Monday, May 26, 2008

Criticism is a bad thing?

James Maliszewski's review of Monsters of Myth has brought up several points.

A- Of what quality is OSRIC's license?

B- Is criticism bad?

The first point is pretty much irrelevant to most people. Only the tiniest fraction of us care about publishing details. Luckily, the argument this time isn't "Is OSRIC legal?" (it is). The argument is "How well does it do what it sets out to do?" And the answer is... inconclusive.

The truth is that all of these licenses that people are publishing under are not reaching the people who would care. Yes, our little incestuous internet groups know what they are... but who cares? By the very essence of their existence (the OGL), these games are not allowed to actually say what they are, and with what games their materials are to be played with. It's a shitty position that has no solution. Can't say "Dungeons and Dragons," and promoting one's own simulacrum as a brand new thing defeats the entire purpose.

So then there's Monsters of Myth, a book I haven't seen (and considering my own release, would it make sense to buy it?), presented by the people that made OSRIC in the first place. OSRIC in action. And you should head over to the review and the comments thereafter to continue that train of thought.

Doing so brings us to this quote:

So, what do the OSRIC creators get? Criticism from the old-school community. I will never understand this.

Now we're not talking about the "Well, this might be illegal..." stance. That's not what anyone was talking about. The discussion was on the quality of what the OSRIC guys actually did, and how useful the tool is that they've created for the purpose they gave in creating it.

Why the hell shouldn't the "old-school community" be critical of OSRIC? Why shouldn't you be critical of OSRIC? Why isn't everyone critical of everything?

"If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all," is a horrible, horrible bit of advice. Without criticism, there is no engagement of ideas about quality. Without criticism, there is no valuable feedback for creators of imaginative works. (an aside: "Really cool! This rules! Awesome!" is completely useless. It doesn't inspire, it doesn't tell a creator what he did right, it's just empty cheerleading that at best allows a creator to further tap his creative well to do his next project, and at worst encourages him to keep pumping out the same old shit when the natural thing to do is stop.)

Criticism causes a person to ask, "Why do I feel this way? Why am I doing it this way?" Someone giving criticism has to figure this out to say anything of importance at all, someone receiving criticism needs to consider this in order to know whether to heed the criticism they have received. Bystanders who witness the criticism can also take this opportunity to use the arguments to solidify their own viewpoints and sharpen their own critiquing skills.

All of this is 100% pure goodness. Anything that makes a person more discerning and less of a follower, in any way, shape, or form, is positive. Creators and cheerleaders may not agree, but if a creator can't take a bruised ego, fuck him. He can quit and he shouldn't be missed. If a cheerleader can't...

Wait a second. Cheerleaders. Cheerleaders are useless clumps of flesh that don't do anything, but get in line behind someone who does just to leech off of their greatness. To be a part of something and pretend they're contributing to it just by telling people how awesome it is. (and people who do things are great... to variable magnitudes of course) You can tell cheerleaders from actual thinking, or productive, people because they'll complain about criticism, will not be able to discuss the pros and cons of the issue at hand, and will be offended if you don't simply have a binary "Yes, I like it," or "No, so I'm just going to completely ignore it and pretend it doesn't exist," response to things. Cheerleaders are different than supporters. Supporters will assist and aid, but they will also criticize as harshly as they feel is necessary. Usually in private. And usually accompanied by direct offers of assistance or a referral to someone who can.

If anyone's ever said to you: "Can't you just sit back and enjoy x?," you have encountered a cheerleader. Or an insecure creator. What they're telling you is, "Turn your brain off and accept what you're given!"

The opposite of the cheerleader is the detractor. You could cure his mother's cancer and heal his baby's cleft palate, and he'll still find every reason to shit on you whenever someone talks about you or anyone that looks like you. The problem is, many people confuse critics for detractors, and cheerleaders purposefully conflate the two. The difference between a critic and a detractor is often very simple: Is there a solution implied with the criticism? Or is the message simply, "Fuck you and go away!"?

Think. Think. THINK. Think and engage, with everything, always. Anything worth experiencing is worth analyzing. Is the experience worth trying again? Why? Can it be better? How? What exact parts of it did I like? What exact parts didn't I like? How does it compare to similar experiences? Is one clearly superior to another?

