Friday, December 27, 2013


Shaking the cobwebs of the holiday season and stepping out into the good, D-vitamin possessing light, I recognize I'm free to write.

Hm.  On the subject of clichés.

I am a D&D player.  I have been one for quite a long time.  Most readers of this blog know this.

I do not live in my parents basement.  I actually have a rather pleasant downtown residence, with plenty of disposable income and a comfortable lifestyle.  I'm not dependent upon my parents in any way.  I haven't actually been since I was still in high school.  Most of my friends were living away from home by the time they were 20 because they were hard-working fellows attending university and mostly living in apartments they paid for with their part-time income.  I have run at public spaces both at game stores and on the local university campus, and of course in the cafeteria during high school ... but in fact the total times I've run in a semi-public place would be about 3% of all my sessions played over 30+ years.  If you take out high school, that drops radically, to less than 0.5%.  MOST of the running I've done has been in a space I owned, that I paid for, on my table and in my kitchen or living room.  The cliché therefore does not apply to me.

I don't particularly like Mountain Dew.  Coke, yes, I like the sort of sharp flavour, but most of my actual gaming is done on strong tea or coffee.  I tend to eat vegetables, fruit or sandwiches during a game, and not cheezies.  I did once, of course, when I was a kid ... but that was also 20-odd years ago and while occasionally some snack like that turns up at the table, I don't eat it.  Too salty.

I have never owned a cardboard sword.  I have never dressed in any sort of costume to run a game.  I don't play creepy music during my games because it is distracting.  The lights are usually on, since this makes it easier to see to write.  I've never liked the games of people who have dressed up.  It seems to be more about them and their ego than it is about the actual game, so that those campaigns are mawkish and pretty ridiculous.  Virtually every person I've ever known who has played the game would tend to agree.

I don't know where this thing started about D&D Players having little or no experience with sex.  I kissed my first girl at the age of 8; Barbara and I used to hang out on Saturday mornings and watch cartoons.  I had dates right through my teen years, and by 17 I was engaged to be married.  I'll never forget the girl and I being caught in flagrante by her mother when experimenting with bondage; that would have been the winter of '82.  Intercourse has been institutional with me all my life, as it was with the other fellows AND girls who played in my campaign ... very often, with each other.  I don't remember anyone playing my game, even in those early days of youth, who had any problem with sex, either the opposite or the same gender.  I've had a number of gay men in my campaign, and just now I run two gay women offline.  So I don't think this cliché applies to me or anyone I know, either.

The Lord of the Rings made a good movie, but really, the book is overwritten shit.  Virtually everyone I've known who's read it tells me they would rather not EVER read it again.  It's hard to find a page in the book that isn't a prepositional explosion, the characterizations are wooden and subverted constantly to manage the plot, and there are staggeringly long build-ups of 120 to 150 pages leading to a 2-page dramatic climax.  Total number of words to get Sam and Frodo across the plain of Mordor to Mount Doom?  About 30,000.  Total number of words depicting the actual destruction of the ring?  About 625.  The book gained its appeal because of a certain association with beatnik politics that was picked up by the drug-addled 60s movement ... and it continues to be worshipped by a sort of fan-boy clique that clearly eschews actual literature.  I don't think the book is necessary to the game of D&D, I don't think anyone who has played D&D without having read the book will find themselves playing differently or better if they sit down and plow through its pages.  The Lord of the Rings is superfluous.  It is dismissible.  It has nothing of value to add to the matter of role-playing.  The insistence that it does speaks volumes, I think, about the piss-poor worlds being run by these people.  As a cliché, it is probably the silliest.

People who make comic videos or who write songs about D&D never seem to know anything about the actual game.  This video, for instance, seems to think it's possible to "lend charisma" or that the 12-sided die is important for ... anything.  It also seems to think that "rank" or "restrictions" are words that have meaning related to the game.  And of course, the figure with the mage hat identifying itself as a "warrior who terrifies" is equally off center.  The vid also can't resist a stupid association with summoning demons, which is the trope leveled against D&D by Christians.  I'm sorry.  Is this a video about D&D, or about everything D&D isn't?  Like every media representation of the game, oops, missed again.

Oh, I know, it's supposed to be funny.  But 'funny' for me is, like, when you hear something you didn't expect.  Clichés aren't funny.  Clichés USED to be funny.  Now they are just pathetic and sad.

Humour is when you take an ACTUAL thing about the game and demonstrate how that is funny.  You make a joke that doesn't leave the listener thinking, "You don't actually play, do you?  You're just a dumb musician."


Homer2101 said...

Most people dislike Lord of the Rings because it is slow-paced, and contains long words, complex sentences, archaic terms, and characters with non-modern mindsets. Reading Tolkien for most readers requires work; most readers want their entertainment predigested and spoon-fed, and seasoned with plenty of action.

