Friday, May 20, 2016


Those people at reddit are crazy.

Yesterday a fellow posted a link to my DM Tutorial page on reddit, unquestionably to help me.  Back in 2014, I tried the same thing myself, believing that it might be a good way to promote myself and my book - only to discover that a great many people who regularly contribute to reddit are . . . well, let's just say exceptional.

I think my favorite comment was the fellow who wrote,

"IMO any DM who thinks campaigns can be derailed is a bad DM."

There must be something inherent in human biology that compels this sort of absolutism.  This, therefore that.  On one level it is an ad hominem attack, which redirects the subject by attacking the character, motive or other attribute of the person (in this case, the DM's ability).

On a completely different level it results from the participant having adopted a false dilemma as the way in which things are measured: there are only two possible ways to view any statement or belief: that the person who believes this is a totally bad person or a totally good person.

Obviously, it's not the sort of message I embrace.  There is an excellent book on this subject, An Illustrated Book of Bad Arguments by Ali Almossawi and Alejandro Giraldo.

Look!  Someone used the word 'derailed' in a discussion
about role-playing: they must be referring to sandbox
vs. railroading.

The hardest thing to realize about 'arguments' is that most statements that human make - including most of the statements I make - are not remotely arguments at all.  They're opinions, largely based on emotional responses expressed in words . . . and as such, they have as much application to problem solving as "This ice cream tastes good."  While difficult to dispute, it is largely irrelevant to how we are going to make this particular apparatus work.

In response, there are plenty who will 'argue' from their premise that since the ice cream really does taste good, this is essentially "accurate" - and being accurate, it cannot be dismissed but must be taken into account.  Unfortunately, the assertion that something is accurate does not make it accurate.  Arguments are not based upon apparent statements of accuracy, but upon validation.  You say the ice cream tastes good.  I have no way of confirming that it does.  You may be lying.  You may have no reference for what 'good' is.  You may have been conditioned as a young boy to make positive associations with ice cream that now compels you to register ice cream as good even though essentially you're so used to the actual taste that your hormonal response is "meh."  None of which matters, because I cannot taste with your mouth and therefore I have no means of validating it's accuracy.  This explodes the 'argument' by positively defining it as not an argument.

That is largely lost on most people.  Where I make statements on this blog regarding the value of, say, the practicality of sandboxing over railroading, I am for the most part proposing a very poor argument.  I can try to give my statements clarity and scope.  I can point out similarities between my statements and other situations that the reader will probably agree with.  I can pull several examples and attempt to build a syllogism out of them.  Chances are, however, that I will not persuade the reader because I cannot positively validate my argument by any provable means.  This means that, except where I am citing verified evidence (the heart pumps blood that carries oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body, enabling us to function biologically), I'm only speaking opinion.

I realized several centuries ago never to expect to change someone's mind on a dime.  At best, we can make an argument so passionate that the listener will remember the discussion - which is the biggest victory one can hope for.  Then, at some future point, the listener will be living their ordinary life and, without warning, find themselves faced with a personal experience that validates that argument that they still remember.  My whole life, since long before the internet (since before home computers became a 'thing'), has been people coming up to me months later and saying, "You remember that time we talked about such-and-such?  Well, I get it now!"

If you read something on this blog that you agree with as you read it, that's because you already have that validation in your mind.  Chances are, you have already validated that thing, long past, by whatever standard you use to believe things.

Not to disparage the reader, but for a writer seeking to make a change in the room, this is low hanging fruit.  I appreciate that I have people who agree with me and all, but given that there are hundreds of thousands of people reading the internet who are also into D&D, that was inevitable.  I measure my success as a writer by those whose minds I can change - and those that I value most of all are those who are willing and able to change my mind.  I'm not looking for people who can validate what I write to make me feel better.  That is a matter of complete indifference for me.  I'm looking for people who can validate for me where I'm wrong.

For most making arguments on the internet, the low-hanging fruit is all they need to validate themselves and no one else.  This is easiest when everything in their world fits the black-and-white model, and it's best when the dividing line is so close to the middle that the answer will never, ever be resolved (at least, not in their lifetime).  They write something about the Oxford comma and instantly they command half the English speakers of the world as their allies.  They write something about guns, about religion, about republicans vs. democrats and in minutes they feel part of the grand human experiment, exactly as their distant ancestors felt all heaped together for warmth.

It doesn't get better than this.  I'm that one on the left thinking, "Fuck
warmth.  What are those hulking, apparently harmless things?"

If something isn't black-and-white, they'll make it so.  That makes it comprehensible and, in response, tells them instantly which side they're meant to stand on.  "I'm against anti-derailing observations; vote Proposition 907 come November."

These same people have a view of Education that must fit their model.  A teacher tells the student the answer and the student remembers it; when the answer is asked for, the student provides it.  This is education.

There are no 'answers,' not as this philosophy understands them.  What we have is opinion and a seeking for validation.  A student comes to me who expresses difficulty in controlling their group.  I offer some possible explanations, dredged up from my experience.  The student answers that maybe A. might be true, B. definitely isn't, C. has some merit but this part of the explanation doesn't fit and so on.  In response, once again from my experience, I fine-tune the parts of explanation C. that more likely fit this specific case . . . and step by step, we look together for a potential set of circumstances that are contributing to the general problem.

In this conversation, as the teacher I bring insight and a lifetime spent running and designing the game.  Students bring personal evidence and judgment that they've gained in actually meeting the player-participants.  I'm not emotionally involved so I bring dispassion and perspective.  Students are deeply emotionally involved so they bring their instincts that serve to detect or discard the validity of what they hear.  This symbiosis between mentor and disciple has been used for millennia to determine the probable issue that is to be solved and then to work together to compose a strategy for solving that issue.  The validation of the teaching is not the "answer," but the validation of the strategy: Did it improve the situation?

The market value of my teaching is based upon one simple reality:  if a DM seeks out everyday people in their community for insight, experience, dispassion and perspective, do they find it?  If they find it, I have nothing to sell.  If they can't obtain this, they must needs seek someone who has it and willingly meet that price.

But of course there will be a vast number of persons who are utterly, implacably convinced that no problem exists, no problem can exist, those that believe a problem can exist must be deluded and so on.  Because that belief validates them.

There's nothing I can offer to these people because they need for nothing.