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Bad Horse


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Sep
5th
2015

Why I Hate D&D · 4:04pm Sep 5th, 2015

I played a lot of AD&D. I loved re-reading in the big hardcover manuals (2nd edition) about the fantastic creatures and the skills and magic to tackle them. I loved the pure yet varied geometry of the dice, the infinite potential of the character sheets. So I was surprised to realize recently that I hate D&D.

But it's true. I remember it fondly, but if anyone invites me to play D&D, or suggests a movie or game or book strongly influenced by D&D, I run away.

Why?

My first thought was that there's nothing wrong with D&D; it just isn't a complete gaming environment. What you get with the basic manuals isn't a world, but a combat system. Character classes described in terms of combat abilities; long lists of weapons; treasures; monsters. Culture is mentioned only where it relates to combat or dungeon skills.

When you present something that's unbalanced that way, something akin to Gresham's Law happens. An unbalanced system, like a literary genre (all genres are different ways of being unbalanced), attracts all the people who are unbalanced in the same way, and they have a huge impact on the culture. People who want something more tend to leave. So AD&D was doomed from the start to return endlessly to generic fantasy worlds and dungeon crawls. If White Wolf can't reach escape velocity from the black hole of munchkin-gaming with its much-more-interesting world (and it hasn't, in most places), D&D certainly can't.

But I do think there's something wrong with D&D, at least as a roleplaying (as opposed to a gaming) system. It goes back to Tolkien. Tolkien Christianized fantasy the way St. Paul Christianized Jesus, gutting it of its most disturbing and challenging parts to create something more comfortable and popular. To do that, Tolkien had to sanitize his fantasy world of its own religions, and of sex, and eros.

D&D started off with Tolkien's castrated fantasy cultures, and ripped out the underlying Christianity. It seemed necessary to re-introduced some kind of religion. But D&D also needed to keep its world from having any real culture that would interfere with the combat and treasure-hunting that it was all about. Even Viking culture would be too restrictive, what with its calls for loyalty and obedience (though its gods were pretty permissive).

So it created "religions" that were purely mercenary. It has a glut of gods, each of whom exists, none of whom impose any strong cultural baggage, who are like traders at a marketplace, all trying to strike mutually-beneficial deals with people who aren't really worshippers, but customers. Instead of cultures, it has racial combat advantages. It didn't restore eros, but it did give us that sexy babe on the cover of the DM Manual.

Maybe this is what bothers me about D&D. I can tolerate a world that is merely gutted of sex, culture, and religious focal points for its spiritual feelings and morality; we can find them in other places. But a world in which the place for the "spiritual", the sexual, and the cultural has been filled in with the purely selfish and practical, where the temple is standing-room-only with money-lenders, doesn't leave even that possibility.

(Maybe I could still enjoy playing D&D if I could play it as a video game, not as a roleplaying game. I loved playing Diablo. It's the expectations of storytelling, roleplaying, and literary value that ruin for me.)

ADDED: Uh, never mind? Part of my problem is that I never played in the settings TSR developed for D&D. :twilightsheepish:

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Comments ( 53 )
Wanderer D
Moderator

Aww man, you were on my list of invitees for the next online RPG game.

Personally, I rather dislike RPGs with existing settings that revolve heavily around them so much, and much prefer rules agnostic stuff like DnD where it's easier to just make up your own stuff wholecloth, while still keeping the general flavor of the system intact. (Kick in doors, kill monsters, take their stuff.)

TBH everything you described in this post is exactly why I love DnD, so hey.

3370831>>3370834 Heh. OTOH I loved Diablo, so I'm probably lying. I might like playing D&D if I played it again... but I don't like D&D-based media. Movies or stories based on D&D are at best like watching somebody else play a video game. If I try to enjoy them the way I enjoy movies or literature, it doesn't work.

I actually quite like that the gods of D&D are basically like us, in all things both good and ill, but bigger. Men and woman, writ larger than life.

Like as you mentioned, Norse mythology. Tor, one if not the most beloved and well-liked of the easir, was still a racist twit with a horrible temper.

If you were a giant, he'd slam your head in even if you'd invited him in. Despite what a big thing hospitality was the rest of the time. Because he hated giants that much.

Still, I will admit that I'm not a religious or even spiritual man, so for me there are no 'fur' to be stroked the wrong way. I can see how a more 'mercantile' system of your deeds outweighing the why you did those deeds rubbing somebody the wrong way.

And that's fair enough. We're all different and place different value on things; trite but true.

I love to roleplay and hate D&D.

From a storyteller's perspective, the worst part about D&D is something it shares with Tolkien: cheap, nickel morality. Orcs are evil so you can kill them and not care.

