are those who understand that equation most perfectly.

Zilifant said...

Thank you Alexis. I think viewing these sessions as an investment in a friend and fellow gamer will give me a different perspective as we play. I appreciate your thoughtful response!