Friday, May 29, 2020

Cranky Pants Bastard

I've had more than my fair share of game-induced nausea the last couple much so that I have to write a blog post about it just to keep from having my head explode.

[yes, yes...another rant. I know there are several readers cheering at the moment]

Hmm...let's see. Just to try to diagram my map of spewing bile, we can start over here at All Dead Generations discussion of 5E's most recent starter set. Then there was this post over at What a Horrible Night about a meme discussing the difference in D&D cultures between the Old and New. Alexis's blog directed me to this post about 5E advancement from DM David, after which I found myself to read both the post that preceded it and his trainwreck conclusion.  This was then followed by Fr. Dave's referral to just a hummer of a post from the Alexandrian and an in depth perusal of the distressing comments it elicited. Finally, Trollsmyth's recent post on the non-imminent appearance of "6E" brought my attention to the disturbing article that prompted him, a list of concerns 5E players "want" and "worry" about with regard to any new version of Dungeons & Dragons.

Look. I get it. I'm old. Some people love the hell out of 5E. Some people think "Party in the USA" is one hella dope jam. I am a cranky-ass geezer with no right to dictate to people.

But man o man...I could write a whole series of posts addressing the particular idiocy found in each of these brain-bursting missives. And I have! (over the years, in various forms)

But what good would it do? What good...really? Would it DO "good?" It would just be one cranky old man pissing all over someone's good fun, right? Just once more trying to rain on everyone's parade. 'Hey, Old Man: how is Party in the USA any worse than Gettin' Jiggy Wit It?' It's not, jackass...but I thought THAT was a stupid song at the time, too. Besides, that was 1997...I stopped listening to music after '95.

[did you know that Party in the USA was #29 on Billboard's Top 100 for 2009? Not that 2009 was a fantastic year for music or anything; Pittbull had a song at #17 the same year and his "music" is absolute garbage]

See? Just a cranky old geezer am I. And no one gives a flying f*** what I think. Certainly not in the numbers that would generate the amount of ca$hflow for folks to care.

Tell me this...what kind of cynical SOBs must industry designers be these days? Was catching up on my tenfootpole the other day and read a comment from a particular Adventurers League writer whose work had been lambasted by Bryce (as AL stuff often is) in which he confessed the difficulties writing to WotC's required specifications. Yeah. I'm sure it's a tough gig, writing creatively within structured parameters. Really rough. Probably with deadlines, too.

Did you know? The average budget for a feature film in Hollywood is $100-$150 million. "Blockbuster" films can have budgets two to three times that amount (Avengers: Endgame had a budget of $356 million). You know what the average budget has been for feature films that won the Academy Award ("Oscar") for Best Motion Picture the last ten years? Just over $19 million ($19.2 to be exact).

And that average is thrown off by Argo (2012) which had a budget of just under $45 million.  You can go back 20 years and the average increases to $34 million thanks to a couple big budget winners (Gladiator, The Departed, and LotR: Return of the King), but they're still mostly in the "under $25 million" range. If you think I'm trying to imply something like money and commercialism damages quality (or that overproduced products are lesser works because of artists kowtowing to the "demands" of the "masses")...well, yeah, that is what I'm doing. That is exactly what I'm implying.

But I'm an ass. A cranky old man. Me scribbling angry diatribes means nothing, does nothing, is just a waste of everyone's time. Besides, what the hell am I angry about? The trials and travails of the 5E player has ZERO effect on me as I don't play 5E. It's annoying that there aren't more folks playing a brand of D&D I prefer (so that I'd have more tables to sit down at when I go to conventions)...but since the pandemic continues, it's not like I'm actively recruiting new players (nor going to cons).

[similarly, who cares about the dreck produced in Hollywood when I don't have enough time to watch half the films I'd like anyway. "How is that possible, JB, when you're in lockdown?!" Yeah, well, I'm in lockdown with my family, people, and most of the films I'd like to watch aren't stuff they could or would watch...and in my free time I'm writing blog posts, of course! Duh]

So, yeah. Much as this stuff turns my stomach, just writing it all out helps defuse my anger and irritation. And anyway, there's plenty of worse stuff to get angry about these days (police murdering folks, for example...Jesus, this country!).