That's unbelievably ridiculous, racist, and stupid. I want my players to have to consider the moral ramifications of what they do. Game of Thrones is gritty and dark because it's real: it doesn't have "orcs" in it. Sapient creatures aren't cardboard cutouts you can label "evil" and absolve yourself of any moral consideration in the process. They cut morality out of the picture entirely with cheap labels in order to make it trivial for bad storytellers to design a series of pointless physical obstacles for their players.

Dragonquest, Paranoia, Call of Cthulhu, heck even Runequest -- games more complete than AD&D and still good RPGs.

3370866 The best part of any roleplaying system, is that its all dependent on who you're playing it with.

I've been in plenty of DnD (and DnD-esque) games where the the morality of fighting monsters, and who were really the good guys was a constant question and theme.

Other times, it's nice to just sit back, roll some dice, pretend to be a fantasy badass and not let the heavy questions weigh down a good time.

And then there's planescape where the gods get called out for being money-lenders and plant people protest against veganism.

I find that my enjoyment of D&D rides on the setting. I've never been a fan of Realms, and Greyhawk isn't even worth mentioning. Dragonlance has a few cute things (kender!) but I tried to read the Dragonlance Chronicles and that did not go well. Ugh.

However, Ravenloft... Ravenloft. Now that's an awesome setting. And I feel like it addresses some of your problems. The gods are barely responsive, and the question of if they exist or if it's just the Dark Powers messing with people is left up to the GM. If you play a good paladin or cleric, your character is believing in spite of an entire universe that exists to prove you wrong. This fits with the focus on Gothic Literature, which also brings the sex back (in a symbolic Victorian-type way, at least.)

Plus, between the literary precedent for each of the domains, the second edition Van Ricten's guides, and the stuff White Wolf did with it when they got the license in 3.5 (including having Cassada and Rea, two of my favorite Changeling: The Dreaming authors, write for it) I think it's the best developed setting out there, from creatures to peasants to nobility to Dark Lords.

Yeah, you do have to find the right group for it; Ravenloft doesn't work as a traditional D&D munchkin game, there's too much mystery and Things Which Mortals Are Not Meant To Know for that. But those groups are out there, and I've played in some Ravenloft games that were legitimately great stories.

(Edit: I should add that I've never read I, Strahd, but it's generally considered one of the best D&D tie in books out there, for what that's worth.)

Er... That's Red Sonja, a Marvel character who is in no way related to D&D. :applejackunsure: I feel it behooves me to point out that as far as both flavor text and artwork goes, D&D mostly hasn't gone into the whole "chainmail bikini" thing... As far as I'm aware, besides a few notable and usually understandable exceptions (succubi, nymphs, drow, etc.), the vast majority of female outfits have been no less modest or practical than the male ones. Honestly, Pathfinder's a bigger offender in that regard.

But as far as the other stuff goes... Yeah, I can see where you're coming from, even if it doesn't bother me too much personally. Like some other people have already said, it all comes down to the group - whether the DM wants to really flesh out the world, and whether the other players want to take the time to actually get invested in it. Sadly, the whole "kick-down-the-door" approach takes the least amount of effort for all involved, so that's what you'll tend to run into.

All this is overlooking to a certain extent that D&D springs forth and is a direct scion of RPG-less fantasy-themed war games. "TSR" (the original publisher's name) is in fact an acronym of "Tactical Studies Rules." What's remarkable about D&D is not its lack of deep role play, it's that it has role play at all.

Of course, many subsequent systems have done a much better job at it. But D&D was the pioneer.

You sound like you've had a bunch of boring DMs.

If you are looking for something that doesn't have these problems (although it has plenty of others), I would recommend The Dark Eye. It's also based on the gutted Tolkienesque fantasy, but reintroduced the spiritual and cultural (maybe even the sexual, although I don't know much about that) in a way that makes sense.
The gods exist and they are certainly not just offering services in exchange for piety but rather make demands. Boron, the god of death, disallows robbing the corpses of your foes of their clothes and even demands at least covering a humanoid corpse, mutilation being out of the question. It is quite usual actually to leave money at a temple, even if there is no rule in any of the rulebooks describing how you'd be rewarded for that – that is actually up for your game master to decide, and he has every freedom to disregard your generous spending if you go around disregarding that gods commandments. At least in the groups I played in that led to everyone giving at least something to the gods they believe in, without anyone ever even thinking of a god ever interfering in their favor.

The cultures are made to be historical stereotypes first and outfitted with something setting them apart mechanically second.
The classes can be quite restrictive, to the point where you cannot decide not to help someone just because your character is likely to die in the process – you're a knight, you swore an oath and that's that.
There are negative stats like Curiosity, Arrogance and Prejudice, and playing them to get your group into unnecessary trouble can be quite fun.

