Monday, June 28, 2021

Editors, Please

Okay, the principle work on the new project is completed, as of last night.  I'm ready to print a mock-up, but before I can demonstrate it on line, I'm waiting for a key component that's coming to me from Fall River, Massachusetts.  It's set to arrive between the 2nd and 6th of July.  Then I will have the mock-up ready.  I can't publish this item through Lulu, so I will have to ship it myself; just now, I don't have the capital to launch this right away, though we're working to raise that.  It's not out of the question that I could be doing a $2,200 kickstarter campaign. That's how much we figure gets us started.

For the present, I'll please ask no one to contribute anything special at this time.  Continuing to support my Patreon is more than enough.  However, I'm in need of four editors; covid has obliterated my former resources in this regard.  I need my spelling and continuity checked, is all.  The work is about 20 minutes, I'd say.  Any takers?

Write a comment here, so I can confirm (this has to be people who are Patreon supporters and regulars); I have your emails already so I'll send one quarter to you.  I need this turned around by tomorrow, so I can get this printed on Wednesday.

I recognize that some will want the opportunity for a preview (once seen, what the project is will be blatantly obvious), but I will ask you PLEASE do not offer to edit if you cannot edit.  I cannot express the importance of my getting this just right.

Sunday, June 27, 2021


Yesterday, seeking to pick up some epsom salts for my summer bathing, I found the local pharmacy sold out.  This wouldn't be odd, except that the same shop was sold out of footpads, braces, muscle relaxants, muscle ointment and a lot more.  The shelf was empty; and as it happened, the painkiller shelf looked the same.  I asked if this had something to do with supply and the pharmacist explained that, no, they had been cleaned out of everything since that morning.

People are going back to work after a long hiatus, and they hurt.  At least one reader of mine is a pharmacist, I know, down in the 'states.  I'd like to know if he's experienced something similar.

On Monday the Washington Post published a story on employment: "Some 649,000 employees gave notice in April, the sector's largest one-month exodus in over 20 years, a reflection of pandemic-era strains and a strengthening job market."

The article explains that workers are ditching their $11-an-hour dead-end jobs for something worthwhile.  16 months of Covid, and time to think as the world skids down the chute, enables people to think.  With our head to the grindstone, we don't see much.  Lift our heads, and its a new world.  Things have changed.  Priorities shift.  The unlashed back has time to heal and there's less impetus to get back into harness and feel the lash again.  Though if my pharmacy is any indication, some people are doing exactly that.

This may seem a stretch: these are signs of how management has come to operate around us.  My son-in-law was recalled to his warehouse job, the temporary work he started doing because work as an electrician evaporated in early 2020.  He started five days ago.  In those five days he has worked four 10-hour-shifts, at a job where lifting and moving 80-pounds is unrelenting.  Working with four others, that's 50 hours of work a day, 200 in four days.  Why not six or seven employees working 8 hour days?  Because that's not how business worked then, and its not how business works now.  Welcome back to work, mules.  Now break yourselves, because it saves us $5 a day on business expenses.

I don't mean to sound like a socialist (though I am one).  My son-in-law is a mule, at least where work is concerned, and since he comes from a past of hauling cable over 14 hour days in Canada's arctic, he's already stretching into it.  The same can be said for his co-workers.  Young men are built like this.  Young men, however, become middle-aged men, many of whom I know well, whose ankles, backs, hips, and shoulders have degraded to where those fellows will be in serious pain for the rest of their lives, despite the surgeries, pins, brackets and so on they'll collect.  We don't say, when pitching the viability and importance of trade schools for educating the young, that they better climb in status or get out by their mid-40s ... remembering there aren't enough foreman jobs for everyone.  Anyone that's 30-something, in the trades, and hasn't already, should seek greater training, forthwith.

When a company offers that training, that's leadership.  Most small businesses don't.  Most large businesses do.  A pleasant reality of working in a non-service company, or the non-service branch of a service company — something I know first hand — is their acknowledgement that employees need more than a wage.  Employees need help ... though many don't think so or don't want it.  Naturally, an employee must reach out; when they do, there's something to reach for.  The smaller the company, the more service oriented it is, the less that's true.

There's a scene in 1999's The Cider House Rules where the boss presses a subordinate that's apathetically thrown his cigarette into a vat of apple cider:

"What business are you in, Jack?  Just tell me what business you're in."

Keeping with Friday's post about management and dungeon mastering, if you want to be a DM, you've got to ask yourself the same question.  Are you in the game business, or are you in the service business?  Which is it?  In the past, I've written posts that talked about how we've got to serve your players; I've also written posts that call for those players subjecting themselves to the rules, with us as gatekeepers.  This should help the reader understand that this isn't a simple question.  I believe that at times, a DM needs to provide things in setting and opportunities that definitely make D&D look like a service-driven operation.  I also believe than when a player character dies, that's how it has to go, no matter what I or the players might like about it.

When I was young and new to restaurants, I remember a kitchen manager that rode me and everyone else like we were cattle.  After a couple of months I found my dignity and confronted him about it, asking him to treat me with more respect than he had been.  His answer stuck; I can still see him, and the store room around him, as he chose to create a permanent memory in my retinas.  "You think I can't replace you just like that?" he asked.  "You think you're special?"

I told him to replace me, quitting on the spot.  He and his restaurant was as replaceable for me as I was for him; I had employment elsewhere within the week.  This story, however, means to address those DMs who treat their players just like that manager treated me (and everyone else).  There's a limit to how hard you can be.  A DM has to draw a line, yes.  Many players are even replaceable, as it happens.  But treating them like they're replaceable, guarantees you'll only find that kind.  Devoted, clever, enthusiastic players can't be replaced, and as it happens not all players of that calibre start out that way.  Many players need time to find themselves, to gain trust, to discover the game and so on, meaning that a DM's got to keep both eyes open and watch for ways to bring players like that out.  We devote ourselves, therefore, to enduring some of their more frustrating qualities, giving ground and sacrificing our time, until we know for sure, one way or the other.  Comes a time, after months, we become sure they're not going to get better.  We're tired of waiting.  Whereupon we cut them free.  But we give them every chance, first, to change.

This doesn't mean getting them to like our game system, our world or our campaign.  Like has nothing to do with it.  This is training, not pandering.  Whatever that kitchen manager's attitude, I'm sure now that he was trying to hammer me into the employee he wanted.  He thought smacking down my attitude, as he saw it, was the way to make me fall in line.  Working in a kitchen is literally described as "working on the line."  Everyone's got to toe that line, and work together, taking orders and churning out the food.  Sorry to call it "churning," but a single cook will cook and plate 60 lbs. of food an hour and that's what it feels like.  A single server will carry three times that, in food and plates.  Despite that, the food's got to be golden, every ounce of it.  When it's not, the server gets it, the management gets it and the cooks get it; and it's not golden consistently, there's no restaurant at all.  So shutting down a cook or a server matters; it's got to be done, because when that ticker starts clicking, punching out 18 dishes a minute, communication without attitude is critical.  Putting the tables together means multiple people working together to get pasta, meats, salads and sides on the plates at the same time to go out together.  There's no time for attitude.

That's what that kitchen manager thought he was getting from me: attitude.  What I wanted from him was respect.  His error wasn't telling me what to do, or even shouting at me to get it done.  When a kitchen crashes — when the orders come in so much faster than the food goes out that everyone, lead hand and expediter, gets pushed past their limit — then the kitchen is a warzone.  There's hot oil, there's fire, the floor's a skating rink, there are long sharp knives in everyone's hand and we're all moving very, very fast.  Screaming for the potatoes that are lagging on a "six-top" (a table with six clients) and keeping it from going out, is par.  Hard words in harsh tones happen.  "The heat" in the kitchen you get out of if you can't handle it isn't the food, the fire or the hot surfaces.

The kitchen manager's error came when the shit backed off, giving time for people to settle.  In a good kitchen, there are jokes; there are apologies; everyone pitches in and cleans the food that's been falling like rain.  In a good kitchen, the manager is there, cleaning up with the crew, making jokes, cooling everyone's temper.  Fred never did that.  When the pressure let off, he would leave.  Just leave.  Most likely, inside, he was shaking.  The comfort of his office, door closed; the comfort of having an office to escape into; hell, he might have had a bottle in a drawer.  Who knows?

