Monday, August 29, 2011

And the Stick in the Mud of the Week Award goes to...

Alexis at Tao of D&D. In this post he derides the recent "Build a Better GM" trend that hit the RPG blogosphere. He seems to have the impression that it was a fruitless effort. Or at least that's what I took from reading the post. I encourage everyone to read it and let me know what you think.

I for one felt the Build a Better GM meme was very enlightening, as it gave many perspectives on the art of running roleplaying games. It gave some food for thought, advice, and tips. But unlike Alexis, I didn't think anyone was trying to define in stone what makes "the perfect GM."

I don't understand this guy at all. Who spends so much time being so...angry? Standoffish? Curmudgeonly? Whatever you want to call it, I just can't fathom why someone would want to waste precious moments of life being so downright grumpy about a hobby. Being a grognard is one thing. But being Alexis is something entirely different.

In the past, I've tried to communicate with Alexis in what I thought to be a rational manner, questioning his particular scathing approach to RPG blogging. For my desire to understand more of his motivations and perhaps offer a different viewpoint, I've been "permabanned." He pretty much won't let any of my comments on his posts see the light of day. In fact, I take credit for his switch to moderating comments. So, in light of my inability to comment on his blog directly, I've decided to comment about his posts on my own blog. As Alexis might say, "My house, my rules."

(By the way, regarding the standoffish "my house, my rules, I can do whatever I want" approach to blogging: when you invite someone into your home, do you slap them in the face when they compliment your wallpaper? Just because you own a "domain," be it a home or a blog, doesn't necessarily mean that you have carte blanche to lash out at "guests" and be rude to them, even those guests that disagree with you. If you want to consider a blog to be a virtual house, then what about the ancient tradition of hospitality? Let me put things another way: I bet Gary Heidnik was a big believer in "my house, my rules, I can do whatever I want.")

On another level, I don't understand why so many people put up with his attitude. There are so many people who comment on his blog that he, in turn, berates. It's like going to a "wise man" (and I'm nowhere near actually considering Alexis a wise man) in order to obtain wisdom and being verbally abused at the same time.

Why do I care? I guess I keep expecting there to be a bottom to Alexis' well of disdain. I check in once in a while to see what vitriol he's spouting, and he never fails to deliver. I also think that the guy has a lot of good stuff to offer the blogosphere, but he wraps it in such a noxious package. Thus, there's also a failed opportunity here, in my opinion.

Isn't one of the myriad reasons we blog to connect with our fellows and share thoughts and celebrate our hobby together? But wherever humans gather, there are those who seek to deride for the sake of derision.

He's given tidbits of information about his motivations, and I feel like he's an incredibly intelligent person with a lot of personal pain from his past. So he's no longer much of a conundrum for me, I suppose. I guess I'm just confused why someone would take what most would consider a positive thing (sharing opinions/advice regarding GMing) and see it as something ultimately futile. Like Raistlin's hourglass eyes, which doomed him to see the decay in all things...

I guess everything truly is a matter of perception.

Alexis has stated that I seek to "change" him. That's not true at all. I wouldn't presume to try such a thing. Rather, my eternal statement to him is this: you don't like something in the blogosphere, so be it. But that doesn't mean you are better or smarter than the rest of us who do like it. And it definitely does not mean you are the arbiter of what is, and what is not, a worthwhile topic.

UPDATE: Alexis posted a "rebuttal" to this post, and someone commented "i would rather have a person be harsh and honest then nice and lie about what he truly thinks of things."

To this I ask: why do "harsh" and "honest" need to go together? Can't you be "nice" and "honest"? Is that's what becoming part of our culture, a belief that you have to be harsh to be honest? That's really depressing, if it has any truth to it.


  1. I'm still wondering why some have an issue with the DM Challenge. It seems to be all positive and without harm.


  2. Alexis takes himself and gaming way too seriously. This is what makes his sermons, I mean blog posts, amusing. His dysfunctional social nature is only exceeded by his obsessive need for precision and love of bombast. Nevertheless, he does push forth a brilliant idea from time to time and he follows his own path.

  3. He's kind of like YDIS but with an adult vocabulary, and serves a similar purpose. I agree with Mike that I've seen enough good ideas over there that I keep tabs; I want to run better games, and I'm not shy borrowing good ideas from misanthropes.

