Friday, August 31, 2018

3rd Class: Resources & Education

In our last class, we spoke about three forms of preparation that focus one's thoughts upon self-improvement, judgement and achieving goals.  For this class, we'll step outside of ourselves and talk about how we can prepare through the use of resources and by means of education.

As before, actual game play of RPGs does not require preparation.  The rules are all there to allow people to sit down, roll up characters, posit the existence of monsters, dungeons or wilderness places and just start creating a joint-narrative in an utterly improvisational manner.  The single drawback to this approach is not that the game does not work, or that it isn't fun, but rather that repeated efforts to be improvisational without preparation soon become repetitive.  My creativity is limited to what I can think up in the immediate moment.  I haven't the time to build complex ideas, or research an idea in a manner that might lead to a discovery, or make a detailed plan of my intentions.  Others are waiting. And when they speak, when they improvise, I am waiting.  So after a time of playing, we're limited in our "fun" to those moments where some spark of genius has momentarily touched a given player ... and because these moments are transitory and rare, we grant them far, far more importance that we would otherwise if we were to compare them with a methodical effort at creativity.

We've all heard stories from players who talk about how something happened and it was SO funny, or SO clever.  Because we are not limited in our time to reflect upon these stories when we hear them, the stories are rarely as funny to us, or as clever to us, as they seem to be to the teller.  This is how improvisation of the immediate lowers the bar for what is considered to be "good" play.

We can create better play if we can take advantage of preparedness ~ the time spent in preparing for an adventure can vastly improve the quality and intricacy of that adventure.  One of the best ways of creating time is to take advantage of resources.


A resource is any source or supply of work that has been compiled by ourselves or by others over time, which we are not required to "know" ourselves so long as we can access the material quickly, similar to the way we access our memories.  Instead of simply remembering, our senses locate a sought for passage and the resource gives us the information for our use.

The most commonly used form of resource for an RPG is an adventure module, purchased so that we may have the hours of work that someone has invested so that we can reproduce that investment in the time it takes to read the material, either to ourselves or out loud to others.  It is presumed that such modules produce better material than we would ourselves, because they are created by talented persons with lots of experience, and most participants in RPGs would agree very strongly with that presumption.  It is possible, of course, for a DM to invest their own time to create their own module, but failed attempts and lack of experience soon convinces most DMs that it isn't worth the effort to learn how to do this, since so many modules already exist on the market and it is easier to exchange money for expertise than one's own time.

Another major resource is the collection of rule books.  These often form the basis for some inspiration, but are more important for keeping track of rules that we couldn't possibly remember, except for the moment in the game when they become important.  This does require a motivation to look up the rule ... and many participants don't bother, because even that would be time spent that they feel would undermine the pacing of their game.

Even the least creative DM will have notes that can be checked, if the time has been taken to make them.  Simple to complex maps can be drawn to keep track of the party's location.  A diagram or a symbol can be produced upon demand, not only by the DM but also by the players, who may wish to elaborate their characters with backstories, icons, crests or other details.  Many players will draw out castles or other buildings they would like to bring to life.  In a strong sense, all of these things are resources.

These resources pale to the immense resource that is the Internet, with all human knowledge available with the touch of a few keys and the wherewithal to read what's written.  Need to calculate an area, or identify the pieces of a suit of armor, or determine the effects of electricity in water, or find the name of a character from a given fable, or measure the force of wind, or even look up any detail connected with actual RPGs of every stripe?  It is all there on the internet, whether in open source documents or pirated material if the user so wishes.  None of this content is necessary to game play. None of it was there when I began playing in 1979.  At best, we might turn to the library, or our own books on shelves, but of course we did not play next to a library that contained every piece of knowledge.  And yet because none of it is necessary, most participants of RPGs do not even play with a computer on their game table, sometimes as a political proof that play is better without this inexhaustible resource.  We need to question the veracity of such claims, and wonder exactly what is gained by having less material with which to play, or less knowledge, or less hands-on help in the form of scientific, practical or imaginative literature.  We are often asked, if on a desert island, what book would you take with you?  Here we are asking, if you had all the books in the world with you, would you read them?

Turning to a resource has the side effect of educating ourselves, which is the point of research that we spoke of in the last class.  However, education differs from research in one key way.


This is the process of facilitating learning in others, or in having others facilitate learning in ourselves.  We speak often of "educating ourselves," but this is nothing more than allowing the creators of texts to teach us ... and so the key mental condition that applies with education is the willingness to humble oneself with the acknowledgement that another person, whether in person or through some form of media, knows more about a thing than we do.  Education is a means by which we allow others to change our minds ... and in turn, we set out to change the minds of others who humble themselves to our expertise.

Put that way, it is easy to see how easily education can be misused to put inaccurate positions and ideas into the heads of those who have humbled themselves to the educator.  If a person approaches you, and asks you to explain how something works, it is a tremendous responsibility to give them accurate information.  The reverse might serve you as educator just as well, but it will cripple your student.  Not only does it fail to provide the student with the necessary knowledge to succeed at whatever he or she might desire, it also requires that they pass through a disruptive and unpleasant period of unlearning the lies they've been taught, before they can set about learning things that will help them in life.  That is why an abusive educator, one who will tell lies and do so for their own pleasure (for they know the truth and are not harmed by the lies), is perhaps the greatest force for evil in our society.

So it has ever been the case ... which is why there has always been an effort to give validation to places and persons of education, to ensure that wrong education is not received in place of right education.

As a DM, I want to receive education from others to be a better DM.  But I also want to take it upon myself to teach others around me to be better participants in the game, just as I have learned to be.  It is enough, for game purposes, to merely dungeon master players.  But a better game environment, a better experience all around, can be obtained through the process of educating the players to more effectively run in the DM's world.  It is beholden upon the DM to recognize that the world is a product of an individual and the resources that individual chooses, and is therefore alien in large degree to the players of that world, even if they have known the DM for a long time.  There is nothing wrong with making suggestions to the players, or explaining one's motivations, if that effort is put towards increasing the player's effectiveness at navigating the game world at hand.  To do otherwise, either through inaction or by deliberately undermining the player's potential to succeed, through false information, is a malicious act.  The players deserve to have all the tools that are available at their disposal.  Education by the DM can provide that.

We will discuss this further in a later class, once some of these base tenets become more familiar.  With our next class we will be talking about practice and rehearsing.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

August MC Post, #2

With the new job, time has been at a premium of late.  I intend to continue with the RPG 201 classes I have started (it hurt to put them aside for a bit), but I did need to write a MasterClass post for those who are supporting me on Patreon.  Math discusses the difficulties of presenting a realistic world where players can simply express actions, such as walking 20 miles, with no negative reprecussions on the player's feet.  As a DM, we need the players to feel something in connection with those statements ... something that acts as a confrontation against the party's will, something that has to be overcome for the party to succeed.  Something that makes the whole an adventure of willfulness as much as an adventure of accomplishment.

I took a page from the Juvenis post to write this, as the Senex campaign rewrite has fallen behind as I get used to a few life changes.

This post, and all Master Class posts, are available for a $3 pledge per month.  Please Pledge today!

Monday, August 27, 2018

2nd Class: Research, Estimation & Planning

We might imagine that I have spent the first class hammering home the point that values are not part of a thing's definition, and that a lack of expertise is not a detriment to the functionality of game play.  You or I may think it is a detriment, because it is not our game, but that is a value judgment, arising from our expertise.

As the students file in for the second class, we can move on. In my proposition for a course regarding role-playing, I named point [b]: what preparation best feeds the participation of the fundamental game?  Here we're bound again by the limitations established in the first class.  We want to know, if you knew nothing about the game, what preparations could you make?  Before we can answer that, we must understand what preparations are and why they work.

