Sunday, May 22, 2022

Exorcising My Thoughts

Today I'd like to start by clarifying this post from May 5.  When I say I'm so tired of D&D, I mean content such as a channel like "Master the Dungeon."  The proliferation of gimmicky shortcuts masquerading as "real advice," similar to the way that relationship gurus give short cut advice like dumping rose petals on a bed.  A fellow can spend a lifetime explaining why this stuff doesn't work and why it's poison for the community, but it's an enormous waste of time.  I don't want to do it any more.

This does not mean I want to stop talking about my campaign, my game structures, my wiki or other material associated with the game I play.  It should be evident I'm still writing about D&D.  Only, I'm interested in rebuilding my approach to appeal to those specific readers who connect with the expression of D&D that I embrace.  That's all.

Yesterday, Sterling brought up some points I'd like to address first.  I'd like to start with the middle suggestion: a new voice that might be more attractive to new readers.

A "new voice" is a tricky affair.  As a professional business writer, I adopt a structured, passion-free voice that carefully provides data without saying anything firmly.  Such-and-such company "expects" to do well in the upcoming quarter, as we are "committed" to our "goal" of "world-class process safety performance."  We "recognise" the "importance" of blah blah blah "performance," etcetera, etcetera.  It's an effort to sound like we're saying something we mean, while absolutely choosing words that say nothing and which commit us to nothing.  I can find the same language applied to D&D all over the internet, where advice is given without definitely stating that this advice will achieve anything.

But "the speak" is very appealing.  It sounds encouraging, it sounds like investors have good reason to trust the company, it sounds like viewers have good reason to think these presenters really know their stuff about D&D.  The trick of writing this way has been around a long, long time.  The way it works with my job is that we each make a first stab, then share the writing around to help each other "clean it," which is the phrase we use.  "Cleaning" means getting rid of anything that might conceivably say something concrete.

What doesn't appeal to investors is anything that might cause them to lay awake at night.  You consider: you've got five million invested in a company that makes safety equipment and you read on line twenty seven on the fourteenth page one moderately negative word related to government-mandated evaluation curtailments in the lower commodity price environment.  Wait a moment.  What was that?  Why is that there?  You can already feel your palms sweat.  People read about things they consider important because they want to be reassured.  They want someone to tell them it's going to be fine.  This is the fundamental reality of writing for anything "official" — quarterly reports, a business magazine, a foody channel, a website that sells clothing.  We are here to make the reader feel better about something the reader already believes.   It's Grognardia's approach, it's Tim Brannan's approach, it's Justin Alexander's approach.  These guys know what they're writing.

At the moment, science is undergoing a decades-long "replication crisis."  Essentially, many findings in the fields of social science and medicine aren't holding up when others attempt to repeat the experiment.  What's especially interesting is that many inside the science publishing industry say that they can recognise which published findings are likely to be supported and which aren't — but that "non-replicable" papers are published anyway because the results are more "interesting."  In short, the problem with what was once a reliable scientific process — "publish a paper, encourage others to repeat the experiment, move science forward" — is being subverted by the business of publishing.  Publishing, and the interest it provides to eyeballs, is more important to the science magazines than the science.  Thousands of hours of research time are being wasted trying to replicate experiments that have no chance of being replicated.  That wastes time, it wastes money that could be put towards more fruitful ventures ... while the hired business manager of the science magazine, who is not a scientist, is more concerned with ad sales than with human advancement.  This is a problem.

When looking at the words, "more attractive to readers," these are the pitfalls that roll through my head.

I can be much more attractive to "readers" if I begin to rant all the time.  The more fire I spit, the more readers I'll accumulate.  It's a fact.  Any time I let myself off the chain, even a little bit, my readership jumps 50 to 100 percent within a few hours.  I'm rewarded for being a raving lunatic.  But I'm rewarded with the wrong kind of readers.  I'm rewarded with cranks and deplorables, voyeurs and people who really don't give a rat fuck about D&D or any legitimate role-playing.  Specifically, bored people who like their blood being stirred.  I don't want to chase these readers any more.

