Saturday, January 12, 2019

Three Writers

Today I would like to share three great posts with you from three great writers in the role-playing blog genre, each of whom is on a quest for answers, not self-aggrandizement. Each of these three writers tries to take the game and the culture apart just as I do. I’d like to push them into your attention because they deserve the recognition for the work they’re doing: asking and addressing questions.

Being who I am, I’m not showcasing these people because I think it’s my responsibility to give what I can to others. That shit is bullshit. I’m pushing these people because I read them and I mostly agree with them, their battles and their ideas. And I think you ought to agree with them also. They are all readers of this blog from the same motives.

The first is JB of B/X Blackrazor. Recently he wrote an excellent post called We Don’t Care, challenging role-playing beliefs that characters need backstories, family, allies, enemies, all of that. His argument is firmly founded in the D&D game version that he supports wholeheartedly, that’s in his blog’s title. Death happens, people. That’s why we don’t get involved with characters at 1st level, we get involved with them when they’ve lived some.
“Playing D&D is not the theater. I have no need to understand my character’s background or motivation because I am not acting out a script and I am not reading someone else’s lines."
“Playing D&D is not about delivering an “authentic performance;” that isn’t the objective of game play. The objective is to have one’s character survive and thrive in the imaginary environment provided by the DM. And if the DM is pressing the players hard, providing situations that make survival difficult and thriving complicated, then the player is likely to experience the immersive type of game play that is unavailable in any other medium, outside of certain “First Person Shooter” games (and those only provide a similar experience in a limited, restricted sense). When players experience this type of game play, all the pseudo-storytelling write-ups in the world have little impact on how a PC behaves.”

This is a little understood truth about modern gaming that is not being vouched for by the company and is thus completely missed by thousands of players. D&D is a GAME … not a script. It is only about the character insofar as that character lives and breathes and has actual motivations in the world. Just as we live and breathe. Real life isn’t a script either. Most of us don’t imagine ourselves “role-playing” when we’re talking to our family and friends, going out for a beer, figuring out how not to confess something to the boss or asking the librarian to find us the book we want. When we do this for REAL, we’re invested in a lot more than what words or emotions we express when we ask for that book ~ we just want the book. We want to get past that thing with the boss and we want to relax over a beer as we bitch about the Seahawk’s last season. We’re not play-acting, like kids pretending to play house ~ we’re actually running real lives that produce real challenges to our survival and success. D&D isn't fun because we get to play nonsense characters with nonsense motivations; it’s fun because the challenges get to be HUGE, with world-shaking consequences and enormous triumphs.

JB hits all these beats bang on with his post and as a reader of the game, you’re starving yourself in the desert if you don’t go read his post and take something away with you.

Next, I’d like to bring your attention to Simon T. Vesper’s blog, ‘Crossing the Verse. I’m going ahead and out him here, as he’s already done it several times, and point out that he posts comments on this blog as Ozymandias. He’s been pounding out posts seriously on his blog since April 2017 and he’s really beginning to hit his stride; if you read his blog last year, go read it again. He’s stepped up his game and the posts are well worth reading.

Not too long ago, in November, he published On my disdain for the popular, a post he built on Innuendo Studios video about Phil Fish [link in Simon’s post]. Simon connects the argument made there about Nickelback, which we all hate, with the iconic footprint of the now much-lauded Critical Role … and does so brilliantly.

He patiently deconstructs exactly why, if Critical Role was your campaign being played out, it would suck. It would be boring. It would be frustrating.
“Eventually, ‘something’ happens. The players spend time doing ‘research.’ Amateur. Fucking amateur. I’m still waiting on anything that’s even remotely interesting. And not just as an audience member: as a player, I would be bored to tears. The wizard ~ a fucking wizard, someone who has spent literally years of his life in academia ~ knows fucking nothing about local politics or about the composition of a random bookstore. Like, this character should have taken one look at the interior of the shop and gone, ‘Yeah, there’s nothing here that will help me,’ and turned around and left. And that’s on the DM. ‘You see these books, you see the shopkeeper, you see the content and you’re like, ‘Deuces!'‘ And there’s a tiefling . . . rogue? bard? something like that . . . who does the ever-so-clich├ęd, ‘I mess with the library’s filing system,’ never mind the fact that there’s no way to physically do that without catching the shopkeeper’s eye because he’s there every damn day and what’s the likelihood that anyone is going to enter this shop, ever? Oh, but because it’s a skill check and you roll really freaking high, you get to do something that is literally impossible. All for the LOLz!”

