Sunday, December 1, 2013

The First Day of December ... and News

This is the first post or comment on this or any other place on the internet that I've written in a month and a day. I wanted to examine what that would be like. I wanted to remember what it used to be when I was younger, remembering that I am a person who worked in the private sector, raised a child, completed university and launched myself into theatre and publishing all in an age when there was no internet.

I think I am content that interaction on the net, is a positive, useful component of my life. I don't feel there would be anything to be gained by ever taking a break like this again.

As to what I've been doing all this time ... well.

When I wrote the last post, the Last Day of October, all that I said I meant. I expected a week of directionless inaction, scratching out an idea or two, followed by a fruitful, meaningful breakdown of either the combat rules for my game system or perhaps tackling the ever-present rewrite of the characters that never seems to have an end. I had in mind a book I wanted to write a few chapters for, an idea I had a few years ago that had never quite reached fruition.

And then, November 1st at Nine in the morning, things changed. A car accident couldn't have been more efficacious.

I was wandering around on youtube, looking for something to listen to during my workday. Occasionally I like to dig up an old documentary, or run a series of lectures if the sound quality is good and the professor chats a good line (tons of this stuff if you go looking for it) ... or I'll find an audiobook. This particular November 1st I found ... well, I don't really care to say. But as it happens, my head exploded.

Not all at once. As the speaker initiated the discussion and carried it forward, my interest was peaked. I ceased working and drew up a word doc and began writing notes. For the rest of the day, I found it difficult to concentrate on my job, which I interrupted - as I listened - to jot down a relationship or sketch and idea. Before the day ended, I had more than 5,000 words of notes; more than 20 pages.

I had realized at last how to write this book.

To explain it in terms that helps identify my frame of mind right now, November was shot all to hell.

I am happy to say that I have written the first draft of my Advanced Guide on Managing Role-playing Games ... although, to tell the truth, it is still dribbling out of me.  I think there's a chapter yet that I'd like to insert into the content, and to be honest I haven't written any sort of conclusion.  I have written 53,000 words of content, description, notes, format and expandable material that will serve as the more voluminous second draft, which I have already started upon this morning - by reworking the Preface, that I intend to share this morning.

This isn't a book like this is a blog.  Perhaps the separation of book from blog helped.  However,  since that separation came as a bolt from the blue in less than 24 hours after ceasing to blog, I doubt it.  I think I just needed a bit of serendipity.  It was always there; I just needed to be there too.

The Preface should give some idea of what I mean by a very different sort of writing than blog writing.  In many ways, I've 'taken the advice' of a lot of people who have railed at me over the years, who have failed to grasp that I write the way I do on this blog as a matter of choice and purpose, and not because I don't know how to write - or present ideas - otherwise.  I think, in the long run, the shift between this book and this post will surprise.

Anyway, here is the Preface:

Dungeons and Dragons is an unfortunately named game created by various persons in the 1970s, who failed to realize that the game would evolve so that neither dungeons nor dragons would matter in game play.  The game was intended to incorporate a ‘fantasy medieval setting,’ similar to that of traditional European fairy tales, but in fact the game setting is unrestricted with regards to what time, place or social condition it wishes to reflect.  D&D is described as a ‘role-playing game’—which meant that a player took action through a ‘character,’ limited by the statistics of that character.  However, players are in no way actually required to assume a ‘role’ in order to play.

        It is an odd game.

        I did not write this book in order to address any of these contradictions.  Every activity develops its host of idiosyncrasies, which the participants eventually adopt as normal.  There’s little merit in dissecting them.  Honestly, they add flavour.  Rather than argue the vocabulary, then, I intend to embrace it, however incomprehensible this may make the book to those who have little or no experience with D&D, or any role-playing game.

        This book is not written for the uninitiated, curious bystander.  There are more than enough books and materials on the market to introduce people to role-playing … but there are none I have encountered that presume the reader already knows about dice, characters, spells, monsters and so on.  This book does.  The gentle reader, then, shouldn’t expect to find an explanation of what an ‘adventure' is’ or what is meant by  ‘running the game.’  There’s no glossary of terms to be found at the back of the book.  No time is taken to explain the origins of game rules or how they came to be.  This book should be taken as an advanced guide for those who have run the game, or have had the game run for them, and know the difference.

        I’m afraid that this book may disappoint some.  I have written what follows expressly for the DM, and not the players.  A player will no doubt gain something from the reading, but there’s no content included that will tell a player how to be a better role-player, or succeed in a campaign.  Those things are left to another book.

        It is well understood that role-playing games are difficult, tricky things to manage.  That explains why there are so few game-masters … and fewer still who run the game well.  Most DMs are wallowing; they understand the rules of the game; they understand practicably what they’re supposed to present; but they haven’t the skills or the experience to do the job well.  They have a surfeit of materials on the market to help them with the game’s mechanics—but little that explains the game’s presentation, or how the setting is made.  Every game master is given nothing more than the observation of their peers and a few scant paragraphs here and there among scattered rule books.  It is hoped that trial and error will win out.

        I expect to offer something better.

