Friday, September 22, 2017


Not speaking to this audience here ~ I know most of you are lifers or near-lifers ~ but I wonder if the reason why places like bulletin boards, facebook groups and reddit are so screwed up in their role-playing thinking is because they're dominated by people who will only play the game for a year or two.

How much of the community is dominated by these noobs?  Since noobs make the best customers for the game company, is their importance being artificially inflated?

It seems to me that these noobs drive most of the conversations about the same noob-related content: how does alignment work, what races are cool, does anyone have an idea for an adventure, etcetera.  It seems to me that this noob-talk forces all dialogue into the same, tired avenues perpetually, as noobs get excited, buy a bunch of stuff, get frustrated and drop out of the community, only to be replaced by more ignorant noobs.

Can anyone think of another past-time where noobs dominate the field?

Is this choking good game play?


I'm being told by some angry people that this smacks of elitism.


  1. Martial Arts, both 'mixed' and traditional. At least in the States.

    Not only do they usually need to purchase some kind of gear which is conveniently sold by the training area, but teaching the absolute basics of any such physical system that relies on skill AND pain avoidance requires huge amounts of repetition. To the instructors in these places this translates to vague, low-level instruction requirements ("Turn the hip over...", "Exhale!", etc.) and the oh-so-easy excuse for poor student growth, "Gotta get your reps in."

    Now, I love MMA and the time I have spent in these places. But it is evident in the very first classes that the bulk of the profit in teaching Martial Arts in the fresh meat that will enter the building for the first time super motivated (sometimes with a black eye) and over the course of a month or so fade away after having paid for a six-month membership upfront.

  2. I'm glad you brought up martial arts as an example, Justin.

    Now, to put it in context to a role-playing forum, imagine that you're in a martial arts class and the fellow next to you asks a question about "turning the hip over" ... and immediately every student in the class begins to ~ first ~ shout out their opinion, then squabble over their opinions; and if the instructor were to demand attention, they would all say the instructor is just trying to be elitist and Hey! It's really important in martial arts that everyone has a voice because martial arts is just supposed to be fun, anyway. Don't take it so seriously.

    This is where we are.

    An instructor is generally recognized to have authority, due to experience and awareness. To a noob, vaguely aware that an instructor could physically kick their ass at will, this authority is a little frightening. So respect is given. Participants want to be "good" at martial arts so they listen and try (even those who find it to hard to keep trying).

    None of this exists in the RPG community. In a chat room the other day, I was told that "two years of playing shows a sincere commitment to the game." Two years.

    Having fresh meat enter the game is fine, it's great, I do it at every opportunity. And I think that fresh meat has a right to raise a hand and ask a question. But these fools all want to be instructors, right off. And they think this is right and proper and that their whole two years of commitment makes them an expert.

  3. Oh yeah, no argument here. Consider this choir to have voiced it's "hallelujah!"

    The "two years" comment is funny and also similar to a very prevalent kind of thinking among one-time Martial Artists (not sure if I need to be capitalizing that... ah, fuck it, I'm an enthusiast). There was one fellow at my longest term gym who had (dangerously and unethically) received a somewhat high belt color in a striking art for time (or, more precisely, money) spent and not, at all, for his skill. He was a pleasant guy but seemed so particularly bad at both the urgency and strength aspects of combat sports (you know, the two most important) that I had at first assumed his belt color was the result of an understanding between the instructor and the student. A consolation prize in place of actual skill learned.

    I was wrong.

    One class we were paired up (which happened rarely because the instructor knowingly kept the serious and deluded/forced students separated) and this young man mentioned to me that he almost had to beat up multiple guys who were picking on him in college and that they'd really be surprised at how well he could fight. It was an absolute shock, something akin to what I would imagine it would be like to suddenly realize someone has Alzheimer's. He truly didn't know he had learned practically nothing. Come to think of it, I have had that sense of uncomfortable revelation at the gaming table many times. I have, from a likely mistaken sense of politeness, glossed over these moments but, as DM, I should find a way to bring such blind spots to their attention (and be prepared, as my instructor clearly wasn't, to have them walk away through a sense of insult).

