Tools and Other Overused Metaphors

There’s a thread over in the Gauntlet community asking for system recommendations for a very specific use case. I guess I should not be surprised that, even in this day and age, there’s still a nontrivial — and maybe even majority — view that the tool just doesn’t matter. Rather than making arguments in favor of specific implementations that seem suited to the themes and goals of the use case, what you get instead are essentially lengthy rationalizations and pitches for folks’ favorite systems. Because if it’s their favorite system, by definition it must work great for any use case.

The thing that I need to get and keep in my head is that, for a lot of folks — even in my home group, even at allegedly progressive/bleeding-edge cons — whole passels of players reject the premise entirely that specific themes and goals even need specific tools. And for their mode of play, they’re probably not even wrong.

Metaphor Alert

There was a very close parallel thing I used to see when I was all-in in the mountain biking scene (I’ve published a popular trail guide, ran some festivals, raced a little, moderated the biggest mountain biking online community). Lots of this might not make sense if you’ve never even thought about bikes beyond the fact they have pedals and wheels. Just go with it for a second.

So anyway, mountain biking. Someone would ask for recommendations of bike for specific use cases, right? And the replies would look like this:

Query: Hey I’m starting to hit bigger moves and I’m afraid I’m going to break my frame. What would you recommend in terms of beefier suspension but also light enough that I can still pedal up?

The Hardass: Learn to ride better. What you think is “bigger” isn’t, really, and you don’t need anything more than what you’ve got.

The Scold: You shouldn’t be hitting those bigger moves, have you even considered the environmental impact of your actions? What about the carbon impact of driving to farther and more challenging trails? Check your privilege.

The Booster: Specialized! Specialized makes a great bike. Buy Specialized! I’ve ridden Specialized my whole life! Why would I need to try anything different?

The Retrogrouch: Back in my day, we’d hit that on a modified beach cruiser and laugh at anyone wearing a helmet. Damn kids.

The Technician: Okay, what’s your current body weight? What’s your budget? Do you have a well-stocked workshop at home? How familiar are you with high and low speed damping? Have you ever changed the oil weight in your suspension? What about tubeless, have you gone tubeless? Also consider the difference between a 9mm and 15mm through-axle. You might also look at adding a drop post (et cetera until their entire body of knowledge has been put on display).

The Rep: The Turner RFX 4.0 was introduced at Interbike this year and I can assure you it is precisely the correct choice for your ability and location.

I’m sure you recognize the equivalents in the gaming recommendation scene, yeah? The folks who are overloaded with technical knowledge all the way through to the folks who reject that there is anything other than the pure subjective experience.

Thing is, I’m not even sure they’re wrong. It was true in the mountain biking scene as well: when you knew your trails cold, had spent your life mastering them on whatever kind of bike you’d fallen into in the beginning, then the whole “what bike?” question inevitably looks like “help me rationalize buying a new bike” or “I don’t have the skills and am unwilling to work on them the way you did when all you had was a Schwinn, help me buy the skill you worked so hard to earn.” Hard to argue against any of that.

Me, I’ve always been a proponent of bringing the right tool to the job. But that means framing that discussion in such a way that I identify what the “job” even is. Make the “roleplaying” category big enough and, sure enough, any old bucket can contain it.

0 thoughts on “Tools and Other Overused Metaphors”

  1. I find myself getting too specific with the type of tool that I need. Like I’m not willing to start the job until I know what kind of hammer I need exactly: what kind of grip is on the handle? How pointy are the forks? What’s the weight of the head? This sort of dithering prevents me from actually starting the project I would need the tool for. I often find myself creating entirely new systems instead of using what might be a perfectly good existing system.

  2. Keith Stetson ha! I was thinking I’ll grab just any old tool and then do, like, the most typical project the tool is good for. Hey check out my new reciprocating saw, let’s cut some drywall.

  3. I think you just made playbooks for a biking PbtA game.

    The lifting world has similar tropes. Query: my squat is really starting to suffer about midway up, and it’s making my knee hurt. How can I fix this?

    The Bulgarian: just squat more. Like every day all the time.

    The Mobility Expert: the problem is likely in your lateral QL and you need to bring up the imbalance in isolation using these three weird exercises.

    The Beginner Who’s an Expert: Well if you’re failing, it’s too heavy. Deload to the empty bar and start again until you master the squat.

    Etc. I’m tired of drawing a parallel. What I wanted to say is that they’re all probably right and they all have a way to address the problem and move forward, and all of them might even work.

    You CAN play Urban Fantasy games with Silent Legions, or Call of Cthulhu, or Urban Shadows, or even D&D if you wanted to. Which tool works depends more on the practitioner and the group than the tool, IMO.

  4. We don’t have tools. We have toolboxes filled with a bunch of weird shit. Some of it’s stories about what it may look like (but never is) when people use the tools. Some of it is pictures meant to inspire tool use. And under all that are things that look like they may be tools, but they’re bizarre and you can’t tell where the handle is and sometimes you have to use three tools at once but you have only two hands and one only works if you read a sentence on page XX of the manual that was printed in grey text on a black background.

    I just need to hang a fucking picture so GIVE ME THE FUCKING HAMMER.

  5. I’m even worse. I’m looking for jobs that don’t even exist. So when people say “What’s the best tool for this job?”, my answer will usually be: “why are you even trying to do that job still?”

    Not really, though. Most of the time I’ll just say “Monsterhearts”.

  6. Jesse Coombs I bought MH to get the setting and then just ported it to Jovian Chronicles. It works great for my group.**

    /Every thread like this ever.

    ** Group does not actually meet any more.

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