How about THIS for an idea: I'm going to STOP being Mr. Cranky Pants. I will continue to blog about the goodness of my own brand of gaming (or complain, as the mood strikes me) but instead of complaining about the state of things in the ongoing industry, I will simply make fun of it. Instead of yelling (virtually) at folks who insist on playing 4th or 5th or 6th edition if doing so would actually change their minds or something...I will (gently) poke fun at them and laugh about the foibles and flaws of their game.

This will, of course, take some practice. My skill at purposefully producing good natured snark and sarcasm is, sadly, a little rusty these days...the last few years of blogging I've mostly tried to be sincere and helpful (if not always respectful). Most of my snark (especially the mean-spirited stuff) has come from "lapses" due to off-the-cuff (emotional) writing; what I've attempted is to be open and up front with things I dislike, reasoned or (at least) somewhat logical, rather than snide, backhanded, or clever. But that's just butting my head against a wall...might as well find a way to laugh instead!

Yep, time to take off the cranky pants; time to try on some snarky shorts. It's a sunny day, after all!
; )


  1. There's a good reason to be upset though. With no fertile ground for growth, Higher Path type gaming (whatever you want to call it) will eventually fizzle out. There are a few converts here and there (such as myself), but we've gotta have sustainable growth.

    We don't need to convert 50% of the 5E market, but we've gotta get SOME of them. Maybe yelling won't change their minds, but something will.

    1. I can ensure my own children know how to game in (what I deem to be) “the proper fashion” (ha!). There WILL be some knowledge left in the world after I’m gone.

      Now whether or not they decide to use that knowledge...that’s up to them, of course. But my conscience will be clear as far as leaving behind SOME resource.
      ; )

    2. "Higher Path," Shelby? I'm touched.

  2. Kind of a stretch to use "oscar winners" a guideline for "quality films," especially after the outing of Weinstein and the deliberate obfuscation and manipulation of the academy awards voting process. Most of the films winning "best picture" in the last twenty years have been dreck, evidenced by the complete lack of interest in those films within a three-year period. Anyone talking about "the Artist" these days? Anyone not seeing the picture have any idea what the plot was?

    Used to be, even if you hadn't seen it, you at least Knew what the film was about. Then came Weinstein in the late 1980s and suddenly films like The Piano (another real barnburner where it comes to intellectual conversation about film) were winning oscars.

    Sarcasm isn't going to work, JB. There's a little thing called "Poe's Law," where it is impossible to create a parody of extreme views so obviously exaggerated that it cannot be mistaken as a sincere expression of the views being parodied.

    Try it, and you're going to sound like you agree with Justin and that 5e is a good thing.

    1. @ Alexis:

      But at least I'd get a giggle out of it.
      ; )

      No, you're right...I'd probably end up being completely misinterpreted (which happens often enough anyway...). Maybe if I add a disclaimer or warning label to each snide post? Something like: "the author's actual views are in no way reflected by the contents of this snarky post?"

      RE Movies

      Yeah, it's a cheap-ass example. One thing though about those low-budget films (stuffed ballot or not) they tend at least to be more original than the big budget knock-offs, rehashes, and remakes of once-successful films. My main gripe with Hollywood is the way in which it cannibalizes itself chasing that almighty dollar...which is, to a degree, understandable (it IS a business and an industry, nyet?) but doesn't excuse the profound lack of what I'd call "sincere art" coming out of studios. Just chum for the, consumer/public.

      Hey, I saw both The Artist and The Piano..the latter in a theater even! Of course, that was the early 90s and I was in university and all about hitting those indie film screenings...

    2. I don't how how "original" became a stand-in for "quality." Original is easier to make, since it doesn't have to achieve much except not to be something else. This is how the artistic tampon-in-a-teacup visual art craze started; thank gawd movie companies still produce "popular" work, or else going to the theatre would be the equivalent of going to an art museum these days.

      I don't mind that some people like The Piano or The Artist, or even My Left Foot (which is so obscure and far in the past now that some readers will think I'm talking about my actual left foot). If someone tells me they didn't see or like the original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, I shrug and make allowances; that film is not for everyone. But if someone tells me they didn't see or like the Lord of the Rings films, I know immediately that I'm dealing with a f'ng idiot. I don't expect everyone to love those films, but if you're so stuffed up your own ass that you can't value those films for what they are, well, your dying of Covid will be no great loss.