I'm saying that DMs, when the pressure builds, can yell at their players.  They can make demands.  They can tell Jerry to "Shut the fuck up!"  Players can go at each other, too, and sometimes it's a good idea to let them.  What we can't do is pretend those moments didn't happen.  We're responsible for those things happening; and we're responsible for smoothing those moments out again.  DMing is running the game, and it's running the people ... and it's running the aftercare as well.  It's giving the players what they want, what they need ... and those things they don't think they want or need, too.

To do that, as a DM, we have to look past things like a kitchen manager saying a shitty thing.  We're got to pull those moments apart and see them empathically, through their eyes.  People do and say things that are the wrong things to say, but they also do them for reasons.  Managing people, leading them, requires a set of skills that will lets us, as leaders, see things from their point of view and not our own.  We have to want to do that.

It doesn't come naturally.  It takes wisdom.  It takes experience with the game and with players.  It takes admitting that when things went sideways, we were to blame also.  What Fred said to me that day, I was part of that.  I didn't see that at the time, but I was young and only saw things from my perspective.

Slowly, I changed.  I am changing.  Making the business I'm in, running as a DM, says I must.

Friday, June 25, 2021

The Dynamic

In consideration of Zarious' thoughts from DMs Eat Last, it wouldn't hurt to delve into comparisons between business management and acting as a dungeon master.  Where are the similarities, for example, and does the proposal that getting a job as a manager/supervisor in a fast food/retail/service business hold water as a means of gaining experience in being a DM?

I can attest that it does, in part, though not as much as the reader might imagine.  Any negotiation between one person and another will convey this kind of experience; learning how to handle a customer screaming at us through a plexiglass window as we politely derail their demands will help in managing an irate player who's extremely disappointed at not getting the magic item they want or having their character killed.  Unfortunately, however, most manager jobs are not really about "managing;"  managers are very often little more than stooges who must adhere to policy being pushed down on them from above, giving them little to no latitude, even in what they're allowed to tell the staff or dispense consequences for employees who show up late or goof off when they should be working.  A low middle manager in a service job will usually be a special kind of hell, particular in retail, where the responsibilities are increased but the pay isn't.  Remembering that all those "responsibilities" equate to being responsible about acting as a good, obedient slave to managers higher up.  Most managers burn up under the stress; those who stay do so in hopes of climbing the ladder, which they may never succeed in doing.

Dungeon mastering is nothing like this.  For one thing, ALL the policies are there to be set by the DM, not by someone higher up some ladder.  Additionally, a DM is not in the position of doling out paycheques to players, who must show "productivity" in their weekly efforts around the gaming table.  Imagine how it might change the dynamic to explain to your players that you'll be paying them $15 an hour, starting at 7 p.m. and ending at 11; that they're expected to be on time or the first hour will be docked; that no, they cannot leave early; that they must play well enough to achieve certain goals in that time, or else they'll be fired and their position will be given to someone else.  Imagine saying as a DM, "I have plenty of players in line who would love to get $60 a shift to come and play this game; tell me why I should continue to let you participate in this game, instead of one of them?"

I've had periods in my life when I could afford $240 a week; and I know there are plenty of DMs out there making that much and a lot more, so this is in the realm of possibility.  Consider, however, how this shatters the dynamic.  The players are forced to play for the DM in compensation for their wages — even if the DM doesn't make it clear in what way.  The implication is there.  In return, the DM is more likely to feel they owe little or nothing to the players: "We're paying them, aren't we?"  Money has a way of making people feel they're doing enough ... and with some people, giving money alleviates any responsibility they have to be polite or considerate to the person being paid.  Thus the irate customer screaming at the manager (or employee), the moody diner growling at servers, the drunk who tells the bouncer to fuck off, since he's paid for his beer, and so on.  If I'm paying you — or I'm the jack-off filling out forms so my bosses can pay you — then you should do your job.  For a lot of people, including workers, who say in return, "I'm doing my job, fucking pay me," the presence of money gets in the way of seeing others as people.

Without money passing between the DM and the player, the dynamic is different.  My responsibility to the players as a DM, vs. their responsibility to me as players, is hard to define, mostly because we participate in very few daily activities where authority & subordination isn't defined by money.  Hell, look at the word "subordinate" in that description.  I looked around for an antonym to authority and they're all denigrating: junior, apprentice, sophomore, pupil ... and none describe a role-player in the least way.  A player isn't subordinate to the DM ... and yet the DM is very definitely an authority that "runs" and "manages" the game.  I find it extremely telling that we have no trouble at all in ascribing the right English terms to what a DM does, but we bristle instantly if we try to apply any comparative reverse terms to the player.  That alone should be telling us something.

Still, while I direct the game, this gives me zero authority to tell the players what to do, according to the dynamic.  I can tell them what they face; I can veto their actions within a certain scope; I can hold them accountable to the game's rules; I can dictate how they address me or each other, and maintain order at the table; and I can close the game down with a fingersnap.  But apart from the power to govern the legitimacy of the game or enable its existence, everyone understands that the line of my power stops dead where it comes to telling players exactly what they must do.  On that matter, I can only advise.

Whereas a store manager spends all day long giving the employees their marching orders.  And the employees, unlike players, do it in recognition that this is the manager's privilege.  Nor can we ascribe this acceptance to the matter of earnings.  In many career-level professions, the manager's right to dictate remains in place, even though the employee might rate their income as fourth or fifth on the list of priorities.  Higher ranked concerns would include a feeling of doing something important, knowing that one is helping people, the opportunity to do interesting or exciting work, the work culture and the presence of friends with whom we share values, etcetera.  In those cases, we do what our manager says because, unlike the jerk-off 19-y.o. shift manager at a McDonalds, these managers and their experience deserve our respect; we want to obey them; we know they know best.  It's a working environment that many, many people never experience in their entire lives; and others experience every day without fail.

So where is the relationship between business manager and DM?  What do they have in common?

As a DM, I can get away with pretty near murder if my players respect me on the same level as those career-level employees respect their superiors.  My latitude in dictating what a player can or can't do is vastly greater when I act brilliantly in front of them, regularly.  Whereas lesser skilled DMs, with less to offer, and less ability to regulate the game, will be far more limited in their power than I am.  Not only this, however.  It is also the case in career-driven professions that the managers also respect the capabilities and predispositions of their teams — and they make decisions that directly play into the strengths of those strengths.  Such managers do not have the cookie-cutter mentality of a McDonald's manager-drone, who couldn't care a whit about the lives of worker-drones further down the chain.

Sit down with a career professional for a beer as one of their team and the conversation revolves around our lives, our interests, our choices and what's going on with our families.  Everyone wants to know what's happening with everyone else in the here and now, because those stresses will directly affect the stresses of the work.  Sit down with a service-level manager and the conversation revolves around movies, stuff on the internet, who's fucking who ... and eventually everything descends into pissing contests and trashing people who aren't present.  People don't talk about their lives because they don't have lives; they have this shitty job they do most of the time, except when they go to their other shitty job.  I've worked at length in both environments.

The players around my gaming table are easier to manage because of who they are.  They don't feel a need to prove themselves or gratuitiously abuse others in order to feel better.  Those people do not last long around me, because, like an employer, I judge them on their ability to perform, even though I don't pay them.  Reading about other DMs, who describe the players in their campaigns, it's clear to me they have next to zero standards.

If you manage an establishment that has one capable worker and four incapable ones, you might imagine the one will improve the quality of the other four.  I've certainly worked in service industry jobs where the manager imagined that.  Instead what happens is the one capable employee quits, because he or she is sick of working there.  Capable employees can always find work; they can choose where they want to work.  It is up to the manager to rid the business of every incapable employee until everyone's capable.  Then all the capable people stay, often for years, because they like it there.

Unfortunately for managers, however, is that capable people also want more money.  And as I said, low-level managers haven't any power to give wage increases.  As well, capable employees are hard to find.  So eventually they drift away, until they're replaced, and the business goes under.  Seen it many times.

