Thursday, February 19, 2009

And Now a Whine (and a Rant)

I absolutely love writing this blog. I should think that was pretty obvious. Not even a year into its existence and I've already penned almost 550 entries and I don't foresee a slowdown anytime soon. The blog format is really well suited to my particular style of writing: the rambling essay. And, as I've said numerous times over the past eleven months, I am intensely gratified by the fact that I've found readers who enjoy what I've written and give me plenty of food for thought every day. I didn't begin this blog at the end of last March with any grand intentions. I only wanted an outlet for my ideas and opinions that I could share with, if I were lucky, a handful of likeminded people. That so many read my words and helped Grognardia blossom into something bigger than my original, modest goals is, frankly, humbling.

At times, though, it's also intensely frustrating. One would think, given the vast quantity of verbiage I've produced over the last year, that it'd be pretty easy to understand me and my perspectives on things. I've been very upfront about my personal gaming history, my influences, my likes and dislikes, and even my psychological quirks. I've also tried very hard -- not always successfully, I'll admit -- to qualify all my opinions so as to make it clear that I like X or I prefer Y. As I said, I know my zeal for my preferences sometimes gets the better of me and I've made a few pontifical statements here and there, but I think, in general, I'm actually pretty fair-minded and even-handed on most subjects. And when I am not able to be so, I say as much.

I never set myself up to be the Pope of Old School nor do I think we have any need of such. Yet, I regularly find myself treated in this fashion, usually by latter day Martin Luthers looking to demonstrate my theological incorrectness. I don't get this. I purposefully avoid most gaming forums, with a few very specific exceptions, precisely because I know where my preferences lie and I would rather discuss those preferences with others whose mindsets are broadly similar to my own rather than argue with people with whom I have little in common. The same goes for other blogs. I certainly don't go to places where, for example, 4e enthusiasts hang out and start telling them what idiots they are for liking that edition. Such an activity would gain me nothing and I can't abide incivility, which is exactly what I'd be exhibiting if I went over to ENWorld and started tons of threads about how 4e sucks or, worse yet, dropped in on someone else's threads and did the same.

For whatever reason, I seem to be a lightning rod for gamers who just want to be angry or contrary, because I happen to prefer older editions of Dungeons & Dragons. Whatever criticisms I have of modern editions of the game, I make here on my own little slice of the Web rather than on someone else's. I'm always open to genuine discussion and even debate, but I can't abide people who either, out of ignorance or malice, seem intent on misrepresenting my views. I know it takes time to get to know someone and understand them, but the great advantage of a blog like this one is that all my thoughts over the last eleven months are here for you to read at your leisure. If someone is willing to take the time to read even some of them, they'll quickly see that I'm not some fire-breathing prophet of doom and gloom who hasn't actually gamed since 1984 and just likes to look down his nose at "those damned kids today."

Like everyone, my opinions evolve over time and are subject to persuasion. Take the thief class, to cite one recent example. I started this blog convinced of the class's unsuitability. Now, thanks to the rational arguments of many people over many months, people who took the time to understand my concerns and not simply dismiss them as "fetishism" or "dogmatism," I've softened on the subject. If I were really as narrow-minded as the caricature of me would have it, shouldn't I have just covered my ears and anathematized anyone who dared speak against my Papal dicta?

I hope I can be forgiven for venting/ranting at this time. Yesterday, I read some things said about me elsewhere that demonstrated how poorly a lot of people actually understand me (and indeed old schoolers in general). Add to this some of the comments on my post about level titles, where I specifically said "I like level titles" and asked for "constructive criticism" on my lists and yet got "Level stupids are stupid" in addition to some excellent suggestions -- and my nerves are a bit frazzled. I actually have a decently thick skin for such nonsense, but, after a while, it can wear you down. I felt I needed to get this off my chest in a public fashion, so that if, over the next little while, I seem snippier or less tolerant than usual, you know why. Not that that will matter to the usual suspects, of course, but there it is.

Regular service resumes shortly.

80 comments:

  1. Well, I appreciate what you do, and it's led me to a new respect for a lot of old school design aspects that I had more or less dismissed back when I was 16 and thought I knew it all.

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  2. Agreed James. If you want to be destructive in your responses then do it on your own time, in your own space...don't sully everyone else's experience with your vitriol.

    There's a difference between civil discourse and condescending rebuke. If you're going to take the time to pen a response, then take the time to cool off first, and possibly grow up as well.

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  3. "Add to this some of the comments on my post about level titles, where I specifically said "I like level titles" and asked for "constructive criticism" on my lists and yet got "Level stupids are stupid" in addition to some excellent suggestions -- and my nerves are a bit frazzled."

    My "constructive criticism" as it were, was that I think Level Titles, as you were using them, make little sense because D&D is at least a pseudo-generic fantasy RPG but most of the titles you were suggesting were strongly tied to certain specific cultures/organizations. And, as other people have put it, it adds a degree of artificiality to level progression - does your character suddenly change the way he refers to himself because of a few extra experience points? In a more structured campaign setting where all characters belong to one institution or another, this would make sense (for example, Magic Users and Knights in Dragonlance). But for all PCs to have this, seems awkward to me.

    As for the rest...

    You are a professional RPG developer with a long and impressive career. You're well-educated, articulate, and make good arguments, even if I don't always agree with them. You've cranked out an impressive blog in a relatively short amount of time and attracted a very large and loyal bunch of readers.

    That being said (and I am trying very hard to be diplomatic here), if you are going to be this verbose and this popular, you are going to get people who disagree with you. I actually found it extraordinarily insulting to have your comment to my reply be nothing but a "1.", because I didn't say "Level Stupids are Stupid" - I formed (what I thought was) a cogent argument against them.

    If what you really want is just a little pocket of the internet where you and everyone who thinks like you can go and talk, then just go ahead and make this either an invite only blog or just set your comments up so they are moderated. I posted a quote off an anime message board a couple of weeks ago in my own blog about the way that message boards and blogs have allowed, rather than a diversity of opinions, a fracturing and isolation of opinions. I think this comment of yours is a perfect example of what the poster was talking about - using the power of blogs to not just limit the communities one involves themselves with on the Internet, but picking and choosing the individual people. To me, this is an exact 180 from what I see as being the great benefit of this technology.