  4. I regret the time it took to write, but I offered Alexis the following comment on his blog:

    The notion that a GM will look upon a collection of personal tips as rote commandments without exercising any judgment or introspection as to the applicability of any one such piece of advice is demeaning to those of us downloading and reading the GM Challenge Compilation. These aren't delivered as stone tablets from on high and neither are they spoken by a burning bush, unless your pdf software does something mine does not.

    While not followed by all contributors, Chris posed his questions in a very personalized fashion: best practices you possess, what makes what you do work, how do you do it and so on. I've still not read the whole document, but several contributors responded with what worked with their own games using "I" statements. The compilation so far is much more a collection of thoughtful personal reflections. This is NOT a standardized one size fits all document and does not purport to be such. It is a gift from the contributors to those that care to download it. We that have done so can take what we like and leave the rest - we have that power, I assure you.

    What makes you so sure that the contributors took a "casual approach to the subject matter" and that it is "being branded, packaged and distributed like so much cheap, sordid crap" as opposed to your "well-thought out posts"? If your own posts were only written as the matter was relevant, what makes them so worthy compared to contributors who took the time on this occasion to reflect upon their game with the benefit of distance?

  5. @Red: thanks for posting that. But somehow Alexis will turn your words against you, or at least try to in his own mind, and spit back interpretations that one would think impossible from the context of what you have written. He reads what he wants to read no matter what you write.

    Or he'll just choose not to publish your comment.

  6. Alexis, IMHO, gets too caught up with his own use of words. He uses eloquent cliches to establish a presumed authority on a given subject. Sometimes, he's even right about a few things. Ah, but we all do it in our own ways.

    I don't condemn the GM challenge, nor do I see it's results as being carved in stone for everyone either. I took part in it because I'd like to share my own experience with others. I like to listen to others about their experience as well. We each decide what makes sense and what doesn't.

    Some have felt it missed its mark in relation to new players, stifling their own creativity in the process. Some have felt it cannot be done properly because it requires instruction regarding skills which can only be honed with experience.

    Experienced GMs can take a lot for granted. Is it wrong to share? Of course not. We all understand the game and have our own creative compass to guide us through it.

    Should we be mindful of people new to the game? Yes, we should. Some, of course, may have already been guided to RPGs through their peers. Their introduction has already been set. Others may not be.

    How would we teach the game to someone who hasn't ever taken that first step? Just tell them the rules? No! We'd give them a game. Let them experience it! Or, at least, our own version of it.

    Ah, but there's the rub! How do you teach without boxing in their own creative spirit?

    Is it impossible to do this? I don't think so. There's an interesting idea for a challenge.

    What would you do or say to someone who expressed an interest in RPGs and running them? How would you draw out their own creativity without telling them to only color within the lines?

  7. Think on the positive side. He did link me to you, so there is one more reader to your site.

    Alexis is a very clever individual, he has a very useful trade tool he has developed and he has put a great deal of work into his setting.

    His great problem is simply that he doesn't realise he is a subject of his own rants. Occasionally he will grasp this then return to railing against practices he himself is guilty of. I grew tired when he decided to "add words" to my mouth and smear me professionally.

    But I still read, he may be a one (or two) trick pony but they are quite impressive tricks. I wish for his sake he would gain a sense of humility, but only as a person. If he could accept his own faults, truly do so, he could then improve upon them. But as a reader I don't care too much, its Google's house that they loaned him and he may steward it to the extend they allow. Should he choose either not to improve himself, or to better himself, it won't impact my reading of his work in the short term.

  8. Without a lot of digging I know he has had problems (health related and possibly more) but when he posted this:

    and the series of posts that came after he lost all credibility.

    To claim to be as big on D&D as he is and NOT know who the man is turns his work and words into a farce.

    I understand venting, but this is elitism of the highest order and by now adding that he is editing posts to suit himself I think it's time to move on.

    My advice for what it's worth:

    Give him what he wants...silence...don't visit don't post...

    I won't be going back to his blog. He will have all the space for misery that he needs. I hope he finds whatever it is he is searching for. And since I know he is reading this before you write your pithy little take on me:

    Save your words and go f*** yourself.

