Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Editor or Schoolteacher. Hm.

Writing a blog, you try to be original. You try to have new material, so that the long time readers don’t get bored. A solution to that is to stay up to date on something that’s new, that doesn’t come from one’s own brain – whatever is the latest information on the subject, new releases, interviews with up-and-comers ... or current events. In the blogosphere, this means following fifty other blogs and scanning for some event that one can vent on. You know, like the hullabaloo that went around a couple of weeks ago about stealing WOTC graphics.

Of course, if nothing’s happening, One ends up scrabbling around for something to write. After you’ve done one of these blogs for two or three years, that scrabbling gets to be dull, and the blogger simply doesn’t write anything. So a day passes, then three days, then a couple of weeks ... and six months later there’s a post saying, oh well, I’m ending this blog, thanks to everyone.

Journalism is the art of scrabbling for stories on poor news days, as well as rich ones. Any reporter can draw eyeballs if the world is nice enough to offer up a flood or a hurricane ... the real trick is to make it sound like three water-logged houses down by the local river is a huge disaster. Then it gives the editor a chance to write something about insurance companies or the apathy of the municipal politicals ... you know, things everyone can get on board with.

You can write a blog and think that you are writing the news, but mostly you’re just writing the editorial that follows the news. And as anyone knows, when an editor has been writing editorials for years and years, quite a lot of them start to sound alike.

Most editors have a particular axe to grind. They don’t like those tax-mongering bastards at the capital or they’re sickened by the greed of corporations. Those two axes in particular have labels on the handles marked right and left.

In this blog I have my axes to grind as well. I like to slap down the railroaders, I like to bitch about modules, occasionally I’ll slip something in about later editions and I am always ready to find something bad to say about alignments. I enjoy punting these things around, it makes an enjoyable rant for me (yes, I love writing these things) and I usually get a decent response. And it is a better read than hauling out some musty old from some project I was working on ten years ago. A fiery editorial gets people worked up, mostly because it contains lots of swear words, sarcastic and satire. It gets a laugh or a sneer out of the gentle reader that makes the day go by a little faster ... particularly if it’s good enough to make the reader sit bolt-upright and lash out in response.

But, of course, how many ranting articles can you write about the brainless community?

The thing is, month by month, rants begin to disappear into the bowels of the blog, where they don’t get read anymore. Post 187 gets lost in the shuffle, and even I forget that I’ve made the point before. When you pull out shit from your own life, like I do, there’s always the danger that twenty months later you’ll pull that shit out again. We’ve all had known those people who feel they must tell that same story about when their character found the dragon again and again.

I’ll be honest with you. I started this post thinking that I’d explain my inspiration to write about how discouraged I am with the Old School Renaissance being more about which freaking edition gets played, as opposed to an effort to raise the content of the game itself. I was going to talk about the stupid soft-cover redbook that bloggers get weepy-eyed about, which I picked up from the bargain bin of a games store (not even a roleplaying games store) back when I was still stupid enough to spend my money on crap, hoping I’d get inspiration from it. I know I still have the book somewhere, it’s in a box with a lot of other magazines, some of which are porn, under other boxes in the back of a storeroom, behind a lot of other crap I don’t pay attention to, all of which is behind more useful crap that only gets pulled out in the winter-time. In other words, not very important to me.

But now I’m thinking how pathetically sad it must be for people that this cheesy little booklet from thirty years ago is as far as they’ve progressed with the game – which it must be, since they talk about how they’re starting a new campaign now that they’ve found this precious book, at last, leading them to gush on and on about how good it will be to get back to D&D the way it was meant to be.

Just fucking shoot me, all right?

You know, thirty years ago, as a 16-year-old kid sitting in dull classes, I started a story about professional dungeon masters who would be respected for their art, sort of in the way that tai chi masters demonstrate and teach their art, or as chefs are invited in to prepare a meal for anxious gourmands. I perceived that as the players of the game matured and developed, the game would grow complex and inspirational, drawing to it a degree of respect from amateurs who would gaze in awe at the level of play that a professional game could ultimately provide.

How wrong, how very sadly wrong, I was.

Where are the editorials promoting excellence in this game? If it is a old school Renaissance, where in hell is the school? Where is the effort to create an institution that will upgrade the stumbling, baffled DM to an achieved level of ability? If I am wanting to be a better DM, what means are there out there to improve myself?

Beyond, of course, the crass commercialism of the softcover red book, the juvenile comic-book pictorials of endless editions and proto-editions and the sleazy, mercantile table-frog at the conventions that’s there to sell dice?

We write our blogs, and commend ourselves for sharing “ideas” ... but we share and we share and the game remains hopelessly fragmented, still driven by yet one more doofus who claims to have the NEW answer to How to Play the Game, just send $6 to this address and All Your Dreams Will Come True.  And the little rugrats crawl, gooing and gahing in the direction of the bright, shiny tin foil, predictable as the publishing industry wants them to be.

Makes me a little sick, to be sure.

But maybe I could write to my government for a $10,000 grant to start a school, and go all out and ask not $6, but $2,000 for tuition from every student to join that school (we want to keep out the riff raff); and I could hire three or four teachers to give courses on Dungeon Design, Combat & Magic Tactics and Monster Biology ... until the day would come that I could purchase three cheap acres of land outside of Omaha Nebraska (central location!), somehow getting the credentials I needed so that desirous students could collect unemployment during the six month semester.