    Grognardia is a good blog. I don't always agree with what you say here, and I try make an effort to be civil and constructive when I do make a comment (although I slip sometimes), even if I don't agree with you. But if all you want is to be left alone with people who'll just blandly agree with you, that's your prerogative.

    I just expected more from someone who has obviously done a lot over the last year to attract such a large following, and who has had a long and distinguished career in a very opinionated and vocal hobby.

    Feel free to just reply with a "1." to this comment, or ignore it altogether.

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  4. This exact thing is why I write the way I do. No matter how reasonable, well thought-out, and amicable someone is, there will be people out to intentionally misunderstand, pick a fight, respond with nastiness, and take great delight in getting under a pleasant person's skin.

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  5. Might I suggest a prominent "profile" or "manifesto" link, just below the title splash, that contains part of this rant? I imagine you get new readers all the time who respond to one post in isolation and don't take the (now quite long) time to read through your earlier posts to get a sense of who you are. When a comment comes at you out of left field from someone who doesn't know you at all, you can refer them to your profile and see if they come back with anything more apropos.

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  6. I am starting to wonder, James, what you consider to be a valid comment? I agree with badelaire...I hardly found what he said insulting...he simply disagreed with you. Is this verboten? I can understand you being against obviously vitriolic or abusive responses, but I found those in the level title entry to be neither. Bland agreement seems to me hardly something to strive for in this blog.

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  7. "Admit it! With his last breath, Gygax gave you the power to speak ex cathedra. All hail the new pope! Ftagn! Ftagn Yggdrasil THAC0!"

    *gargles the Old School Kool-Aid* ;)

    (Word Verification name: Trackwoo)

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  8. Well, for what it's worth, your blog has giving me a new found interest in Oe. In fact I had always considered anything pre-2nd ed. to be Oe!

    I enjoy your unique perspectives on gaming. And I never got the impression that you were the sole arbiter of everything that is D&D. You just laid out your own beliefs and experiences in gaming, and have done so very eloquently.

    I look forward to reading your blog every day.

    Cheers!

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  9. If someone is willing to take the time to read even some of them, they'll quickly see that I'm not some fire-breathing prophet of doom and gloom

    The problem is that sometime people do take the time to read, but never continue to watch as your thinking changes over time.

    You mentioned the thief as an example. If someone came by a few months back and read of your dislike for the thief class, yet never bothered to keep up to date on your posts, you're forever in their mind as the "old stick in the mud who thinks thieves are stupid."

    Unfortunately, the problem lies with them and there's little you can do to correct their initial impression.

    We spend far to much time as a race waiting for our turn to talk, rather than listening, thinking, and adjusting what we were about to say based on new information.

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  10. Huh. Assuming I was #3 of "I don't like level titles" I feel called out.

    I was here sipping my morning coffee, reading Grognardia, and decided to share my perspective on level titles without thinking much of it. My response was contrary to the post, and James, I guess you weren't asking for a discussion of level titles as much as some help with them. -That was a mistake on my part. Sorry about that. I'll do my best to keep critiques or contrary viewpoints to those posts that invite them.

    I really enjoy reading Grognardia and often recommend it to others. I regularly agree with your opinions/preferences, and in even when I don't, I find your perspectives to be well thought out and insightful.

    I apologize for getting into discussion of my personal tastes when such a discussion wasn't invited. That was a bit careless on my part. You were right to call me out.

    I think an occasional problem is that tone doesn't translate very well online. I didn't intend to sound snarky. Nevertheless, I'll try to be a bit more contientious in my future comments.

    If by chance I have offended, hear these words and all is mended?

    My bad.

    -Jimmy

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  11. Look, in a weird RPG-Blogger way... you're famous. People on the message boards know who you are and using your nom de blog is a shorthand way of referring to a certain set of old-schooler perspectives and ideas.

    Combine that with the D&D identity crisis the release of 4E seems to have instigated and the defensiveness exhibited by those who have embraced this new version of a game that rejects its own history, throw in the fact that both message boards and role playing are known far and wide for attracting a percentage of anti-social and argumentative personalities (present company excepted, of course :)), and you've got a perfect-storm recipe for a certain amount of good old fashioned 'net hostility coming your way.

    I'm not talking about the level-title brouhaha either, btw, but rather the turn certain message board threads have taken and the way "Grognard" gets thrown around as an archetype unto itself. You may not *want* to be the "Pope of Old School", but through your widely read, well-thought out and interesting articles on retro-gaming, you've attained that rank in the eyes of many. A certain amount of hostility will come your way as a result, that's just how the internet, and geeks, work. Thicken that skin up, your Holiness, and learn to skim the postings of morons.

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  12. As Sartre pointed out, once you put artwork or writing out into the world, it's ultimately out of your control how people will interpret it or respond to it.

    It's a hard thing to keep in mind sometimes; but I think James is doing a very good job of focusing his energy towards people who are receptive to his opinions and influences.

    I would even be supportive of possibly deleting some of the more off-topic comments from time to time.

    And I like OD&D level titles a whole lot.

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  13. My "constructive criticism" as it were, was that I think Level Titles, as you were using them, make little sense because D&D is at least a pseudo-generic fantasy RPG but most of the titles you were suggesting were strongly tied to certain specific cultures/organizations.

    Then we're going to have to disagree with what "constructive criticism" means. Most of the commenters understood it as I intended it: offer advice on how to make what I've done better, not tell me why what I've done is pointless.

    That being said (and I am trying very hard to be diplomatic here), if you are going to be this verbose and this popular, you are going to get people who disagree with you.

    My problem isn't with disagreement; it's with disregarding the purpose and intentions behind my posts and this blog in general. If someone takes exception to, say, my arguments against the inclusion of the Thief, I wouldn't expect him to do it by saying "Character classes are silly." That's what gets under my skin.

