Tuesday, April 7, 2015

The End of Dislike

Now and then, the thing tends to be that if I am going to work unbridled on my game, dig into the creation of new rules or expand my wiki, this blog suffers.  That's more or less the circumstances just now.  It seems like ages since I've gone off on a tear about history or the importance of directing a DM's energies towards some given ideal - but part of that is certainly finishing the Dungeon Book about a month ago.

On the whole, I am undecided if the reader gets short shrift in the bargain or comes out ahead.  I suppose it depends on the reader.  Many readers, I'm sure, get very little out of long lists of rewritten spells or some new weather system that they're never going to use, even if it does work.  By and large, no doubt, most readers are poking about with five minutes to waste, who are coming here because they've already finished reading the other ten blogs on their list and they're still bored without a thing to do.  Someone like this, a completely legitimate reader, isn't going to sit through a long, insufferable post describing in detail how I compose a random number for the night time temperature in a desert on the far east periphery of modern day Syria.  It's not the reading their looking for.

I am positively stunned when someone actually follows my advice to the nth degree, as T. Xenos has, or takes a few words I've said on something and embraces it full on, as Preston Selby has.  These are rare fellows in a world where tl;dr could be the traditional epitaph on this blog.  These fellows suffer, I'm sure, when I don't sit and write, point-by-point, on how I'm creating the little figures I've been designing lately for the battle scenes I posted earlier today.  They suffer if I don't reveal my upteenth effort to create a weather system that doesn't produce the same weather every day or weather that would be more appropriate for a planet half the distance from the sun that Earth is.

Thinking about it, they probably don't 'suffer.'  Their days are just a tiny bit more grey.

I've been writing this blog nearly seven years.  I'm quite prepared to go on writing it another seven.  But since my epiphany back in August, I have begun to look differently at what's written here.  This brutal, abusive post back in January was a watershed moment as well.

A year ago, for those readers who may remember, I was counting the number of days since I had lost my temper on the blog.  The first time through, I reached nearly 30 days.  The second time, I stopped counting after 45.  That was an experiment - an attempt to change my habits and stop this blog being an attack platform.  I had doubts, however.  Doubts that Toronto helped settle and that recent doubts about what I do here have been carefully deconstructed and examined.

Back in the day, when I argued flame war after flame war (the reader can find many of them back in 2010 and 2011, before I began to moderate), I was always being accused by people of not wanting to listen to people who disagreed with me.  In response, I argued that no, I was ready to listen, but if they weren't able to convince me, I didn't see any reason to change my mind.

I don't want to argue anymore.  At all.

I'm bored with it.

I have come to a point where, yes, I'm more or less done with people who want to disagree with me.  Not that they can't - of course they can.  But if they disagree, I'd rather they did it elsewhere; on their own blogs, in their own heads, to their friends, wherever.  Just not here.  Because I don't care, anymore, about people who disagree with me.

In seven years, every person I can think of who has made a significant, profound change in my thinking has started by making it clear, first, that they agreed with me.  Then they made suggestions on how to make my plan better.  Some of those suggestions have made their way permanently into my world: spell effects on experience; details for the character generator or the hex generator; the wilderness damage system that I am doing the ground work for (I need better weather tables to make that work).  I have heard from lots of readers who had lots and lots to say.  I thank all of them.

I guess I have learned a lesson the hard way.

I haven't gotten angry at anyone since January.

I wonder how many have noticed the disappearance of the 'dislike' button.  Not from here, specifically, but generally around the internet.  Back in the beginning, 15 years ago, there was a like button and a dislike button on everything.  Step by step, however, the dislike buttons are vanishing.  It's a change in the culture.  The internet has been an experiment in letting people dislike things and the trend is very definitely towards eradicating visible dislike.  Oh, we can still figure it out - if something doesn't get many 'likes,' it's obviously nothing special.  But the deeper truth is hidden.  We don't know how many people, exactly, disliked it.  Because we don't care.

If there's something I'd like to do with this blog over the next year - apart from continuing to post the sort of content that Xenos and Selby like - it would be to stop writing about disliking things.  That's going to be an effort.  Not a real big effort, like giving up something addictive, where wanting to do that thing is constantly there until I give in.  This will be more like forgetting that I made a promise to quit, so that the thing sneaks up and gets written without my having remembered.

