I have not written this post to shame anyone, nor slap the back of anyone's hand. Rather, I hope to take a hand or two and gently turn the reader around, so that they are able to see what I see.
I greatly appreciate all the work that many of you have done in helping to edit the book. That is sincere. However, I find something troubling about some editing, that I feel goes to make a larger point regarding the way in which we role-play.
Suppose we take this description.
At night there is the bottle and I. The candle gutters on the table between us, but I do not see the light, only the bottle, for it's relationship with me has consumed me for many years. Dimmer and dimmer now it becomes, yet it is always there, always ready to uncork and fill my glass. Always I am thinking on it, missing it, awaiting the moment when it and I will be together again. It grows dark, and in time I drowse. The lights are all gone now, until the morning, when the sun rises and I am alive again.
I worry when someone looks at any sort of writing, whether it is the prose above or contemplation about what a player might do in a campaign, with an eye to making it 'clearer.' Clear is good. Clear is excellent, and helps teach. But clarity for the sake of clarity is shallow, and misses much of the context that is included past the words.
For example, in the passage above, I might find someone offering advice about the word 'drowse,' telling me, "I think you mean to say, 'sleep.' " Therein lies trouble. For if the reader read the word 'drowse,' and understood that I meant falling asleep, then obviously the word 'drowse' was clear, was it not? No one would read the above and suppose that I had gone to the market, or that I'd taken up the bottle, broke it and cut my wrists. The meaning is clear . . . demonstrably so, since I was told to use the word 'sleep' to replace it.
'Drowse' offers me content that the word 'sleep' doesn't offer. To begin with, as the candle diminishes, and it grows dark, there is action going on. Drowse implies that I haven't quite gotten off to sleep, or that I am in the process of nearly sleeping, so that it isn't as absolute as sleep. It suggests that through the night, I never succeeded in fully sleeping. Moreover, drowse is the same root as drown, which is the nature of slipping into drunkedness, and offers a contrast with the 'alive again' in the last statement, in which I am now not 'drowned.' Additionally, there is a distinct meter to the word drowse; double-u's slide, and soft esses carry on, even into silence, where as the 'puh' sound at the end of sleep has a finality to it, like a closing door. This makes the word somewhat more absolute. Finally, the word drowse wasn't chosen randomly; it was chosen especially for this passage, to reflect a relationship with other words, to give the correct meaning.
When we 'clarify' things, we often efface much of the content that is below the surface, that is the greater gestalt behind the passage than the mere construct. The use of words to convey a message, or an emotion, includes the understanding that the flexibility of words can also be used to make us feel a message that we do not see in the text. Why do we like certain passages - for the words alone? No. For the feel behind the words. That is why we occasionally use phrases such as, "In the long haul," or "Of course," because these reflect a way of talking, of communicating, that puts the reader at their ease and invokes a friendly atmosphere. The removal of such phases, because they are "not needed," is to suggest that language isn't communication, it is building a brick wall. Utilitarian but dull.
The presentation of the role-playing game is no different. The dungeon, the world, the non-player characters, these are not a collection of frame planks nailed together to form shapes and programmed response. A hall is not merely a hall. It is the message behind why the hall has come to be. Even a hall wants context. In describing the hall, do not think that by defining the stones or the dimensions that you have built a hall in your world. Name the hall that you have been in, the construct of which was defined by the pasteboard or the shell of planks within. The hall serves. It is a conduit. See past the shape and see the future-past within the hall's presence.
There are creatures who use this hall every day, who pass through here on the way to someplace else, who are bored with this hall, who hate the distance this hall creates between where they have come from and where they are going. Why do they use the hall, why was so much effort taken in its construction, how does its character - its appearance - matter to the denizens for whom this hall is not a fifty foot passage, but a part of their home?
Get out of your frame. There are so many people out there making uber-dungeons who have utterly forgotten the purpose for which halls and rooms exist. They have created patterns of shapes that serve for geometric hypnosis - to allow their to eyes scan over the mindless patterns they have created. Cultures have long understood the power of geometry to transcend the mortal coil - there is a natural predilection in our consciousness that allows us to gaze at geometry and stop thinking.
I do not want to make dungeons to promote an absence of thought or purpose, or to make towns and regions that serve as nothing more than flat, empty tables that have clarity as their only virtue. There is more to the world than clarity, more to our happiness and our pleasure than merely the things that we can see or describe in absolute terms.
The reader who replaces a word in a passage habitually out of a pedantry for 'clarity' is not reading. The DM who thinks that a world is made of material things alone has utterly lost their understanding for what a world is. We have a reason we make things. It is not merely to explain ourselves, but to express ourselves - your creatures in your world, no less so. They too are familiar with their surroundings, they too have an opinion about what they make and see, for those things matter to them. They would not make a fifty-foot hallway between rooms merely because fifty feet sounded like a good distance. That is fifty feet of drilling, fifty feet of hauling away stone and laying pavement and facing, fifty feet of quarrying to get the right stones and fifty feet they must walk every day between their beds and the kitchen. Why would they do this, and what does it mean?
Turn yourselves around, and see more than what you can measure with your eyes. It is time to go the next step forward in your education.
But . . . if this all seems abusive, then I am sorry. That is sincere also. And I am sorry for including the following, but Stephen Fry is always worth presenting: