Friday, February 1, 2019

Gifford Again

I do feel that I’m being hard-hearted here; James Gifford is doing no different than what I’m doing, he’s wanting support, he’s wanting consideration for himself as an artist … a lot of us are doing this all over. In fact, in light of the job losses that we can envision in our near future, I am telling younger people that if they want job security in the future, the only way to get it will be to work for themselves. I recently listened to this podcast with Andrew Yang, talking about the onset of automation and job loss, in which Yang pointed out that soon we can expect the evaporation of call center jobs. While a part of me feels the threat of that; another part of me thinks, “Cool, everyone will be able to create and afford their own call center.” It is up to us to maneuver ourselves into a place where we are using the technology that’s coming rather than falling prey to it.

However, being creative and self-motivated isn’t a get out of jail free card. I put words together well; if I set myself to provide misinformation to others, I would still write well ~ but I would be in the wrong. That is why, though I can respect Gifford’s art work, I have sincere problems with his content. For example, the panel shown here. A panel which, I will stress for the reader, takes place AFTER the player’s characters were rolled up (see yesterday’s post).

Why are we only learning what the dice are now? Didn’t we need those dice to roll up the characters?

Apparently not. We’ve heard of stat arrays; but apparently, in explaining how the game works, there’s no requirement to explain what stat arrays are or why they exist. That would require multiple panels and is ultimately a rabbit hole that no cheerful, friendly, slightly humorous artist/writer wants to address … so instead we get more of this “don’t worry” stuff. Convenient. Aggravating. Misleading. Disrespectful to the intelligence of the listener and ultimately the source of millions of fruitless arguments on the internet. Still; let’s put that on a shelf.

This is not how lava works. Jumping over a pit of lava would be like putting your hand a few inches above a large burning fire. Most likely, during your wind-up to jump, you’d pass out from the heat. During the hang-time of your jump (particularly in this drawing), you’d most likely be on fire when you landed ~ your hair in particular. But let’s put that on a shelf.

I particularly like the tree in the picture.

What are the spikes going to do that the lava is not?

But let’s put that on a shelf.

Let’s just talk about this: “As the DM, I decide on a number on the [sic] scale to determine how much of a challenge this is.” And then Gifford writes, “Let’s saaay … 15!”

“Let’s”? That’s an unfortunate idiom for something the DM is going to say.

This is not how “a challenge” works. This is how a crap shoot works. A crap shoot where the dealer arbitrarily changes the odds. From a mountain of psychological studies we know that human beings alter their opinions about things based on all sorts of stuff ~ their mood, the current state of their lives, relationship problems, the weather … your character could die from rolling a 16 and not a 15 because the DM’s wife gave him shit that morning for not taking out the garbage. It’s not a “challenge.”

A challenge happens when you face something in a competition, where an individual struggles against self, other or nature in an ongoing contest. When we reduce “challenge” to let’s roll the die and see what happens, we cheapen that conflict. We turn it into something tawdry, slight or disposable. For those who can’t see it, imagine, “Lava Pit!” the movie, in which our bold hero steps up to the edge and jumps … oh no! He misses and dies. Roll credits.

Wow. What a great movie. If only he had made it before the credits rolled. Then it would have been even better.

When every scene of your “story” turns to crap because a player misses a crapshoot, you’ve missed the damn point. Better that the players come to the edge of the pit, feel the heat, realize there’s no way they’re jumping this horror show and fall back. “How are we going to do it?” says one. “We’ll have to find another path.” “Perhaps there’s a spell.” “I don’t have it.” “Sure, but if we met someone who could get us across …” “Where?” “Hey, I have an idea …”

That is how a challenge works.

Just look at Gifford here in these last panels, trying to squeeze as much drama as possible out of the words, “… And I mean the WORST possible way.” Jeez. Is that really the best we can do? A vague threat that if you crap out on the d20, you’ve crapped out? Hell, I can get more drama than that at any Casino. It’s cheap, it’s lazy, it’s unworthy and damn, it’s a rotten way to build up your new players into thinking this is the end-all and be-all of possible outcomes.

5e was supposed to be “role-playing” and not “roll-playing.” To hell with either. How about think-playing?


  1. The comic is wrong in that RAW D&D (3.x and beyond) skill check results do not have rules regarding a roll of 1 or 20 being different than say 7.

  2. Yeah, critical hits/fumbles only apply to attack rolls and nothing else. Also, ignoring the heat of the lava for a moment, his example of a 20 is the same as his example of a 15 would have been. So even if he allows for critical success on a skill check, apparently there's no difference between a standard and critical success, same goes for failure.

    Also how is the lava 'fresh' it's not a fruit.

  3. Also as far as the target number goes, it wouldn't be 15 or 16, it would either be 15 or 20, because the different difficulties are in 5 point increments. There is a difficulty chart with ratings like hard, difficult, really difficult, complicated, etc. With a target number next to each one. So the DM isn't choosing between measurable 5% differences, but between a list of arbitrary words that really mean the same thing with 25% differences in chance of success. The whole idea behind the system is arbitrary and childish.

  4. Explaining role playing to a newbie is notoriously difficult and dumbing down pretty much everything is to expected. I applaud the attempt, however inaccurate it might be, and the art is nice.

    There really should be some kind of OSR blog challenge:
    Explain basic OSR gaming to a new player in 2 pages or less.

  5. Rob,

    It is notoriously difficult to explain calculus to a newbie. It is notoriously difficult to explain gerunds and subjunctives to a newbie. It is notoriously difficult to explain many things to people who have no experience with those things.

    I have never seen anyone make a case that it's okay to explain calculus incorrectly because it is hard.

    As far as your OSR challenge: I did it on January 23rd, a week ago. I don't recall making any inaccurate statements.

  6. The thing is, we keep thinking that there is some necessary time-frame that we should be using to explain this game: like your 2-page suggestion, Rob. Why is that? No one would propose that we could explain grammar that way; and a typical grammar textbook has a lot less words in it than D&D has. We wouldn't try to teach people how to write fiction in one class; normally, people who want that pay for a dozen classes at least ... and then they often will take the same course over again because they get more from it.

    This, "Let's teach D&D quickly" thing, so that we can sustain interest among people who are easily bored, thinking that filling out one page of details is "homework," just seems silly to me. Not everyone is interested in kayaking. It takes a lot of drive and commitment to get into weightlifting. No one in either will pretend that your muscles won't hurt by the end of a few hours work.

    Why is it we're so concerned that people who want to play D&D will find their brain hurts from using it for a few hours? Maybe D&D just isn't right for them.

  7. Frankly, that comic isn't right for me. Every single page has at least one cringe-worthy fallacious convention.

    I'm tempted to get a copy if only so I can have a reference point for my angry rants.

    But no . . . trying to do better than that.

  8. The idea of the two-pager is to get more people at the table. To expand the hobby which started with the requirement that veterans explain things and has barely moved beyond that. I feel a two-pager would remove the intimidation a newbie might feel. Depth and detail can be learned through actual play.

  9. Same question, Rob. Why is our goal to get more people to the table?

    Is there some way that having more people in the world playing this game makes my game, with my five or six players, better? Because I don't see it.

    What I see is a lot of people trying to dumb down my game, rather than making it better.

    Supposedly so that more people can play.

  10. Let me amend that:

    Supposedly so that more people, who wouldn't care otherwise, can play.

  11. I'm thinking there are people that would like to play but are intimidated because of the amount of stuff it seems you need to know.

    I think expanding the role playing numbers of people that want to play will bring more money and visibility to the whole hobby. I think in general that would be a good thing.


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