      [sorry, JB, I'm getting to my point]

      A good film gives you meat to chew on; let's take a worthy Best Picture winner: Amadeus. In his time, Salieri was hailed as the greatest composer of his day. He was copied, highly respected by intellectuals, a game changer in the courts of Europe and rewarded with the equivalent of Oscars, that being titles and sinecures. He was "original" ... and rightly clever and his work even now is "fair." Now and then you'll find some music scholar defending him.


    3. But obviously, Salieri isn't Mozart ... who starved, was vilified, had his shows closed down and died in obscurity, buried in a pauper's grave as his family didn't have the money to bury him.

      But he was Mozart. And being both "original" and of incomprehensible quality, all the crap, all the popular opinions of the elite, all the rewards and the money given to Salieri, didn't amount to a hill of beans historically.

      Now JB, you and I aren't Mozart; not even close. But where D&D is concerned, we're also not competing against the field that Mozart had to compete with. The message here is to keep in mind that the drumming bleat of the crowd in the present has the merit of all the noise a herd of sheep can make because it has started raining: meaningless, rancourous nonsense, and nothing more.

      Mozart ignored all that and kept his head down, because what mattered was the work, not what others thought of it. I try to focus on that myself. "Shut up, Alexis; stop whining, Alexis. Work, you fool. You haven't got forever."

      Your best point in the post above was acknowledging that some will cheer the rant, because they like rants. That is so true. And as I think about that, I am inspired to change the tag log on my Tao of D&D blog.

      "Come for the Rant. Stay for the meat and potatoes."

    4. Thanks, Alexis. I will ponder your words as I work on the BBQ ribs for tonight.
      : )

  3. JB, I feel your pain. Having rediscovered D and D after a 25 yrs hiatus I find current trends disturbing. I've played 5e and got my players up to 9th level in my sandbox before the system bloat got me down.

    Then I discovered a BX clone and started reading the osr blogosphere (ignoring the crazy). Understanding underlying theories behind old school ideas (e.g. xp for gold, wandering monsters, etc) changed my play. Eyes opened. That included your blog BTW.

    The funny thing is that new players, and many 5e players (not completely indoctrinated into perception checks and railroad play) actually PREFER the BX version.

    Player driven plots,quick combat, emergent play, quick prep (except for world building for s and g). This is what D and D is about. Improvisation as world building, not improvisation as theatre.

    So rant on if it helps,brother. If at least one person hears, a sound is made, and hearts can be swayed.

  4. I know it’s beside your point but “Party in the USA” is a really good pop song. It’s also over a decade old, which makes it an odd choice as the poster child for all things bad and new (unless that was intentional and ironically self-deprecating? That you’re such a cranky geezer that even something a decade old is lumped in with and indistinguishable from whatever garbage the damned kids of today are listening to on their Tickety Tocks)

    1. @ Trent:

      All of the above.

      I was already in a grump when my kids started grabbing phones and asking Siri to play "Party in the USA" and it just hit me A) how much I detest this type of pop trash, B) how THAT has zero effect on what other people think, and C) how eager people are to consume "garbage," providing financial incentive to continue producing more of the same.

      Do I hate all pop music? Of course not...just most of it. I liked that "Shake It Off" song, which actually had a nice message buried in its pop dance rhythms. But...whatever. I was just throwing in the song reference as an (at the moment) immediate example of MY crankiness, MY age, MY resignation to the way things are, etc.

      And, yes, I do tend to lump it all together in my mind, mainly because my family bundles all these songs together in their favorite playlists, whether you're talking fifteen year old Timberlake riffs or the latest from Imagine Dragons. Fortunately, my kids also enjoy "Papa's music" (harder rock) so there's often some AC/DC or Zeppelin mixed in..but THAT stuff I can distinguish by decade/era., unlike most pop.

  5. I don't think I've ever heard this song. I can't decide if I should look it up or remain blissfully ignorant.

    1. *sigh*

      Maybe I can help you with this decision. Ask yourself: do you know who Jessica Simpson is? Do you feel like your life is improved by this knowledge?

      If you can give a double affirmative, you should probably check out the song.

    2. Present me, no. But once, I had this poster ...

  6. I too am old and cranky. I gave up on popular music about 10 years before you did and I gave up on D&D when AD&D came out. I went and followed up a couple of links you provided and the posts look reasonable and even sensible. So ... I am not getting any idea about why you are ranting or what you are ranting against. Do you have a link that points to a succinct version of your position?

