Tuesday, November 25, 2014


I am beginning to think the word "Don't" is my least favorite in the English language. Recently it seems like this is largely what I encounter online in the form of advice articles on gaming or writing, and it feels like this is just creating an ever-expanding list of things people are not supposed to do for often vaguely explained reasons. I worry that we are simply in the habit of critiquing with a dose of snark and in danger of throwing the baby out with the bath water. Whether it is an essay on tropes that need to die, or things game masters should stop doing, I think rather than inspiring people to game better or write better, it just creates paralysis where people hesitate with each step as they navigate a maze of new taboos and fashions that separate the elite from the everyday. It makes people overly self conscious about their own choices and leads to folks trying to do things they think will impress others but forgetting to impress themselves and their players first. 

When I was younger my parents bought me a reprint of an old victorian book of etiquette and the name of the book, oddly enough, was Don't. It was essentially an extensive list of byzantine rules for behavior in social situations. The book was reprinted because in hindsight the code of etiquette was stifling and a bit amusing from a modern perspective. There was also a strain of snobbery and elitism that was unmistakable. It was the sort of thing me and my friends would read from and laugh. But I think that mentality is beginning to reassert itself in the form of people telling us what tropes are sophisticated or tired, what styles of play are fashionable and what are out of date, etc. 

Personally I am not a big fan of this. I think it is a bad trend (a good trend for critics, but a not so good trend for the people creating things and running campaigns). Don't get me wrong, criticism can be very useful. I always welcome negative criticism more than positive feedback when I am working on a new project because it helps me improve the final product. But there is an overdrive of criticism going on online and it just feels like all anyone wants to do is be the smartest person in the room by tearing things down. 

Now when I see articles that start with "8 Things to Avoid When World-Building" or "10 Tropes that Need to Die in the Fire", I just roll my eyes and move on. Ninety percent of the advice I generally disagree with or think is heavily overstated. For the most part, I would be much more interested if the person writing the column showed me examples of what they would like to see. If you want people to embrace something different or new, it is much better to show them how it can be compelling than to sneer at the familiar. Sure some things do get overused and I get tired of seeing them all the time, but there are also old standards that exist for good reasons. And even with tropes I may be tired of, they still feel fresh to someone just discovering fantasy for the first time. 

And I say all this as someone who takes some pride in offering a line of games that are a bit different, that take chances and go in strange directions. This is why we gave Sertorius a more Mediterranean, Middle Eastern and Asian feel than a Medieval European one. It is why we did Servants of Gaius, Arrows of Indra and why we made Terror Network. But we also didn't shy from the familiar, or from old gaming tropes that work well for creating adventures. Again there is a danger of throwing the baby out with the bathwater when you tell people to stop using something in game design, writing or world building just because you've seen it one too many times (or because you want people to notice that you noticed a pattern). 

So my advice is don't  listen to these people (I know, I know). Be suspicious of advice loaded with snark. When it comes to gaming, you know what you like, and you know what resonates with you and your players, so do what works. If that involves going outside the box, great. If it means using a familiar trope, fine. Whatever it takes to have an entertaining evening with friends.

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