  9. Thanks, all, for the input. @ADD Grognard: that's my question, ultimately-what exactly is he searching for? I can't imagine getting anywhere with his approach to things.

    What Alexis seems to want is a "pope-mobile," a bullet-proof-glass-enclosed vehicle through which his adoring masses can view him, but those who disagree cannot touch him. If he doesn't want dissenting opinions regarding his thoughts, why even have a blog at all? Why doesn’t he just send emails to his fans and therefore not allow anyone else to view his ideas? Why have a "public forum" such as a blog, which is open to anyone to stumble upon? Why not just lock himself away with his thoughts, instead of broadcasting them?

    He posted about my post on his blog, and it really seems like he has a severe case of "can dish it out but can't take it."

  10. Oh, and one other thing: it seems like Blogger allows one to set their blog to allow access to only "invited readers." This might be the ultimate solution for Alexis to keep out everyone who might want offer *gasp* opinions that differ from his own. He can set up his own Blogger paradise, open to only those who totally agree with him and never question.

  11. UPDATE: Alexis posted a "rebuttal" to this post, and someone commented "i would rather have a person be harsh and honest then nice and lie about what he truly thinks of things."

    To this I ask: why do "harsh" and "honest" need to go together? Can't you be "nice" and "honest"? Is that's what becoming part of our culture, a belief that you have to be harsh to be honest? That's really depressing, if it has any truth to it.

  12. Nobody listens to "nice". It's a sign of weakness.

    Sometimes we can't just all get along.

  13. There is no problem with being harsh and honest, and many can tolerate nice but dishonest. But no one likes "harsh and dishonest" and from time to time Alexis does move into that domain. That is the problem, at least for me.

  14. @ drance yeah i posted that on his blog. in this day and age people are more worried about being politically correct and having people think of them in a good way. they worry if they say something that upsets someone they will be called a racist, hate monger, or other not so pleasant things. you see it all over the news and everywhere. it is almost like people are afraid to be honest about stuff. so people are a little afraid to say what is really on their mind or what they think. you might not like a lot of what alexis writes. but he isn't gonna sugar coat stuff ether. i wish more bloggers would be like that. i don't mind people being harsh as long as they are honest.

  15. Drance, in all honesty I think you've just completely missed the point.

    He's brutal because he can be. Because -you- still read even though he is. In all honesty, if there were a way to 'win' D&D, he'd have done it by now, because, looking through the blogosphere, what he's got beats the shit out of what most everyone else has got. And you and I and he, we all know it. That's why you've even bothered writing this post.

    He's got amazing things, and, rather than saying "Hey folks, let's all get along and do what's fun." he's said "Hi, fuck you if you can't do this too. Figure it out." That chaps hides. Grab some balm.

    The vitriol over the GM Challenge is obvious if you're at all familiar with Alexis' methods. It's his own challenge. Step up, stop wanking off, and work towards a standard for D&D that isn't just "whatever is fun".

    If that's not a goal you have in mind, then understand he's not under any obligation to accomodate your view. You mention the tradition of hospitality, but it's a two-way street.

    He's been corrected before, even been pretty humble about it (not hard to find). It's a matter of the quality of input. Your input doesn't measure up, apparently.

    All it comes down to is thus: If you want to be heard, couch it in definite, researched terms. An answer of "fun" is not an answer. Those are more or less the rules of that blog.

    If those aren't rules you can stand, then there's no gain in conversing. Sometimes the chasm has no bridge.


  16. Did you ever notice before that "Carl", "Kenwolf", and "Ardiun" have only, before this post, posted on Tao? That last one sounds a little too suspiciously Alexis in tone. Probably just a coincidence nvm.

  17. Why are you worried about it? Don't read his blog if you don't like it; there is absolutely nobody forcing you to read it.

  18. I stopped reading Alexis' stuff months ago because I just can't stand his complaining and bad attitude all the time. I've had to work with enough people like that in my life, where I couldn't get away and had to put up with them.

    But this is a hobby. It's supposed to be fun. Yeah, there are somethings in the OSR blogosphere that I find boring or not my cup-of-tea, but I don't go on my blog and tell everybody about it and then make fun of people who comment and disagree with me. It just seems like such a horrible waste of time.