Preparation is committed action in the present that services a situation that is expected to occur in the future.  It exists to enable the best possible results in any situation while reducing negative happenstance.  For example, in emergency services, we make sure the equipment on a fire truck is in excellent working order, every day, so that when we have to use the equipment on a moment's notice it accomplishes the goal of putting out the fire without letting us down and causing injury or death.

Obviously, preparedness figures into every human activity ... for most of us as that thing our boss keeps talking about that we have to be ready for.  Of late, I've taken a job in a costume shop.  Everything right now, absolutely everything, is about preparing for Halloween.  And rightly so.

Although many DMs make an argument that they don't "need" to prepare, it should be obvious that any thing that can be done on the fly and on a moment's notice can be done better with preparation.  I can run a game on the fly; but that is mostly because I've spent nearly 40 years preparing games and because of that I can shrink my preparation time down to a few minutes.  But that is NOT what we're talking about here.  We have to assume there are thousands of players who don't know how to prepare a game.  They don't know what they need to do, they don't know what's involved and they haven't had practice at doing it.  It follows, as well, that whatever will work best for them, will also work best for anyone, if we acknowledge that preparation is not a willy-nilly thing based on personal values, but something that is an established practice, honed by millenia of other people readying themselves for everything that has any human has done, ever.

What, then, is that established practice?  Specifically, seven ideals: research, estimation, planning, resourcing, education, practice and rehearsing.  None of these can be dismissed and all of them ought to be embraced and examined closely.  Mastering these to one's best potential is the best route towards vastly increasing your Dungeon Mastering experience.

Most of all, anyone, of any level of expertise, can advantage their play by understanding what these are and how they work with relation to game play.  In today's course, we're going to address the first three.


The accumulation of knowledge regarding the game, which encompasses an enormous number of elements that are part of the meta-game, in which the only participant is usually the Dungeon Master.  The highlights of research includes: (a) the applications of worldbuilding on both a macro and micro scale, using investigation into research, fiction, architectural design and the preponderance of works created by other people on which we can draw; (b) understanding and comprehending the rules fully, while affirming for one's self what rule systems and precendents, as well as what derivations and alternate rules, best services one's personal view of what the rules should be, so that when a rule is challenged the DM has at least a grounding in the existence of that rule and why it was made; (c) understanding player motivations and desires, so that it is clear to the DM why the player wants, or resists change, or questions rules, or otherwise feels motivated towards a particular action; (d) solving problems related to group dynamics, by asking questions of the players to determine how best to get a disparate and unique group to work together; (e) examining the results of groups that fail to work together; (f) developing new rules for parts of the game experience that have none, or where the DM views those rules as inadequate; (g) understanding the components of describing or explaining things; (h) understanding how narrative works; (i) understanding the elements of story telling that evoke emotion; (j) exploring the DM's inner capacity for creativity, in creating things that are new as opposed to rehashing old ideas; (k) testing the validity of dice, as well as the math behind randomness, so as to understand how bell curves and other perturbations and combinations affect game play; (l) understanding risk; (m) understanding a correct amount of payoff to be given in exchange for risk; (n) organizing rules and created work so that it can be employed when needed; (o) documenting the research that has been done so in can be found and understood when needed; (p) questioning and evaluating one's personal experiences so they can be learned from; and (q) experimentation of new ideas and evaluating those results.

This is a lot, this is daunting, and many simply avoid all of it.  They blindly accept the rules as written, make no investigation into design or human behaviour, do not care about the effects of dice on game play and are in no way introspective about their behavior in the past or how it might adjust.  This is the key to the above: none of this list is necessary to game play.  It is all dismissible, evidenced by those who dismiss it.  But look again at the definition of preparedness: the actions above are preparatory measures taken to increase the likelihood of things going right and decrease the likelihood of things going wrong. They are not guarantors of a great game, any more than the most efficient and high tech fire truck is a guarantor of no one losing their life in a fire.  Life is just too complicated for certainties.

Those who invest themselves in research do it primarily because they like research.  Like this recent PhD comic, people who end up in academic fields tend to dream of working at academic projects ... sort of like the way I spend my day off writing a long outline of how to prepare for a D&D campaign.  We research, investigate, come up with new ideas and use up our time to advantage ourselves and our games because we are built this way.

Yet any examination into any of the points above will greatly increase one's ability to run or play the game.  Knowing the rules by heart, so that we can hear someone make a comment about some rarified idea, we can recall, "Right!  There was a comment about that in the 3rd paragraph of page 45 of the DM's Guide."  Then go directly to that page in seconds and read the note word for word, then debate it among players.  Once, when I practically slept with the old DMG, there were parts I could definitely recite word for word.  It takes no experience, however, to read any rule book cover to cover ... then do it again a month later, and a month after that.  Regularly, I used to reread parts of it just to kill time.

Reading enough starts to connect dissimilar concepts in one's head, so that with research connections tend to arise through sheer repetition and combination.  This connectivity inspires creativity, which is in turn fed by extemporaneous passages that express particular viewpoints, strategies or successes, all of which steadily serves to prepare one for the unexpected ... so that when a player does something truly off the wall, it is (a) not that off the wall, because of the reading you've done; (b) just another new thing, because in your reading you've encountered many new things; and (c) completely manageable because you've already trained yourself to manage new things when you've encountered them.


The method by which we measure the effect or importance of things, or the needfulness of things, in order to satisfy demand when it occurs.  The highlights of estimation include: (a) how much preparation an idea needs, prior to the implementation of an idea or process; (b) how much time it takes to express a given number of details to a party, and the speed at which that detail can be relaid, as well as how much can be understood by players who have never heard it before; (c) what images or other resources will be needed to cover a presentation when that occurs; (d) one's own mental and physical limitations, based on time of day, personal health, mental acuity, ability to concentrate for a set number of hours and evaluating how one feels in the present moment; (e) understanding what it the best tactic, or model, to use in presenting a particular element of the game (should this be a physical representation of the battle or can we play this with descriptions only); and (f) what matters and what does not matter where gameplay is concerned.

Estimation is primarily a mental preparation, though it often adjusts real time processes and pacing.  To estimate accurately usually requires experience ... but even without any experience or proficiency, the very fact that estimation will be required to produce a better game is an enormous step forward for any would-be Dungeon Master.

Many DMs, inexperienced and experienced alike, enter into a game session presuming that the players and the DM will do their thing and it will all somehow work out in the end.  This is confidence, but it is not rational.  A DM has the choice to reflect upon the various elements of play and question, "If I were being told something without having previously understood the research, or heard the idea, how long would I need, and how much description would I need, to grasp the idea enough to play with it?"  The choice to step outside of ourselves in order to estimate how our words and actions, as DM, affects other people, matters.

Realistically estimating how much work needs to be done to present a particular adventure or session to the best degree can both increase the resultant success and save time, as we can evaluate what over-preparing is.  And as a neophyte invests into these various aspects of estimation (empathy of the players, amount of preparation needed, a clear idea of their own limitations), the practice of estimating becomes second nature to the DM and it is then done later on with more and more alacrity.

Naturally, there are some without skill who will make an estimate and find the estimate was way off, then come to the conclusion that estimation is pointless.  Nothing is ever accomplished with that thinking.  The assumption that others estimate, but I don't have to, would be a clear effort towards justifying laziness, a habit for which no limit of invented nonsense will ever be reached.  The laziest people will always find a good and rational reason to be lazy; this does not make it a good route for preparing for future games.


The formation of a plan is a series of steps designed to produce a specific result that will give us what we want.  For example, if we are homesteading previously unoccupied land, and we want water, we must dig a well.  To dig the well, we must plan to have tools, we must have materials, we must have time to do the labor, we must have the capacity and the will to work as long as necessary and we must have a place to dig.  Understanding that we need these things, before actually putting any of these things into use or effect, is planning.

