Wednesday, December 27, 2017

A Rundown on What Advice Exists

For more than a month, I have been watching DM advice videos on youtube.  It has been ... educational.  I've let it run while I make maps, crunch numbers, play video games, soaking it in hour after hour.

If we count only that stuff that tends to get more than 5,000 page views per video, the worst is the WOTC stuff (Matt Mercer, Satine, Critical Role cast).  Not because the advice is unusually bad, but because it is so saccharine and PC that it is skin-crawling to watch.  The online game is far, far more popular than the advice stuff ... but I can't begin to make myself watch it.  Within a few minutes, I find myself frustrated with babbling pap, participants grinning nervously, hesitating as they speak, even though they've been on camera for hundreds of hours now and are supposedly "actors."  It's all swaggering, awful, filler role-play dullness and I can't imagine the appeal.  I want to argue that their numbers must be inflated, for, after all, the WOTC certainly has the money to pay hit bots and Russian commenters to make up fan fawning on their youtube channel.  We must all face that numbers on the internet have ceased to have meaning.  I have no idea, from my numbers, how many people actually read this blog.  I'm guessing ... 41?

Even this guy, whose name I refuse to use, is better than Mercer and the rest.  He's a self-important dumb-ass of the first order, exactly the sort of DM we were stuck with on our first campaign as a player.  His patter is so confident, so certain, so unspeakably condescending that we have to think he really believes he is as "great" as his inflated ego pretends.  But that said, occasionally I've found him to be on base.  On some level, I think he actually has empathy for his players, at least to the point of understanding what they need ... even if he is staggeringly far off base in providing that need.  It's like a nanny that's aware the baby needs feeding, but can't understand why the baby chokes on the food being forced down its throat.  Still, it is at least possible to watch this guy's videos.

No, the worst advice I've found among the popular are these dumb fucks.  The content is so bad and random, so disjointed and ~ at times ~ utterly incomprehensible, that I haven't found a single video of theirs that I could use for the "bad advice" posts I've been doing.  These guys can't stay on topic, can't figure out what their topic is, chatter brainlessly and over top of each other, slur their speech behind their beards and fail to say anything that isn't banal to the extreme.  Apparently, after trying to watch more than twenty of their videos, I'd say these guys believe that RPGs consist of ... words.  Lots of words.  That's about as much as I've been able to get out of them.

Matthew Colville, who apparently feels that being white is important enough to include it in his introduction, is not bad.  For the record, I have never felt the need to point out that I am white when talking to people in person or on camera.  Still, Colville is fine.  As I said before, he states a lot of things that any RPGer ought to already know, but he makes some fine arguments as well, occasionally.  He's really off his game, however, when he talks about anything other than his own experience.  As soon as he starts into discussion culture, film, other people's content or, gawd help us, Critical Role, he reveals himself to be another online opinion-hack, who has clearly learned everything he knows from the kilo-hours he's spent on 4chan (or some similar site).  There are clues in his speech patterns and references that he has a university or college degree, but we can be pretty sure it wasn't in a liberal art.  Anyway, after a lot of hours, he begins to grate on me.  I could probably stand to play with him, but I wouldn't want to be in his world (he runs a very definite not-railroad railroad campaign, where it is despised in principle but employed out of pragmatic necessity).

These guys, Jim and Pruitt, are not too bad, though there is a lot of water-is-wet in their advice and Jim has a remarkable talent for going right up his own asshole on occasion.  He does tend to pull out before the end of the video, however, and he does have a lot of good, respectable advice that he gives, poked and prodded by Pruitt's questions.  He doesn't explain very well how to follow his advice, which tends to consist of "Keep your players interested!" without giving any actual content afterwards, but on the whole I think there's reason to think he wouldn't be the worst DM I've had.  Unfortunately, Jim's whole demeanor makes me wish that I had the superpower of being able to punch people in the face over the internet, so that has meant not watching these guys but listening instead.  If you don't actually see Jim when he's speaking, he makes a lot of sense.

I haven't done a post with this guy yet.  He's an up-and-comer and he's trying real hard, publishing about three videos a month.  He's something of a doof and he's enjoying his fame ~ a lot ~ and I've tried to find something worth writing about.  To be honest, it is trying to find something I can write the part where I argue why the advice makes sense ... without it actually covering a post that someone else has also done.  I'll pick something with him in January.  He does interview Jim and Pruitt in a video he made back in June, but it is pretty dull.

Just today, I've stumbled across an enormously popular fellow, going by the name of Puffin Forrest. His numbers are suspiciously high, in WOTC territory.  He's easy to watch and listen to, as it is all animation and we can't see the speaker's face ... but the content is just ...

Well, it is really hard to explain.  On the one hand, Forrest makes a lot of consistently bright observations, points out quite obvious flaws in the thinking behind things like rules lawyers and fudging, or in the way that DMs push players in games.  On the other hand, however, half the time Forrest sounds like a guy with a 90 I.Q. pointing out what all the people with a 65 I.Q. are doing wrong.  I mean, he is mind-boggling moronic, and often, through all of his videos.  He accepts ridiculous ideas based on assumptions with a lack of self-reflection that suggests the two halves of his brain are not actually connected.  I'll be highlighting a few of his videos in days ahead ... I could probably spend a year just dissecting the assumptions he so blissfully makes, as though these things were written on stone by ancient gods who left real proof of their existence.