A DM, however, can always afford the best players.  A DM can also improve the working environment, getting rid of the incapable players so the best players will stay.  Furthermore, since the DM sets all the policies of the game dynamic, those policies can be made not to serve profitability, but mutual respect and mutual compensation.  This changes all the rules related to how a DM, an authority, speaks to those over which the DM has charge.

The quote at the top of DMs Eat Last stated, "If you decide to look after the person to the left of you and look after the person to the right of you, you have become a leader."  It remains very clear that many cannot reconcile this definition in their heads.  We continue to think that a leader is the guy with the flag; that a leader is the one shouting "follow me!"

Let's take a moment and examine that metaphor.  The flag-bearer in an army wasn't armed.  We don't have flag-bearers and when we did they were always men (French portraiture of the Revolution notwithstanding), so I'm going to use the pronoun, "he."  He might have had a weapon, but he couldn't use it because he had the flag in his hand. These were great big things, that needed two hands to hold and a great deal of strength.  And because an army was trained to follow the flag, he had to go first, ahead of others.  This did not make "him" a leader, because people weren't following him, they were following the flag.  He didn't give orders or make decisions, because he went where the general told him to go — and if he didn't, he'd be shot forthwith by the nearest officer.  Thus, the most reliable men were typically chosen for this role; the bravest, it was observed, since they had to go unarmed and NOT run away when the bullets began to fly.

If the flag-bearer was killed, it was hoped that the army moving forward and shooting their weapons wouldn't notice by that point ... because once melee is engaged, no one has time to see what the flag-bearer's doing.  Still, Hollywood, dating back to silent film in the 1910s, LOVED the idea that once the flag was dropped, surely someone else would dive in and rescue the flag ... and there were cases dating to the Civil War (and probably the Crimean and Napoleanic Wars as well, though I don't know those as well) where a retreating army was perhaps turned around, as depicted in Roland Emmerson's The Patriot, by seeing the flag instead rushing towards the enemy.  However, even in such cases, it was not the man running the flag who was being followed.  It was the FLAG.

So let's understand this metaphor.  If, as a would-be leader, I pick up a flag, it better be the right flag.  No one in Napoleon's army is going to follow a flag unless it's the FRENCH flag.  99 times out of hundred, when some dumbfuck leader thinks they're picking up a "flag," they're fighting for a cause no one believes in, no one cares about and most have never heard of.  That alone is an act of sheer stupidity.

IF, picking up said worthless flag, the leader then shouts, "Follow me!" it's no wonder he looks like a flaming idiot.  He's carrying the wrong flag.

On the other hand, if you're part of an army, and they already have a flag, and that flag exists in the service of a general who HAS authority, and you run off with it, then maybe, yes, you'll get followed; but you better run in the right direction, or else count on an officer to shoot you in the back.  The only way to lead anyone with a flag is to run that flag in the direction you're told.  That's the only circumstance that the words "Follow me!" have any relevance of any kind.

Leadership is not about being followed.  It's about encouraging people to follow a flag they've given reason to care about.  The first part of that equation is easy once you've accomplished the second part.  But you must accomplish the second part first.

The way you do that is by divising a flag that promises to look after the person on the left of you and the person on the right of you.  That requires you learn something about these people.  That you learn what they seek.  That you're capable of providing that which they seek ... or at the very least, enabling them to believe that what they seek can be accomplished through your plans and experience.  That won't happen until those people believe that you know more than they know; and to convince them, you have to actually know more than they know.  You can't fake it.  They'll know.

A truly great leader understands what others seek before those others know.  I'm not talking about selling them a grift, which is inventing bullshit and then ultimately disappointing the rubes.  No, I mean, understanding others so well, by listening to them, and having the capacity to understand them, to see a solution to their problems that they haven't the capacity to see.  And then providing that solution, free of charge, for the good of all.

Hm.  I've just seen what's fundamentally wrong with Ayn Rand's objectivism.

Most aren't great leaders.  Most don't even want to be.  But I think that anyone who sits down to write a blog and offer advice and solutions about how to play or manage players, that they should probably have "what others seek" at the forefront of their minds.  Likewise, when DMs run a game, deciding why the players are there, and recognizing that they have their own reasons, which are certain to be different from the DMs reasons, should factor greatly into how a DM runs a game.

It's something like how you would act as a store manager if you assumed that, at their core, everyone wanted to be there for some other reason than "wanting the money" or acting "in the best interest of the company."  Specifically, figuring out how an employee might want to keep working for a reason that was in their own interest, that wasn't about money ...

And then enabling that.

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Busy Designing

Rest assured, if I'm not writing here, I'm writing somewhere else.  My work was interrupted by the coincidence of life, but I've been able to get back into the saddle on my trade table, the poster and something new, that I intend to present before the end of the month.  I'm waiting for something to complete the project in the mail, whereupon after a few tweaks I'll be able to create a video demonstrating it.  When it goes on actual sale is up in the air, as there are still shipping issues to overcome; I haven't looked into an Amazon number yet, but that may be a necessity.  Weird, to be thinking on those lines.

At present, those who support me on Patreon enough to access the Higher Path should look here for a teaser.

Thursday, June 17, 2021

DMs Eat Last

"Leadership is not a rank.  Leadership is not a position.  Leadership is a decision.  Leadership is a choice.  It has nothing to do with your position in the organisation.  If you decide to look after the person to the left of you and look after the person to the right of you, you have become a leader."

Simon Sinek, Why Leaders Eat Last

It is your willingness to stand between another person and enable the things they want, to protect them, to give up your immediate needs so they can get theirs, which makes you a leader.  If you approach DMing from the perspective that you're "giving" something to your players, you're NOT a leader.  If you're trying to make them like you, you're not a leader.  

If you're clearing the road, so that others can get something they want for themselves, without your deciding what that is, and then letting them have it, even if you hate that thing ... and IF you're doing that in a way that lets multiple people do it, then you're a leader.  If you're concerned that your game isn't turning out as you like, or as it "should," because the players can't see your vision, then that is an example of your eating first.  You may not be able to see how that's so, or what's wrong, or what connection I'm making, but if you're describing your game from YOUR POINT OF VIEW, then you're not a leader.

You can go through the millions of words on this blog and you'll have trouble finding an example of my wanting something from a game adventure I'm running.  I've spent time explaining what I'm doing at specific points of play; or what I expect to happen; or my motivations for arranging the circumstances thusly ... but those things are not "wanting" a specific result.  I predict; I organize; I inspire.  But I don't don't talk about want.

My game turns out the way I like because I don't want any specific result.  The players can see my vision because my vision isn't about what they do, or why they do it.  My vision is a flexible game world, not "my" game world.  I love throwing dice and seeing what happens — better than getting any  specific result.  I'm not leading the players to a specific place.  I'm leading the players to where they want to go; and I'm doing it without asking them constantly, or usually at all.  Am I reading minds?  No, I'm listening.  I'm watching.  I'm paying attention and setting my needs, my hunger, aside.

Mind, a DM does not run one person; we run multiple persons.  This means that not only must I ensure that Josie or David or Paul get that thing they want, but that everyone gets that thing.  And here again, let me repeat: getting Josie what she wants is not the same as giving it to her.  If she doesn't get that thing herself, without my greasy fingerprints all over it, then it's not an achievement in Josie's eyes ... and therefore it is not an achievement at all!  Players who want to be given things have no interest in playing a game; they have no interest in earning things and they have no business sitting at my table.  But players who want things, who want to earn them, who want to overcome obstacles to get them because they want achievement over the thing itself, must be allowed to run in a setting that works that way.

If what Josie wants conflicts with what David or Paul wants, that's a problem.  But it is not my problem.  It is their problem.  They have to work out that conflict.  They have to decide.  But while they're negotiating and deciding, they have to feel heard; they have to feel protected; they have to feel that their voice is as legitimate as any other voice around the table.  That's my role.  To manage the table; to manage their conflicts.  To provide structures and impose those structures so that players cannot bully players, co-opt the game or disrupt play.  That requires rules: not just game rules, but rules of behaviour, rules dictating what's permitted and what's not.

Compelling people to adhere to rules requires making them obey.  This is where I left the last post.

