Have I blogged about this before? Even recently? Have I been writing this blog so long that I am repeating myself without even knowing it, like some kind of senile robot? Is it fair or reasonable to demand that I remember every single post I've written in 8 years? Are these enough rhetorical questions?
Anyway. Craftsmanship. This is one of the topics that interests me most, and what I devote increasing amounts of time to thinking and writing about in my day job. Naturally, I am likewise increasingly interested in the craft of being a DM and particularly the craft of writing RPG materials.
I am not a great TV watcher, but I do love watching talent competitions. I'm not talking about Britain's Got Talent or the X Factor or Strictly Come Dancing or the other vulgar (yes, I'm going to use that word, god damn it) light entertainment shows which are really just about celebrating fame and, well, celebrity. I'm talking about the kind of shows (they may be unique to British TV?) in which talented amateurs in a given field (photography, cooking, etc.) compete against each other over the course of a series of episodes in order to be crowned "the best".
These shows have proliferated like wildfire in the last 5-10 years or so. It used to be just Masterchef, which is still the grandaddy of them all; I sort of love and hate it at the same time, but it is one of the only programmes on TV that I will take time out to watch every day when it's on. But now there are dozens. Off the top of my head, there are ones for baking, photography, sewing, pottery, guitar playing, landscape painting, portrait painting, art generally, and modelling. I expect there are others, and will be in the future.
The ones on Sky Arts are the best, because in their own way they are quite low-key and rigorous, and aren't afraid of either criticism or technical detail. For instance, I've just watched an episode of Guitar Star featuring Nitin Sawhney explaining to a young jazz guitarist how to play a Turkish rhythm in 10/8 time, Preston Reed discussing the importance of strength in keeping time and meter, and a fairly detailed exposition on how to cleanly play the notes in an Iron Maiden riff. I'm a bit of a noodly hobbyist guitarist so I lap that sort of stuff up, but I'll just as happily watch equally recherche discussions of pottery techniques or sewing methods despite having no real interest in doing those hobbies myself - I just like watching craftsmen discussing their craft.
What I like most about these shows is the participants, who are always brilliantly talented, if a little rough around the edges, and totally earnest about wanting to improve. I find this genuinely moving: I'm not sure if there's anything more likely to warm the cockles of my heart about how humanity can rescue itself than seeing people wanting to be good at something and trying hard to better themselves and create stuff - whatever it may be - that will be brilliant and will please others. I am a bit cynical about why it always has to be about competition; I understand that TV is also about entertainment, but I'm not sure why we always have to worry so much about who is the best participant. But still, the fundamental principle is sound: it is right and good and important to have a craft or hobby and try really hard to be better at it.
Anyway, what I want to say with this post is really that I feel that way about writing things for RPGs. I want to try really hard to be better at it. It's a craft, and like all crafts it needs hard work and perseverance. (And huh huh, Christ knows I need it, huh huh.) I don't find mediocrity satisfying, even in something as ultimately meaningless as a book about the memory of a crocodile or a campaign dedicated to replicating the atmosphere of Rules Cyclopedia D&D. I relentlessly want to improve. But are there people around in the hobby like Nitin Sawhney or Preston Reed, who will rigorously help others to get better by offering advice? (I'm not talking about reviews. I'm talking about personal discussions and conversations.) A big part of the problem, for me, is that quite frankly there are very, very few "established figures" in the RPG industry, such as it is, whose work I actually truly respect. In fact there may be, er, two? It's a different matter when it comes to peers, people in this very small business of writing small press DIY D&D stuff. But big figures? Forget it.
This post is rambling - so I will leave it where I started: with me behaving in a way that is reminiscent of a senile robot.