    And THAT'S why I'd rather come to a blog like this one! :)

  19. "i wish more bloggers would be like that."


  20. What is it that he's released/posted that's been so interesting? I'm not trying to be cute...I honestly don't know. Until now, I wasn't aware of his blog, but all the discussion has me curious.

  21. @ maurelious70 i have commented on a few other blogs. like grognardia a couple times. i just started commenting on blogs a few weeks ago. mostly i don't cause most of the time what people blog about doesn't interest me at all. so no interest = no comment. also i have been reading this blog longer then Tao. i follow a lot of blogs, but 95% of the time it isn't interesting.

  22. You are right, noisms, I don't have to read his blog. And I don't, for long periods of time. What I find truly confounding is that, when I decide to allow my curiosity to get the best of me, I go back and see what he's writing about. I admire the sheer depth of his non-vitriolic posts, though I would not use many of his methods myself. I've got no problem with that.

    I understand wanting to challenge people through "tough love" or whatever, but I think there's a modicum of civility that we can all give to each other in the RPG blogosphere. Instead of going off on his long, metaphor-laden, obscure, and angry diatribes, why not just come right out and state things clearly? Why obfuscate his point behind sarcasm? Why not just say "I'm not impressed by this, I think you could have done better, and here's why and how."

    In other words, be helpful if you care enough to post about a subject. Why belittle everyone? Again, Alexis, to me, represents an opportunity lost. An opportunity to share some great insight. But the message is garbled by the bile.

  23. @noisms

    with all due regard, RPG talent or not, the guy fished out a comment of mine from a third blog, made a front page post about it by adding in some flavourful touches (ie, bullshit) that directly link to my professional career. As we had previously conversed by email this wasn't even the type of situation where he could have called me a jackass directly and simply blocked me, its a purposeful and public attack on ones career. That is not a joking matter.

    Thus even if I didn't read his blog, yes he is forcing me to read it unfortunately.

  24. In a world
    where people have problems
    In this world
    where decisions are a way of life
    Other people's problems they overwhelm my mind
    They say compassion is a virtue, but I don't have the time

    So many people...have their problems
    I'm not their problems
    I guess I've...experienced some problems
    But now I've...made some decisions
    Takes a lot of time to push away the nonsense
    Take my compassion...Push it as far as it goes
    My interest level's dropping, my interest level is dropping
    I've heard all I want to, I don't want to hear any more

    What are you, in love with your problems?
    I think you take it...a little too far
    It's...not so cool to have so many problems
    But don't expect me to explain your indecisions
    Go talk to your analyst, isn't that what they're paid for

    -'No Compassion'-Talking Heads

    I think that comes close to the mark. There are a lot of people out here who could win the worlds tiniest violin award but they don't take it out on people who visit their blog or just shoot the s*** between themselves the way gamers like to do. The GM Challenge was not meant as a textbook for the teaching of DM 101. It was a fun exercise that can serve to help the writer as much as the reader. It was games are supposed to be...

  25. Maurilius, I had my own blog. There are dead links in a few places; "Hackmastery" was the name, and it was utterly mediocre; thus closed. So no, I am not in fact a fake account: unless months of shitty blog posts about a game Alexis has never admitted to playing are part of an elaborate ruse to make comments on other blogs.

    You know, because the Taoist is known for being subtle with his ire. Good research though, props.

    That aside.

    I'm surprised anyone here is still using "Fun" as an argument. Not one person has yet said fun was wrong. It's simply not -enough-.

    Everything in the GM Challenge is old hat. We heard it all by our second year of gaming, and since some of us are near our fourtieth, if not more, it's getting sad. We can and should be doing better. I'm only at my first decade, for chrissakes, and I'm bored to hell by the output the blogosphere puts out.

    For Gawd's sake, our graphical counterparts have already managed art in our same timeframe. Why not us? It's rehashed material like the GM Challenge, cute and "fun" as it may be. It's the endless AD&D clones. I love Hackmaster, mind you, love it to death, but we can do so much better.

    Heroquest is fun, but nobody is going to call it the pinnacle of gaming. AD&D is fun, but also not as good as it gets. What Alexis is then doing, in criticising the material of the GM Challenge, is pointing out that maybe, just maybe, we should be looking towards the next step in gaming instead of congratulating ourselves on how mediocre we're being now.

