The Alexandrian

Shitty People Are Everywhere

November 21st, 2014

Probably the most interesting thing about #gamergate and #notyourshield is how clearly they demonstrate the ease with which movements without centralized organization can be trivially stigmatized by selectively focusing on extremists within the movement.

You saw the same thing with Occupy a couple years ago and you’re going to see a lot more of it: The rise of mass social media platforms allow large, populist, grassroots movements to spontaneously organize… but they also mean that literally any crackpot within that movement has access to the loudspeakers.

You can argue that this is a “no true Scotsman” fallacy, but it’s more of an open question: There are going to be crazy Scotsmen. You’re going to have to decide whether you’re going to write off every single Scotsman because of the crazies or whether you’re going to consciously develop a better and more nuanced filter.

And before you make that decision you should take a moment to reflect on this: All of those ideologies and movements you self-identify with? They’re full of crazy people, too.


Your immediate response to that may be, “There are no crazy people in my ideology!” And, frankly, that’s part of the problem here

Human nature gravitates towards fierce tribalism: We filter out or subconsciously minimize the bad behavior of people in our own groups, but we instinctively cherry-pick the bad behavior of groups we don’t identify with and quickly assume they’re representative of the entire group.

For example, you may be among the people who consider #gamergate to be nothing but a bunch of misogynists throwing around death threats. More power to you. But let’s apply the same standards to a few other groups:

Michael Bay receives a lot of death threats for making shitty movies. (Particularly shitty Transformer movies.) Does this mean that everyone who dislikes a Michael Bay movie is a terrorist?

During the George W. Bush administration there were a lot of Democrats who sent him death threats. Does this mean every single Democrat is a scumbag? Do the death threats received by Obama make every single Republican a psycho?

Christian Ponder and his wife were digitally stalked and repeatedly threatened with death because Christian Ponder isn’t a great NFL quarterback. Does this mean that all football fans are assholes?

RPGPundit is an asshole… does this mean that D&D 5E is terrible? Does it mean that people who play RPGs in general are assholes?

When you dip your brush in tar you can choose to paint carefully with it or just spray it around the room without care. The first question you have to ask yourself is whether or not that’s fair to the people you’re tarring. The second question you have to ask yourself is whether or not you, personally, are being best served by surrendering to these tribalistic instincts: Is your life richer or better because you’re vilifying entire ideologies for the actions of some of the people who profess belief in them? Or are you robbing yourself of a deeper and richer understanding of the world around you?


The other thing to consider is the degree to which the tar-spraying is directly contributing to the problem. And #gamergate actually provides a great example of how this tribalism senselessly escalates.

There are a lot of narratives that can be constructed around the origins of the #gamergate movement, but for our purposes I’m going to start by looking at one of the earliest controversies involving Zoe Quinn: Her accusation that the Wizardchan board harassed her.

Zoe’s version of this event is relatively simple: Two anonymous users on a site with several thousand registered users posted messages which were hostile towards her and misogynist in general. She then received phone calls which she assumed came from the Wizardchan users. Her conclusion was that the entire Wizardchan board was targeting her for harassment.

Some people have questioned Zoe’s truthfulness. Some people have claimed that she deliberately manufactured the “crisis” in order to generate free publicity for her game. But the only thing required for this situation to exist is simple tribalism: Zoe (and her supporters) identified the Wizardchan board as being the “other”, saw the bad behavior of a few, and decided that it must be representative of the entire board.

Of course, it doesn’t end there.

People from Wizardchan put together a series of compilation rebuttal images attempting to demonstrate that the bad behavior was not representative of the board in general. These images then attempted to “turn the table” on Quinn by accusing her of all sorts of bad behavior and then culminated in this:

So, when she saw the posts, she saw the perfect opportunity to get what she wanted: like many before she used those to make up a situation where she was the victim of harassment, hoping to get pity and, by proxy, fame and recognition.

And then goes onto a list a number of other women who have reported abuse in order to cast doubt on all their claims.

