Friday, July 30, 2021
Monday, July 26, 2021
|There is much to be said for Halsey's Teeth.|
Saturday, July 24, 2021
|"The fame thing isn't really real, you know."|
Friday, July 23, 2021
Thursday, July 22, 2021
Monday, July 19, 2021
The psychological theory of "flow" proposes that there is a tension between skill and challenge that affects our state of mind. If a task is too easy, we get bored and distracted. Too hard and we get frustrated and give up. If however, the task at hand challenges our physical skill while still being potentially doable — we can experience the "flow state" ... you can be hyperfocused on the project, lose track of time, and experience a rush of self-efficacy — "Look at this, I CAN build it!"
Locked into this hyperfocused state of mind, we become aware of everything. As I am drawing some probably useless map of Spitsbergen, these are not just lines and colours for me, they are my choice to achieve an appearance, a harmony that is beauty, to make the shapes match a lifetime of staring at maps and reading about faraway places — of which Spitsbergen is only one. While a viewer looks at the map and may experience a scale between indifference or admiration, my experience is a vague recollection of my spending hours once upon a time fitting together pieces of coastline, sea and land together. I did it, obviously; but I don't closely remember doing it. It is as though I were someone else as I did it. The experience is odd, disjointed and utterly as though my finger reached out and found God's waiting.
And so when I said earlier that no part of my sandbox is intrinsically "better" than any other part, it is THIS experience that applies. The project of working at my world, and all the parts of it, have been done at a level where I do not cease advancing my execution until I have reached my point of failure, as John Ruskin put it. That execution is still advancing.
Applying myself in this manner, asking me to give more concern about the party visiting Paris or the party visiting Spitsbergen is akin to asking if I prefer my body cell 45,896,564,003,981 more than cell 45,896,564,003,982. It is all part of a single composite whole. There cannot be one part without the other ... and every part serves its function as it is meant to serve its function ... in an incomprehensible way that denies me any power to feel prejudiced about either. Want to go here? Sure. Want to go there? Cool. They seem equally fascinating to me. They were fascinating when I drew them; they've lost none of that fascination with passing time.
I believe that the act of working fully and completely on the game world — and especially if the presence of the game world is the end goal, and NOT what the game world is used for — produces that artistic gestation we associate with giving birth. There is a change that is wrought on the mind of the maker. We learn what our world is and experience what it might potentially be — yet not only that. It becomes a part of us and we a part of it. The work, the flow that engaged us, makes the world an extension of ourselves, like an additional arm or set of memories. Each line of river carves into the world its boats, its waterbearers, its croplands and its bearing away of soil to the sea. Each border sets forces of power in motion, stirs the minds of occupants to thoughts of war and conquest, while building resentment for "the other" who lives on the other side. Each city is a center of plague and culture; a refuse pile; a place of glorious endeavour; the clink of coins, the glorious odour of cooking wafting through the streets. The initiative of drawing the world is an act of spilling out beings, rivalries, histories and germination, like pouring a gargantuan bucket of complex, pixel-sized lego upon an infinitely sized table, then happily spending decades piecing it together.
The fool who does not do this because he or she thinks it's unnecessary "for the game" deserves pity.
And not players.
Saturday, July 17, 2021
|My actual flower-growing ability|
"It requires a crap-ton of energy on the DM's part to keep the campaign world living/breathing/evolving/resolving as the PCs podunk around the imaginary countryside."
Coincidentally, JB's been writing a series of posts on imagination this week, which lend a meaningful nuance to the use of the term "imaginary" in this quote. Presuming that JB's instincts have accurately endured for these past ten years, he's not talking here of merely "making shit up." Here, the deeper, traditional meaning of imagination is in play, the sort that led C.S. Lewis, L. Frank Baum, Lewis Carroll and J.R.R. Tolkein to build complex, structured realms that presented as real to the mind's eye.