Unfortunately the rulebooks are unreasonably bloated. Making a new character will probably take you a day or more, while you will be juggling aptitudes like "agriculture" and "housekeeping".

I like D&D.

:)

I tend to play two different sorts. One is silly D&D. Basically it is full of dungeon crawls, big monsters, vast treasures and as many nonsense things as I can muster: The Rectilinear Desert (It's perfectly square. Wizardry was involved), a river that flows uphill, another river's that's the blood of a eternally dying god, wandering islands, a city of rakshasa where everything's for sale, the goddess of things you know not and disbelief[1], _________ the god, or possibly goddess, of ______ and _______, but mostly secrets, four separate gods of magic who refuse to acknowledge their rivals, &c &c &c. The chief purpose of such D&D is to roll dice, play clever games with the combat system[2], and cause my players to laugh as much as possible. Empirically, that's quite a lot.

If I want slightly less silly D&D, or at least not comedic D&D, things are a little bit more serious, but there I try to avoid the... plasticky feel of published D&D settings. I avoid having gods and instead design religions with enough to them (some sort of eschatology, some sort of ethical principle, ritual, world-creation myth, that sort of thing) that my party once had an in-character argument over theology. Which lasted for forty-five minutes. Nobody complained. My proudest moment, that. I create political systems that provide for endless (well, I hope) scope for politicking and maneuvering. We've had at least one session which consisted of nothing but rooting out a conspiracy by way of endless meetings and a truly impressive amount of lies.

D&D is what you make of it. Indeed, I prefer it to GURPS[3], say, because it has character. Oh, certainly most of that character is bad[4] but that just makes subverting it more fun. Figuring out how to set a mystery in D&D, for instance, is great fun, and playing one turned out to be likewise. I've even ran a largely non-lethal D&D game for a while[5].

However. Played in a published setting with published modules? Yeah... no. That's just a heady mixture of Diablo and double-entry bookkeeping.

[1] Why, yes, her name is Athe. Well done.
[2] Once I attacked the PCs with a phase spider while the failed to have any sort of weapon that can harm an ethereal creature. The resulting battle was, essentially, two hours of invisible chess.
[3] I do like other systems, of course. Paranoia is brilliant. Call of Cthulhu is magnificent and the 5th edition rulebook remains the only one of its kind I ever read for pleasure alone. Cp2020 is the best way to play cyberpunky adventures ever made. Shadowrun, too, wins big if only because it made a dragon the president. I've never really got into White Wolf stuff, personally, mostly because I had philosophical problem with the one I liked best, viz. Mage. And of modern stuff, I maintain that Spirit of the Century has the best designed system ever. My point is that I like weird systems with janky rules because those are fun to break and then reassemble. Anodyne efficiency is boring.
[4] D&D uses the wrong randomization system, the wrong character development system, the wrong combat system, the wrong... you get the picture. It's all wrong.
[5] I made the players government agents[6] and told 'em that they weren't allowed to shoot taxpayers willy-nilly and that their superiors prefer perpetrators to be fit to stand trial and not, say, carbonized. Then I introduced an incentive system (I made 'clout' a stat) and lo and behold my players were the pictures of restraint. Three cases in and I believe their body count was one. And they were pissed about that.
[6] The setting is a bit... steampunky, so it fits.

3370866
Is there anyone on Earth who actually uses alignment rules, anyway? Or who plays Orcs as 'always CE?' I grant you, that's in the rules, sure, but I always assumed people just shrugged and played as they saw fit.

3370898
D&D actually used to have really good settings that were properly weird. Ravenloft certainly fights with Planescape as the best one (though the latter probably gets a boost from being the setting of the best CRPG ever made[1]), but stuff like Dark Sun was surprisingly interesting. My favorite bit is how the thirst mechanics interacted with the (then) straitjacketish alignment mechanics. Brrrr.

[1] I will fight you.


3370907
One of the earliest D&D rulebooks (Basic set, I think) used to have, as advice to DM's: "Dramatize the battle as much as possible. Describe the setting, if any."

:rainbowlaugh:


3370910

I would recommend The Dark Eye.

Of course you would. :twilightsmile: The Dark Eye is really interesting but I feel it is a different genre. It's more dark/low fantasy with a heavy medieval cast over it, isn't it? Sort of like a grim teutonic Ars Magica, really.

The Dark Eye also had a trilogy of fairly good CRPGs made, actually. Realms of Arkania. I've a friend who swears by them. Also, on occasion, at them. Quite difficult if memory serves.

3370909

Usually in campaigns I would end up as a GM.

You want a fun idea for a campaign start? This is one that works very well if you have a bunch of semi-jaded gamers.

Works best with someone in on the plan, but can be done either way.

