Thursday, April 14, 2011

An Answer To Dave

This is an answer to this single sentence from Dave Cesarano of The Caffeinated Symposium on the previous post, As Usual:

"There comes a point in attempting to simulate reality in which a game becomes absurd."

Yes, Dave.  There is.

Giving you the benefit of the doubt, I presume you realize that at no time in my last post did I make any statements about 'simulating' reality or anything else.  In fact, I did not use the word 'simulate' in the post.  Nor did I use the word 'reality.'  I did write a post about making an effort to design a game so that it wasn't, well, boring.

But okay, you've invented the strawman to argue against, so let's stick that bastard out in the field and see if it scares up anything.  I'll start by pulling out my old tattered dictionary so we can find out what "simulation" means.

The relevant definition I've found reads as follows:

"Simulation is the process of designing a model of a real system and conducting experiments with this model for the purpose either of understanding the behaviour of the system or of evaluating various strategies (within limits imposed by a criterion or set of criteria) for the operation of the system."

See, Dave, I've done some reading and it turns out that in a wide variety of respected scientific and non-scientific fields, 'simulations' are built solely for the reason of better understanding things.  A pretty stunning revelation, don't you think?  I know I was surprised.  So surprised, in fact, that I did about 90 seconds of deep, involved investigation and discovered that this ridiculous, obviously hopeless effort to simulate reality was taken to rather remarkable extremes.  In fact, millions and millions of actual dollars, more than either you or I will ever earn in our lifetimes, are spent on taking these simulations to ... what was the word you used?  Oh right, "absurd."   Yes, they take these simulations to absurd lengths in order to determine silly things like engineering integrity, safety, social policy and so on.

But of course, we don't do anything like that in D&D.  Everything in D&D is profoundly abstract ... as everyone knows.  Why, just take combat.  I've heard it said that it's probably the most abstract element of the game.  I don't know who said that ... but as we know, once a statement like that is made, it must be true.

Goddamn, you know?  I'm not sure I really understand what "abstract" means.  Let's have a look at that puppy since, after all, I've got the dictionary open.

Here it is:

"That which comprises or concentrates in itself the essential qualities of a larger thing or of several things.  Specifically, a summary of an epitome, as of a treatise or book, or of a statement.  Expressing a particular property of an object viewed apart from the other properties that constitute it."

Hey, that's interesting.  You know, I don't see anything here about something that is abstract being false or misrepresentative or different from reality.  I must have the wrong dictionary, huh Dave?  I'm sure if I had the dictionary you use, I'd have a better sense of what you meant.

See, according to this dictionary, D&D presents the essentials of combat in order to resolve battles and death from wounds apart from its other properties - you know, like actual death.  In other words, or rather in the words above, the combat we play out in the game is an expression of the particular properties of combat - the excitement and the fun - accomplished apart from all that necessity for blood, pain, anguish, doctors, funerals and long periods of recovery.

You know what an abstraction is, Dave ol' buddy?  Why, it's a simulation!  Goddamn, huh?  Turns out, D&D Combat is an way of modeling reality so that it can be played as a game.

Now, I know that in D&D we don't go to absurd lengths to create this simulation/abstraction thing, but as it happens there are literally hundreds of pages contributing to the practice and game play of combat spread over at least fifty hardcover books and what, six or seven different versions of the game?  Oh, didn't D&D actually start out of a combat simulation (or abstraction, shit, it's your dictionary) called Chains and Mails or some crap like that?  I can't quite remember, it was some kind of Postal Service S&M thing.

Honest people, I would love to take your opinions and certainties about what this game is and where the line between absurd and farting around ought to be ... but it seems to me that the first goal for a lot of you would be to start with learning something about the use of ENGLISH.  It's a language.  It's used to define things.  I'm sure that once some of you get the hang of it, you'll get a clearer idea of just what the fuck I'm talking about.  Then, when you have some disagreement you'd like to advance, the actual thing you'd be disagreeing with would be something I actually said, as opposed to whatever it was you said in the last sentence YOU wrote.  Which, as it turns out, is something about which you have only the vaguest understanding.

Okay, Zak, it's time for you to write another One Act play in which you put words in my mouth to show how blind I am to your wisdom.  The real tragedy isn't that I think there are stupid people in the world - it's that anyone pretends they don't think so too.


Zak S said...

Here's my new one act play:

Z: "Alexis, when I say 'Do you feel that a lack of granularity is always equal to a lack of forethought and do you think that someone like, say, Jeff, is playing what could be considered a 'bad' game?"

Alexis: (silence)


Why can't we just have a conversation here? We are intelligent folk and this is a subject of mutual interest and I am asking for a clarification of your position.

Alexis said...

