/r/poland and /r/polska

So there’s two polish subreddits. /r/poland is for english speakers while /r/polska for polish speakers. Now, based on the fact that Poland is more conservative on average than the US, you might assume that /r/polska would be on average more conservative than /r/poland, and you’d be exactly wrong.

Two parts to this phenomenon. First part is that /r/poland is used for 3 things, the first two being pretty tame and generic:
1 – “My great grandfather may have been Polish, can I get a Polish citizenship?”
2 – “I found an old photo of my Polish ancestors. What’s the number on the back mean in Polish?”

The answers are invariably: “no” and “that’s the year”, respectively. But the third thing it’s used for though is a steady stream of people from US/Europe who hate progressivism and see Poland in the news as this bastion of various phobias, and want to bond with that. And that swings all political discussion right of even average US reddit.

/r/polska on the other hand yes appeals to Polish internet users, but keep in mind that reddit isn’t that popular of a site in Poland. The actual average Polish internetter will use wykop.pl or w/e, and the people on reddit tend to be ones who work in tech and use it to network. And go figure, with greater access to the rest of the world you tend to go left of the average person in Poland.

That’s how you get subtle alt-right recruitment memes like this https://i.imgur.com/bMVyaNQ.png in /r/poland, which well, first of all lol at “bolchevism”, but also which probably overplays Poland’s role in global history a hair. The Soviet Union was not exactly in a state to conquer all of Europe in the 1920s when they lost the Russo-Polish war, and also the Ottomans werejust another player in the European power games and one who was being dragged down by overextension and massive internal corruption at the time, not exactly in a place to conquer Europe had they won at Vienna.

Or memes like this https://imgur.com/8Zq97Jk in /r/polska, which to translate real quick
1 – People dehumanizing each other has tragic consequences
2 – When people / GERMANS GERMANS
3 – THEY WERE GERMANS
4 – THEY’RE NOT PEOPLE THEY’RE GERMANS
which only really makes sense in context of mocking current right wing politics in Poland.

It’s genuinely fascinating to see these little cultures develop as people attract likeminded people to a group and the others leave, cause even like 5 years ago the Polish reddit was much more mixed politically but has now seen most the conservatives leave, and I think we’ll see something similar (except politically opposite) in /r/poland. Though not without that endless stream of “I want to travel to Poland. Do you guys use money?” questions.

Also, it’s crazy to me how sincere the right wing memes tend to be. It’s 2019, how can anyone really buy into exceptionalism?

How Youtube content-agnostic algorithm drove hate group recruitment

Ever wonder why the youtube algorithm is so big on pushing right wing conspiracies, hate videos, misogynistic “red pill” rants, and (seemingly inexplicably) ghost stories? Spoiler warning: it’s part of my “algorithms written by idiots destroy our world” series.

So pretend you are a team at youtube and are charged with making the algorithm that will recommend videos. Your goal is to maximize profit and show the most ads, which is a perfectly reasonable goal for youtube, a company that sells ads. You are also a gullible person who genuinely bought into the libertarian “everything should be content agnostic, speech must be free as an absolute, and everything can be separated from context”.

The methodology you take is simple: it turns out that while most people watch one video and leave, some smaller portion end up going on hours long youtube benders. Those people sell the most ads, so therefore the videos that those people like are best, because that’s the content that’s most liable to lead to long binges. Actual video content isn’t relevant here because, again, you’re a free speech believer and if you just be colorblind everything will be ok.

Let’s recap this point cause it’s important:
Mathematically the best videos are videos that lead to people watching for very long periods of time. Preferably hours. Ok.

What’s the result of this content agnostic approach? It turns out that in America the people most addicted to youtube are those without much else going on, probably dealing with some sort of isolation and depression, and most vulnerable to be preyed on by people ready to blame their troubles on “the others”. This is why the anti-women videos bubble up, this is why the right wing conspiracies bubble up, and outside America in a famous example this is why the pro-genocide videos came up in Myanmar. I actually don’t know why ghost videos came up there but that one doesn’t worry me as much. People like ghost videos.

And turns out that those things self-reinforce. People who feel isolated want videos that feed a hate, and videos that feed hate lead people to isolate themselves. So it works great in that regard: you’re selling ads using videos that create people that then go on to watch even more ads. It’s great for short term profit, and also why youtube has become such and incredible driver of recruitment for hate groups.

This came up cause youtube is finally admitting it has a problem and is claiming to be redoing the algorithm to try and bury hate content more. We’ll see how it goes, but at least they’re claiming to be doing something, as opposed to just patiently corpsplaining that free-speech is in and of itself both the absolute utopian goal and the only means to arrive at it.

So yeah, reiteration that hiding behind algorithms is always the wrongest thing that can be done, and deplatforming hate speech using actual human moderators is the only solution around it.

And to as a final footnote: I guess if you must hate someone and blame them for everything, hate ghosts. No one gets hurt and life goes on. Bonus, if you make videos about it you’ll get great algorithmic youtube rank.

SPEEDRUN

[CAMERA FADES IN ON A TEENAGER]
TEEN: “Hi, my name is Trayleb Wessen Smith, and I speedrun movies”

[TITLE FRAME: “MOVIE SPEEDRUNNERS”]

TRAYLEB: “I started, like everyone, speed running my favorite Disney films, then did some Harry Potters, but I’ve been recently been branching out and getting ready to speed run the Transformer franchise movies”

INTERVIEWER: “Are you good?”

