Thursday, November 4, 2021

Window Box

[if you haven't checked out my new adventure design contestplease see this post]

A window box.

Today, I'm going to pen some thoughts on Alexis Smolensk's latest series of posts, titled The Other D&D

Alexis is a tricky subject...many times I've brought him up on Ye Old Blog only to be met with crickets (*chirp*chirp*...there they are now!).  Today, I'm feeling less narcissistic than usual, so I don't find the prospect all that discouraging.

Why does Alexis, that crazy Canuck, produce such antipathy? His pretentiousness? His smug arrogance? His willingness to badmouth the sainted founders of our hobby? His contempt for most bloggers and vloggers on the internet?

I don't know. I don't really care. I don't know Alexis. I've had written dialogues with him, I've spoken to him over the Skype once or twice. But I don't know him at all...accept that I know he's more than just a shouting head. He's a LOT of things besides being a blogger...just as all bloggers are. We don't know much about each other except what we reveal, and there's little means of verifying the veracity of those "revelations." For all anyone knows, my real name is Peter Adkison and I've been writing this blog to troll Wizards of the Coast since I left the place; all my books have been published under a pseudonym.

[okay, that's really not true; I am NOT Peter Adkison!]

And so, since I (we) have no way of knowing these folks behind the blog (anymore than we have any knowledge of a television star, book author, pro athlete, etc.), the only thing I (we) can judge is the the writing on the blog. What is being written. Not even the how of it so much...because style is so unimportant and distracting and may simply be color/flavor/ the writing comes across is so unimportant except insofar as does the writing effectively communicate the ideas and concepts?

Alexis's manner of writing may turn off some people. I'm far less concerned with that than with what it is he's trying to communicate.

The Other D&D is a set of posts meant to illustrate Alexis's mindset and approach to running the Dungeons & Dragons game. It is a large topic, covering everything from construction of setting and NPCs to picking players for the table to establishing scenarios and "stories" to the method in which he manages PCs. The series is neither simple, nor concise. But then, neither is the subject being discussed...nothing less than a method and approach to D&D that will enable one to have a meaningful, satisfying campaign capable of lasting you for decades.

It would appear overwhelming, especially given the scale of Alexis's own campaign world: the breadth and depth, the time and effort put into it, the decades of making, the years of thinking and tweaking and writing and wiki-building. Etc. 

It appears overwhelming. But it's not...not really. 

Have I ever blogged about gardening? Probably not. I am a shit gardener. Terrible. And yet I've known many "master gardeners," some even of my own family, especially on my mother's side. My father loved gardening, but he was terrible at it. Every year of my youth he would diligently prep and plant a garden bed in our backyard, intending to grow all sorts of vegetables...every year we'd have little more than weeds. My mother is much better...but she was never a hardcore gardener before I moved out, so I never observed her in action. 

The thing about people who grow things...who garden or farm...and who do it well is the results can look both amazing and overwhelming. For the novice or black-thumbed type (like myself), it is as mysterious seeing a field of lush, hand-planted vegetation as seeing a fully constructed aircraft amazing and completely incomprehensible act of human creation. 

And yet it's not. Aircraft carriers are built by humans (a lot of them, working together, somewhere) and amazingly beautiful gardens are even simpler creations, requiring only time and effort and the right application of knowledge. This last spring, my wife decided she would finally, finally start a small garden box. Not quite a window didn't hang off the window...but the same scale. She and the children planted lettuce and tomatoes and cucumbers and green beans and strawberries...I abstained, having long ago decided that the art of growing is a mystery I would never unravel.

It was a very dry, very hot summer. My children were diligent with watering and babying the box, and chasing the squirrels away (when they caught them) and...Wonder of Wonders!...we had vegetables all season long. We made salads using our own lettuce, our own tomatoes. We picked (and ate) our own strawberries. The cucumbers stubbornly refused to bloom and the green beans wilted in the heat, but we had vegetables...more than we could eat (and we eat a LOT of tomatoes in our household). The growing season is over for the year now, but the family is excited about the prospect of NEXT spring, about getting a second or third box, about becoming MORE ambitious with the planting, the growing, the gardening.

Looking at the work Alexis has done is like looking on the field of a master gardener who has been tending his land for 40 years. He's not asking you to do what he's done in a single season. He's just trying to help you see that you can plant a window box, instead of buying all your produce from the supermarket. And eating food you've grown yourself gives so much more satisfaction (both in the growing and the eating) then you'll find in something that traveled many miles in a crate via refrigerated it has more nutritional value.

I would like (in a series of posts) to describe some of my own thoughts I've had as I've explored Alexis's methods in my own gaming. I don't think there'll be nearly as many as he has: maybe four or five. But I really want to put some thought into them, which means they might not be especially quick in coming. My apologies in advance for that. 

Though in all honesty I don't feel TOO bad. After all, you can just read the Tao while you're waiting.
; )


  1. I am intrigued to read such a series if you do it.

    For various reasons I'd rather read your thoughts on what Tao is saying as opposed to going over to his blog and reading it myself. Although I am always curious to see others' techniques, I am one of those who finds his style of writing not to my liking and to me style matters a great deal.

    Well, maybe a small deal.

    If the writing is not enjoyable to read I find it much more difficult to get through the text and process the information. A combination of personal preference and how my brain works when digesting the written word.

    I am not the greatest writer and don't claim to be so I rely on humor and prose that matches the way I speak in conversation in order to get people to (hopefully) absorb what I have to say.

    This has made me think about how easy it is to find such a vast array of resources for D&D gaming online and how, quiet often, it can be a little lonely for the SF or Supers gamer out there.

    1. As a professional writer, I think Alexis generally chooses his words with care and purpose. If we become distracted by the style such that we miss the substance...well, that's our own hang-ups, no?

      That being said, I grok that it can be a challenge to digest some of it.

  2. I mostly don't think there's a lot to say.

    I think Alexis' message of how the game can and ought to be played is self-evidently correct.

    Give me more rules on how the things my party eats affects their mood, more ways to make urban locations cohesive and rewarding. More rules that increase immersion and investment.

    His stun-lock rules are the best of their kind by a wide margin, managing to make every single swing of combat impactful and dangerous and fun.

    More of material of that quality, in my opinion, would make his arguments for him. It did for me anyway.

    1. >I think Alexis' message of how the game can and ought to be played is self-evidently correct.


      I'm not even sure that it's self-evidently healthy, never mind correct.

    2. @ John:

      Not sure how what he advocates could be considered "unhealthy." Alexis's approach to world building is one oriented to "the long haul;" i.e. an approach that seeks to achieve long-term satisfaction of play over many years and decades, rather than a momentary rush of enthusiasm followed by ennui and apathy to the game.

      It's a different method, certainly...but I don't find it destructive.

  3. Dude, this reads like a cry for help.

    1. Some people don't like the guy. That's ok. You don't need to justify or apologize.

    2. Ah...I see.

      Yes, Venger, you're correct: I really don't.

    3. But your blog post here is like the cringiest justification / apology for tolerating the dude.