Wednesday, February 8, 2012


While JB on his blog wallows about trying to nail down the Building of a Better D&D (I don't think he's got it, myself), I'd like to address an ignored comment from this post here, from scadgrad:

"Not only does the resultant fallacy completely ignore the role of the DM (as JB points out), but more importantly it IGNORES the crunch/tweaking outside of actual game time that occupies much of the modern day player's experience as they "customize" their perfect build."

The emphasis is my own.  And this needs emphasis.  This one phrase says more about the commercialism of the last 40 years than does ten million words written about editions and skills and attacks of opportunity.  If we are going to stick a post in the ground and identify WHERE D&D WENT WRONG, the post should be firmly hammered into the middle of scadgrad's observation.

On a typical week I run about five to seven hours of D&D, depending on how focused my groups are - this includes the online campaign, and does not include time spent during a running chatting about things that are not D&D, bathroom breaks and time half the crew spends outside having a smoke.  Seven hours of PURE D&D running a week, that's about as good as it gets.

On an a-typical week, over Christmas, through the time in summer I usually take off as the parties scatter on vacation, I get in NO running time whatsoever.  But D&D does not stop, oh no!  D&D, for me, never stops.

That's because I work on D&D between 20 and 60 hours a week, every week, summer and winter, diligently, consistently, and with great relish.  I can testify that my party players work on their characters during these off times as well - not nearly as much as I do, but upon rewrites, construction designs, artwork and so on they probably each put in between 2 and 10 hours a month.

But as scadgrad says ... does anyone in the industry give a shit?

No, they don't.  They don't because they adopted a business model that made sense to them: "People should be able to sit down, anytime, anywhere, and without any pre-planning whatsoever, be able to run a game on the spot.  We will make that possible!"

Prepackaging.  Prefabrication.  Conformity.  A great landscape of uniform, bland preformed cookie-cutter adventures, with all the latitude that corporate consciences and imaginations can provide: to the extent that the market itself has become dogmatic in their thinking, ruled by factions laid down by editions and public relations hype.

We have products.  We have everything we need to sit down as READ off pages to our players, defining their fun for the evening, defining our slotted, factory purposed roles in the great corporate game plan.  Anyone can be a DM!  Anyone can play!  Play anywhere!  Play anytime!  Play!  Play!  Play!

But most of all, Buy, Buy, Buy.

Where are the tools that lets the amateur make his own world?  "Fuck boy, we don't sell tools, we sell GAMES.  Buy this one and be a vampire!  Buy this one and be a superhero!  Buy this one and be a Lovecraftian God!  Don't waste time making your own world.  We have thousands of worlds on our shelves.  Rush on down and pick up the one that FITS YOU PERSONALLY!

Oh, I know there are many who do buy, and who swear by these products, and who dance around pitching their glories to other people.  But I can't help thinking at the core of my being, every time I read or hear about anyone buying anything prepackaged for "their" world (if it can be called that):  what a poor, deluded cripple; what a shame they still haven't learned how to do it themselves.

Not fair, I know.  So not fair.  So self-righteous.  So pretentious.  Who am I to say a person shouldn't buy an "imaginitive, marvelous product?"

I'll tell you: I'm a DM who does it himself.

See, I just haven't seen this imaginitive product yet.  That's really the crux of it.  I hear tell over and over about these wonderful products that the manufacturers create ... and then I go down to my local game store, this massive two story building that's been selling roleplaying games for literally 35 years, where there ARE thousands of games on the shelves, where the books can be opened and read and looked over at will, where the staff doesn't harrass you if you hang around for hours and hours (seriously!) ... and in all the hours I have spent there, over all the years that I've spent there, I still have yet to find one product that isn't in truth a piece of glorified shit.

Honest.  I open up these books and start reading down their lists of skills or their outlines for what this fantasy world tries to be about, and all I see is cheap, crass, crummy, hackneyed, cliche regurgitated garbage written in high school English.  All the art I see is high-school binder art.  I know I'm supposed to see so much more than this, but I guess its just that I'm comparing these written words to the words written by all the world's writers, and not those who write in roleplaying games.  I guess its because I'm comparing the art to the art produced by all the world's artists, and not just the artists of roleplaying games.  I guess I just can't compress my measuring tools into this small a space.  I guess its that I don't find myself limited by what OTHER people think D&D ought to be.

Because you see, my experience as a DM isn't based on how players reacted to the Tomb of Horrors when I ran it.  Or how they reacted to Third Edition when we switched.  Or what my players think about Paizo or White Wolf or S/W.  My experience as a DM is based upon how my players reacted to MY world.  MINE.  Do you understand?  When something went wrong, I didn't put my booties on and rush down to the store to buy something better!  I sat at my computer at my table and I fixed it.  Me.  I did the fucking work.  And I learned how to do the fucking work, because I didn't farm it out.  I didn't lean on a crutch.  I didn't spend my time looking for a tit to suck.  I worked.  I designed, and then I redesigned, and then I redesigned again.  I did it and did it and did it MYSELF, all by myself, and now I've gotten so fucking good at it that everything the manufacturers print looks like incomprehensible shit to me.

See, all these cripples buying all this shit?  I don't think they know a damn thing.  I don't think they've ever HAD to know a damn thing.  They've been on the tit too long.  And I think that all of us who have for the last forty years been doing it ourselves KNOW this.  And I think that yes, it does make us feel superior.

But only because we are.


Beedo said...