The highlights of planning are: (a) having players to participate who are eager and ready to do so; (b) planning a world that will satisfy the players who will play; (c) having a space to play; (d) knowing that an understanding of what a DM does will matter; (e) knowing that estimates will have to be made; (f) having the various tools and researched material, along with game books, designs, rules, written adventure points and so on available for use; (g) understanding of the basic premise of the rules and game play; and (h) planning to make further plans for what needs to be addressed when the present incarnation of the game grows tired and ineffective.

Most of these things are fed by research, which in turn lends itself to estimation and understanding.  Even so, the first things on this list don't require actual experience in game play in order to assemble.  Communication with persons establishes them as players.  A few questions identifies their expectations.  The space needs to be large enough and convenient for the participants, but is no worse than planning a small party.  Knowing that there will be estimates is not being accurate with them, it is merely being aware that some sort of stab in the dark is necessary.  Tools, books, designs, rules, what have you, can be purchased and need to be carted to the game space.  Reading the books to understand the bare minimum of rules is expected for any game.

Planning for future plans, however, is another deal ... but it is assumed that these plans will be fed by what has already been experienced.  If you've run an adventure through to the end, you know you will need another adventure.  If the adventure before wasn't very good, you need to plan for a better one, and not just follow the same pattern again.  If you bought your first adventure, buying your second one isn't a new plan, it's the same plan you already carried out; don't be surprised if this plan, carried out ad nauseum, begins to fail. If you don't seem to know the rules very well, read them again. If your players seem unreliable, plan to sit down with them and get a stronger commitment, by addressing existing problems and negotiating.  Plan to replace players who won't commit, or who commit to a narcissistic idea of their own that is not your game.

Carrying out your plan is NOT planning.  If you conceive of a plan in one instant and move to carry it out the next, you're not planning, you're acting on impulse.  Planning is the process of concieving a solution to a problem (we need water) or the pathway to that solution (let's build a well).  It is not grabbing the nearest stick of wood and digging in a random spot until you get tired.  That is not planning.  That is the absence of planning.

Before carrying out a plan, we need to examine the problem and the proposed solution from all sides.  Once we conceive of an idea, say for a game world or for an adventure, we must take time to consider what others will think of what we would propose.  This has to be done realistically ... not merely from the notion that, because I thought of it and I think it is cool, others will automatically fall in line once they see the thing's magnificence.  Again, that isn't a plan.  That's narcissism.

Most people do not like to plan.  They like to jump in and do, and they will tell you so, often.  But like the fellow with the stick digging a well, they soon get tired, they stop digging with the stick and despite a lot of effort, nothing actually gets done.  The key separation between "doing" and "accomplishing" is in how much planning was given to the original concept.  A plan has to include estimations of how much is needed and why, the employing of a trusted friend who can act as a sounding board, a willingness to admit that perhaps the idea is a bridge too far given one's actual abilities and exactly what is to be accomplished ... and to work, this has to be decided before any work is done.

As with Research and Estimation, Planning is not actually necessary for game play.  It can be discarded, and is discarded, without changing the definition of an RPG in the least.  But choosing to plan enables long term solutions to problems that will one day arise; choosing to plan enables a steady increase in one's abilities; choosing to plan saves time and effort; and choosing to plan makes one aware of more than what has been made.  It creates much of the structure in one's own mind in a clear, fixed sense, so that even if it hasn't actually been put on paper, the very planning of the idea has made that part of the plan real.

Before we start digging the well, we can see it in our minds; seeing it, knowing how it will happen, relieves the stress of doubt that comes from just winging something.  If you already know as an engineer that your plans are sound, that the equipment and materials are available, that the water is accessible and that labor is plentiful, there is no doubt in your mind that the well will be finished and ready to provide water, when you're ready to make it happen.

Without a plan, you're never sure of anything.

That's enough for today.  With our next two classes we'll be talking about resourcing, education, practice and rehearsing.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

1st Class: A Game is a Rose (Introduction)

In 2010, I agreed to review a module, Death Frost Doom.  And as someone who has reviewed newspapers and novels for publication, and been paid for it, I followed the orthodox tradition of running the module exactly as written.  As a reviewer, it was not my role to change the content, or adjust is as I might, since that would muddy the actual value of the content.  When another DM ran the game, that other DM wouldn't have the benefit of my experience, or imagination ~ so what good would it do anyone to detail the advanture as I modified it?

No one, absolutely no one, would expect me to change the words of a bad novel, to make it a good novel, in the process of reviewing that novel!  The very idea is obviously ludicrous.  But even now, 8 years after, I still occasionally run across some commenter on Reddit or elsewhere talking about how I "fucked up" Death Frost Doom.  By playing it exactly.

To be sure, were I to run DFD in tandem with my own judgement, yes, it would have definitely been a better module. In fact, I do this every session of D&D I play: by throwing the module into the garbage and then replacing everything with my own creaivity and ideas.

This leads to a point I made with my last post, Humanities vs. Social Science.  Specifically, what part of the game works, regardless of the quality ~ or the experience and expertise ~ of the Dungeon Master?

What do I mean by "works"?  Well, technically, the module DFD, or any module, "works" as a process for the game.  Not necessarily a good process, not reliably a joyous one, not even an interesting one ... but as a process, or series of events and descriptions that are given to the players for what happens, a module "works" whether or not the DM has experience and expertise.  The players will, for ill or not, either die along the way according to the rules or succeed, participating in the game.

Now, people will rush forward and chatter about how a good DM does so much, much more, but this would be missing the point.  As a game, baseball works even if the players are very, very bad at the game.  It works even if the pitcher has to be moved ten feet from the batter.  It works even if the pitcher is replaced by a tee.  The runners still have to run the bases, the fielders still have to put the runners out, and the most runs still wins.  It can be very funny to watch a bunch of five year olds play baseball, and obviously an adult or a professional baseball player can do much, much more than a bunch of tiny kids, but to the game, that doesn't matter.

This is a nearly impossible thing to get across to most RPGers.  You DON'T have to be skilled to play.  The existence of the module enables someone else, with a reasonable amount of experience, to jury-rig the game (just like replacing the pitcher with a tee) so that the least capable participants can still participate.

In fact, the module isn't even needed.  So long as we wash out the expectation of a "story," which isn't strictly necessary to any part of the game, we can still play with virtually no ability.  The rules provide for setting up groups of people on opposite sides of a map, then having a fight, then awarding the winning side with experience that will enhance their powers.  In the strictest sense, this is still role-playing.  It just isn't very good role-playing.  That is immaterial.  The quality of something does not determine its nature.

The decrepit rose on the left is no less a rose than the vibrant rose on the right.  And this is the point that is so hard to grasp.  We have a tendency in our culture to rate the definition of things according to the value placed on that thing, whatever that value might be.  Yet a sample of DNA from either rose above could be used to make a completely healthy and beautiful rose ... so what does the appearance at a given moment in time have to do with the definition of a rose?

I hope that point is across.  Because we can get nowhere in any study if we cannot accurately describe things.  But let me drive it home with just one more example: a group of five-year old children playing baseball very, very badly, are having no less fun, and in many ways more fun, than a group of professionals playing baseball very, very well.

Bringing us back around to, what parts of the game do not require experience or expertise?

Surely, character creation.  If we get rid of the premise that a background must be written for characters, which in fact has no specific application to game play, the character creation process is an established series of IF-THEN processes that any DM can adjudicate, even if it is the first day they've DMed.  This fits into virtually all our experiences with our first games.  When we chose to DM, we were grateful that the rules for this part were at least laid out for us. Even if you were the particular kind of DM that rolled all the player characters in advance, then handed them out at the start of the game, that was still according to rules that you did not need expertise to follow.  You could roll the dice, see the result, be affected by the result, free-associate on the result and then watch the effect on the players as the result was made known to them.  It is a simple part of the game. Which might be why we were willing to play it so often.

