Thursday, February 9, 2012


Most people in roleplaying get their start through modules and generated content for good reason.  Just now, there isn't any other way to start.  The module format is so pervasive that finding a world that does not use some sort of pregenerated content is vitually impossible - and new DMs follow in the ways of the DMs they've had the chance to play under.

it's interesting that, having noted the above, the greatest mass of prefabricated ware for RPG's is oldware.  Five years, ten years ... even thirty-plus years old, still used in whatever rehashed form the DM must.  The Keep on the Borderland first came to my attention when I was in high school, which was a very long time ago, I can assure you.  It gets instant recognition in the Community.  It couldn't get more accolades heaped upon it if it were written by Dickens.

Forty years of prefab oldware creates one hell of a populist sentiment, to use Beedo's words.  The "populism" accumulates as pressure on new DMs to fall in with the established format:  begin by running a module, and someday you'll get good enough as a DM that you'll be ready to ... adapt modules for future runnings.

What else can an established DM tell a neophyte?  World creation and sandbox gaming is not something you fall out of bed at 15 and just start doing ... well, it isn't something most players start doing.  Particularly since most of them will never SEE it being done.  Most will have their first experiences with a DM firmly clutching prefab oldware in hand, reading from (or having memorized) the text, extolling the virtues of what a GREAT module this is, and probably the GREATNESS of the store from which is was purchased, and perhaps the GREATNESS of the designers.  Young players are quite easily impressed with such things.  Young players take such pronouncements as proof of fact when later on they 'graduate' from Player to DM, getting their own copies of the oldware and waving it under the noses of noobies like they themselves used to be "... and the spirit of time is transferred across the universe to a new defender, and the power of evil is contained for another generation ... and a new Tarakian is born to protect the next."

Or some such justification.

As such, the new players never have any reason to question the books as they are handed down from on high.  I'd guess that a considerable number of those defending the prefab method do so from a perspective of one part of logic mixed with twelve to fourteen parts of teenage nostalgia.  THEY played "First Quest" with their very first adventure ever, and cue the teardrops staining their cheeks and cue the quivering lips as they remember that shining moment that enlightened their formerly dreary lives.  "Don't take our memories away!" screams the subtext, followed by an insistence that they can buy whatever they want because this is a free country.

It is free.  And in this free country people contribute all kinds of mediocrity to the general malaise that permeates the dull, mouldering tapestry that universal expression provides.  I don't buck the trend.  There's little point in trying to teach a pig how to waltz.  You get nowhere and it annoys the hell out of the pig.  All I want to be able to do is stand next to the couple dozen people (if there are that many on the internet) while I point and say, "look at that fucking bunch of pigs over there."  I don't expect any of them to learn anything.

I was lucky.  MY first experience with the game when the prefab crap was just coming into existence, and I played my first five years of this game with people who had tried (successfully or unsuccessfully) to run their own campaigns.  MY first experience with D&D was with someone who had made his world from scratch, who eschewed modules, and who spat on corporatism ... until he reached middle age, that is, and ultimately did very well as the vice-president of West Coast distribution of Magic, the Gathering.  At least, that's what he told me he was doing when I last saw him, which was sometime in the age before the common Internet ... and he could have been lying out his ass.  I can't find the guy's name associated with the game anywhere on the net now.

I digress.

I didn't play a module in any game until I did so in a Traveller campaign ("Prison Planet") a fellow was running, and it took me about an hour to find a loophole that ended with me strafing the planet in a stolen navy ship screaming into the com-link, "I'M A MODEL PRISONER!"  It was kind of fun.  It was mostly fun making the ref of that game look like a bleeding idiot, which we did quite a lot.  Poor Irwin.  He never could take anyone's advice where it came to running prefab shit or his own.

Again, I digress.

I suppose that not finding modules very interesting to play in (when they were obvious railroads or death traps), or rather easy to get on the other side of (when they were loose and role-play oriented), did eventually combine with a changing universe in the 1980s when more and more new players in the game rushed out to the store to buy their drugs before sitting down with a piece of paper and a brain.  True, many of those people would have run a much worse campaign than they could buy prefab; but buying prefab guaranteed they'd never run anything better.

Thinking about the nostalgia of youth and a person's first prefab experience, and the nostalgia that entails, let me point out that a long, long time ago I sucked on a tit once, too.  I won't argue that I don't have a certain nostalgia for the owner of that tit.  Still, I'm not much interested in sucking my mamma's tit now.

That whole weaning off phase - the one that takes some folks way too many years, when you start seeing your mother as a person and not the facilitator of all your dreams, can take awhile.  It's often loaded with moments of embarrassment, and failure, and dispair.  The world is mighty unforgiving of everyone's inadequacies, and it sure is easier to rush back home to that tit when things get hard (heh heh).

Mamma WOTC understands.  Mamma kiss it better.  Mamma'll get out that big ol' tit and give babykins what he needs.  And don't forget, babykins ... Mamma knows best.


David said...

I've been reading your blog for 4 or 5 months now. This is the first post that I have found where I can see why some people complain that you are an ass. I don't disagree with the message against modules and prepackaged settings but perhaps any community of sandbox, from scratch enthusiasts should think about how we can draw people up to us instead of just laughing with disdain.

David said...

Just a quick addendum. I do not mean to imply that there is an imperative forcing anyone to attempt to change other people gameplay. As you said, don't try to teach a pig to waltz.

I guess I'm just in a constructive phase right now and your arguements against premade materials make me want to think about ways to change behavior as an evangelist. Ultimately evangelism is probably not any more useful but its my mood right now.

Thanks for being willing to put up a not very tactful comment.

Alexis said...

I published your first comment because it was on topic, and I did not find it personally abusive. The misunderstanding some people have about me, that I moderate my comments because I can't tolerate being disagreed with, doesn't actually wash; I encourage people to disagree with me all the time.

Regarding 'drawing people up to us,' while there may be little sense in teaching pigs how to waltz, there's little sense inviting them to the dinner table to eat, too. I've given up the fantasy of inclusivity.

We should, however, get our terms straight. I'm not laughing with disdain. I'm mocking a long-held belief that what we do when we're young and stupid is necessarily 'good' because we were young and stupid. I'm mocking the nostalgia argument, which we are all required to pay lip service towards, "because the greatest time in our lives is when we are children." I'm mocking people who use that argument, because I want others to see that those who put their childhood on a pedestal are in fact still children, and as such should shut up and let the adults talk.

This culture has idolized infantalism; it promotes childhood as a time of special innocence that must never be questioned; it literally screams that responsibility and maturity are how we become corrupt and worthless.

I'm mocking all that.

If it seems unnecessarily hurtful and cruel, it is only because it has the sting of truth.