    I actually found it extraordinarily insulting to have your comment to my reply be nothing but a "1.", because I didn't say "Level Stupids are Stupid" - I formed (what I thought was) a cogent argument against them.

    In which case, I apologize for my reply. I certainly meant no offense, but, as I noted in this entry, a combination of comments and posts in various places has gotten me riled up and I'm far more snippy than usual. However, that's no excuse for bad behavior on my part.

    If what you really want is just a little pocket of the internet where you and everyone who thinks like you can go and talk, then just go ahead and make this either an invite only blog or just set your comments up so they are moderated.

    The thing is I don't want that. I actually do enjoy people who come from different backgrounds and perspectives who come and offer their points of view, however much they differ from mine. But what I do not want is a slew of people who play the stereotypical rude tourist and behave as if they own the place and can do whatever they like here without any regard for the blog's purpose and operating procedure.

    I think this comment of yours is a perfect example of what the poster was talking about - using the power of blogs to not just limit the communities one involves themselves with on the Internet, but picking and choosing the individual people.

    I say again: I expect people to take the time to understand the "culture" of this blog before they dive in and start commenting. Take any two old schoolers and you'll find lots of disagreements but our debates are all anchored in a common understanding. Many people who regularly come to this blog aren't by any stretch old schoolers and certainly don't agree with me, but they take the time to learn its ways, which earns them lots of goodwill from me. I'm not looking for bland agreement and if you've gotten that impression, I'm obviously not as good a writer as some would claim.

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  14. This exact thing is why I write the way I do.

    And it's why we love you, Jim.

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  15. Might I suggest a prominent "profile" or "manifesto" link, just below the title splash, that contains part of this rant?

    That might be a good idea, actually. Thanks for suggesting it.

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  16. Bland agreement seems to me hardly something to strive for in this blog.

    I don't think expecting that people respond to comments in the same spirit in which they were intended is striving for bland agreement. As I said in my reply to Badelaire above, if I say "I think the Thief class is terrible for X, Y, and Z reasons" and someone replies by saying, "You're wrong: character classes are silly," I don't think it's unreasonable to see that as detrimental to the original purpose of the discussion.

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  17. We spend far to much time as a race waiting for our turn to talk, rather than listening, thinking, and adjusting what we were about to say based on new information.

    I'm as guilty of that as anyone -- which is why I have my own blog :)

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  18. My bad.

    It's fine. Really.

    I'm sorry to have reacted so negatively to your comment, when I know it was well meant. I'm just at a point now where the number of people I get reading and commenting here daily has exploded and I'm trying very hard to keep up and maintain the blog's original purpose and focus. I enjoy it 95% of the time, but that 5% has been weighing more heavily on me of late and it's doing funny things to my temperament.

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  19. James, I'm sorry to hear that you've been made a target and truly hope that the you're not letting derisive comments get you down.

    I very much enjoy your blog, read it several times daily, and even have it bookmarked on my BlackBerry. That said, I occasionally send a jibe or two your way (or at other posters), but always in good-natured fun. I hope that the community here continues to allow that sort of camaraderie.

    For my part, I don't see the comments about not liking the level titles directed at you per se, or your aesthetic when it comes to gaming. I see it as part of the tapestry of views that makes up our community. However, I do think that some comments become rants in and of themselves. Either way, I think most of the commenters here mean well/are well behaved. I can't speak to the forums you cited (I avoid most of them as well). But it bodes well that your message has gotten out and caused a ripple in the continuum. That, I should think, is quite an accomplishment.

    /BTW, I never saw you as a 'pope', more of a John the Baptist!

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  20. Thicken that skin up, your Holiness, and learn to skim the postings of morons.

    I never thought of myself as thin-skinned, but perhaps my perception was wrong. Good advice.

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  21. /BTW, I never saw you as a 'pope', more of a John the Baptist!

    So I have a beheading in my future, do I?

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  22. "Then we're going to have to disagree with what "constructive criticism" means. Most of the commenters understood it as I intended it: offer advice on how to make what I've done better, not tell me why what I've done is pointless."

    All right then. My "advice" would be to avoid using Level Titles that explicitly refer to real-world cultures and organizations unless the characters within your classes belong to cultures and organizations that parallel those in the Real World where the terms are originating.

    I had hoped I'd gotten that across in the two times I said this, but I guess I need to brush up on my own writing skills in order to get my points across better.

    (When I was in school, I guess the emphasis in 'constructive criticism' was more the 'critic' part, as in "I am criticizing your thesis on the grounds that your rationale is faulty." not "Allow me to provide more meat to the argument I find faulty but don't want to belittle for fear of actively disagreeing with you". I guess the fault lies with my educational background...)

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  23. Your skin was probably thick enough for random message board quibbling, but now you're the goddamn Pope! You think he rides around in that bullet-proof cube for fun? And he's just the leader of a major world religion, nothing so controversial as a person who prefers one RPG over another.

    I don't usually do this, by the way, but here's very appropriate capcha word-

    Undic- the process of purging message boards of reactionary trolls. Holy god, do we need to undic rpg.net!

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  24. My "advice" would be to avoid using Level Titles that explicitly refer to real-world cultures and organizations unless the characters within your classes belong to cultures and organizations that parallel those in the Real World where the terms are originating.

    This was more or less what I was trying to get at as well (I'm "2.", I think), but the tone of my comment was a little off-color, and for that I apologize. I certainly did not intend to offend or to belittle your efforts (much :).

    (When I was in school, I guess the emphasis in 'constructive criticism' was more the 'critic' part, as in "I am criticizing your thesis on the grounds that your rationale is faulty." not "Allow me to provide more meat to the argument I find faulty but don't want to belittle for fear of actively disagreeing with you". I guess the fault lies with my educational background...)


    This is definitely the case for me as well. With a background in Critical Theory and a wife who is trained as a lawyer, I have a tendency to go for the jugular which I need to modify. I don't think I can avoid being a contrarian all the time, but I will endeavor to do so in a kinder, gentler fashion.