So... this "old-school" renaissance, or, to better put it (because I will not be passive and just accept that kind of wording :P), the "traditional revival," or "the return of actual quality gaming," is in dire need of criticism. And that criticism will flow freely in this scene, considering every single person in it is already exercising their critical qualities to reject (or un-prefer, if you're wanting to be nice about it) more current forms of THE BRAND NAME just to be in this scene. Which creates another cluster in the grand clusterfuck of simulacra issues. The projects are borne out of communities all loving something, and building something to express their love and to make it easier for other people to come join their love-ins. Or orgies, whatever verbiage you prefer.

So the people that are simply enjoying whatever is current and "mainstream" in our hobby, through passive enjoyment or active acceptance, hear this mating call. Maybe they just haven't experienced the traditional styles on their own. Maybe they're intelligent, fully functional human beings that just prefer other systems, other styles.

But that's not most people. No. I get the impression that many people these days (especially younger people) grew up hearing “discrimination is bad” for so long that they believe that critical thought is actually morally wrong. And they see this critical scene being critical of each other, nitpicking at each others' styles of play, not to attack, but to refine and improve.

But all that these humanoids see is unpleasantness. Effort. (same thing, right?)

Which is where we need to note that "criticism" is different than "abuse" or "attacks." "What you're doing there is ILLEGAL!" is not criticism. "I think you might have legal trouble here and here because of this," that's criticism. "This is useless because I can't do this, or this, because of that," that's criticism too, and it should be considered. An intelligent creator, and intelligent bystanders of discourse, know(s) the difference, and welcomes negative feedback as being of the utmost value.

So we need to make a decision. Do we put on a happy face, and walk hand in hand to bring a "new age" of "old style" to the role-playing "masses?" Or do we just be who we are, and be selective, and picky, and honest, and risk the apathy of the general "just enjoy yourself, it doesn't matter how" crowd?

I don't think one of those choices are even possible. TSR had the advantage of, well, being TSR and gathering around the vision of one man (while kind of discarding the vision of another man along the way...). When that singular vision was clouded, the monolith started its long and slow fall. Now we're in the post-apocalyptic age, amongst the ruins, trying to put the monolith back up.

Sound pessimistic? Maybe. But I don't think we have anything to gain by being evangelical or putting up a false front of unity. We are who we are, and if we compromise that in the name of growth or acceptance... we might as well just go buy 4E. We're selling our passions to the common crowd either way.


(like this is some big academic essay or something)

See the elitist attitude running all through this post? It's intentional. It's not simply a matter of empty "stick it to the man" posturing and feeling like I'm better than "the humanoids" and all those people who I perceive as not engaging in critical thought. There's a reason behind it.

Any movement, any organization, any anything becomes more repressive as it gets bigger. Individual ideas are more difficult to be heard in a scene owned and operated by large public corporations, and anything inconveniencing those corporations are more easily squashed. Mob mentality is a real thing, and it can influence gaming preferences as well as the decision to lynch some poor fucker that doesn't deserve it. One person is usually reasonable. A large mass of people, not so much. These ideas influence every thought that I have. I think that power itself is unethical, and giving up individuality, in any way shape or form, for a common cause or common good is a great way to be marginalized by your own cause when your goals are achieved.

The best way to prevent this from happening is to question everything. Everything. (and listen when answers are given, will you?) Be critical!

Right now, you have the opportunity to make a difference. You can recruit new players, not into the movement, or into the style, but into your game, where you show, and not tell, all about your preferred style. You can publish an adventure and make it different than anything that there's ever been, and it'll gain a bit of notice just because there's not all that much in the way of new adventures out there. Everyone is just one good idea away from being someone.

And we're all creators here. Not consumers. Role-playing is a creative exercise on both sides of the screen. Everyone is constantly creating, and modifying, material for their own games. Even people who never post or publish a thing. Even those who publish for free and not for profit. This is a community of creators.

So up with criticism! Let your voice be heard! Demand that it be heard! And make it happen in a valuable way - don't be a cheerleader or a detractor! Do something!


  1. At the risk of sounding like a cheerleader, another excellent and articulate entry. I am usually loathe to read lengthy blog posts, but yours seem always worth reading.