So if we're talking about my being more attractive to readers, what's wanted is more attractive to a specific, I-want-to-do-hard-things kind of reader ... which, in point of fact, dislike it when I rant.  So, as I've known for more than two years, stop ranting, Alexis.

Difficult.  I am a fervent, zealous advocate of intelligensia, productivity and respect for quality.  I'm easily infuriated by misinformation for the sake of self-aggrandisement, appeals to emotionality, pandering language and flat out lies.  For example, just now, mention "abortion" in my presence and get ready for a violent, angry, impassioned tirade about man's inhumanity to women.  This is what I'm like when I'm free to express myself ... which I'm not free to do on the internet, though gawd knows I've tried.  I'm not the sort of protestor who allows the cop to quietly lead him away.  I'm the one at the front, screaming at the top of my lungs into the cops face, ready to take his baton away and have a go.  I don't publicly protest any more because I know I'm going to get killed doing it.

When I write material for money, I have to hold my nose.  I've lots of experience.  I know how.  But here, on this blog, I don't want to type on a desk full of shit.  I want to say what I think needs to be said.

My goal is to say it patiently and respectfully.  But not attractively.  I've been working on that.  I think I'm doing better year by year.

So ...

Dropping the moniker.  Stop calling this blog Tao of "D&D."  It is true, the specific system — except that it's mine — has ceased to be relevant and I no longer wish to talk about one system vs. another, or any system except mine.

Why not change the blog to "Authentic Role-playing" or "The Other Role-playing Game."  I could make The Higher Path public and write there.  Leave this blog up as a reference and go elsewhere.  Because I would have to do that.  Blogger has it set up that you can't change the blog name, at least not on the url.  The banner at the top might reader TORG, but the blog will always be "tao-dnd."  Plus, there are scores and scores of other blogs who still have me listed as Tao of D&D, whether I change this blog or not.  Changing to a new blog means pushing a lot of supporters to work on my behalf ... and quite a few links to blogs that are no longer being updated would forever send readers to here, and never to the new place.  The same can be said for people who connect to my Patreon page, which is also titled The Tao of D&D.  It's not that easy to pull stakes and move.  There are consequences.

Plus, I get readers who arrive here because they're looking for "D&D."  My two most popular posts, and ones I still get weekly readers for, though they are 11 and 9 years old, are "How to Dungeon Master" and "How to Play a Character."  While readers fall away from me for various reasons, including that they quit playing D&D and therefore quit reading about it, these two posts continue to drive new readers into my orbit.  They read the big long post, wonder about what else I've written ... and some of them begin reading the entire blog from the beginning, all 3,400+ posts of it.  And I don't write short posts.  The words "Dungeons and Dragons" and "D&D" most likely appear more than 10-15 thousand times on this blog; I doubt I go more than two posts without using the moniker.

I think, realistically, it's too late to "drop it."  Like a franchisee who runs a string of successful MacDonalds, who has to facepalm every time the Mac commits some horrible evil in the world, I'm none the less locked in with my devil.

At the same time, not to appeal to anyone's emotions, I like "dungeons and dragons" as a brand.  Maybe it's not my brand, but I can say with assurance to someone in the real world that "I play D&D" without getting a load of judgement and edition diction on the subject.  The only responses I ever get back are, "Really?  I used to play," or "Really?  I always wanted to play."  Oh, and occasionally someone doesn't know what it is.  Very, very occasionally.  That's something that's changed.


I have no faith at all in a discussion platform.  A "discussion" requires more than one voice.  I'm so intimidating, apparently, that the only possible discussion that would ever take place in an environment like that is one I wasn't a part of.

People want to be right when they say things.  I have no problem with that, I want to be right also.  But I want to be right because I AM, because I've done the research and I'm channelling the words of other people talking about things those people are experts in.  When my rightness is challenged, I go full Greek and begin defending myself with arguments, which come fast and furiously and loaded with lots of words, written by someone trained to write words.  As Oliver Platt put it in the movie Chef, I buy ink by the barrel.