    We should be figuring out what we're doing wrong. What mindsets are holding us back from making games better. What we can hope to accomplish with gaming as an activity, as a mental excercise, as a hobby, whatever.

    My vote for worst attitude so far goes to funwank. "Oh, it's just a game." is a stupid attitude, especially since each and every person vaguely familiar with the human brain knows full well how important games and play in general are to improving and shaping function.

    It's an excuse not to look for a better answer.

    If "fun" is the best argument you've got not to find something to improve, then in all honesty you're utterly useless to the future of the hobby, nevermind the present.

  26. Once you had a link to a fawning post supporting Tao on his blog and there are no traces of its content in the slightest. Not convincing. You are either his sock puppet or a sycophant who can't even motivate enough to make their own contributions to the Grand Project.

  27. Thanks all for stopping by to comment. @ADD Grognard: yes, some people don't remember that D&D is a game, something that is supposed to be fun. D&D is a complex enigma, a game that is not a game. Or perhaps it's clearer to say that it's a game that is more than a game. Meaning that, when you cut it down to its fundamental level, it's a glorified game of pretend. But it is more than that to those of us who understand it's potential.

    So, you can remind people who take it too seriously and get nasty about it that it is just a game, but simultaneously respect the hobby/pastime/whatever as something vastly more than a game.

  28. @ arduin. you talk about the next step in gaming but, the next step in gaming is different from person to person. as i said on Alexis blog his vision of the future of gaming is very different then mine. does that make him right and me wrong ? or and i right and he is wrong ?

    until someone goes and makes his version of what table top gaming should be and everyone else falls in line and goes with what that person does, then who can say what the future of gaming should be ? until we have consensus then all the bitching and name calling is just that, bitching and name calling.

  29. @DRANCE- Oh, I know its potential very well. I wouldn't be developing a system for young people if I didn't and helping folks who run after school programs to boot.

    But I think you might have misunderstood me. The game can be a million things to a million people but if it isn't fun what is the point? And does using gaming as a prop to stand on and degrade others the right way to show support for the game?

    I feel at this point Alexis is using the blog just to work out his personal problems. If he wants to do that that is his choice. I don't have to read it and I won't.

    I'll leave it with this:

    'It is important to keep in mind that,after all is said and done, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons is a game'.

    -Gary Gygax

  30. an accident you can't stop staring at:

    'Fun is Work. When there has been no work, it is not fun. D&D often gets away with it because the people sitting around the table are friends, and being friends we make our own fun. But then it is not the D&D, is it? So how can you claim to love the game if you will not suffer for it?'

    Break out the bong, drop the Cypress Hill because somebody is Insane in the Brain!

    Ok, I'm done...I have to step out and pick up some of that new aerosol reality spray.

  31. @ADD Grognard: wow...indeed, no one can know how deep that rabbit hole of madness will go...cue the Jefferson Airplane, man, we're going on a trip!

    One pill makes you larger
    And one pill makes you small,
    And the ones that mother gives you
    Don't do anything at all.
    Go ask Alice
    When she's ten feet tall.
    And if you go chasing rabbits
    And you know you're going to fall,
    Tell 'em a hookah smoking caterpillar
    Has given you the call.
    Call Alice
    When she was just small.
    When men on the chessboard
    Get up and tell you where to go
    And you've just had some kind of mushroom
    And your mind is moving low.
    Go ask Alice
    I think she'll know.
    When logic and proportion
    Have fallen sloppy dead,
    And the White Knight is talking backwards
    And the Red Queen's "off with her head!"
    Remember what the dormouse said:
    "Feed your head. Feed your head. Feed your head"

  32. Seriously man, if you don't think there is something wrong with that scene...

    I mean does it have to end with the Kool-Aid?

  33. Most of his comments at Tao and Pegasus Rider regarding fiction writing run counter to my experience as an author. He sounds pretty much like every other frustrated, unheralded author that I've seen skulking around the hotel bar.

  34. Does Pegasus Rider even exist anymore? I tried to find it the other day, to no avail...however, I wasn't trying very hard...

  35. Ha. Yes, it's around.