Running the game is a complex process and I cannot have everyone rolling their dice at the same time; doing so allows little to no oversight, makes confusion and feeds conflict.  And so, I order players to wait; to let each player roll their dice and take their turn, until I say it's the next person's turn.  I run a tight ship.  No one rolls a die until I give my permission; no one rolls a character until I say it's time; and when the game's tension rises in a combat or when a player is thinking through a problem, no one is allowed to speak or break that tension.  And believe me, you don't want to ignore that, because I am going to get in your face and you are not going to like that.

But what you will like, is that when you're solving a problem, everyone else is shutting the fuck up.  Including me.

I can't build tension or emotional investment when some player is constantly derailing the game or deliberately breaking that tension.  Most of the time, people spontaneously break tension with a stupid comment because they can't TAKE tension; they can feel themselves tightening up; they can feel the room's stress building ... and getting jittery or twitchy, they've got to say something, to relieve their discomfort.  In consequence, they wreck any stimulation or thrill that might be gained from having to manage a complex, engrossing situation.  It's selfish, it's weak and it breaks the social convention surrounding my table.  My other players don't want their wave crashed; they want their heart rates quickened.  They want the tangible nightmare fuel of thinking their characters might die.

Some weaselly readers right now are furious at this idea of being forced to respect other players and their needs.  They hate that their perfect right to free will, regardless of the needs of others, is being collared by a self-righteous DM who pretends to maintain the privilege of the majority against the self-righteous individual.  Their arsenal of petulant sanctimonious politically-correct self-serving talking points are rallied, against my daring to defend a host than the one.  I'm a tyrant; I'm a puffed up twerp, a tin-pot generalissimo, an outrageous charlatan!  "I will never play in his world!" they will cry, and spread the word that because they wouldn't, no one should, etcetera, blah blah blah, yada ... yada.

Such "individualists" are not to be tolerated.  They are to be beaten to the line, then made to stand on it, or turfed.  I don't want one individualist in my game, lording it over the others, I want seven respectful individuals, who don't seek to rally heaven and hell to defend their cause.  They give respect, they admonish others who don't (know I have their backs) and they take up the effort to lead themselves.  If a player isn't good at record-keeping, they'll take over that duty without hesitation.  If another can't seem to tell a d8 from a d10, they'll helpfully sit next to the player and patiently point, running after running, without judgment.  They'll volunteer to be treasurer and they'll keep the books faithfully; they'll volunteer for quartermaster; they'll share out more treasure than they'll take.  They'll take point, not just to get to the treasure first, but to sacrifice their own hit points for the greater good.  I have players who have nerve, who can take the strain, who don't need to "break the tension" with a stupid joke that isn't wanted.

I have this because I don't care that I'm liked.  I'll get in the misbehaver's face because I'm not emotionally invested in surviving what's coming up.  I have no reputation to maintain, except that I can be counted on to get in your face if you act like an ass.  What's more, while my suddenly whirling on you to smack you down is a surprise to you, I've been expecting this moment.  Your dialogue has been spewing out "selfish prick" from the moment you sat down to play.  Nor am I the only one to see it.  My other players have been waiting for me to slap you down; they'd have slapped you down before this, but they know I'm the leader, and that when I do it, it will have more authority behind it, it will be harsher, my words will cut closer to the bone and they'll have the benefit of being the audience and not the perpetrator.  If I do the work, the players get to enjoy the show; and you, getting read the Riot Act — you're the Punch to my Judy.  I hope you enjoy it.

Truth is, if you are a good guy, it will take two words, said sharply in an ordinary tone, to set you right.  "Stop it."  That's all.  See this line?  Stop on it.  Do that, and we'll get along fine.  I'll let you know when you go over.  Pay attention to the game, act as the other Romans around you act, rub blue mud into your naval when you see them doing it, and you'll be fine with them, too.  But get into your head that the game is in seeing how far you can step across that line, or how often, then you and I are going to have words.  A lot of words.  And because we're playing in my house, you're gonna lose.  I've never had to call the cops on a player yet, but if I have to ...

Obedience is not control.  I don't want to control you.  I want to stop you from controlling others.  I want you to respect the line.  When you respect the line, you'll respect your fellow players.  When you respect your fellow players, I'll respect you.  There are no leashes, no collars.  Just the simple principle that a group activity requires a group respect.

I don't ask for tolerance.  Tolerance is bullshit.  You can fucking hate anyone at my table you want to hate, including me.  But you better hate me with etiquette.  You understand? 

Wednesday, June 16, 2021


For two days I've thought about these three words and their relation to D&D, a connection made by Dennis Laffey.

Mother-may-I is a children's game; I will leave the rules and description to wikipedia.  In D&D, with players hammering at the DM with questions and challenges, the DM can be made to feel under siege.  Each player's proposal of, "Can my character do this?" demands a ruling ... a ruling that may go sour for the DM, if the player responds with resentment or outright rebellion:

"HEY, you let Barry do his thing, how come suddenly I can't do MY THING!?"

If the DM's permissive, players will vie to top themselves, inventing wilder, more imaginative things for their characters to try.  This quickly gets out of hand, until any former rules have been circumvented past the point of controlling the game ... inspiring some DMs to argue "rulings not rules," a policy doomed to failure eventually, since the players have the ultimate emotional leverage they need over the DM to force compliance with their expectations.  Take note that when reading some pundit online praising rulings, they're talking through their hat.  Either they're discounting their history games smashed by ruling disputes (something that is constant in games where the DM has absolute power), or they are side-stepping their grateful knowledge that outsiders can't see their games and judge them for the silly, sloppy half-baked get-togethers they are.  Not to mention that many of the "rulings not rules" crowd would be somewhat embarrassed to admit that as a DM they're no more than their players' bitch.

If you're find yourself running a game where the players are playing "mother-may-I" with you, best you understand up front that it's your fault.  You did not draw a firm enough line, forcing them to play the game by the rules.  Rather than rebuff your friends, and say "no," when it needed to be said, you've been the classic permissive parent, progressively moving to a place where you'd rather spoil your players than disappoint them.

It can be a hard thing.  Your player wants to hold a torch and their shield in the same hand (a misunderstanding of "strapped to the arm") and when you say "no," you can see the fleeting disappointment and frustration in their eyes as they realise, they're going to have to ditch their shield in favour of a light.  This is a moment for you as a DM.  Relent, and sooner or later you're going to be the players' lap dog.  Stand your ground, and you're an asshole.  Wow, sounds like a lose-lose.  What are you going to do?

Much trouble for people stems from the belief that before others can like us, we have to do things that will make them like us.  From there, we add a tinge of the golden rule, that states, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."  You wouldn't want your ideas as a player refused, would you?  So as a DM, you want to give to the players what you'd have a DM give to you.

This is bad policy.

Cue going around the barn.

Last week, I considered an essay about why I didn't quit D&D way back in the 80s, in my university years.  Stuck for the words, I decided to search examples on that theme from others describing why they didn't quit ... I couldn't find a one.  But I did find a spectacular collection of people's stories telling why they did quit.   The political scientist Ray Wolfinger wrote that, "The plural of anecdote is data" ... and there is a sensational amount of data out there.  A games-theorist's thesis could be written on why humans quit role-playing games.

The individual anecdotes don't matter ... but the presence of so many people who rush to agree that this is why they also quit, with such weight on side of quitting and very, very little written on not quitting, it's hard not to see a pattern.  Most stories naturally revolve around various conflicts: certain players, constant arguing, players blowing up in anger when not getting their way ... nothing we haven't all witnessed personally.  Such is a testament to DMs not knowing how to handle their players; yet I'm perfectly sure that these DMs tried to please their players.  That's evident in how hurt they were as they described their player's betrayals, unreasonable expectations and resentment.

Betrayal is a violation of a presumptive contract.  For example, we make a bunch of concessions to one of our players, Carson.  Yet, he always seems to want more.  He never acknowledges anything we've done so far.  We presume he understood those things were concessions; we presume he remembers them; we presume he is keeping them in mind when he asks for something new.  The more we presume, the more it begins to look like Carson doesn't care that we do anything for him.  In fact, he's sort of a jerk.  An especially rotten one because he knows we did this shit for him and he's deliberately ignoring that!  What an asshole!