Perhaps the reason why so many homebrew games don't get past the third running is because the first running is taken up with character creation, which goes so well, only to be followed by one or two runnings that fall flat, because the principals of the game are not nearly as clear.

What else?

I admit, it becomes harder to see another possibility.  But then I think of a little child running after a ball, falling down, getting the ball, dropping it, picking it up again, throwing it to first base and the ball not making it.  And meanwhile the runner is between home and first, standing there confused, while parents scream, "RUN!" having no immediate effect on the child's behaviour.  Seriously.  If you want to study game participants, throw away your clipboard and go watch children play anything.  Hockey is pretty funny, too ... especially for me, as I remember playing hockey at five.

So if we presume play without expertise, but still following the rules, combat is definitely a thing.  Expertise will bring a lot of nuance to combat, but again, value is immaterial.  The point is that it is possible to run combat, if you allow for everyone taking their time to look up rules as necessary and they're prepared to invest themselves.

This is one of the points where early versions of the game excelled.  There was no need to have "experts" on hand.  Any group of kids could buy books and if they had the patience, they could suss out a personal version of the game.  Some readers I have right now did it that way.

The way the books are written now, however ... well, it is back to Brian Griffin's book.  There are fifty pages in the back that you're expected to fill out on your own.

That's the primary reason for reviewing a module exactly as written ... I had to assume that some people wouldn't be able to enhance the module, as everyone said I ought to have done.  Some participants ~ a lot ~ simply can't.  They don't know how.  And the assumption that they ought to know how, or that knowing how is an obvious fact of any product that is provided by any manufacturer, is an erroneous approach.  I wrote my book as an "advanced guide" to role-playing ... to differentiate it from Dungeons and Dragons for Dummies, a book that had to be written because the rules were so flat out badly written that outsiders had to make sense of it.  I've read that book.  They still choked, largely because they did not stick to first principles and they allowed themselves to devolve into a lengthy attempt to comprehend the values of the participants.

To manage that problem, I'll have to step to the left for a bit and talk about ethics, as Matt suggested Friday.

Value is the degree of importance that is assigned to something, assigned by individuals either presently, or as the result of successful arguments that people have made in the past that creates a sense of tradition or belief connected with an assignment that happened a long time ago.  For example, someone, at some point in the past, conceived of the idea of a "god."  This happened so long ago, we can't even be sure the conception was voiced as words, since it is possible the invention of "gods" is older than the invention of even speech ... though it is a gray area.  Either way, the invention gained traction, and pervaded through all human cultures as a "good idea" for enough people, for certain reasons (which we can skip), to the point where we continue to have arguments on the existence of gods even though there is absolutely no real evidence of any kind for this belief.

Nonetheless, people value their belief in gods, and will embrace earlier silly nonsense, or make up their own, rather than sacrifice this value they have.  And in our society, we recognize the right of people to possess values, regardless of their scientific or rational formulation, because we believe that values, on the whole, so long as they don't hurt people, are a good thing.  And I will not argue against that.

HOWEVER, it is crucial that we don't get values confused with facts, or mechanics, because that's where things tend to go wonky.  When we start building bridges based upon the values of the designer, and not the designer's ability to understand how engineering works, things go bad in a very, very big way.  This is why one of the values we've put in place in our society is that people who design very large things with parts ought to be accredited by other people, before we trust them.  It's just a good value, all around.

That is why I have to beat the drum so hard ... because most people talking about role-playing just now are hopelessly caught up in defending values as examples of game play.  This is like a professional ball player explaining to a little boy that he needs to take 2nd base so that he'll improve his chances of being picked higher in the draft when he's six.  Arguing that all players of all games need to create backstories for their characters is like that.  Or arguing that all DMs of all games need to make great stories for their campaigns.  These things are values.  They are dearly embraced by many people, but they are not, in fact, relevant in any way to the actual game, or the thousands of ways in which the game can be played.

And before these values should be embraced by the whole community, they ought to be defended.  Not in the way we're seeing, where someone says, "It makes a better game," as if that is an argument.  No.  I want to see them defended in the manner that Immanuel Kant defended Reason.

I'm not seeing anything like that.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Humanities vs. Social Science

As I remember, most of my first level classes in university started off quite dull.  For example, 1st Year Psychology, course number 201, wanted us to be sure what psychology covered, what words were used, what theories and research had been developed in the past and how to think in terms of those advances.  The goal, basically, was to baptise students into the notion that psychology represented a distinct field of study, that it had been ongoing, and that students were expected to understand the field before advancing ideas about it.

Or, if you prefer, English 201.  Again, the students begin hearing the message that styles, tropes and techniques have already been established in different periods and cultures.  Since the easiest element of those tropes to grasp for newcomers to the field is the short story, it is treated as a microcosm of the field.  So we track the progress of the short story, we have the students read short stories, we deconstruct the short stories and we ask the students to compare one deconstruction of one type of genre/culture with other genres and cultures.  As before, the students are expected to open their minds to what they can learn - and not to give them rein to express their own ideas, feelings or prejudices.

There is a distinct difference between these two approaches ~ in large part because one, psychology, is a social science, while the other is part of the humanities.  Before we begin anything, we'd need to determine which the study role-playing falls under.

I think if we wanted to teach a course in role-playing, the hardest thing would be to explain to the students, "Whatever you think you know about role-playing, or whatever opinions you have, leave them at the door."

I also think that many who would approach role-playing from a theoretical point of view would feel duty bound to discuss the history of role-playing, so that most of the course work would follow the English model above, and not the Psychology model.  Most would-be course would be spent reading and deconstructing role-playing games, in order to compare them with other role-playing games.  This would be the humanities approach and, in some degree, it's valid.  Just as English and other humanities is a methodology for causing people to deconstruct and think at a level of the best humans who have lived to date, exhaustive game deconstruction could lead to a greater understanding of how games are put together, and how to do it yourself (once the theory was fully understood).

This approach does not, however, evaluate how players respond to game-play.  It does not discuss the motivation for game play, or game theory and game research.  It's fine to learn how games are structured; we also want to learn how games behave ... and that requires evaluation of game-play during the process of gameplay.

Unfortunately, to date, no such evaluation has taken place, not to my knowledge.  If there is some social scientist group studying role-playing games as they manifest at the game table, it is keeping awful quiet about it's research.  And this is why I think a professor creating a lesson plan would run to the "history of role-playing games" as the practical, data-rich option.

But were I taking such a course, I would feel let down at the moment of being told we were going to start by reading and evaluating the White Box set, only to move onto Advanced D&D, then Moldvay's version, then how Tunnels and Trolls handled things, then Chivalry and Sorcery, then Rolemaster, followed by the supplement Ice Law, only to then move onto Gurps and Second Edition and the plethora of other games that exploded into the market in the 1980s, from Top Secret and Paranoia to Cthulhu and the Masquerade.  And so on.

Gawd.  What a boring, boring class that would be.  Someone would get something out of it, I'm sure, but a lot of us just spent 30 and 40 years taking this course already.  I think we're done.

I'd rather if we could start with three years of research that first established [a] what works as a DM/Player participation driver, regardless of the quality of the DM; and [b] what preparation best feeds point (a).  From there, we could then evaluate: [c] where do deviations from (a) lead, for good or ill; and [d] what forms of (b) reduces negative deviations that have come to light from research into (c).

That's as far as we dare go.  Any more and we'll probably be wallowing in our own conjecture and that is definitely not what we're searching for.

