Apparently I'm nothing.
This is a better thing than one might suppose. I came up in a podcast about nothing, where two droll englishmen discuss nothing. The other day, this meant a discussion about which Star Trek movie is the best, what reasons their might be to rewatch Bond films, and a rather unsavory yet good natured comparison between myself and another blogger.
The podcast brings up two specific issues that seem somewhat ripe for discussion and comment. The first, as David points out, is Yoon-Suin the single largest OSR project ever published? Moments of deep thought followed. Is this true? Does Rappan Atthuk count? Perhaps Tome of Adventure Design? Can we exclude Frog God's reprint of 3rd edition material? In my mind Hackmaster counts. Jolly is doing some of the best game design work in the field, and is a black sheep to most OSR blogs.
What is being done in the OSR right now is very Avant Garde. Is there any value to a largest book? David notes himself that a good graphic designer could reduce the page count to 85. This is a joke, the book is full of tables and is well formatted to contain tables. Could one produce a work with 900 pages and one item on every other page with the art of Matthew Adams facing each item? I would buy that in a heartbeat. I doubt it would have much utility at the table.
I mention the forward thinkingness of what's going on in the OSR, because today we are starting to supersede our forbearers. Products being released today are starting to eclipse the usefulness of the Ready Ref Sheets, Jenelle Jaquay's Savage North, or Keep on the Borderlands. The design, content, and presentation of such items, is a move forward in a new direction. That combined with 30 years of wisdom about gaming has resulted in better play experiences across the board. The bar is being raised.
Do we participate in a hobby to somehow acquire skill at the hobby? Or is it just about having a laugh with friends? This is the root of the unfortunate comparison.
All advice on how to Dungeon Master a game is bullshit.
I talk a lot about Dungeon Mastering on this blog, along with player agency, and analysis of games and game forms. Is everything I write bullshit?
Well, of course, I don't think Reint's "How to Awesome up your players" is bullshit. I don't think Raggi's "I Hate Fun" essay is bullshit. I certainly don't think the Quantum Ogre or On A Guide to New Dungeon Masters is bullshit.
The comparison was that this other blogger claims we don't take gaming seriously enough. Like, we allow people to talk at the table, denigrating the integrity of the game.
Advice is proscriptive. Directions, "You should do it like this." This is, like all pseudo-science, multi-level marketing schemes, and spam, simply a way for one person to take advantage of another.
You've got people, who, for the sake of argument might be complete raging narcissistic assholes and you've got other people, who, for the continuing sake of argument might be exploitive, spamming, con-artists. The first have been in our community for a long time. The second are recent arrivals, due to the fact that there are hobbyists here to be taken advantage of. Before this, it was the last popular thing.
I'm pulling back on the stick, because I've got to pull out of this negativity dive. The point is, people talking about gaming, like Finch, Raggi, Reints, Kemp, Sabbath, or others aren't "trying to master the skill of dungeon mastering" and aren't writing about "the ten secrets of dungeon mastering you don't know".
People trying to sell you a secret or advice, that's spam, exploitive click bait. Also, nearly universally useless. I'm sure you've read things like that before, and if you compare them with your memories or impressions of the articles linked above, you can intuitively tell the difference. (Of course, I have my own series of top 10 lists and clickbaity headlines—I leave it as an exercise to the reader if they find those things immediately game-able and useful or not.)
However, we aren't forced to rely on our intuition. What we share is our intent when running a game and experience from games we've run. We talk about how we approach a problem, and provide a new perspective. We game dozens of hours a week. And it's not just some group of insular bloggers—it's people talking about why five out of six convention games were terrible. Anyone can do it, and it lifts gamers and our games up.
You can tell the difference between things things fairly easily. Is the content of the article vapid or void of new insights? Is there a paywall to discover what the "true secret" is? Does reading the article give you a new approach or a new idea? What do other people think of the content?
I'm a far stretch from perfect. I'm a difficult person to deal with. People can tell you I'm a terrible player. But I have good relationships with people. I'm not afraid of conflict. I'm open and have a wide and varied circle of friends. I have a variety of positive life experiences!
A piece of mind-boggling idiocy popped up on the internet the other day (where else?) that postulated the absurd notion that all games cause harm. Because we might be in competition with friends, or they might give us desires that aren't immediately met.
Yes. Really. He lives on the same planet where every living creature is in constant competition with every other living creature over the limited energy provided by the sun. The idea that his very existence causes harm so the only moral course of action is to lock yourself in a closet and quietly die isn't a parody. What's the next step? Taking away my grandmothers cards so she can't play solitaire? Canceling the celebration of humanity known as the olympics? Taking away the Hearthstone World Championship money from Firebat?
What those articles cited above share are our experiences navigating a situation where the game by design creates a power imbalance. The idea that a power imbalance is a bad thing is naive. That's a polite way of saying if you think that, you haven't thought about it, because if you had, you'd have to be dumber than a sack of rocks to think that it is a bad thing. There's a consensus in the design community that games that mathematically ensure equal balance are dull as drying paint.
I'm all about having fun with my friends. That requires a certain level of respect, which is the whole idea behind agency. We play a game with a huge power imbalance (One person makes all the rules and decisions). If you go re-read any of the articles linked above, you'll note that the message, over and over, is that decisions made with priorities other than creating a positive experience for you and your friends are bad ones. There's some counter-intuitive conclusions there, such as dynamically altering the game for a "more satisfying" experience by increasing the hit points of a monster or some such, actually has the opposite effect. But that's the whole reason we are in this game—it's complex, challenging, and more satisfying than any other four hobbies combined. (Well, maybe any two.)
There's no one in our community who is seeking mastery of some non-quantifiable skill. There is no "certificate of good Dungeon Mastery". There is no board where you must show your skill. You do not need to publish in order to gain tenure. All you need to do is play games.
So, next time you gather, sit back, have a laugh, and don't worry too much about how someone thinks you should be doing it. But we're all here if you'd like to come back and tell us how it was.
Hack & Slash
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