Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Holy Grail

It’s something I’ve been hearing about since I plunged into the world of D&D bloggers about a year ago—a sentiment that, somehow, its possible to create a community which embodies the emotional love RPG players everywhere have for the game. It would be a neutral organization, lacking in prejudice and one-true-wayism, and it would be embraced and supported by thousands of players as—I presume—a networking and marketing organization offering sage advice and providing regular campaigns for people who only want to play.

I’m probably not describing this adequately enough. That is because I’m not a believer.

Even if such an organization could be invented, and if this organization could manage to provide for its needs with the contributions of enough happy players and game masters that it didn’t go belly up in six months; and if it wasn’t dismissive of the “new” or the “old” styles of playing; and if it did provide a vast array of purchasable products, including everything from just released materials to long lost treasures gathered together through a gratuitous network…before I get on board with the Quest this magical organization promotes, I’m going to need one question answered. Just exactly how is any of this going to help ME?

Oh sure, you can struggle to make your community, but from my point of view its always going to be a community of other people…and I think the majority of players are stuck seeing it that way. Because, really, it isn’t needed.

Look. I don’t buy anything to do with D&D. I don’t even buy dice. I have enough dice to fill a tin container eight inches high and four inches on a side. And I play with people who have half as many dice each. If I need to roll fifty 20-siders for Odin-knows-what purpose, I can pick and choose, you know what I mean?

I don’t buy modules or books or maps or paper to make maps (everything is done electronically). The “tools” I use are those provided for offices and graphic artists and computer games—all of which already have organizations which provide me a vast array.

I don’t need players. I know that some out there do, but I live in a very large city and if I need another player I know which bulletin boards or websites I need to go to. Or I could just put the word out with my present players. I wouldn’t need another organization as a go-between, mostly because some great national group would be useless—most of the so-called players would be living in other cities or other countries, and at best I might hope for two or three that might live nearby and be compatible. And guess what? They already hang out near the aforementioned bulletin boards. Because they’re nerds.

I don’t need any communication forum on how to play or how other people play or how I might make my world more uniform with other people’s worlds. I don’t play in tournaments, I don’t EVER want to play in a tournament again, and I sure as fuck don’t ever want to RUN in another tournament ever again. I used to play weekly with the cream of the organizers of the local city gaming convention twenty years ago, a convention of more than 2,000 people, and I was often requested to run tournament campaigns because I could be relied upon to be there, to be able to read and to not lose my head. I found it dreadfully boring, something I did as a favor for my friends and NOT out of love for the game.

What I’m saying is, I’m not interested in playing any community’s game, and I’m not interested in what any community has to say about my game. There’d be about as much chance of my being interested in a community that wanted to make suggestions about the novel I’m writing or about how I plan to organize my next summer’s vacation. There are just things that no number of people have any business telling me, and how to run my world is one of those things.

Would it be interesting to talk to other people about the game? Why, yes. And guess what? My BLOG lets me do that. If someone would like to debate upon some point of the game, or make a suggestion to me about the tactical quality of grenade missile weapons, I’m prepared to listen. But I don’t need any organization beyond the internet to make that possible. I sure as hell don’t need the “president” or “chapter chairman” of some organization asking me for donations so they can provide a e-newsletter that will incorporate the same level of writing I see in blogs right now.

I guess that people need to be stroked. They need to have a little card that tells them they’re the member of something, or some kind of doofus award they can put proudly on their site and polish with their egos until it shines bright. Some kind of “order” of some kind of RPG symbol, like a die or something. I guess for some people, they need to buy things from “friends” rather than from faceless corporations, and so it helps them to think that their money is going towards a higher purpose—an online distribution address out of someone’s basement, say. For some people, this brings it all home. This makes them all warm and fuzzy, so they don’t feel quite so persecuted for playing a game or moving little miniatures and throwing little dice.

You know what else is a dice game? Craps. And people play it openly, for a great deal of money. And if you suggested they were pussies for playing a dice game, you could get yourself knifed.

You know what else is a game with little miniatures? Chess. And people will tell you proudly that they play it, without any sense that they’re wasting their time.

If you’re one of those out there who feels that an organization will somehow vindicate you, you’re looking in the wrong place for your Grail.

When someone asks me what I did last weekend, I tell them I played D&D. I don’t pretend that’s something I shouldn’t have done. And I laugh when people get confused. I like to make them feel they’re a little stupid for not knowing what the game is.

But if it isn’t recognition, or stroking, what is it? What is this unshakable fantasy that somehow the game NEEDS the attendant organization? That the books and the available time to play aren’t enough?

I just don’t know. I don’t think Arthur ever really needed the Grail, you know? It was just something to keep the knights busy.


K. Forest said...

It was just something to keep the knights busy.

Apparently Lancelot did not take the bait.

Yeah, for whatever reason, when I heard about the idea to consolidate the Old School Renaissance into a site that was part-community, part storefront I didn't really think you'd be jumping on the bandwagon, Alexis. I'm not sure what kind of bandwagon you'd really be into. I get the sense that you're more of a wagon-burner.

Be that as it may, I'm not philosophically averse to a site that's crammed with stuff that interests me. The only real problem something like that would present is dilution of the OSR scene. Adding yet another OSR pit-stop might divide the community up a little more rather than bring the grogs and neo-grogs together in free love. Anyway, it's worth a shot.

Carl said...

Mmmmm...community. I think that word is actually an Aristotalean form like Justice and Truth. Everyone can agree that it exists, but no two people can agree what it is.

I'd like to see a community rallying point for pencil-and-paper role playing gamers. I like to discuss campaign ideas and rule nit picks with my fellow nerds. Reading Alexis' Origins of Undead articles has been great. I miss stuff like that. I used to get it from Dragon, but that was long, long ago. Dragon moved away from that sort of thing and now it's gone, too.

I don't there's much point in trying to build a single rallying site or magazine for D&D. There are too many flavors now. I think the best bet for someone looking to do that is to create a site, fill it with content you like, hire or cajole others whose views on the game are similar or at least complimentary to yours and hope that it draws an audience.

Hey look! There's a site called, "The Tao of D&D" where this guy writes some cool opinionated stuff and discusses the nuts and bolts of his campaign.

KenHR said...

I agree with this post to a degree; I'm not sure how many are driven to display geek badgery because they're insecure about being gamers (though I'm sure it's the case for more than a few folks out there). But...while the notion of community is attractive, it can have a chilling effect on creativity. And you get silliness like discussing the old-school-ness of d10s or Jim Holloway's art, trying to create a lexicon of dungeon terms, or organizing the life-cycle of RPGs into historical epochs.

None of that is useful. It's just a new version of The Forge. Blech.

I'd much rather hear about actual play (war stories!) or see stuff that is actually useful for other gamers to use, like your undead articles or those random generators by Kellri, than see more theoretical wankery.

So..yeah, I guess I can sum this up by saying "what Carl just said."