    Of course, post apocolyptic reconstruction is possible and it doesn't require critical thought as much as it requires people to actually do something.

    I am not yet convinced that even the illusion of unity is not to be preferred over the consequences of true factionalism. Autonomous thought and unfettered freedom to create, sure, but all things in moderation (including advice about keeping your mouth shut).

    To find a road between extremes is difficult, but it is also the best way to avoid being blinded by the 'true way.'

  2. I am not yet convinced that even the illusion of unity is not to be preferred over the consequences of true factionalism.

    Unity is overrated. Seriously, if we had true unity, there'd be little need for criticism, since we'd all be agreeing and stagnating because of it. Dynamism grows from being exposed to the ideas of people who don't agree with you because they don't think like you do. There's inspiration and excitement in them thar hills, even if you do spend a lot of time ducking all the bullets the Hatfields and McCoys are flinging at each other.

    Speaking of criticism, James, I don't suppose we could talk you into using a slightly bigger font? The one you're using is just on the legible side of being comfortable to read for me.

    - Brian

  3. Here is the guy who wrote in Grognardia's Blog the postings about Free Software and Simulacrum.

    Unity or Critisism or Un-unity does not help us just because we don't have the materials which we can freely change to show that our critisism has some merit.

    What we want is to bring back the hobby to the days back as all the things were so easy that even playing _with_ rules was fun.
    What we want is to bring the attention to the players out there what the hobby meant in these old days. !Comfortable fun! I can only imagine Gygax sitting in a big room by the fireside with a cigar in hands and discussing rules, monsters, fantastic places and the actual adventure with his comrades. (This is the picture I have when I think of long forgotten days of roleplaying.)

    But for this we must have the freedom to change every rule text and every chapter and section to show what point of the critisism is. This "freedom" must include the freedom to post legally the changed text on the internet without thinking about "excluded from Open Content" or "included in Open Content".
    And then there will be naturally changes to these changes ad infinitum.

    If I look at many OGL books of the 3.0 and 3.5 era and cannot even see a SRD - a downloadable archive of the rules - I ask myself how can these things be "Open Content" if I don't have the freedom to get them "openly".

    But forget the commercial OGL books.

    We have to get the Simulacrum material out there. We have to show them that part of the hobby was to make your own rules and fluff out from that what was given to you.

    And for THIS ^^^ we should ... no we _must_ use the power of the Internet so that the material is getting copied more and more from player to player. (You know, if I suppose that copying OSRIC or LL or BFRPG is legal but on the Torrent networks I cannot even see a "private" torrent for these works but one and a half week later after release KoTS is to be found there you know _which_ material finds his way to the house of the players?)

    Use the (free) Internet and its power to get the word out there and show the gals and guys who "leech" the rulebooks where to discuss all the things about what they leeched just now. And tell them that leeching LL was legal and to freely admit in the forums that he leeched it just now and has some difficulties to understand how to play is no problem whatsoever.

  4. To finish up what I wrote above, the comfortable places to discuss al material we have already. K&K and Dragonsfoot are great forums.

    What we don't have, is material.

    Millions of character ideas, setting hooks (or even fully written settings) , adventures, rules modifications , more, More, MORE .. yeah baby give me. .. Ohhh


    But one thing can be our selling point. If all these materials are really free, to show, copy, play, distribute.

    Many people out there begin to get , to understand that free does not mean "cheap" quality wise. The Free Software movement had done a great work for this.
    THIS we can use to fill up the networks with our material, to show that the hobby does not mean to supprt an industry and that our hobby is fully independent of any industry. That everyone today has the tools and materials to produce what we would call "professional" material.

    The way to get the people to our hobby is open and we know now but the steps we have to do ourselfs


  5. Anything which results in commercial works being pirated, I am against, and I feel that people that do such things are criminals.

    My ideas involve using the current laws and licenses to do things completely in the open and exploring how we can do this without infringing on anyone's copyrights or trademarks.

