Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Good Comments

What makes a good comment?

Yesterday, G.B. Veras expanded my diatribe against role-playing groups looking like beer advertising by describing a movement in Brazil to change the story of those commercials: suggesting, perhaps, that there is another way for something old and tired to appear, it just takes being original and creative.  Enlightment is always good.

On the same day, Lothar rated one of my posts to describe its importance to him.  Not, I think, because he agreed, but because something he already believed had been stated more clearly than he'd heard it said before.  That's how it is with a lot of my posts.

And again on the 27th, Wandrille Duchemin described a post of mine giving him an epiphany.  Again, not because he didn't already agree with the concept, but because my description was clear and easy to understand.  I write and write about the same things because I hope that I can make that connection with the reader; when I get a comment like Wandrille's, I know I'm on the right track. [I'll just add that Wandrille and I have gone head-to-head many times].

On Monday, Vlad Malkav wrote to say my post about self-esteem was "refreshing."  The day before, Samuel Kernan called it "worthwhile."  Someone else might call this tacit agreement, but I think it is indicative of my willingness to write about something ELSE, other than another post about monsters, another spell list for yet another monster race, another review of a product that was made more than ten years ago and yet one more retrospective on Blackmoor.  I appreciate hearing that my persistant attempts to wake people up have succeeded in waking someone up.

On Saturday, Michael Giffin made a point about aluminum-steel that was well worth consideration; since I'm running a very real-world campaign, where technically actual aluminum sits unused, packed into bauxite, I'm not sure how this fits, but it might give some stress equivalents for mithril steel if that should ever come up in a campaign.  I'm definitely glad Michael took the time to comment.

A week ago, Discord, who used to disagree with me very strongly but whom I think I have begun to win over these past six years, expressed his satisfaction with my articulation of story vs. sandbox (which was not what I called it in my post), adding a personal experience of his that fit into the post's general tone and meaning.  Such comments are very important, not because they "agree" with me, but because they express the same sense of frustration and difficulty in making the point clear to others.

On that same post, the day before, Fuzzy Skinner confessed frankly to the difficulty of running the non-story campaign, specifically in terms of players unwilling to embrace it out of fear for their characters.  When a reader steps forward to articulate this sort of problem, it serves as a guidepost to ideas and posts I want to address and discuss in the future.  It identifies, clearly and for all my readers, that there is a problem and what the problem is.

I get a steady drift of such comments, week after week.  I always wish there were more; I always wish the comments were longer and more intricate.  I wish we could go back and forth several dozen times, getting down to the nitty-gritty of the issue.  I know why we don't.

Yes, I'm a frightening son-of-a-bitch.  I'm intolerant and basically vicious when I see something that's insistently evidence of old, dead, discarded ideas ~ most of which I had, once upon a time, but which I've since discarded in the 37 years that I've been obsessed with this game.  Those 37 years, that's a bloody mountain of time and data and thought-processing, spent building tables and wrecking them, spent building world systems and then ripping them out of my game because they didn't work.

Just look at the way I went at one of my own systems, that I put forth on the blog: that disastrous experience with Conflict Cards.  I advanced the idea, I fought for the idea, I insulted people who resisted the idea and I blasted ahead with it, spending at least a hundred hours thinking through the damn cards and more time testing them.  But they didn't work, did they?  They were shit, to be honest.  I playtested them with my real life group and they showed promise, then I played them with the boys online and they went all munchkin with the cards, proving just how much rot the notion was.

Did I resist trashing them?  No.  Did I keep throwing out new efforts for the next six years?  No. They were a failure.  Once I was sure that they were, a process that took about a week, I knifed that idea in the gut and left it for dead on the side of the game trail.  Because that's what I do.  I don't quibble about sixteen possible definitions for something that's clearly a dead issue.  I see it is shit, I call it shit, I dump it and it's done.

And that is hard for people.  Hard.  Largely because I'm willing to be just as ruthless with the reader's ideas that I have just described myself being with mine.  But I really don't care what anyone feels about an idea.  I only care if an idea works.  If it doesn't, it goes out with the trash and no funeral.