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  25. "'Level stupids are stupid...'"

    Was this really a direct quote? I must not have read that comment, because everything I read in the comments to the post in question seemed to be fairly civil and above the belt... Granted, it wasn't all useful in terms of what you were asking for, but it seemed to be acceptable, healthy discussion of the topic at hand.

    Did I miss something?

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  26. Although I think I masked my own feelings about level titles in my comment on the subject, I know I've been deliberately provocative (but hopefully not offensive) a couple times in the past. I think that some of the snarky comments are a weird form of respect. I don't know what it is, but I've often had the experience of wanting to wrassle with people whom I respect. Maybe it's about proving something, but it might also be about getting the admired person's attention.

    In other words, the problem is not that you're the Pope, but that you're the Grand Master of Flowers.

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  27. I don't know what it is, but I've often had the experience of wanting to wrassle with people whom I respect. Maybe it's about proving something, but it might also be about getting the admired person's attention.

    Not to keep saying, "Yeah, me too," but this (in a reverse sort of way) might subconsciously have played a part in the negative tone of my original comment. I appreciate your insights and agree with you on so many of the views which you've articulated that when you expressed a like for something for which I have so little regard, my first reaction was, "He can't possibly be serious."

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  28. That's the problem with internet discourse, people are generally fairly rude. We are all sometimes guilty of hiding behind the anonymity of our keyboards, and typing comments which would probably result in a fat lip if spoken face to face in my local pub!

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  29. Don't let 'em get you down man!
    I myself am guilty of posting many a reply that might not contribute to the conversation in any way other than tangential or absurd, and I hope that such things evoke a smile or are ignored.
    Some people do like to/are in the habit of/don't think there's anything wrong with baiting, being insulting etc...probably most don't intend to do this. I'd suggest just ignoring them, like most everyone else does who is interested in the conversation. Focus on them - or better yet, just keep writing!

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  30. James,

    Welcome to the Inter Tubes! :)

    P.S. I think of you more as a crazed Primitive Baptist preacher than a pope..

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  31. I think that this too shall pass since James M was willing to make his complaint open so we can discuss it and understand each other better.I think most folks, even on the internet, can be pretty reasonable, and once a dialog gets struck, work things out.

    That doesn't mean that people are perfect of course so there can be moments where someone's in a bad mood or sometimes comes across poorly.

    In the end, I've noticed that a blogs tone can help alot, and while Grognardia is opnionated, I've never felt any hostility and that's why I read it and that's why I comment.

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  32. I think the reason that you have seen such unexpected hostility from so many people out there derives from much more than people's attitudes about a game.

    Whether people are fully aware of this or not, this Blog is not just a rejection of 4E D and D. In many ways, it is a rejection of and a challenge to some of the most foundational ideological assumptions of consumer culture: namely that newer is always better, commodities always evolve according to a certain telos called progress, and that the value of any form of cultural production must be synomomous with its market value.

    To prefer an antiquated version of the game over its latest incarnation seems utterly nonsensical to someone whose lived reality is so completely and utterly structured by these assumptions that they experience them as thoroughly natural, normal, and unquestioned. By Blogging as you do, you are at some level saying to people that their version of reality is in fact just that, one posible version among many. Thats why they get so touchy.

    Keep up the good work.

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  33. I think most of the comments here are of very good quality, but if a few bad apples are getting you down, moderation is an option.

    Anyway, great blog, keep up the good work! :-)

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  34. I think you do a damn fine job. I write a surf blog and from time to time some shithead posts things like, "You're a kook. Go drown." Just ignore the people who make you mad. Delete their comments if you wish and focus on the comments that are helpful or make you think. I really enjoy your blog and hope you keep it up.
    Peace.
    Christian

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  35. done:
    "This is definitely the case for me as well. With a background in Critical Theory..."

    Critical Theory in the political sense is Deconstructionist by definition - it's about deconstructing and delegitimising the target. Therefore its techniques are obviously the opposite of constructive criticism. Of course "level titles are silly" isn't CT. "Level titles reveal the hegemonic racialist neo-liberal patriarchy inherent in the (rules) System" would be better... >:)

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  36. Ironbeard:
    "To prefer an antiquated version of the game over its latest incarnation seems utterly nonsensical to someone whose lived reality is so completely and utterly structured by these assumptions that they experience them as thoroughly natural, normal, and unquestioned. By Blogging as you do, you are at some level saying to people that their version of reality is in fact just that, one posible version among many. Thats why they get so touchy."

    Hmm, I think that's a very interesting and important point. I think I personally had to go through a process of mind-altering to cast off those progressivist assumptions and accept that sometimes the old conservative slogam "Progress means things get worse" is indeed true.

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  37. I disagree with Badelaire above.

    It has been said the Internet (and Internet discussion fora) have a great democratizing function, allowing disparate people to converse and discuss and, essentially, commune their way to actual, fruitful debate.

    Except the exact opposite is happening. Incivility has officially replaced intelligent discussion. Not completely, but enough to make participating in most open fora a potential quagmire of baseless opinion and emotional vomitus.

    The technology that could have aided and abetted a better democracy has devolved into a technology that produces anarchy.

    I have increasingly withdrawn from participating in online discussion for just this reason...mostly because I found myself being drawn into the singing, dancing, raging throng.

    For instance, yesterday's post on level titles...my first thought was "Dear God, those are awful." But I didn't type a word about it.

    Why? James liked them. It's his idea. I knew there would be others involved enough to provide useful feedback (which I might have been involved in doing about a year ago), but I also knew the discussion didn't need another naysayer clogging the creativity.

    And I think I only came to this conclusion after spending several years trying to teach college students how to write intelligently. Most of them seemed incapable of doing it. To use James's example, many of them think saying something like "Level are titles are stupid" is all that's needed in a reasonable, intelligent argument [of the rhetorical argumentation sort, not a screaming match]. This is the level of discourse for much of the USA now. No explanation. No consideration of the impact of their words. No consideration as to whether their unexplained opinion is even worthwhile. It's how they *feel*; ergo, it's worth expressing! Rational discussion is passe. And very few can do it anyway.