Zak, because:

1) I have not made the argument that a lack of forethought equals a lack of granularity. Therefore my position should be obvious. Your question is an obvious attempt to equate your accusation with my position. I would prefer you took up a position in opposition to what I've actually said.

2) Your invocation of Jeff and his site is improper. I made no associations between my position and Jeff's site. Once again, this is a connection that you have made, in order to create the illusion that you represent others besides yourself. Jeff is capable of speaking for himself. You should do likewise.

3) Again, I did not use the word 'bad' in this post or the one preceeding. Your use of the word 'bad' in "quotes" is a cheap, passive method of attempting to again paint my position in your words to suit your needs.

4) Mocking me is again one more effort on your part to paint my position as the one you want it to be, rather than the one it is.

I am prepared, Zak, to discuss my post when you are. I am not prepared to discuss the bullshit invented post in your head that you'd like to pretend was written by me.

Zak S said...


1-Can you take it in good faith that I posted my comment because I actually do not know how you judge what a 'good game' consists of (that is, how we judge it--what criteria) and that I was asking for clarification?

2-Can you take it in good faith that pretending to misunderstand blog posts for the sheer joy of it is not actually my hobby and I actually asked because I want to know?

Remember how people were asking you "what's a good player?" and you finally wrote that long and articulate and easy-to-understand post about what you consider a good player?

Well I don't know, from you, what a 'good campaign' is. I don't know whether if players come back week after week and have fun, whether this would be judged by you to be a 'good campaign'.

I want to know. I do not want to pretend not to know for fun.

Alexis said...

It is not in my nature to take things on faith, Zak. If you want to pick my brain, mocking me and putting words into my mouth is not the way to go.

As I remember, I was asked "what's a good player?" by you, and I did not 'finally' write a post about it, I wrote the post within 18 hours of the question. If your memory of these events is not up to the task, please at least restrain yourself from the use of random adverbs and adjectives in your comments.

I think you know perfectly well, Zak, what a 'good campaign' is, and that you are looking to either 1) stump me; or 2) get out of me in 18 hours the same sort of post I wrote before (one of the more popular posts, I might add). I'd take it on faith that its the latter, but ...

I don't feel like being your performing seal, so I'll just say that a good campaign is one you wouldn't hesitate to describe - in detail - to someone who had never played D&D before. A great campaign would be one you could describe to someone who HATED D&D ... and change their mind about it.

Zak S said...

I don't want to "stump you"--I am sure you have an opinion on the subject and I am sure it is consistent--in some way I don't see--with everything else you say on this blog.

I also don't want to force you to write posts.

I actually want to know what you think--whether that requires a simple 2 sentence reply or an encyclopedia. I am sorry if you felt I was mocking you. I was not, and I don't do that.

If I was going to go around making fun of people on their own blogs I would start with people who never produce anything interesting and who aren't on my blog list.

I was simply trying to describe the very real frustration I feel whenever I try to engage with you on these issues.


So, your answer:

"a good campaign is one you wouldn't hesitate to describe - in detail - to someone who had never played D&D before. A great campaign would be one you could describe to someone who HATED D&D ... and change their mind about it."

Do you mean 'describe' the fictional events in the game or the real-world interactions at the table or both?

I suspect you'd say "both--and how one leads to the other" but I am not sure. So I am asking.

Alexis said...

Actually, Zak, you were, point of fact, mocking me. To "mock" is to represent in proxy the words of someone else as though they were being said by that other person. I have evidence that you were doing exactly this, not only once, but in fact twice. Your repeated statement that you weren't, and that you don't, only make you look less clear about the meaning of English words, not to mention your own behavior. Your repeated statements to the contrary serve very well to indicate your lack of remorse, your failure to understand how you have insulted me and your failure to take responsibility for your own actions. It speaks very negatively of your character overall, and it paints very seriously everything you have to say. In short, sir, you speak as someone who does not deserve respect. Therefore, you can imagine with what little regard I view your frustration, when you have done so much to create mine.

Why, after this disregard for me, should you think you have some right to prevail upon me further? I have given you an answer. It is up to you now to set off and work on an answer that satisfies you.

If you want to know what I meant, I suggest a dictionary.

Zak S said...

For the poverty of my linguistic rigor, I apologize.

What I meant was: I didn't mean to -insult- you.

Do you believe that?

Alexis said...

To be gracious, I accept your apology

But regarding your intentions, no. I have no reason to believe you.

Zak S said...

Ok, so if you (and I can see why you wouldn't because it's a paint in the ass) go back through all the comments made by Zak S on this blog ever, do you think you will find a pattern of seeking some ignoble end?

(though if, like me, you have email notification when there's a comment and a search on your email, it might be easier)

What could this possibly be?

Alexis said...

Taking advantage of my human memory, Zak, I think I can make an assessment that will satisfy me.