You bring everyone in, people having their rolled characters or rolling characters, then your patsy starts performing a ritual, or you stop and do it if you do not have someone in on it. If they do not stop you quickly, say a portal opened and they are all sucked into the game world.

They are in whatever campaign you were planning as themselves with their own stats, and whatever they were carrying on their person.

3370928

Of course you would. :twilightsmile: The Dark Eye is really interesting but I feel it is a different genre. It's more dark/low fantasy with a heavy medieval cast over it, isn't it? Sort of like a grim teutonic Ars Magica, really.

I don't know Ars Magika, but you might be right about the "dark/low fantasy with heavy medievial cast". Although it also has a country which is more Renaissance and accordingly arrogant to anyone else – a Horasian is just so more advanced and educated than these filthy Andergastian barbarians (the spitting image of Medieval low fantasy), not to speak of the totally iron-age Nivesen (I don't know how to pluralize "Nivese" properly in English).

The Dark Eye also had a trilogy of fairly good CRPGs made, actually. Realms of Arkania. I've a friend who swears by them. Also, on occasion, at them. Quite difficult if memory serves.

Oh yeah, these are frickin' awesome. I think besides Civilization I these have to be the first games I ever played on the Computer. Of course I never got anywhere. Making notes 'n'stuff wasn't really my strong suit back when I was seven years old.
Unfortunately we lost the first part. I am now playing the second and mainly cursing at the recurring infections of Dumpfschädel (dampskull? droning skull? dullskull?). I needed to restart three times before getting that playing without two people able to heal illnesses would be hell (two because people can't heal themselves).

3370929 I suppose you're right.
No; I never had enough money to get anything more than the Player's Guide and the Dungeon Master's Manual, and I gave those away a few years ago.

3370909 Oh, I've had boring DMs, yes, but the interesting DMs were even more boring. They would start out a campaign with half an hour of walking around learning about the world.

It's hard to introduce a world interactively. You can't start roleplaying without knowing anything about the society you're playing in; you need an infodump, like the one at the start of Fallout. I think RPGs with a ready-made setting work better for that reason.


3370907 Absolutely; credit is due.

3370974 Why would you even try to introduce a world interactively? That'd be tedious.

Do a writeup beforehand. Or, better, come up with it collectively. That's what we did with our game world for the last huge D&D game my roommate ran.

3370909
Absolutely this. If your players and GM all care about an engaging story, and if they have the chops for it (e.g. a game comprised of all Fimficcers), you're gonna have a good time.

3370905 You're right; that is Red Sonja. Yeah, I can't actually find many covers on google of D&D magazines or modules with chainmail bikini babes.

I agree that one of the big problems with D&D is that it attracts people with the same kind of imbalance as the rules-as-written have. Yet, you get the right people it can be wonderful. The thing is, and most versions of D&D forget this as well, is that it was never meant to be a complete thing itself. The players (including the GM) were suppose to provide all the interesting stuff with the math and rules as a basic framework. So... D&D is great when you ignore all the stuff that makes it officially D&D is what I'm saying I guess?

Of course, I prefer other more rules light systems for that very reason. D&D is just a big part of my childhood and I've gotten a lot of cool ideas from it. Planescape and Spelljammer are still my favorite. Even then I use them as starting points rather than trying to use them out of the box.

If you've never actually looked at one of the setting books, no wonder you feel so.

The basic books are deliberately gutted so you can theoretically use them with any of the settings, which are meant to fill in exactly what you're talking about missing (whether or not they succeed depends on the setting book, of course).

I recall once having a long conversation with someone who refused to let their kids read or watch The Lord of the Rings because they were very very christian and didn't want them exposed to that evil fantasy witchcraft... :trixieshiftright: It was kinda fun explaining exactly why that particular view is bullshit - even if I did so in a more tactful manner - but I doubt I changed his mind any.

The group I am in kind of hit a problem like this in our sessions recently. The games were getting really boring for the group, and it was realized this largely was centered around the fact our game sessions had become far too oriented on combat encounters far from any kind of meaningful chances to really see or explore the world itself. Our DM has been working on fixing this lately, and we have been having more fun as a result.

As for WoD, I did enjoy their game world, until it seemed to decide to replace "Interesting gothic horror background" with "angsty whiny drama background." I read a sourcebook for Vampire, and I swear it was like the writers thought the more you use the word fuck, the better the story became.

3370911 Strange, I like GURPS more because the characters tend to have character. I played in a game once that met every Saturday for a year and a half, broke up for six months for a different system/world, then restarted with different characters with me GMing (Under the new GURPS rulebook too), which went on for well over two and a half years. GURPS can be nasty-lethal if the characters are not careful or if the mobs get lucky, and a good GM will mute the killing blows somewhat in those cases.