Anyways. Lord of the Rings is very useful reading for dungeon masters, because it is one of the best examples of fictional world-building available. Every facet of the world is meticulously mapped out, down to the phases of the moon on a particular day. And much of that work is open for the reader to see and learn from, and not omitted for purposes of streamlining.

That level of detail is off-putting to a modern reader, who is used to authors who will pare down descriptions to the bare minimum required for their purpose. But that level of detail is essential when constructing a fictional world. Most details which a good DM maps out will never be told to the players, but these details are essential for making the world feel authentic and real, because the DM will consciously and unconsciously draw on them as needed, instead of either making things up without time for consideration or reflection, or telegraphing to the players that whatever they are asking about is unimportant.

This is no different than your trade tables or weather system. A player may never ask for a particular item. The weather may never be relevant on a particular day. But you have those details ready for when they do become relevant.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Homer, you've commented here many times and your comments are usually well-thought out and experienced. But your defence of Lord of the Rings is a pile of horseshit.

"... slow-paced, and contains long words, complex sentences, archaic terms and characters with non-modern mindsets."

Actually, Tolkein is, compared with Tolstoy, James, Dickens, Dafoe, Dumas, Austen, Hawthorne, Emerson, Poe, Voltaire, Spenser and Shakespeare, rather juvenile, tiresome, obsequious, repetitive and unnecessarily fraught with details that hang upon the paragraphs of the book like Vaseline on a Catholic priest's middle finger. It is not very archaic, not particularly difficult to read, does not contain all that many "long words" and is, mostly, boring because it is actually boring. There comes a point when the book actually has to live up to the fact that however difficult non-readers may find the book, READERS actually think its over-hyped tripe.

I run a very complex world, complete with moon phases. I've never found anything "authentic" in Lord of the Rings.

Michael Julius said...

I don't know that any pastime or profession suffers less from unfair characterizations. In fact, I'd rather be underestimated. Pity, for example, those lawyers who do good work and are still told that a hundred of them at the bottom of the ocean is a good start.

But I can't deal with Appendix N and the rest of the packaged tropes. I suck at pulp. I even tried to read M. John Harrison but I had to put it down as I got sick of saying 'Oh shut the fuck up, Chronos."

For me the eternal go-to for inspiration has to be the Russians. Everything you need is there. Lermentov [because he was a dog, at least that's what the Tsar said], Dostoevsky ['The Demons' is insane - so much there to mine], Bulgakov ['Master and Margarita' is already D&D] and Gogol because he's awesome.

Yarivandel said...

Interesting compilation of cliches.
I do totally agree with the criticism of dresses-up sessions and cardboard paraphenalia. Pretensious.

No sex cliche? I have seen many guys like that. Maybe you were lucky. Boys in bad physical shape, with spots and half-beards getting convulsions when a female human showed up within less than 30'. But I have seen also many other, I can't say I see any connection there.

In terms of Tolkien, you touch a sensitive string there. Deliberately I am sure. I am a great fan of Tolkien's works yet I do agree that reading LotR is fundamental to good roleplaying or DMing in particular. I do stronly believe that reading in general is essential. I know a DM who does not enjoy reading fiction and he runs campaigns. IMO his game is sterile and dry. Lacks life and substance. And how can you learn to run a game with words if you don't read words? Movies or theatrical plays will not do well enough. Anyway, i have no idea when you read LotR. I did that when I was 10 and it was a love for life. I bet if you first saw Star Wars or any other cult fantasy movie at the age of 30 or 40 the magic will be lost to you. Anyway I believe that dismissing Tolkiens greatest work as bad literature is a bit of bravado on your part. But it's true - from a rpg perspective it's dismissable. As any other fantasy book for that matter.

Yarivandel said...

Correction: I meant reading LotR is NOT fundamental for playing rpgs.

Matt said...

It's not so much that all D&D players are unwashed, obese, virginal layabouts who have spent more hours studying the lore of Middle Earth than they have spent hours being paid by anyone to do literally anything, it is more that those people seem to find their way to D&D. They read the books and the players figure they can be more socially competent, physically powerful, or mentally adept than they currently are. The most egocentric tend to take on the mantle of Dungeon Master, and they exorcise their issues with control and societal norms upon their similarly unfortunate players.

Unfortunately, the game lends a sense of empowerment to those sorts of people. They start to think that they are better for playing their game, and so they become very vocal about their game, and very defensive of it. The rest of the world points and laughs. They extrapolate that behavior to the entire game and hobby, and then they capitalize on that identity by marketing slander and mockery to the very people who they mock.

All of this to the detriment of normal people who play the game.

As an aside, I could never stand to make it more than half-way through The Fellowship, but I always very much enjoyed The Hobbit. I always thought The Hobbit was fairly paced, and told an interesting (if cliched) story. I like to think of it more as a fairy-tale than a piece of literature though.