Wednesday, March 7, 2018

The Angry DM

"But, look, it’s no secret that I am not talking about your hoity-toity story games who think they are the only way to get a satisfying narrative experience in an interactive medium. And I’m not talking about those abstract as f$&% specialty games whose rules are three layers removed from any actual game fiction. I’m not talking about the elitist indie crap that seeks to elevate the medium. No, I’m talking about the standard fare. The Dungeons & Dragons. The Pathfinder. The Star Wars. The old school and the new school action-adventure games. The ones that CAN be great epic stories of mystery and intrigue, like that Game of Thrones thing the kids are all playing. And the ones that CAN ALSO be the dungeon-crawling fun of killing green-skinned evil-doers and taking their stuff. And the ones that CAN ALSO be tear-your-hair-out challenging tests of your strategy and gaming mettle. D&D can’t be anything to anyone, sorry. I’ve said that before. But it can be a lot of things. And it’s pretty easy to get to a lot of things from D&D.
"Oh, and just because I talk about traditional RPGs and play traditional RPGs, that doesn’t mean I also don’t play (and even sometimes LIKE) other games. I play and run A LOT of games. I try a lot of s$&%. Anyway, I got distracted. My point here is that this site is unapologetically about teaching you how to get the most out of traditional RPGs, however you define 'the most.' Deal with it."
The Angry GM,

What I like about the above is how clear it all is.  When I read writing on this level, I come away from it nourished, refreshed and emboldened by a brand new, crystalline version of reality, as the scales fall away from my eyes and I realize, at last, what I need to know to be a better dungeon master.
"What is a Role-Playing Game?
"A role-playing game is a game in which players take on the role of fictional characters in a hypothetical universe. The players attempt to make the decisions that they feel their characters would make if they were real and if their universe were real. Those decisions are based on the characters’ motivations and the games goals. The results of those decisions are played out and new decisions are made.
"Ultimately, an RPG is about choice and consequence. The players make choices for their characters and then deal with the consequences. And goals provide benchmarks for success and failure."

 See?  If I knew nothing about RPGs, I would want a definition like this one: thorough, exemplifying a full detail and aspect of what's going on, right down to the nuts and bolts of the thing.  "Ah, I see," I would say.  The universe is hypothetical, but we pretend that the hypothetical is real.  That's brilliant!  That is completely different from most things that are hypothetical, which are merely theoretical, conjectural, speculative, putative or notional.  Thank gawd that's made clearer.

But the real genius in the above is the description of RPGs involving choices and consequences.  That is so, so very different from other types of games, activities, sports, recreations and past-times.  None of those involve choices in any way, and certainly are not subject to consequences.  This is so cool, this role-playing thing.  Tell me more.
"The Most Important Rule in Every RPG
"There is one rule, one structure, that underlies almost every RPG that exists. It is the most basic process by which the RPG runs. And it goes like this. The GM presents a situation to the players. The players project themselves into the mind of their characters and decide on a course of action for their characters to take. The GM determines the outcome of those actions and describes the results, which becomes a new situation to which the players then respond."

Wow.  A situation.  That is so deep.  As a GM, all that's needed, the most important thing that is needed, is that I need to present a situation.  Damn.  My head is just on fire with all the ideas in my head.  Don't say any more.  I get it now.  I get it all.

... sigh.


This is such a good example of a typical attempt to explain the game, I had to march it out.  Go on, read the whole post.  It doesn't get any better, it doesn't get any clearer.  The gentle reader and I understand what he's saying for obvious reasons.  We're the choir.  But someone who has never heard of a role-playing game?  The above is an empty field of useless wordage.

The above, however, has nothing at all on the comment that praise the above:
"These abstract articles are good (and necessary) but it’s watching the way you are able to use the concepts in regards to minutia and moving the little bits around that I find fascinating. Well defined examples, or vague generic ones when you’re in that mood, are exciting to follow because you can see thru the bulls&$(# that trips the rest of us up."
"It’s nice to see this clear outline of definitions. While all of these concepts have been touched on in previous articles at some level or another, putting them here in one place serves well to tie them together."
"Very concise and lays out information and concepts in an easy to follow format. You haven’t peaked, this seems like a good foundation for future published work. Great stuff here!"
"This blew me out of the water. I love the systematic way that you laid out and connected concepts from all your articles. I have a feeling that I’ll be coming back to this article for years. Well done, and thank you for all the great work you put in. I truly appreciate it."

