Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Hobgoblins of Little Minds

I continue to be baffled that some of the blogs I read associated with D&D care a whit who might be the president of a gaming company, or about their marketing policies. I realize that this reflects the hard-core video gamer mindset, but I can’t think of another example in any other fetish market.

For example, does anyone give a shit who is running Penthouse or Oui this year? Are porn-fanatics sitting about debating the number of times that twat-shots are being incorporated in late-produced magazines as opposed to good old-fashioned boob spreads? Does anyone interested in porn really care?

Or how about music? Yes, there are a small group of fanatics who probably care about the future strategies of record companies, and who might be directing those strategies, but when I hear interviews with musicians I don’t hear a lot of questions like, “Do you think the head of your record company is taking your band in a good direction?” We all know, of course, that the band is totally being controlled that way…but its not interesting so we ignore it.

I don’t think there’s ever been a time that the inner workings of TSR or its sold intellectual property meant anything to me. I’m sure that the present company that retains the rights to D&D feels very strongly about its ownership, but I can’t be bothered to care. The game, in my opinion, is MY game…at least as far as my world goes or the rules by which I play. I view D&D the same way I’d view chess or baseball or solitaire. It’s a game I play. I play it with other people and we have mutually accepted perceptions about what the game’s about. That there is an organization that produces chessboards and pieces and booklets is a given; do I give a crap what the name of that organization is when I’m reaching for my knight?

Yet apparently I’m supposed to know the company’s name of the halfling thief miniature I’m pushing towards the orc’s back, along with the name of the artist that designed it and the name of the paint company providing the yellow for the thief’s back pack. And I’m apparently supposed to have long debates about the quality of my thief miniature versus other thief miniatures available on the market.

I’m just not enough of a geek. Oh, I’m nerdy enough to spend untold hours crunching numbers to give you the price of a wooden candlestick in Prague, but when it comes to the money someone else is making selling me shit, I’m not there. I’m just not.

I long ago memorized every picture in the monster manual without ever once looking at the signature of a single artist. I don’t think I’ve glanced for more than a tenth of a second at the credits of the DMG, though I’ve owned three copies of the book that have been read to tatters (I need a fourth right now). I realized very early on that I didn’t have the patience, interest or talent for painting miniatures, but I still have pieces I bought in 1981 that are now individually recognizable lead lumps that continue to find use during sessions. I don’t use dungeon master screens, I have no pre-made dungeon maps, I don’t buy modules, I don’t attend conventions and I haven’t the slightest idea what are the legal policies regarding this game. I’m pretty sure if I don’t copy material and sell it, what powers that be don’t have the money or the time to sue me for copyright infringement…whatever illegalities might be involved.

The community, perchance, has lost its way, involved as it is with cheesy details about product lines and the identification with second-string commercial artists struggling to make a buck (first string artists are busy working on beer ads). I don’t think the game is so simple and so obvious that we have run out of more useful matters that might be discussed—such as a treasure table or encounter table that works.

But perhaps there are too many players who sit and wait all alone, for whom the trivial details are all that remain.

It’s a little sad.


Carl said...

Did you throw a lot of rocks at hornets nests when you were a kid, Alexis? ;-)

I ask because when I read stuff like this, part of me says that I'm right there with you. I don't give a shit who's running the company either. The minis are markers used for setting a scene and determining if Orc01 can be hit with a crossbow by PC01. I once had an intense interest in fantasy art, but only to the extent to which I could produce it myself, and I suck, so that was that. I purchased modules and supplements on the basis of how they would enhance or compliment my game and save me time. Since I don't care a lot about 4e, I'm not really concerned about how many 3rd party publishers are going to get burned by this new license WotC has produced.

I want to discuss and see discussed the nuts-and-bolts of the game. The meta-rules, the balance of challenge against reward, the different DMing styles and conventions in use, and building believable gaming environments (worlds) for my players to adventure within -- these are the things in which I'm interested. I really don't give a shit about WotCs marketing strategy for 4e. Hell, I'm not even going to buy the rulebooks. I bought enough rulebooks for 3.x and I'm happy with the system I've managed to cobble together over the past 15 years. If I do opt to change it, it will be a complete change of system to something like GURPS or perhaps Rune Quest and that will be because those systems offer me something that my current system does not and they suck less than my current system. I considered some of the Pathfinder stuff being put out by the guys at Paizo (former publishers of Dungeon and Dragon mags) but everything is all so story-driven now and I just don't want any part of that. The player characters are the story. It's up to them to drive it. If I can help it, I'll never run a story-driven game again.

The other part of me says that it looks like Alexis is throwing rocks at hornets nests. You're deep in the twin valleys of Opinion and Personal Taste here. This hobby, this life will not be enhanced by pointing at the other practitioners and stating that they're wrong. They may well be, but they're going to change only when they come to that conclusion on their own. Also, everyone has their own geek. Trollsmith's happens to be the political workings of Hasbro at the moment. Awesome for him and his readers, but I'm not interested. I don't read about the inner workings of Columbia-EMI either and yet I like listening to music.

That said, I'm not a big fan of the other DMing blogs out there right now either. None of them seems to remember or know about the sandbox-method of play that I recall being the default way of playing D&D, except Ars Ludi and he doesn't write very much. They seem primarily concerned with managing a game table and writing compelling plots for your adventurers to unravel. I can manage a game table full of friends quite well, thank you, and since I'm on this kick of letting the players live vicariously through their characters, I don't care about writing storylines to drag them through.

I am casually following the news about WotC and Gleemax out of shadenfreude -- and that stems from the unmitigated disaster that was their eTools product for 3.x that I hoped and prayed would be good, but wasn't and then got worse because they wouldn't listen to the simple requests of thier customers to please produce a simple appliction with which they could make PCs, NPCs and Monsters.

I'd love to see some more of that useful stuff that you teased me with at the end of your piece. I'd love to read what you have to say about encounter and treasure tables.

Jesus. I wrote a damn novel. If my own blog weren't down at the moment, I'd post this there!

Cheers, Alexis!

Alexis said...

This hobby, this life will not be enhanced by pointing at the other practitioners and stating that they're wrong. - Carl

Wrong is wrong. If we all tolerate wrong, all that will be left is wrongness.

And who would write posts for people like you?

Carl said...

You're right, of course.

My point is that what you're pointing out as being wrong here cannot be because it is a matter of taste rather than fact.

Some guy wants to discuss the members of the Hasbro board on his D&D blog. Some other guys wants to talk about "famous" fantasy artists. Criticising this is fine, but declaring them wrong is, I think, pointless and counterproductive.

Again, I'm right there with you in that I want to see more discussion of the game itself versus the tabloid aspect of the hobby, for example who's-who on the WotC board and what the fashionable gamer is wearing this year. How do we get that? By doing it.