Wednesday, May 22, 2019

I am Not in Your Box

Of late, I found the following description of me by Ruprecht on Venger Satanis' blog (found while ego surfing ~ how else?).  He's defining a "Law DM":
"Works hard to develop and codify every possible aspect of the world prior to the game. Example The Tao of D&D who wrote a book about how much hard work should go into preparation."

Wrong.  Completely wrong.

Inevitably, when someone describes what I'm doing with my wiki, they oversimplify to the point of error.  I am not working hard to develop and codify every possible aspect of my game world.  That would be a very stupid thing to do.  Had I a thousand years to do nothing but add to my wiki, from awaking to sleeping, I would not be able to codify "every" aspect of even a small part of my game world.  I don't remotely imagine doing any such thing.

I am codifying aspects of play that are like to give rise to argument or boredom.  That is all.

People argue about how combat works and why it works.  So I'm codifying that.  People argue how abilities and skills work.  So I'm codifying that.  People argue about where monsters come from or what they're capable of doing.  People are vague and frustrated when they don't know where they are or what they can do once they're located there.  People view the world as a gray sludge if every town is the same.  People get bored if the character they're running is exactly like their former three characters.  So where these issues arise, as part of game play, I am codifying in order to heighten and strengthen the game experience, while ridding the moment-to-moment play of as much conflict as is possible with the few decades I have left.

Ruprecht also gives this definition, for a "Chaos DM":
"Appears to do minimal work prior to the game preferring seat of the pants play at the table. Example D&D With Pornstars who wrote more than one module based on tables and things to do at the table to keep things moving."

I guess it's okay to continue to use a liar, a braggart, an apparent abuser and user of women and an internet troll as an example of "chaos."  I can't let that ride.  But ...

As far as I'm concerned, I do "minimal work" when I am DMing.  It is just that I hold myself to a higher standard than the kind of ass-crack product that other so-called lazy self-justifying sluff-merchants consider "minimal."

95% of my game play in any given session is fully and completely by the seat of my pants.  I don't know what any of my NPCs are going to say, because I don't know what questions the players are going to ask.  I don't know what the monsters are going to do when a fight breaks out, because I don't know where the players are going to stand or how they're going to approach.  Just as the players have to play by the seat of their pants because they have no idea what's happening next, I have to play by the seat of my pants because I don't know where the players are going to go or what they're going to decide to do.

Since I play a completely open, non-structured form of play, in any given moment I don't know if a group of players in a town are going to gear up and head for the hills, attack a small crew on the dockside and steal a boat, hammer on the door of an apothecary and ask for information about some concept they heard from some other game that I've never considered, or what.  It stuns me that other DMs don't get this.  I don't know what the players will do next.  How can I know?  I can't read minds, they're not pre-sharing information with me and most of the time, a plan gets presented to me five minutes after the player has concocted it.

Does that mean, because I'm a "Law DM," which is a total bullshit term, that I can tell the players, "Oops, I never thought you would do that, let's adjourn for the night and I'll have something ready for you next week"?

NO, it does not.  It means I've got to dig in and have about twenty logical and rational answers to their rapid-fire questions RIGHT NOW, no waiting, not if I want to keep my game going, and whatever people think, the time I've spent making rules for nutritious food just isn't going to help.  There are too many things that can happen at a game table for anyone to account for them all ahead of time, and that is always the way it is going to be, no matter how many decades I spend writing rules.

And still, people who want to oversimplify DMing, just don't GET that.  And I don't know why.

Or perhaps it is because guys like Venger, a self-declared "Chaos DM," immediately rush to some tiny-brained pre-moduled piece of shit no matter what the players say or do or ask or want information for.  I think that's it, personally, and the reason I think so is because I have played as well as DMed, and I got very, very tired of asking questions that didn't get me answers, or information that wasn't forthcoming, or actions that I tried to take that were stymied by a great fat module that got stuck in my face by a DM who was playing by "the seat of the pants."

