Thursday, April 28, 2016

Back to the Beginning

Do you ever feel like you're getting stupider?

I'm not talking about the senility that sometimes accompanies the aging process...more that
"over-thinking" can lead one to forget the epiphanies of the past. This is (perhaps) a standard problem of writing a long-running blog: after nearly seven years of posts, I can read back over the archives and see that many of my earlier thoughts and ideas were "smarter" than my later ones.

Of course, this isn't always the case. Enough so that I've come to the conclusion that every time I want to write on a particular topic, it would probably be wise to take a good, hard look at what I've written before. Especially with regard to gaming and design.

But that's not really what I wanted to write about (nor the reason for the title of this post). No, I've been thinking a lot lately about the origins of this hobby...and of my personal history with the hobby...and how I want to proceed with it going forward. And when I say "hobby" I'm not just talking  about playing RPGs in general or D&D specifically; I'm talking about the whole blogging/designing thing which is part (and a serious part) of the hobby.

I keep coming across little design notes to myself, stashed in various corners of my laptop hard drive, that all say the same thing. There's a pattern here: things I think about, ruminate on, jot down, and promptly forget for weeks or months or years...until the next time I start thinking about (or over-thinking) the same system or mechanic or game element. It's irritating. I'm not usually a "forgetful" person (well, my wife might disagree), but I'm often so focused or preoccupied with one line of thought that...well, shit, maybe I am forgetful. Stuff just gets pushed out of the forefront of my brain and falls out my ears.

With regard to gaming (and design), I think that this stems from two issues:

1) I'm not gaming. I haven't been gaming, certainly not on a regular basis for 3+ years. Living in Paraguay has been a real bitch in this regard. The fact that I'm not gaming...that I can't game...means I'm not "in the thick of it." I'm not practicing my own stuff...I'm not able to test the practicality of ideas and concepts. I'm not "in touch" with how the game works, how it plays, how it runs. If I ever get back to a gaming table, I'm sure I'll be rusty as hell. And while I'd almost be willing to turn to on-line gaming to get back on track, the timezone thing is just a really crappy deal. My evenings are not free...period. But who's available to hop on-line at 9am (U.S. time) in the middle of the work week? I suppose there's someone living in the middle of Asia who'd be on board, but my ability to even schedule a decent chunk of time is...well, it's really tough.

2) Too much "testing." Even before I moved to Paraguay I was spending too much time play testing my own designs. Testing is a good thing, it's a necessary thing (when designing), but the fact is I'm not a guy who has a bunch of time for gaming and "testing;" it's really just one or the other. And the fact that most of the folks I gamed with were looking to play, not test some new concept...well, I know it put a strain on the folks at the table, constantly "shifting gears" and preventing any real continuity for occurring/developing. They didn't sign on to be guinea pigs.

At the moment, I've got a couple-few thoughts buzzing in my head of what I'd like to do moving forward. This has nothing to do with "writing projects" I'm currently working on, by the way (I hope to get some of those completed eventually), but rather how I want to approach my "hobby:"

  • I want to create a baseline set of rules. This is nothing so elaborate as a retro-clone or new version of D&D Mine (FHB). I'm talking about a document along the lines of Philotomy's Musings or Original Edition Delta...something that simply establishes the D&D edition I intend to use as a base (yes, Im going waaaay back to the beginning) and any house rules to the edition that I want to cull from this blog or elsewhere. It may be a "living" document (that is, something that develops and changes over time), but I want to have it...a gaming Bible of sorts that I can simply refer to rather than over-analyzing the same shit over-and-over. 
  • I want to develop a world setting for play. When I look around the hobby (whether at published products or the various blogs), I find the best settings...the best games...come from folks who have created intensely personal worlds that cater to their own vision of "what is fun." I haven't done this. My campaigns have sometimes had elaborate geographies, histories, rule variations, or whatnot, but they weren't created with the purpose of pleasing myself for long-term play; instead they were aimed at being "interesting," or developing cosmologies that justified the inconsistencies of D&D, or that catered to a particular style, or were supposed to test certain rule principles. An lo and behold, none of 'em lasted...regardless of whether I put a lot of prep into 'em or not (trying to grow the thing "organically"). The fact is, I didn't have enough passion for my worlds...certainly, I had passion for some of the adventures I wrote, but I had (purposefully or not) avoided creating attachment to the setting itself.