    I recommend selective deletion of nasty posts. If someone's post is eliminated they are offended, they have 2 choices: 1/ Go away, or 2/ Change the tone so they don't offend people. We can't change what people say about us elsewhere, but we most certainly have control bout what thy say about us in our own homes (or blogs, as the case may be).

    Sorry for the long-winded diatribe. I've been dwelling on this issue for quite some time and I hope my point of view is helpful.

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  38. Myth,

    To each his own. I don't actually thing this blog gets a lot of "This is stupid" traffic. If there are other people in other blogs/boards talking trash about Grognardia, well, that's what cranking out 550-ish posts in 11 months and being a "pillar of the community" will do to you.

    I don't think any of the three of us posters in the Titles column who disliked the idea were trying to kick sand into his face. If the official policy of Grognardia will now be "Don't post a comment if you aren't in agreement with XYZ", then so be it, but none of us were offensive - certainly not to the author, and "I think this isn't a good idea" is by no means is 'uncivil'.

    I guess in my mind, when you post "I like this for X reasons, what do other people think about it?", someone posting "I don't like that, because of A and B reasons." is not 'muddying the waters of creativity', at least if it's a valid argument. Once you put a subject up for debate, all bets are off. Saying "You can give me advice as long as you agree with my original statement" is really just asking for a bunch of fair-weather support.

    Again, I return to my original position - this blog is too big and too popular and cranks out too much content (this rant page will be off the front page and into 'Older Posts' in a week at best) for James to simply "ask nicely" for people to not be open and frank with their comments. He can either A) Make it an invite-only blog, B) moderate all the comments, or C) accept the fact that some people aren't going to accept his ideas and will be vocal about it.

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  39. When I was in school, I guess the emphasis in 'constructive criticism' was more the 'critic' part, as in "I am criticizing your thesis on the grounds that your rationale is faulty." not "Allow me to provide more meat to the argument I find faulty but don't want to belittle for fear of actively disagreeing with you".

    The thing is I wasn't making an argument one way or the other about level titles. I simply said I like them, plan on including them in my current campaign, and offered up possible lists of titles for criticism. In context, I assumed everyone understood I wasn't interested in arguments against using level titles at all, no matter how cogently presented.

    My issue wasn't with the fact that someone dared to disagree with me or my preferences, but that they did so in response to a post where the topic was something else entirely. Had the post been "Why level titles should never have been removed from D&D," I wouldn't have been bugged by this.

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  40. I certainly did not intend to offend or to belittle your efforts (much :).

    It's all good. As I hope I've made clear by now, these were just straws that broke the camel's back, so to speak. Under normal circumstances, I'd probably not have reacted as strongly, but I've had a week where I've seen my words and opinions distorted in a couple of places and it's made me more than a little touchy. So, I'm as much at fault in reacting as I did and likewise extend my apologies to you for having behaved as I did.

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  41. You know, part of the problem may be that this blog is serving too well a function you don't want it to. I really like your commenters, James, to the point that I'm often just as excited by the comments as the posts that inspire them. It's difficult not to think of this blog as a very purposefully directed forum which happens to be in your living room, rather than your living room itself. I honestly don't know where I'd go to find discussions of the character and quality that I see here - but as you said, your purpose in writing this blog is very expressly not to host a forum, not matter how civil and refined its participants.

    Not sure if this comment is a helpful one in any way, mostly just trying to explain to myself why comments 1, 2, and 3 struck me so very differently than they did the Pope^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H James.

    (Aside: how long do you think you can continue this blog before people become convinced that "grognard" is a back-formation from the title?)

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  42. Was this really a direct quote?

    No, that was me being hasty.

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  43. In other words, the problem is not that you're the Pope, but that you're the Grand Master of Flowers.

    High words of praise indeed!

    I do actually understand the kind of respect you mean. I have had several teachers in my life with whom I liked to intellectually "spar." I guess the difference is that, when I did so, I was the one doing the sparring and so understood innately what I was doing and why, whereas now I'm on the other end and I sometimes haven't a clue why people decide to challenge me as they do.

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  44. I appreciate your insights and agree with you on so many of the views which you've articulated that when you expressed a like for something for which I have so little regard, my first reaction was, "He can't possibly be serious."

    Fair enough. I think it was more the vehemence of your comment that ticked me off than the actual content of it. I'm one of those weird guys who cares about how things are said as much as what is said.

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  45. P.S. I think of you more as a crazed Primitive Baptist preacher than a pope..

    Then what am I going to do with this zuchetto I just bought?

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  46. @Ironbeard: Point taken, but I think "To prefer an antiquated version of the game over its latest incarnation seems utterly nonsensical to someone whose lived reality is so completely and utterly structured by these assumptions that they experience them as thoroughly natural, normal, and unquestioned." reads a bit extreme. What I mean, is I hope this isn't your basis for reading my occasional critiques of the old school. No doubt, you realize there's a lot of us middle-of-the-road folk that like us some old and like us some new. I assume you do. I've run across folk you speak of, but don't think many hang out here. BTW, I like the Rothko.

    All in all, I just think we ought to do our best to give people the benefit of the doubt. However, this is James' house, and we should make an effort to be respectful while we are in it. Personally, this rant served as a good wake up call for me. I think I got a bit too casual. -I started leaving my shoes on and grabbing stuff out of the fridge.


    BTW James, you're out of milk.

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  47. Whether people are fully aware of this or not, this Blog is not just a rejection of 4E D and D. In many ways, it is a rejection of and a challenge to some of the most foundational ideological assumptions of consumer culture: namely that newer is always better, commodities always evolve according to a certain telos called progress, and that the value of any form of cultural production must be synomomous with its market value.

    You may be right. I certainly am rather suspicious of "progress" and some of that probably slips into my writing. I can certainly see how that might set some people off.

