Trying to be Kind

I’m listening to the podcast, Trying to be Kind, a show in which a group of young, brilliant academics read and critique Tabletop RPG Design in Theory and Practice at the Forge by William J. White. 

It is a smart and scathing look at a book about a time in the hobby that I look back on fondly. It is a vivid reminder that when we are swimming in privilege to be aware of it and do better. The show’s title, the nervous laughter and the intense effort put forth to be constructive are all sobering examples of how far folks from marginalized communities feel like they have to go to tapdance around fragile, white, male egos.

I’m listening and I’m hoping that the show leads to (more critical readings of academic game design texts) a sequel tome in which these brilliant gamers get paid writing credits in a follow-up book, criticizing the book before it, taking a critical look at the Forge as a movement and looking to the future they envision us all creating for independent game design. Hearing smart folks discuss the game design community’s past and how we choose to remember is great; hearing them talk about the future and get paid doing it would be even cooler.

I’m shutting up, listening and not being defensive.

If you are a white dude who I know from that era, shush your face and have a listen. And everyone else should check the podcast out too. It is brilliant, funny and educational.

Good Night, Forge Part 2: the Dust Devils Gate

Way back when I used to sit on this hill in front of my house and talk with my buddy, Jim, about gaming. We’d talk all night about what made for a good session or a great campaign. We were geek alchemists trying to figure out how to turn an afternoon with our friends into gold. The ingredients were all there but we weren’t yet sure how to hit gold more often.

I could write about the conventional wisdoms we were wrestling with, about how system doesn’t matter or how the games we were playing weren’t supporting our play-styles but that doesn’t feel too important.

Flash forward ten years.

I wrote this funky thread about a mythological wild west and when I mused about which system to use, Matt chimed in and mentioned his cool game, Dust Devils. I played it with friends and it floored me, not because it was the perfect, be-all, end-all system that I would use forever-more but because the rules did things that made me uncomfortable as a gamer, things I was not used to games doing. I was fascinated and needed to know more.

I bought Sorcerer and a few other games but it was Sorcerer that stuck.

I went to Gen Con and wanted to let them know that I posted under the handle, Paka and loved their games but one of the hawker’s (I think it was Dave…maybe I just hope it was Dave) caught me while I was shyly browsing that big wooden book rack and  said, “What kind of games do you like?”

“I…I post…Pak…I like Dust Devils-”

“Westerns, huh? Vincent! Want to demo Dogs in the Vineyard?”

Vincent, even more shy, walked over, smiling nervously, “Sure. Would you like to sit down and see my game?”

“Sure! I post on the Forge and have never heard of this game…What is it about?” I didn’t know that Dogs was playtested in a hidden forum.

And I looked over a character sheet while Vincent talked and suddenly my son was stealing my money for whores and something about my brother and my wife and a gun and WHAT DO YOU DO!

“I ROLL TO HIT!” I picked up dice.

Vincent smiled. “Not so fast, here’s how it works.” He showed me how it worked. We pushed dice around a table. Relatives were shot and I was hooked.

I carried Dogs in the Vineyard in my bag for the rest of the convention, aching to play it but knowing that I needed some time to give it a read-through but I still carried it with me everywhere hoping that I’d get to play it somehow but did not get to it that weekend. What I did do is go back to the booth, track down Ron and properly introduce myself. He either shook my hand or hugged me or both and announced to everyone, “This is Judd, he posts as Paka! He plays our games!”

Folks cheered.

Ron and I sat down and he thanked me for playing his games. We talked about the Dictionary of Mu in its infancy and gaming and life and shit. I met people who became dear friends, who became dear friends to my already dear friends. I can’t stress how important that transition is, that shift from online name or handle, to a face, to a handshake, to a shared meal, to a phone call, to visits and friendship.

I went home and played Dogs in the Vineyard and wrote about it. That was my interaction with the Forge, talking about play in AP threads and seeing online acquaintanceship become friendship at cons. It has profoundly changed my life because, it turns out, meeting amazing people changes your life.

It turns out that while Jim and I were sitting on a hill in Wanamassa, New Jersey, other folks were on other hills trying to answer the same alchemical questions. We all came up with different answers but there were common threads and ingredients. Some of those questions became games.

Many of those conversations became friendships.

There were cool games too.

But the friendships, that is what the Forge independently published to me.

Thank you, Forge.

Good night, Forge.