Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Kindergarten D&D

Nothing against Ryan over at Save vs. Poison, but when I see stuff like this, I feel myself wanting to ... wanting to ... oh fuck it, let's just read the quote:
"Yes, all these elements are realistic. Yes, it's harder to start a fire in certain climates. Yes, food might spoil or humidity might affect you... but the book struck me as nothing more than a hindrance to the player characters. I could find absolutely nothing in the book that did not bog the DM down with tedious administrative duties related to the local climate, and saddle the players with a bunch of additional penalties for things."
In Ryan's defense, he is crapping all over a pretty bad book, the Wilderness Survival Guide, which heartily deserves to be crapped on.  It was one of those last ill-conceived, slapped-together volumes churned out by the dying TSR in the '80s.  I remember finding a copy at the time and staring open mouthed at how much absolute nothing there was in the book.

But I am just sick to death of the pouting and whining about having to administrate details in a game, or requiring players to do more than spit words and throw dice.  This kindergarten logic that says that players just want to have fun, and that any sort of book-keeping - or god forbid, hindrance - is by definition non-fun, just makes me want to ... want to ...

(noises of things being thrown about a room, leading to something that sounds vaguely like a computer being used to smash a fish bowl, then softer sounds of fish being pounded into a carpet using a damaged keypad ...)

Okay, I feel better now.

I think the key word from the weakened moment above would be 'kindergarten' ... as in, we are all adults, we know how to write words, add and subtract - I would hope - and it would be rather pleasant if we could play a game that goes a bit beyond Pooh & Eeyore Find The Honey Tree, consisting of die rolls, and the biggest hindrance being that players have to lose a turn.  I grant that the Wilderness Guide did a crummy job of it, because the techniques suggested to roll said hindrances had the convenience of monkey farts on tap, but it IS possible to do a better job, to reduce the DM's record keeping and STILL make life hard for a party.

Would you care to know the value in making a party's life miserable beyond belief?  Ending the misery.  That's it.  Because we all want a party to be goddamn fucking overjoyed when the battle is over and when the day is won.  It isn't enough that we've reached the end.  We want to feel like we've been through hell, and that we're now at peace.  Hindrances, and then the absence of hindrances, are how a DM gets a party to feel that.

It is the old head-beating-the-wall joke.  And now it feels SO good that we've stopped.

Only attitudes like the one promoted above by Ryan are making the wall so fucking soft that it's like the wall is made of puffy marshmallows.  Oh, the campaign's over?  I hadn't noticed.


James V said...

I can get behind that argument. If things like food, water, travel, and weather, are explained in the book, and more importantly, a part of the world, shouldn't it matter? Heck, isn't that part of the appeal of classic computer game Oregon Trail?

If a party thinks that a band of angry goblins are bad, they should try being stranded in the middle of the ocean, or weather a blizzard on the side of a mountain. They ought to be just as elated when they overcome those obstacles as as any other one.

Blair said...



Carl said...


You're right. Overcoming adversity makes the game worth playing. It makes the rewards sweeter, the victories meaningful and the experience memorable.

Marshmallow D&D, Kindergarten D&D, Monty Haul D&D -- these are the same thing. It's rewarding play without significant risk. It will kill a game.

The other side is the Killer DM. The party adversary who views himself or herself as the party's opponent. How about a post on that?


Rick Marshall said...

Blair's right. The point of making things suck for your players isn't to do it all the time. It's so the players can tell the good times from the bad. Making thing suck is underrated because it so often misused, but when used well it helps make a great game.

Colmarr said...

Is this discussion about hard vs easy or about simple vs complicated?

I think some people are mixing the two up.

If I want to reflect heat exhaustion when my 4e group wanders in the desert, I can portray with simplicity (everyone takes a -2 penalty on skill checks and has 2 less healing surges per day, or 3 if wearing heavy armour) or I can portray it with complexity (everyone needs to carry and replenish 5lbs of water per day, needs to make endurance checks every hour or faint, and take a cumulative 10hp damage per day that can't be magically cured until you spend a day in a shady spot).

Both make the game "harder" for the PCs. It's just that one does it while allowing you to stay focused on what the game is all about (adventure), while the other bogs your game down in tedious record-keeping.

I'm (at least partially) with Ryan on this one.