I recognize that it sticks in your craw that someone in the world doesn't have a very high opinion of you, Zak, but welcome to my world. We all reap what we sow.

My experience is that most gentle readers condemn me for what I’ve written lately. They don’t go back through all the comments and posts made by Alexis on this blog, ever, to see if they can find a pattern.

Instead, they choose to patronize or mock things I say, or ask questions about things I say. It does not matter that I have already answered these questions, or that I have clearly taken the position that I place the value of the game over and above the hurt feelings of people on the internet.

If you want greater respect from me, Zak, don’t proscribe your past comments as evidentiary proof that you’ve always meant well. Start acting in a forthright and honest manner when commenting on this blog, and cease making wild and disconnected assessments about what I’ve said and what I mean. I take great care to say exactly what I mean, and I treat others who approach me with respect for my efforts as well as I can, whether they disagree with me or not.

In other words, be a better person, and I will treat you as a better person.

Zak S said...

Ok, again:

"a good campaign is one you wouldn't hesitate to describe - in detail - to someone who had never played D&D before. A great campaign would be one you could describe to someone who HATED D&D ... and change their mind about it."

Do you mean 'describe' the fictional events in the game or the real-world interactions at the table or both?

I suspect you'd say "both--and how one leads to the other" but I am not sure. So I am asking.

Alexis said...

And I asked, "Should you think you have some right to prevail upon me further?"

And I suggested a dictionary.

Zak S said...

Well if I'm supposed to prove how not-insulting I am then I have to keep on posting not-insulting comments.

So, yeah, the definition of "campaign" in an RPG setting can be more than one thing. It can mean any one of the things I said--which you know--so I was wondering which one of those things you were referring to.

Alexis said...

What I would recommend, Zak, would be that instead of asking a question which prevails upon me for an answer, you write instead a meaningful, useful comment answering your own question, thus providing a benefit to everyone reading this and requiring absolutely no work from me except to read what you have written.

N'est pas?

Alexis said...

Oh, and if I could just add ... I would much appreciate it if, should you make a reference to something I've said, you could kindly quote my exact words, writing out the full sentence I've written? It's much more precise than picking a random word from the post, putting quotes around it and then representing my use of that word in the way you'd prefer. This is just standard policy, if you will, when critiquing another individual's position.

Zak S said...

Are you asking me to say what I think is a good campaign or what I think -you- think is a good campaign?

Because I am terrified of doing the second thing.

So, the first thing:

I would say a good campaign is one where the players keep wanting to come back and--so far as anyone can tell--they're all having fun during most of the sessions.

Also, the GM is having fun and doesn't feel frustrated by what's going on. Since the GM is, in some sense, a player too.

Your definition sounds ok at first but my experience with 'Axe' proves it's pretty easy to describe a campaign and make people who have never wanted to play an RPG play, or even describe one to RPG haters. It's probably just a matter of describing it to enough people.

Zak S said...


Alexis said...

Better to just stay away from proposing what I think, Zak. I'll do the same for you.

I must confess that 'Axe' provides an opportunity to demonstrate D&D in a format that most DM's or players in the hobby would have available. I stipulate that I had intended my position to hold with regards to word-of-mouth, and not audio-visual presentation.

I have played personally in too many campaigns where all the participants, except yours truly, played consistently and with commitment - gaining the opportunity to watch manipulative DMs either abuse players who had nowhere else to go, or godmod players for whom the game had obviously become a sort of needful circle-jerk. While some of these participants would insist they were having 'fun', I could not in good conscience describe them as 'good campaigns,' especially with the additional evidence that no new players had joined these campaigns in years.

Alexis said...

Sorry, that should read, would NOT have available.

Zak S said...

So then the definition of a good campaign would be one that"attracts new players, especially ones with no prior interest in the game"?

Alexis said...

I wrote an answer to that question four months ago.

Zak S said...

Ok, so then, if we have such a campaign. New players flock to it.

However we also have this:

"It's the same sort of problem with monster encounter tables that feature sixty or seventy monsters on the table. So? If I get a monster that isn't logical right now, I have to roll again ... and seeing 'lich' on the table doesn't tell me what the lich is doing there, what it's motivation is or why in crap I'm throwing it against the party now. Shouldn't there be some kind of 'pre-lich encounter formula' that would help make sense of the situation?"

Let us say our DM (whose game is popular) has no pre-lich encounter table and DOES have to re-roll on his encounter table.

I think we would agree that this table could be better if the GM has to re-roll on it frequently because the monster isn't appropriate.

However, I would argue that whatever less-than-perfection is going on on this table is clearly being compensated for (if the game is popular and well-received) by the ability of the DM to think quickly or perhaps by some quality of the inter-player chemistry.

