Monday, November 23, 2009

Blessed with Suck

1. Every form of strength covers one weakness and creates another, and therefore every form of strength is also a form of weakness and every weakness a strength.
- Bill James, from the 1983 Baseball Abstract, related in Moneyball by Michael Lewis

Generally, this is a blessing to a character that seems to cause nothing but trouble:
- "Blessed with Suck",

By any rational analysis, this past weekend was a really good weekend. On Friday, I ran a session of 4th edition Dungeons and Dragons for a group of friends who, at one point, seemed utterly uninterested in trying out 4th edition D&D. On Saturday, I won a reasonable amount of money playing in a nickel-ante poker game. On Sunday, I attended a Minnesota Vikings game where the home club won a comfortable 35-9 victory.

Then the sun goes down on Sunday evening, and the weekend's events replay themselves in my mind, and I'm reminded not just of Bill James's comments at the start of this essay, but the aphorism about success containing the seeds of failure in order to keep us humble. There are enough seeds for quite a harvest just in this one weekend:

- Friday night involved me creating a series of pre-generated characters. My intention was to put together an interesting, integrated group that would demonstrate the degree of teamwork that 4th edition D&D calls for in successful party composition and execution. Sadly, my own tendency toward procrastination meant that, by Friday morning, I'd only completed one of the five pre-gens, and barely worked out the roughest details of the three-encounter delve that would be the focus of the evening's entertainment. I thought we'd start by 8pm and be done by 10-10:30pm; instead, we started at 8:30pm and weren't done until well after midnight. The session went reasonably well, but by the time the evening was over, the main topic of conversation was how badly most of the pre-gen characters had been designed, which doesn't bode well for future game sessions.

- Saturday night was the most entertaining of all; I don't consider myself a card sharp by any means, and the game was more social than serious. Still, it's fun to win money -- the old adage about money won being twice as sweet as money earned seems just about right from where I'm sitting. Unfortunately, I offended at least one of my friends at the table with my insistence on an odd dealer's-choice game.

(If you're wondering how you can offend someone simply with a game of cards, let me explain with an example, which is not the specific example I encountered on Saturday: say you have a game where the value of wild cards changes frequently -- on one betting round 4s and 7s may be wild, but then the next round may see 3s and Js wild, and the final round before the lay-down may change yet again so that only 8s are wild, and that these changes are essentially unpredictable, save that they'll happen. Someone who prefers to understand how good their own hand is before betting and the likelihood that their own hand may win (or improve enough to win) before deciding to stay in is going to find this kind of game frustrating unless they're also the kind of person who likes juggling multiple sets of probabilities in their head at the same time -- what cards are likeliest to become wild, what are the odd my hand will improve by that change, etc. Someone who just wants to play cards and not feel stupid for betting a ton of money on a hand that becomes worthless just before the lay-down isn't going to appreciate your tour-de-force of rapidly shifting wild cards.)

I don't think I've necessarily lost a friendship through my poker choices on Saturday, but money, even for low stakes (Henry Kissinger would say especially for low stakes), can be a real stickler when it comes to feelings between people. I've apologized, but I'm not sure that'll be enough.

- On Sunday, just the process of getting someone to use the second ticket I'd purchased was like pulling teeth. At first, I thought it'd be a great chance to spend time with an attractive woman, and even had more than one in mind to ask (in order, of course) - none were interested. I then asked other friends who I knew had an interest in football; each one either was uninterested in the game or had some other event going on that they decided should take precedence. I did eventually find someone to take the ticket, but the experience of having so many people, for their own reasons, say that they weren't interested in attending a football game with me started me off on the wrong foot to begin with.

Next, though I'm firmly a bandwagon fan these days, I still have little patience discussing games with people who aren't willing to take even a little time to think about what they're saying. Case in point: third down, five yards to go, coach calls for a running play. Person next to me complains that it's stupid to call a run on third and five.

Well, person, when you have one of the top running backs in the league, who in a good season averages about five yards a carry, that's not so stupid right on its face. Then add in the idea that, if you give the opponent the information that you'll always pass on third and five, that changes the kinds of defenses you'll see, so that passing will become significantly more difficult. You run, even in those situations where you might not make it, to keep the defense honest -- because running now keeps your options open for later. (And 'later' even means games against other opponents, since every NFL game is extensively taped and reviewed by upcoming opponents -- if you establish a pattern of always passing on third and five, every team in the league gets the benefit of that information for when they play you.)

So start with, what for a normal person would be a great weekend, salt in my own personal quirks, and you end up with a string of disappointed and/or offended people, including in an odd way, myself. And the really screwed up part of this whole thing? Even I can see that this reaction to the weekend, skewed and potentially unhealthy as it is, is more interesting and even possibly valuable than simply recounting, "Hey, I ran a game on Friday, won at poker on Saturday, and saw the Vikes kick ass on Sunday. Awesome!"

If you disagree, may I respectfully direct you to the title of this blog?

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