Thursday, May 13, 2021

Chesterton on Letting the Dice Fall Where They May (but Unseriously)

Continuing with Orthodoxy (chapter 7):

I could never conceive or tolerate any Utopia which did not leave to me the liberty for which I chiefly care, the liberty to bind myself. Complete anarchy would not merely make it impossible to have any discipline or fidelity; it would also make it impossible to have any fun. To take an obvious instance, it would not be worth while to bet if a bet were not binding. The dissolution of all contracts would not only ruin morality but spoil sport. Now betting and such sports are only the stunted and twisted shapes of the original instinct of man for adventure and romance, of which much has been said in these pages. And the perils, rewards, punishments, and fulfilments of an adventure must be real, or the adventure is only a shifting and heartless nightmare. If I bet I must be made to pay, or there is no poetry in betting. If I challenge I must be made to fight, or there is no poetry in challenging. If I vow to be faithful I must be cursed when I am unfaithful, or there is no fun in vowing... For the purpose even of the wildest romance results must be real; results must be irrevocable.

which reminded me variously of illusionism (where the results aren't real), and storygames (where the players are authorially unbound), and of discussions of agency.

On the other hand,

Pride is the downward drag of all things into an easy solemnity. One "settles down" into a sort of selfish seriousness; but one has to rise to a gay self-forgetfulness... Seriousness is not a virtue. It would be a heresy, but a much more sensible heresy, to say that seriousness is a vice. It is really a natural trend or lapse into taking one's self gravely, because it is the easiest thing to do. It is much easier to write a good TIMES leading article than a good joke in PUNCH. For solemnity flows out of men naturally; but laughter is a leap. It is easy to be heavy: hard to be light.

which reminded me of this post of mine, where I concluded "Perhaps the problem with my previous approach to RPGs was taking things entirely too seriously."  And that is not something I have remedied, really.  It reminded me also of Lurkerablog's excellent post on tiki and early D&D:

Thinking about it, the slow evaporation of the Tiki mood from DnD just might be what defines the edge between James Malichewski’s Golden and Silver ages. When DnD got its visual style defined as heavy metal it acquired metal’s earnestness – the wargamer tourists of the 70s gave way to a new player base of DnD natives who took it all very seriously and wanted to know just how heavy that axe was. Kitsch, whimsy, a lack intensity – these became signs of poor commitment.

It is an easy error to make, for irrevocability to become serious, for it to turn to grave plotting to limit one's risks.  But I do think my favorite ACKS players have been the ones who took irrevocability in stride, for whom it was not a deterrent to action.  "Ha, told you we'd survive!" (or "that was a really funny death, it's going to be hard to top that")  I don't know how I would encourage such an attitude though.

Maybe part of the problem is that ACKS takes itself seriously.  That's part of why it's good; because it was taken seriously during its creation.  But it's not without its costs.


  1. INteresting.

    Out of interest why are you analysing GK Chesterton in relation to Roleplaying? And most importantly have you read 'The Man who was Thursday'?!

    1. It's more that I'm reading Chesterton, and things happen to jump out at me as vaguely relevant to D&D.

      And I haven't yet read The Man Who Was Thursday, but I gather that I should!