On The Nature of Braunsteins

This post feels a little, as the kids say, sus. There’s a whole lot of journalism going on right now that is nothing but trawling social media and scraping comments from the bottom feeders in order to engage in information laundering. Here’s the process:

  1. Identify a narrative that runs counter to reality.
  2. Go to a converged site like Reddit that bans reality-based commenters.
  3. Quote a handful of moronic randos giving flawed and inaccurate descriptions of a thing.
  4. Write an article that attributes the positions of those moron to the wider community/culture.
  5. Nudge Wikipedia articles to quote that malformed article.
  6. Other articles quote Wikipedia as evidence that the preferred narrative is the right one.
  7. Converged sites like Reddit justify banning normal people on the grounds that they believe things that Wikipedia says just ain’t so.

You gotta watch out for that.  Most of what passes for acceptable opinions has been laundered through that process.

And this, in part, explains why I don’t often cross-post from The Artist Formerly Known As Twitter and his blog.  Sometimes, however, a brief thought gets dropped on that site and passes the AB test with such flying colors, that it deserves to be preserved here on the blog for posterity and ease of reference.  Doing so gives us a chance to add detail lost on the Argument App (and to clean up a few typos, but the less said about that the bettr).

What follows is one such observation.

So I posted a picture of Lenin, which allows us to talk about two different phenomenon.

The first and most relevant to hobby fens is this: I stumbled onto a quote by Lenin that succinctly encapsulated something I’ve been struggling to put to articulate.  By reskinning his quote, we can point to a fundamental truth of the Braunstein style of play.  The second is how using Lenin baits NormieCons into looking stupider than usual. Let’s take the first one first, and the second one second.  Man, I love parallel construction.

Braunstein play maps to the human experience in a way that stop-time gaming doesn’t. In the case of the latter, your game consists of a steady streak of the three act structure.  Volumes have been written about taking the square peg of gaming and ramming it into the round hole of story-structures.  Intro-Rising Stakes-Peak-Denouement.  Fifty years of what passes for scholarship in tabletop RPGs has been chasing that pipe-dream, and because it is working against the Natural Order and natural experience, it just doesn’t work. The hobby has been looking at things from the wrong perspective and using the wrong tool for the job, and while it has allowed for some rare moments of enjoyment, it has acted as a limiter. It does for gaming what a governor does on a go-kart – it holds things back from what they could be.

When you incorporate Braunsteins into your campaign, you abandon the Three (or Five) Arc Structure, and embrace the process of living life as it comes.  In our lives, as in histories, we have long stretches of activity in which our energy is invested in long-term plans.  We have periods of seeming stability in which we pour activity to no avail.

You get up, you go to work and do a great job, and you go home.  Then one day all that energy pays off in the form a promotion – BOOM! – things change all at once.  You have more money and get a better car and a bigger office and after a few weeks you settle into this new routine. Eventually, your situation becomes meta-stable again as your company does the opposite and refuses to reward all that effort so you quit your job to work for a rival – BOOM! – in a moment, things change all at once.

The same process is at work in our games.  A lot of energy is built up through session play, and that energy leads to a meta-stable situation that finally resolves during a Braunstein.  Your PC goes to work in a dank hole and comes out with enough gold to level up and hire a few henchmen.  This process repeats until he has enough to hire an army and march on the Usurper Baron’s castle.  The Usurper has been laying his plans for months, too.  He has been arranging alliances, betraying friends who have plans of their own, and so on.  The Braunstein is when all those plans converge and – BOOM! – in a single session, things change all at once.

It’s natural.  It follows the patterns of the Real World.  It it just plain works to create those pivotal moments of climactic resolution that so frequently escape the narrative-first types of gamers.

When you use Braunstein’s in your campaign, you’re swimming downstream. You are working with the medium.  You’re banging that round peg into a round hole.  Not only is it easier, it provides for better results.

This also explains why campaign Braunsteins feel so different from the one-off convention games. Players have months of real time and energy invested in the results of the Braunstein in ways they don’t for a one-off.  The convention Braunsteins run by the Old Guard are to campaign Braunsteins what one-shot RPG adventures are to long-running campaigns.  Fun enough, but with little substance and much lower stakes.  Which explains why the con-stein players don’t have anything new to contribute to the conversation, why they are so incurious about how Braunsteins work.  They just don’t have as much invested in the outcome.

They only investment they really have is their stake as the inventors.  Any novel approach or deeper analysis troubles them in ways they either can’t admit or don’t even understand.  Which is a shame, really.  The younger crowd has so much to teach them.

Deep breath as we shift gears.

But now let’s circle back to the use of  Lenin iconography in a meme that’s not really about him.  The normiecons are NPCs just as much as the rainbow crowd.  They just get their programming from different sources.  Knowing this, it’s easy to trip them up by throwing wrenches into their programming. They see Lenin and they see red (heh), by which I mean they lose the capacity for all rational thought.  This owes as much to his programming as it does to his tribal instincts.  If he appears, even for a moment, to agree with a Lenin image, he might be cut out from the NormieCon herd.    If it’s Lenin it has to be bad.  Most of them won’t even read the words, and fewer or them will take the time to check the not-so-fine print.  It doesn’t matter that Lenin is discussion a fundamental aspect of the human experience, and doing so accurately.  It doesn’t matter that he will uses this fundamental aspect of human experience for evil.  It only matter that he said it, and if he said it he must be wrong and it must be bad.  It certainly must not be a thing that the normiecon agrees with – he must disagree.

This provides us with an interesting litmus test for whether or not our opponents in a discussion are worth talking to, or deserve only mockery and scorn.  If they can’t clear the thought hurdle of “Lenin’s observation might have something to say about things other than muh commie-nism” then they have forfeited all claim to rational discourse.

More importantly, it serves as a warning to us all.  Don’t take everything at face value.  Take a moment to look, read, and understand what is being said more than who is saying it.  You can learn a lot from your enemies – even brutal ethnic cleansing maniacs like Lenin – if you stop and think for a moment.