On Not Reinventing the Wheel

Wednesday, April 13, 2016


There is a lot to be said for personal responsibility, for trusting in one's ability, in Grace, in figuring things out as you go. Pretty much, any given day I do not know what I am doing. At least once per day. I am comfortable enough with myself, confident enough, however, to say I do not know the answer to that question, but I can either find out or figure it out as we navigate through the weeds of the law. The law is good like that. No lawyer knows all The Law. It is an enormous body of principles and code, and knowing it all is an impossibility. Some of you may be thinking, OK, but a Good Lawyer knows her specialty, is an expert in her chosen area within the law. That, however, is also something of a lie. Ignoring oxymoron jokes about jumbo shrimp, military intelligence, and good lawyers, I posit that even a Good Lawyer does not know every aspect of the law even within her area of expertise. After all, if that were the case, we would not have novel questions of law and would not need courts of appeal to decide those questions. What the study of the law is fantastic at, however, is giving attorneys a rock solid foundation in reasoning from which to template argument. It almost does not matter which argument one finds oneself needing to make. You are, after all, stuck with the client you are given and do not get to choose your fact pattern. Disfavorable fact pattern? No problem. Argue for legislative intent rather than plain meaning. There, literally, is something for everyone in the law. And you know what? I am grateful for that. It is not shyster laywering to be able to make an argument on behalf of one's client. Because, God forbid, if ever I am a defendant one day, I want my lawyer to have tools at her disposal to make as sound a defense on my behalf as she can. The ability to do so is foundational to our social contract.

Take me, for example. I am a resident subject matter expert in child support, taxation, disability, and juvenile law. I serve on a state steering committee devoted to child support. I will speak at our statewide conference this summer. And regularly field phone calls from other attorneys who want an assist understanding that area of the law. Even so, I will be the very first to tell you that I do not know everything within my areas of expertise. Hell, I probably do not know even a third of my areas. What I do know is where to go hunting for answers to tricky questions. It helps, too, that even in the very short time I have been at my gig, I have seen probably a thousand different fact patterns, and having seen those patterns, have a sort of mini library in my head that informs my knowledge of what is reasonable and what is not. Plus, I possess an unshakable belief that I can figure it out as I go. That's entirely different from making it up as I go. To the extent that I am a Good Lawyer, it is only because I believe in myself, and know that I will eventually arrive at an answer. And that if I am wrong, there is Grace. (which of course is different from criminal negligence; that, my friends, and malpractice are every attorney's fear)

Gaming is no different. I know less about 5e rules than I do about lawyering. But I know I can figure it out as I go. And I know that, with the help of my friends, we can get by. Famously, even. And that if I err, my error will be forgiven. It helps, I think, that I am a shameless recycler of other people's brilliant ideas. Quickleaf is a great example. Quickleaf is a legendary DM here on EN World. The pace of his games moves like molasses in winter, but he is so good that his games are worth the wait. I saw him do something utterly brilliant the other day that I fully intend to rip off. He called for an Insight check. DC 13, I think. Pretty standard fare, there. But he inserted two twists that elevated that skill check to something wonderful. First, he said that a success of 18 or higher would mean the character got the knowledge she wanted plus a boon, while a failure of 8 or lower meant that the character would suffer a woe. Second, and this is what particularly inspired me, he gave the player three choices for both the boon and the woe, each. I absolutely intend to emulate this tactic for our game. I love that a great or an awful skill check has the ability to add a meaningful wrinkle to the game. And how wonderfully marvelous to give players both a chance to control their character's fate and an opportunity to make a substantive contribution to telling the story. I am not so clever that I would have thought to give the player choices for weal or woe, but having admired someone else doing just that, I am perfectly clever enough to recognize and steal a great idea when I see one.