These are Russian bots, right?  They're deliberately creating obsequious content in order to promote a lax, non-educational precept to the investigation of RPGs ... no one actually read the above post and actually felt it worthy of actual praise.  Did they?

I'm afraid that, yes, they did.

"Blew me out of the water?"  Which part, exactly?  The part where the DM wears three hats?  Where two of them were "running the game" and "administering the game"?  Because, apparently, these are different things:
"When running the game, the GM presents situations, determines the outcome of actions, and presents the consequences of those actions."
"When administrating the game, the GM handles the organizational and social aspects of the game. The GM must deal with interpersonal problems, disruption of the game, and other social issues."

Funny, because I call both those things, "running the game," because I do them both at the same time, in synchronization.

See, the baseball umpire wears two hats: he wears the game adjudication hat, and he wears the hat where he has to deal with players who respond to the game adjudication. Oh, wait, he actually wears three hats, because sometimes he calls balls and strikes, and sometimes he has to deal with all the other rules of the game.  Oh, wait, he wears four hats, because he also wears the Umpire is not involved in the Game hat.  Oops, there's five hats ... no, six ... wait, it's eight.  Or is it ten?  Fuck, that's a lot of hats.

Sometimes, as a DM, I wear my "gets out of a chair and grabs a coke" hat ... and sometimes I wear the "joke with the other participants of the game while we shoot the shit" hat.  Once upon a time, I even wore the "stops the game for five minutes while I go change the baby" hat.  RPGs are complicated.

Or maybe, what blew the reader out of the water was the 55 words used to describe "Campaign" (which doesn't even rate "The" Campaign):
"A campaign isn’t really part of the structure of the role-playing game. A campaign is the sum total of all of the game sessions involving any sort of continuity between adventures. Usually the continuity involves the ensemble of characters and the setting, but through one or more adventure paths, there may also be a story continuity."

There's a shell that goes straight for the ammunition supply.  That certainly blew my HMS Hood out of the North Atlantic.  "Any sort of continuity."  An unbroken and consistent existence of a thing over time ... of any sort.  Jeez.  That kind of stark lucidity doesn't turn up in a sentence just any day.

But okay, we were given some examples: there's character continuity and setting continuity, and one or more adventure path continuities, and story continuity.  My, my, my ... I do know everything a DM need to know about the campaign now, don't I?

Remember, that was the name of the post.  EVERYTHING you need to know.  Every blessed thing.  From now until the day you stop running RPGs when the cancer cuts you down at 95.  There are a bunch of different continuities and they all have an adjective in front of them.

When I say the RPG community has its head up it's ass, I mean crap like this sort of thing that is praised to the skies. Someone felt the need to write,
"This article is what every single dungeon master section is missing. I’ve paid money for products that have given me far less."
And someone else added:
"Ditto. Not enough DMGs or other such books really teach you to actually GM."

Now, lest I be misunderstood, I don't care that the Angry DM felt compelled to write this post.  He's been spewing out this inconsistent drivel for years.  He has a steady, consistent formula.  He starts with a long, long self-referential introduction that does little more than pick a given word in the previous sentence in order to go off on a tangent, which almost always ends with him disagreeing with something he said at the start, while obsequiously adding a few sentences to make sure hasn't unduly insulted someone by making a declarative sentence that something is something.  If you'll look at the opening two paragraphs that I quoted at the top, you'll see he's done exactly this.  If you go look at the rest of his writings, you'll find he does it virtually every time.

Of course I've read him.  He's called "The Angry GM."  I had to go find out what the fuss was about.  Truth is, he's not really angry ... except in the way that a drunk asshole on a train bridge finds a reason to scream at something, because they're there and, what the fuck, they feel like screaming.  There's no rationale.  He's not actually "angry" at anything.  He's adept at using a ten-year-old's vocabulary while letting his Mom, apparently, replace the swearing with the top row of his keyboard.