Let's look at [a] for a moment, acknowledging that we shouldn't attempt to establish an answer for what works regardless of skill at this time.  We can, however, argue against things that clearly do depend on skill: emotive role-playing for one, and player immersion for another.  These things clearly rely on some kind of inborn or acquired skill ... and therefore can be separated from the theoretical structure of the game in the 1st degree, as we try to understand what the game is.

This, already, is a lot to take in.  Theory always is.  Whatever impression I may have made so far, I don't know.  I do intend to keep thinking on this subject along these lines, and see what happens.  The more I hear from readers, the more focused my thinking is bound to be, as the process of explaining myself seems to trip switches in my head that opens doors.

And remember ... any one could get a PHD.  Get tested.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Wish It, Want It, Do It

Most readers here will know that I have very little that's good to say about the Angry DM.  I think that he talks in big purple self-promoting sweeps of his ego, but on the whole, I think he has very little to say that's meaningful.

However, I was asked by Jon Gazda what I thought; so here goes.

Jon Gazda writes,
"I'm interested in how you see products like the following compared to Monte Cook's. 
"The author seems to accept the idea that learning and growth is required, and doesn't really hide the fact that he's just organizing information on his website into a more usable format."

I would agree with that, to some degree.  Except that the information he's organizing is, well, the sort that doesn't need organizing.

Some things about The Angry DM.  First of all, it is his schtick to say, "I'm not going to do this" ... and then to do it within three or four paragraphs of his post.  He does it so often it isn't worth finding an example.  Read his blog; you'll find him stepping on his own declarations with frequent reliability.

I have yet to hear any "actual, practical" or "useful" anything coming out of the man; though he claims, continuously, to do this.  There is a TV Trope called, "Informed Ability."  The Angry DM is guilty of it.  He will make sure to explain, in detail, all the things he is capable of doing ... he just won't actually do it.  In that way, he's like Will Riker ~ we're constantly told what a great officer he is, we just never get to see it.

Take this first post, which he then quotes as very important with this second post.  The first post got 68 comments, and it is clear in the second post that he considers this to result from his amazing powers of getting the point across.  The thing is, however ... he doesn't actually make any real points with the first post. He talks all around it, yes.  He introduces five conflict ideas he has, and defines the terms for each conflict ... but he never actually explains how any of these things ... "conflict."  Yep, sure, tradition isn't progress.  And freedom runs contrary to security.  And idealism is a big non-pragmatism.  But where, where, I ask you, is the line that explains to you how to create game conflicts out of these terms.

See, what I think the Angry DM does is that he identifies a bunch of words, which he then loosely associates with role-playing.  He talks about the words, and encourages the reader to believe these words matter to role-playing ... and then he steps out the side door when the room starts talking.  He's quite good at this.  And his readers enjoy it: "Yeah, right, freedom and security.  That would be a great conflict for role-playing."  With 17 years of continuous social debate on the subject of those two things since 9/11, pervading every political action in the country, it's not that hard to figure out how that conflict would work.  We already know.  Ol' Mr. Angry DM doesn't have to do the work.  He's just Mr. Obvious, pointing out to Mr. Head-in-the-Sand, that this thing exists.

And Mr. Head-in-the-Sand cries out, "Brilliant!  I never thought of applying that to my role-playing game."

The Angry DM is friendly.  He's relaxed.  He sees the game with a slacker's attitude, as evidenced by the last paragraph of the first post:
"Now, I’m not going to build out the gods for my system today. If there’s demand for it – let me know – I’ll do it in a future article. It’s creative, fluffy bulls$&%. I hate wasting time on that. And I need some time to work out what to do with those gods. In the meanwhile, though, I encourage you to take a stab at doing your own thing. Either with my gods or with your own."

So, yeah.   None of this actually worked out.  And hey, you're going to do your own thing anyway.  I've said all the words, man.  Now go on and do whatever you want with those words.

And 68 comments later, he's more than willing to step up and take the applause for having created that.

The Angry DM has his finger on the pulse of the RPG community, much more so than I have. He's friendlier, he asks for less, he doesn't burn his readers with a lot of clear cut cold arguments that are hard to refute.  He's flexible.  This works, but hey, so does that.  So whatever.  Make it work anyway you want.  I'm just here to put down all the words.

So when The Angry DM says, "This book does not fuck around," he means yes, this book fucks around, but it will sound just as important as that sentence you just read there so you won't really notice.  When the Angry DM says, "It doesn't give you any of that touchy-feelie, hippie-dippie advice about 'making players happy' and 'always saying yes, and ...' "  He means that he's going to be all touchy-feelie, hippie dippie about making yourself as DM happy, because "Do Your Own Thing" is his watchword, just as it was the mantra in the 1960s hippie dippie era.

And when The Angry DM suggests that "Always saying yes, and ..." is touchie-feelie, he means that he really doesn't know what it means, or where it came from, or why it works, or how it is essential to making communication happen ~ and that he can't be bothered to learn, or create a rational argument for why it isn't so.  Easier to slap a label on that and move on.

When The Angry DM says his book is "like being punched in the gut by an actual, practical, useful advice," he means that his advice is going to come nowhere near your head, because it isn't going to be about thinking, it's going to be about feeling.  When the Angry DM says he's going to give advice about "how to actually narrate a scene," he doesn't mean he's going to tell you how, or walk you through it, he means he's going to give advice ... which is about the same as saying, "I wouldn't do that," and then moving on.  Because you can be very sure he isn't going to explain what he means by "actually" narrating a scene, as opposed to narrating a scene.  "Actually" just sounds like a really powerful word that will tell you, Dear Reader, that he is really, really serious about gut punching you with this unidentified scene narration advice.

When The Angry DM tells you that "how to know when to use dice" is actual, practical, useful advice, it's time to realize he doesn't have a second thing for his list of useful advice, and that he's phoning in that second thing on his list.  And when The Angry DM says that he'll punch you in the gut with the knowledge of "when it's time to tell your players to stop screwing around and get serious because its taking way too long to get through this combat," he means that he's had a lot of experience with players screwing around, and long combats, and learning that he has to eventually tell them to stop.  It's not really all that gut punching.  I'm pretty sure we already all know when it is time to do that.

Jon Gadza is not wrong when he says that The Angry GM seems to accept the idea that learning and growth is required.  I'm sure that he does.  It's just that he doesn't know what the learning is, or how the growth is accomplished ... he just knows that if you throw a lot of words at it, and you sound like you really care, and you replace the word fuck with f$&%, things are going to stick.  If you don't make your readers feel stupid, or inadequate, or threatened, like I do, then so long as you keep writing posts every day that will reliably fill up the first ten minutes of their work shift, talking about role-playing and stuff, you'll find popularity.

That's all most popularity is: writing every day, and not offending anyone.  And The Angry GM has the formula.  He's great at not offending anyone, while sounding like a lovable jackass who defies the system, by informing the reader constantly that he's definitely not a part of the system.  He's his own voice.  And he has all the words.

Not that I had to write this post. Someone else did already:

Thursday, August 23, 2018

We Got Ours

Damn it.

We can agree that DMs need to be better.  We can agree that tactics designed to control people will probably fail, even if we think something ought to be put in place.  We can agree the game has to be personal and that DMs must reach out to players in moments of stress and speak plain and honest with them.

And then what?  We're supposed to just drop the subject?  We're not supposed to talk about what it would look like to make a better DM?  We just don't care?