Then somewhat later we started a GURPS superhero game. Normally, a Gurps Supers game takes about a week to calculate up a character. I fixed that. Everybody made a 145 point normal, and then drew a card from a deck I had made (with a second draw if they really didn't like that set of superpowers). That worked fairly well. Somewhat later, we had come back to the Supers concept and I did something a little different we called SuperDuds. Same setup, but the cards were stunningly different. Meet Agualad, with ocean powers... and a raving case of thasalophobia. Or Boomer, with extra lives, a high HT, 2 points of passive DR... and exploded for 8d6 if he took more than two points of damage past his DR. Omaha never had such an oddball bunch of third-string supers protecting it. :pinkiehappy:

Maybe I could still enjoy playing D&D if I could play it as a video game

Pretty sure that's Neverwinter Nights? If you've read any of the Drzzzzt books, it's set there. It uses a computerized version of the D20 system, but I've never played it myself. Got some good reviews though.

I think your issue is that you're not playing the realms, and that your DMs have all been shit. A good DM builds a world. Your whole issue with gods and culture has an entire 85 page chapter in the Dungeon Master's Guide dedicated to making an interest campaign full of culture and minor/major world building. DnD is an rpg template that's meant to be used to either create your own realm, or to fit with a pre-existing realm series (Dragonlance, Greyhawk, Black Sun, Ravenloft, Ebberon, Forgetten Realms, the list goes on and on).

DnD is incredible, but the basic rules and manuals are just tools. If you don't do anything with a hammer, you're never going to build a house.

True story: I'm typing this literally as I'm waiting for the last member of a D&D group I'm in to show up. There are two maxims in D&D. Firstly, a good DM will largely speaking design a good game largely regardless of the rule-set(s) that they decide to use. Two, the group should be made up of like-minded people with like-minded goals. There's nothing wrong with wanting a munchkin campaign, but one person trying to run a munchkin character when the rest are focusing more on story and lore, and you start to run into issues.

I was briefly part of a long-running AD&D group whose DM constructed a fairly extensive and interesting world, set with interesting cultures and political intrigue. AD&D is the base rule-set used to explore the world, but the world is created by the DM. The D&D stock "culture" or "lore" is largely just there to give ideas for new DMs to start with. Heck, I've seen DMs make 4th edition work, and that comes out of the box built for murder-hobos, for the most part.

Anyhow, I'm sure most of this was mentioned in the posts I didn't read. The guy is here, so I'm going to post this without further editing. Cheers.

3371002
3370976
There are times, however when it is fun for the characters to learn of the universe in game. Planescape, my favorite setting, comes to mind. Nothing beats whisking away the party to Sigil and watching them make asses of themselves. I think that's part of the fun of that setting. Anyone who is familiar with Planescape in the party I designate as touts, and they can explain to the party in their own unique manner.

If you can, BH, you should try Planescape out. It is the best.

3370974

That sounds less like a DM or system issue and more that you just have your expectations too highly-tuned and your standards a tad unrealistic. It is a game, it is not meant to be a sweeping novelization that sucks you in and doesn't let you go. The mechanics of the game aren't supposed to wow you so hard that you can't see straight. You take it for what it is and get your enjoyment out of it. The socializing, the roleplay, the combat and looting, even just the character design and imagining the potential of your creation in its role.

If any of that is something that you say suffers due to the system or the DM, it might just be that it's not necessarily something you're allowing yourself to find enjoyment in most of the time unless the planets align and fill a specific niche for you. Which is normal! Completely normal, I think most of us have interests that just don't do it for us unless a vague range of items on an invisible list are checked off and the immersion is complete.

If you feel most DMs don't have enough story and world-building, and most of the remainder are too into their world and story, then maybe you should pitch your own screen up and run some games. Show people the experience that you want as a player. Let others witness your ideas and the fruits of your own efforts. Throw them into what you feel the game should be and hope some of them love it as much as you do!

PresentPerfect
Author Interviewer

I love dungeon crawling. :(

As a DM of going on 20 years it's one part campaign, to one part players.

If the world is boring (I never use the standard DnD Gods/Religons, I'M god and make my own pantheon) and the players are more interested in the stats on the mace the paladin is using instead of WHY the paladin needs the help of heretic adventures you'll always be left wanting.
I've found it's a balancing act between skull crunching action and story driven narative.

I think the fundamental idea behind D&D is that none of the rules are supposed to constrain your ability to create a world of your choice. This is a major part of the fundamental ethos behind the system – basically, everything in the main game is readily interchangeable and can be reflavored so you can make up whatever world you want.

In other words, D&D tells you, “These are some rules. Now make a world they apply to.”

This is why the core gods are so generic – you’re not supposed to use them, you’re supposed to make up your own. They’re just there for people who are too lazy to care.

This of course leads to many people who don’t care.