I use the symbols technique myself, occasionally.  It's fun.  But I'm also ready to say fuck and shit because, well, fuck it.  I'm guessing he uses the technique because he thinks there's a chance that mainstream television will pick him up and stream him someday, since it is the only medium still in existence (along with radio) that still gives a fuck about swearing.

My deeper issue is with the readers ... who must live in some oppressive hell where no actual light ever enters, where no academic book learning penetrates, where no documentary ever plays, where education and deliberation on a subject are perpetually hidden and who, when told to ignore the man behind the curtain, do so.

Because I would expect some fifty comments under such material to read, "What the fuck is this supposed to be" or "Are you fucking kidding?"  Yet I expect the same thing to occur when I read the comments under a Mike Mercer video or some piece of bullshit article proclaiming the death of role-playing.  Yet it never happens.

Where are the sardonic, embittered, fiery role-players of my experience, who scoff at movies and books that pander painfully to an audience of gormless gits who obviously haven't read a real book in their lives?  Where are the truly angry DMs of my acquaintance who railed for half-an-hour at the piece of shit module, wrapped in plastic, that they just forked out to buy, only to find they were nothing more than half artwork and a bad rehash of Legacy of the Drow?  Where is the anger of people who opened the post, only to find within a few paragraphs that it was nothing more than another pale, flaccid, insubstantial outline of shit that we actually Ought to Be Explaining?

Instead, there's some cheap little flame war in the comments about whether or not the DM is a player.  Like this matters in the enormity of the dearth of anything of consequence being said in an article entitled, "Everything You Ever Need to Know About Game Mastering."

The readers sicken me.  That's the truth of it. I look at those readers ... and then I compare them to the readers of this blog, whom I've flayed and insulted, whom I've belittled, whom I've mistreated and coldly misunderstood, and I get down on my hands and knees and kiss the fucking ground that you people exist and are tough enough to sustain a little abuse.  You guys are wonderful.  If I had to put up with the spineless syncophants that haunt the cloud castles of brown-colored smoke blown up, then ejected, from most of the RPG sites on the internet, I think I'd put a gun in my mouth.

Yes.  I am angry.  Not F$&%ing angry.

I am fucking angry.

The man behind the curtain.


James said...

People just want to read something that sounds deep without threatening their deeply-held beliefs, so they can feel intelligent for "getting it."

Since D&D is a "game," very few players and DMs think getting better is a valuable use of time. Even if they don't admit this, their behaviors reveal it.

I remember when I first started DMing, all the advice I read was worthless. "Say 'yes, and having fun is the most important thing!" What does that even mean? "Having fun" isn't a goal, it is a byproduct.

Dave said...

I used to enjoy his articles when he would post about mechanics (ways of changing monsters, initiative variants, etc.). His abstract/theory articles are all the same, nonspecific crap with way, way too many video game references.

I listened to his podcast he puts out the other week and it seems his entire mental model for what makes a good D&D campaign has more to do with what makes a good video game than anything else.

Ozymandias said...

I generally like his stuff (after he gets past the nonsensical "introduction") but I think that's because I see a lot of "water is wet" advice about the game.

And yet I'm not one to read his work consistently. Proof in the pudding, and all that...

Maliloki said...

I stole stuff from about 2 or 3 of his posts on gaming mechanics, but find he takes way to many words to say what's needed for the sake of a cheap laugh. I pretty much ignore everything else.

Since I found your site however long ago, I read everything and go back through old posts when I have the time. And stolen (or intend to steal) a lot more from here :)

Drain said...

I read the guy on occasion as I find him entertaining, though definitely not a source of elevation for the discourse on the state of the craft.

His shtick is good for an idle chuckle and makes me notice the obvious, as I'm the kind of person to ever so often miss it.

The comments section I do avoid (and I can't be kind here), as it's home to an embarassing herd of fawning newts who haven't noticed they're being long-conned by a guy clearly making a living of playing videogames off the back of their patronage while shell-gaming them with the flimsiest pretense of caring about tabletop.