I can give a hint to readers who might want to take the voyage I've been taking, and watch a lot of hours with these people.  Turn your video speed up to 150%.  If that still seems slow, and you feel you're still waiting for them to speak the next word, which happens a lot with the WOTC stuff, then turn the video speed up to 200%.  At times, I've gotten so used to listening to these presenters speak at 150%, that after a while I've forgotten it isn't just them speaking normally.

These people ~ all of them ~ speak so slowly!  Even the best - probably Jim - have to be pushed to 125% to make them tolerable.  If you find you just can't watch out of boredom, it's probably because you haven't adjusted the video speed.

When they get to a point where they've just said one too many annoying things in a row, stop the video.  Get up, get a drink, catch your breath.  Express your disgust to another person.  It helps enormously.  Then, your mind clear, you'll find you can press on ahead with little nausea.

I bring all this up because it's impossible not to watch all this without thinking, "I could do that!"  But of course, I don't have tons of crap to pour all over the table in front of me or frame the walls around me, to prove what a fanboy I am of purchased swag.  Nor do I have a cool, neat graphic logo to splash at the front of a video, to show that I'm really a television-channel want to be.  I'm just a guy with an opinion.

Frankly, I'm afraid I wouldn't be any better on camera than these guys.  The podcasts with my daughter on my youtube channel didn't break 200 views; there's no reason to think I'd manage the sort of page views these guys get. Perhaps it's necessary to be marginally insipid, to stand for moronic ideas and things.  Perhaps the presenters above tried giving their opinions straight and got ignored ... and had to change their approach to something less ... brain-using ... to achieve their modicum of popularity.  No doubt, like television, it is all splash and fan service; it is necessary to buy four hundred modules to use as a backdrop before the dumbass fan (who has also bought 400 modules in the desperate hopes that it will somehow translate into DMing) will take you "seriously."

Who knows?  The new computer gives me options.  It will run a better camera, enable better video cutting, allowing me to try my hand at vids again (edited this time, rather than a cold run-through).  Perhaps I owe that to the people who helped supply this computer.  Or perhaps I should shut my mouth and keep writing.  I always wanted to be a writer and I'm good at it.

Who knows.


Pandred said...

I'd support a Youtube endeavor.

I mean, if it was as good as the blog. I really enjoy reading about the game, but as you've seen listening to anyone talk about the game is boring and unpleasant in virtually all cases.

Looking forward to all new content as it arrives.

G. B. Veras said...

I like your writing. Yours and of a lot of other bloggers in the OSR/DIY sphere. I am glad I started to read you and others some years ago. I think I am not only a better DM but also a better person.

But honestly, creating a video involves more skills than just writing. Besides being a good writer, you also should be a good presenter. It can be a bit harsh but if you can't present something in a good manner doesn't matter if it is good or not.

I watch two kind of scientific channels in YouTube that could serve of inspiration for a higher quality material.
First one is VSauce. You may already know it as he is one of the gigants of YouTube. You can watch his older videos to see how he evolved overtime.
Second is Langfocus, a channel about languages. He is not as polished as VSauce and others but he made nice enough videos and even made a video about how he make his videos.

Ozymandias said...

I would support podcasts and Youtube videos. Then again, I've been mulling it over myself for some time. All these yahoos certainly make me think I could try my hand and not do any worse.

Maliloki said...

I'd watch it, but from your previous attempts, you're much better at expressing yourself/ideas in writing because of your vast experience. It'd take time, but I'm sure your videos would be just as good as your blog content, if you want to spend the time away from your other projects.

....I'm sure you're already aware of all this and I'm being dumb.

Silberman said...

What I see in all these videos, gameplay and advice, is an obsession with "moments" at the table. Somebody said something hilarious while role-playing, a character did something awesome, the DM's story had a mind-blowing payoff, everyone gasped at the big reveal. Structure, consistency, planning, challenge and the rules of the game exist to provide connective tissue between these moments, but can and should be tossed out the window when an actual "awesome thing" is about to happen.

What I haven't seen in video or podcast form is someone talking about how the game is satisfying outside of these peak moments, and that's what some of your best work is all about.

Ozymandias said...

Which begs the question of how to achieve that "moment". I played with a group in college that had a running joke which was freaking hilarious but only to those present when it started. How can I recreate that with my current group? My gut tells me that I can't, that those moments must come about naturally, as a result of having good relationships within the group, but I also know it's possible to cultivate that kind of chemistry because I've seen it done in other settings (work and theater and the like).

The game is satisfying outside those moments, in part because we know those moments will come about, but only after we've laid the groundwork.

JB said...

I appreciate you giving us the rundown. I've listened to a podcast or two that I've enjoyed (including yours), but I can't stand watching videos of talking heads. I'm not sure how much more useful it is to SEE a person, when all they're doing is having a discussion (or monologuing).

I used to do a live public access TV show where I read books to the audience for half an hour while drinking wine and (occasionally) showing off a puppet I'd created, while a buddy played light guitar music off camera. It was amusing to watch, but it was mainly just ego stroking. Video bloggers feel a bit like the evolution of that concept.

Jomo Rising said...

I watched an advice video of yours way back when, and since then I have done away with the DM's chair. Been very helpful to myself and my expression.