I said in the comments section to Hills Cantons' interview with Rob Kuntz that I could write three blog posts on what was said there. In reading it Monday, I conceived of all three in a matter of minutes, just gauging my reaction and considering how I might reply if I had the mic. This is then the third post, and after this I shall drop the matter. I am getting a truckload of pageviews for the material, but very little in the way of comments ... which always says I'm doing something right.
I now direct the reader towards that portion of the interview in which 'hot dogs' are discussed. As ever, I encourage the reader to examine the quote in context and to review Kuntz's purpose for writing it. I am only going to quote what is relevant to this post:
"As the main courses being served again and again are hot dogs a publisher vested in that route doesn’t want to change the menu that is working for them until it stops working, which directly relates to a-nickel-up-your-ass-at-a-time planned obsolescence. So a really good designer (offering steak, let’s say) is really up against it. Most everyone is used to seeing, smelling and eating hot dogs and thus cannot sense the steak vendor, and even if they did, they can’t “get” what it is they’re offering."
In answering this, I am now going to do something wrong. I am going to talk about the elephant in the room, the fact that I have never seen "steak" where it comes to any design for D&D, ever. I have argued from the beginning that D&D, as a game, is broken. It, and everything that has ever been written for it, is a lumbering hulk of cobbled-together crap that barely hangs together on its shambling, contorted frame. But this is not generally understood. This is not generally believed, particularly by the echo chambers of the D&D blog universe, which simply refuses to accept that far more people have quit this game than play it now. I don't mean twice as many people, I mean at least 20 or 50 times as many people, or more. They have picked it up, spent money on it, tried it a few times, found it to be absolute crying shit, and have returned to their lives wondering why the fuck anyone would play this game.
And meanwhile the remaining participants slobber over 'classic' materials like old Greyhawk or the Tomb of Horrors, remembering fondly how wonderful these things were, their eyes glassing over with tears of games gone by that will never again be played with that happy fervor of youth.
I mean it. Consider the best of the best of the best material you have ever seen in all your many years of playing the game, and now reflect upon all the copies of that material that have been thrown away because really, the vast majority considered it totally worthless. You know, I can go into any used bookstore and find a whole wall of National Geographics; but does anyone, anywhere, offer more than three ratty issues of Dragon Magazine?
Hey, maybe New York City does. Maybe Chicago is a mecca for such things. But I live in a city of more than a million people, which boasts at least five hard-core D&D bloggers, and I would bet I couldn't find a Dragon magazine if I tried. But I'm not going to try, and you know why? Because the Dragon was SHIT.
Spells I didn't need. Gods I didn't need. Monsters that were repeated rehashes of existing monsters. Two or three adventures which were the same old shit that I wasn't interested in using. Really, really bad fiction. One page of 'meh' humour and three pages of really, really crappy graphic fiction. Articles about trends or reviews which were palpable filler, exactly the sort of thing Kuntz still writes and exactly the sort of thing that has no value to me whatsoever. I find it remarkable that month after month the Dragon managed to remain the premiere magazine of a hobby I absolutely loved without ever actually giving me any information that was actually useful for me. But then, I'm having the same reaction to what I see on blogs.
Readers, you can snipe and gnash your teeth and insist upon the genius of the Dragon and any other concocted writings you masturbate yourselves with, but one day it will dawn on you what is actually wrong with D&D, and what will always be wrong with D&D.
It is boring. It is hideously, awfully, compendiously, hopelessly dull. As a stand-alone game, it is absolutely crap. It will never be popular. It will never be embraced by the masses. The cluttered mass of rules is far too feckless to ever appeal to people who want success and 'fun' spelled out for them. That may not be nice to hear. Truth never is.
There is one thing, and one thing only that makes this game enjoyable for a very, very, VERY small number of people. That is a DM who can pull all this shit together and create a performance out of it.
Two days ago I said that "We stuck it to the man, and we stuck it so hard that yes, there is only one real manufacturer." Kuntz would have you believe that this was a clever marketing ploy, that WOTC fills the market with garbage so the great material can never be found. The truth is, we're both wrong. I'm wrong, because we never stuck it to anyone. We merely didn't care enough to put our tiny bit of collective weight behind a manufactured idea, no matter who did the manufacturing. Kuntz is wrong because in 40 years no one has managed to invent any product associated with this game that could reasonably be called "steak."
The people who put it to the man, the people who really fucked over TSR, and the WOTC, and destroyed their dreams of empire, are the people who QUIT playing the game. These are the people who never found a DM who could put all this shit together and make it good. Their number of friends in their high school didn't happen to include such a person. The fellow they met in university who could do it also turned out to be a major asshole. The chances just never lined up in their favor. And while some of them might wonder how it might have been if they didn't grow up in Shithole, Kansas, with the books their grandmother in New Jersey sent because she'd heard it was popular among young people, the majority will never think about the game again. Their response will be, "Oh, that ... fuck, do people still play that?" with the clear, lacking in tears memory of a very stupid, crappy afternoon when four of them tried to figure out how the fuck the game was played.
I am sorry to put it so bluntly. If you take the DM out of the equation, all the rest of it has no value at all. Sadly, however, for DMs who haven't figured out yet how to do it themselves, all this crap for sale will continue to serve as a crutch; and for a lot of would-be designers, who haven't yet figured out that they are reinventing the wheel again, and again, and again ... and omg again ... it will forever seem that their decision to use this art image for the cover of their really profound Dungeon Imaginarium proves finally that they are the bestest designer EVER!
It all reminds me of the goldfish, roaming around its bowl, with its 3-second memory span:
"Hey, there's a castle here ...
oh look, a castle! ...
wow, I didn't know there was a castle here ...
oops, someone put in a castle ...
Hey, there's a castle here ..."