People who say something is based on D&D – as in, core D&D – are generally doing something very terrible, because core D&D isn’t a world. Of course anything based on it is going to be dreadful – the flavor is meant to come from the DM and players.

Or the supplemental campaign settings that they are constantly trying to sell.

Back in 2nd edition, the Monster Manual was written to give the DM a bunch of monsters with potential backstory, some culture, some ideas about them, ect. But if you threw them all into a single world, it’d be a bit of a mish-mash in many cases. The idea was that by having a bunch of canned ideas, your own creativity would be sparked. The Illithids were a sinister behind-the-scenes presence of brain-eating, mind-controlling monsters with alien cities far underground/underwater. They controlled all sorts of monsters and people and made for good grand villains.

But if you just threw them in, they’d be people who were crossdressing as Cthulu. I mean, they were dangerous monsters, but they couldn’t really be sinister without trappings.

What’s interesting about this, though, is that as any good game designer knows, the rules of the game influence what comes out the other end. And so, the D&D rules couldn’t be applied to just any world – a world which ran on D&D rules would have to function in certain ways.

That’s not to say it is just one possible world, but the world of The Order of the Stick is an entirely reasonable reading of the 3rd edition rules and what sort of world they seem to imply.

For me, the different editions imply different sorts of worlds – 2nd edition as much grittier and more “realistic”, more high fantasy, more peasants and knights and kings and wizards and glittery cathedrals and castles. The endgame implied by those rules suggested that high-level characters were playing a completely different game from level 1 characters.

On the other hand, 4th edition D&D’s rules imply a story rather than a world – in 4th edition, the world is built around various setpieces. The idea behind 4th edition is to set up pretty epic encounters in interesting environments versus interesting opponents, with a lot of ways for characters to fight, and so the story – and world - needs to be set up to accommodate these epic fights. This isn’t the world of 2nd edition D&D – here, the heroes are fantasy superheroes. They engage in awesome fights on tall bridges or over pits of lava or while falling through the center of the planet or on top of some gigantic animated castle made entirely of undead. That’s what the game system is designed for – extremely dynamic high-stakes combat.

4th edition isn’t meant to be read about – it is meant to be experienced. Writing a story about “4th edition D&D” would be doing it wrong, because that’s not what it is there for.

In D&D, you’re responsible for the world. Or you buy a campaign setting so you’re not.

It is a nice shifting of the blame on their part.

To be entirely honest, I do like the D&D approach because I like building worlds, but it does mean that different groups idea of what D&D is often have very little to nothing in common – to different people, to “play D&D” means entirely different things.

The idea of using a base setting as a world for D&D is not a bad one - and indeed, it can lead to a lot of extra depth, and players being much more interested in and involved in the world in some cases - but you really get out what you put in. If you're playing in Eberron, it is possible for the game to be exactly as generic as any other world.

I am more ignorant than I knew, and less nerdy than I thought. :derpytongue2:

As someone who is likewise nerdy, I would venture to say that the game setting and game system are somewhat less important than the GM and the other players. You can have amazing fun with a good GM and good roleplayers, no matter if the game world is based on The Eye of Argon. If the GM and other players are just phoning it in and would really rather be looking at cat videos on the Internet, well, once again, a great system and world setting aren't going to make the evening more entertaining.

And yes, as others have noted, lots of older RPG material was essentially, "here is a character generation system, here is a combat system, here are stats for sample starships and generic ray guns. What do you mean, you wanted a background too? Go read Asimov, Heinlein, and H. Beam Piper, and think something up of your own." An assortment of official or semi-official settings came much, much later.

The most important rule in D&D is, "These rules are guidelines..." (Emphasis mine.)

Used as rules for combat, D&D is fine, and a good DM will introduce all the necessary culture/background, as well as setting out clear campaign rules. Of course, I was probably spoiled by gaming with two fantasy authors, a medieval history professor, and a Jesuit priest, and we did usually game in historical/historical-ish settings. We often had games that were pure interactive storytelling, with hardly a dice roll. Which means that the D&D system was probably superfluous and could have been replaced by Runequest, Tunnels & Trolls, or scissor-paper-rock. D&D just provided the simplest and easiest combat system.

I think I specifically love about D&D what you seemingly hate most about it: That the gods have to compete for the favor of their worshipers like traders in a market. One of my favorite ideas is that in a pantheistic culture where each god has their own afterlife and gains divine power from their followers, mortals actually have some leverage on the gods to demand miracles and divine magic if those gods want to see butts in pews on Sunday, or the local equivalent. When you think about it, monotheism is just a spiritual monopoly where the worshipers get a bad deal because its the only deal in town.

These days I mostly play pathfinder, and the role-playing mechanics have evolved with the game to balance out combat, to a certain degree. I've played in sessions with almost no combat, just diplomacy, negotiations and investigating the truth that have lasted for many an hour.

