Thursday, June 6, 2024

Fighting The "Good" Fight

I'm a bit cranks this kid has been sick with a cough/cold and my brother has been his usual pain-in-the-ass self. So...yeah, this might come off as extra grumpy.

Sometimes, I wonder why I bother trying to "help" people...why I bother casting my "pearls" before "swine." Not on this blog, no...this blog serves a very useful, very personal purpose.

[for the curious: the blog gives me a place to ruminate and vent and spout off. It gives me a place to practice my writing. It gives me a promote myself and interact with the community. All useful things]

But, no, I'm talking in other places. Commenting on other folks' blogs or in forums or on social media or whatever. So often I read something, somewhere, and I feel this inclination, this urge to offer something useful...not just throw in my two cents, but wax on in a way that (I hope) might help resolve someone's issue. Regardless of whether or not they asked for advice.

And to be fair, sometimes the essays I write on this blog are made with a similar objective in mind: I feel there's a need to HELP people even when, perhaps, there's no one really asking for help. Sometimes, I feel like I must come off as the kid in the class that is always raising their hand to answer every question the teacher the fatigue and resentment of everyone else in the room. Am I, acting as a "know-it-all," actually contributing anything? Or is this just another form of narcissism? I wonder that sometimes. And sometimes I wonder if I should just shut up and keep my thoughts to myself. Even as I continue to vomit forth my opinions across the ether-sphere.

Most recently, I posted on reddit. This is something I don't remember ever doing (I spend next to ZERO time reading reddit). I get spam-bot emails in my inbox from the site, usually on subjects their AI thinks will be of interest to me ("Why don't people use the cell phone lot at Sea-Tac?" was one from this morning). Normally, I simply hit 'delete' and move on, but yesterday's one piqued me so hard I found it impossible to resist. It was titled "I think I'm burnt out on being a DM." And the poster wrote:
So I started playing DnD in 2004 when I was in like 4th grade. I remember going into a local game shop with my dad and seeing the book. I remember being immediately interested and begged my dad for it. Well he caved and bought it for me and unknowingly gave me a hobby I still love to this day. 

At first I just kinda read the book over and over again absorbing the charts and dreaming of cool things to do. It wasn’t a till a few years later I actually got to play. It was the best day of my life. I was a dwarf paladin (original I know). 

Anyways for quite a while now I’ve been a DM (I am a player in one camping now though). Anyways I just find dnd has gotten so hard to DM (with new players mostly) who have watched one to many campaigns online with professional DMs and actual voice actors and cool effects. 

So by the time they get to my table they have such lofty expectations I just feel personally like I’m not meeting their expectations. It’s always “well this dm I was did this not that.” 

Maybe I’m just burnt out of being a DM, but I just want everyone to have the best time possible. 

So what I came here to ask is does anyone else feel this way or am I just being whiny lol?

Also im I’m thinking about switching systems just to freshen things up for me. Any recommendations? My games tend to be more narrative with emphasis put on story and character development. There’s still a good deadly fight every once in a while to keep the players on their toes. I think like an Ancient Greek/roman campaign would be cool. Any systems out there dedicated to that?

And I thought: oh, this poor guy. Twenty years he's been doing this...TWENTY. YEARS. A not insignificant amount of time. And now he's, what, probably thirty, and he's got no clue, and he's coming to frigging REDDIT for advice. And the "advice" found in the responses? Stuff like: switch games! Run Savage Worlds! Run GURPS! 5E is sooo hard; try Pathfinder 2E instead! Get away from D&D so people don't compare you to all those streaming shows. 

Just. Bull. Pucky.

So I wrote up the following (because, you know, I wanted to be helpful):
I've been DMing for more than 40 years; started with Basic (B/X) D&D back in 1981/2 and have played through a multitude of other RPGs over the decades (TSR, White Wolf, Palladium, Chaosium, various indie games, etc.). These days I am an exclusive AD&D (1E) DM and have been for five years. My last bout of GM ennui ("burnout") came in 2019. It's not unusual, and I can give you my roadmap for getting out of it and never going back.