Other people want to be right because "they have an opinion too," or "Why can't you consider my point of view; it is because it's not yours?"  If they would only back up what they say with Shakespeare or Mills or Sartre ... or somebody ... but they don't.  They can't.  They only know how to assert their humanity, which puts their argument on a par with a farmer in the Stone Age, who was also human and also had not read the works of Shakespeare, Mills or Sartre.  It's the kind of thing that makes an intransigent, inflexible elder, me, willing to hit the impertinent little poster remarking on the subject at hand.

It is unfair and unrealistic of me to expect other people to educate themselves and acquire personal experience about the subject matter based on WORK DONE rather than CONJECTURE before commenting on my blog post about mapping, worldbuilding or whatever.  It's anti-democratic.  Keeping in mind that "democracy" is based on the Socratic method, which we can define simply as beat the living tar out of your opponent by employing rhetoric, mocking jokes and as many arguments as can be drawn while the dupe stands there and tries to reply.  In this case, "anti-democratic" means that expertise is irrelevant, knowledge is irrelevant and experience is irrelevant.  All that matters is that I have an asshole, you have an asshole ... we can agree to disagree.

Damn.  Caught myself ranting again.


So, yes, I have this fantasy of twenty people sitting around talking about cool stuff and building an awesome collaborative, functional roleplay structure through hypothesis, experimentation, observation and conclusion, followed by replicating the experiment between us ... but I live in the real world.  And after the failure of several attempted collaborative adventures I've tried to launch these last 14 years, I'm not falling for that football again, Lucy.

This has been a good thought experiment, Sterling.  I think my writing is fairly sustained and motivated.  I just want to do it in a way where I don't experience exhaustive self-reflection when setting myself the task of writing something that I know will bore most readers who chase other expressions of D&D.  I want to feel secure enough to be boring.  To write as long about maps, worldbuilding or any other subject, without feeling the need to simplify it for the yokels, while ceasing to worry that I've been at this awful, boring subject too long.  Something that seems to be evidently true because it's been five, six posts and fifteen days since getting a comment.

The comment section is brutal.  On the one hand, I want to strengthen myself to believe that a lack of comments DOES NOT MEAN no one is interested in what I'm writing.  I mean, at my job, I get regular comments from other writers, I get feedback from my boss, there's definitely a back and forth that goes on with predictable regularity.  If the answer I get when I submit something is, "Yes, I read it," and that's all, I know my boss has no problem with it.  I did a good job.  But there is no personal contact through the comment section, not for me.  Which relates to the intimidation problem.

There's another angle, too.  By grade 12 in High School, I'd left the football team, where I wasn't that popular, and I'd bailed out on most things ... and I was always something of a misanthrope, except for my D&D friends.  And then I met this girl.  This remarkable girl.  This girl whose father was a diplomat in Singapore, where this girl had been living for five years, in an intense urban culture that was very much not the hideous suburban culture in which I lived.  She loved my nature.  When we connected, it was fiery, violent, hot-blooded.  It was a consuming, frenzied relationship that lasted for more than two years.

And when her new girlfriends at school — people she met at the same time she met me — demanded to know why she had any interest in dating that geeky psychopath Alexis, this girl didn't give a damn what my reputation was.  That's what made our relationship work.  It was based on what we felt.  Not what other people felt.

There are definitely people out there who don't want to admit to their respect for me, or engage with a post I write, but who do READ me, because they are worried what other people will think of them.  They are worried what they'll think of themselves.  Because they will never forgive me for some things I wrote ten or more years ago.  Never.

Which is why I've considered burning the comments section.  If people can't comment, then I can't expect them to comment ... and perhaps I can write as much boring stuff as I please without worrying what anyone thinks.  In reality, comments aren't important.  The only important number that exists in my world is my Patreon support.  It really is the only comment that matters.

But, personal forces in my orbit, especially my daughter, believe that removing the comments would be the death knell for this blog.  They're probably right.  I'm probably thinking about this thing too emotionally.  I should just suck it up and be boring.  And stop fucking worrying about it.


Maxwell Joslyn said...

> Something that seems to be evidently true because it's been five, six posts and fifteen days since getting a comment.

I must be missing something - there were 9 comments in the last two days on the previous post...