1) Hardbound books? I started when it was just three paperback folios, a handful of sixers, and Greyhawk. I remember when somebody first showed up with polyhedral dice...

2) You are Reepicheep at the chessboard in the stern of the Dawn Treader, playing as if it were a grand old romantic tale and not a game of strategy.

3) Lemme tell ya about this game, Empire of the Petal Throne. I think you might like it...

3371723 don't feel bad, BH. There's a hole in my heart where anime should go, but I just can't seem to get into it.

I've recently been playing an evil campaign called Way of the Wicked in Pathfinder, and its been a ton of fun. My character seeks nothing more than to activate her fiendish blood and descend into the abyss, a task made more complicated by being reincarnated as a mephit. We come up with arcane rituals to honour Asmodeus in ever more macabe ways, and covertly spread heresy and apostasy throughout the land, and spent three sessions sabatoging a castle ahead of a bugbear invasion.

It's been the most thoughtful and least combative campaign I've played, mostly because everyone agrees that the "encounters" we have between our hyper-competent villains and the hapless peasants we harvest for sacrifices don't need to be rolled out.

As someone who wants to make their own world with a polytheistic pantheon, you've got me thinking about the way I want to go about it. I would ideally like to find some sort of middle ground between how a lot of settings typically treat their gods (their existence has been proven, etc), and real world theologies, possibly an AH approach where you get theologies as complex and advanced as, say, the Catholic Church, but with polytheism.

My working theory is that prior to the apocalypse, the deities were like Celestia and Luna. They mingled with the common folk freely and ruled by divine right. Afterward, when they all vanished from public scrutiny but still perform the occasional miracle, when many records of what they were like have been lost and distorted, the people make up half-correct, half-fabricated religions to fill in the gaps, and things complicate from there.

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I think at this point the only reason I invested so much time into learning about Forgotten Realms is because I played Baldur's Gate 2 as a kid and wanted to know more about the world that amazing game took place in. And the game is amazing. Of course, I also had a lot of fun reading the 3rd Edition Campaign Setting book cover to cover, but it was the only setting I immersed myself in back in the day. Pathfinder's is looking pretty great too, especially since I've learned they made backstories for every planet in their solar system, which you can visit if you know the right spells or find the right portals.

This late in the thread, the main thing I want to add is that, based on what you're looking for out of your tabletop RPGs, what would probably make you happiest would be to ditch D&D for one/several of the many amazing indie RPGs which have their mechanics and setting crafted around providing that sort of awesome narrative experience.

One of my go-to recommendations is Vincent Baker's Dogs In The Vineyard, where the GM setup is basically designed to hand the players an open-ended moral dilemma, and the core of the game is seeing how their decisions about that dilemma permanently shape both the town and the characters. The setting is concrete and inspiring, and the rules are completely unlike D&D's.

Ben Lehman's Polaris: Chivalric Tragedy at the Utmost North, as well, has a concrete setting designed to focus on cranking up moral decisions, and a dice-free conflict resolution mechanic that feels almost ritualistic (in the magical sense). Google the name and you can find a free e-book download of the game on the publisher's website. n.b.: I've never had the chance to play Polaris, but it was one of the core influences behind my poem-story Melt.

Ben Robbin's Microscope almost isn't an RPG. Rather, it is, but the "character" you're playing isn't a person, but an entire civilization, and you and your fellow players collaboratively sketch out the sweep of history and then drill down into events and even individual scenes to give more detail to the pivotal moments. I've heard of indie gamers running something like a D&D campaign who start the campaign by playing Microscope to collaboratively create a game world that gets everyone invested in the world's history and conflicts from square one.

Jason Morningstar's Fiasco is "Coen brothers movie: the RPG": it's about small people with plans way bigger than they can handle, and watching how everything goes down in flames as they bludgeon through things to accomplish the goals they thought they wanted. If your fellow D&D players are too invested in the murderhobo aspect of D&D to enjoy the sort of narrative gaming you're looking for, this might be a good compromise, because murderhoboing is well within the spirit of the game (there's even a free playset available which skins it to a D&D-like fantasy campaign), and even though you're writing a tragedy, you're all laughing at your characters rather than crying with them, and taking turns twisting the knife (on each other and yourself).

Avery McDaldno's The Quiet Year, like Microscope, is a diceless game about RP'ing a community rather than a character -- but the core mechanic is drawing a map over the course of the game session that becomes a visual record of the community's decisions and fate. It's my current favorite, and I've played it with other authors at recent pony conventions. (It's designed as a one-shot taking about 3-5 hours.)

The reason I mention all of the game designers' names is that these are major players in the indie RPG movement, and looking up their names and websites will give you an embarrassing wealth of other games with narrative cores and innovative mechanics that play nothing like D&D. Consider them all recommended by implication.

