Tuesday, August 04, 2009

D&D : My Love-Hate Affair

I'm about to say something apocryphal. Something that gamers never live down. But I'm going to say it and deal with the consequences.

I resent all of my years of playing D&D.

Let that digest.

Okay... feeling better yet?


I'll give you a moment.



And now let me explain.

Being trapped somewhere between a liberal education and a jaded world view, my desire to game stems from a much different place than most. I have no interest in reliving the Lord of the Rings books, I hate The Princess Bride, Monty Python stopped being funny when everyone started quoting it, and Conan was just… okay.

All four of those statements would have me strung up at Gencon, if uttered aloud. And for the author of the WLD to publish them publically, that's a big dose of what the hell!?!?

Now. Let me copy something from the intro of the Ultimate Toolbox…
I can remember my fascination with charts and tables going back to high school gaming. Even before that I had a love affair with baseball statistics and numbers. Heck, I used to read encyclopedia entries for fun. When I saw the potential for a random name generator in my fantasy roleplaying (at the age of 12), I didn’t let my lack of understanding about dipthongs and bilabial tones stop me from making the world’s worst graph of syllables, consonants, and vowels.

My fascination with charts died when I got to college where I was writing stories, rather than building complex game worlds. Certainly they would always be my mistress, as some of my past designs and campaigns would suggest, but I never loved them with the same enthusiasm... only turning to them before a game, never during.

All of that changed when I started working on the 7th Sea and Legend of the Five Rings roleplaying games. All of a sudden, I found myself buying reference books again, pouring over foreign language dictionaries, and letting myself get inspired by something as simple as a song title or lyric. Inspiration was everywhere and once again I was a sponge, soaking up the data that would be used for great adventures.

This book is a culmination of years of not just gaming, but the inspiration for that gaming—both my side of the table as well as Jeff’s and Dawn’s. This book is packed with stuff. I wish there was more, to be honest.
Now. This is all a lot of disclaimer nonsense. Let me get to the point of my post.

D&D is not the game for me and never has been. It took me over 20 years to understand this. Instead of seeking out gamers that were like me (they don't exist anyway, but whatever… that's another post), I kept trying to fit other gamers into my play style. And in order to game with anyone in the realms of sorcery and magically hoopie-do, I needed to use the tool everyone else knew… D&D.

But D&D never felt right. I don't care about keeping track of arrows. Grell's don't make any sense. I don't really think watching someone roll a 1d20 is fun. Why are we going to another tavern? Keeping track of attack bonuses from 17 different +1 items is not a story to me. Being forced to wear armor when I'm not a knight is lame. I'm sorry.

The game mechanics of D&D always came before the logic of a fantasy setting or the interest of a good story. D&D placed limits on creativity by forcing me to always go on the adventure that was always mapped out for me. [Sandbox games weren't a term yet, but I was already running them.] I never could put a finger on it, but D&D didn't fill the void that needed filling.... hmmm.... there's a better way to write that.

And while Vampire was a great idea, everyone that played it near me was waaaay too into it. You know what that means.

It would be years before Luke Crane would write Burning Wheel or Dogs in the Vineyard would scorch a path across the gaming frontier. The 80s and 90s were unkind to creative-types, but heavily favored gamers who loved "crunchy numbers." GURPS, anything FASA, Rolemaster, Palladium, the list goes on.

I had the pleasure of gaming with my good friend Lenny (among others) from 1995 to 2005, telling some fantastic stories in that time. Looking back, we played a lot of D&D, when we should have been playing Barony, or Good Guys Finish Last, or Psychosis, or Lost Souls, or Whispering Vault or Kult or a bevy of other off-broadway games that always placed story and character at the apex of the game… not initiative, move-equivalent actions, and Health checks.

God. What a waste.

I really don't have a point here. I'm sorry. I just wish I could go back and time and get all those hours of D&D back and use them for good… instead of mediocrity.

If you're enjoying D&D. Great. But it's not for me. Never was. And I wish I'd known better… or someone had said something to me. Man. Now the Tomb of Horrors is even lamer.

ASIDE: While I was first writing this (months ago), Dave Arneson passed away. And I owe so much to the fact that he inspired the first nuggets of what it is that I'm talking about here. Let me be clear that I love what has been done for this hobby. But I spent a lot of my "hobby time" trying to make this square peg fit into my round hole… wait… that's not how I want to say that… damn it. Erase. Erase.


Luke said...

A friend of mine once said about Vampire, "It's a pretty good game, the only problem with Vampire: the Masquerade is that you have to play with people who play Vampire: the Masquerade."

I always agreed with him. You find some casual gamers who just want to play the politics and a bit of the tragedy instead of the opposite and it can be a really fun experience.


jim pinto said...


I don't want to really suck blood or dress in a black robe while I play. I always get typecast as a Brujah at larps because I dress like a skater... and apparently, you can't be a Ventrue in shorts and vans.

Luke said...

Because there has never been a charismatic, political leader of a clique that dressed in something other than business suits. How do people think that the Ventrue gain power? You want to lead an autoworkers union, you better look like an autoworker.

I always disliked the larp-typecasting too. I can imagine that you have level 3 dominate, are impossibly beautiful, and can't be seen in mirrors. YOU can do me that favor of imagining that I'm actually a 5'3" tall egyptian man wearing a tailored silk suit instead of a t-shirt and cargo pants.

jim pinto said...

You lost me at cargo pants.


Jonathan said...

Just wanted to shout out for Whispering Vault. Flippin' awesome game with lots of potential. Same for Kult, although I was less into the Kabalistic stuff...

jim pinto said...

The strength of Kult was that you were playing people with less than noble ideals trying to save the world. You could paint the villainy of the game anyway you like.

Tom (one of the notorious local GMs) ran a Kult game at Strategicon about 15 years ago that I still talk about to people.

Great stuff.