So it goes, round and round in our heads, while Carson thinks he's just running in a game, that we're just being his DM, that we haven't make "concessions" because he supposes this is business as usual.  He has no idea we're doing favours for him, because he doesn't see them as "favours."  This is what doesn't work about trying to make others like us.  If it's not plainly stated, our actions don't look to others as they do to ourselves.

And if we do plainly state that we're trying to make someone like us, well ... that's squicky.

DMing is not a friendship role.  It is not a co-equal role.  DMing is a leadership role; and one of the truths about being a leader is it doesn't matter a good goddamn if, as leaders, we're liked.  In fact, we can be actively hated.  That doesn't matter.  To lead, we don't need to be liked, we need to be respected ... which means we must do things that earn respect.  Holding our ground on things we believe — even if that makes us hated — is key to that respect.

DMing players forces us to interact with players in a very specific way that many, many people cannot do.  For some, the idea is anathema to their belief system.  Some are too timid.  Some have the potential, but haven't worked out this is just what's needed to clear the road and make games move steadily forward.  Still others have a warped, damaged sense of what goals are meant to be achieved.

An effective DM must have the capacity to make players obey.

Just those words can send a wave of fury through some readers.  Others are saying, "what?"  The rest are thinking, "damn straight."

Let's leave this here.  See what shakes out and I'll continue this line if there's any point in it.

Sunday, June 13, 2021


Let's set a few rules.  In the real world, you're not a game designer until you've sold a game.  You're not a "good" game designer until you've sold a million games.  You're not a "great" game designer until your game is still selling at least a hundred thousand copies a year ten years after launch.  Finally, you haven't done anything important unless people are still playing your game a hundred years after you've made it.

Ouch, eh?  Yeah.  I concede the gentle reader will want to bend those rules a lot in their favour, which is fine.  Only, I have no intention of bending them for me.

It is hard to write a book that your own generation will enjoy and appreciate.  Most will never do that much.  I once hoped I'd do that much and more, but I'm learning to be comfortable falling short.  I may yet, who knows?  But significance as a writer is a whole other thing.  Pick your writer: Louisa May Alcott, D.H. Lawrence, Jack London, Frederick Douglass, Mark Twain, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickensen, Horace Greeley, Ralph Waldo Emerson ... these were all celebrated as writers in their own time.  Then they were celebrated by the children brought up after their own time.  Then they were celebrated by the grandchildren.  And now they are celebrated by a generation that might, at best, barely remember anyone of the generation for which these writers wrote.  These work of these writers survived.  A written word that has not yet survived, that has not won its right to be significant to people not of its time, cannot yet be called important.

The game designers of today are entitled to their fleeting respect.  But that is a far cry from my believing that anyone is going to care about the old school renaissance 58 years from now.  My book How to Run is sure to be dust; as will any of this work put down for this blog.  This is the standard to which I hold myself.  As of yet, I don't think I've done anything significant.  Perhaps this is why I don't take to praise all that well.  Or why I won't give it easily.

A respectable game designer is a rare thing, from this point of view.  It requires that for a game designer to earn my respect, they have to want more than making a thing for common use by the general public.  For most designers, that's the pinnacle for them.  For me, that's barely putting one foot forward on the mountain.

In 2004, Penny Arcade was a significant voice in the games industry, including influencing thought and philosophy about D&D.  This comic from 2004 created a considerable stir:

The observation remains seminal to this page on Wikipedia.  We've been living this reality since, so I'm fairly sure they were dead on.  When it came out, it felt edgy and new; now it feels ho-hum and obvious.  Penny Arcade has been off the radar for 8 years.  Imagine what it must be like for them, to have hit their stride at a time before Patreon.  Yet what gamer didn't read Penny Arcade in 2004?  What happened?  Why did they stop being relevant?

You and I can play a game where we name hundreds of people in the music industry, film, literature, politics and youtube who were huge once ... and are now unrecognizable to most of the population.  Recently I ran across a musician named Duane Eddy.  Eddy had 15 top-40 hits between 1958 and 1963; he had 7 in 1958 and 1959, two more than Buddy Holly had in that same time period (Holly had 8 altogether, from 1957 to 1959, when he died).  How many Duane Eddy hits do you remember?  Have you even heard of him?  I'm 57 and I hadn't.  His last hit happened the year before I was born.

So, deciding to listen, here's his first hit in 1957: Rebel Rouser.  And it's instantly recognizable ... from Forrest Gump.  Which, interestingly, fits with the film-time of the scene in which Forrest is running from a truck — well done, Zemeckis.  Eddy is not a one-hit wonder.  He had more hits in his time than Bon Jovi (6), Blondie (8) or Barry White (10).  But you recognize their names, right?  Maybe that's only because they're more recent.  There's a good chance someone reading this has no idea who Bon Jovi is.  Yeah.  Frightening, eh?

Let's look at those rules again.  Yes, I'm not a game designer.  Oh, I call myself that, but it's a lie.  I've never invented a game that I sold to anyone.  I did invent a few games that were very popular with my peers for a time, but none that I've sold.

My agenda has been explaining how a particular game can be played a LOT better.  I teach how to be a better dungeon master; how to build a better game world; how to advance rules that fix game problems; how to view the game; what the game can teach you; and the relationships between the game and the real world.  I have written books about this ... but I've never written a game.

I'm piggy-backing on the game, and that is no way to become significant.  Once the game ceases its hold on the populace, the work I've done will come to naught.  Except that those people I've affected will apply what they've learned from me, and what they teach themselves while following my example, to whatever comes next.  I will be forgotten.  I will never have a wikipedia page like Penny Arcade and I'll never be brought up as an example of an ex-famous person, because I've never been remotely famous.  But the work I'm doing will still have an effect.  I am changing minds; and that's my fundamental goal.

I'm not a game designer, but I am a game philosopher.  As a philosopher, I have less and less interest parsing subjects that will never achieve a resolution.  "Should game-designers take responsibility?" is a null program.  Whether or not they should, they either will or won't, about which I have no influence, because taking responsibility isn't a game issue, it's a psychological issue.  A person who wants to take responsibility, who happens to be a game designer, will automatically take it.  A person who feels no desire to take responsibility won't, period; not as a game designer, not as a lawyer, not as a doctor, not as an engineer.  Which, incidentally, is the reason why the academic expectation is impossibly high for those professions: because you won't survive if you don't work with others; and others will recognize instantly if you're the sort that doesn't take responsibility.  In which case, they will exclude you, and you will go down in flames.

Game design is a soft subject.  It isn't socially crucial.  A game designer can be woefully irresponsible and no one will die.  A few marks will lose some bucks.  Big deal.  Game designers can work alone, even if they're terrific monsters like Phil Fish ... until they gather so much hate that no one will touch their games.  We gain nothing trying to convince these people that what they do matters, because IT DOESN'T.  If it did, there'd be harder consequences than unpopularity.

Talking about expectations of responsibility, or for example, when rules should be simplified, or how rules should be made more readable, is a waste of my time.  I'm not giving a game designer seminar here.  If what's wanted is learning how to write clearly, there are only a million videos online talking about that.  Those videos are ONLY useful to people who can't write.  For anyone who can write, those videos are ... erm ... well I guess they're useful to someone.

Occasionally I've written a post about why rules are necessary.  I'm befuddled by having to address this subject at all.  It's a group activity.  ALL group activities, even those that involve nothing but a bar, a table, drinks and time, have rules.  These rules may not be written down, but it's sure fucking obvious when someone breaks one.

I was recently asked to write another post answering this latter question.  As ever, I go straight to Calvin & Hobbes:

Judging from game descriptions I find on Reddit, this is how everyone except me and some 60 other people plays D&D.  It's easy to find huge discussions on Reddit and elsewhere in which every commenter defends this approach, as the only decent way to play, while vilifying anyone who so much as mentions a steadfast rule.  I must point out that the above depicts a child and a make-believe toy.  Two real children have to be pulled apart when this shit occurs ... by an adult who THEN MAKES RULES because that's how children grow up.  Calvin, funny as he is, is funny because he's a fuckin' sociopathic narcissist, not a role-model.  Except, of course, on Reddit, where everyone is so far apart, anonymous, has an audience and can therefore be a fuckwad/shitcock ... just like Calvin is to everyone.

Anyway ...

