Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Have Lance, Will Tilt

I spent much of the day yesterday becoming more acquainted with this former employee of TSR Rob Kuntz, reading his contributions to the blog Lord of Green Dragons, specifically those which seem to describe his philosophy, his extensive achievements and references to his apparent fame.  I had said that I hadn't heard of him before yesterday, but we here in Canada are used to this phenomenon.  We have a public broadcaster named the CBC which spends much of its time presenting "famous" Canadians of whom no Canadian has heard, so I expect to learn of famous D&Ders whose names escape me.  Wandering around, then, learning about Rob Kuntz, I chanced into a number of bits and pieces around the net, ending at the rather candid discussion of the man going on at YDIS, which has lately become an indespensible source for me.

For those who may be familiar with Kuntz's writing style, and find themselves daunted by its degree of depth and scope, I make this recommendation: copy any heavy text of your choosing into Office Word, then diligently remove every adjective.  Clarification will occur immediately, with little or no loss of content.

Regarding the title of this little post, I have been thinking how best to go at the windmill, er, ahem, the position Kuntz presents regarding what he vaguely refers to as "the move to AD&D with its codification of rules" to be found in the Hill Cantons' interview.  I know I talked about the interview yesterday, but hell, if you're going to tilt, you don't beat the dragon with one pass.

According to Kuntz, the demise of the great OD&D phase progressed as follows:

"From this point forward we see the promotion of a flagship line of AD&D products 'For Your Imagination,' a consistent promotion of Basic D&D specifically aimed at the mass market and the abandonment, wholesale, of the original RP-Creative vision ..."

To be fair, I want very firmly to state that this quote occurs within an argument Kuntz presents about the evils of pre-made adventures, and that the gentle reader is urged to read the quote IN CONTEXT to understand how it fits within that argument.  I see his point.  What I do not understand is how the DMG, the Player's Handbook or the Monster Manual in themselves represent the so-called abandonment of creativity.  I understand that for the modules to work, some kind of standardization has to occur, but why precisely is the standardization itself a thing of great evil?

If you read Kuntz's writings, you will find a consistent distaste for conformity popping up over and over again.  It is central to every link he offers in the comments section of this post from Hills Cantons, and it is his parting argument of August 16th on that same post.  He then quotes various people, including Greg Bear:

""If we all think alike, if we all become uniform and bland, we shrivel up and die, and the great process shudders to an end. Uniformity is death, in economics or in biology. Diversity within communication and cooperation is life. Everything your forebears, your ancestors, everything you have ever done, will have been for naught, if we ignore these basic bacterial lessons."

Far be it for me to badmouth the Great Greg Bear, whose writing I find about as bland and uniform as it's possible to be in this modern cheesy age of processed sci fi, but the statement above as applied to a GAME has about as much relevance as my making a quote about the difficulties of isolating a meson and then applying it to my grandmother's cooking.  I have no doubt that it could be done, but my grandmother would be stupified by it.  That is, if she were alive.

Games tend to have rules.  It is one of those remarkable things about games that enable them to be played by wildly diverse cultures so that a winner and a loser can be agreed upon without the necessity of pulling out machetes or pistols.  Kuntz celebrates the spontaneous creation of ad hoc decisions as the highest form of play ... but it is really the lowest form.

I am always dubious of people who point at the children's playground as the epitome of creativity while typing out such drivel on their computer, sitting in a 30-floor apartment building, drinking cappuccino, listening to Deep Purple over the internet, cellphone and lava-lamp next to the keyboard, with the tailored landscape of the city stretching outside the window as far as the eye can see.  This childlike-innocence-as-proof-of-perfection has always struck me oddly, since none of the things that are truly remarkable on this earth were created by children.  All were created by people who obviously once were children, but the actual expertise necessary for the creation was gained AFTER said creationists reached young adulthood.  Children, as I remember from being one, were petty, cruel, fairly stupid, warped in many of their interests, fearful, foolish and quite often easily duped by figures of authority or the lies of the media.  True, there were flashing moments of creativity, and these are the moments all adults choose to remember, with an denial-fueled intensity that by 35 usually insists that no other emotion besides happy creativity possessed them before the age of 10.  I point all this out because Kuntz returns again and again throughout his writings, and his quotings of other persons, to the idea that if the children do it this way, it must be the right way.