Which is kind of a recipe for failure. Look at Gygax's Greyhawk. Look at Arneson's Blackmoore. Look at Barker's Tekumel. Look at Kyrinn's Urutsk. Look at Hill Cantons and Gus L's Fallen Empires and Alexis's Europe and Raggi's weird New World. These are all wonderful, lovingly created settings because they mean something to their creators. They are personal to their creators. Those of us who have had the pleasure of exploring these worlds (through play or reading) have found ourselves intrigued or tickled or amazed just at the amount of soul that's been invested in these worlds. Their creators have not felt the need or desire to create new campaigns, to play/run in other worlds, because their worlds have been specifically built to create and meet their individual creator's needs. That's what I need to do.

  • I want to keep using this blog for something, but I'm not sure what. Hawking books I suppose. Airing my thoughts on various subjects, surely. But I'm not sure if I want to continue it in the same way I've done. I'm not sure if these first two points (establishing a baseline system, establishing a baseline world) are going to be best described here...I'm even considering a new blog...but I don't want to shut down Ye Old B/X Blackrazor. I said in the beginning that this was partly supposed to be something of a memoir, something of a snapshot showing my development and "gaming evolution" over time. That work will continue (so long as blogger remains free to use), though I'm not sure it will be as interesting to others as it is to myself.
  • Finally, I think I'd like to have a different medium from which to hawk my various gaming wares: an actual web site with links and forums for discussion. I'm not sure if I'll ever be able to make any real money (i.e. "livable wage") off of writing and selling books...not unless I learn to draw and do my own illustration...but the links to various products are getting a might crowded over on the side of the blog. There's definitely some sort of clean-up/reorganization that needs to occur, if I'm going to continue pursuing the design part of this hobby.

All y'all know where my head's at. Expect the latest alpha posting sometime this afternoon or evening.


  1. I hope you'll continue the blog. I enjoy hearing the ramblings of a gaming US ex-patriot.

    I think part of the stupefying effect of age is that we know more, we've experienced more the older we get, and the things that used to trip our internal triggers can seem puerile by comparison. I'm 46, not ancient but not a spring chicken, either. If I'm lucky I'll live to see 84 if the web age-prediction models are to be believed (which I'm sure they're not). I was just pondering today how wonderment seems to be a victim of aging. I can recall the excitement of youth, but I experience it first hand less vividly with each passing year.

    Just my own rambling two cents. I think the neurons do fire slower, too, with age, and they old pathways do break down with disuse. It's a shame there's not a gaming group for you in Paraguay. Maybe we can convince Alexis to run another session for us online. :)

  2. Thank you for your work here, JB. I'm glad you've found this little bit of clarity to hook onto, and I look forward to seeing what The Baseline Game and World comes to.

  3. I still enjoy reading posts you have made this week as much as when you began!

    I think enthusiasm was higher back then for all of us. We can only debate the merits X or Y system so many times. ;)

    We will be here!

  4. @ Everyone:

    Hey, thanks folks. I'm really NOT intending to fold up shop. I'm just considering where I've been and...well, a bit of my future.

    That being said, it is nice to hear the support (and, no, none of my readers should feel obligated to blow sunshine at me. Seriously!).
    : )

  5. You are definitely one of the better talking-heads on the web. Even though we don't play the same system, you personally have made comments and suggestions which improved my game over-all.

    While others in our hobby loose their tempers, JB always seems to keep his level. That is inspiring to everyone. You certainly have been an inspiration to me!

  6. what you need to do is actually play the game. this will definitely change your perspective.

  7. I have every Wednesday and Thursday off and would be willing to game online. There are probably more out there like me.

    I vote for keeping all your RPG talk right here on this blog.