    However, I don't believe that certain ideas (Strength, Dexterity, Armor Class, Hit Points, etc) are owned by anyone, so using these ideas doesn't contradict my viewpoints. I'm happy and amazed the OGL exists because it made several things possible, but I don't agree that people should pressured to make their own original content open. Hell, I don't even think that's even a good idea.

    more, More, MORE .. yeah baby give me. .. Ohhh

    Consume, consume, consume. Great attitude.

    I'm interested in more discussion of methods, for example this. I can do something with that. Other people's characters and settings? Don't really care. I've got my own.

  6. Anonymous:

    THIS we can use to fill up the networks with our material, to show that the hobby does not mean to supprt an industry and that our hobby is fully independent of any industry. That everyone today has the tools and materials to produce what we would call "professional" material.

    I'd be happy to flood the 'net with original settings, adventures, character ideas, etc. all for free.

    Are you willing to pay my rent while I do so?


    Then I don't have the time, sorry. And neither do the artists and editors I'd need to bring my work up to "professional" standards.

    Even Mr. Raggi needs to at least break even, and he's one of those large-hearted souls eager to get his work into the hands of others as cheaply as possible.

    - Brian

  7. > Consume, consume, consume. Great
    > attitude.

    I don't consume. Fuck that!
    I am a metal head just like you.

    I was speaking of methods to give material to the players out there freely and legally.

    Just like in the old days where the bands (I am speaking of underground death/trash/black metal) distributed their demo tapes freely between them and if you were in this "network" you got hundreds of demo tapes.

    But you then also give support to these bands then as a fan and supporter (by speaking about them, let your friends listen to the tapes)
    etc. I think you know what I mean.

    Taking and giving ... Without this commercial crap... Fuck that don't speak of me as I would be one those consumers out there. >:-|

    I want to build up a network

    A network of :
    a) players,
    b) their ideas - what everyone of them makes out of the material - ,
    c) documents with material freely shared - so that this network could be build up -,
    d) game groups - build up of these players in point a) -.

    This is what you all - the guys who blog and discuss at K&K and DF - want to build up for the hobby of old-school gaming. A network.

    But with the closed up material the network cannot start.

  8. > Are you willing to pay my rent while I do so?

    What do you want? really want?

    Don't we speak here to get a beginning of a grassroots-movement to the hobby?

    Don't we speak here to get a beginning of the new root of the hobby where it all began? In the living room (or maybe in the hobby room which is just nearby the kitchen)?

    Or ..

    .. do we speak here of a second WotC?

    Then, Sir , you are fully right.

    BUT if you really think that with these books around the Simalacrum movement you can even get one kiddie out there to buy so much that you can get your living from it
    I don't know .. don't really know if this is a good business model or biz basics , whatever.

    If you don't deliver your content - rules, worldds, onsters, etc. - to the Apple Iphone you are just OUT.
    For the kiddies out there.

    And the Simualcrum movement has not the man power, the marketing power and also not the founding money to get your contents to the modern media.

    there would be a way.

    Some years ago, many people laughed at us.
    They didn't take us seriously. They said the things we wrote were not good enough. Now our written things are all there.. In every medium.
    Without Free Software there would be no Internet..This blog we use now is Free Software. The programs that are behind this web-site program are Free Software.
    Now we are there.

    And you - the Simulacrum moveent - can alsobe there. Everywhere.
    You have to build it up from down under.

    First the network. Of players, material and game groups.

    Then one for one, there would be the call for better things - written words or modeled miniatures whatever - then the biz begings. But from down under.

    Ahh, I think I know what the rpoblem is.
    I cannot get the words togehter to discuss my ideas.

    ...Never mind...

  9. To me, "consuming" has nothing to do with the commercial element. Earlier in this decade, when my metal mag's circulation was at its height, I received hundreds and hundreds of albums for free, from record labels and publicists and bands wanting coverage.

    Sometimes I got 20 free albums in the mail in a single day.

    I think it actually damaged me and my ability to enjoy music. I thought it was my duty to listen to each album carefully and have an informed opinion and blah blah blah.

    I consumed, at no commercial expense. It was awful.

    These days, I've heard maybe 15 new releases so far, and maybe 5 of them have been released by labels. There's more that I want to hear, but my financial situation is shit right now. I could be a bastard and get them for free on the internet, but why? I'll enjoy what I have, get new things at a slower pace, and be able to enjoy each thing as it comes even more than I could if I ordered 5 CDs at a time.