TRAYLEB: “Yeah, I’m tied for a bunch of world records”

[NARRATOR: “Movie speed running is a major driver of traffic on popular streaming sites like frumpf, blarf, and burf”]

DIFFERENT TEENAGER FACING CAMERA: “Old people used to tell us ‘oh you can’t speedrun movies, you have to speedrun games’, but speed running has always been about doing the impossible. People used to think that you couldn’t beat mario brothers until speed runner did it, and now we’re showing them that yes, you can speed run movies”

[NARRATOR: This is Harry Griffindor Tetanus. He’s holder of many world records in 60’s war films]

HARRY: “People assume I have to speedrun Harry Potter cause of my name, but that’s just what my parents were into. Me and my sibling are all either named Harry or Potter.”

[NARRATOR: Harry and Trayleb will be competing for the first ever Transformers 2 speedrun at this years AMDQ, with proceeds going to charity]

TRAYLEB: “I have to say my fans really keep me going”

[CAMERA SHOWING HIS STREAM CHANNEL’S CHAT ROOM WITH LOTS OF PEOPLE POSTING BLURRY ANIMATED GIFS AT 10 PIXEL RESOLUTION. IT’S SCROLLING VERY QUICKLY]

TRAYLEB: “I’ve been practicing the Transformers movies a lot off-stream, and I think I have a really good shot at this”

INTERVIEWER: “You practice off stream?”

TRAYLEB: “Yeah, I stream my runs about 6-7 hours a day, but I also practice on my phone while going to bed or at school. This is my life.”

[NARRATOR: TRAYLEB IS A TOP 100 STREAMER AND MAKES HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS DOLLARS PER MONTH, MOSTLY FROM FAN DONATIONS AND HIS CORPORATE ENDORSEMENTS.]

TRAYLEB: “I’m sponsored by Colt Rifles and the Two Racist Guys Talk About Immigration podcast.”

HARRY: “Transformers 2 is a really bad movie. Sometimes I hate to speedrun it, but then again there’s a charm to the really bad movies. Like wow, these people really made this and released it. Maybe there’s something important to how they released a bad movie, you know?”

[INTERVIEWER NODS]

HARRY: “Like maybe you think bad is good and good is good too. Speedrunning teaches you a lot about yourself”

[CUT TO COMPETITION ROOM, HARRY AND TRAYLEB ARE ON SEPARATE COUCHES AND WATCHING DIFFERENT TVS. TRAYLEB IS WEARING A COLT RIFLE ON HIS BACK, HARRY IS EATING HAMDINGERS AND HOLDING THE CAN SO THAT THE LABEL FACES THE CAMERA. BOTH ARE 10 MINUTES INTO TRANSFORMERS 2. THE ROOM IS PACKED WITH FANS AND HUSHED]

INTERVIEWER FACING CAMERA, QUIETLY: “We are 10 minutes into the movie. This is extremely close. They’re both on World Record speeds”

[MONTAGE OF MOVIE RUNNING AND TRAYLEB AND HARRY WATCHING UNTIL BOTH MOVIES FINISH AT WHAT APPEARS TO BE THE SAME TIME]

LOUDSPEAKER: “Time! I’m excited to announce we have a world record!”

[CROWD SCREAMING]

LOUDSPEAKER: “Actually we have two world records!”

[CROWD SCREAMING LOUDER]

LOUDSPEAKER: “It’s a tie! Trayleb and Harry are both world record holders for Transformers 2]

[CROWD JUST UTTERLY LOSING IT]

[FADE TO BLACK, FADE IN, HARRY AND TRAYLEB BOTH AT AN AFTERPARTY]

INTERVIEWER: “Do you think movie speedrunning is the future?”
HARRY: “Yeah”
TRAYLEB: “I mean, yeah. Maybe people will find something else to speedrun later, I don’t know”
INTERVIEW: “Like books maybe?”
HARRY: “That’s dumb. Movies have an end, how can someone know they’ve finished a book?”
TRAYLEB: “I don’t know, people used to say you can’t speedrun a movie, so maybe they’ll find a way”
HARRY: “No, that’s stupid”

[BOTH HEAD OVER TO SNACK TABLE AND START LIVESTREAMS THANKING THEIR FANS]

FADE, CREDITS

Black Album

Ok let’s talk Metallica, let’s talk Black Album, and let’s talk the 90s.

Where are we coming from: before recording it Metallica is already a success and an “underground” one. What’s that mean? It means they sold 1.5m of their back catalog on just tours and word of mouth, have a Grammy (in fact the first ever Metal Performance one), and over a million of their last album (And Justice For All) sold from tours and a single video. 

They also hate that last album. They don’t play much of it live and generally think it’s a crap. Not just the infamous clipped/scooped sound of the instruments, though that too. They also hate the songwriting: the songs are too long, unwieldy, and don’t work live. 

As a solution they get the producer from Motley Crue’s “Dr Feelgood” and start what ends up being a long process of writing, recording, and producing a new album that’s supposed to fix all those things. An album that works live. There’s multiple books and movies on this process so feel free to go into a quick wiki-hole googling this, but the short version is the process is hellish. 3 of them get divorced, Hetfield’s mother dies of cancer after refusing treatment for religious reasons, and the band feuds with the producer and each other at every step. 

“The Black Album”, technically called Metallica, drops August 1991. The album was almost called “Don’t Tread On Me”, small fun fact. That’s why the “no step on snek” snake is on the cover.

It’s odd to try and pin where the sound comes from. It’s slower. The songs are shorter. There’s less power chords and more emphasis on note-driven riffs. 80s was ruled by thrash, by hair metal, and by Iron Maiden style hybrids. It’s not any of those. It feels like it kinda came from nowhere.

It goes on to sell 16+ million copies btw. Some websites said 30+ million. I have no idea. It sells a lot.

