In the wee hours of this morning, Ben Brooks got a handle on what I was going to write today, scooping me. His words were, simply, "Conditions won't improve until we do."
There are a great many out there who will have as their argument that there is nothing wrong with the present conditions. These are the same people who are heavily invested in things as they are. People with products to sell, People who are getting their thrill out of managing bulletin boards and encouraging the endlessly violent dialogue, People who depend for their importance or their credibility on the appearances they make at conventions that are there to exploit players. Opposition to any sort of change is expected, it's natural and it is - admittedly - sometimes positive. Conservatism helps restrain the headlong rush into stupidity.
I want to make it clear, as I did in the last post, that a great many people are unsatisfied with the present state of the game and of the community that promotes it. They are sick of the game being defined according to its marketable qualities, they are sick of the cruddy, maintained-by-troll backrooms of gaming stores being the only affordable places they can play, and they are sick of watching slap-fest after slap-fest engaged in on the internet.
But no one thinks this can change. Beyond those who don't want it to change, there is a huge mass of people who simply believe that change is impossible, this is the only option, and they don't give a shit any more. I can't blame them. There's no force for any kind of alteration in the pattern. Every time a new entity pokes its head above the covers, it is something like TARGA, which was more interested in promoting its own importance than in accomplishing anything - and predictably, it collapsed under the weight of its own squabbling bullshit.
Zak asked me, "Do you see no advantage in having a thousand different variations on the game run in different styles by different DMs?"
And the answer to that is NO. At least, not the way its being done now.
We've had chaos. And it has created this ... chaos. One of the principal reasons why I have no interest in playing in any stranger's game comes from the reality that I haven't a fucking clue what I'm sitting down to play. I have no direct experience with later editions, and even if I did, how am I supposed to know what game I'm playing? Whenever I've tried to play these last twenty years in someone's campaign its been a lot of fresh rules that everyone at the table seems to know except me - and the other people at the table always seem to be the sort of people who are smug pricks who think its fucking funny that they know and I don't. There's no percentage in it for them to explain the system they're playing, and so they drive off player after player ... this being the standardized process for people at a convention. Whenever a game goes well at one of these things, a blogger comes online and says, "I was amazed by how well it went ..." thus indicating clearly how often in their experience it has gone like total shit.
Now for guys like Zak and me and a fair number out there, who dwell in our islands of play, who have had the same players for years, this isn't very annoying. Zak and James C. and others can fairly say, "Well, I've got my game -" and they'd be right.
But I'm not satisfied with that. To begin with, I'm not convinced like so many others that this is the ONLY way the community can run. I believe that conditions can improve. And judging from some of the later comments from people on the last post, I'm not alone.
And here is where we come to the dirty 11-letter word: Monoculture. It sounds ominous. It sounds like proto-nazis are going to break into your D&D session and throw your dice into solitary. When I see it in context, it seems to me almost as though players spit - from habit - when they use the word.
All right, big sighs here. Yes, I am proposing a 'monoculture.' I'm also telling the opposition to get a goddamn grip. I am not advocating that everyone must play one particular edition or one particular world. Give me some credit, all right? I don't want to compromise my world or my efforts for anyone else, either. But I would like to outline a strategy that my gentle readers can at least think about. It doesn't cost anything to think.
And I want to be very clear about this - I don't want anyone's money. I have no interest in forming any incorporated entity of any kind. You can give me donations if you want, but that's because you like me, and not because of any goddamn solution I'm proposing. I am not, repeat NOT, proposing a solution. When I say a 'strategy,' I mean a strategy. If there is a monoculture that will form out of the maelstrom of isolation and bullshit that is the present community, it isn't going to happen this year, it isn't going to happen next year. I wouldn't expect to see anything comprehensive for at least a decade. So for now, your world is safe.
Develop an association of players which is not based upon any existing marketable edition, nor upon any specific game-playing ideology, nor upon the promotion of an event.
Even the use of the word 'association' makes me bristle. I thought about 'confederation' but I'm not sure that Americans would know what the hell I was talking about. I am merely thinking along the lines of a collection of players who are capable of expressing respect for - as is constantly repeated to me - the way other people play the game.
Look, I don't like 4e. I think its a bloody joke. Everyone I play with thinks its a joke. But if a fellow sits down at my table and says, I've never played anything but 4e, it's my responsibility to respect that he has a base comprehension of role-play, that he's open-minded to playing in my system, and that a supercilious superiority has no place here. Whatever I may say about the system he's been playing, it's inappropriate to paint the player with the same brush.
Of course, if the bastard sits down and my table and every third sentence begins with, "We do it this way in 4e," then he's the one being inappropriate. The mutual respect must cut both ways.
I would like to see more proponents for this kind of thinking beyond just the use of the words themselves, and I'd like to see this kind of thinking built into some sort of agreed-upon entity that could devise a bulletin board where one screed of insult was enough to get the individual banned - not by a single moderator, you understand, but through some kind of wiki where hundreds of members would potentially flag an individual. If the individual hits fifty percent of the flags possible, he or she gets a warning and a suggestion that they should write something immediately to encourage members to remove their flags. If the flags don't drop back below 50% within, say, a week, that's it. You're gone forever.