I'll try to remember, though.  I've ranted less in these last 100 posts - a lot less - but there's room for improvement.

There, that's around a thousand words, for those who have been a little less bored before not reaching this last sentence.  tl;dr, remember?  For those who have made it to the end, here's to those who are disappointed that it's over.  But don't worry.  I'll post my rewrites for 3rd level druid spells tomorrow or some long detailed and hopeless post about making weather rules based on almost no weather data.  I'll think of something else to say after that.

In the meantime, go out there and fail to dislike someone.


  1. For what is worth, I consume your blog like this:

    1) Add to an RSS reader. I use Feedly, previously I used Google Reader. That was a long time ago, of course.

    2) Categorize it. The Tao is on my 7 "must-reads" (from a list of over 100 RSS sources). Your honorable companions? The Alexandrian, Order of the Stick, XKCD, What if? (from Randall Munroe, author or XKCD), Stonekettle Station, Mr Money Mustache, and a news feed of legal announcments from my government. You'll notice all of them are content-heavy and require some time to read, and often meditate, on them. Sorry for the piggybacking, but this time the examples were relevant to the point being made.

    3) Make some quiet time to read. Per above.

    4) Dig in at my own pace. I often leave your posts for a week or more before reading them, or skim them lightly and then save them for when I have the time. This doubles as "having the time to comment, if appropriate".

    What I mean is (besides showing appreciation on one of your introspective posts that often do not see so many comments), your readership (at least the longtime, loyal ones) do not strike to me as the kind with five minutes to waste. Surely, some of them may be, and that is all right. I bet many more are of the kind that crave content, dedication and depth like no other is able to provide.

    Back on topic, on the subject of the disappearance of the "dislike" button, a few links I reached through Raph Koster, a veteran game designer:

    And from the last link, a quote: "Encouraging downvoting, brigading or other negative feedback loops is a design mistake, the veterans warn."

    I sometimes miss your acid from the old times, you know? But it's good to see you didn't depend on it to keep creating. Cheers to you for that.

  2. You are one of the most prolific bloggers out there Alexis, you post almost every day, which is crazy. I have tried my own hand at blogging off and on, and it always quickly fizzles out, even when I have plenty to talk about. It is a huge amount of work and you should be applauded for it.
    The blog posts from you that I enjoy the most, are when you talk from experience about why you made a change or ruling. I also like it when you share insight from your players on their perception of your game.
    To me, you represent a DM ideal that I strive towards myself(but sadly doubt I will ever obtain). Time and too many hobbies are my enemies, and anytime you share a time saving technique I am all ears.

    You often challenge me to think about things in a different way, which I am most thankful for. Your recent posts on the Island was gold, both the actual articles, and reader comments.

    Thank you, and I hope you continue blogging for another 7 years and beyond.

  3. Scarbrow,

    I read through and listened to the links you offered; the panel seems, to me, of two minds. On the one hand, they hold Switzerland up as a successful means of handling discord between varying peoples. On the other hand, they oppose tribalism and exactly the sort of approach I have decided to take now. The panel takes the position that listening to everyone is important, whereas I'm done with people who provoke argument without consideration of the game's playability, the rules, the player's experience, the necessity of tension or the value of immersion.

    Too often, I have found those who disagree with me are more concerned about debating the number of angels dancing on the head of pins rather than describing, for me, how such arguments will affect useful gameplay, player agenda, tactical concerns or elaboration of the game experience. As a community, we are too concerned with contemplation and not concerned enough with application. We like to conceive of worlds we'd like to run, but we do not fabricate those worlds in actuality.

    As a DM doing the latter, I am more interested in opinions about how to better cut boards to build the house than I am in opinions about why houses should be green and not blue.

    That means throwing out the opinions of a vast percentage of the community. Those people haven't got the background necessary to teach me or enable me to do something I'm not already doing.

    I suppose I'm saying that I'm done with panels about what's not working. I want to talk less and less about opinion and talk more and more about design.