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  48. Hmm, I think that's a very interesting and important point. I think I personally had to go through a process of mind-altering to cast off those progressivist assumptions and accept that sometimes the old conservative slogam "Progress means things get worse" is indeed true.

    I'm more of a Chestertonian myself: "The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of Conservatives is to prevent mistakes from being corrected." :)

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  49. For instance, yesterday's post on level titles...my first thought was "Dear God, those are awful." But I didn't type a word about it.

    Why? James liked them. It's his idea. I knew there would be others involved enough to provide useful feedback (which I might have been involved in doing about a year ago), but I also knew the discussion didn't need another naysayer clogging the creativity.


    And I sincerely appreciate this. I don't expect everyone to agree with 100% of what I write and I know that not every post I make is pure gold, but I do expect that people will selectively hold their tongues when the topic under discussion is something unimportant or uninteresting to them.

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  50. If the official policy of Grognardia will now be "Don't post a comment if you aren't in agreement with XYZ", then so be it, but none of us were offensive - certainly not to the author, and "I think this isn't a good idea" is by no means is 'uncivil'.

    The "official" policy, to the extent there is one is this: not everything is an invitation to debate. Some of my posts are invitations to debate, but many of them are just random musings and reminiscences and appeals for help from likeminded gamers. I hope it's not unreasonable to expect my readers to know the difference.

    That said, none of the posts that set me off were offensive, it's true. Had I not already been dealing with more genuinely offensive comments about me and the blog, I might not have been so thin-skinned. Again, I apologize for my over-reaction and mean it sincerely. I do hope, though, that people might start to understand that I am not in fact itching for a fight with every post I make. Sometimes I just want to geek out with the people who do me the honor of coming here every day.

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  51. I really like your commenters, James, to the point that I'm often just as excited by the comments as the posts that inspire them. It's difficult not to think of this blog as a very purposefully directed forum which happens to be in your living room, rather than your living room itself.

    I like my commenters too and have gained a lot of great insights from them over the months I've been doing this. I most emphatically don't want them to feel constrained in what they can and cannot say here. I only ask that people remember that I do this for fun, not to score debate points or gain cred with anybody. I do it because I love these old games and am having a blast playing them. All I ask in return is a modicum of respect for the idiosyncratic way I do things.

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  52. Personally, this rant served as a good wake up call for me. I think I got a bit too casual. -I started leaving my shoes on and grabbing stuff out of the fridge.

    What's mine is yours. Really. I'm very happy to share what little I have with anyone who comes by. I think, though, that I'd not have reacted so negatively had the various comments been phrased as something like, "Why do you like level titles?" or "Are you sure you want to add these back into your game? What do you gain by them?" That would have led to fruitful discussion, I think.

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  53. "I recommend selective deletion of nasty posts."

    Okay, now I know that I'm either really missing something - or, maybe, others are. I didn't see any "nasty posts" in the comments of the level titles post - certainly there was no nastiness among the comments that seemed to be singled out; simply statements that were not follow-ups to James' request in said post. (And, in all fairness, to open up a discussion with a request for "constructive criticism" about level titles seems hardly a good reason to be upset when a few people say, in a polite-if-direct manner, "I don't like them." I comment here assuming that James allows comments so that an open discussion can be had on the topics at hand. If the purpose for allowing comments is only to answer properly to direct questions, then I apologize for previous comments - and this one - that were not in direct response to the question asked. Rest assured: if this is indeed the case, I will not make this error again.)

    I would ask for clarification from James: Was the purpose of this whine/rant post to decry truly uncivil ("nasty") comments to the post in question? Because it seems to me, the greatest offense committed by Badelaire and the others who remarked of their dislike for level titles was not adhering to James' request - that hardly bespeaks of "incivility," IMHO.

    This all seems rather tempest in a teacup-ish. I'm sure most of us have seen some real flame wars - with truly "nasty posts" - and the comments following up the level titles post are nothing of the sort.

    But, again, maybe I'm missing something.

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  54. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  55. "Because it seems to me, the greatest offense committed by Badelaire and the others who remarked of their dislike for level titles was not adhering to James' request - that hardly bespeaks of "incivility," IMHO."

    Not to belabor the point, but I didn't just say I didn't like them - I tried to offer a "why" and a fix (making sure the titles for your levels aren't culturally jarring for your setting). If your game is very "Ancient Greece-ish" and you're using level titles that refer to a Christian-esque religious hierarchy, it's going to come across as awkward. Likewise using Fighter titles like "Sargent", or calling a magic-user a "Necromancer" if their character possesses no necromantic spells.

    And now I am belaboring the point, so I'll retire from this discussion.

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  56. This all seems rather tempest in a teacup-ish. I'm sure most of us have seen some real flame wars - with truly "nasty posts" - and the comments following up the level titles post are nothing of the sort.

    But, again, maybe I'm missing something.


    The only thing you're missing is the great secret of Grognardia: I do in fact delete posts from time to time, because there are some pretty nasty ones that get posted here. There aren't a lot of them at all, it's true, but they happen (I deleted a couple this week). Every one wears down my resolve a little bit and, when you join that with some similar behavior elsewhere, I hope I can be forgiven for being a little touchier than usual.

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  57. Perhaps this won't be very helpful, but what the heck, I'll give it a shot...

    I wrote for The Motley Fool for a few years (as well as Investopedia for a short while), and that sort of experience gives you an interesting insight into "the audience".

    Here I was, giving my best efforts analysis of companies, stocks, and investments, and the reward for my work was usually insults, accusations, and ad hominem attacks.

    Never mind the fact that I was often right and people would have made money (or lost less money) if they'd listened. Instead, they had their ego and identity wrapped up in their little view of the world ... and behaved rather savagely when that view was challenged (and god forbid you have actual facts and thorough analysis on your side).

    My point? The Internet "community" is filled with a-holes; people who might be generally tolerable in person, but who take the anonymity of the 'net and use it as a weapon and amplifier for their nastier traits.