Earlier this month, Stonekettle station wrote an evaluation of a certain part of the American character that is, no doubt, hard to admit:
"This is the philosophy of modern conservatism: I got mine, fuck you.
"This is the core of their horrible selfish religion: I'm saved, you can burn in hell.
"You’ve heard me say this many times before: It’s not heaven if everybody gets to go. The best part about Conservative Heaven isn’t being up there with Jesus, no, it’s gloating at the poor saps burning forever down below. Ha ha HAH. We’re Saved, fuck you, losers! And that horrible selfish religion shapes everything else. We got ours, our healthcare, our food, our clean water, our homes, our jobs, our retirement, our stock options, our savings, our opportunity, our salvation, so fuck you. The best part of America is that everybody doesn’t get to go. There’s no point in privilege if everybody is privileged. You can’t think of yourself as exceptional if everybody is exceptional. There’s no point in being rich if everybody else is rich too. They see liberty and justice and freedom as a zero sum game. If others get more, they are somehow diminished, lessened, cheated of their exalted status and made average."

Is that the crux behind everyone's Dungeon Mastering.  Fuck you, I know how to Dungeon Master.  Others don't, but I know how, so fuck everyone else.  My world works great, thank you very much.  I know there are other worlds out there and they suck, but what difference does that make for me and my players?  Huh?  Fuck any notion of education, evalution or accreditation. No one's gonna tell me I need to learn something about this game.  They can tell other people, sure, but not me.

Maybe this is what I'm up against.  Not DMs who see that education is an opportunity, not DMs who are sure they could kick butt on courses if there were courses, not DMs who have nothing to worry about because they really do have their finger on the pulse of what makes the game work.  No.  We have DMs who live in fear that someone will find them out, someone will expose them, someone will prove that they actually run a shit game, that they'll talk to the players in private and find out the real deal, that they're not DMs at all and they're just faking their confidence.  That's what this silence on this issue, a practical sound approach to learning about role-playing, sounds like to me.

No, no, we'd rather kick in for kickstarters that will give us real tips, that will provide for us, that will put everything into one 224 page book, where we won't have to do anything, because the book or Monte Cook or this group of internet stars will set us up.  Matt Colville has put up 50+ vlogs of advice, but here, with this book, he's finally going to give you the facts, stuff he's been holding back all this time just for this fantastic guide.  And Mercer, after 300+ hours of internet commentary and game running, NOW he's got the lowdown you've never heard from him before.  Now he's going to blow the doors off this D&D thing.  He's kept silent on this one really amazing contribution he's got ready for you.  Wow, don't you want this book?

Is it any different for anyone on this list?  Do we really think these people haven't already shown their stripes?  That this book is just going to be a rehash of the same shit you've been reading online since 2005?  But hey, they have a kickstarter, they have names, they have a budget ... so fuck you and your DM needs, they got theirs.

And the crowd online is eating it up with a spoon.

Yes ... after 40 years of writing about D&D, we're finally
going to see some original work.

Did you go to a university that told you they were going to give you an engineering degree?  Or a masters in psychology or a doctorate in political science?  I went to a university that was ready to provide the classes, while we did all the work.  We weren't "given" anything.  When people say they're giving you something, they mean something you already have, that doesn't cost anything and won't matter in the long run.

So yeah.  Let's not talk about any Dungeon Mastering based on an idea of anyone learning anything.  Or working for anything.  Or improving anyone.  Because we're already Dungeon Masters.  We got ours when it was easy to get.  So fuck everyone else. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Some Progress

With an earlier post, Matt said, “In D&D, we need better DMs. We need better tools to teach DMs how to gage their table, how to open conversations, and how to care for the people around them.”

Yes, damn it. Every time we come back around to how to play, or how to manage a table better, or how to keep abuse from happening, or any damn thing on how people in role-playing games deserve the best possible experience, we come back around toteaching people how to DM. And yet though I've been shouting this for nine years now, it is still treated as a joke by the industry and by most bloggers or vloggers.

The best we have is a cadre of people who have taken it upon themselves to give advice. “Advice” is not teaching. It is a desire to guide or make recommendations concerning prudent future action … but that is not a systematic methodology towards deciphering and deconstruction what goes into making a DM able to read the temperament of other players, how to open conversations with players who might have trouble speaking freely, or how to care for others. At best, “advice” is well-meaning. More often, it is prejudicial and uniformed, and rife with people who don't care about the consequences of their advice except in how it raises their internet status and makes them feel important or financially supported.

Last year, I banged the drum for accreditation for game players and was virtually laughed off the subject. Yet here we are, dealing with the “public game” demanding a series of codified ethics to keep DMs from being abusive of players. No one wants to face the real question: how do we go about saying that some people shouldn't be DMing? We can't even admit there ought to be a guideline.

We can chatter and quibble about the definitions of words and how far DMs ought to go with the rules, or dissect role-playing from roll-playing endlessly, while we wait for the company or the gamestores to do something about the escalation of doubt and mistrust and gamesmanship at the RPG table, but until we approach the subject like adults instead of squabbling children, this game and this community ain't goin' nowhere.  It will still be like this 20 years from now, with the players then talking on whatever platform exists about this DM that abused their players or these DMs that are charging money for a two-dimensional game experience, or the newest module that still just rehacks the work that was written within five years of the game's invention.

Anyone who wants that to ever change has to sit down and puzzle out the answer to this question.  If we were to sit down our first year of college or university and take a option-course, 256 - Design and Management of a Role-Playing Theatre, what would the syllabus say?

That's the million dollar question, Dear Children.  The only place where we can't get to.  We can make the game popular, we can make it a cash product, we can build an industry out of the proceedings and we can dream build worlds until we choke on them, but until we can point at a fundamental structure for game play, that makes so much sense that people must embrace it, because it is so obviously better than what they're doing, then we are just leaning against trees and making fertilizer.

Don't tell me it can't be done.  Psychology tackles the whole human experience and we're looking just to solve four hours a week in a relatively closed and controlled environment.  There are art classes to teach people how to paint, acting classes to teach people how to act, salesperson classes to teach people how to sell and goddamn fung shui classes to teach people how to tell other people how to move furniture.  Think on that.  Fung shui is more organized than we are.  Frightening.

I suppose you could argue it had thousands of years to get its shit together.

For my money, the course work on that syllabus should read, "How to be a responsible adjudicator.  How to treat your players as equals.  How to make the game a meaningful challenge.  How to create immersion.  Why immersion matters.  Why understanding how these things work is necessary to self-examination and meaningful self-development.  Why making the game helps with playing the game." And why letting others make the game, and coasting on their work, is a recipe for disaster; or rather, one word for those taking our course: Pitfalls.

But hell, there are so few people I speak to who even believe the game is meaningful enough to justify a university course.  Remembering that this is a university course.

At least some designers are catching up to the place where the Sims was in 2001, seventeen years ago:

I'm just so gawdamned not impressed.  It's not even in color.  But at least we're finally using a computer.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Deader than Dead

While talking about how games should be hard, it's not a bad time to think about death ... specifically, the sort of death that occurs when a player is deader than dead.

I used to hear people complain that the presence of raise dead and resurrection minimized the impact of death, but in these days of poofie games, when death doesn't occur at all, the subject doesn't come up so often.  Still, I wanted to write a post about situations where spells, or even rods, aren't enough to change a bad situation for the better.

First, let's understand that spells and magic items have limitations ~ as does everything in D&D, because limitations are how games work.  To bring back the dead, you've got to have a body.  Even resurrection needs a body part ~ though gawd knows what the fuck the rule is in 5e ... probably, to make resurrection work in the newest version, we just need a memory of the dead. Hell, 5e probably doesn't even need a spell.  I'll be you just have to really want another player to be raised.

But ... in the darker world of old timey D&D, there were limitations on a return from death that kept the game interesting, without having to create any rules.  The simple fact of role-playing in a complex world made even resurrection with a rod impossible.

