1) In the early days of the blog, I wrote this entry about dice superstitions. I like it. I came up with the still (to me, anyway) pertinent idea that Pascal's Wager makes perfect sense when it comes to dice. You lose nothing from upholding a superstition about dice, and might in fact gain hugely if it happens to be true, and since there are terrible consequences (if highly improbable) to breaking such a superstition, you may as well stick to it. There is no downside, only upside. It is like a free option.
I was thinking today about dice superstitions, and it occurred to me that the most fundamental dice superstition of all may be that dice must either be rolled in anger (i.e. when they are needed - in a game, or on a random generator table during prep) or entirely idly (for fun), but they should never be rolled in preparedness for a game to be substituted for actual dice rolls. To explain a little further, in case that makes no sense, let's try a thought experiment.
Imagine if, as a DM, you thought it might be useful to roll out loads of dice results in advance, or even generate a load of results entirely randomly without using dice at all (random.org would allow you to create literally millions of such results very quickly), and then simply refer to your list of results in-game rather than actually making dice rolls. You also thought of a way to do this entirely blind, so you had no way of knowing in advance what a given result would be - you eliminated all possibility of foresight. Wouldn't you nonetheless feel horrendous if you did this? Wouldn't it seem like the most heinous act that a DM could perform? Wouldn't it go against everything that is good and true in the universe?
2) For complex reasons I was looking at the wikipedia Punch and Judy entry earlier. Take a look at the following passage, describing what takes place in a typical modern-day Punch and Judy show:
As performed currently in the UK a typical show will start with the arrival of Mr. Punch followed by the introduction of Judy. They may well kiss and dance before Judy requests Mr. Punch to look after the baby. Punch will fail to carry this task out appropriately. It is rare for Punch to hit his baby these days, but he may well sit on it in a failed attempt to "babysit", or drop it, or even let it go through a sausage machine. In any event Judy will return, will be outraged, will fetch a stick and the knockabout will commence. A policeman will arrive in response to the mayhem and will himself be felled by Punch's slapstick. All this is carried out at breakneck farcical speed with much involvement from a gleefully shouting audience. From here on anything goes. Joey the Clown might appear and suggest it's dinner time. This will lead to the production of a string of sausages, which Mr. Punch must look after, although the audience will know this really signals the arrival of a crocodile whom Mr. Punch might not see until the audience shouts out and lets him know. Punch's subsequent comic struggle with the crocodile might then leave him in need of a Doctor who will arrive and attempt to treat Punch by walloping him with a stick until Punch turns the tables on him. Punch may next pause to count his "victims" by laying puppets on the stage only for Joey the Clown to move them about behind his back in order to frustrate him. A ghost might then appear and give Mr. Punch a fright before it too is chased off with a slapstick. In less squeamish times a hangman would arrive to punish Mr. Punch, only to himself be tricked into sticking his head in the noose. "Do you do the hanging?" is a question often asked of performers. Some will include it where circumstances warrant (such as for an adult audience) but most do not. Some will choose to include it whatever the circumstances and will face down any critics. Finally the show will often end with the Devil arriving for Mr. Punch (and possibly to threaten his audience as well). Punch — in his final gleefully triumphant moment — will win his fight with the Devil and bring the show to a rousing conclusion and earn a round of applause.
This amused me no end, as I sat there imagining what somebody unfamiliar with Punch and Judy would make of all this - in particular lines such as "It is rare for Punch to hit his baby these days", or "this will lead to the production of a string of sausages, which Mr. Punch must look after, although the audience will know this really signals the arrival of a crocodile".
But it also reminded me very strongly of the weird, unhinged and entirely picaresque sequences of events that often take place in a session of a role playing game like D&D. Could it be that playing D&D taps into the same sort of tradition from which Punch and Judy comes - an oral, popular story-telling tradition that eschewed what we now think of as "proper" narrative in the name of other, episodic and unpredictable charms?
From the same entry:
There is no one definitive "story" of Punch and Judy. As expressed by Peter Fraser in Punch & Judy (1970), "the drama developed as a succession of incidents which the audience could join or leave at any time, and much of the show was impromptu." This was elaborated by George Speaight in his Punch & Judy: A History (1970), who explained that the plotline "is like a story compiled in a parlour game of Consequences ... the show should, indeed, not be regarded as a story at all but a succession of encounters." The most recent academic work, Punch & Judy: History, Tradition and Meaning by Robert Leach (1985), makes it clear that "the story is a conceptual entity, not a set text: the means of telling it, therefore, are always variable."
Could that not be a description of a game of D&D?