Understand, this is coming from me. I'm one of the most likely people to get flagged. I'm crude, nasty, impatient, intolerant and yes, I spit. All this is tolerated because I also have something to offer. I would like to see THAT be the standard. Not what modules I have for sale or how many people have personally met me at a convention, or how many people in the industry I know or even how long I've been online. This sort of nonsense that there are some who have a proprietary (another 11-letter word) ownership of the game that some seem to adopt (because they've played a long time, because they personally knew Jackoff Jerkface) has got to go. Are they contributing? Fine. Let them stay.
I can't begin to explain how important it is that this imagined entity has no market interests whatsoever. It must exist upon the same line as thousands of leisure organizations run by volunteers for the sake of the participants. The moment that any of these groups begins to charge a fee for entry, and another fee for participation, and then starts to sell tee-shirts and ball caps at a concession, the political strutting of the few in charge over the money quickly sucks the the life from the whole venture. And yet there will always be those who will see the money-making potential, who will leap upon it with both feet, giving not one wit for the organization's ideals but thinking only of their own greed.
There's no defense against it. At the moment, we are all running these blogs, providing entertainment for each other and doing it free of charge. We're not miserly about the effort to write and debate issues - and perhaps because we do it with this degree of flexibility we have a chance of creating a unified perspective. Perhaps not. But I keep an open mind.
But back to Zak's perspective. To what end?
I feel there are two helpful, practical tasks that a generalized group could undertake:
One: Create a reasonably complete list of common rule variances by which the game is played.
Right off, there again is that 'impossible' argument. What, ALL the rule variances? Seriously?
Since wikipedia has managed to take a rather impressive shot at comprehensibly piling together all the world's knowledge, I don't see that it would be beyond reason to compile an RPG database ... one that was NOT controlled by money interests.
Oh, I don't mean a reprint of the rules, you understand, but just a general outline of how, say, this combat system works. Ultimately, we could have a list of two or three hundred combat systems, all in one easily viewed list, organized as a wiki so that any member of the above group could clean up the crap as it appeared. The wiki could be limited to those individuals who were part of the group, and changing the wiki could include an individual's avatar ... so that changing the wiki for the worse would pile up those flags mentioned above.
Yes, I can hear the doubt, the derision, the laughing ... but please, consider. I'm not saying this could be slapped together by Christmas. I'm saying, how absolutely awesome would it be to be able to look at an overview, several hundred or even several thousand words, describing how this game treated levelling vs. that game; or alignment, or weather or travel or economics or whatever the hell you'd want it to include.
Wouldn't it be more convenient to have access to a singular source for those millions of ideas Zak is harping on about, rather than in the form of thousands of poorly organized blogs? If we must have multiple ideas, let's have them were they can be picked over and compared, immediately, so that a DM can go through one idea after another in a fact-finding effort.
And then, perhaps, in some future idealistic sense, bloggers could have a complete outline of which generalized system that their worlds participated in. I use this combat system and this character generation method and this means of experience. Right now, if you haven't read the damn box set or the 89th issue of the dragon, no one else knows what the hell you're talking about.
Hey, look, Wikipedia is already doing this, except the pages are low on data. I'm suggesting that gamers do the work ... hell, even if all we're doing is creating links to created pages on Wikipedia, its better than the jumble we've got now. Isn't it?
Two: Do the same thing, but do it for people's worlds.
Look. My world is scattered through the various posts of my blog, and Zak's world is scattered through his, and James C.'s world isn't online at all. If we're going to talk wikis, why not a database where the worlds can be organized, where the maps of each world can be put in this area, and the descriptions of the worlds can be put in that area. As it stands right now, if I don't happen to run across, say, David's World from the RPG Corner, because I don't know his blog is out there, how the hell do I know it exists. Even if I find his blog, where do I start?
Is it so hard, people, to comprehend having a system by which your world could be catalogued, ordered, explained and even co-opted by participants reading the wiki? Hey, here's Italy. And here's my city data. And here's a outline of ruins and such, or here's all the links on Wikipedia you'll want to look at. And here are descriptions of the countryside. And here's the weather. Good, now you're ready to run it.
No? Well, how about the page is potentially open to those who know Italy better than I do, who can write their own descriptions. Or what if someone, having a good look at Zak's world, wants to run it for his own campaign and for which he has some ideas ... that he can then run by Zak, and ultimately ADD to Zak's world as it appears in this database.
Impossible, you say? Nonsense. It is a question of getting out of this dumb-ass anti-cooperative headspace because we believe we're the only people good enough to work on OUR world. If it happened that the new stuff was shit, what difference would that make? Zak or others could go clear it out, Zak's world or my world could grow and become unrecognizable to either one of us ... but it would be a source to turn to anyway. My world will always be on my computer. What do I care what happens to the version of my world that gets played with and hacked on said database?
I could always just create another file, "My World Traditional," and watch it all happen again. And again. And again.
I lose nothing. I continue to run my world with my people. And others get the benefit of seeing what happens when others make use of my world for their own purposes.
This is what I call monoculture. Not the suppression of knowledge, but the healthy distribution of it.
If I die first, fine. I'm not in any hurry. But perhaps we could try moving in an particular direction. Perhaps we could take these three ideas of mine and scrap them for better, more practical possibilities. But it would still be movement. It would still be better than what we have.