Sure, I get that there are some people who do play games for the lolz. There are also trolls in the world who randomly decide to SWAT girls on the internet and think it’s really funny to build phone scamming programs that shut down city hospitals. Fucking around with skill checks is just the lazy version of dumbfuck horseplay for people who aren’t ambitious enough to be truly heinous … and for anyone who actually loves the game, they’re toxic, miserable shit-heels that aren’t wanted.

But on YouTube, they’re celebrities. Because, hey, they’re not bothering anyone.

Simon breaks it down piecemeal with a patient, self-reflective voice that is becoming his persona ~ really hating something but cognizant enough to question why he really hates it and if he should really hate it. As a reader you owe it to yourself to follow through his logic structures here and on other posts, to get to the same places you want to go.

Last, we have the inefficaciously named “Drain” of Cruel & Unusual Punishment. Drain is a patient, methodical writer and a thinker with a very sharp Occam’s edge to his ideas and arguments. I know him a little better as one of the players in my online Juvenis campaign, but the writing of his blog, though sparse (25 posts last year) is patient and principled. His latest post at the time of this writing was Rules Musings – Restrictive Skill Checks, a title that belies the viciousness of the post.

I loved this; Drain takes a hatchet, then a scalpel to the permissiveness of 5th edition rules that are designed to let any character do anything, regardless of their class or supposed limitations. It is an indictment of the first order against the game design of the company, as it has evolved D&D into a sludge of entitlement and license to side-step even the largest of obstacles.
“A prospective reading of the AD&D ruleset to learn how it handled tracking brought along an eye-opener: barring any optional rules, only Rangers were allowed to track, period. DnD was ever a game to shine the light on niche protection, which makes sense if one wants a disparate ensemble of characters to be able to contribute to more than just the swelling of the party’s number and have the group coalesce into something greater than the sum of its parts; But whereas this was once enforced by some rather draconian (if arguably justified) strictures, with swathes of gameable content both accessed or walled off by a party’s play skill and the composition of its membership, the mainline currents of today’s no player left behind push for zero wasted “content” and are quite anxious that no detail, area, challenge or interaction be out of reach or missed amid the shuffle, so that a party should never fret for its lack of specialists: no one’s life is hanging in the balance, everything is perfectly and safely cordoned towards bringing you a warm, linear and comfy play experience.”

He continues thereafter into a breakdown of skill sets that players have, in an attempt to define categories as a means of avoiding the terror rabbit hole of trying to itemize every conceivable skill that any character in the game might possess. I confess, for anyone except the craziest person imaginable (and I have no idea who that might be, wink wink), it is far more practical to see skills in groups rather than the alternative. Drain presents his argument here not as a final solution, but as a guideline that might lead in that direction.

And this is the goal, I think, for anyone who wants to produce sound material about role-playing games and D&D. The answers that some of us want don’t exist out here on the frontier; they haven’t been built yet. We are doing no more than asking questions, just as questions were asked about any academic or worthwhile subject that has presented itself to human kind. Drain ends his post with the recognition that for the most part, though we ask, we don’t really expect an answer. There is no answer. But the question has to be asked just the same. The mental process has to be laid out. We have to examine what we’re doing here.

Quit reading the stuff you’re wasting your time with and work your way through Drain’s eminently worthy back catalog, taking the time to ask your own questions. That’s where it starts.

I am glad to find that I’m not alone out here with this philosophy.


Ozymandias said...

Truly, I am humbled.

Thank you.

Pandred said...

Nice to see some love shared around.

Drain said...

You've got me all puffed up like a pigeon, Alexis. Shame that most of my doings are equally squab-like.

Still, for today, let it not be said that I didn't say: "Cruuh-cruuh, motherfuckers".