It seems strange to me that Kuntz so consistently speaks of the need to stamp out the dreaded conformity from the D&D universe when so obviously the attempts to conform D&D have been a disastrous failure.  I am certainly no conformist to the businessman's perception of how the game should be played.  I know of no conformists in this regard.  The businessman clearly slammed straight against the wall of creativity when he produced the books, called them a GUIDELINE and not a BIBLE, and discovered that we all treated them as a guideline and went off in our personal directions with gusto.  He must have been one very surprised entrepreneur.  And yet, convinced of the importance of this need for conformity, he and his cronies went ahead and tried again to conform D&D by turning out one edition after another.  I think we can clearly call this the absolute worst strategy for conforming anything since the American Government invented the Melting Pot.

If I might return to Greg Bear's quote above, it is staggering that the bacterial lesson that has NOT been learned from all of this is that all attempts at forced conformity fail.  Bacteria do not avoid conformity through determination and pluck.  Non-conformity is a natural condition of their being.  It is central to the whole condition of adapting oneself to one's environment.  If the environment be different, then we ourselves MUST be, regardless of any and all attempts to the contrary.  My world is no one else's world because no one else has lived my life, enjoyed my experiences or been driven towards my creativity.  The pouring of RPG material on the market, both good and bad, by TSR, the business community or James fucking Raggi can never have any influence on my being creative in my own way, ever.  It simply is not part of the equation.

This is not to say that I am against conformity.  I write this blog in the expectation that one day all the readers in all the world will wise up and suddenly realize there is only one way to play the game of D&D, and that is the way that God intended.  This with the understanding that I am God.  I know that all you fools don't realize that this is inevitable, but I don't let that worry me, since in the end I know best.  In the meantime, I am satisfied to sit and produce and wait for the populace to make themselves ready.

Let me finish with a half-made point, half-made because I think the quote should be enough for anyone who at this point is on the ball.  Regarding the rules to games ultimately, after much time, becoming standardized so that they can be played and enjoyed by many, many people.  Standardization is not such a bad thing:

"A number of early folk games in England had characteristics that can be seen in modern baseball (as well as in cricket and rounders). Many of these early games involved a ball that was thrown at a target while an opposing player defended the target by attempting to hit the ball away. If the batter successfully hit the ball, he could attempt to score points by running between bases while fielders would attempt to catch or retrieve the ball and put the runner out in some way.

"Since they were folk games, the early games had no official, documented rules, and they tended to change over time. To the extent that there were rules, they were generally simple and were not written down. There were many local variations, and varied names.

"Many of the early games were not well documented, first, because they were generally peasant games (and perhaps children's games, as well); and second, because they were often discouraged, and sometimes even prohibited, either by the church or by the state, or both.

"Aside from obvious differences in terminology, the games differed in the equipment used (ball, bat, club, target, etc., which were usually just whatever was available), the way in which the ball is thrown, the method of scoring, the method of making outs, the layout of the field and the number of players involved."

- From the History of Baseball, Wikipedia

1 comment:

Carl said...

"This is not to say that I am against conformity. I write this blog in the expectation that one day all the readers in all the world will wise up and suddenly realize there is only one way to play the game of D&D, and that is the way that God intended. This with the understanding that I am God. I know that all you fools don't realize that this is inevitable, but I don't let that worry me, since in the end I know best. In the meantime, I am satisfied to sit and produce and wait for the populace to make themselves ready."

Sam Clemens would be proud.

This is why I like you, Alexis. You are one funny motherfucker.

Gygax the Great envisioned D&D as a game that would evolve and standardize and eventually be played as we play chess. That is, in tournaments and in homes with a rigid set of rules that clearly denote a winner and loser.

Games that survive standardize and codify their rules. Your baseball example is spot-on. You can go nearly anywhere on the Earth and play a game of baseball. You don't even need a common language because baseball provides it.

Let's check back in with D&D in 100 years and see how it's doing.