Part of this is Enter Sandman. Both as the single that pushes sales, but also as the reason why the sound is hard to qualify. The entire song is really just variations on a single melody that itself is just based on a 3 note sequence: E-A#-A. It’s got less unique different riff concepts in it as a composition than anything they’ve ever released, but also more variations on a single one. From memory I think that main hook has 8 different mutations throughout the song. 

The takeaway of all that is Metallica spent less time crafting riffs, and more time crafting songs.

People have made odd guesses for where the sound came from. Sometimes old Sabbath, sometimes the more radio friendly Judas Priest, sometimes slowed down version of Budgie, one person I read said Cathedral bless their heart. Those are all wrong though. 

Importantly, the album sounds new. There’s a sensation of finality to the 80s and a sense that this the beginning of something. It wasn’t, and this is an important note I’ll come back to.

Something else happens right around then. Nirvana’s Nevermind releases just a few days after the Black Album. The New Wave / Synthpop sound of the 80s is now over and Alternative has started. Squeezing under the bell is Seattle metal-grunge hybrid Alice In Chains, and there really is probably the closest approximation to the Black Album’s sound. They were note driven, heavy, slow, and with vocal hooks ready for radio. Their “Man In The Box” was in steady radio rotation as Metallica hit the studio. I bet you more than anything else this is where the sound really came from.

This isn’t a criticism mind you. It’s more of a setup to a question: how can an album that sells 16+m copies, combines past trends and what’s happening right now, and feels like it should define a decade be so uninfluential? Name a second album like it. Metallica certainly never did one. “Youthanasia” maybe. Later Alice in Chains, sorta. Rammstein kinda stumbled into it arriving from Die Krupps. If you’re willing to dig deeper maybe Corrosion Of Conformity, but you’re already outside mainstream success. No one followed this up.

Here’s some random online lists of “best metal albums” of the 90s: https://rateyourmusic.com/…/the_top_20_metal_albums_of_th…/mhttps://www.thoughtco.com/best-90s-heavy-metal-albums-17530…https://rateyourmusic.com/…/top_100_metal_albums_of_the_90s/ . Notice something? Every “Great Metal Album of the 90s” is piled at the edges before 1992 or after 1999. And the exceptions, though it’s not obvious, are stuff that wasn’t big at the time but influential after (mostly early black metal albums 1994-1997). So what happened? 

Part of it is that metal bands saw Nirvana and said “we have to play more straight chords” vs the Metallica mid-tempo riff thing, leading to some of the most objectively boring and least memorable albums in their respective catalogs. But part of it is completely summarized in one word, four letters: Korn. 

Korn’s self-titled was released 1994 and rapidly redefined the direction that everyone was moving in. Far simpler in tonality than the Black Album, using guitars 5 steps lower than traditional metal making everything before it sound tinny and dated, and (importantly) intentionally avoiding the term and trappings of metal, Korn, not Black Album, became the thing to follow. 

The Black Album is now an odd thing. It’s a 16+ million copy seller that no one admits to liking. In fact it’s the second best selling metal album of all time (after AC/DC’s Back In Black) that gets a only fraction of the respect of that one. It’s one that sold more copies than Nevermind and Korn’s Self Titled combined, yet had a fraction of influence. In a way, it’s the period full-stop of the sentence that started in 1970 with Black Sabbath’s Paranoid and said “this is what mainstream metal sounds like” right up to when metal was removed as a thing that’s relevant to mainstream interests.

It’s not the last metal album on the charts, or even on top of the charts (Slipknot went #1 off the top of my head), but it’s the last time a metal album did it at that scale.

Not to imply that metal as a music stopped evolving. There’s entire new sub-genres that have come up, blossomed, and ended since, but the point is that they are sub-genres. None of them broke into mainstream public consciousness. Metal has became a thousand things for a thousand people, and the Black Album is the last thing we all agree exists as an event, even if it’s just to say we hated it, then do our best “sad but true” James impression.

Metal

So we were at a show at Brick by Brick once and this guy started talking to us, just randomly telling us about his photography and whatnot, and out of nowhere goes “I saw the best ever metal shirt the other day” and I thought “Oh boy, here we go” but asked “Oh yeah? what was it?” and he goes “It was for this black metal band and on the back it just said YOU’RE IN THE WRONG PART OF THE FOREST MOTHERFUCKER” and I just remember thinking “… well shit. that is the best metal shirt isn’t it”

How To Win Every Game

A quick guide to winning every board game, in 3 parts: playing the rules, playing the game, and playing the opponent.

(Note that we won’t go into any stuff like cheating, deceiving, or being a bad sport, which frankly you shouldn’t do cause life is too short to be shitty).

Let’s assume it’s a game you know nothing about and you’re just learning it for the first time. You’re guaranteed to be introduced to the theme, turn sequence, and your available actions, and those are important, but before you start your first playthrough you should also make sure you know two other things: what are the victory conditions (all of them), and what are the game end triggers.

Ask for those early in the explanation, and frame the rest of the game rules in those terms to yourself. Those two things are the most important thing when learning a game because it puts everything else in context. Every action available to the player is to be understood in terms of “how does this get me closer to a winning position” and “how does it relate to the game ending”, and do note that those are quite often not the same thing.

Some games are ‘linear’, in that short term benefits are strongly tied to long term benefits. Trivial example would be Shoots and Ladders where moving farther is always good both short term and long term. These sort of games are very intuitive to learn: you take the best action for you at any point and don’t worry about things. Monopoly is a more interesting one where this still mostly applies: actions that earn you money and properties at good prices are both good in the short term, and generally good in the long term (with a caveat we’ll hit later).