    Nothing is ever truly free.

    (by speaking about them, let your friends listen to the tapes)

    This isn't support. Support is doing stuff like buying a ticket to a concert so a promoter/club thinks its worth their while to book the band, and others like them, again. Support is buying a T-shirt at the show so the band can afford gas to get to the next show. Support is buying their album so they can afford to record the next one.

    The next level of support is actually booking the gigs and releasing the albums, taking that risk so the band doesn't have to. (of course, this "support" always has strings attached...)

    "I like this and am going to tell my friends about it!" isn't really much of anything in and of itself. It's appreciated when someone does it, but to me "support" is something that allows activity to continue (I think a critical review does count here), not something that makes you feel good about what you've already done.

  10. Sure, these things you described are also in th support things. Buying and also selling some(if allowed, for example for a local underground death metal band "Kadath" I selled their demos because it was allowed for me by them), and also getting into the fan clubs and supporting these clubs (I was once in the fan clubs of Bolt Thrower but also in the Defenders of Steel (Manowar)).

    But I didn't want to bother you with listing all this things because I was and am sure you know these things - as you showed in your posting -.

    In the Simulacrum world the ways are different.
    The Simulacrum material should first have the summed up "worth" to get the real money to the real hands.

    And my thinking is with more hands writing, editing, laying out, drawing we can get better and better material which then summed up - in a book or on a cd(usb stick) - gathers the real money to the right hands. (AND I am not peaking up from my hands here. I just want to hack programs which support GMs,players and also the authors, to build up settings for the Simulacrum and I am dreaming up of 3D virtual models for characters and monsters - but the modeling skills I have not got yet- all these free for all)

    And my thinking is that we first need many, many more people in the Simulacrum world to build up more material.

    And lastly to get these many people I think we should use the power of the Internet and the Free Software movement.

  11. And I wanted to make clear that i the Metal scene there is a grass roots movement.
    For example the band "Kadath" had not T-shirts to sell until many, many years after I met them - and they existed some years already then -.

    I printed myself in a copy shop a shirt from the cover of their second demo. A friend of me saw this shirt and let me print another one for himself.
    So the first Kadath shirts came into existence.

    But with all this cluster-fuck of OGLs and other bullshit licenses which don't make clear what you are allowed and what not to use in your material
    I couldn't make a Kadath shirt.
    You know what I mean?

    On the one hand you all - I saw many postings already about this - whine and bitch that the name "Dungeons&Dragons" is not free to use but on the other hand all of you make clear that no one really knows what of your material is to use or not and so on.

    With this you cannot get a grass roots movement beginning if I don't know if i would get sued for printing a LL/OSRIC/BF T-shirt at a local copy shop and if a friend of me sees and likes it that I copy this shirt for him.

    (I know, I have to find a way , I must, to get my ideas in some condensed words. I see from all your answers that my ideas - what I want to say - are misunderstood.)

  12. Unity is overrated. Seriously, if we had true unity, there'd be little need for criticism, since we'd all be agreeing and stagnating because of it.

    Sure, I am not suggesting that, though. True factionalism undermines critical thought in the same way that autocracy does. The illusion of unity is not true unity at all, but the vague and intangible feeling that you are part of a group of like minded individuals. Yoshida Kenko put it better a few hundred years ago than I ever could:

    "It is a joyful thing indeed to hold intimate converse with a man after one’s own heart, chatting without reserve about things of interest or the fleeting topics of the world; but such, alas, are few and far between. Not that one desires a companion who will sit opposite and never utter a word in contradiction – one might as well be alone. Far better in hours of loneliness the company of one who, while he will listen with respect to your views, will disagree a little, and argue, saying “ Yes, that is so, but...,” or “For this reason such and such is the case.”
    And yet, with those who are not of the same way of thinking or are contentious, a man can only discuss things of passing interest, for the truth is that there must not be any wide gulf between bosom friends."

  13. Personally, I am not particularly enthusiastic about old school play in and of itself, but the fact that there are people who like it and develop new ideas (that I can use) is certainly a positive thing. So, I'll just say: Go on and spread the ideas however possible. Someone will refine them if they are worthy.