Plainly, this overtone is lost on the vanilla-some discharge we can expect from James Maliszewski, who writes,
"Really? Maybe I'm weird, but I've found just the opposite. A sandbox campaign demands a lot less energy on my part than do other styles of campaigns. It's true I have to be able to think on my feet and improvise when necessary, but that's what having lots of random tables at the ready is for! I don't why sandboxes are so often portrayed as so difficult and time-consuming to run, because they're not. I'm lazy by nature; if they demanded as much of me as some suggest, I wouldn't run my campaign as a sandbox."
Gosh darn, I'm just going to say it. If there's one thing Maliszewski can do, it's plant flowers in dirt. He's unsurpassed in such skill sets.
ChicagoWiz's take more or less agrees; and with ten years of research and writing, he's managed to produce some truly boring helpful guides for DMs who want to do things super-simply. Unlike, say, any of the writers mentioned above who spent a "crap-ton of energy" producing massive volumes of work that are utterly, unquestionably significant. For those who feel their game worlds "improve" with less work or emphasis on design, I direct them to the empty shelves displaying the genius work of a would-be writers who disliked the time needed to research or edit their own work.
'Course, JB gives no indication that he intends to give that energy; his post is more about why he doesn't need to, or want to, or that he's not particularly good at it. In 10 years of reading JB, he's tried to encourage himself otherwise, but it's fair to say he's not there ... yet.
My chief contention with this argument is the word "energy." The word implies negativity, as in, "I haven't the energy for that." It speaks of forcing ourselves to do something, which maybe we recognize needs to be done but which we rather not do now, or which we'd prefer someone else did. It's a strange way to speak about one's passion ... usually, as I described at the top of this post, we can't restrain ourselves from doing things we love. It's a beautiful morning and we rush through the household chores so we can hurl ourselves into the garden with shears and soil knives, delighting in the opportunity to get dirty and become intoxicated among roses and orchids. To an outsider, sure, it looks like "energy" ... but to the absorbed floriculturalist, the time spent is a drug, an experience that obliterates one's sense of time.
Many's a time I sank into a project with my first cup of coffee in the morning, only to notice by-and-by that the sun had set. If ChicagoWiz, Maliszewski or JB were in the room with me, looking over my shoulder, no doubt they'd have been astounded at the unrelieved colourlessness of the work they watched me do in designing my game, puzzled at why anyone would plunge such dreary effort into something that can be done "on their feet."
Of course, the results can't be done on their feet. I dare any of them to produce an 80-item menu of carefully described treats and intriguing dishes in a few minutes of game-time; or to recieve any real interest after the fact of them doing it, since the results would have next to no impact on the players. As DMs, we do concoct moments of interest by the seat of our pants. I do it all the time, at least half a dozen times a session. But I also have a bag of holding deep enough to swallow the party anytime I want to slip the drawstring ... in case I want to invent a moment the players will remember the rest of their lives.
To come 'round again to having the game setting give way or push back against the player's designs, IF we try to do this by the seat of our pants, we will fuck it up. This is the fundamental bedrock of JB's position on the whole matter, one that's utterly misunderstood by ChicagoWiz and others ... but understood perfectly by one commentor, The Bane. As he says,
I wanted a chronological plot of time - an epic continuios story. I thought the only way to get that was through a well developed setting and predefined plot. Then I began studying on sandboxes. When I /thought/ I had it, I tried it out as prescribed. Epic failure. I studied some more and off I went, armed with guidance. Epic fail. This went on until I got tired of losing players, which is painful in this day and age to find more, and went back to, "No shit, here you are and this is what you have to do..." tactics.
DMs try for what I'm saying I do normally (and I haven't said yet what that is), learning their lesson. They learn to go back to the modules. They think initially they can do it. They see what their neighbour can do with roses and zinnias, so they buy plants, they set out neat rows, they purchase all the best tools and they work very hard all summer long ... and the results are AWFUL. So they learn their lesson. "I'm not a gardener," they say. "I'm not cut out for it." And they're right. Oh, not for the reasons they think. The results are bad because they don't know what they're doing. They don't know anything about flowers or soil, or very little. All they can think of is the result they want; whereas actual gardeners are thinking about how much they love gardening.