  4. Harvicus,

    Thank you for the applause. It is appreciated.

    Note my words to Scarbrow, above, regarding the blog posts you enjoy most. Those are the blog posts I want to write now. That may mean not writing a post every day, since if I'm not creating, if I'm working less on innovation and more on grunt work, I will have less to talk about. I want to move away from 'observational' content about others and more towards 'design content,' such as the weather post I wrote today.

    I am expressly glad that you mentioned the Island posts. That was a propositional test to see if readers would enjoy a book based upon that concept - something big and detailed, based upon the world design principles I described in How to Run.

    Sadly, however, the response I received was minimal. Except where I asked readers what they would do, feedback was, on the whole, disappointing. That has encouraged me to think that there's no point in writing such a book if there is no interest in that sort of content.

    I remember, Harvicus, that you were one of the few who expressed a strong positive response. Readers don't realize, I think, how important the AGREE button is where it comes to blog content. Your own efforts at blogging would have probably been more successful if they hadn't seemed to fall on the internet's deaf ears - which is how it sounds to every blogger, everywhere.

    If it weren't for the number of page views, a number I can track, despite the obvious bots, I would have little idea that anyone beyond a few regulars like you and Scarbrow were even reading this blog.

  5. Alexis, I am one of those with "5 minutes to spare." I would love to dig in more, but I have yet to master balancing work, home, and hobby.

    Nonetheless, big ideas usually sit and percolate through my brain throughout the day. This constant hum of stuff is a normal state for me, and I'd rather have things like the philosphy behind dungeons or how to construct a trade table than what everyone else has (sports, the latest reality show, gossip).

    Your posts engage my brain, and that's just about the highest praise I can give.

  6. I for one like the information on spells.

    I think I tend to appreciate a little bit of a breakdown on why you chose certain effects or limitations and how you feel they contribute to the game.

    I also wouldn't mind a follow up sometime to see how they went with the players.

  7. Reading this blog was a daily ritual for many of those 7 years until some time around your finishing "How to Run", when I very broadly gave up on the online gaming community on the whole. I'm not putting that on your shoulders, though, I definitely don't mean to imply that's your fault. But you seem to admit you were getting caught up in the general rancor and I was too. I made a conscious decision to step away from it. You did too, only in a much more productive and committed fashion than simply walking away. You refocused your efforts.

    Your rants could be extremely funny, I won't lie, but taking so much time to take others to task got tiresome to read and the fall-out and bad karma it produced ultimately became counter-productive to your more considered posts.

    Tao is back to being part of the daily ritual for me in large part because of what you began with the introduction of moderation way back when and have advanced further with the 100 posts preceding the admission in this one; that is, it provides a focused, considered and productive analysis of RPGing for practical users.

    Hopefully the multiple hits over time readers like Scarbrow provide will be enough dopamine to replace the rush of launching internet dirty bombs and getting a thousand hits all at once.

    It's good to be back to this particular daily ritual.

  8. I will confess that there was a relationship between my online content and the ongoing process of writing How to Run. I cannot begin to express the stress that book produced, in part due to mastering the difficult level of the content itself and putting it in words that could be read by anyone with experience in the game.

    Much greater, however, was the acknowledgement in my mind that many, many readers and persons in the community would be gunning for me because I dared to produce such a book. I knew the difference between my perception of play and theirs. I knew the level of resentment. Moreover, I knew that the book, as hard-researched as it was, stood as an indictment against everything in the community that said there was no such thing as 'talent' in a DM.

    I knew that in writing the book, I had to do all that I could to prepare it against the firestorm I expected from YDIS and other places, where I was being blasted daily for daring to have my opinion.

    So, back in June and July 2014, I was a basket case. I had done the work, I had compressed the research, I had the evidence needed to smash the way people thought of the game and I was ready to take on the whole world. I had nails in my teeth.

    Then the book came out and everyone . . . backed down.

    I can talk about sites I read where people made a show of buying the book for the sole purpose of trashing it - and then nobody did. I mean NOBODY did. It's been 9 months and try as I might, I can't find anyone who disagrees with the content of that book.