Any idiot can run a game world this complicated by the
seat of their pants.
This "seat of the pants" bullshit is rife throughout the table-top game world and is always the go-to argument for every DM who hasn't got something prepared ~ but of course argues that this is fine, because they don't "need" preparation.  Except that they always have a module in front of them, or their world is so flimsy and ramshackle that if a town consists of more than two boards nailed together I haven't seen it yet.  It is easy to play by the "seat of the pants" if the game world is so mickey mouse that the DM thinks it's fine so long as all the merchants are long-winded bores who want to haggle over every product, while all the quest-givers are unbelievably powerful and insistent and won't be put off, no matter what the players want to do.

Yeah, because "seat of the pants" really means, "I haven't got something, so play this that I've got."

But take the time to create a substantive world, one that gives endless inspiration to the PLAYERS, so that they can make up their minds what to do from hundreds of potential choices, that I'm prepared to run no matter what, and right now, off the top of my head, because I live and breathe my world ever gawddamned day like it's a real place, rather than as a monopoly game that I put on the shelf for a week while I do some other fuck thing that has nothing to do with the game because "I don't prepare, I run by the seat of my pants," then clearly I'm the stiff, crusty, inflexible person who dimly thinks it's possible to make a rule about every detail in a world as big as the Actual Earth.

Excuse me if I call bullshit on this one.

Because bullshit is what it is.  Vengers site chews a bunch of shit about what kind of DMs there are, quoting Jeff Reints' old crappy post on the subject and other base theories.

Well I'll tell you what sorts of DMs there are.

Good ones.

And everyone else.

19 comments:

JB said...

Yeah. But the "everyone else" can be further divided into those working on getting better and those willing to stand pat with what they've got.

ruprecht said...

You do massive preparation before the game then parse words about the type of preparation?
The point was about doing work before the session and not doing work before the session.

ruprecht said...

The point was about doing work before the session and doing no work before the session.
You admit to doing the work before the session then parse what’s meant by work and take it as some kind of slight when none was meant.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Except they're not, JB.

They're subdividing themselves into people who are justifying their weaknesses and shortcomings as virtues and strengths ... and then they're propagandizing OTHER people to classify their shortcomings as strengths, so that they're perpetrating an ongoing cycle of self-destructive behaviour that is stealing a decent game experience from hundreds of perfectly innocent people.

D&D is riddled with this excuse culture; and while we're taught to be tolerant of it, for the sake of respecting the motives and feelings of others, turning a blind eye to laziness and rationalizations is NOT the path to enlightenment. And I won't pretend that it is.

I'm going to give you a shock, JB. YOU are a good DM. I've talked to you, I've been given solid, good advice by you face-to-face and you care so deeply on your blog that it hurts ... and whatever concerns you feel about your abilities, you are NOT one of the people I'm talking about.

Don't let yourself identify with them.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Boom, and there it is again Ruprecht: putting me in a box.

You say I do massive preparation. I don't. I don't prepare for the running. You perceive that this is what I'm doing, but you're massively wrong. Nor do I do work "before a session." I do work ALL THE TIME. And except for a map I have to make now and then (online only, because I can't draw it in the moment of the game while the players are watching), there's no immediate preparation that I do for the game except to think about it in advance.

So you're wrong. Again. You're making assumptions about my methodology based on your prejudices. You're making assumptions about how a DM who makes rules "prepares" without actually knowing one damn thing. My book says you should put in hard work, into EVERYTHING ... your presentation, the way you manage your players, the way you break bad habits and make good ones, the creation of the setting, on and on. In my RPG 201 classes I named SEVEN things ~ and preparation was just one of them. You simplify it when you describe it. Because you don't GET it. You shove it into a box so you can skip over it and deliberately not get it.

The slight is in your choice of words. Your gross misidentification of me and your choice to spread that misidentification as though you know who I am or what I'm about. If you had any sense of shame, you'd apologize for using me as an example of your simplistic box.

ruprecht said...

I include everything done prior to the game at the table as preparation. "I do work ALL THE TIME" suggests I'm not far off but you are parsing what prep means.

Doing details on Nutrition so that the players know the rules regarding food is preparation. Your book is about this isn't it? Your wiki is about the rules and world. This sort of prep means players can make informed decisions (I believe you've said so yourself) and all this hard work makes for a better/smoother/more consistent game at the table.