The gang I played with considered that "a part of the body" had to be something representative; an organ would do, but tended not to keep very well, where as a bone ... well, any of the 206 in the body would do.  However, it had to be a part ... ashes were not enough.  Therefore, if someone burned the body, that was the absolute removal of that creature from any possibility of resurrection. This fit neatly into the framework of religious cremation ~ so that we could argue that the reason why burning the body became a thing was so that kings and priests could not be brought back from the dead with the mere touch of a magic rod.

A similar argument is made for bodies dissolved in lime pits, or bodies that were eaten whole by creatures that made it impossible for the body to be obtained, even after the creature was dead.  A character in my game once died permanently by remorhaz.  The internal heat of the creature is such that as soon as he was swallowed (a special power of the creature in the original Monster Manual), the character was dead.  No resurrection possible.

Of course, a character could be eaten by more normal creatures, too, who might swallow the bones, splitting them for their marrow or digesting the smallest pieces.  If a character wandered off, and was killed, then dragged away by the monsters, so that by the time the players caught up to the player that the body and bones were rendered unrecognizeable ... that was permanent death, too.

There are a host of permanent deaths that involve the body simply being lost.  It might be buried in an avalanche, never to be found again, even in the spring ~ and of course, some parts of the world have no spring.  A body could be lost at sea and never found.  A body could fall into a deep trench and be lost, or unrecoverable because the trench itself could not be navigated by a sufficiently skilled party.  More than one character could die permanently in the attempt to recover one already lost.

Then we have my favorite.  The crushing death.  I once dropped a mountain on a character in a cave-in.  Even if the body was recovered ~ next to impossible, as many kinds of rock cannot be excavated after a cave-in, because there's no way to "shore up" the new tunnel ~ it would be mush, as good as ashes ... and any lone bone that might exist would probably be missed and overlooked unless the space was excavated within a few weeks, before the flesh rotted away or was eaten by insects and other creatures.

Or the space between a glacial crevice; the body falls one hundred seventy feet, is wedged between the ice; which, moving, closes and squush.  That's too much ice to simply turn to water.  No spell would have been able to do it in less than three months.

Plus there's always lava, or being buried under a fall of ash. These are just things that happen.  And for some reason, player characters are willing to go adventuring around volcanoes and other dangerous places, so it happens to them more frequently.

Of course, it doesn't take a physical force to end it.  There's always transmogrifying into the undead.  Once a character has become a shadow or a wraith, resurrection is out of the question.  This isn't merely a curse.  The soul itself has been lost from the body, entombed on another plane of existence.  Resurrection presumes the soul and body are one.  Without the soul, it might as well be the same issue as not having a part of the body.  Perhaps the body could be raised ~ but like W.W. Jacobs' The Monkey's Paw, what comes a knocking is not what is hoped for.

The matter of the soul is often overlooked.  For the body and soul to be restored to life, in the D&D framework of material plane and outer planes, where the latter is ruled over by gods who reap the dead according to their ethnic origin and ethical behaviour, resurrection magic requires a certain complicity.  The god, having gotten the soul of your dead character, has to be willing to give it back.  The existence of the spell, to me, suggests the god is mostly fine with this arrangement.  After all, the god will get you eventually, and gods don't view time the way we do.

However, if your actions on the material plane have been running along with much conflict between you and some of the gods ~ and in those upper double digit levels that tends to be the sort of game that's played ~ some of the gods may not be so willing to give that soul back, once it's gotten.  Remember, magic has limitations.  And mortal magic is most definitely not the end all and be all of magical power in the multi-universes.  At some point, if we've gained the enmity of the gods, that enmity is going to cost us when we want to get the soul of our friend back.

So these are ways that any character can die permanently.  Some, because they failed a saving throw, or the dice were against them, or they made a bad decision and took too big a chance ... and others because it isn't possible to live forever.  It's fine that most of the time the character can be gotten back; so long as we understand there's always a reasonable chance that they won't.  Ever.

Though ... it's worth saying that if mortal magic does have its limitations in raising the dead, then immortal magic might have a few options that aren't normally available.  And the gods might be convinced, somehow, to intervene even when deader than dead is not dead enough.

Dungeons & Dragons means there's always a way to negotiate with this guy.
But it's going to cost you.

Friday, August 17, 2018

How the Rules Should Read

Before I start, I want to warn my readers that this isn't going to be an easy post for some to read, because it involves domestic violence.  I would recommend that you approach this post cautiously for that reason.

Yesterday, on his 'Crossing the Verse blog, Ozymandias quoted a dialogue, that I'd like to post here as well.

We are all seeing a lot of stuff like this now, and not just connected to role-playing games.  I have no specific things to say about any of the posts above, except that they are more or less representative of a growing number of people who believe that the means to making their own lives easier is to create rules that they themselves feel that they're able to live by, and that ~ they feel ~ others ought to live by too.  All this, we are told, is so that everyone can feel "safe." Because "safe" is the most important thing there is, especially in any sort of group activity.

Now, let me take a step back.  I am going to talk about D&D again, but first I want to explain about something else.

When I was young, my father hit me.  I have talked abut this on this blog before, but about a month ago I had a revelation about it.  See, my father did not hit me when I was an infant, or when I was a child.  I remember that I was 14 years old the first time my father hit me with his fist. I had been given spankings, and I had experienced my father's belt, but as far as I knew, those times were not done in anger.  Growing up in the 70s, most kids had stories of being hit with a belt and that wasn't unique.

But at 14, my father made a connection in his head that a belt wasn't controlling my behavior.  I wasn't growing up the way he expected me to grow up.  I wasn't working hard at school.  I wasn't pursuing a future in science or engineering.  I wasn't speaking politely to my mother or my sister, mostly because they weren't speaking politely to me.  And I wasn't afraid of a belt.  In fact, I was getting to the point that I'd rather take the belt than kow-tow to an agenda that did not fit my interests.

So my father got desperate, and he lost his temper, and he hit me with his fists.  I had said something to my sister that was inconsiderate, and my father found me in the laundry room.  I can remember him coming right at me.  And me putting up my arms to protect my face.  And being hit in the face and the body.  And then it was over and I remember being told that I better never speak badly to my sister again.

That didn't happen very often.  But it did happen, and no, I didn't feel safe.  It happened right up until I was nearly 20.  But before I explain what stopped it, I want to explain what caused it.

When my father was hitting me at 14, my father felt SAFE.  I was just a young teenager, about 120 lbs, less than half my father's weight, and I was a nerd.  I avoided fights as a kid because I lost fights.  My father had worked as a forest fighter.  He had worked as a roughneck around oil wells.  When I was 14, he was 42, and a big man.  He had big, beefy hands.  I wasn't gonna do anything to him.  He didn't have to hesitate before rushing in to beat me up.

At 19, I was out of high school but still living at home.  I was bigger.  I had worked construction jobs.  My hands were harder.  My shoulders were wider.  I had played football and I had grown.  That's where I was when my father got his last try to learn me something.

I remember I was in the basement rec room.  And it was really late.  Something had pissed him off but I don't remember what.  I heard him coming down the stairs and I must have known why then, though I've forgotten now.  He had his fists closed.

I had my fists closed too.  And I remember I said, "Come on, old man.  You wanna fight.  I'm ready for you."

And just like that, my father backed the fuck down.  We never did fight.  And he never closed a fist in my presence again.

He didn't feel safe any more.

That's the center point of this post. I had a relationship with my father after that, and it was never what I'd call satisfactory.  Towards the end, it became fucking impossible.  But not because he hit me.  No.  We settled that business.  And settling that, for a time, there were things we were able to sort out between us and I did have some good times with him.  He's in an old age home now, with Alzheimers, and I don't visit him.  I stopped visiting him casually in 2007 when he was healthy and well.  I saw him at my mother's bedside in 2012 before she passed.  And at my daughters wedding in 2016.  Not since.  Because not all parents are good parents, and not even family deserves an infinite number of chances.