    Oh, a little quibbling. "Hard to follow in places." "Don't quite buy it." "He expects a lot of work." But no firestorm. No attacks. The book continues to sell steadily. People like it. I've seen it change minds.

    So yes, James, I remember when you walked away. It is part of the reason why I set aside the online campaign; because I can't imagine going on with it without Andrej.

    I'm glad all that is settled.

  9. I have to imagine book sales as being more validating than page hits. Even factoring out the easy-to-spot bots in the stats... it's tougher to tell the 5 minutes browsers from those hunkering down to read and consider. But money talks. Almost as loud as the silence of your most vocal would-be critics.

    It's occurring to me now just how gratified you should be, other troubles not withstanding. I hope you are. You've spent years making yourself a target to some with your outspokenness. You've been handled unfairly in some quarters, to put things mildly. You could have shrunk but you didn't. You laid it on the line with the book that one must assume is the culmination of your views and the virtues you hold dear. The very making of it almost broke you. Here you are, enjoying measurable success and now admirably indifferent to naysayers.

  10. Regarding your change in attitude over the last year, I must admit that I had a bit of fear of commenting on your posts for the longest time, and was simply a lurker.

    I have been at fault for saying stupid things when speaking off the cuff, and my preferred defense is to simply stay quiet.

    It took a while to get familiar enough with your personality to get the confidence to add a comment here and there. Also finding out that several commentators you seemed to attack (without just cause I thought at the time) in fact had a history of conflict with you on your blog which had earned them your ire.

  11. Yes, I know, it's going to take time for me to wear that reputation down.

    Understand, however, that I'm not encouraging a free-for-all opinions on this blog with this post. I'm saying that I'm going to restrain myself from snapping back at anything I consider has been written to provoke me.

    Instead, I'm going to delete it.

  12. I would say not to take no comments on a post as a lack of interest. The level of discourse on your blog is so high that I would feel embarrassed to say "Wow, that's genius" on every post, even if I'm thinking it.

  13. Fair enough, Discord, but it gets awful quiet on this blog, sometimes.

    Perhaps a simple, "More, please," or "Good" would be less embarrassing.

  14. I am sorry if I missed the parts where I should have posted about the island, because I thoroughly enjoyed reading them and dissecting the ideas behind it. I would love more articles, or a book, on such a topic.

    While I don't have much use for the numbers and tables, I still enjoy reading the posts, because there is a lot that can be gleaned from the thoughtfulness you put into every aspect of your game. I never miss an update and hope to keep reading as long as you're writing.

  15. I will resume posting. I know how frustrating it is to have your work go unacknowledged. I'll probably stay away from content still, but know that we read it because we find it valuable.

    Personally I diverge from lukas opinion, in that the posts I find valuable are not the content posts, but the occasional glimpses into your view of what mechanically improves the game.

  16. For me, I don't see any difference between 'content posts' and 'mechanical improvement.' It is all one and the same.

  17. The difference I was referring to is that between "This is _how_ I do it" vs. "This is _why_ I do it this way." The how can be interesting and thought provoking, but the reason can be truly eye-opening. There have been a number of cases where your explanation has caused me to change my thinking.

    As an example, I used to rail against nonsensical overabundance of treasure and the very concept of awarding experience for treasure, and I felt it was perfectly justified if the gang of thieves you obliterated happened to have no treasure, because perhaps that's why they resorted to thievery in the first place. You successfully argued against that reasoning by pointing out that players putting the effort _deserved_ a reward, and that the game depended upon that reward.

    In a similar vein, I remember a conversation following from this post, or one of it's successors.The discussion was around in-game interaction with those spirits, and how they tended to devolve into "Recipes" (Place a lump of copper in a stream at dawn, get this result, etc.) Your point was that if the recipe is complicated enough to limit abuse, (or to earn a reward as above) they tended not to be fun to perform a second or a third time.

    Your sage tables have distilled this down into an intriguing format: Invest these earned knowledge points, choose between these options, and you have the ability. Here's how long it will take. It's the understanding of why that mechanic is important that is profound, however.

  18. Well, no worries there. I will always explain why I am making a rule change, as I am fascinated by function, structure and desired game player behaviour.


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