First of all, I’m swamped with some stuff, so these critiques will come in more of a trickle. Because of that, I’m willing to try this experiment for a couple weeks or so, rather than try to shoot my metaphorical wad in one go. Second, I want to focus on one critique at a time, rather than over-analyze a book. That whole “500 words is awesome” thing I’m rocking, because it helps focus discussion.
With that out of the way, I’m going to talk about VSCA’s Diaspora. Because this is the Internet, I have to start with a couple disclaimers:
- I like Brad Murray, he’s good peeps, and he volunteered Diaspora for this. (Not that that would stop me, to be fair. Everything sold to the public is fair game.)
- I’ve played Diaspora (and, you know, a bit of Fate here and there), and it’s good times
- They deserve the ENnie they won for Best Rules
- I’m not critiquing design. Not the focus here.
The Issue: the Anti-Recommendation
So, let’s talk about what I call the Anti-Recommendation. Here’s the example from Diaspora:
The “Fudge Dice” sidebar at the top catches the eye, so when I look at page, that’s what I see first. I’m reading it, and I get to the second paragraph, quoted below:
The system will work with a different probability curve by rolling two different coloured six-sided dice and subtracting the darker from the lighter. Treating the -5 and 5 results as zero keeps the expected range though with better chances for extreme results, and we do not recommend it.
“…and we do not recommend it.” The moment I read this, I was annoyed. My time was wasted as a reader, and being this early on, I had the reaction of “How many other times in this book are they going to tell me something and then tell me to disregard it?” It colored the rest of the reading of the text. My trust was lost; everything was now suspect.
See, when you tell someone that you don’t recommend something you’ve spent time talking about, you’re establishing that your text was created from a disorganized thought process and then not cleaned up. We all write (or well, many of us) from a stream of consciousness approach. But that’s fine for a conversation where you’re (a) able to engage the other person and (b) it’s clear the medium is one of fluid, unedited thought. But conversations are a very poor method of passive information transfer (like, you know, from a book). Books need to be more to-the-point, with follow-up text supporting and reincorporating. When you instead undermine your text, well, you’re asking your readers to not follow what you’re trying to teach them.
How To Address This
A critique is useless, in my mind, if we can’t talk about how to deal with the issues that come up.
If you find that you’re writing something, and end with talking about it as an anti-recommendation, here are two things to do:
One, if this information absolutely needs to be in the book, lead with the disclaimer. To (very hastily) rewrite the above:
While we don’t recommend it, if you don’t have Fudge dice and the method above seems confusing, you could use the d6-d6 method. The system will work with a different probability curve by rolling two different coloured six-sided dice and subtracting the darker from the lighter. Treating the -5 and 5 results as zero keeps the expected range though with better chances for extreme results.
This also tells us why up-front that you don’t recommend something.
Two, you could cut the text. This falls under “assume your readers are smart and will get clued in to advanced topics if they’re sufficiently interested,” “don’t undermine your text,” and “don’t waste the reader’s time, as it’s a precious resource.” That’s what I would do in this case, looking at the text.
So, here’s the first of many little posts I’ll do for this “Critique RPGs” project. Diaspora’s getting a couple more from me, as are others. But no one is paying me to blog, so back to the salt mines I go!