There's no sense in going down these roads over and over.  It's far harder to talk of things we can change, things we can improve, ways we can be better at something we love doing.  Let's talk of those things, since they're significant.

Saturday, June 12, 2021

The Disposable Customer

Recently I was asked to give my thoughts on the responsibility of game designers to make clear rules so as to respect the time of their customers, and — specifically in the context of role-playing games — to help those customers learn how to manage the game.  I was asked to give my perspective on what game designers should do.


Let's say I'm in the chair manufacturing business.  If I want my business to thrive, then rationally, I should be able to make chairs that won't collapse under my customers, else injuries will occur and I'll be sued out of existence.  Likewise, if my chairs are uncomfortable, which they might be for a spectacular number of reasons, I'm not going to drive customers to my product.  Success relies upon providing for the customer's needs for a chair; and it is only through the making of good, solid, comfortable and attractive chairs that I'm going to continue to be in business.

Unless, of course, I can make a semi-comfortable, semi-attractive chair that I can sell so cheap that buyers won't concern themselves with an expectation of quality.  Furthermore, I could target a market in which I sell chairs to certain peoples who must have chairs — such as community halls, roadside motels, governments — but who won't themselves be sitting in these chairs.  For these people, being able to buy 35,000 chairs super-cheap will more than compensate for all the luckless people who will have to spend one or two hours in them, once a month, once a year or perhaps only one time in their whole lives.  I can make a fortune selling shit chairs to emotional monsters, bringing sore asses to millions ... begging the question, where is my "responsibility" in this?

The accurate answer is fuck all.  I got my money.

And so let's ask ourselves, where's the imperative for game designers to do more than the bare minimum of language usage to make games, when we can count on a steady market of brand-new ignorant eager 11-year-olds who will buy whatever shit we put in front of them, so long as there's a pretty picture slapped on the front?  Answer: none.  Absolutely none.  Because all the burned, savvy, whining game-vloggers slapping down a game for being poorly written can't match the brand recognition of the COMPANY when it comes to what an 11-year-old will buy.

For those people out there who think someday a Table-Top RPG-maker will come along and do it right ... um, no.  "Doing it right" costs too much, requires hiring people who are too much trouble, can't be sold for more money than a shit product and wouldn't be recognized for its worth in an industry where crapping on new stuff is a better eyeball grabber than praising it.

It's not worth giving a rat's ass for "responsibility."

Therefore, it follows that there's no market value in preserving the customer's time, or teaching customers how to be a DM (or GM, though I despise that appellation).  You, oh customer, have already bought the game.  You're going to quit the game in two or three years anyway, so who cares about YOU?  When you quit, you'll be replaced by a horde of children who are 8 and 9 today, who will scream for our game for Christmas when they're 11 or 12.  You are a disposable customer.

This is a fact of purchasable RPG content that's blatantly obvious and blatantly ignored at the same time.  It is a beautiful sweet-spot from a toy company's perspective.  For decades now, toy companies have pursued a bottom line acknowledging that 90% of all toys given this Christmas won't last until May.  Either they'll get broken, or the short-attention span of kids (an attention span that we've systematically created by funding game-toy based television shows) will tire of the toy within a few weeks.  Which is great!  Means that by May, the kid's going to want another toy.  Planned obsolescence!  Ought to be written under the company's banner.

Now, here's a thought for those out there hoping for a well-written, sustainable RPG.  For every kid who buys a set of books for an RPG and becomes an avid player for more than five months, I'd guess there's a dozen who will open the books, decide they're too complicated and never do anything with them.  The reader is free to argue this; I don't, after all, have numbers to prove it — all I can offer is a purely anecdotal tally of people I've met who owned the books these past 42 years.  I've had dozens who, knowing I play D&D, have asked if I want their game books.  "I never really played" is always part of that dialogue.  I'd guess that others here, especially if they live in a big city, have had that same experience.  Accumulating twenty good copies of the Players Handbook, all free, would have been easy.  If someone came up with a clever exchange policy, give a D&D book, get access to a games channel, they'd accumulate thousands.

As manufacturer, I know I'm pissing people off; I know they're looking at the books and not making heads or tails of it.  I know they're on line slagging me off.  But my bottom line says, "Sales getting better."  And they are.  So fuck you, unhappy customer.  I'm feeling awful about it all the way to the bank.

Realistically, given how complicated RPGs are; and how expensive they are to produce, since words alone aren't enough for the customer; and how dumb most would-be users are about virtually every skill a DM needs ... I don't believe any language is capable of being 100% "clear," ever.  People get into arguments over the rules for Monopoly and RISK.  People can't remember the rules for Cribbage or Backgammon half the time.  Most people — including your would-be customers — have a 6th grade reading level.  Just look at all the things that people can't agree about related to D&D, though we've had 47 years to reach a consensus.  We will never reach a consensus.

As such, there is NO VALUE in discussing what other game designers ought to do about the their work, or what responsibilities they have, or their respect for the user or their commitment to teaching YOU, some stranger, what you need to do.  D&D is a weeding process.  Just as 1st Year Engineering does its level best to get rid of all the people who shouldn't be engineers, because they can't think like an engineer, there's a bonus in the reprehensible grift participated in by game designers:  the incomprehensibility of their game designs is sure to get rid of everyone who can't think like a DM.

For example, people who think "GM" is a worthy substitute.

Wednesday, June 9, 2021


I'm not surprised that a post on critical thinking inspires an occasional joke.  We don't take it seriously because, for some, there's no reason we should.  Most of us get along letting someone else do our critical thinking for us ... and that seems fine.

For myself, I can't stop.  I'm in so deep now, it's a drug I can't put down ... literally a collection of drugs, produced right here in my own body, free.  And as we know, addiction is a disease that affects both the brain and behaviour.  When we're addicted to drugs, we can't resist the urge to use them, no matter harmful they can be to our responsibilities, our family and friends, and ourselves.  Worse, the drug I'm addicted to is legal.  I can get it any time I want, I can get so high on it I forget where I am or what I should be doing ... and removing my access to this drug is, in fact, life threatening.  So the gentle reader can imagine how seriously I take this problem.

See, we take a drug because we like the way it makes us feel.  Oh, sure, at the beginning critical thinking was too strong for me; overwhelming, no question about it.  But like any drug, we develop a kind of resistance to the drug; we can take stronger and stronger hits of it.  Eventually, just a little bit isn't enough to make us feel high ... we just want more.  And while we think we're in control of the drug, eventually it becomes evident that we're not.  No, after awhile, the drug controls us.  That's what happens.

Before we know it, the damage it's done to our brains is irreversible.  We just don't think like other people any more.  Those things other people think are funny ... nope, not funny.  And the good ideas other people think they have; the arguments they make; the sense that they're, you know, actually aware of the whole picture ... for someone like me, they just seem, I don't know, like their consciousnesses haven't been expanded enough.  I look at the universe as this amazing, metaphysical structure ... honestly, to someone who hasn't taken the drugs I've taken, it's impossible to explain it.

For those people not on the drug, I don't expect them to understand.  Critical thinking is something you have to do.  You can't just pretend.  Entry level drugs are just, well, not the same.  In fact it gets kind of hard to explain what's going on in my head.  So I can see why I sound like a crazy person ... and why people around me want me to get some kind of help.  They see me as a loved one struggling with addiction.  They see my obsession with deconstructing things, sensemaking, semantics ... hell, thinking ... as a problem.  I tell them I need these drugs to make me feel good, to ease my stress, to investigate reality ... but they call it a habit.  They urge me to quit; some make fun of me, treating me like I'm delusional.  Granted, my judgement is being altered.  I don't "decision-make" like other people.  My memory doesn't function "normally."  And my ability to learn ... what can I say?  It causes other people not to trust me.

What choice do I have?  I feel a constant need to use this drug multiple times a day.  Most often, I take way more of the drug than I mean to take, resulting in these rabbit-hole sequences that go on for hours and hours.  And because the drug is free, I always have it with me.  I take the drugs at work, I take them when my family's around me, sometimes they make me lash out at friends and people on social media ... and that results in me spending way more time alone than what's normal.  Sometimes, I don't take care of myself; I don't bathe, I don't think to eat, I forget to take my blood pressure pills, I don't care what I look like.  And I feel sick whenever I try to quit.  I spend virtually all of my time critically thinking, finding ways to critically think, and recovering from having spent too much time doing it.

