Wednesday, February 20, 2013


In the previous comments field, James C. expresses the following:  "I'm not speaking out in defense of fun ... I've played on and off (mostly on) for over 25 years now and I still struggle explaining to people what the point of D&D is."

All right.  I'll confess.  The purpose of D&D is to have fun.  But for the record, let me just as that someone has to be about as dumb as toast to think needs to be said, pointed out, explained, elaborated upon or added to the beginning of a book about D&D just so "everyone knows."  Yes, D&D is fun, the Earth is round, Lady Gaga was a marketing tool for a somewhat brilliant designer and 50 Shades of Gray is a really, really shitty book.  Is there anything else patently obvious that needs to be said?

James' struggle isn't defining the 'point' of D&D ... it is defining the value of D&D.  That, my dear readers, is an entirely different problem.

The value of D&D is not to be found in how fun it is.  Many things are fun.  One does not choose this fun thing over that fun thing on the basis of a graph measuring 'fun-ness.'  The reason why a person plays D&D, as opposed to doing any other fun thing on a particular given night, has more to do with what else it offers apart from its ability to make us have a good time.

See, as shocking as this is, for many people D&D isn't FUN.  In fact, it fails quantifiably on ever conceiveable measure of fun for most of the population on this earth.  I know that a lot of D&D players would like to think that if everyone could just sit down long enough to have it completely explained to them, they would recognize how fun the game was and they would change their mind.  Sad to say it, but no.  No, they've tried the game, they've understood the game, they've dipped their feet in the water and they think you'd have to be a CLASS A moron to think this is a good way to spend your time.  For them, the game of D&D has no value.  Period.

Why, then, does it have value for you?  That is, presuming it does, which is a fair presumption since you're reading this blog.

As it happens, I want to go a long way around the barn on this one, so if the reader could please be patient, I'll get you back to the hen house and we can see what's what.

Back in the 1990s, I was struggling with the creation of my trade tables - specifically, how did trade work, what were the calculations necessary and how would the whole come together in order to produce a single, viable, practical system.  I could not follow the systems existing in macroeconomic textbooks, because I did not have any serviceable data for 17th century Europe.  No one does.  We don't have a universal list, for every object in every location - or even one location - for any time prior to the 19th century.  And the system I needed had to be universal, and it had to be for a pre-Industrial society.

It isn't as if I could just look in textbooks until I found the answer.  I had to invent the answer.  I had to believe that I had the capability of inventing the answer.  I had already had several dozen tries at a system, all of which either failed to be universal or failed to produce rational results.  By 1998, I knew at least how to produce the base data I needed, but the formula was a complete mystery.  There just wasn't one.

Between 1998 and 2004 I would think about it.  I don't mean I would sketch out a process and try it ... I mean that I had sketched out so many processes that the whole problem had ceased to be something I could do with paper and was now fully constructed in my brain.  So what I would do would be to walk down to the river, sit on a bench, and think.  Or I would run the bath, turn out all the lights, stuff towels under the door to stop any light from seeping in, and soak for several hours.  During these times I would turn it over and over.  I would say to my partner Tamara, "I'm going to go think about the problem."  And she would know I was going to be lost in thought for a long time.

Ultimately, that's how I solved it.  No one gave me any new data.  There was no creek moment.  I did not leap out of the bath and shout "EUREKA!"  Instead, I very patiently and carefully sat down over a series of weeks and wrote out the calculations necessary, designing a table in a series of steps that would account for and compare those calculations, to produce what finally became my trade table.

Somewhere about 1987 I had conceived of doing something that, to the best of my knowledge, no one had conceived of - or thought was important.  Yet I could see all sorts of value added results, none of which I could achieve without solving the problem.  It wasn't that I was working out how to build and atomic bomb or solve the energy crisis or anything, but this was important to me and I felt driven to manage it.  I felt driven to overcome something which, by all appearances, was impossible.  In reality, I was going somewhere that no one had gone before.  I have every reason to believe that I have come up with something here that NO ONE on this earth has come up with.  It is a unique experience.  It is ego fuel, and it challenges my mind to a degree that nothing else does.  And I have the sort of mind that must be challenged.

I did not have any interest in law or medicine or engineering.  I liked the idea of cartography, but micro-management cartography bored me silly.  The physical process of laboratory experimentation did not appeal to me, and I don't have the mind necessary to do three dimensional calculus - so physics was a dead loss.  All the social sciences intrigue me, as do the humanities, but university showed me that most of it is an awful rehash flipped and re-flipped by whatever is the latest intellectual fad.  I preferred fiction writing to pseudo-practical psychology or sociology, and education was a bust because of the conception that a child's innocence is more important than a child's real knowledge.

D&D, on the other hand, had value for me, because I made the rules.  I built the system.  Like writing, I was in charge of the parameters and if I wanted to construct something that hadn't been done, I could.  Moreover, I could enable others to pursue lives they couldn't possibly live in a world that couldn't possibly exist, so that they could USE that world to fabricate - on the scale of players - their own achievements and results.

The value of D&D is freedom.  Freedom of action, freedom of thought, freedom to attack a vista and transform it according to one's own mind.  That's why I fight so hard against railroading.  It disrupts the players from laying their own tracks, or living according to their own needs and seizing the opportunities that interest THEM.

Of course that's fun.  It is also life.


Anonymous said...

Now there's a purpose one can live with.

porphyre77 said...


Lukas said...

I do like working through problems. I have a few I'm pondering myself. Though not nearly as complicated as yours. Perhaps I should start thinking bigger again.

Dungeon Smash said...

beautiful, god damn beautiful