Designing my world, I'm not thinking about what the players will think! Who gives a crap if they want to go to Spitsbergen? My game has steaming jungles, barren plains, people crushed together on narrow streets, spectacular palaces, offal dumps. I don't give a damn where the players want to go. There's no particular place I think is better than any other place. I just want to run the fucking game.
Because I love it all, when I'm thinking, "How is the world going to give way or push back against this idea of the players?" — I have nothing invested in whether they win or lose. I don't care either way. If the idea makes use of the game's rules, the design of the various bits and pieces I've built into the world's structure, in a manner that reflects how a similar idea would actually work in the real world, I consider what dice should be rolled, what the probability on those dice ought to be, and decide while taking a walk or during a soak in the tub what labels belong on the world's roulette wheel to the extent of my imagination. Then I roll, or wait to do it in front of the players, often telling them in advance what the results might be prior to the dice hitting the table ... and then I run the version the dice pick.
This gets pretty damn complicated. And we'll get into that, with an example, in the next post. I felt this post was needed to hammer out some principles of "sandbox" that I follow:
1) no part of the sandbox is intrinsically "better" or "more important" than any other part.
2) my first challenge as a DM is to be inventive with all the scenarios that MIGHT be, and then indifferent to the scenario that actually occurs.
3) my second challenge is to provide such depth of texture, intricacy and tension that's humanly possible, once I know which scenario I'm running.
I rise to these challenges because I have not spent one summer trying to garden like the floriculturalist up the street for one summer. I've done this for all the summers.
Friday, July 16, 2021
Thursday, July 15, 2021
Tuesday, July 13, 2021
Thursday, July 8, 2021
Chris Hayes: So you decided that philosophy was not for you; but what did you like about it?
Natalie Wynn: I really liked being a philosophy major when I was an undergraduate. I think philosophy’s more fun to study at the kind of 101, 201, maybe even 301 level. It’s fun to get this grand tour of intellectual history when you’re reading Plato one week and the feminist philosophers the next week – and then post-modernism. It’s very exciting to go through all this for the first time, and you feel the kind of thrill of your mind expanding. But by the time you’re considering writing a dissertation, and it’s like, “Okay, which three paragraphs of Heidegger am I gonna spend the rest of my 20s writing about — oh, that’s, um, that’s a different situation.
I find this very funny. It's not meant to be. Wynn is entirely earnest about her reasons and there's no doubt this is exactly the experience that thousands of doctorate-students have about their field, especially in their 20s.
Only, there's a discontinuity that slaps me right in the face. Do you see it? There's an intrinsic flaw in the university system, right there, bold as a neon sign.
Understand ... universities and other post-secondary institutions are there to teach people. The process of obtaining a doctorate is a specialized learning exercise, in which students demonstrate through various means their ability to understand the material, defend it, and thus meaningfully provide it for others, most probably students, upon request. In non-STEM fields, particularly, the probable usefulness of a doctorate of the humanities or social sciences is to be a professor ... therefore it stands to reason that other professors should be the gatekeepers on whether anyone should be a part of that cabal.
Being an expert on Heidegger, and specifically upon an important turning point in Heidegger's work — or anyone's, really — is critical if you're going to make some other person understand why and how those three paragraphs are fundamental to philosophy.
Only, do you know who did not spend his 20s focused on three paragraphs of Heidegger? Martin Heidegger, who wrote all the paragraphs — and thus spent his life advancing the field of philosophy by writing on everything that interested him, and not just how to explain other people.
The creation of any Heidegger is not the goal of higher learning. This is brilliantly demonstrated in the obscure 1970 film, Getting Straight, in which the main character is working to defend his master's thesis in English Literature amidst a series of university protests against Vietnam, ending with the campus being put under martial law. The final critical scene occurs when the main character Harry is interviewed by a tableful of professors, who quibble over Fitzgerald's work, The Great Gatsby — specifically, if you can believe it, the significance of Carraway's attraction to the character Jordan Baker in the novel.
