Archive for September 16th, 2010

September 16, 2010

D&D: the game you love to hate

The Kiltedyaksman, who I collaborated with on a hireling generator for Classic D&D and who runs Red Box Niagara, posted a rant at his blog that generated a serious Dice Storm in the comments section. The rant was pretty much about having a major hate on for 4e D&D, especially what he sees as WotC co-opting current interest in older editions of D&D for it’s new Red Box.

I was tempted to weigh in, because as much as I respect the Kilted One, I don’t agree with him. And as much as I can understand why people like 4e, 3e or whatever edition of the world’s most popular roleplaying game, there was a lot of misinformed opinions about the older editions being thrown around by defenders of modern D&D. There were also a lot of common prejudices about 4e being thrown around by defenders of older editions. And plenty of willful ignorance on both sides.

But then it hit me–what’s interesting about the edition wars isn’t the wars themselves, it’s what it says about D&D.

D&D is like this weird rorschach blot of a game that people see all kinds of things in, and I think that’s why D&D persists. People don’t think, they know, that D&D is:

  • A game about killing monsters and taking their stuff
  • A game about exploring a mythic underworld in search of treasure
  • A game about improvised acting in a fantasy setting
  • A game about building the most combat capable characters money can buy
  • A perfect framework for playing a variety of homebrewed games

The same people also KNOW:

  • Modern D&D is too complicated
  • Modern D&D’s rules are more realistic than older versions
  • Modern D&D is too combat oriented
  • Modern D&D has more options and ideas, just like modern fantasy
  • Modern D&D is a callous attempt to squeeze gamers for money
  • Modern D&D is a miniatures game, not a roleplaying game
  • Modern D&D is a tabletop version of World of Warcraft
  • Modern D&D is a natural outgrowth of better game design
  • Modern D&D character building is totally unbalanced and broken
  • Modern D&D is well-balanced and provides more consistent gaming experiences
  • Modern D&D is designed by corporate lackeys looking to make a buck
  • Modern D&D is well-balanced and boring
  • Modern D&D has come a long way since the days of hobbyist designers
  • Modern D&D is a game about superheroes for munchkins
  • Modern D&D is a genre unto itself
  • Modern D&D is a video game
  • Modern D&D is capable of deep, meaningful story-telling
  • Modern D&D is a railroad

And they also KNOW:

  • Old D&D is a hodge-podge of rules and poorly designed systems
  • Old D&D is exactly like modern D&D, except more primitive
  • Old D&D completely unrealistic
  • Old D&D’s lack of rules is way more realistic than shoe-horning everything into the same unified mechanic
  • Old D&D is faithful to the fantasy genres that inspired it
  • Old D&D is for adults, not MMRPGers
  • Old D&D is a great game for kids
  • Old D&D is an arcade game
  • Old D&D is capable of deep, meaningful campaigns
  • Old D&D is a railroad
  • Old D&D is just like modern editions, only worse
  • Old D&D is totally unbalanced, unlike modern editions
  • Old D&D is totally unbalanced and that’s great!
  • Old D&D is all about random tables and makes no sense
  • Old D&D is all about random tables and endlessly surprising
  • Old D&D was designed by people who loved the game

And of course:

  • Old D&D is a great game, if you ignore its quirks and follow the spirit of D&D
  • Modern D&D is a great game, if you ignore the haters and follow the spirit of D&D

So why is that? One reason is that for the most part, this game is a Cargo Cult. We learn by playing with a particular group of 2-8 people. And then we play with another group of 2-8 people. And then we do it again with another group. How many groups have you had? I’ve been playing for about 30 years, and I guess I’ve had 5-6 distinct groups: my first group, my teenage group, a group I played with after 3e came out, and my Vancouver group (including RBV). Throw in some con games and the occasional short campaign with other people, and my sample set for what D&D is doesn’t even break 10 groups.

From now on, this is the only metric I’m going to judge editions of D&D: is it malleable enough that all those groups out there can play the game that they consider D&D? If not, we have a problem. If so, game on.

Cue discussion of whether [some edition] meets those standards. Cue flame war. Cue cr0m deleting this blog post.

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