Beware of people who make a crusade out of feeling safe.  Asking to feel safe by controlling what other people say or do, or by what emotions they display, is not a good thing.  Any policy that begins with what other people have to do is a road to persecution and the abuse of power.

I did not treat my daughter as my father had treated me.  I did spank her on three occasions, all of which my daughter remembers. Those spankings consisted of her bending over my lap and being smacked one time.  And not hard.  Because I learned as a child that the worse thing about being spanked isn't the pain.  The pain is nothing.  The pain is choosing to be hit by the wrench by your father because fuck him.  The worst thing about being spanked is the humiliation that it is happening.

One spank just makes the message stick.  The first time I spanked her was to stop her from touching burning wood in the fireplace.  She was, I think, four.  I don't remember why the other two times.  It seemed to matter at the time.  But I felt safe too, didn't I?

I was not going to be my father.  And that's what matters.  It isn't about what people do to us. We can't, and shouldn't try, to control other people. That's my father's crime.  Not that he hit me.  But that he refused to understand me, or try to understand me.  I could stand here today and talk about how I didn't feel safe ~ and I sure didn't ~ but it was far, far worse that I wasn't understood than that I didn't feel safe.  I'd have taken a hundred beatings if it meant my father would have asked me a fucking question about what I wanted, and believed me.

But he never did.

People who want to feel safe aren't listening.  They don't want to listen. When someone raises a voice in their presence, from pain or confusion or from frustration, they don't want to hear any of that.  The safety people don't want to reach out.  They don't want to forgive anybody, anything.  They just want everyone to bend, to make them feel safe.

And once they feel safe, believe me ... that isn't going to end well.

I want to say that D&D shouldn't be about any of this.  It shouldn't be about people making rules about the behaviour of other people. If you don't like other people, then don't play with them. Or find a way to speak with them, and understand them, and forgive them.  There is no kindness like forgiveness, and no cruelty like shame.

Forcing others to quiet themselves for the sake of safety is shaming.  It is ritualized humiliation for people who don't fit it, who don't toe the line, who are too passionate, or too high strung, or too stressed for reasons that have nothing to do with a D&D table.  I am ready, as a DM, to ask someone who won't speak kindly to others to leave my table.  But I won't take a part in shaming them.  I won't make rules that enable them to stay on if they act as I dictate.  And I will let them join my game again, if we can talk and discuss things, and make room for our forgiving one another.

If we want to make rules, let's make that one.  Let's demand that if someone has an issue, if someone has raised their voice and gotten upset, that no one is allowed to speak with superior judgment that a role-playing game is THIS, or that people have gathered for THIS reason, or that for the sake of EVERYONE, an individual is disposable, or that the right to play somehow justifies a right to dictate how other people should present a game, or check-in because we say so, or kowtow to the lines we draw for ourselves, or fail to be acknowledged because, while they're of some kind of race, they're not of a certain kind of passively accepted personality.  How about the rule reads, "Everyone has a right to be heard, and acknowledged, and forgiven, even if that doesn't make everyone feel safe."

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Go Hard

As just explained to me by Ozymandias on Facebook, "Session Zero" is a discussion of the player's interests, what are the player boundaries, what is the player looking to get out of the game.  It's admitted that communication is good and that generally people should have it, but if the player is dictating everything to the DM, then where's the surprise and mystery?  And for my money, I'll add to his point by asking, where is the fear?

It's the same reason why professional BDSM doesn't make sense to a lot of people.  You want to be controlled, so you go to a ProDomme, who you tell what to do, then pay her money to do it, then pretend that you're being "controlled," while she pretends she's controlling you.  At the same time, if you made a contract with a person who might actually be ready to control YOU for real, you would wisely not show up.  So what's the deal here?

The deal is that players (and BDSM clients) want their fantasy dished out just the way they like it.  They don't want surprises, they don't want stress, they don't want to be challenged, they don't want to take a risk ... and the industry and community confirms that.  It may be a game but, unlike golf, we don't want anyone making difficult golf courses.  Unlike kayaking, we only want to boat on quiet rivers.  Unlike free climbing, we don't want t climb any unclimbed routes.  We want the cliches.  We want the same conversations to get around the guards or to convince the vendor to sell for a few coins less.  We want the adventures to end in a big bad, and we want the big bad to have a simple agenda and to be there waiting for us, and we want the big bad to be absolutely killable.  We don't want any surprises.

On the other hand, I advocate a stress game.  I want the D&D equivalent of the hole depicted on the right.  And as the players line up to take their shot at the next round of the adventure, I want them to hesitate just as you would if I told you your LIFE depended on you landing your golf shot somewhere on the green, the rough or the sand trap ... because if you hit rock with that ball, that ball is gone.

And I want my D&D game to have that flexibility.  It isn't about getting it on the green. The green is terrific; but there's enough flexibility that the rough or a sand trap will do.  It's an ascending scale of how much shit your character can get in before they actually die.  But there's always a chance you'll fuck up that stroke and yes, doing so, that's the end of that character.

Moreover, as a DM, I'm not going to have a session zero that shows you this golf hole.  I'm going to drive you out to it in a car with blacked out windows, and I'm going to have you make the bet with me before you see the hole.  By the time you see the hole, it's too late to back out.  That's the sort of game I run.

That's the sort of game I want to play ... because I think, for myself, if I were pulled out to that hole and told to take my shot, that I'd want to see if I could do it.  That's the thrill for me.  The test to see if I'm up to it.  Unfortunately for me, this seems to apply to situations where thinking is most of the game ... if we actually are talking golf, then yeah, I'm going to fuck that hole because I'm not that great a player, though I enjoy the nuance of the game.  But if we're talking D&D, and you're running me as a player, and you park me in front of this hole, then yeah.  I think I'm going to be fine.  I think I'm going to fucking enjoy making that shot and I'm damn comfortable with the consequences.

I have a pretty high regard for myself mentally. I don't need to talk it out with the DM before we get started.  I don't need to establish boundaries regarding what might happen to my characters because I don't have any boundaries.  Not because I don't get uncomfortable, but because I like discomfort.  I like being pushed.  I like the agony and stress of a frustrating, uncertain, and potentially unwinnable situation.  That's why I got into chess at an early age.  That's why I fell in love with D&D in a single night.  That's why I've thrown my whole potential life away in order to spend it obsessed with this game.  Because I like the fact that it isn't cut and dried, it isn't safe, it isn't sure, and it sure as hell isn't easy.

And that is why lately I have been so frustrated and down about the community as a whole.  Because of late I feel an increase of being the only one that feels this way about this game.  That I don't want it to be the same silly cliches of 40 years ago.  And I want others not to want those cliches too.

But ... oh fuck it.  No buts.  Let's just play this fucking game.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

August MC Post, #1

It follows that, having posted Part 4 of the Senex Campaign, I'm ready to post another essay for my Master Class blog, which I have now done.  Mechanics of Party Splitting discusses the strategy and philosophy behind splitting a party into two or more groups, without losing momentum in the handling of the game.  It talks of Setting Flexibility, the importance of Time and the overarching necessity for Shared Experience, in order to focus multiple groups upon a mutually enjoyed game experience.  I think it is one of the best Master Class posts that I've written.

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I leave you with this cliched, and wrong, fable on why players should never split the party (hint: it the result of bad setting design):

Monday, August 13, 2018

Part 4 of the Senex Campaign

For those interested readers who have contributed $3 to my Patreon, I have expanded my rewrite of the Senex Campaign with Part 4: Approach of the Gate.  Having learned that a horrible creature from another plane will be gated into the town of Dachau, the players make every effort to reach authorities before the moment arrives.  As a lightning storm descends upon the city, they are caught in events far too large for them to manage; all they can do is try to survive as the gate opens and the world is turned upside down ...

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