This was a classic "three paragraph" fetish among literalists in the 1960s; I'm tempted not to go into it, since if there is an English scholar in the crowd today there's sure to be the sound of "Oh, that bullshit" in the room. Simply put, the old saw that Carraway was queer for Gatsby.
I have no idea what the hell they teach now on that. I don't know if this is still embraced by scholars or if the world has come to its senses ... or if it's still a final exam question. I saw the movie when I was very young, definitely before being old enough to enter university. I'd read Gatsby by then; and I knew all about the violence that took place on school campuses in the late 1960s. Harry, the main character, spends the movie breaking himself against the anvil of preparing himself for the cross-examination he's going to face, while everyone else he knows is breaking themselves against the political reality of free speech versus military force. It's absurdist (which is why Wikipedia calls it a "comedy"). Harry walks past armed soldiers, to meet with old men to discuss fictional characters, and ultimately whether or not one fictional character was, in fact, gay. Harry doesn't believe it; but then he's faced with one professor who argues Carraway's queerness to hysterical levels — because obviously it proves Fitzgerald was gay. It becomes painfully obvious that if Harry wants his ticket, he will have to sacrifice his beliefs ... and worse, the mountains of research he's done regarding Fitzgerald — which he has to pretend he doesn't know. And he tries. He tries really hard.
And then ... he just loses it.
There is a kind of insanity in what people believe ... and what they think they have to believe, especially about things that'll never be known. The process of deconstruction has its limits. Nitpicking about any three paragraphs, for any length of time, isn't much of a life. We do better if we attempt to write as Fitzgerald or Heidegger did, than concern ourselves overmuch with what either meant. It's well enough if we come away from such things understanding what the mean to us ... and help others understand what it might mean to them. But if we think it matters what it means absolutely, well ...
That way madness lies.
Monday, July 5, 2021
Thursday, July 1, 2021
Before writing How to Run, I read every published book about dungeon mastering that I could find, including Matt Finch's Primer. It's terrible. It is better than other more terrible things. Frankly, I'd forgotten it's existence — as I do with many pieces of old school junk — until reading this from Dennis Laffey's blog:
"In the Primer, the section talks about how description should trump die rolls and common sense should trump dedicated game mechanics. I don't have a problem with that."
This is not a take-down of either Laffey or Finch. The logic expressed here is quite common and if I wanted to rant, I could find the blog of someone I didn't like. I'd rather talk about the trouble with simple solutions to things. Take this example from Larry Gonick's Cartoon History of the Universe, vol. 8-13:
|Plainly, old school DMing is Confucianism|
An extreme example, but I'll try one of my own. New players to chess often become enamoured with the Queen. They prefer the queen to every other piece; and when they lose the queen, they're sure the game is lost. But the game is not won with the queen; it is won by using all the pieces in concert.
Description does not supercede die rolls, because in the case of DMing, ranking one part of the game over another makes no sense. Likewise, it makes no sense to impose a rule such as common sense superceding game mechanics, when what we want are game mechanics that incorporate common sense. If a game mechanic is non-sensical, get rid of it.
When building a structure, whether a plan to defeat an enemy or redesigning our kitchen cabinets, every part of that structure matters. Every part deserves our attention and every part must work in tandem towards the common goal. This is self-evident to me.
Die rolls are used when randomness improves the character of the game; description is used to build emotion, when making a die roll would be foolishly destructive; game mechanics, or rules, demarcate the players' possible responses, using voiced problem solving (which is "descriptive" but is not "description," which may incorporate dice as the rules dictate. Common sense exists at every level, not as a gut instinct that feels right, but "sound, practical judgment concerning everyday matters ... or the ability to perceive, understand and judge in a manner that is shared by nearly all people."