Most newer games are intentionally not linear in this regard. A standard of modern design is that actions that are good short term are slightly orthogonal to actions that give you points and directly lead to you winning the game. I’ll give you a conceptual example first, then some board game examples.

Imagine a game where there’s only two actions possible. The first available action gives you 2 extra actions next turn, the second one gives you 1 point. If you invest in extra actions, the bonuses stack up: 1 action first turn, 2 next turn, 4 next, etc. Problem is that unless you actually use those actions to get points before the game is over, you’ll finish the game with a huge amount of possible points, but 0 actual ones.

Optimizing your strategy in this game isn’t particularly hard or complicated (or interesting). It comes down to the game end condition. Does the game end in a set number of turns? Then it’s just a math problem: double actions until last turn, then score points. Does the game end when a pool of 30 points runs out? Then it’s a tiny bit more interesting and depends on what your opponents are doing, but still essentially pretty simple. The important thing from this example is to understand that there are actions that make you stronger, and actions where you fall behind on potential strength, but get points, and they need to be balanced.

So famous example of this method: Dominion. Dominion has cards that give you options and more powers, and separately has scoring cards that slow you down, but are the only ones you win with. Balancing when you stop getting the first to buy the second is the point of the game.

This sounds easy, but the whole “make sure to get points” thing is easy to get wrong. Twilight Imperium comes to mind: a game where players get so obsessed with building their empire that they forget to go after scoring objectives. Or the slightly esoteric game Pax Porfiriana where being attacked gives you a type points, and trying to attack a player with the largest domain (giving them less power and options on their turn) might end up leading to them winning with those “I got attacked” points.

Btw, about 90% of euro games fall into a variation of that formula: “build engine to get more actions, then convert that engine into points at optimal moment”. That’s not a criticism.

= = =

Ok, so that was part 1: learning the rules. Let’s say you now know the rules to the theoretical game you’re leaning and want to start. Now let’s talk about the second part: playing the game.

The most important resource in every game you play is time. Chess players call it ‘tempo’, euro players call it ‘efficiency’ (and I’ll use that term cause it’s more generalized), but it really comes down to the fact that you only have so many actions to take in a game, and the fewer actions you spend getting to a position, the faster you can get to the next ones.

Efficiency comes down to the fact games are universally (I hesitate to say “universally” but I can’t think of any counterexamples and let’s be brave today) built to reward decisiveness. Moving, then taking back that move is almost always a bad play. You’ve let your opponent take two actions and gained nothing.

Next time you play a game, count how many actions you take. It’s often fewer than you think. Varies game to game obviously, but a lot of euros only have 7 to 12 actions per player in the whole game. A wasted one is a huge setback.

In board games, efficiency often comes down to getting more for each resource (and remember that your player turn is just another resource). If your choices are either get 1 ‘thing’ in a turn, or take two turns to get 3 ‘things’, the second is objectively better, all things being equal. This is often disguised as transactions or conversions in games. A famous example: Lords of Waterdeep hides this math in flavor text about heroes, quests, and gold coins, but in reality you’re just swapping cubes using formula cards (quests) trying to end up as close as possible to finishing the next quest in your hand.

The other half of efficiency is synergy. Synergy means using what you already have to get more out of each action. If you have a card that says “score 1 vp for blue things, and 2 vp for green things”, then you should obviously get green things when possible.

In most games, being very good at one or two things is better than being ok at all of them. Every turn where you get a tiny bit more mileage out of your actions than your opponents (have I mentioned that actions are the most important resource?) is a turn where you get further ahead on average.
There’s a huge caveat here, and that’s it’s never easy in practice to tell he efficiency of an action, and that’s really where the meat of learning a game lies. It’s hard to tell if you should specialize in scoring “blue things” or “green things” if you don’t know how many of them there are in a face down stack. After you play the game a few times you’ll be better able to guess at it, but at first you’re really just taking a wild guess at the distribution. Sometimes they’re even, sometimes they’re not despite it looking like they might be (like the bamboo colors in Takenoko: they are not evenly distributed).

Also, don’t get stuck only evaluating your position and not your opponents. Sometimes it’s worth taking an action or object just to make sure your opponent can’t get it. It might be worth 1 point to you, but if it’s worth 10 to your opponent, maybe that’s the right move so they have to take a different, less valuable thing. It doesn’t matter if you have a large score if your opponent has 1 more than you.

Quick note: almost all worker placement games have a “free move” where you just place a worker to score a single vp or get a single ‘coin’. Almost always avoid those unless you have to. They are very rarely the efficient action.

Oh I mentioned that we’ll have a Monopoly caveat so let’s do it now: Monopoly is really big on synergy, and weighing synergy vs efficiency is huge. Yes, it’s usually good to trade 1 thing for someone else’s 2 things of similar value, but value is relative, and if it lets them complete a monopoly then that trade is a terrible one. Usually.

So in general for summing part two: avoid partway moves or slow moves, and look for actions that get bonuses from what you already have. This is the key to being intermediate at every game you play.

= = =

So you got the first two parts: you got the rules, and you got the hang of playing the game and are now comfortably ok at it, the final step is to realize that you’re playing against people and play to beat them by making them play inefficiently.

The fundamental here is that humans are driven by anxiety more than anything else. This applies to everything, not just board games, and it’s funny that I’m burying it this deep in a post, but there you go. Huge takeaway for predicting people: we are all driven by some type of anxiety.

We are biologically biased very strongly to incorrectly perceiving our position of power compared to a different person, and even more strongly biased to incorrectly weigh how they’ll perceive our actions. The famous example of this are escalating feuds where one side’s “proportional response to their escalation” is taken as a “dramatic escalation to our measured response”, leading to inevitable worsening of the feud. A joke becomes insult, becomes a threat, becomes a shove, becomes a punch, etc.