First: understand and acknowledge your love for this hobby. Something about it compels you to run games (evidenced by the 20 years you've put in). That's fantastic! Respect your calling...not everyone has it. Realize that this is a passion that can last a lifetime; even avid golfers will someday have to give up walking the course (or get replacement knees/hips) can play D&D so long as your mind retains cognitive function and you can roll dice.

Second: now that you've acknowledged that you're in it for the "long haul," you've got to get to work. You must respect the game and respect the can always get better at what you do. Sure, some days aren't as good as others, but so long as you're committed to your game, that matters are playing to play, not to be a video celebrity. You must think of your game as perpetual (i.e. "ongoing," even though there may be periods of hiatus).

Third: there are three parts to being a Dungeon Master; they are (in descending order of importance): A) running the game, B) world building, and C) managing the players. To be a DM you need to be able to run the game with "mastered competence" (so competent that you can teach another player). Pick one system/edition, learn it, stick with it. House rule as necessary, but try to keep actual changes/modifications to a minimum. The best designed edition for long-term play is 1E, but if you feel more comfortable with something else, use it. Master it. Once you've done that, you can move onto building your world.

Fourth: recognize that you are not the same person you were at age 20, let alone age 10. Just as we grow and develop and change, our game must evolve and mature. You will get far more satisfaction out of running a serious game, and creating a serious world, then you will playing the types of game you did as a teenager. Supplement your mastery of the system with real world information on geography and history. Incorporate these things into your game, especially that pertaining to economics, military, politics, and religion. Our own world is fascinating and (more often then not) directly adaptable to our games. You create both depth and verisimilitude when including such things.

Five: despite this being a social game, you must make sure you are pleasing yourself. You cannot give a good game to the players if you are not enjoying the process. The players will enjoy the game far more, and be far more engaged if the DM is enthusiastic about the game being delivered. This may mean that some players quit your game (because they don't like the way you're running)...and THAT'S OKAY. There are always more people wanting to play than there are people willing to act as GM. You CANNOT run a lasting, satisfying game if you do not like the game you're running; it is far better to shake aside the folks who are discontent, and find like-minded people wanting to play the game YOU want to run. Be patient and respect the process...the players will come.

Integrate all this into your psyche and you'll find yourself able to sustain a lifetime of gaming. There's no burnout when you embrace something as a vocation...and you can treat your game mastering as one, if you choose to do so.

For more information on the particular style of D&D play I espouse, you might take a listen to the Classic Adventure Gaming podcast (lot of younger folks are getting back into the old methods of play). Cheers, and happy gaming. 
; )

Yeah. Helpful. That's me. 

Here's the part I should have paid more attention to: the final paragraph. Truth be told, I read everything down to the "am I whiny LOL?" part and then went OFF like the hair-trigger reactionary I am. If I'd bothered to read more closely, I would have seen THIS:
Also im I’m thinking about switching systems just to freshen things up for me. Any recommendations? My games tend to be more narrative with emphasis put on story and character development. There’s still a good deadly fight every once in a while to keep the players on their toes. I think like an Ancient Greek/roman campaign would be cool. Any systems out there dedicated to that?
Ah. D&D isn't what this guy wants at all. No wonder the guy's burned out...he's playing the wrong f'ing game.

This is the problem. Well, maybe not "the" problem. But it's certainly "a" problem, and "the" reason that I keep continuing to throw my hat in the ring. This. THIS. That people no longer understand just WHAT THE F--- D&D IS.

Matt Mercer and all his imitators. They have screwed people. Hickman Revolution/2E Storytelling. They have screwed people. WotC disavowing themselves from any type of clarification, only attempting to make the game EVERYTHING to EVERYONE so as to draw more customers (and put more dollars in their bank accounts). They have screwed people. Screwed them UP. People just don't know what the hell they're doing, what they're supposed to be doing, what makes the game the game.