Our common sense doesn't derive from a "personal" perspective! It derives from an empathic comprehension of how others would view this matter that's come up during the game. If a DM is gainsaying that something should be so-and-so according to their gut, then they're not demonstrating common sense, per definition.
Though often, we think that's what common sense is; something we automatically share with the human race. We tend to believe that if we think a given way, it must be that others, probably most other people, also think that way.
A thing is sound when it is free from defect or injury; that is why we say we're "safe and sound" when avoiding an accident, or we've gotten home without trouble. The word equates with a tone that falls pleasantly on the ear; if a tone is off, it's unsound; if you're unhealthy, you're unsound. Therefore, when we say that an opinion is "sound," it's because the opinion resonates equally on the ear of those hearing it. If your "common sense" isn't immediately met with the entire table nodding their heads and agreeing, without the need of an argument, then you're not invoking common sense at all. You're producing an opinion, just like any other opinion, and your need to attach a "soundness" to that opinion is merely puffing up your ego.
Something is practical when it can be applied as an action or a use. It comes from the same root as "practice," as in a thing being practical when it can be practiced. Practicality is being concerned with material considerations and when we say that something is "practically true," we mean that it has proved itself through practice. Therefore, if you produce a ruling in the middle of your game that amounts to nothing that the players can use to play your game, you're not exercising common sense. You're just producing air.
From this, it's painfully clear that "common sense" things ARE game mechanics; and that when someone says that I'm superceding game mechanics with common sense, what they're actually saying is that they feel constrained by game mechanics and the game's structure, so that they want an "out."
Now, this is interesting. It serves us to remember than any person faced with a game rule, or a social convention, or an imposition of the law, will feel resistance. To "resist" politically is to organize covert opposition to an occupying or ruling power. The key word is covert. One of our best strategies in resisting a group dynamic is to trot out "positive sounding" phrasing in order to redefine our actual intent. Saying that my opinion, which elicits neither support from the players, nor invokes any obvious application, is "common sense," gives weight to my arguments because I've marshalled the whole human race into my corner. "SEE? Of course I'm right, because everyone agrees with me — except you, you and you."
Rules are hard to follow, even in a comparatively simple game, like chess. That is why there are rules about touching the pieces, or talking, or otherwise distracting your opponent, because when those rules dictating behaviour don't exist between consenting adults, players will attempt to fiddle with the pieces and adjust what square they're on, or talk incessantly about aggravating things, or thump the table with their palms or hum. People won't follow the rules, even "common sense" rules, where it comes to preserving their own lives. We have to make laws about maintaining our cars, ensuring the brake lights work, wearing lifejackets, respecting private property, even not grabbing a police officer wildly — because even when there are laws designed to protect people, people still ignore the laws and grab cops, trespass, drown in boating accidents and ignore all those little pesky things having to do with driving a safe automobile. D&D has so many rules, of so many types, that are often very restrictive on player behaviour, and equally so on what the DM can and cannot do, we should not be surprised that a vast number of participants just don't care about those rules, or why they exist, or how they're meant to function. The rule exists so I can't do what I want, meaning the obvious right thing to do, the "common sense" thing to do, is to ignore the rule and do whatever the fuck I want.
Now, where has that "I'm Being Facetious" sign got to?
Under public scrutiny, of course, we can't be that obvious; we have to at least pretend we're on the straight-and-narrow. What I can't understand, and having already said this: if we don't like the rule, or game mechanic, why go through all the rhetoric of "common sense blah blah blah," when we can just change the rule to something that we do like, or which works better? Where is the logic to assigning the caretaker work to a barely understood phrase (I've spent most of this post defining it, because we don't understand it) instead of simply fixing the game? It isn't like the company is going to swoop into our kitchens and fine us for House Rule Violation 6.2 section-B paragraph 2. We own our own games! We can do whatever we want! If the damn thing isn't sound or practical, then for pete's sake, make it sound and practical!
Surely, if we're looking for a "primer," the first rule ought to be, "If it's broke, FIX IT."