The point of causing the anxiety is to make your opponent play inefficiently. This is pretty intuitive in games that include direct confrontation: massing forces at someone’s border is supposed to make them stop what they’re doing, fall behind on executing their plan (remember, the plan is always to play efficiently towards getting to a game end condition where you have the winning score), and instead try and defend that border. But this principle is not limited to confrontational games, in a worker placement if you play such that a resource they need in the game appears at risk of running out, they might be tricked into acquiring it inefficiently now, instead of efficiently in 3 turns.

The art of this unfortunately comes down to the fact that every person is anxious in a different way. Some people think allowing a bluff go uncalled makes them weak and over-exert in stopping threats, others assume that no one should call a bluff if you can’t be sure you’ll win, and as so let them go by unchallenged and just give up on that portion of a game.

Going into the various types of player personalities is definitely outside the scope of this already far longer than anyone will read post, but in general the universal advice for this third part is “play a tiny bit more aggressively than you usually do”. Because of the disproportional perception, you’re going to get more mileage out of it than you think. We are creatures driven irrationally by anxiety, with our rational efficient mind desperately trying to keep reigns and guide the horses on the road.

But in general, mastering a game comes down to being able to perceive bluffs (moves that are inefficient but are trying to make us play even more inefficiently) vs actual attacks that must be responded to. Picture trying to jump onto someone’s city in Carcassonne. An expert will react differently because they know the odds of you drawing the tile you need, and if it’s high they’ll know they should consider defending, while if it’s low, it’s probably best to just ignore it and play somewhere else.

Flipside to this is also (the much easier said than done) stay calm. An attack is just another move in a game and your reaction should be as normal: will countering help me get efficiently to my end game condition goal? There’s nothing special about a move that attacks you. It’s just another board state transition. Respond as normal.

Anxiety is always there waiting to drive us if we’re not careful. There’s a reason why the feigned retreat is the single most successful strategy in the history of conflict on the planet. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s the principle of showing up to a fight, attacking, soon after running away in a fake panic, and once your opponent breaks rank to chase you, turning around and hitting them from an ambush. It’s been used as far back as recorded history goes, and remarkably successful, often multiple times against people who really should have learned to recognize it as some point.

The feigned retreat works because you are providing a perceived release from anxiety: “we’re not in a pitched battle where I might die, we’ve actually won and this is just a mop op”. We want this to be true. We’re willing to abandon a lot of our cognitive understanding for it to be true.

So anyways, I suppose I should do a sum up so it’s a bit more essay-y and a bit less ranty, so yeah, to win more:

  • learn the rules, especially the how you win and how you end the game
  • concentrate on playing decisively and efficiently
  • make the other person anxious so that they don’t play decisively and efficiently

Storytelling

My hot take opinion that makes me a persona non-grata in any tabletop GM forum is that world-building is almost completely a waste of time. Before the mods ban me, hear me out one moment.

The player experience is linear. Looking back on the campaign, the party’s history will be a time line of where they went, snaking their way around the game world. The players don’t interact with the whole kingdom, not directly, they interact with the objects around them that they’re seeing. If a town is never visited by the players, any details of that town are wasted. That’s time you could have used to add more touches to the parts that they actually saw. A map isn’t a world to the players, it’s a tool in order to optimize one part of a task: how to move from point A to point B and continue their personal timeline and personal goals. To them the game is a series of vignettes. Make those interesting.

Not saying that you should GM in a vacuum. Just that a town that’s not visited can be completely summed up by “they export horses and are loyal to the crown”. You don’t need to draw it or add anything else. On the other hand, if you know the players are about to enter the town next session, do get all the details out. What are the inns called cause you’ll probably need that? What’s an interesting fact about each one? What’s an interesting patron they can talk to in each one? Two dwarf actors are furious that they didn’t get paid and are fuming at the table just looking for an excuse to get in a fist fight. A farmer is trying to sell a goat and suspiciously low prices. There’s a cheese eating contest but holy moly that cheese looks gross. Great, now all 3 inns have something worth talking about. Any cool shops? There should be at least one. Doesn’t need to be a rare magical item, it could just be a guy who sells beautiful painted eggs and a weird egg-yolk based liquor. That’d work, that’s memorable and gives an idea about the local culture: make a note, this town is good chicken farming country. Anyone you already know they player are meeting? If so, what do those people want and what are they willing to give up to get it? What do those people not know and would learning that information change their minds? You never know what the players might bring up in conversation. Now how about the town proper: what interesting gossip circulating? Who needs help in the town right now? Any unsolved crimes? How about unjust laws making the people angry? Eccentric piece of lore? Near forgotten minor religion still going? You don’t need to know the ins and outs of everything. Leave the detail of whether the religion is good or bad for now. It exists. If they investigate, we’ll figure it out. Another simple example, you could say: “the well has a weird smell to it as you pass by”. Leave it at that for now. If the players investigate long term, you’ll have to figure out why it has a smell (quite possibly on the fly). If they don’t, don’t worry about it. Do make a note though for yourself. If the players come back 2 months later, that well is still stinky. This time you can’t just say “you find more of the cheese in there” or “a creepy goat creature is standing in the low water hissing at you” (depending on which inn the players went to). Both of those are “oh, mystery closed, let’s move on”. No, this time it should be a bit more important since it happened twice. Now there’s a weird artifact in there and it’s releasing foul steam. But who put it there? What does the steam do? Don’t worry if you don’t know, if the players investigate, you’ll all figure it out together.