    Kinda begs the question: is there some way to objectively identify standards for a good DM and to further identy good DM's? Seems unlikely, but perhaps if we could have a few actual DM black belt's identified it might serve to quit those 1000-yard-staring two year vet's long enough to see the game in a different light. I know the standard interpretation is that it's impossible, but, to paraphrase George Bernard Shaw, "...all progress depends on the unreasonable man."

  4. Alexis and I were talking recently about podcasts, and it got me thinking about how I'd like to take a stab at a series of "How-to" for D&D. There's an issue holding me back ~ not counting the lack of time and other conflicting priorities ~ and it isn't the number of topics, it's my own sense of self-doubt. Yes, I'm an arrogant son-of-a-bitch, but I also recognize that, although I know a lot about running and playing the game, I'm not convinced I'm at the level necessary to give that kind of advice. Not with the kind of confidence I'd need.

    It's bothersome, though, that of all those who have done the "How-to" vlogs, so very few of them demonstrate a genuine understanding of the game.

    Worse is what Alexis describes ~ that so many view online D&D communities as a forum to express themselves, to puff their feathers and inflate their egos ~ but not as a place to analyze, to question, to critically evaluate how or why we do what we do.

    So let's make a place.

  5. Justin, I think there is a way. As much as I despise WotC, they established a standard for their organized venues. You can apply as a judge for Magic: the Gathering; there's a test, and it's quite demanding. If I recall correctly, at one time they had a similar test to be a DM for organized or league D&D games. Now, I'm not suggesting that that's the standard we should use ~ anything that comes from WotC can probably be discarded without harm to our games ~ but I think we can use it as an example of a standard.

    For example, I've just started running my game after many years. I've got a group of brand new players, so I'm lucky in that respect because they're extremely forgiving when I make mistakes. And I made a ton of them today. I caught myself, I salvaged the situation and I was able to make a fair ruling for the players; but they were amateur mistakes, the sort that a brand new DM would make, like not knowing how long it takes to perform a common action or forgetting to apply the stun effect in a fight. Before today, I would have considered myself better than amateur ~ journeyman, perhaps, or even expert. Now I'm not so sure.

    But yes, I think we can objectively identify different degrees of DM skill.

  6. Ozymandias,

    If you want to set up a private facebook page for D&D discussion, I'm all for it. I wouldn't know how to do it, I've never bothered to learn the facebook ins and outs. Make yourself a moderator and then viciously boot out anyone who puffs feathers, inflates egos and fails to analyze, question or critically evaluate. Are you up for that?

    In a month, it'll probably still just be you and me.

  7. ...well holy shitsnacks.

    I just might do that.

  8. [hmmm...I thought I'd already posted a comment on this; not sure if it got lost, deleted, or if I just failed to hit "publish;" however, it wasn't a fantastic comment anyway]

    This is in response to your update:

    What? How is this post "elitist?"

    I guess I just don't understand this world.

  9. The problem that I see is that almost no one moves on from being a noob. There seems to be no interest in improving past that point. In fact it seems as though there is an active disinterest in doing so. The behaviours that drag gameplay down are extolled, while those that would improve it are derided as 'elitism' or too cumbersome to be enjoyed.

  10. Hmm. I sometimes spend time around the MinMax and GitP Forums. These communities are much less prone to the problems you described - they are smaller, and focus more on the skills of the game (reading books, and finding broken stuff, if cynical, and storytelling, game balance, and homebrew if not), as well as more sensible skills. I don't think their gaming style would mesh well with yours - they focus on very different areas, such as being a good (or bad) player as much or more as a DM, but they are without doubt communities of skilled and practised players of D&D (Even if their conception of that game is very different from your own).


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