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.
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.