I don't want help.  That's probably the worst.  All this time thinking makes me actually hate people, actually resenting them for telling me not to think.  In the end, I know, I'm going to do this until it kills me.  And I'm okay with that.

I'm okay with that.

Monday, June 7, 2021

Becoming a Critical Thinker

Having carefully explained what critical thinking is [and I assume that everyone here thinks I'm absolutely right, since there were no responses], I've successfully separated my audience into three groups.

Group #1 thinks I'm full of shit.  They do not think I'm right, they think I don't know what I'm talking about, that I wouldn't know good film criticism if it was a lance slammed into my chest and that critical thinking is an elitist liberal bullshit term intended to make ordinary people feel stupid.  There's nothing complicated about thinking; people inherently know the difference between right and wrong, made obvious by all the social media comments that explain "right" from "wrong" like millions of mics dropping per second.

We don't have to worry about Group #1.  There aren't many of them here, and although there are a lot of them out there — at least 98% of the population in fact — their historical contribution to human thought comes in the form of someone needing to hold the pitchforks when some grifter points out an enemy.

Group #2 looks at what I've written and mutters, "Duh."  They already know all this, they don't need to read a blog post about it, they think I'm being pedantic, that I'm oversimplifying, and in any case just talking about critical thinking without talking about application is a dead waste of time.  Some of the readers here who think they belong to Group #2 are actually in Group #1 ... Dunning-Kruger and all that.  In any case, I tend to agree with Group #2.  I took the time to read several papers and websites to get my ducks in order, so that I'd describe critical thinking as accurately as I could; I found the material grossly boring and inconsequential.  I think critically all the time, as this blog demonstrates, and I'm well past the point where I need a really pedantic philosopher or psychologist describing the process, particularly with endless hedging while annotating every line.

Group #3, then, are those capable of realizing they don't or can't think critically, and are willing to admit it to themselves.  Assuming I have 24,962 readers, Group #3 would average at one person.  I'll be a patriarchal shit-head, presume it's a man and call him Dave.

Dave.  Somehow, you've gotten to be an adult D&D player or DM without learning to critically think.  I can guess at the reasons and we don't need to go into them.  It won't be easy.  By and large, we won't find articles on the internet about how to teach adults to critically think; it's assumed that any effort along those lines should be used to teach children, so that by the time they become adults, they don't belong to Group #1.  Fellows like you are, well, treated as a lost cause.  That's not very kind, and I know it hurts.  But you have some understanding that thinking better would meaningfully contribute to your life, which it will.  You are far and away beyond most breathing, deluded people on this planet, those capable of killing themselves on any given day with the surety that warning labels on products attempt to prevent.

First, metaphorically, you need to understand the brain is a muscle.  Often, people will think that if they clean their house regularly, walk around the supermarket, sometimes take the bus to work instead of a car, have sex or cheer at a baseball game, that they are active and healthy.  This is unfortunately not true.  A healthy body means taking a significant amount of time, between 150 and 300 minutes a week, and using it to make your body strain, stretch and sweat, to the exclusion of all else except music, which will help you focus.

Likewise, using your brain effectively means taking 150 to 300 minutes a week and thinking ... to the exclusion of all other activity.  This does not include reading, writing, experimenting, otherwise creating and working, though these things will help.  It means turning off the media, resting, participating in a low-physical effort like walking calmly, while allowing your mind to participate in uninterrupted thought.  You might get away with eating and drinking, especially a mild stimulant like coffee, but you don't want to get caught thinking about how good the coffee or the food tastes, because this is not helpful.

If you attempt this course of action, most likely you will find yourself staring outwards, bored, without anything to think about.  You won't like it.  Think of this as being a flabby, unhealthy soul who's decided to join a gym, only to discover that lifting weights hurts, walking machines hurt, swimming hurts, and afterwards everything hurts.  If you don't think on a regular basis, and you manage to "muscle" through 30 minutes of doing nothing but thinking, afterwards you will feel that was a stupid, ridiculous waste of your time, and you're not going to do again, as it's only made you feel dull-witted and moody.  Yes.  Just like real exercise, it's evidence that you don't think enough.

Incidentally, compelling a member of Group #1 to participate in one hour of silent non-communication or entertainment, without permitting them to sleep, three times a week, will usually produce an "epiphany" after a short time.  Many undergo this experience for some health reason.  In any case, if you don't do this thinking thing regularly, it's excruciating to have it forced on you, which happens.

Dave, I'm fairly sure you'll have trouble with it.  The best strategy is to fill your head with as much difficult, academic content you're able to force yourself to read.  I suggest starting with one subject you like, and then reading everything.  I wouldn't recommend documentaries or other media.  Media is designed to feed you simple pieces of information that don't require much thinking.  It tends to "dumb down" the subject material, just as I'm dumbing down what you need to do right now.  If you want something substantial to think about, you'll need to train yourself up to material that amateur and authority researchers find stimulating and fact-providing.  Textbooks aren't a good idea either.  They will provide fact-dumps, which are useful, but what you really want are materials where people in the field argue about something for the benefit of other people in the field, without any concern for those NOT in the field.  This means, Dave, you'll have to learn what the field involves and what's going on there.  This will take a lot of time ... but it will begin to give you something to think about, as you puzzle out what you're reading.

None of this, so far, has anything to do with D&D.  I promised with my last post that it would, but after doing so I found myself in a quandary.  I didn't want to repeat what critical thinking would be as it relates to D&D, as I've done that in hundreds of different ways and honestly, it's just more pedantry.  Instead, I wanted to actually help get people from not thinking critically to thinking critically.  Then I realized that's a very small subset.  Hell Dave, there's just you and me.

And if it's D&D that you want to think critically about, well ... your choices have much to do with the method by which information is produced.

In most studies, the participants obtained their initial qualification through the writing of a thesis or a dissertation.  These are based upon a Socratic ideal of challenging existing knowledge, with an understanding that forward movement in knowledge is obtained by questioning what's wrong and replacing it with something less wrong.  Not right.  Real studies are not concerned with "right."  They are concerned with cutting out the chaff and preserving a better staple.  When you complete your dissertation, you have to defend it — to others who previously created their dissertations and once upon a time had to defend those.  No one obtains credit by putting forth old, unchallenged material that's already established.  That's not good enough.  So, the dissertation board overlooking your work is interested in (a) what you chose to challenge; and (b) were you able to effectively challenge it.  This is incredibly hard, since you're pitching to conservative people who have a vested interest in not changing the status quo without a good, solid reason.  You've got to overcome that conservatism — which you do by choosing a challenge that only adjusts previous knowledge a little bit!  You don't go in there like Nietzche and tell them god is dead.  That won't get you anywhere.

D&D isn't an accepted academic subject.  It hasn't any legitimacy as an critical topic.  And you might notice that there's very little content around that challenges what we know about D&D.  The vast supply of what you'll read will be about defending the existing structures of D&D, even though virtually no one in text disagrees.  This is a pattern found in religion.  The minister steps to the pulpit to defend Christianity to the audience who already agrees.  A minister does not start off a sermon with "Is the Eucharist necessary" without ending by saying it definitely is.  This is the content to be found everywhere about D&D.

This won't give you much when you attempt to critically think.

Additionally, much information is given on how to do something: make a better dungeon room, when to fudge dice, what tools and modules to buy, what art related to the game's content is good, why Janie, John or Jackie like the game, whether using only d6 is better than using a mess of dice, etcetera.  This content is largely aesthetic or cosmetic.  It may give you something to think about while you're on your 50-minute hiatus three times a week (the bare minimum), but since it isn't critical or challenging, it won't lead to critical thinking.  It's possible you could use it to make better tools or modules, or think of better ways to fudge dice, or induce yourself to like the game better, but as the subject material is universally derivative — by which I mean it constantly reproduces in new ways the same old material —  it's unlikely Dave that you, without any previous experience in critical thinking, will suddenly wrest yourself out of its influence.