As we previously assumed that everything Zoe Quinn said was true, let’s now assume that everything the Wizardchan defenders claim was true: Why should that suddenly villainize the entire class of “women who claimed game-related abuse”?

Well, for the exact same reason that Quinn attacked Wizardchan in the first place. Only the polarity has been reversed.

In this, we can see how this tribalism needlessly escalates antagonism: Zoe attacks a community because of the actions of a few members of that community. The members of that community, being attacked, react by attacking the entire group which Zoe is only one small part of.

Fast forward several months later and we can see the exact same dynamic of Mutually Assured Tribalism continuing: The anti-GGers claim that the death threats coming from other anti-GGers must be “false flag” efforts because they would never do such a thing; the GGers claim that the anti-GGers who are being doxxed must be faking it because no true GGer would ever do such a thing.

Deny the bad behavior of your own tribe. Seek out the bad behavior of other tribes. It’s a vicious and painful circle unless you can muster the willpower to rise above it.


This, however, leads to another excellent example of tribalism at work: The loud and self-righteous claims that, “If Group X wasn’t really for killing kittens then the members of Group X would stop other member of Group X from talking about kitten killing!”

There are two major problems with this. First, it’s built upon the false expectation that the members of Group X possess some sort of godlike power to control the voice of everyone else in Group X. (In the era of mass social media there’s simply no reason to expect that to be true.)

Second, in practice it’s generally just a slightly more sophisticated manifestation of tribalism: You are ignoring the people in Group X who are disavowing the bad behavior of their “comrades” because you’re subconsciously cherry-picking the bad behavior. (This often takes the form of rationalizing away the disavowals using some variation of “they’re just pretending; after all, we know they’re all bad guys, right?”.)

The fun part is that this really ramps up the tribalism: Since you’re open to the good stuff people on your “side” are doing, you acknowledge all the people on your side disavowing the bad behavior. Then you see people on the “other side” claiming that nobody on your side is disavowing the behavior. Clearly those people are lying… and since you stigmatize the entire group based on the behavior of the few, they must all be liars. So you call them liars and… oh, hey. Now you’re one of the guys engaging in bad behavior. (Which, of course, means that everyone on your side engages in bad behavior, which results in the other side… Rinse. Wash. Repeat.)


Shitty people are everywhere.

Does this mean we should ignore them? Or tolerate them? Or wink at their “little indiscretions” (which are actually horrific more often than not)?

Absolutely not.

But we also shouldn’t empower the assholes to discredit entire ideologies through the mere fact that they self-identify with those ideologies. And that remains true even if a particular asshole is expressing their jackassery through the ideology: Someone claiming that all men should be murdered doesn’t mean that women suddenly no longer deserve the right to vote. Reprehensible people making criminal threats against Anita Sarkeesian’s life because her videos aren’t very good don’t make her videos immune to all criticism.

Of course, none of this is going to make the shitty people go away. In an era of mass social media, the megaphones are too cheap, too readily available, and too easy to hear. But you’ll improve your own life by keeping your mind open (instead of locking whole swaths of humanity out of it). You’ll improve the public discourse by continuing to contribute to it (instead contributing to tribalistic feuds).

And I think you’ll also find yourself a lot less angry and depressed at the world around you. Because while there may be shitty people everywhere, there’s not nearly as many of them as those trapped in tribalism would like to think.

Untested Numenera: NPC Allies

November 19th, 2014

Numenera - Monte Cook GamesNumenera features player-facing mechanics: Whenever an action requires diced resolution, it’s always the player who rolls the dice. If a PC is being attacked, the player rolls to dodge. If the PC is attacking, the player rolls to hit. There are a lot of advantages to this system, particularly in the ways that it seamlessly interacts with the pool-spend, GM intrusion, and difficulty adjustment mechanics.

But the drawback of player-faced mechanics is that they can’t be used to resolve contests between NPCs. Numenera opts for one of two relatively straightforward work-arounds (to be used at the GM’s discretion):

(1) In keeping with other mechanics in the system, the NPC with the highest level automatically succeeds.