Matthias said...

I sometimes wonder what you get out reading and listening/watching to this stuff online, Alexis.

I really enjoy your content, and appreciate you sharing your views on what the game is (or ought to be), and what it means to you. But these posts? I don't quite understand them.

I mean, wading into the comment section of any medium -- traditional written press or new media alike -- is generally an exercise in existential dread. Even more so in the hobby/entertainment corners of the internet; RPGs were not the brainchild of extremely cultivated people. The cultural references, and depth of knowledge of these creators were nothing really impressive. But they did create an interesting constellation of games which, in the rights hands, can produce some incredibly valuable interactive experiences. And that is all that matters if you're into this kind of experience.

That mediocre and often idiotic people are lauded and celebrated isn't new. Celebrity culture is just the most spectacular version of the phenomenon. Being constantly confronted by the stupidity and tastelessness of internet commenters is terrifying and, as far as I'm concerned, discouraging. That one would occasionally dip one's toe into these waters, on the pretext of deconstructing or, even more prosaically, venting deeply held frustration, is understandable. But to do it often is surprising to me. Which is why I ask, why do it at all? Doesn't it clutter your brain?

Shelby Urbanek said...

I think the reason we don't see much if any railing (of any substance) in the comments sections of these kinds of bloggers is that those who are inclined to speak up have probably spent their fire elsewhere, previously, and seen no hope of change from their efforts and so, like me, might get worked up about an article, think about writing an excoriation, and then despair that our effort would be wasted, pearls before swine as it were. And maybe that needs to change. If the thinking gamers could be induced to put in the effort to shout and shout and shout until the world hears the message that "crap advice is not welcome anymore." Unfortunately, I don't know that most of them would be willing unless the majority of humankind could be made to change by reasoned arguments rather than emotional manipulation. It seems a losing prospect, so the energy that might be spent tearing a mountain apart is used to build a wall instead.

Alexis Smolensk said...

I don't know, Matthais. I have an extremely large brain. It has corners enough to sustain a little clutter.

You're right about idiotic people being celebrated being old hat. Try to think of it this way; if this were a film-review blog, you would expect me to say something about the Oscars each year. And each year, I would talk about the stream of mastubatory shit being lauded to the skies, in just the same way as I talk about other content on surrounding RPGs on the internet.

I'm paying attention because it is my responsibility not to cover myself with a shell. Writing is the field I'm in; and op/ed pieces are the bread and butter of a journal, because opinion ~ even about dreck ~ serves the interest of the reader. I dig out this crap and write about it so that you, gentle reader, don't have to, and yet occasionally you can receive a visceral thrill from feeling superior over it. You don't have to get your boots muddy, because I'll put on my press cap and get muddy for you.

Alexis Smolensk said...

When you say "build a wall," Shelby, I go right to Pink Floyd. Walls are sometimes a very bad things.

Or if you prefer Robert Frost,

"Before I built a wall I'd ask to know,
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That wants it down. I could say "Elves" to him,
But it's not elves exactly, and I'd rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed."

But you will note, Shelby, that I don't comment in the Angry DM's field either. Shouting and shouting IS useless, and it brings bad things. Like Frost says, we'd rather he called it Elves and not us. For the unprepared, it is better to build walls than throw stones; the others are likely to throw stones back.

I'm an old stone-thrower at heart ... and even I have surrendered the ground outside the field wall surrounding this post. But I will stand here, behind my wall, and shout Elves, because it is my way. It is fair that it is not your way, or the way of my readers; only, sometimes, I don't understand how my readers can bear it.

JB said...

I read this and snicker out loud, even as I realize most everything you've written here can apply to half my own blog posts.
; )

It's tough, man, when the academic study of D&D is still, pretty much, in its infancy. Those of us who are analyzing (or are ruminating over it) have approached it from a variety of sides: historical (how and why its evolved), design (how it works), "narratively" (how gaming does or does not create "stories")...but most of us are pretty ignorant about how to go about doing so in a methodical, academic matter. As you've pointed out more than once, there just isn't a lot of (what I'll call) the right type of brain power working in our "field of study."