Here's what I probably should have written instead:
Dude. If you want to write a story in an ancient Greek or Roman setting, then GO DO THAT. Don't waste your time with the role-playing hobby. Write your short story, write your novel, write your screenplay...whatever medium you feel would work best for your narrative structure. Perhaps an on-going television series with a "fight of the week" every episode. Write that...get collaborators if you need help finding 'voices' for the different characters, or individual story arcs. 

You are burnt out on DMing D&D because you want it to do things that it is not well-designed to do. 

The "G" in RPG stands for "game." Are you interested in playing a game? Then play the game. Play the game as its written. Are points awarded for "cool effects" and "actual voice actors?" No. Not in any edition of the game. Are you directing a show? Or are you running a game?

Your disillusionment comes from this disconnect with what you THINK the game is for and what it actually does. Your disconnect comes from your ignorance. This is not your fault; this is the fault of the company producing the game. They are a for-profit business enterprise. They are not interested in disillusioning you of your false notions; they are ONLY INTERESTED IN YOUR DOLLARS. "Sure, D&D can be anything you want it to be," is the general company line...the subtext being "please continue to pay us, thanks." 

The only way to cut through your discontent is to decide what you want to do with your life, with your time, and then embrace it wholeheartedly. Do you want to tell stories and see interesting characters change over time? Then go write stories. Stop futzing around with this D&D thing, get off your ass, and go write your stories. Publish them if you like, or share them with your friends, or simply enjoy them yourself: enjoy the act of creation, enjoy the clever unfolding of the plot and circumstance you've created. Write for doesn't need to be a money-making endeavor! Playing D&D isn't making you any money! So why should it matter whether or not your works are ever read by anyone other than yourself or your close circle of friends and family?

D&D is best played as a game. It is a lovely game, a delightful game, one of the greatest ever designed. But it is not a good medium for creating "stories." Do not confuse shows like Critical Role for actual game play; actual game play does not look like that. This is something I would expect you to know and understand, having started playing the game long before 2015 (when Critical Role debuted). If not, then I am sorry, but you were taught how to play by some very wrongheaded person. Again, this is probably not their fault: the company selling the D&D game has far less interest in teaching how to play their game, and far more interest in making as much money as possible.

Apologies for being a downer. Best of luck!

Yeah, that would have been a more practical response for this particular individual.  But would it have been helpful?  Or would the guy simply have seen me as a "hater," trashing his game and those things he loves and holds dear (especially his misconceptions)? 

I'm guessing the latter.

Which brings me back to my original somewhat/kinda'/semi-stated question: why bother? Should I bother? People are so touchy these days, so defensive, so prone to polarization. Recently Bryce Lynch reviewed a terrible adventure module in his usual caustic, incendiary manner. The author was so incensed he made the PDF freely available for other reviewers to judge for themselves and...whadya' know...some folks took up the challenge, giving clinical, measured, detailed explanations of why, yes, this IS in fact a terrible adventure module.  Two different approaches to saying the same thing, and yet the response from the author was the same in both cases: hey, I'll fix the typos, but this dreck make me money y'all so I'm going to keep on a-churning it out. Suck it.

SO: nothing constructive accomplished either way.

Why bother? There are a load of shitty products on the shelves at grocery stores that are absolutely not good for humans to consume...and yet people spend money on them, people consume them, and the store restocks the shelves. Even those of us who have some capacity for discernment...sometimes we just say, screw it, it's been a tough day/week/year, give me a bottle of the hard stuff and a giant box of Twinkies. It happens. It's understandable. I get it.

Should we just give in to apathy? Let the world go to hell? Live our own lives and ignore insanity and ridiculousness because we can't make any real difference?

Yeah, no. I'm going to say "no" to apathy.  There's already too much apathy in the world. Perhaps being (the writing equivalent of) a loud-mouthed, opinionated curmudgeon isn't always always helpful or terribly constructive; perhaps it doesn't reach all that many people; perhaps the effort required is (mostly) wasted.