(2) If that’s undesirable for some reason, “the GM should designate a player to roll for one of the NPCs. Often, the choice is obvious. For example, a character who has a trained attack animal should roll when her pet attacks enemies.”

The problem with this method is that, because of the way NPC stat blocks and pools work in Numenera, the result doesn’t factor in the NPC’s skill whatsoever: There is no modifier applied to the roll, so an NPC that’s level 2 at attacking has the exact same chance of hitting an NPC opponent as an NPC that has a level 7 attack.

What makes the problem even more vexing is that a large number of character options feature allied NPCs (like the aforementioned trained attack animal).


NPC allies have an effort pool equal to level x 3 per day.

NPC allies also gain one recovery roll per day. This recovery roll can be used as an action at any time, restoring 1d6 + level points to their effort pool.

When rolling for an NPC, adjust the die roll by +1 or -1 per difference in level. For example, a level 5 NPC attempting a level 3 task would gain a +2 bonus to their die roll. The same NPC attempting a level 7 task would suffer a -2 penalty to their die roll.


These rules are short, simple, and to the point. They present a minor disruption to the purely player-faced mechanics, but without bulking out an NPC to have the same complexity as a PC. (In terms of utility, it’s particularly important that the mechanics don’t actually require a specialized NPC stat block: The effort pool can be easily derived from any existing NPC or creature.)

In actual play, the addition of the effort pool provides just enough interest to make running an NPC ally interesting while the level adjustment to the die roll for NPC vs. NPC actions provides enough distinction between characters that their interactions don’t feel flat or artificial.

These rules can be found in the “House Rules” section of my Numenera system cheat sheet.

Big Hero 6 - DisneyThe first thing to say about Big Hero 6 is that it’s a ton of fun wrapped in a beautiful aesthetic surrounding well-earned emotional heartaches and catharsis. If you’re the type of geek who’s likely to be reading this website, then you’re probably going to adore this film.

With that being said, I was interested in the way that Big Hero 6 failed to be an ensemble movie: It comes very, very close (featuring a diversity of interesting characters in supporting roles), but ultimately misses the opportunity. (And that’s not necessarily a bad thing for the film, which instead succeeds very well at being a film about its protagonist.)

I found myself making an easy comparison to The Incredibles, which is many ways a completely different movie but which also features the formation of a team of superheroes. But whereas Big Hero 6 just misses being an ensemble piece, The Incredibles is a very successful ensemble piece.

The key distinction here is that all four main characters in The Incredibles are fully developed while each possessing a full narrative arc (which is also connected to the overall narrative arc of the ensemble). This is contrasted to Big Hero 6 where all five members of the team are given unique personalities and great dialogue… but notably lack fully developed arcs.

The reason I bring this up is that I noticed that a key difference between the films is that The Incredibles featured multiple sequences in which the main characters are separated from each other, whereas Big Hero 6 basically did not.

So what I’m saying here is:


Because it’s a really effective way to allow individual characters to develop identities separate from the group identity. (Which will, ironically, enrich the group identity.)

(More on splitting the party over here.)

Elizabeth Grullon in The Complete Readings of William Shakespeare - American Shakespeare RepertoryThe Complete Readings of William Shakespeare project is about more than just grabbing a Shakespeare script and jumping in front of an audience. Our advertising slug will tell you that the series presents a unique opportunity to experience these plays in a way that hasn’t been possible since the King’s Men originally performed them 400 years ago. But there’s more to that than just a novelty: We think there’s something exciting, for example, about seeing the cycle of history plays literally unroll before your eyes with a continuity of character and actor.

As a member of our audience, you’re getting a chance to discover things that can only be seen when Shakespeare’s plays are viewed a living body of theatrical work. And part of what we hope will make that experience memorable are the discoveries we’re making as performers. The American Shakespeare Repertory wants to delve deep into the rich depths of Shakespeare’s plays, and we believe that the Complete Readings will prove to be a powerful foundation on which the future work of the company will be built.