        This is not a rulebook.  This book does not contain rules.  It does not discuss systems for combat, or for spell use, nor does it offer any templates for characters or skill sets.  This book has not been written to offer any arguments about the amount of authority or control a DM has in a game, or how much agency a player has; there is no diatribe contained herein about the evils of railroading.  The contents of this book are not bound by whatever edition or game system the reader happens to play, or Old School vs. New School.  The mish-mash of house rules you may possess, or your strict adherence to the rules of the game you play, is not addressed.  Indeed, it should be found that all the methodologies described herein will apply reasonably well to any sort of role-playing … from fantasy and steam punk to space, from vampires and old evils to superheroes, from roll-playing to diceless games.  That is because this book means to explain how the game is presented and managed, and how the setting is made … regardless of what sort of game or setting.

        The improvement of the game is not in the game; it is in the mastery of it.

        Make no mistake.  The position of this book believes is that to master the game, you must work.  You will be asked to strain your imagination; you will be directed to write and advance ideas to your players, and to defend those ideas.  You will be shown the bare bones of how to structurally design a unique and meaningful setting for your world … not with a set of checklists for what a world ought to contain, but with a comprehensive discussion of what purpose a setting serves, and how it works as a tool in your campaign.

        This book asks the reader to reconsider what ‘running’ is.  It challenges preconceptions about what makes a player act as they do, and what players want.  It offers insight into your own motivations, your weaknesses and your frustrations as a DM … and offers strategies that will enable you to compensate.

        Most of all, you are invited to change your mind.  For an idea to grow, the hard, packed earth must be furrowed.  The soil must be shaped to allow the seeds a place, and there needs be time and care for them to germinate.  It will be easy to dismiss much of what is written in these pages.  Many of the items will seem frivolous, unnecessary or enigmatic … but rest assured, an adoption of the policies and ideas contained herein will make the reader a better DM.  The mere consideration of those elements will do as much.

        I do not wish only to inform; I wish to enable.  I wish to end the irritation DMs have with the rules and the players.  I wish to provide a means by which this game can be run effectively and enjoyably.  I hope this book provides the reader with a deep and profound understanding - and that once you’ve obtained this, that others will view you as a significant representative of your craft.

 -          Alexis Smolensk, DM

That, I trust, will encourage the reader's mouth to water.

I don't know how much else I can add for the moment.  I am a bit shell-shocked; I had to end a game session early last night because, well, I was frankly burnt out.  There may be a lot of that, at least until the actual content is fixed and the writing left to do is merely reworking the language (something I don't do for this blog ... because, well, it's a blog).  Until then, I have a tiger by the tail ... and I'll be talking about book a lot.  The reader may be comforted by the knowledge that I won't be slipping away again.


  1. Comfort: Confirmed!

    Glad to have your lovely face back in the blogosphere, and so preposterously excited to see what's coming down the track.

    This'll be a swell December indeed.

  2. Very cool - I'm interested to see all the thoughts, theories, and experiences from here on the blog organized into a guide. You have a distinct approach - the book ought to be a good read. Good luck with the project.

  3. Thank you both.

    I should emphasize; none of the information in the book is a rehash of anything I've written on the blog. It is NEW content.

  4. This looks great. To be honest, I halfway expected that you wouldn't come back, but it looks like you've been busier than ever. I look forward to reading it, and it's good to have you back.

  5. Great. Look forward to reading your book. Your argument is sound; that an essential piece of role-playing, the management of the game, has stood barren all these long years. As I have posted before, I searched for the answer without knowing what the question even was. Certainly not at eleven years old.

  6. Welcome back. The internet hasn't changed much, but it's home.

    I look forwards to more on the book, oh and the campaign when you're ready.

  7. Any projected completion and sales date? I'd be willing to pre-order a copy, and I'll bet a lot of other people would, too.

  8. Welcome back, and you were sorely missed! I am very eager to get more information on your book, and would also like to put my nod in for a pre-order if you are going that route.

  9. This is pretty awesome. I don't think I'd mind if you vanished for another month or two just to pound out a final version of the book.

  10. I am really happy to read this, and I'd like to get the book as soon as is finished :)

  11. Glad to see you back, alive and kicking.

    All new content? Do you intend not to add anything that was on any of the 10,000 word posts? Or The art and fall of preparation, or in fact the whole How to DM and the Dungeon Mastering categories? Wow! I must say, I don't see how. But if anybody can do such an epic feat, it will be you.

    That's a book I will be buying.

  12. You won NaNoWriMo without doing it. Bah. Only got 40k myself.

  13. Don't sour your accomplishment, Jomo. Just think of all those university students groaning because their four month course includes a 3,000 word paper at the end of it.

  14. This is definitely good news. I too will happily pre-order. All politics aside, I've made the switch to amazon kindle, and have not looked back. Will you consider an e-book format that supports the kindle next time?

  15. This news is one of my favorite birthday presents in quite some time. I will happily order this, and would like to lend my support to the idea of releasing this in an ebook format.

  16. Looking forward to this book, wish I had been well enough before to listen to more of your reading! So glad you posted this here :) .It is interesting how my feelings have shifted on DM'ing, partially because you are willing to write a book like this. I never thought I would do it one day, and now it is more than just a possibility on the horizon.
    Hopefully it will inspire others to not just pick up the GM torch but do it well.

  17. Jes is one of my offline players, and has therefore heard part of the written book read aloud - not the part included here.

  18. I think you should refer to yourself as a 'GM'
    the term 'Dungeon Master (DM)' is owned by wizards/ Hasbro and they vigorously guard this ownership


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