I could write this editorial again next year.


PatrickW said...

Either way, I'll be here next year.

One of the greatest strengths of RPGs is the huge flexibility in how to play.

One of the greatest weaknesses of RPGs is the huge flexibility in how to play.

jgbrowning said...

"Where are the editorials promoting excellence in this game?"

"If I am wanting to be a better DM, what means are there out there to improve myself?"

"the game remains hopelessly fragmented, still driven by yet one more doofus who claims to have the NEW answer to How to Play the Game, just send $6 to this address and All Your Dreams Will Come True."

There they are. It just appears that you don't like them. :)

jgbrowning said...

And a less humorous answer.

The only way to become a better DM is to become more socially adept in a particular method of interaction.

Since there have been hundreds, if not thousands, of books trying to help people become more adept at particular methods of social interaction, I think looking for anything of *substance*, especially when one is already rather adept, is pretty much a fruitless endeavor on this subject.

Zak S said...

I don't know about you but I just can seem to get up the ire to -care- about a bunch of people I know who run sucky D&D games.

I don't know about you, but I haven't hung out with anybody like that in ages and if they want to spend their money on crap, hey I got about thousand other charity cases higher up on my list.


Let me try to turn it around to understand where you're coming from:

Right now, in your current life, do you regularly come into contact with real life sucky games? From whence do they emanate?

If not,what keeps you mad at them? The fact you had to suffer through them when you were younger?

Zak S said...

"can't" that word should've been "can't"

Anonymous said...

OK, I'll bite... I take umbrage to that!

Ok, maybe not umbrage... but I hate to see good efforts go unrewarded.

As a consumer of Old School blogging, I'm actually OK with what's out there, hopelessly fragmented as it is. I'm also OK with you kicking it in the tail editorial style. That what we do doesn't seem on the whole terribly evolved strikes me as a fair criticism... but that condition seems to me a result of the nostalgic "reset" mentality pervading this resurgence in interest in the older editions. For those that have always been here...

I never really left gaming, so my sense of nostalgia tends to be shorter-lived, if that's what a lot of what THIS is. That ridiculous red book is just fine by me, too. I've made a mess of my current rules with my constant tweaking and am now trying something else out. Going back to whatever little book (they're all pretty much the same for my purposes) saves me the trouble of paying that table-frog (great image by the way) for his clone or shelling out a hundred bucks or more for the "original" edition of the game that I never played. I've also got the AD&D books, but hell... I started tweaking those for a reason, I never... quite... liked them as-is. Everything I need to get started modding again is in the Basic set and its subsequent boxes.

As for the "community" I suspect it will take another wave of bloggers and another wave after that to see some evolution or revolution. This wave had its share of bright bulbs. But to echo Zak's sentiments... so what if it doesn't? I've still got my game and that's all that matters.

Zzarchov said...

I think the problem might be, that by and large you are among the top (if not the top) of your particular style of game. Few people have had the time to build upon their game as you have, and far fewer still would have the organizational skills, then the technical skills and most importantly the dedication.

You might be having problems finding advice on how to improve your game, because with your style of game you are quite likely at the top.

Anonymous said...


Wouldn't YOUR government prefer the school to be in Manitoba or something. ;)

Mincer of Logic said...

Perhaps I oversimplify the issue, but it seems that there must be a need (or at least want) for an institution to be successful, let alone required.

Why does a person ever devote energy to improving their craft? It's a deeply personal question; a level of achievement that satisfies one person will never satisfy another, but will seem ridiculous to a third.

I'm going to be extremely granular and suggest that there are two categories of intent when a person chooses a profession:

(1) the intent to increase ones own happiness
(2) the intent to increase the happiness of others (assuming the existence of altruism at all)

Those in the first group are guaranteed customers.

How do you create a demand for tertiary level capability when players are enjoying themselves despite the competence level of their GM?

Are there that many players falling out of the hobby because they can't find a satisfactory GMing experience?

Chris Weller said...

You may not have been drinking, but I read that in my head with a drunk voice. :-)

Look, if you don't enjoy writing about "the scene" and the kerfluffle of the week, ignore it. Stop bogging about the blogging. Don't even go to message boards. It's amazing what that can do for your perspective.

I was inspired specifically by Zak S.'s blog posting about vomiters and other in-game content to start blogging.

Today I sat down intending to post about elves and ended up switching to ettins because that's where the imagination lead me. I cannot wait to finish my master's and start a campaign with all the stuff I'll have thought up in the next eight months.

That's my reason.

Maybe it's time to find what you really LIKE about typing words about D&D on the computer and follow that.

JB said...

I'm too lazy to apply for a grant, even if I had something more useful to say then my usual gushing about B/X D&D.

For what it's worth, I don't mind reading other bloggers grinding long as they're grinding something. I'm not sure what's more frustrating for me personally: re-treading the same arguments? Or encountering nothing but Dead Air in the blogosphere.

Chris Weller said...

Oh yeah, I almost forgot: Somebody owes Joesky a penance...

Dan said...

I think I see what you're getting at and I think I agree. I recently saw a post on a blog referring to "back in the Golden Age of the hobby...". And I thought to my self - there hasn't been a golden age. Not yet. The golden age is still to come.

If the golden age has been and passed, if that's the best it could muster, then this hobby is doomed. But I don't think so. I hope the best is yet to come.