I'm not going to take on your main point, head on, because I don't disagree that the work itself is the real journey. But there's a whole side to the published adventure phenomenon you're overlooking, and it has to do with the nature of shared experiences. Module XYZ might be tawdry and hackneyed, but if it was published by TSR, it's a tawdry hackneyed adventure that's been played and owned by thousands of gamers. A side effect of playing is building memories and experiences, and when those experiences involve a storied piece of real estate, you've got a portable experience that crosses gaming groups. When some player blathers about their DM's latest home brew, there's no shared reference. When someone talks about their group's experience in the Tomb of Horrors, most folks that have played early editions of D&D can plug right into that experience and relate their own knee-capping experiences in that particular party killer. It's the type of thing that drives blog discussions, message board discussions, and idle reminsicences on game night. It's a populist sentiment.

Alexis said...

"When some player blathers about their DM's latest home brew, there's no shared reference."

And why in hell should that matter? Are you saying that because my players can't share their experiences, these experiences are somehow less meaningful from those that are shared? And if you're not saying this, than what does it prove?

Only that a lot of people did something. That in itself does not demonstrate value.

Beedo said...

When two people read the same book or see the same movie, it's a qualitatively different experience than being told about a book one will never have the opportunity to read.

When I see someone discussing their experiences with a published adventure, chances are I can jump in to the conversation and relate a similar experience; "Oh yeah, one of the players in my group got gakked by that same trap as well."

It's not my intent to disparage the home brew campaigner, just point out that an oft overlooked side benefit of the published adventures is this ability to swap war stories with fellow gamers.

If that facet of the community has no value to you, well, there you have it.

Alexis said...

Fuckin' hate it with players who have to talk about their war stories.

This is what I mean. People who think the "game" is telling other people about when they played the "game."

Mediocrity at its lowest.

JB said...

@ Alexis:

I think I am finally starting to get your sense of humor. At least, your comments here made me chuckle.

I will say that while I buy a lot of "the old stuff" (adventure modules and whatnot), I do so with the express purpose of analyzing the shit out of it (and sometimes out of a certain curiosity). I, too, have weened myself from the corporate tit...though I only did so about 8 or 9 years ago.

If I haven't said it before, Alexis, I'll say it now: you have every right to be pretentious.
: )

Matt said...

I think most -not all- players get their start in RPGs through modules and generated content. My first true D&D experience was with the box set "First Quest," which came included with top of the line marketing at the time: a CD of monster sounds!

Since then I have grown into a dedicated home brew GM with a rich world full of our self-created deities, monsters, cities and cultures. We also take occasional forays into modules. Every year we run one of the old 'Challenge of Champions' games from Dungeon magazine. We run them because they are fun, not because it's an 'easy way out'. Not every game needs to be tailor fitted to the group. In fact it may throw a curve ball to some players who enjoy predicting a GMs next move.

I do agree with you that there is too much saturation of content. I have no issues with buying books and modules however I am bothered by the lack of creativity it seems to nurture.

That's where we come in. As Game Masters and weathered Players it falls on our shoulders to steer younger generations toward creativity and originality. Nudge them in the right direction. Maybe convince them to add some original content to an existing module, then push them straight into writing themselves.

And you might just be surprised! Even the most experienced gamers may learn something when working closely with a rookie!

ps, sorry for the wall o' text.

Dave Cesarano said...

Man. I feel as though you jammed your steel-toed-Timberland-clad foot up my ass and broke it off.

I'm pretty guilty. I had a homebrew setting back in college. I shelved it, never really returned to it. I honestly like playing pre-existing campaign settings. Why? Lazy perhaps. Creatively bankrupt in my old age is another possibility. I'm also one of those sappy dupes who fell in love with a couple of established campaign settings like The Forgotten Realms and Dark Sun.

And yeah, I did suckle on the teat. Money spent on campaign setting materials is money wasted, I'll agree. I could have just come up with all that stuff myself.

Maybe someday I'll get up off my lazy ass and run a game set in ancient Rome. Or maybe I'll just stay lazy.

Meanwhile, I'm going to find a doctor to get Alexis' foot out of my backside. It hurts.

David said...

Alexis, do you make a distinction between rule sets and modules/worlds/campaign materials?

I find rule sets important. While it is entirely possible to start from totally nothing I don't see anything to look down on in a DM finding a set of basic mechanics to start from. In your case it was D&D.

Yes most of the rules sets also contain setting material that deserves to be ripped out. There are many rule sets that are just new color slapped on old mechanics that do deserve disdain. Yet there are also really do provide a useful base to build on.

John said...

Hmm... That was not where I was expecting this to go, given the opening quote (was kind of expecting a mechanical supplement bloat post), but the direction you went was ultimately more interesting. I suppose I should be happy to say that the only published setting I've played in was Eberron, and the only one I've run was Midnight. While I do sometimes use published modules, I agree that they tend to be pretty bad and I end up modifying them pretty heavily.

I am curious, though, on your opinion of procedural generation systems, like those present in Traveller or WFRPG's Renegade Crowns.

Alexis said...


I do make that distinction. I consider rule sets to be "tools," not prefabrications.

That said, there are some rule sets which are so heavily designed to promote a particular gaming process or expectation that they might as well be prefabrications. In which case, they're junk. Worse, there are rulesets which have obviously been designed to promote additional products, with products to follow ad nauseum, which again are intended to cripple the user and encourage dependency. Again, complete junk.


I grew up on Traveller. Ultimately it did not hold my attention for as long as D&D; for literally decades I modified it and modified it, and finally realized I was wasting my time.

I have no personal experience with RC. I very much doubt I'd be sold on it.