For what it's worth, I think shutting down the comments would be a loss for the blog. A number of posts over the years have had their origins in reader comments, as I recall - whether as something you could build on, or something you could deconstruct. The people who comment here are mostly on board with your 4th form of RPG expression, and doing their best to follow along and understand Alexis-style game design for the 4th form; and since not all of us have blogs, your site serves as a valuable gathering point for us.

[I don't comment as much as I did in college, mainly b/c my hand injury; I often find myself thinking of a comment but not having the strength to edit it, even if I can dictate the initial text. I have to make hard choices about whether my free time is better spent on first-order tasks - reading, writing, and design which goes toward my own game - or on second-order tasks like discussion (still valuable! but not "cutting the enemy.)]

Alexis Smolensk said...


Are you writing under some understanding that you're obligated to write me a comment?

Because I've haven't suggested that.

I have said that I'm intimidating, confrontational, inflexible and anti-democratic, and by extension that I'm also dismissive, rude, elitist and judgmental.

Why would you want to comment to such a person? Why would anyone?

Sterling said...

Alexis, I'm pleased that my half-baked ideas provided you as much springboard as they did! Although I think you under-explored the idea of writing in a different voice (at least on the page), I suppose you've come to the right conclusion. As a place where you can write for yourself, it's only fitting that you do so in your natural voice.

It seems to me you have treated your work on this blog similarly to how you treat your game, your world, your wiki--that is as a never-ending labor of love even when parts of it are painful or tiresome to work on. When you hit such a point you set that down and write about something that doesn't feel tiresome and then maybe come back to in a few days, months, or years.

I tend to comment in widely spaced bursts, but my continuous support on Patreon is my assurance that I am interested in continuing to read you even when I'm otherwise silent.

Alexis Smolensk said...

And that's how I view it, Sterling, though my monkey-brain is stupid on the subject.

Shelby said...

I confess I am a sucker for rants, particularly regarding the modern "game." Possibly because the circles I run in are so deeply infected with it that I'm constantly on the back foot trying to make the case for the Higher Path. Not much luck so far but we'll see.

So it's more than refreshing, it's an oasis to come here for something deeper.

Lance Duncan said...

A few thoughts

I do enjoy the occasional rant, I guess they're a guilty pleasure, as long as they're not egotistical and self-serving, nor too long. There's a reason I stopped reading the angry gm(each post 10000 words long with no point, that's what I call a wall of text), I got tired of all his bullshit.

I also dropping the dnd name would be mistake mostly because that is how the majority of people identify rpgs, most haven't really heard of anything else, and even those gamers who have played or do play other systems might still use dnd as a general catch-all term. I know I and my friends did; as kids even when we were playing a different game, as long as it was fantasy it we were playing dnd. Also even if your specific game is drastically different than 1e adnd, it doesn't really matter because it's built off the dnd basis, hp, ac, classes, spells, etc. Every dm running for a significant amount of time will have their own custom version of the game to one extent or another.

As far as a discussion platform, yeah a blog is kinda terrible for that, and yes your written voice can be intimidating. A voice or video platform would probably be more conducive toward that goal, idk, it's just a feeling.

I also understand the discouragement from lack of comments(partly why I post so rarely on my own blog), but I do agree that turning them off would be the death knell. I do appreciate your productive posts like the wiki or maps, but it can be hard to comment on something that is just there.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Should I write a post, "How to form a comment"?

ViP said...

I didn't publish even 1/20th of the comments I started writing after reading some of your rants. Fragile is the ego of the typical blog commenter, and the assurance that any half-baked couterpoint will elicit some full-baked slap on the nose from someone you look up to is a powerful deterrent. It forces you to actually read the post twice - and it is usually enough for me to realize that I have missed your point or that I need to think a little longer about the issue at hand. All this is very stimulating but indeed does not translate into 100+ comment threads. Anyway you are not Justin, you are not JaMal, not Colville, not even Bryce or PrinceOfNothing. You blog is fine the way it is. Do stop fucking worrying.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Doesn't feel "fine" to me. Rants feel like I'm out of control. Addressing the same old-form D&D arguments make me feel empty and dead inside. I'm not always ready to be brilliant. I'm working through some important stuff. Clearing cobwebs. This takes a little time. It's not worrying so much as it's formulating a better proposal for future work.

pixledriven said...