Everything should have an interesting thing about it, if the players choose to look for it. And I mean everything. What makes a game world a breathing living thing is countless details like that, not a full street map you can look at behind the GM screen.

Another example: I don’t use “roll to see if you find traps” and on find follow up with “oh there’s holes in the wall, probably an arrow trap” for instance. If there’s an arrow trap, I will tell you that the brickwork on one wall is particularly shoddy with gaps in the mortar. The reason as a player you might not notice is cause I’m also telling you that there’s a beautiful mechanical skylight that’s creating intricate moving patterns on the floor, almost but not quite like the movement of the planets, there’s an artificial waterfall on the wall opposite you, and you briefly hear rapidly receding footsteps from the hallway up ahead. Now that trap is up to the players: did you remember the shoddy brick work that leaves suspicious gaps between the bricks? Do you take a moment to look at those swirling floor patterns that are hiding the pressure trigger? If not and you were too busy thinking about the the solar system part, or maybe you’re worried about footsteps and trying to chase the stepper, then the trap goes off. But if you did catch it though and you said “wait a minute, what’s up with that weird wall, everything else so far had nicely smoothed stone right?”, that’ll much more memorable than “you beat a 16, you find the trap”.

And that’s the part that matters. Memorable.

Goes without saying that I’m a “storyteller GM” vs a “hack-and-slash GM”, which I hope you can now see goes deeper than just “write meaningful NPCs”. Real world example that gives heart palpitations to H&S style GMs: if a dungeon looks like it’s just barely too long for a session, I will either shorten it to make it fit in the usual time span (less if my players look tired, more if we’re kicking along especially great), removing a few rooms or simplifying an encounter by having the bad guys immediately run away, or alternatively write a whole new wing with some more narrative to make stretch out into the full next session. It’s awkward to leave something just barely unsolved and then finish it 30 minutes into next game, so either of those two options is a better use of my players time, and a challenge for me to think on the fly and not violate any common architectural principles while I’m at it. What matters is their experience, not the dungeon that I created earlier.

A topic I touched on earlier but I want to expand cause it’s so important: you don’t need to know everything up front as GM. World building shouldn’t happen before hand, it should happen based on what the players made important. Feel free to set up a hook and not explain it to yourself until the world story advances further and players run across it. Last campaign one thing I decided right at the start was that “there’s a legend that talks about 4 people, but in reality there were 5”. I didn’t pre-plan how that happened, I didn’t even know for sure which of the 5 was the one who’s no longer remembered, just that that was the case. As the game ran on, about halfway through I finally figured out what happened: the fifth legendary figure wanted to undo his actions from a pivotal day and stole great power from the demon prince of forgetting in order to erase himself from the people’s memories. Could I have come up with that 6 months in advance? Maybe. But it’s possible whatever I pre-wrote ended up not being the direction the players go, and either it would have felt tacked on, or I’d be forced to railroad my players to that the story could unfurl. In practice by the time that question came around the idea of who was and wasn’t there that day in the legend became important, the demon prince of the forgotten was a force the players interacted with, and the concept of karma, consequence, and the relationship between power and accepting your past actions was pivotal to the campaign. I had a good deal many other such (originally minor) hooks, some of them became important, some of them just fell by the wayside.

Btw, my other hot take is that miniatures detract from combat. That goes over about as well.

Another couple random tips while I’m already past what anyone else will ever read: don’t just stop world building, but also don’t write plot. I mean, not grand master plot one year in advance up front sort of plot. Instead write a big problem or crisis, something that puts the world severely out of balance, then populate the world with interesting, powerful, good intentioned but flawed people, have them try to solve the problem little by little each session while the players interact with them. At the end of the session write notes to yourself as to what’s happening. Interactive story telling. “The players help guide the story without knowing they’re doing it”, not “the players allow you to tell the story you already want to tell”.

Do the players really like (or really hate) an NPC? Let’s make something important happen to that person. Players think a weird religious cult is awfully suspicious? Well, now they’re right, it is suspicious. Maybe that NPC has something to do with it. Figure out what it is for next session.

Alright, so there’s exceptions to those anti-world building rules, and it wouldn’t be a proper nerd post without going into minutia and rules lawyering, so let’s dive into the weeds for one paragraph. One exception to the world build rule is the current One Ring game that definitely requires maps because route planning is critical to the player experience (similar to how much of a role it played in the LotR books, which are essentially just story about how to best go from point A to point B for 1800 pages). Games that emphesize survival elements, doubly so those that exist in modern or high technology settings where maps are expected, (Twilight 2000 for instance) also benefit from a 2d, map heavy approach. The players risk vs consequence planning decisions matter more in those. Flipside, games that don’t accentuate survival elements probably don’t need it, even if it’s future. Shadowrun or Starfinder all don’t need that stuff. They’re all also pseudo-sci fi, more like a fantasy world with uzis and/or lasers but that’s neither here nor there. Not a criticism, all 3 are great. But they’re no T2000 or Eclipse Phase.

Oh. And one last thing and the most important single tip I give GMs when they start: never, ever do the awkward first meeting session. Always start things on day 1 “you guys know and trust each other”. If a new player joins, start with “you guys all know each other from way back and trust each other”. Anything else is always super awkward and often borders on in-game bullying.

Power After Fragmentation

Trump isn’t to blame for the rise of nationalist and parafascist violence in America. The rise would be happening anyways and is happening across other nations that don’t have a Trump.

Trump isn’t helping, this isn’t an apologia. But he’s a halfwit on the wind, attempting to get the most personal praise he can from the most people around him. This post isn’t about that.