Therefore I would argue that the (popular-game-producing) GM who is slapdash with the tables may be so because he or she has some other GM-prep or GM-philosophy ideas on his or her mind that may be more efficient--considering the temperament of his or her group--in producing gains at the table.

I do not know whether you would agree with this statement or not.

Zak S said...

p.s. wrote that before I saw the link to your "questionnaire" post.

I would interpret it to mean anybody doing as well or better than you in attracting in retaining players is running a good game.

I am 90% certain you would agree to that but I am hesitant to assume since their may be some subtlety here I am missing.

Alexis said...

Why bother to put down any percentage of what you are thinking I am thinking at all? Why not just keep your talking points to what you believe and leave it at that? I just don't understand this need to predict me, then write it out. I promise you don't have the slightest idea what I'm thinking, and you certainly don't have any data upon which to assign any reasonable percentage.

I cannot understand why the DM's ability to compensate for the lacking quality of a table precludes the creation of tables which require no compensation. How is it that my ability to think quickly on my feet presupposes that I have no desire whatsoever to have meaningful, complex systems which I have prepared in advance, in effect doing my thinking at a time when I do not have players actually sitting at my table waiting for me to be quick? Yes, true, I am able to walk upon a stony road without shoes. Why does this serve as a reason for me not to wear them?

Feel no need to answer. These are all rhetorical questions.

Zak S said...

"I cannot understand why the DM's ability to compensate for the lacking quality of a table precludes the creation of tables which require no compensation. How is it that my ability to think quickly on my feet presupposes that I have no desire whatsoever to have meaningful, complex systems which I have prepared in advance, in effect doing my thinking at a time when I do not have players actually sitting at my table waiting for me to be quick? Yes, true, I am able to walk upon a stony road without shoes. Why does this serve as a reason for me not to wear them?"

Because(as I think I've read on this blog but can't find the post at the moment, sorry, feel free to ignore this parnethetical) what's great about GMing is that it is an endeavor which can potentially productively include an extremely large number of creative and academic disciplines and so time not spent paying attention to one might well be spent paying attention to another.

For example: if (because I am a painter) I take time to paint a picture of a monster or fortress the PCs are about to invade, so that they can plan their attack in detail and get information about the target at a glance and in a visceral way I have done something to enrich the game.

However, I feel it would be uncharitable and incorrect for me to say that anyone who spends his or her prep time doing something -else- to enrich the game is doing something wrong.

You have a certain number of hours in a week:

-do you paint the picture?
-fix up the table?
-cue up a mood music mix?
-design a house rule for the summoning spell?
-work on your orc voices?
-build scenery?
-make a subtable for spell failure?

If this is an artform, we should allow that each director has a different vocabulary of techniques he or she chooses to invest in.

Zak S said...

I just realized why I unconsciously adopt this style here where I try to anticipate your opinion:

It makes it more likely I'll hear an answer. which is of course why I'd write something here in the first place.

Zzarchov said...

Sorry to interject Alexis (as I also quite like watching this discussion). But before I forget I did want to ask a question about your post in regards to what you are simulating. I notice you implied (or at least I inferred) that you are not simulating reality. If my memory servers me this is something you have mentioned more than once.

I am curious to know what you are simulating when you develop rules?

As an example, I try to simulate the "reality" and "physics" of 1955-1989 adventure movies. I always got the impression your simulation had far far greater historical accuracy in mind, and I was curious to know what your overall ideal was?

Dave Cesarano said...

Wow. I received an entire post as a response. I'm kind of flattered.

Unfortunately, I never intended to engage in any sort of argument with you. Upon reading your response and re-reading my own comment, I seem to have failed at communicating effectively in this particular circumstance. My aim was not to contradict your argument. The error is mine. I apologize.

Alexis said...


In a world as complex as this, I can’t help but view a call for expediency as an effort to dumb down and restrain creativity. Guns, if I may use the example, are difficult to make; but the cost-benefit of having one in your hand is instantaneous. The failing of many players is that they tend to equate ‘complicated’ with ‘will take a long time to resolve.’ It is true that there are games that have been produced upon that equation that are notorious. But it isn’t a truth. Complicated can also equate to instantaneous.

Your comment therefore read as more propaganda for a belief that is flatly not true. I had to stomp it. I’m glad you haven’t taken it too much to heart. There is certainly no need to apologize.

Anonymous said...

If I may offer my humble opinion; pointing out that a table is broken if it needs to be rolled upon again and again isn't necessarily the same as condemning the DM or playing style that puts up with the broken table. You can continue to have fun and make the game work with a broken table, or you can use a functional table. One can have fun riding a bike with a flat tire, but the fun is probably in spite tire's flatness, no?

Anonymous said...

That opinion was mostly for Zak's benefit. Sometimes I think you two (Zak and Alexis) are talking past one another.