    If you want to do this (and I hope you do, as I really enjoy reading it), you'll have to accept that the level of discourse isn't very civil in many cases.

    Is it fair? No. Is it right? No. Do you invite these people to come in and abuse you? No. But alas, that's how it often is.

    If there's any positive side to it, it's that in my experience you don't get a hostile reaction unless you've actually "done something" and shaken up the viewpoints of insecure people.

    So, in a very backhanded way, consider invective and nastiness as a sign that you're actually doing something that has some substance to it. After all, fluff won't offend ... but fluff isn't worth much and probably wasn't the point of you starting this.

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  58. I think it was more the vehemence of your comment that ticked me off than the actual content of it. I'm one of those weird guys who cares about how things are said as much as what is said.

    I'm one of those "weird guys" too, as anyone who knows me in a face-to-face setting would tell you. Unfortunately I'm beginning to think I am also one of those (all-too-common) people for whom the Internet is a medium that brings out the worst qualities. Sometimes I just let fly before I realize how it will come across. Once I re-read my comment and your "whine and rant" I regretted posting it, and a little self-examination revealed the reason to me... I had actually wanted to criticize your "Thelidu" post of a couple days earlier, but held back because it was clear that it was just your creation being offered up for perusal and that you weren't looking for critical feedback on it necessarily. So I guess I sublimated, if that's the word. Anyway, I someday hope to be fit for polite online society :).

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  59. "The only thing you're missing is the great secret of Grognardia: I do in fact delete posts from time to time, because there are some pretty nasty ones that get posted here."

    Ah-ha! So the cat's out of the bag, at last! ;) (Seriously, I wouldn't have expected anything else.)

    "...when you join that with some similar behavior elsewhere, I hope I can be forgiven for being a little touchier than usual."

    Perfectly acceptable, of course. (I can sympathize.)

    My concern (forgive me if this is selfish) is that the open, vibrant exchange of ideas that seem to spontaneously occur in the comments section of your posts is not squelched. There really is a lot of goodness herein; a fairly civil, good-humored exchange of ideas that is such a breath of fresh air. Even those comments that you find negative, others may find stimulating - not simply contentious, seeking debate, or contrary for the sake of contrariness.

    Whether you're aware of it or not, Grognardia has become a minor institution for many people (myself included) - you might perceive it as a personal vehicle, but I'm certain many others see it as a public forum to exchange points of view. (I imagine that its true nature sits somewhere in between those two positions.)

    Aside from personal attacks, or out-and-out rude comments, the discussions following your posts are - to me - often as invigorating as the posts themselves. IMHO, it would be a shame if this open dialogue were diminished.

    All said with a big: IMHO, YMMV, FWIW - you know: the usual acronymical discalimers. :)

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  60. Heh; as it goes, I don't use or like level title, but opted not to comment and simply provide some help as requested. The same is more or less true of the weapon type versus armour class table. I don't use them, but I find the idea interesting enough to spend some time trying to understand them and help out.

    This sounds like a situation where some respondents misunderstood the question, and on this occasion the person who asked for help had a moment of weakness and over reacted.

    As to criticism outside this small part of the internet, I agree with Fitzerman, toughen up. The world is full of jerks, especially on the internet. More worrying is perhaps the idea that you are being targeted as the "mouthpiece" of traditional adventure gaming, a worryinf Catholicisation.

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  61. My 2 cents:

    I read your blog just about every day, James. But I seldom read the comments. I mostly just enjoy reading your opinions.

    Keep up the good work! Someday you should collect your thoughts into a book. I'd buy it!

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  62. Keep fighting the power man! I'm not as old school as you (started in 84') and I'm playing 4e, but it's amazing how people can take one thing and try to make something else out of it.

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  63. So, in a very backhanded way, consider invective and nastiness as a sign that you're actually doing something that has some substance to it.

    That's certainly one way to spin this positively :)

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  64. Aside from personal attacks, or out-and-out rude comments, the discussions following your posts are - to me - often as invigorating as the posts themselves. IMHO, it would be a shame if this open dialogue were diminished.

    As I said, I don't intend to close down the comments or even moderate them in any real way beyond deleting the most offensive ones. It's just been a long week for me and was at the end of my tether. In retrospect, I should probably just have let it all roll off my back, as I usually do, but I'm only human.

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  65. This sounds like a situation where some respondents misunderstood the question, and on this occasion the person who asked for help had a moment of weakness and over reacted.

    That's a fair assessment of the situation, I think.

    More worrying is perhaps the idea that you are being targeted as the "mouthpiece" of traditional adventure gaming, a worryinf Catholicisation.

    I agree. I'm no more representative of the old school than anyone else playing these games. I'm just a lot more prolific in my commentary. I have no interest in being seen as anything more than another idiosyncratic gamer who talks too much.

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  66. I agree. I'm no more representative of the old school than anyone else playing these games. I'm just a lot more prolific in my commentary. I have no interest in being seen as anything more than another idiosyncratic gamer who talks too much.

    But the fact remains that you have a voice of the old school, and a popular one at that. In a way, that lends you some type of authority, or at the very least designates you as a target in some way.

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  67. Hear hear! James, I and my other buddies who came of age rolling twelve-sided dice in our parents' basements, listening to Rush, devour your blog and the nostalgia kick that it is, daily. Thanks for doing this, and please do persevere through the frustrations.

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  68. James:
    "My issue wasn't with the fact that someone dared to disagree with me or my preferences, but that they did so in response to a post where the topic was something else entirely. Had the post been "Why level titles should never have been removed from D&D," I wouldn't have been bugged by this."

    I'm surprised so many people can't seem to grasp the distinction between "Here's why I like level titles" (invitation to debate on merits of level titles) and "Here are my draft level titles - suggestions?" (invitation to suggest different level titles). Having read the "antis" posts, I don't think they were being insulting or abusive, but they were being rude by the standards of face to face conversation, which is the standard you should apply when commenting on somebody's blog. If you want unconstrained discussion, therpgsite is good.