The real question is why is this happening in Brazil (where they’re about to elect one into power later today), and Hungary, and France, and Germany, and Poland, and the Philippines, and Myanmar, and other places.

It’s not migrants (though it’s being used as a catalyst). If that wasn’t the reason they give, there would be something else, like the “drug dealers” of the Philippines, or the Rohingya minority in Myanmar, or basically everything that isn’t Catholic and military in Brazil.

So let’s talk about the only real issue, let’s talk about power.

Power isn’t just armed cops with “The State” written on the body armor. Most of the power that actually controls us is simply judgement of our peers. We don’t do things that our peers would shame us for, for whatever our social group is. The details vary wildly (compare a church picnic and a sport fan bbq) but there’s giant swaths of stuff that they’d agree on implicitly: don’t steal food, don’t be a dick to the people there, things that we take for granted but really shouldn’t.

There used to be an implicit power that enforced a moderation. It came from a cultural monopoly that was forced on everyone through television. There was a fear of being nationalist, there was a fear of advocating violence, and that came from it being a taboo in people’s social groups. The TV didn’t make that possible and therefore it was an outsiders opinion. The internet is changing that by redefining our social groups.

Not that the TV monoculture was an absolute good. In limiting violent conversation we also prevented any meaningful discussion that those higher up didn’t want us to have, like questioning the action of government. The internet makes that possible, but removes any power from those criticisms. Our protests are becoming performative, not meaningful and coming from a place that threatens a consequence. I’m jumping ahead though, I’ll come back to this point.

It’s important that the bomber and the shooter from earlier this week both had right wing social media presence. Those right wing sites are their peer groups. They are detached from the implicit power of most of society, because most of society out there isn’t their peers but an other, and therefore their shaming is meaningless.

As these microsocieties of online acquaintances form, it pulls power away from the voice of moderation. You can call it privilege if you want: moderates and progressives used to have privilege by being able to define some terms of the debate, and they’re losing that privilege as people no longer care.

Picture having a person tell you a racist joke and you responding “that’s not ok, that’s super racist”. If you speak from position of power, the response will be “you’re right, sorry”, but if you don’t, it’ll be “yes of course, so what”. Picture the latter, now what indeed. That’s powerlessness.

My thing of it was talking to people about the separation of children at the border and realizing that I have no response to “it’s good to take children from their parents if they’re not white” because there is no meaningful response to it other than “no it’s bad”. You can’t teach an adult ethics. That’s my point of powerlessness.

This is part of the reason why deplatforming, firing, and other anti-fascist actions are so important: they are an extension of power. That’s also why the various “nazi crying after getting fired” memes have such viral potential: it shows a breakdown between their social group and reality and it implies that our privilege does still exist here and there.

In other words, I suppose this is another variation on the “the internet is killing us” meme, except in this case more literally. We’re undoing the monoculture that TV brought and reverting to little pockets of hate, except instead of being created by geographical isolation, they’re self selected. Facebook (and social media) use is directly tied to rise in violence, here, in Germany, in Myanmar, and while I haven’t seen a study for Brazil, I bet there too.

I’ve seen the future, and it’s small pockets of hate egging each other on until the most radicalized snap and murder, repeating until the replacement of social media with something worse, or forever, whichever comes first.

Anxiety

There’s a meme in Europe that Americans are by definition scared, which greatly offends Americans I assume cause they connote “scared” to “cowardly”.

I think it’s just a translation error. The word shouldn’t be “scared” but “anxious”. The state of Americans is the state of never ending anxiety.

One half of it is America champions self-reliance as the ultimate virtue, but we know instinctively that self-reliance only works as long as you are awake, ready, and able to handle the thing that’s about to happen.

The other is the flip-side of the notion that “anyone can pull themselves up in society”: that anyone can be pulled back down just as easily.

Hence the anxiety.

From the first half: the suggestion that the only way, as a society, to deal with gun death is to arm every person is absurdist in Europe and ‘common-sense’ to a lot of America. The anxiety involved isn’t broached, and the fact that “every person should approach every moment as if they’re in a war zone” is an impossible condition over the long term is usually also left unsaid.

This is spread throughout the culture: health insurance should be revokable, employment should be at-will and we should be fired for any reason, and if our employer wants to sell the company and fire everyone, that should be their right too.

From the second half we get the hostility. The belief that social movement is easy, no matter how incredibly wrong, runs deep through Americans. That means that to many Americans one’s place in society has to be defended, strongly and decisively, or else one will end up losing it.

If you’re not treated correctly, in your opinion, you need to do something about it. If you think someone is rude to you, you have to be ruder back or else this will be your new position to others.

That’s what’s happening with the current trend of what twitter dubbed “white caller crime”, where (anxious, goes without saying) white people call the cops on minorities who happen to occupy space near them. The white person in question believes themselves better than the minority, and as such sees their social status dropping simply being around someone they see as lower class.

There is no solution to this I think. It’s more wealth efficient to live under this governance, wealth leads to military power, and military power decides under what governance your neighbors have to live. This is who we are until climate change gets us.

As a parting tangent, it’s fascinating to me to see Instagram “trendsetter” posts that are nothing but pristine spaces devoid of people other than the one in the shot. We have turned calm into a pornography, something one only experiences in aspirational fantasy.

And frankly I wouldn’t be surprised if we start treating calm with the same disdain we treat porn. One always leans into one’s abuse eventually.

Cory Doctorow and Alex Jones

Cory Doctorow is Alex Jones for the left.

Stay with me, this isn’t hot-take as it looks right now.