    1. @ Steveg:

      It's not just the info in the posts. It's what they describe (or imply) about the state of the culture and hobby. And I don't have a specific irritation is born from a gestalt of all these different inputs. I suppose *I* could have written it up in a succinct fashion...but not only is that idea a bit depressing, a moment's pause brings me to the conclusion: why bother? what will it aid?

      I am curious, though: if you "gave up on D&D" what interests you in this post (and this blog!) about D&D? My geezer-ness about pop music hardly seems like a draw.

    2. I have been playing with a group that has mostly played GURPS for the last 20 years. Back in the day we played D&D and EPT then Runequest came along and the revelation of a skill based classless, experience-less system was just so liberating. So we built a D&D / Runequest mash-up. We looked forward to a revised D&D incorporating some of the new developments that had happened in game play since the original rules came out. And then we got AD&D ...
      I played with a few rules systems on and off and then fell into a regular play with a group that mostly played GURPS about 30 years ago. I liked being able to design interesting characters and do interesting things with them with meaningful player choices other than just do we fight now or later. But, the perpetual repetition of "roll vision" started to dissatisfy me and I started to look at more modern systems starting with Burning Wheel and moving through PbtA and FATE. My latest acquisitions are Into the Odd and Sand dogs ... both of them are great ideas. Mostly my group is not interested in playing these or even in discussing rules systems so when I came across Old School RPG Planet I added it to my RSS feed reader. There were lots of people actually discussing rules systems and throwing around interesting ideas. I read about pointcrawl systems, generation systems, weird settings and a heap of interesting ideas. Unfortunately the way things get thrown at me at random means that I don't get any sense of continuity. Because your name is reasonably memorable I recognise that read some of your stuff earlier and it was interesting enough that your name stuck in my memory. But ... without dedicating a day to reading back over your archives I don't really have any sense of what you are about.
      Just recently one of our new players wanted to run a 5e scenario so to encourage new GM blood we are on board but really nothing has changed in the last 30 years. Sure a lot of the detail has changed I like the backgrounds I don't mind the extra races but the proliferation of uneven and stunted character classes hark right back to Eldrich Wizardry. And even if 5e has the rudiments of a skill system it is so basic as to be verging on the edge of non-functional. And the packaged scenario the GM is running is still a murderhobo festival. In 40 years there have been a lot of better ideas out there but D&D is locked into its heritage.

    3. @ Steveg

      Interesting. The odd thing is, if one WANTS to play D&D by its "locked in heritage" values, I don't think the newer editions (like 5E) are particularly well-suited to it.

      Have you looked at Dungeon World? That might be to your taste.

    4. I can't argue about the newer editions there. I certainly can't see how 5e gives me a better play experience than OD&D. I've looked into DW and I like a lot of the mechanics especially after you reverse engineer the 2d6 resolution mechanic back into a general system. BUT it does suffer from the big problem that D&D does ... everyone wants to build a new class that is bigger and better than all the existing classes. :( Both D&D and DW need a lot of work building a set of meta rules to design classes. These are not "at the table rules" they are for extenders to evaluate if a class even makes sense (most don't).
      I don't hate D&D in its various editions but it is just not the game I am trying to play. I often read rants because people often post interesting solutions to their perceived problems and some of them are nuggets of gold. But then one man's gold is another man's pyrities.

  7. Hello. It has taken me a wee while to read through all of the. linked articles, but here goes....

    Like you I've never played 5e but when I was trying to get back into the hobby around 2008/9 I looked at the material that was available at the time. It put me off and it was 2015 before I had another look. Again, it put me off as the game was huge books with the rules across several publications. So it's BX or earlier for me or BX with a bit of 1e tacked on like the AEC for LL.

    So like you I have a revulsion when I see the way 5e is styled and played, but I reached a point where I reconciled myself to the fact that all BX and 5e share is the D&D brand. I think that's just about where you are but you're still a bit angry about it.

    I see these edition wars as being the same as adherents of different sects of the same religion or political party have for one another. Each group values the thing and because they derive emotional benefits from it (generally the social side and insider knowledge and the status that comes from it) and if there's a change (an updated edition in our case) then that's a threat to the cohesion of our group and our status within it.

    I'd welcome it if our version of D&D was promoted, even if as an introduction to RPG generally. However as Hasbro own the copyright that isn't going to be possible. None of the BX retro clones have the financial backing to raise the awareness and provide continuing ongoing product support, and so it is up to us as individuals to try and get as many new people in, of all ages, to the hobby and give them a positive fun experience of the original game. Even if many of them gravitate to 5e they at least had an opportunity to play the game in a similar way to what Dave and Gary played.