And yet, if I just shut the hell up what would THAT accomplish? Nothing at all, right? 

I'm inclined to think that ain't a better solution. 

No one's required to like what I have to say. No one's required to listen/read what I have to say. Hopefully, I am penning my thoughts in places they can be easily ignored by folks for whom my thoughts come across as nonsense. I don't really want to inconvenience anyone, after all.

But I'm going to "keep bothering" after all, here and elsewhere, as my time and energies allow me to do. I'm not sure I'd call it "fighting the good fight" more like "creating food for thought." Though I admit that, personally, I do seem to thrive on a bit of conflict. Rising to the challenge, and all that jazz.

Okay. Enough babble for now.


  1. I was worried for a bit there that you might conclude not to "keep bothering." Your responses, both of them really, are helpful. To third parties, like me who read them, but I expect to the poster to whom you were responding as well. Maybe not immediately, but if the person looking for advice was thoughtful enough to evaluate the advice received, he or she would have benefited from it. Maybe only after a defensive "cool down," but nevertheless, there is a lot of value in both of those responses from which any thinking person would benefit.

    1. Appreciate that Sterling.

      Yeah, don't's in my nature to "keep bothering."
      ; )

  2. Let me save you 15 years. Speak to those with ears.

  3. One of my favorite analogies in regard to a body of criticism is to ask why it is that so many authors today write like Hemingway and so few like Dickens. Is it because one is objectively better than the other? Of course not, it's all opinion. It's because a body of criticism has built over the years pointing out reasons why someone might prefer to read spare but descriptive writing more than flowery and ornamented prose. This builds into a "best practices" consensus among writers, and here we are.

    The more people advocate for Bryce's criteria, the more adventures will eventually look like those criteria ask an adventure to look. The more people talk about running adventure games in a particular way, the more adventure games will be designed to support that approach.

    Well, anyway that's what I think.

    1. That sounds about right. But how many years did it take for that 'body of criticism' to build up? We are still in the early stages of building any sort of "theory" about our own hobby...and we are a fractured bunch.

    2. Yeah. My suspicion is that there are really several different hobbies involved here, all springing from early attempts to parse what Gygax, particularly, was trying to convey: a Braunstein-like approach to wargaming through a filter of adventure fiction. I don't think that was fully apparent until the Forge and the attempts to have a conversation with the Forgies, and ultimately the approaches of some OSR types to make a close reading of the original texts of D&D and AD&D, especially, but also other early adventure games like Traveller.

      Like, I think that the Forgies were right that people approach gaming with different "agendas", though I dislike their overly-schematized way of describing some of those approaches and calling it a complete model. But I digress.

      One of the things about early film is that it was largely an attempt to document theater, only on an increasingly expansive "stage". It was only when film gave up its theatrical obsessions that it was able to make full use of the particular characteristics of film as a medium such as framing, light and shadow, perspective, focus, film processing, editing, and so on. Similarly, trying to stick to a conception of adventure gaming as "storytelling" only serves to limit the medium from its actual potentials. One of these days, I want to write a discussion in my own blog on the various pseudo-advances in adventure games/RPGs that were really just marketing hype or market distinctiveness and a vanishingly few actual advances that make running adventure games easier or better. Examples of the former are myriad, but examples of the latter might include factions and tags as found in the Sine Nomine games. And again with the digression.

      The point is, I think that we are building a body of criticism. It has influenced the direction that D&D has taken, too, as there are distinct differences between the 4th and 5th editions of that game, and that is owed specifically to conversations that arose between the Forgies and others, especially the OSR people. And 4th edition itself was at least in part the product of Forge theories of design. Anyway, just keep talking and telling your ideas, no matter how frustrating and sometimes pointless it seems. That's how bodies of criticism arise.

  4. If we're on the subject of dispensing advice, you can probably unsubscribe to reddit spambot emails by following the miniscule "unsubscribe" link at the bottom of the emails and unchecking all boxes or something similar.