Not saying it's wrong to beat up on people like Angry GM (or me, for that matter). Hell, I'm not even asking for you to "have compassion;" someone needs to call folks out and ask them to do better! But even though heaping on the scorn is good fun (I enjoy it), is scorn alone constructive? Folks have their heads up their asses, and it's right to say "try harder," but we can also give them some direction, some possible avenues to explore.

[which you've done in past posts, sure]

Alexis Smolensk said...

A little, here and there.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Hell, JB, there's a vast difference between you and him. Your posts are an investigation, a puzzling through of uncertainty and a lack of conceit. He writes that he is the cock of the walk, though he's clearly faking it with all his pandering. You don't pretend to have the answers. You admit that it's hard. He covers up his shortcomings with click-baity titles, then attempts to double-down with, "Yeah, this is what I said it was; this is EVERYTHING, just like I said it was."

I'm not even beating up on him, here. I'm throwing out some sarcasm, identifying his patterns, deconstructing his own words ... and letting his paragraphs do most of the condemnation. I am beating up on his readers; so we can save our sympathy for them. Except, like the metaphor goes, the great and powerful Oz here is a charlatan making a paper head puff out fire and smoke, while the curtain is wide open. They're not players, they're stooges. They ought to be shown up.

You and me, JB, we are trying to give them direction. But sometimes, between shifting over my wiki and doing important work, I need to pause and kick the Christmas tigers out of the way.

Besides, I just quoted Robert Frost and used his poem to deconstruct and defend my dissatisfaction. How much more direction can I give?

Matthias said...

Thanks for your response, Alexis. (And it is Matthias, rather than Matthais. I usually don’t mind, but I think this is the third or fourth time you spell my name thusly, so I guess it’s not just a typo).

I understand your comparison to film criticism, but I think that what you do is more akin to higher brow literary criticism (your focus on precision of language, clarity) and design criticism (your attention to structural elements in game design).

So, rather than the local newspaper’s film critic, forced to write about the latest crappy movie because your editor believes that is what the paper’s reader want to read, I see your position as more akin to an author – with your own voice and literary production -- that occasionally writes a review of a book in a more serious publication, say the London or New York Review of Books. Criticism isn’t your main activity, as I see it. In my mind, your core contribution is the creation of your own materials (still speaking for myself, of course… don’t know if anyone else sees this as I do).

The reason why I decided to post my previous comment is that, as an avid reader, I feel like the time you spend writing about poor quality material all over the internet means less time available for the really interesting stuff you produce and share with us all. Its an opportunity cost concern. ‘Clutter’ was an inappropriate image.

I understand that ‘digging out this crap,’ as you put it, may have a cathartic function in your general work flow, or might be a kind of general research activity that gives you some negative perspective from which to react. And, of course, I realize that I have no claim over your time, and that it is ultimately selfish of me to suggest you spend your creative time in ways that interest me. No one is perfect.

For whatever its worth, you don’t need to put on your cap to wade into that sludge for this particular reader. As far as I’m concerned, the more time you spend producing a positive example of what role-playing ought to be, rather than drawing on the limitless pool of negative examples to demonstrate what it shouldn’t be, the better.

But that’s just my personal take… your blog is quite successful regardless of what I think.

JB said...

Looking forward to our conversation, later today.
: )

Alexis Smolensk said...

I'm sorry, Mattias. I shall be more careful with those two vowels.

Please know that I'd like to produce the sort of work you crave continuously. However, as verbose as I am, I am not creative enough to come up with something truly meaty every day. A lot of my days in game creation are pure gruntwork: move the blog, crunch these numbers, draw that map. Not very interesting for a blog post, particularly when I've written that post already.

Criticism gives me something to write about; it is, as you say, part of my creative process; it's popular; and there is a cathartic pleasure in railing against things that make me unhappy.

When I have something deeply inventive to write, rest assured I shall.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Gawd, and I still got your name wrong. Matthias. There. I did it.