    1. @ Jacob72:

      I gave up on fighting edition wars years ago. Then I gave up on fighting edition wars a few years later. Then I gave up fighting edition wars a couple years after that. It seems like every 6-18 months I'm "giving up" fighting edition wars.

      I don't know why it all bugs me so much...why it continues to stick in my craw. It's been at least half a dozen times I've written that I'm going to live and let live (with regard to what people play and enjoy). But, I suppose, it's not in my nature to back down when I (delusion or not) feel I'm somehow "right" and can convince folks of my position.

  8. Good rant IMO.
    I'm in a group that is playing 5e, all of us experienced and all of us agreeing that as 'newbies' we'd be thoroughly lost in chargen. 5e is not the newb friendly thing it's purported to be... but it has that snowball of 'famous' folks asserting that it is.
    Also, I'm in general agreement that too much money works against creativity. I can think of a number of movies that would have been less interesting if their creators had the budgets for their initial ideas. Most of the movies I'm liking nowadays are micro-budget compared to the superhero movies, but, happily, lots of good movies are still getting made.

  9. I may be in the minority, but the posts in which you "blog about the goodness of my own brand of gaming (or complain, as the mood strikes me)" is why I read you. As I constantly seek to improve my own game I look for inspiration and help in a few quarters including this one.

    I really don't care what inanity is being espoused on Reddit or YouTube or amongst the majority of the "gaming community." Every once in a while one of those blind pigs will find an acorn that I can use, but mostly I go to the places that I can most reliably find though-provoking ideas.

    Although I invariably agree with the (non-sports-related) rants I'm here for the meat and potatoes, not the rant.

    1. I'll try to get more meat and potatoes posts up, Sterling. I appreciate your support...thanks.

  10. It's absolutely strange days for everyone but Party in the USA is a terrible song. Games feel genuinely frivolous right now though there's that Nietzsche Quote:

    "Instinct. When the house burns one forgets even lunch. Yes, but one eats it later in the ashes."

    I'm totally curious about what I said about Icespire Peak that got your dander up - that was my most full throated condemnation of 5E on All Dead Generations - shit the only comment I got is some 5E Stan calling me an OSR pervert - I thought it would make your day dude. I try to love 5E and it just does me wrong every time, and not because it's not trying, just because it doesn't know how to do right.

    1. @ GusL:

      It wasn't anything you was just me remembering what a shitty thing it is. I wrote about the thing back in September, remember? At the time I thought about "repurposing it" (I still do, but life got in the way and the thing needs a LOT of work). Still, you reminded me of so much bad stuff...and this is compared (favorably) to the *other* starter set (Phandelver) which is garbage and yet is held up as "fantastic" in more than one review.

      I wrote this blog post 5/29...long before your 5E Stan (just went back and read the comments on your post. Wow). I'm sorry you continue to "try to love 5E;" seems like a pretty abusive relationship (maybe an intervention is in order?).

      In all seriousness, maybe it's not that 5E doesn't know how to do right by you...maybe it's just INCAPABLE of doing so. Continuing your own analogy: if we're in a relationship that isn't working, maybe attempting to "fix" the other person isn't the proper solution to the problem. Sometimes you just have to walk away.

      [it's not like you and 5E have three kids and a mortgage together]

      ; )

    2. Oh I hear you -- there's of course a part of me that likes taking on difficult projects and using things outside their intended purpose. Here I guess I want to play 5E "off-label" and encourage others to do the same.

      I also have no idea why people think Phandelver is a good adventure? I wish I knew - knowing might help me understand the appeal and so tweak things more the way I like them while still delivering whatever it is that gets people enthused about Phandelver?

    3. Hmm. When I google "Phandelver review" you'll find three of the first four reviews to be glowing with positive remarks (which might give you some insight).

      The fourth review is your own. Not as glowing.
      ; )

  11. Great so instead of a full on grognard, you're going to be "grognard light." Gaming has enough toxicity and vitriol, what's one more. May have to stop reading this blog if you're going to be a gatekeeper and mock others for what they like.

    1. Um...”gatekeeper?” I have no gates and no keys to lock said gates. Come and go as you please.

      On the other hand, I will continue to express my opinions. I probably won’t mock people, but I may mock their choices in gaming. Is that something new for this blog?