I respect you a great deal Alexis, which honestly keeps my comments thin.

Like ViP I've started writing and then deleted many comments on this blog. I tend to double-check what you actually wrote, and find I'm responding to some off-base interpretation instead of your point. Sometimes I'm just not adding anything, or realize I'm being redundant.

Your writing is generally dense, thought provoking, and useful. This blog requires intelligent readers who want to think, and take your points in the context you meant them; rather then read another "D&D puff piece". That's important and uncommon. Those of us who are here for your content appreciate it.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Thank you pixeldriven, and you too ViP, which I should have said earlier.

All this is MORE reason why my content ought to be worth appreciating, and not something I throw together in a fit of pique because I'm pissed off at someone having nothing to do with the reader here. All this self-reflection goes towards a sense I have, of a responsibility to produce meaningful work with every post.

Holding myself to that standard is probably the thing I'm actually chafing against.

Sterling said...

I feel the need to respond to this, Alexis.

I have said that I'm intimidating, confrontational, inflexible and anti-democratic, and by extension that I'm also dismissive, rude, elitist and judgmental.

This is a harsh self-assessment. Please consider that one cannot be intimidating without someone being intimidated; it is not done unilaterally. Confrontation, in the manner in which you engage in it, as I know you must know, is just Socratic method. You have opinions which are strongly held by virtue of careful consideration and repeated re-evaluation. One is only inflexible if such opinions are not re-evaluated in the light of new knowledge. I can cite specific examples in this blog of your flexibility if you doubt it. As for anti-democraticism, the Truth is not decided by majority vote. The universe is what it is; whether no one or everyone agrees make no difference.

Here’s my take. You and I, and I think a good number of your other readers, are engaged in what we think is a fascinating little side conversation in the great conversation. We’re not having it in some hallowed hall or dank pub, however, we’re having it on the internet where people who don’t know what the conversation even is can overhear it and jump in. For us, it’s both awesome and annoying, right? These people give us unexpected arguments which open avenues of argument we wouldn’t have otherwise explored. Other times they beg a reiteration of well-understood axioms.

So there you go, your readers (if I may speak for some of them) are just as dismissive, rude, elitist_,_ and judgmental as you, and I’ll one-up you on that score by suggesting you start using the Oxford comma. I understand you may be accustomed to following the Canadian Press for professional reasons, but I insist. For those who think it matters not, I point to O'Connor v. Oakhurst Dairy.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Damn it, I'm not using that comma. The bloody sentence can be written, eats plant leaves and roots. Sue Butler is a fuckin' tourist. I'll be DAMNED if I'm going to adjust my grammar usage on the basis that a Maine judge won't rule that the original law - that wage and hours law be liberally construed to further its remedial purpose - needed to be struck down and rewritten, and the drivers compensated ... but no, oh no, we must have bullshit in the law, so we can use the bullshit to legally favour more bullshit.

Sorry. I've been a little tetchy since that ruling took place.

Sterling said...

This may come to fisticuffs. :)

DM's Escritoire said...

I'm with you on this one, Sterling ...

Alexis Smolensk said...

Without the Oxford comma, "We invited JFK and Stalin, along with the strippers." And what's this bullshit with bitching about a comma when we DON'T CAPITALISE PROPER NOUNS?

Priorities, people.

Lance Duncan said...

The internet has made grammar unimportant for some reason ;)

Alexis Smolensk said...

Amen, Lance.

Sterling said...

Oh man, I was joking about fisticuffs, but I'm starting think I need to get on a plane to Calgary and let you kick my ass until you agree I'm right.

The cartoon with Stalin highlights the ambiguity that can be created around the appositive case by omitting the serial comma. As you've pointed out, simply re-ordering or regrouping the series is the simplest way to overcome that. The serial comma can also create that ambiguity, "I went to the show with Alexis, the driver, and Jonathan." Were there three of us or four? Removing the serial comma makes it clearly four and so does putting the driver last. Less elegantly, repeating "with" before the maid removes the ambiguity. If there truly were three of us, using parentheses is a simple way to make it clear that Alexis is the driver.