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  69. I do think, James, that your problems are partly of your own making (only partly; there are lots of trolls and idiots on the internet, I know).

    You are the only blogger I know who regularly complains about the people who comment on your blog. It seems as if you expect your readers only to make comments you will approve of, which is an unreasonable expectation, and you are sometimes rude to people who hold different opinions to you, even on minor points. That's why, even though I read this blog more than any other, I rarely comment.

    Personally, I don't see anyone trolling or being abusive here. I always enjoy reading the comments, and I don't find the argumentative and off-topic comments any less enjoyable. I think trying to arrange things so that people's comments are always satisfactory to you is going to be an uphill struggle. It'll probably be less stressful to simply ignore the comments that annoy you.

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  70. Well who was it on that other board, let's go beat 'em up.

    I'm a naturally argumentative type, which I have consciously tried to modulate as I've read more of this blog, so I apologize for any residual friction there. And there have been plenty of times where my own opinion has been swayed, not just on the usual Grognardia subjects but the Dwimmermount material too. For example I was skeptical of Eld, but with later thought I've been veering towards stealing them.

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  71. Having read the "antis" posts, I don't think they were being insulting or abusive, but they were being rude by the standards of face to face conversation, which is the standard you should apply when commenting on somebody's blog. If you want unconstrained discussion, therpgsite is good.

    I think the problem lies in a difference of expectations. I've probably never articulated how I would like people to comport themselves beyond my own example and not everyone seems to share that perspective. I don't think I'm unreasonable in asking people to treat the blog like my living room and to behave as I typically do.

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  72. You are the only blogger I know who regularly complains about the people who comment on your blog.

    Regularly?

    It seems as if you expect your readers only to make comments you will approve of, which is an unreasonable expectation,

    I do expect my readers to comment only when they have something to say that adds to the topics raised by my posts. I don't expect them to agree with me, as anyone who participated in my past discussions of the Thief or ascending Armor Class should know. If that's unreasonable, so be it.

    and you are sometimes rude to people who hold different opinions to you, even on minor points

    I do? Other than Badelaire, I can't think of any commenters toward whom I've been intentionally rude and I apologized for having done so.

    I think trying to arrange things so that people's comments are always satisfactory to you is going to be an uphill struggle. It'll probably be less stressful to simply ignore the comments that annoy you.

    I would say that 98% of the comments here are, in both form and substance, exactly what I expect them to be. They are consonant with the tone I've set here and I am very happy that so many people recognize the approach I prefer. If that counts as "trying to arrange things," I can live with that.

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  73. I'm a naturally argumentative type, which I have consciously tried to modulate as I've read more of this blog, so I apologize for any residual friction there.

    I do appreciate the way you've altered your style of commenting to accommodate my preferences. That's really all I ask of people. For a handful of people, though, the principle of "When in Rome" doesn't apply and won't abide such attitudes. I'm not interested in having everyone agree with me on every subject, but I'm also not interested in knock-down, drag-out fights where every entry I post is an invitation to tell me why I'm mistaken. Most people here get that, or soon come to do so, but the tiny minority who don't just got under my skin this week.

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  74. I don't think I'm unreasonable in asking people to treat the blog like my living room and to behave as I typically do.

    Not to be unduly argumentative, but I think this might indeed be a little unreasonable, or at least the expectation that everyone will honor your wishes is. I don't think the analogy to a living room (a private spave) really holds up. Since the 'blog is public, it's more like standing up on a soapbox in the town square (blogspot.com). While even in that setting commenters "should" observe some degree of decorum, there are always going to be people wandering in and out of a public area, and some of them (and obviously I've been guilty of this once or twice) won't be able to resist trying to "shout down" the guy up on the soapbox (or conversely, shout "Amen, brother" in response to every statement).

    The only way to make it a living room (private) setting would be to make the 'blog by invitation only (like your home). You're dealing with a collective ("crowd") behavior situation here, not small group interaction.

    That having been said, I will endeavor to abide by your wishes.

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  75. The only way to make it a living room (private) setting would be to make the 'blog by invitation only (like your home). You're dealing with a collective ("crowd") behavior situation here, not small group interaction.

    You're almost certainly right. I've probably been spoiled by the fact that the vast majority of my readership instinctively understood my preferences and posts accordingly.

    That having been said, I will endeavor to abide by your wishes.

    That's all anyone can do. Thanks for being a good sport about it.

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  76. Actually, I don't feel like a very good sport. In fact I'm pretty embarrassed that I blithely ignored the point of the level titles post (I didn't misunderstand it, as a few posters speculated, though others might have). It's a little troubling to find that I'm a bit of a boor online; doesn't fit with my self-image, though I can be blunt at times. In this particular case I believe I was unconsciously trying to "get a rise" out of you, which I (in part) did (and now feel badly about). I think it must be your dispassionate style of presentation, which strikes me as a bit bloodless at times. It would never occur to me to make such a antagonistic comment on, say, LotFP blog, as he wears his emotions on his sleeve. In any case, I've come to the conclusion that blogs and other online venues aren't the place for me, and for your small part in helping me realize that I thank you. See, your "overreaction" wasn't a bad thing :).

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  77. Other takes on titles . . .
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/6924870.stm
    http://www.africanevents.com/UdumezeConfermentinUSA-2004.htm#oyiza's%20articles

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  78. Ironbeard hit the nail on the head. It's your confidence and clarity that is causing some people to get upset. It threatens their sense of who they are. "Wait a minute, Mr. Maliszewski, you're making me realize that 4e does indeed suck. NOOOOOOO!"

    I appreciate you demanding a high level of discourse and civility here.

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  79. I disagree with Done... a blog is not like the town square, which is a genuine public space. A blog isn't exactly your living room, where people can only enter by invitation, either. It's more like your lawn on a day where you're sitting on the porch, having a chat with some neighbors. People can walk up and join the conversation without express invitation, but you have both the authority and ability to kick them off for any reason or none at all. If you want people to drop by and chat with you and your friends, it's helpful to have a discreet sign about the house rules, but it's not required.

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