Rage is a valuable meta-currency. Attention is money, and rage is the method to get that attention. Cory Doctorow is a business owner, speaker, “blogger”, “sci-fi writer”, “advocate”, and a master at aggregating attention. His website takes interesting things from the internet, puts a snarky one line at top, and publishes it. Think one of those @dora type retweet accounts, except for the news. It’s quite popular.

He’s an influencer for the generation that’s too old and smart for influencers. His life is a carefully curated and well balanced meal of heart warming kittens, uplifting stories of people overcoming difficulties in order to achieve middle class mediocrity, and endless endless rage at white inconvenience.

What are the most important problems of the world right now? Lucky us, he just gave a talk so I can pass it on. Picture him standing there, slightly short but with good poise, shaved head that admits a baldness but accepts it with grace, the indie rocker’s black rim glasses: chic yet vulnerable, the common man’s pants and shirt but with designer jacket before we all deserve to treat ourselves. The presentation is flawless. The voice clear, fast, smooth, he never stutters or loses train of thought. There are no tangents or digressions, this is not conversation or a stream of consciousness, this is a performance. He’s not a huckster pretending to be your friend, he’s a professional, an artist, and preacher. The matching slides are flawless too: they follow the speech patterns with practiced ease, popping up with comedic timing as punchlines, then turning around and giving us the perfect backdrop to our anger at the next issue brought to our attention.

So what were the issues? As of today, Wednesday June 13th, the Lord’s year 2018, they are: net neutrality taking effect soon, user data-collection in Europe, and incompatibility between the new generation of internet-of-things devices.

Now, is he wrong? Are those bad things? Yeah, they are. All of them. They’re definitely a certain type of bad thing, aren’t they though?

Cory isn’t Alex Jones. Alex Jones can’t exist for the left. We’d never let him. He’s uncool, uncouth, and so easy to see through. The fake angry rants almost comical, the fake tears genuinely comical, and the cash grabs so blatant. I mean he sells supplements. He’s a literal snake oil salesman. He yells about freedom, he cries about freedom, then has the gall to turn around and say he wants to sell us a vitamin. It’s vile, and I mean that with full sincerity. It’s vile.

No, here on the left we need someone who would respect us. Respect our intelligence. That’s what makes us progressive, after all. Don’t tell us how to feel, instead just point out that our personal annoyances are in fact a direct attack on all human rights. If you think about it, me not being able to read any document I want on a ebook-reader-thingy is exactly like an insulin pump failing. And that insulin pump owner is quite possibly poor, maybe even a minority. Information wants to be free.

Is it wrong? No, not really. The DRM law in question is the same for the ebook reader and the insulin pump. Does concentrating on the closed-source nature of the insulin pump ignore every single other issue facing the person with it: the causes of the condition in our society, the effects it has on them getting and holding a job, the question of insurance covering the cost of the insulin, etc? Yes. But dealing with those issues would inconvenience a certain type of white middle-class person who’s looking for something to pay attention to, while that DRM one would certainly be convenient. I’d love to see easily put any book I have on my PC on my ebook reader thing. I really would.

Oh, and the left wing Alex Jones can never do anything as vulgar as ask for money. In fact, they should ask that the money go to charity. Something white and upper-middle. EFF for instance. Because internet rights are human rights. A true altruist. The small fact that our eyeballs are monetized being ignored for now. It’s not coming from our wallet, and frankly they earned it.

And Cory really did earn it. He’s not even wrong in what he says. Sure what he preaches is internet woke objectivism 2018, but at least it’s internet woke. And the this role of rage merchant must be filled. Better that it’s someone who’s hair-brained schemes are of the harmless variety like infiltrating motherboard design companies and installing secret-backdoor in BIOSes that only cool people have access to so that with a magic key combination he can use library computers without being traced by the government (Doctorow, DEFCON Q&A 2009) or forking the HTML5 video codex code so that a flag can be added on all websites that will do look ahead in the stream and disable flashing in case the viewer has epilepsy (Doctorow, Fluent Keynote 2018).

They both would be great to have. I hope to be on secret list of people who are given the 3-button key combo for the library computers. I’m white and contribute to open source a bit.

I asked him about that BIOS backdoor idea today, btw. Without missing a single beat he gave a great answer on why open-BIOSes need to happen so that we can trust the computer is preserving our privacy. The exact opposite of what I asked. “Answer the question you want to have heard, vs the question you hear” is a classic radio talk show technique. Well done.

The main point of this isn’t some “snipe at Cory from the left”, or an attempt to out-virtue him. It’s to point out that hollow rage merchants are everywhere, on all sides of every issue, and always perfectly designed to harvest our lives for personal gain. Cory isn’t how we get past privilege. Cory is privilege in a Trump world. Every single one of our cravings is now altruistic and comes with a topical meme. We will never recognize people manipulating us. It’s right there in the definition. That’s why they’re the people manipulating us and not the people trying to manipulate us and failing.

I lied in the second sentence. I guess it kinda stayed a hot-take. It’s alright.

Alex Jones is a perfectly designed machine that creates emotions in a white middle class audience by portraying them under attack, puts himself up as a warrior in their corner, and hangs on to their attention. Cory Doctorow is a perfectly designed machine that creates emotions in a white middle class audience by portraying them under attack, puts himself up as a warrior in their corner, and hangs on to their attention. Jones is evil, Doctorow is less so. They’re very different, and I mean that genuinely. I much prefer Doctorow between the two.

Oh, and putting “sci-fi writer” in quotes in paragraph three was a cheap shot. He did in fact write books. They’re terrible, preachy, stilted, and painful to read, but they do in fact exist so he is in fact a writer. He’s written things.

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Don’t quote me on that DEFCON thing being 2009 for sure. It was 2009+-2, but I think it was 2009.