Monday, February 26, 2024


"Civilisation means something more than energy and will, and creative power.  Something the early Norsemen hadn't got — but which, even in their time, was beginning to appear in Western Europe.  How can I define it?  Very shortly, a sense of permanence.  The wanderers and the invaders were in a continual state of flux.  They didn't feel the need to look forward beyond the next march, or the next voyage, or the next battle.  And for that reason, it didn't occur to them to build stone houses, nor to write books."
Kenneth Clark, Civilisation

As I consider virtually everything about D&D, I find myself consistently thinking differently.  I'm not in the least interested about the "excitement" of adventure.  There's no skip in my heartbeat when I read about a new monster or spell, or character class, or upcoming splatbook.  I should think that with all the boredom these things evoke, my jaded self should have shuffled off the RPG coils of lost vaults, shrines and dragons long, long ago.

The rank and file seems concerned with what has been done; or more to the point, what they've experienced, or played, or read, all in the past tense.  There are a few living in the present, like JB, who fill me with interest ... but so much is given to the "lore" that was discussed in the last post.  Gawd, what a pretentious, self-righteous label that is, for something that's just a lot of half-assed writing shoved between advertisements for miniatures and game cons.  Somehow, I don't remember the advertising in my copies of The Iliad, The Faerie Queen or Dante's Inferno.  I must own expurgated versions.

That, or I have a higher standard for what I consider "lore" in the zeitgeist of human experience.

But that's me, absolutely not in the bag for the RPG community.  As Clark notes above, significance in a civilised condition is that which is considered as a whole over time.  It's not what we do today, or even the immediate goals for this Thursday.  It's in those things we contribute with the future in mind, with the encouragement of resilience in the face of adversity that it offers.  What's not wanted is a small, static society that never looks outward from its borders.  What we have done is never enough, especially if what we've done can only be understood by a very small number of people who consider themselves "in the know."  Approached that way, one day some small change in the way the real society functions will come about, and all that we celebrate and praise will be swept away like old food into a garbage bucket.  As Clark says,

"Such societies become petrified, anxious only to hold onto their own social order.  The great, indeed the unique merit of European civilisation has been that it has never ceased to develop."

These words, spoken in 1969, are anathema to millions of people who have decided everything about old European civilisation needs to be torn down one brick at a time.  All right, have at it.  I'm not here to defend it.  Resilience, yes?  A culture that managed to survive a thousand years, the Mongols, the Black Death, Holy Wars, Napoleon, two world wars and a holocaust can take care of itself when faced with the perils of social media.  I'm only interested in discussing the stultification of a great idea by reworking it's past incarnations over and over and over, in part through the glorification of same using ridiculous cool-sounding jargon.

I have created nothing of resilience, so far as I know, which is not to downplay the remarkable resilience of my supporters thus far.  But this is the goal towards which I move, ever so painfully and uncertainly.  Still, I prefer to live in the future ... not because it's an escape from the present, but because it gives weight and import to the present.  It causes me to think every hour of the present contains some duty I ought to be fulfilling.  I should think that after 40+ years of working on D&D that I should be tired, I should be ready to rest and stop troubling myself with such efforts — but strangely, the effort seems more imperative now than ever.  I feel less tired about D&D than ever.  Once upon a time, drawing things and writing out game rules in isolation, I may have felt it was all for naught.  I am far from that place now, when there are plainly listeners waiting for me to write.

It would be folly, however, not to recognise from time to time that I am different.  Oddly so.  I suppose there's something wrong with me ... though it's obviously not Aspergers or Autism, which I've been accused of having by people who have done the diligent research of watching the film Rainman.  Not an accurate depiction, by the way.  In any case, had I either of those syndromes, I could not now be writing this post, which certainly recognises social conventions, defies repetition and expresses a tremendous range of interests.

No, it must be something else.  Oh, I have it.  I prefer to be a better DM.

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