At its core, criticism is the only antidote that human beings have discovered against error. It is the chief method that a skilled person can use to become "even better."
Alexis puts out the call for standards. That’s a hard call to dismiss; I think all of us know that some games, campaigns, players, and GMs are clearly better than others, even if we can’t quite define how. If we could define how, however, that might go a long way towards better games, campaigns, players, and GMs.
Mr. Benedicto responds with a splash of cold water:
To define OD&D -- to come to some viable conclusion on how it should be played -- is a pipe dream. Or a pipe nightmare, depending on where you stand. I don't know about the rest of you, but I have yet to lose sleep at night because we will never find OD&D utopia.
Alexis responds in comment to Mr. Benedicto:
In and amidst all the patting each other on the backs for the original, accepted games you all run, I wonder that anyone meaningfully criticizes anyone else.
Obviously, my own over-the-top indecent effort aside, are people here capable of not thinking in terms of 'us' vs. 'them'?
The emphasis is mine, because “meaningful criticism” isn’t bomb-throwing or starting fights. It’s about spending the time to really understand a work, to tease apart how it fits to together, and using that knowledge to improve what works.
Before you poo-poo that idea, understand that this is very much what Mr. Maliszewski has been doing with the older versions of D&D with Grognardia. The point of understanding the personalities, source material, and history of how the game mutated over time is to get at the essence of what it really is and what it does and why that’s so much fun.
Unfortunately, it’s nearly impossible to offer useful critique on a game that you’re not in, or ideas made for a game that’s not yours. A lot of what I do here has been a struggle to draw at the purest essence of what does work in my games and try to offer it up to you, and I know I’ve only been marginally successful at that. What I know I’ve done, and what I’m proud of, is offer up ideas and thoughts and tweaks couched in the context I use them in, so you can decide if they offer any merit to your own play.
But at the end of the day, Jeff Reints and I are barely playing the same game. I think I could enjoy playing at his table, if I just let go of my expectations and rolled with the gonzo, but I'm pretty sure he'd end up gnashing his teeth and ripping out his own eyeballs at mine, in spite of the fact that my players are clearly quite happy with what they've found. And poor Chgowiz would feel soiled even reading a summary of one of our games. ;)
And that pretty much kills any hope at meaningful criticism. What Alexis might call rabbit-poop pizza is my filet mignon. His pointing out that wrapping an expensive cut of meat in cheap strips of pork-butt just comes off as bizarre and missing the point to me. Likewise, my puzzlement at the rigorous background detail he meticulously crafts for his settings must seem like the results of mental impairment.
Now, that all said, I do think there is some common ground between Alexis’ games, Chgowiz's games, Jeff's games, and my own. I'm not sure, however, that there's much there to talk about. I'd enjoy being proven wrong, of course, but in discussing such matters between ourselves, the common ground forms our basic, bedrock assumptions; I fear it would end up like fish trying to discuss how wet the ocean is today.
Art by Adolphe Alexandre Lesrel.