Your best option is to go read about things outside D&D and then attempt to apply what you learn there to how D&D can be adjusted here.  That, however, won't happen until you become adept enough at a field you know to challenge that field ... until then, you don't know enough about anything to challenge anything.

This is why educators want to teach children critical thinking and not adults.  Children have time.  10 to 20 years seems like a long time to you Dave, but to a 5-year-old, they don't have much comprehension of time and in any case, they're going to spend the next two decades immersed in education anyway.  They don't have a long history slacking off to overcome.  They can get their appetites whetted for reading difficult and engrossing material for fun, before being poisoned with the contentment of shallow and simplified pap.  Naturally, 98% of the time these children end up in Group #1 anyway, despite the efforts and irritation of educators everywhere, but still, that remaining 2% is critical.

The difficulty of being a critical thinker cannot be gotten around.  It will take you 10 to 20 years, Dave.  It will take more commitment than anything you've attempted in your life.  And it will pay off better than anything else you've attempted to do ... though you won't believe that for much of the time.  The brain is a long harder to kickstart than your physical body.  You can get your body in shape in just 18 months.  18 months is a drop in the bucket where your brain is concerned ... since for the first 18 months, you'll pretty much accomplish nothing towards actual critical thinking.  You can, however, get a lot of reading done in that time.  And you need to do a LOT of reading.

Sorry I can't be more helpful.  This is a do-it-yourself thing.  What's more, doing it yourself practically guarantees that when you are a critical thinker, you won't be like me.  Which is the goal.  We want every critical thinker to be unique in their approach to problems: this increases the chance that we'll solve them and improve what we know.

Sunday, June 6, 2021

My New Digs

Since a few have asked, let me share some images of my new place; I'm living in a "quadraplex," which is a modified duplex, on the upper floor of one half.  The space is 1100 square feet, so my rent is a $1 per square foot.  This includes gas, electricity and water.

Here is the length of the apartment, with carpet that needs stretching but is not really noticible.  I was told the carpet was put in new, because the previous tenant destroyed what came before.  It is a vast improvement over the mock hardwood of my last place.  The picture is taken from the master bedroom looking towards the patio window.

Secondly, I have a lordly kitchen, at least from someone who hasn't enjoyed anything but a galley kitchen since 1988.  This is rather a treat for me, as I do all the cooking and there is plenty of counter & cupboard space.  The doors are a bit beat up, but none of the cupboards shown here are "fakes," as often occurs in apartments.  There are more cupboards on the right, to the right and left, and above the stove that's hidden behind the right-hand frame.  I need curtains for the kitchen; in fact, none of the windows came with curtains, so I'm organizing to get those in place as best I can.

Finally, this is the view of my street, taken from the patio door of my deck.  The deck is 5 feet by 13, so just over two and a half combat hexes.  The street is so beautiful both to the left and the right that I feel a bit like I'm vacationing in a foreign city, using Air B&B.  The smell is filled with flowers and the breeze is a perfect start to each new day.  I have quite a view of sky over my head and can actually look out to the horizon and watch storms roll in; yesterday, we sat at the window and watched a lightning storm.

Dearest Readers, YOU are largely responsible for my living in this place.  Your contributions and your loyalty have allowed me to recover from the demise of my welfare in 2015-16, to slowly climb to these heights.  I couldn't have done it without your help.  Thank you, I say sincerely.  I see you in every surface, hear you in every footfall and detect your scent as I stand in the open and under the trees.  Take it from me that diligently, anyone's life can get sorted and everyone deserves to find a place of comfort, with the help of friends, as I have.

Saturday, June 5, 2021

Critical Thinking

Following up on the last post about film criticism, I tactfully declined to talk about "critical thinking."  So, what is critical thinking?  Straight definition: critical thinking is the art of analyzing and evaluating thinking with a view to improving it.  This is an enormously difficult thing to explain ... and I am not going to do better than Immanuel Kant in a blog post.  At the same time, "simplifying" the method is fraught with terrors ... so I go ahead from here trepidatiously.

If we wish to understand how a spoon works (at the moment an in-depth study presently taken up by my 8-month-old grandchild), we initially examine the spoon physically: how it can be held, swung about, used to poke at things ... and naturally how it feels in our mouths, since intrisincally we first discover how everything works by shoving it in our mouth.  Take note, however.  Before we can fully train ourselves to understand how a spoon works, we will have it demonstrated for us by competent others; and they will train us to hold it correctly (or incorrectly, with some people), bypassing our need for personal research.  The speed with which we learn the spoon's use depends on how much resistance we have against learning things.

Resistance is a tricky concept.  Resistance can occur because the learner is dead stupid or bloody minded.  But resistance can also occur because the learner does not trust that what the teacher does with a spoon is everything that can be done with a spoon.  It is in this second form of resistance that we find genius.

Kant divides reason through the operation of two components: (a) intuition, which is sense perception; and (b) understanding, which is a rational interpretation of the data given through sense perception.  Sense perception is what your five senses tell you about the world, including everything related to the physicality of the spoon: shape, smell, feel, sound and taste.  When you see someone else use the spoon, or you're trained to hold it just so by repetition (and forced to repeat that training through repetition), that is sense perception also.  But when you think about the spoon, reviewing your experience with the spoon, guessing at why or how the spoon is made, you are rationally interpreting the data.  When you take the next step, which is reviewing about how you've previously considered the spoon, related to what you're thinking about it now, then you are analysing your thoughts.  And when you take that analysis so that you may approach a better way to make the spoon, then you are participating in critical thinking.

Most youtube content creators fail at producing meaningful criticism because they think what they see or hear during the film, and especially what the film makes them feel, is film criticism.  It isn't.  To critique a film, first, the critic must be capable of seeing what problems the director, writer and crew must have faced in making the film as it is.  Using a somewhat infamous example, when Laurence Olivier chose to cast Marilyn Monroe as one of the leads in the film The Prince and the Showgirl [a brilliant film of the first order by the way, only a billion times better than anything Kubrick made], Olivier had Monroe to contend with.  Which was, by all later accounts, a horrific nightmare.  In a more prosaic sense, as I've discussed before, all films, even bad ones, are logistical trials on a par with Going to War ... with the added difficulty of ensuring that everyone gets through the experience alive (which, unfortunately, doesn't always happen).

Secondly, the reviewer must be able to interpret the relevant sensory information, and external knowledge of the difficulties involved, accurately and meaningfully.  A great many content creators do not understand film, they do not understand writing or direction, they do not understand budgeting, and thus why a particular scene plays as it does because it's what we could afford, or build in time, or logically fit into the continuity of the film's story.  Morons who bitch about CGI assume that every budget must be in the hundreds of millions, or else the film isn't worth seeing ... while failing the simplest smell tests: Hitchcock's brilliant film To Catch a Thief has several lengthy special effects "failures" because the film was released in 1955 ... and absolutely no one with a brain cares.  Filmmaking has limitations.  Comprehending this, and many other realities, is necessary to good criticism.

Thirdly, the reviewer must see why and how those problems were solved, as opposed to other ways those problems might have been solved.  It is not enough to point at a film and mutter that the direction or the acting fell short ... we must explain why and how it fell short!  Specifically, to follow the director's logic with a film like Being John Malkovich so that we can understand accurately why — although it is brilliantly made, written and acted — it really isn't a very good film.  For most persons, this is virtually impossible.  Those who both love and hate it will usually do so viscerally ... while simultaneously failing to realize that vast numbers were unable to appreciate any of the magnificent work put into the film due to the utter irrelevancy of the subject material.  Keeping in mind the goal of critical thinking is not to argue that a film is "good" or "bad" ... but to use what we know about a film to make a better product.

By deconstructing films, then, and examining their methods of solving problems related to the creation of art, we can advance our reasoning on how to solve additional, as yet unencountered problems that will come up with as-yet unfounded artistic endeavours.  In short, we are not lauding the past.  We are building towards a future.  When a film reviewer wallows in the beauty of an object, while at the same time failing to see that object as a method that can be applied further on in making better objects, the reviewer is simply describing a spoon.  It is not critical thinking.

It was intended, at this point, that I apply these same arguments to the examinations and discussions of role-playing games, but alas, it is getting late.  I did say I intended to move forward with trepidation.  Some things should not be rushed.  So let's pick this up with RPGs in another post.