Wednesday, March 20, 2019


A comment I see constantly whenever I look at anyone's post talking about RPG game design or rules is this:
"The problem with [blank] is that it doesn't [blank] when [blank, blank, blank] come into play.  I agree that [blank] is a good starting point, but it is usually too [blank] where it comes to actual game play."

No alternative rule is ever proposed, nor is it usually argued in depth precisely why [blank] doesn't work because of these instances ... and usually, it is completely ignored that, in fact, the solution is painfully obvious, because there are about twenty other rules in the game that apply, that aren't being mentioned here, because: a) the commenter hasn't thought of them; or b) the commenter has never had any idea these other rules exist.

I would guess that at least three-quarters of all the people online discussing D&D at this moment have not actually played in any session in the last year.  I'd say of an eighth of commenters haven't played a game session in the last four years, at least.  And I'd say three-eighths of all commenters have never actually played a game of D&D at all ... with the possible caveat that they bought the books, tried to run, and failed to get the game off their campaign off the ground after that first session.

True, some of those non-players can blame the small town they grew up in, or their age, or a disability.  But judging from the general quality of the advice/arguments that I see, bereft of anything that sounds like an experienced, worldly DM or player discussing the intricacies of the game, I'd have to say that a lot of what we're reading day to day comes from pikers ... a somewhat archaic term for vagrants that wander the pike, or road.

Granted, the proposal I'm making is something of a straw man.  I have no evidence for it, and using it as something to argue with would be a waste of time.  I propose it now strictly to suggest that we should at least be questioning how much of what we're reading is actually coming from people who know anything.

See?  Modern D&D is very rules light.
No one wants to look stupid.  99% of the internet it people talking over their heads in a desperate attempt not to look stupid.  Whenever possible, a human will steal the best argument that can be found, usually something that is just lying around ... like the very common argument that classic D&D has "too many" rules ... even though obviously 3e, 4e and 5e have all dwarfed AD&D in page count, with massive core books of nearly 300 pages supported by splatbook mania.  I'd venture we see this argument stated over and over, however, because it "sounds" rational.  It's generally accepted as true.  And anything that's generally accepted as true is a damn good argument for someone who knows nothing.

I think its interesting to discover that the comments sections of today are filled with pretty much the same "arguments" as those of ten years ago, whether on blogs, boards or reddit.  Someone writes something about rules.  Someone rushes to say that there are too many rules and someone else rushes to explain a rule that doesn't work.  Thus the page fills up with people repeating words that have been repeated ad nauseum for a decade.

I don't have to refute them.  They refute themselves.

Why have none of these arguments spawned any real effect?  I can open a blog page today and read someone arguing that basic D&D is better than present D&D, because of [blank], [blank] and [blank].  I don't even have to fill in the blanks for the reader.  The reader already knows what those blanks are.  We all do.  We've heard it enough.  Okay.  So the argument has been made.  And made.  And for the love of all that's cheesy on the moon, made again.  So tell me what's next.

What's next, apparently, is to wait around for someone to make the same argument again, in all it's glorious nuance, so that it can serve as a springboard for the next writer to come along and make the same argument.

None of these arguments matter because they don't offer a strategy.  They don't offer a "next."  The argument is made, but no one acts upon it in a way that matters.  The most that anyone does ~ looking straight at the OSR movement earlier in the decade ~ is to create some sort of forum or board where the arguments can be made in perpetuity.

I find myself wondering how many of these commenters are invested in making a system work, any system, right now, who have an investment in what they're saying ... and how many have no reason to give a fuck.

I'm sure that a lot of present DMs and players are absolutely full of shit.  I'm sure because I've met them, and they attend every Friday or Saturday night like a South Carolingian Baptist who goes to church every Sunday just to be sure no one assumes ownership of their pew.  But I wonder if we shouldn't at least consider these people, "in the game."

There are an awful lot that just aren't.  And if you haven't thought of it already, it's a damn easy check to sort the pikers out from the citizens.  You only need check their nicks, and see what that tells you:

This is simply a matter of public record.  There's nothing disparaging about it.  This person is a human.  That is what this profile tells us.  And that is all it tells us.

Does this person ~ and let's respect that it is a person, hopefully ~ have a blog?  Have they included any detail about the game they run, or the experience they've had, or their accomplishments?  When they speak in a public forum, and give their opinions, exactly how much weight should we give their opinions?  That is all I'm asking.

Perhaps that's unfair.  Everyone is entitled to an opinion.  Someone's opinion, at least ... whatever was lying around.  But we really should stop and consider what an "opinion" means where it comes to how "informed" someone is, when they make a claim about a rule working or whether or not there are too many rules in any edition of the game.

We should ask, "What do they know about it?"

And give that answer all the due attention it deserves.


Rosenritter said...

I take no issue with the proposal of offering solutions, rather than just pointing out problems, and I agree that there are far too many instances of theorists who don't play. I do however question the logic that a person's relative anonymity should reflect on the worth of their opinions. The simple fact is that a person can blow out air on a blog for years, with less worth than a single succinct reply by another. For my part, I weigh content on two things: one, how it reflects my own experience; two, how the author relates their own. Any two posts devoid of play-test are on equal grounds - some are just more entertaining. But I say that as someome hunting for tools at the table, and I suppose others may habe different goals.

Alexis Smolensk said...

A blog, at least, gives you something upon which to judge the quality of the air they're blowing.

Of course a blank profile might conceal a worthwhile person. But then the question arises ~ why are they satisfied with a blank profile?

I'm merely offering a means for readers on the internet to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Ozymandias said...

I came across one of these blowhards on someone's blog, doing the same thing in the comments, and went for the profile to see what I could see. At first, I was surprised because they had a dozen blogs listed. They were all collections of online game sessions; maybe one dealt with other game-related topics.

But even that serves to give an idea of who the person is and what experience they have. Sure, you have to Wade through the receipts and dissect them to obtain anything worth knowing . . . but at least you have the opportunity.

Sterling said...

Not only is everyone entitled to an opinion, but they're entitled to share it freely. It's up to the listener to separate the wheat from the chaff. The internet makes it so easy to share that there's a lot of damn chaff. In a way, the medium is killing itself, at least as one by which anyone can find rigorous works.

It's as when we were younger, Alexis: popular magazines might give you a hint about something you would want to know more about, but to do the research meant going to peer-reviewed journals for the real thing. One cannot simply survey what laymen and journalists have written to gain a real understanding of the topic.

Tardigrade said...

“Not only is everyone entitled to an opinion, but they're entitled to share it freely.”

Sterling, with respect, I could not disagree more. If the topic of conversation is the best way to build, say, a high performance jet engine, and I have no experience or knowledge in jet engines, materials science, manufacturing methods, fluid mechanics, etc, I am not qualified to have an opinion and I really should keep my yap shut about it.

If the topic of conversation is how to best run a d&d game and I’ve never DMed, have limited experience playing the game, have never studied how to improve the game, don’t understand game design, etc, then, I similarly have no business opening my mouth about it.

That almost no one seems to understand this is one of the problems with the internet. Everyone thinks their completely uninformed opinions are as good as anyone else’s. They’re not. And unfortunately, it appears to be the stupidest people who are the loudest. And they make everyone else stupider by their participation.

Ozymandias said...

There is something different about the internet (and I wonder if we haven't quite understood its relevance): venue matters.

If u were completely unqualified to comment on a topic on this site, I would be wrong to do so. If instead I wish to go to my own site and rant about that tipic, that's my right. Different venues (or forums) have different etiquette and expectations.