Part Six: An Open Break-Up Letter to D&D

(This is part of the series ‘D&D: Chasing the Dragon.’ Read more from the home page.)

 

Dear D&D,

It’s been awhile since we’ve been in touch, and I feel bad that I just sort of left our relationship hanging. We’ve had pretty strong feelings over the years, and to simply leave that to peter out with no closure is just wrong. I owe it to you to be honest about where we stand with each other.

Also, I want to assure you that the rumors you’ve been hearing about me bad-mouthing you are untrue. You’re an intense person, and you tend to attract intense friends. Those people are good friends to you, but people with strong feelings often interpret things uncharitably to fit their world-view. I never meant anything I’ve said about you to be a slight on your character, and I wanted to set that record straight as well.

The truth is, we were never meant to be together. And that has more to do with me than with you. I wanted you to be – believed that you were – something that you’re not, something you’ll never be. That’s okay. You don’t need to change to suit me, because a relationship based on a lie just doesn’t work in the long run. But I needed to come to terms with that, and it isn’t until now that I fully understood the divide between us.

And the last reason I wanted to write this is because you have a history of having the sort of relationship that we did. I think a lot of the people you’ve dated in the past have been projecting some kind of perfect image onto you, each different from the last. I know how good it feels in the moment, but it isn’t healthy. You deserve to be loved for who you are, not for who someone wishes you were.

So I’m going to spend some time talking about us. I’m going to talk about our relationship over the years, what went wrong, and what I’ve learned since then. To understand who we are, we need to look at who we were. And hopefully through all this, we can finally move on to healthier relationships.

So. Let’s start at the beginning… Continue reading

Part Five: What About 5th Edition?

(This is part of the series ‘D&D: Chasing the Dragon.’ Read more from the home page.)

So I hear the question you’re all dying to ask me: “What about 5th edition?” It’s the newest version, and adoption of it seems to be high if Twitch is any indication. Everyone seems to be having a good time with it, and there’s even story and character rules in it this time! Surely it’s better, maybe the best one yet! What about that one?

To which I would shrug and say, “What about 5th edition?”

What exactly in this new hotness is a major improvement on any of the stuff I’ve talked about in this series so far? I’ve poured over the books in great detail since they came out, and I haven’t found anything to indicate that it’s substantially different from any edition previous. And really, you wouldn’t expect it to be. Such is the way of mega-franchises: change it too much, and you risk a fandom rebellion.

5th edition D&D does the thing new editions always do: it rearranges, it simplifies, it recomplicates, and otherwise overhauls the entire system to be completely and totally exactly the same as it always has been. Sorry, but D&D 5th edition is essentially just business as usual. Continue reading

Part Four: On Narrative Power

(This is part of the series ‘D&D: Chasing the Dragon.’ Read more from the home page.)

There’s a stereotype of the relationship between D&D players and their DMs, and anyone with any access to the cultural cache of the game knows it. DMs labor thanklessly to work out long, involved plans and stories for the benefit of their players. Players are headstrong, clueless, even diabolical, and will find a way to derail all those plans at the earliest opportunity, whether through inexplicable stupidity or even willful and sinister delight. It’s so well-recognized that it’s become more or less a permanent fixture of play.

Carefully Thought Out Campaign
The poor, suffering DM

Why is this so familiar? Do all D&D players suffer from some kind of dumb-virus? Is foiling your DM some kind of cultural meme that players learn from each other? Would that even explain it when they do it by accident? No, as in previous articles, the pattern of play emerges from the dynamics of the rules. In this case it stems from an oft-overlooked aspect of the format: the power dynamic between player and DM.

Continue reading

Part Three: On Plot and Narrative

(This is part of the series ‘D&D: Chasing the Dragon.’ Read more from the home page.)

Imagine for a moment that you were unexpectedly handed the reins to your favorite television show of all time. A business exec knocks on your door and tells you – doesn’t ask you – that you’re now responsible for writing and producing the show from week to week. You’ll need to carry the existing plot to a logical and satisfying conclusion, tie all the characters into the main arc, make sure everyone gets enough screen time, hit all of the emotionally resonant notes of the show’s identity, and maintain its current level of quality, all on a strict weekly deadline.

Could you do it? No, honestly: could you really do it? Could you fill the shoes of the writer of your favorite show? All the DMs out there probably noticed that the job description sounds a lot like running a weekly roleplaying group, but remember: this is the big leagues. There is a built-in audience of millions, and all their expectations ride on your back. This isn’t just about you and your own opinion of the show anymore. You will be ruthlessly judged by many other people based on your ability to produce top quality television week after week after week. Could you do it? Continue reading