The language in the case I cited previously is ambiguous without the comma only if asyndeton is allowed; since this is law, not poetry, it should be composed without such devices.
The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing,
storing, packing for shipment or distribution of...

The only conjunction in the sentence is "or" before "distribution" which makes it clear to anyone who is not a lawyer that the sentence was composed following the non-serial comma convention.

All this would seem to argue your side, Alexis, but really I mean to agree that ambiguity is neither avoided nor unavoidable in either case. My argument for the Oxford comma is that is gentler on the reader, it doesn't create unintended connections, and it is more widely accepted or required in the Anglo-sphere outside of the field of journalism.

Now don't make me fly out there.

Sterling said...

Dammit. I came up with a better example, then edited poorly. Where you see "maid" in my previous comment, say "driver."

Alexis Smolensk said...

Without any expectation of ever settling the issue ...

Language IS ambiguity; and English more so than any other subject. It's traditional in good writing to use a conjunction with nouns of EQUAL value. Thus, not to mix plural nouns with singular nouns, not to mix proper nouns with improper nouns, etcetera. Therefore, "strippers" is plural and not proper. Stalin and JFK are singular and proper. Good English, then, would present these as two ideas, and not as a list altogether. The same argument applies to the canning, processing, et al, vs. shipment and distribution, as the first seven words in the list are GERUNDS and the latter two are NOUNS. The correct English grammatical structure should have two sentences to describe what's going on. I have a copy of Fowler's Grammatical Handbook, which was written year after year to hold back the endless drift of clumsy English ... but alas, more people without any understanding of English write than those who have read Fowler, or even give a damn, so here we are making arguments that a comma solves anything.

Adding the Oxford comma to the following sentence, "Joe went to the store with his father, Superman, and Wonder Woman," reads as if Joe's father is Superman. The internet, predictably, has as many examples of the Oxford comma making a hash of English as there are the absence of the comma doing that same. It therefore isn't sensible for either position to be held AS A CERTAIN FIX. Eventually, ambiguity will occur if any standard practice is carried forward blindly.

Occasionally, I see a sentence where the Oxford comma WOULD make it clearer; in which case, I rewrite the sentence or make it two sentences. I would appreciate it if, in looking for example, you'd find one from my content where what I've written, personally, can be viewed as ambiguous. I'm sure multiple examples must exist. My content is replete with grammatical errors, because the whole blog is virtually a first draft. That said, I've found multiple grammatical errors in anything I've written, third and fourth drafts included. Grammar is an endless dissatisfaction; it's always best if someone else is doing the copyreading. If I could, I'd put Maxwell on a $800 monthly retainer and have him edit everything I write. Sorry, Max. Maybe someday.

As far as meeting, Tamara has discussed getting a part-time job; she's a wicked saleswoman; and is presently taking lessons from a driving instructor towards the possibility of our getting a car. We've been together since 2002 and since 2003, we lived without a vehicle. Anyway, the long and short is that we've talked about driving across the country, out to the Maritimes and Newfoundland; and we have remarked on the possibility of poking into the United States in places to visit folks on the internet. A tiny little town in Maine is definitely on the list.

But I insist on rotten apples at 20 paces, Mr. Burr.

Sterling said...


Alexis Smolensk said...

I thought there was an actual maid removing ambiguity. I was going to say.

Maxwell Joslyn said...

Thanks for the vote of confidence in my editing skills. It means a lot given you've spent your lifetime writing (and I imagine you've encountered a master editor or two in your time!)

Go make your fortune and I'll be right there ready to soak some of it up :)

Vlad malkav said...

One, I'm not commenting much because your blog is blocked at work and it was the only place where I could leisurely both read the posts and write my thoughts.
When I finish reading one of your oh-so-boring-please-give-me-more posts, I'm usually not in the mood to comment, I'm digesting it and my mind is out there full of ideas for quite a while. I love this stuff ...

Two, your exchange on English is pleasantly distracting, but give me another thought : it's not my first language and my awkward use and understanding of it stand in the way of getting the full extent of your work. Another hassle against comments.

Still, you're great, keep the boring and hard stuff coming.

Take care, be well.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Good news, I wrote some boring stuff today!