Am I really wrong?

Alexis Smolensk said...

Are you wrong? You are if we're using English as the language and not your personal definition of it.

Preparation; noun; the action or process of making ready or being made ready for use or consideration; something done to get ready for an event or undertaking.

I spend hundreds and hundreds of hours making maps for part of my world where the players will never go. I create products for my trade tables that the players will never buy. I design rules, particularly for the sage tables, that sometimes I'm not sure I'll ever use. When my party is investigating a gate in an underground ice cave, I'm writing rules for how to train men-at-arms. Or I'm reading about economics. Or I'm designing tarot cards. Or I'm considering rebuilding the Bard character, even though none of my actual players in any of my campaigns are a bard.

How does this translate as "for use"? What use? When? I'm doing this more for OTHER people online than I'm doing it for my campaign. I'm doing a lot of it for the sheer pleasure of creating a game setting and game rules. I'm not planning my next event or undertaking for a session, I'm fucking around writing histories of the Bronze Age, for shit's sake. Do you even read the blog?

ruprecht said...

You are creating strawmen or simply missing the original point.
* You do work that is not at the table, presumably to make play better at the table.
* Zak the other example shows up the table totally unprepared (or so it seems) and just makes things up as he goes (generally using tables). Yes those tables were created before the game session but that seems to be the limit of his preparation as far as I could tell.

You counter that with arguments that you spend hundreds of hours developing your world (not at the table, proving my point) and codifying rules (doing so not at the table, proving my point) and thinking about it all the time (proving my point).

You act as if I'm attacking you when that was not the point. I was simply pointing out the two basic styles and not making a value judgement on either (as I stated in that post) as different styles suit different people. I lean more towards the preparation side of things myself.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Let me get this straight, Ruprecht.

You're arguing with me about my motivations and my point of view, because you must be right and I must be wrong.

I haven't missed something here.

ruprecht said...

I don't think I ever mentioned your motivations. Trying to clarify is not arguing that one is right and the other is wrong it is clarify. To be honest I can't understand your belligerence on this.

Alexis Smolensk said...

In using my name to make your argument, you chose to DEFINE me, Sir.

And you have shown an inability to recognize this point of honour.

Alexis Smolensk said...

If you're going to mischaracterize my philosophies as a DM and as a game designer, I'm going to kick back.

ruprecht said...

I apologize for using you as an example of one school of GM thought. It was not intended as a bad example, but I figured you were well enough known that you made an effective example, you are running a class on GMing, you wrote a book on it, so you seemed a solid example of someone who goes to the game table prepared and organized.

Alexis Smolensk said...

I'm not the school you described.

Ozymandias said...

If I may, observing from the outside:

ruprecht, yours is a clear mischaracterization. I understand what you thought, what you were going for, what you meant . . . but Alexis' explanation trumps.

Is it really so hard to say, "I'm sorry, that's not what I meant?" To admit that you'll try harder to make your point clear next time?

I think there's some value in discussing the perception you have of his work; but to do that, you have to recognize that your words were offensive.

kimbo said...

"codifying aspects of play that are like to give rise to argument or boredom"
That right there, clears up a lot for me, thanks.

Re the argument,
Would it be fair to say Alexis, that you mean 'preparation' as aimed at the specifc upcoming sessions, while the other activities you do are world development.
K

Alexis Smolensk said...

kimbo, yes. Preparation is something we do for an event. World development is something I do whether there is an event or not.

For example, I did not write How to Run as preparation for selling the book at Game Cons. The preparation I do for game cons involves gathering copies of the book, getting the table, organizing the journey there and so on. It is a different set of skills from writing. Rule making is a wholly different set of skills from setting up the next session.

I am curious what the quote cleared up.

Sebastian DM said...

That last one was a good example. I must admit that I too had not realized the distinction between preparation and the kind of work you do. It made it much clearer.
If i understand correctly, another example would be that of doing a speech. Neither you nor ruprecht's "chaotic" DM has written the whole speech in advance. The difference, however, lies in you speaking about a subject you know about and the "chaotic" DM pulling something out of his ass.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Yes, thank you Sebastian.