Sunday, August 5, 2018

Turning My Back

It is true.  Of late, I have not done much writing on the blog and certainly not about D&D.  I've concentrated on rewriting the old campaign, running the new campaign and posting advice on another blog, plus reworking my book, more than 22,000 words in the last four weeks.  But not on this blog ... and not the sort of D&D design I've spent many hours posting here.

There are times when my motivation to design is ... meh. It could be the hot, sticky unpleasantness of summer, encouraging me to lay about watching movies rather than working on excel.  Or it could be stress.  There's a small sense of despondency, the old why-bother feeling that anyone will equate with blogging, now and then.  That's there, for sure.  Quite often, I find my passion for D&D to be an enormous basin to fill.  Particularly as I must always fill it alone.  Viewing the game as I do, there's no where else for me to go.

Any time I dare search for inspiration, I'm sure to find crap like this video, loaded yesterday and rich with 256,373 views, about a DM that chose to shift a game party to modern day New York ~ and then to strip the party of their magic, their race and connections with their god, because ... oh fuck, reasons I guess.  What the fuck is the goddamn point of putting D&D characters into a modern setting if you're just going to make them ordinary?  What is the fucking appeal of shit like this, except to exhaustively ignorant viewers with exhaustively minimal experience in ... fuck, anything?  I have to believe we're counting 256,000 nine-year-olds, or else I might just as well put a pistol in my mouth if that's what it takes to make me stop writing my blog.

Fuck, I'm not casting pearls before swine.  I'm casting pearls before amoeba.

If that's not disheartening enough, I can read yet one more puff piece about the game written by someone who has obviously never played.  Predictably, paragraph one is a run-down of D&D's latest appearances on the media, paragraph two is a rehash of D&D's new popularity (presumably why this "journalist" is writing the fucking article), paragraph three hypes the online D&D youtube phenomenon (making the first reference to the slim possibility that anyone reading the article might actually play the game) and paragraph four reminds us, yet again, that D&D is hard.

I expect that we've all noticed lately that there's been a definite shift in marketing, game-play and media associated with D&D in the last eighteen months.  While the game's presentation has often been pressed towards new players, it's quite clear that the new players being sought-for now are vastly younger than before ~ I'd say, based on the concept behind a lot of channels and the level of response, that nine is precisely the age wanted.  I postulate that number crunchers and marketing types have been having conversations in the halls of Hasbro of late, and I can guess what was said.

"Guys.  Our marketing shows that most people play this game for about two years, get tired of it, usually because they can't make much sense of it or they just get interested in other things.  So we've got to come up with a marketing strategy that plays to the greatest number of properties sold in the shortest possible window of the new player's interest.  I suggest that we should make efforts to simplify the game, bringing it down to the level that nine and ten year olds can play, then hammer with lots of images, miniatures and visual aids on cheap mediums, while bringing the game stores around to selling the notion that 'game nights' can bring families together.  Then, our bigger marketing plan will be to sell to parents, who have never played and know nothing about D&D, given that the old 80s satanic scare is mostly forgotten by this generation of parents.  To sell to parents, we've got to push the media to write lots of puff pieces about D&D that don't actually talk about the game, encouraging parents to buy without looking at what they're buying."

Well.  That's probably been the strategy since 1983.  It's only that now, it's working.

On another front, I am very tired of the decades-long push back against cellphones, video games and the internet, in which there's a small, annoying group of luddites who keep insisting, despite the steady passage of time, that we would all be a lot better off if we would just unplug and go back to ... when everything was enormously boring.  Faux medical-industry bean counters pull up evidence about how it will reduce our stress, socialite-friendly etiquette wannabes write long diatribes on when we're allowed to use our phones in front of friends and family, pretentious gits create rules for people surrendering their phones at weddings, at business meetings, at tourist sites and campgrounds ... presumably because phones are putting photographers out of business, or its just another way to ensure we're more bored than we would be if we had technology.

D&D, I'm afraid, is being used in this direction.  Because it's stubbornly refused to update itself with technology, as the old guard clings bitterly to paper and pencil, parents are running to invest their children into the game in the hopes that there's some small chance that they'll be raised to understand how to do things without the use of electronics.  I don't think it's going to work.  In typical fashion, the market is assuming that cellphones and videogames are as cool and absorbing as technology is going to get, ever.  Thirty years from now we'll be trying to interest kids in their cellphones in the hopes that they're not sucked down into the use of Larry Niven's wire, or whatever the equivalent of that's going to end up being.

Yeah, so, the end result of all this is that I feel mostly disconsolate about designing in D&D, at present.  The Juvenis running last week, and the one before, went spectacularly well, as five players steadily cut down 36 simple-minded larvae last week (page 59 of the old monster manual), a much larger fight than I know most DM's are willing to permit.  I very rarely see players suggesting their bored during these fights ~ except perhaps the last few rounds where it has become obvious at last that the players are going to win, and it's just a matter of getting those last hits in.  Even then, most players are thinking about experience, not grumbling.

Worry not, however.  The wind will shift, I'll get interested in old projects and the design posts will pick up again.  Just now, however, I'm focused on things that seem to be producing the best possible results.

Go give Travis Hanson some money. He's doing good work,
and there are so few of us.

UPDATE:  There's nothing that says obsolete like complaining about being obsolete.


Pandred said...

I noticed the dropoff in game content with some dismay, but I know you'll perservere. Everyone has rough patches, and I'll still be reading while you get through yours.

Looking forward to everything you've got coming down the pipe, no matter how long it takes to arrive.

Shelby Maddox said...

I try not to pay too much attention to the junk spilling out of the big names. It just makes me upset. For me, it's best to ignore their lazy, sloppy work, and focus on creating something real and useful. Not so that I can change the culture, but because *I* want to create it. It's irrelevant if a quarter million sheep follow along; I do it for me.

Ozymandias said...

Saw the Puffin video just this morning. Thought there might be something interesting to it, something about overpowered magic users laying low a modern city.


I have noticed a shift in the party line but it's relatively minor, only found through a few Twitter and Reddit posts. Still, if it's a sign of new trends, I think the online community just might be moving in a better direction.

JB said...

I hear you, man.

Despite being one of the luddite types, I don't disagree with your assessments (you've made them in the past) regarding the lack of embracing a "tech-forward" approach. And I am 100% in the same thought pool as you about the media puff pieces on the internet (I find myself somewhat disturbed by the sheer amount I've come across). I can relate to how this stuff saps your energy/interest for certainly does for me.

Ah, well. You know...keep on keeping on. We'll be around.

Alexis Smolensk said...

I hear what you're saying, Shelby. It's just that, like anyone else interested in D&D, I want to READ about it, and watch videos, and immerse myself in my passion, sometimes all day.

But what I get is this ... dreck. This awful, myopic, pandering, simpering, unimaginative pissing dreck, junked out by users who are the type to use a cellphone to pound nails. Here we go and make this utterly amazing game, this wonderous vehicle that enables travel through space and time, that allows us to walk with the gods or examine the minutest of elements of the cosmos ... and these dumbfucks are jizzing all over themselves that swords cut meat.

It's gawddamned hard to lay off it, you know? Like an itch, or the DTs. I cannot be ~ cannot ~ be the only one out here on the frontier.

Ozymandias said...

Makes me think we need someone to animate some war stories. Like, I like Puffin Forest, but I'd like it a lot more if the content was... better.