So when people comment on this blog, knowing how cold and insensitive I will be to the warm fuzzy feelings people have about their opinions, they're cautious.  They say little.  They protect themselves.

Perfectly understandable.  I did the same when I was in university, when I sat in courses with professors who knew a thousand times as much as I did about Greeks and Romans.  If I wanted to take a position about something Thucydides said with Dr. Heckle, I goddamn knew that I had to be right enough to win his respect, even when it happened that I was wrong.  Because Heckle wasn't friendly, he wasn't patient, he wasn't sympathetic to feelings and he wasn't giving an inch on things he knew were bloody well wrong.  And so it was with Baldwin and Walbank, with Yardley and Dewar, with Vanderspoel and Humphrey and all the rest.  Because they believed in their training and their material, in their time spent researching, thinking, arguing and putting themselves on the line against the world when publishing their ideas.  Where it came to handling a 20-year-old punk kid with 18-months of reading under his or her belt, the responsibility they felt was to snap the kid's dumb-fuck neck with the facts, not to give a pat on the forehead and not to make sure our precious little feelings weren't hurt.  That's why it was one of the best classics departments on the continent when I went and that's why every prof I've just named was trained in either England or Germany.  Because that's how courses were taught there in the 1950s and 60s.

I'm not teaching classics now, but I am teaching D&D and role-playing.  And I think it is serious stuff.

In the movie Koyaanisqatsi, there is a long and patient zoom of a flight officer standing in front of a jet intake.  The shot lasts 29 seconds, which is a long time in film.  Throughout the whole zoom, the man's face does not change from this:

I was watching the film the other day and thinking, when I came to this point, about the expereince behind these eyes, behind the eyes of almost every military man I've ever met.  This fellow here; I promise that he does not care what anyone thinks they know about aircraft or their use in warfare except where it agrees with 99% of what he knows.

The most common disparagement on the internet is that I am not interested in people who don't agree with me.  And I think I have slowly come to accept that this is true.  It hasn't been an easy acceptance.  I've chafed against it and denied it, but truth be told, I'm like this fellow in the picture. I've done my work.  I've learned my trade.  And I'm not prepared to put aside all that I've learned because someone with feelings feels that I'm not kind enough or patient enough or tolerant enough of ridiculous quibbling arguments about the meanings of words or the motivations of those who won't accept obvious truths like rules matter, that player agency matters, that cheating is cheating or that repeatedly arguing about the same points over and over is time wasted.  So no, I'm not interested in being disagreed with.

I am interested in being educated.  I am interested in knowing that others are having the same experiences that I'm having, that others are fighting the same war that I'm fighting.  Like any officer or rating, I'm comfortable discussing things with my own people, who see that the world works in a certain way not because our thoughts make reality, but because we're willing to bend our thoughts TO reality.  And those that won't, or can't, or insist it just isn't so, can get the fuck out of my sandbox.

See that man's eyes?  That's what my eyes will look like when I delete your comment.


  1. Ah, yes...conflict cards. Sorry I helped kill those.

    [i know there is some old chestnut about giving an asshole enough rope to hang himself that applies, but I can't remember it at the moment...]

    Not trying to be a contrarian here, but if you're only interested in folks 99% in agreement with your own thoughts and assumption, it's going to be difficult to learn anything new (I guess that's what I think of when it comes to being "educated").

  2. Those cards needed killing.

    I recognize that's going to be a common take on what I'm saying, JB, but in reality 1% of any subject is an awful lot. Think of it in terms of car accidents: most driving experience is getting from familiar place to familiar place, without incident. But accidents, points of contention and error, while rare, create by far more discussion and debate than does safe driving.

    It is the same with the game, or it ought to be. My readers and I ought to be in agreement about 99% of the game ~ so why talk about that boring, repetitive, established content, just because one fellow "doesn't get it" and wants to rehash it to death? Let's just talk about the 1% that isn't clear ~ and get on with the business of making it clear.

  3. I am flattered, thanks.

    Using a bit of logic, I think it is not that you only want to talk with people that agree 99% with you but you want people who agree with your basic premisses so both can make propositions based on the same ground.


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