That work begins with the script.


As many of you probably already know, we have inherited our Shakespeare scripts from an eclectic variety of sources. No manuscript copy of a complete Shakespeare play exists. Instead, the earliest version of Shakespeare’s plays we possess are quartos which were printed in the 1590′s. (Quartos were roughly the cultural equivalent of modern paperbacks.) These were sold by at least half a dozen different publishers, many of whom apparently didn’t possess any sort of authoritative (or even complete) copy of the plays they were publishing. The next milestone in Shakespeare publication was the famous First Folio of 1623, without which many of his plays would have been permanently lost. (Folios were much larger volumes.)

These various editions were reprinted and reissued in a variety of ways over the next hundred years, with each subsequent printing accumulating a fresh set of errors and variants. The modern editorial tradition began in the 18th century, as editors attempted to return to the earliest versions of each text in an effort to produce a more authoritative edition. Modern editions of Shakespeare generally follow the same basic practices established in the 18th century:

1. Modernization of Spelling

2. Regularization of Punctuation and Verse

3. Emendation of Text

Because every editor makes different choices (particularly when it comes to texts which exist in more than one original edition), every edition of a Shakespeare play is slightly different from every other edition of the same play. But over the past couple hundred years, each play has generally (and slowly) accumulated traditions of emendation.


This accumulation of emendation is generally a good thing: When one editor finds a particularly apt solution to a textual problem, other editors copy their work and then try to find other ways to repair the text of the play.

But sometimes the best choice (or the seemingly best choice) eliminates other choices that might also bear fruit if fully pursued. An actor or director, in particular, will scour a play’s script looking for the clues buried within it. And sometimes modern editorial practices can resemble a criminal wiping away the fingerprints at a crime scene: Important information can be lost.

Which is why every Complete Reading is based on a freshly prepared script specifically designed to preserve as many of those clues as possible (while also conveying all the benefits of a fully modern edition).

The script used for our first reading, Macbeth, which I’ll be sharing next week, is fairly representative of the process.

Originally posted September 8th, 2010.

The problem with GURPS-style advantage/disadvantage character creation systems is that the actual impact of a given advantage or disadvantage is highly dependent on the circumstances of actual play: “Immune to psionic attacks” is totally amazing if your campaign is The War Against the Illithids; it’s completely wasted if your character never encounters a psion. Similarly, “Horrifically Claustrophobic” is a crippling disadvantage in a megadungeon campaign; it’s basically a non-factor if you’re playing Lawrence of Arabia.

So in order for these systems to work, the advantages and disadvantages need to be made equally relevant in actual play.

IME, however, there are two typical actual play dynamics in RPGs:

First, the players are given a free rein. Players will naturally seek to play to their advantages and play away from their disadvantages. This isn’t even really abusive play: It’s just a logical way of interacting with the world. (If I had no legs, I wouldn’t spend a lot of time buying ladders.)

Second, the GM is railroading the players. You might initially expect this to reverse the dynamic, but it typically doesn’t because (again, IME) most railroading GMs are more focused on achieving a predetermined goal: Their focus is an internal one. It might inadvertently force players into confronting their disadvantages, but often will not. (While the players will still be able to tactically exploit their advantages.)

In order for an advantage/disadvantage system to really work, IMO, you need a GM who’s willing to advocate as strongly for the inclusion of a PC’s disadvantage as the player is to advocate for the inclusion of the PC’s advantage.

The GMs most willing to do this are (in terms of the Threefold) dramatists and gamists. Simulationists are much less likely to put their thumb on the scale and “force” the inclusion of disadvantages.

This becomes a particular problem for GURPS because most the features in that system are heavily focused on supporting simulationists: So the people most likely to be running GURPS are the ones least likely to adopt the GMing techniques necessary to keep the advantage/disadvantage system balanced.



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