To use a board game analogy, you've been playing nothing but Risk (or maybe Monopoly, if you hate D&D that much). If you've only ever stepped into Wal-Mart to see what they consider board games, you might think there's nothing better out there, because Monopoly and Risk and Life and Hungry Hungry Hippos are all they keep on the shelves, because the games' longevity becomes its own argument for success even though from a gameplay perspective they're shit. But walk into your FLGS and see the wealth of newer, innovative games on the wall, which offer fundamentally different experiences -- Coup, Concept, Settlers of Cataan, Ticket to Ride, Pandemic, etc etc etc etc etc -- and play a round of any of those (even just the semi-popular ones rather than the gems nobody's heard of!) and you'll wonder why you ever wasted so much time on the "classics."

Edit: Because this analogy amuses me: D&D 4 is Monopoly. D&D 3 is Risk. Pathfinder is Risk: Legacy. The White Wolf game line is Life, except rewritten by the "Lemony Snicket" author.

3373572 I've played other games, though not the ones you listed. I didn't write this as a plea for help. I wrote it because I'm disturbed by the idea that it's possible to design a culture that excludes and resists whole domains of human thought by providing "honeypots", things that fill in the places for those thoughts, and draw in anyone interested in them, but aren't them. Unfortunately no one seems to have picked up on that.

A pretty clear example of a honeypot in contemporary society is academic philosophy. It sucks in everyone interested in philosophy, and diverts them down useless paths and away from all of the knowledge that could be useful for philosophy, guaranteeing no progress is made.

And so I have finished another interesting bad horse discussion thread.

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I wrote it because I'm disturbed by the idea that it's possible to design a culture that excludes and resists whole domains of human thought by providing "honeypots", things that fill in the places for those thoughts, and draw in anyone interested in them, but aren't them. Unfortunately no one seems to have picked up on that.

I did see that in the post, but it looked like a supporting argument instead of a thesis, and I think people were responding to the apparent thesis of difficulty with the games.

I think this is worth a follow-up post to talk about those honeypots more broadly. They're not at all exclusive to tabletop gaming.

3376919 Can you think of another example? There are cases where people used force to replace one religion with another, or with state ideology, or maybe violence with sports. I suppose it's not really different in principle from one art form replacing another, like classical music replacing baroque, or fiction replacing poetry, or video replacing fiction.

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TBH there are enough facets to the complaint that I'm not sure I have sufficient grasp on "honeypot" to offer up other examples, but rereading the post, this part struck me as pretty central;

Maybe this is what bothers me about D&D. I can tolerate a world that is merely gutted of sex, culture, and religious focal points for its spiritual feelings and morality; we can find them in other places. But a world in which the place for the "spiritual", the sexual, and the cultural has been filled in with the purely selfish and practical, where the temple is standing-room-only with money-lenders, doesn't leave even that possibility.

First of all, that provides its own alternate example: televangelism, and other such modern examples of replacing religion with prosperity theology and other such examples of cargo-cult Christianity.

The modern trend toward outrage politics (especially but by no means exclusively in the American right) is similar, replacing positive activism (making progress for your goals) with punitive activism (hurt the other guy), but pushing all the same buttons that get people politically motivated.

In a more cultural sense, the sort of honeypotting you describe seems very much related to me to the phenomenon of cultural appropriation: take something exotic, defang it, and repackage it with the trappings of culture but without the central elements that make the mainstream uncomfortable. Compare, say, with Eminem vs. the roots and purposes of gangsta rap. What would make D&D fascinating from this angle is that it seems to be appropriating mainstream culture, and defanging it for re-presentation to an outsider subculture.

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The modern trend toward outrage politics (especially but by no means exclusively in the American right) is similar, replacing positive activism (making progress for your goals) with punitive activism (hurt the other guy), but pushing all the same buttons that get people politically motivated.

Interesting example!

In a more cultural sense, the sort of honeypotting you describe seems very much related to me to the phenomenon of cultural appropriation: take something exotic, defang it, and repackage it with the trappings of culture but without the central elements that make the mainstream uncomfortable. Compare, say, with Eminem vs. the roots and purposes of gangsta rap. What would make D&D fascinating from this angle is that it seems to be appropriating mainstream culture, and defanging it for re-presentation to an outsider subculture.

Good point.

This makes an interesting read for me, because I like White Wolf's Exalted in part because its religons are very mercenary, but much more cynical than what you describe. The Gods are energetic actors in the world who want to maximise their prayerbase, but in practice they usually aren't so much moneylenders as con artists or robber barons, at least where the Immaculate Order doesn't keep them in line.

It does do a much better job on the cultural/sexual level though.

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