Sunday, March 1, 2015

The "Official" Football

John Arendt at Dreams in the Lich House has an interesting theory based on rumours (facts?) related to the WOTC label.  Apparently there have been layoffs following the production of 5th edition and the company has failed to promote new content in recent months.  Is the WOTC ending their pursuit of new developed content?  Are they going to sit on their laurels and soak up income off past content, alone?

I certainly hope so.

Naturally, Arendt's suggestion produces 'concern' and 'sadness' at the prospect.  My position, on the other hand,  is just the sort of thing that alienates the community.  Not my acerbic tone.  Not my unwillingness to compromise.  This.  Because I can't wait for the WOTC to shut the fuck up and stop muddying the water . . . and I don't care about how disappointed this makes the fan-boys.

The WOTC's content is like the "official" NFL football.  It is that ridiculous status that some 10-year-old boy adopts when his Daddy has gone out and purchased the football that the NFL has stamped with their name, their validation and their snobbery.  Suddenly, it's impossible in the neighborhood to play with any other football, even the soft, comfortable, well-worn and easy-to-hold football we've played with the last three years.  Now everyone has to play with the hard, fat, cheaply-made plastic football because a corporation has added the word "official" in machined lettering.

Part of the concern and sadness, I know, is the fear that role-playing will die if the company fails to keep it fresh and new.  There are many who are somehow convinced that we only gather together at our tables and play the game, we only discuss the game on the internet, we only get into flame wars about aspects of the game because the company continues to will the game into existence.  If the company surrenders, decides it's no longer profitable to keep with the present program, then that's it.  Thank you everyone for coming.  It has been a nice forty years.

Yet we don't need "official" sanction.  We don't need "official" content.  We certainly don't need this endless mess of multiple systems made infinitely worse by the insistence by the company of not maintaining continuity in their own product.

How many times has the reader played a module that strangely changed the rules on some aspect of the game?  How weird is it that gaming sessions sponsored by the company will not allow characters to be chaotic evil?  How many times have you debated a rules lawyer who doesn't see the rules the way you do because this module, this splatbook, this collection of writings, etcetera, say the exact opposite to the rules you paid for?  How many interpretations are there for the damage a shocking grasp does to a person in armour vs. a person standing in water vs. a person whose otherwise not grounded, etc.  How many times has your game been stopped short because people can't agree on the after effects of lightning bolts, fireballs, ice storms and a hundred other game features - because the company itself has never agreed on these things from product to product?

How many times have you purchased a module that you've launched for a party, only to have party members go out between the first and second sessions to buy the module themselves?  How many arguments has this started when you chose to change something about the module and they had the original - or had played the original sometime before?

How many times have you paid good money only to be let down?

How many times have you cursed the WOTC . . . only to forgive them because you're addicted to new product?

Since it's inception, D&D has never had the opportunity to establish a tradition.  From the day it was launched, it was immediately upgraded, updated and changed.  It was challenged by dozens of other systems and then hundreds of other systems.  Even the DMG from 1979 doesn't agree with the Monster Manual published in 1977 - a difference of only two years at a time when a highly limited number of people were playing.  This game came into existence broken, it has been hacked at and beaten, broken again, reset, adjusted, amputated, pumped full of blood, bled, stabbed, pronounced dead on the table and revived again, only to be castrated.  This game has never been allowed to simply be alive.

If the company would get out; if the boardrooms would get out; if all the people who didn't care about the game would just get out; there's a chance the game could find its centre.  Given two or three decades of status quo, a generation of players could finally decide on what works, what doesn't, what should never have been and what isn't worth caring about.  Given a generation, those people who don't care enough about the game to be proactive would slide quietly, ignominiously out of the picture and the remainder would carry on, discussing, debating the issues, until a settlement could be made that most of the participants could agree on.  If the kid with the father who thinks we should all be playing with an 'official' football would just go home, the rest of us could play with a pigskin that could be thrown and caught a country mile.

We just need time to catch our breath.


  1. I'm excited about the potential money they have been soaking up that could start going out into the many smaller gaming companies in the vacancy.

    We could see some interesting new ideas sprout up. New genres and ideas and systems boosted by some extra cash.

  2. Roleplaying games don't need Dungeons & Dragons as a brand. There are enough games out there now with substantial numbers of fans to keep on going all by themselves without any single big company building and maintaining a basic infrastructure. There pretty much had not been any new D&D for four years, and that didn't hurt anyone.
    I think even the idea of D&D as a gateway game doesn't hold up. Of all the people I played with in the last two decades, I am the only one who got into rpgs by buying the rulebooks and laboriously working my way through them. Everyone else was introduced to RPGs by someone else who already played them. I am sure there still some people who hear about them and make the descision to learn how it works and then introduce it to their friends, but that number really seems marginal.
    We don't need an outstanding market leader anymore. And I agree that it would preferable to not have any new official D&D games, because right now what people percieve as the "standard" or "default" RPG is actually a very complex tactical combat focused game, which I consider far from representative for RPGs as a whole.

  3. yora,

    I find the present 'standard' to be an extremely simple, barely strategic game . . . but this is the sort of disagreement that decades of silence would likely settle.


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