We All Play D&D

This morning I find myself sitting in the California sun, about to go attend D&D Live 2019, and an article came up on my feed entitled Maybe… Don’t Play D&D? The author seems to argue that the roleplaying hobby is a vast arena of different games, and that perhaps D&D doesn’t offer very much in terms of variety or innovation. I mean, I can’t say his argument is completely unfounded, but I do think that putting down the mainstream for being the mainstream doesn’t really help much.

I’ve played some 5th edition, and I will play some more. Sure, it’s not my personal favorite flavor of the game, but as I’ve said many times, the best system is the one the DM is excited to run. Roleplaying is such a complex and nuanced thing that boiling it down to just what system is being used is doing any game a disservice. Every group alters whatever game they play to their tastes enough that it can hardly be encapsulated simply by the name of the system it uses.

Personally, I like what 5th edition has done to the gaming landscape. For one, I think it did manage to somewhat heal the rift in the community caused by 4th edition. I think it’s also done a much better job introducing new folks to the hobby. It has such a reputation of being a solid and approachable game that more folks are taking a chance on trying it out. And the ways you can pick it up are now quite diverse, from print books, to online systems like Roll 20 or D&D Beyond. And let’s not ignore live play streams — even if you don’t like it as entertainment in its own right, it certainly is easier now for a neophyte to get an understanding of what the heck a roleplaying game before they choose to try one out.

Yes, diversity in game systems is a good thing, and it would be sad if every gamer out there played nothing but 5th edition. But I’m not really seeing that in practice. I don’t think conventions hare hosting more 5th edition than they used to host 3rd when it was in its prime. Plus maybe 5th edition is the gateway drug for more players to discover your esoteric dice-less diesel punk game, or whatever.

Like countless other brands before it, D&D has practically become the nom-de-plum of its own genre. Even if you are playing other stuff, it’s sometimes easier to say “we’re playing D&D” than “we’re playing a fantasy roleplaying game” to the uninitiated. And maybe given how ubiquitous D&D has become these days that means the listener actually has some clue what the heck you’re talking about, and maybe they even ask “can I play too?”

So I’d say, instead of “maybe don’t play D&D”, play more D&D. Try playing some D&D that’s not D&D, but also don’t harsh on folks that want to play regular D&D as well.

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4 Comments

  1. Man, I hate to be that “old geezer” but any dude who’s only been gaming for 15 years (as author Aaron Marks says in his bio) has no legs to stand on. A guy who started playing three years after the advent of DND3 ain’t going to convince me that “5E is the best D&D’s ever been.”

    Sorry. Um. Yeah…the rest of your post? Whatever, Paul.

    [Jeez. Apologies for my rudeness; it’s your blog. But I have some very complex thoughts on D&D’s latest greatest, and very little of it is positive. I don’t fault folks for playing 5E if that’s all they know, but it’s like watching folks game from a place of sheer ignorance. I’m all for diversity in gaming; i.e. purchase, try out, and support different games from different companies with different systems in different genres. But having tried it out, I’m a hard pass on ever playing more 5E]

    1. “Complex thoughts” is a very good way to put it. I’ve been trying to marshal my own. I bet I have a lot of the same issues with 5e that you do. I’m sure some of those issues are very valid critiques, and others are more likely matters of taste, and it’s not always clear which is which.

      I’d like to figure out how to keep a more open mind where taste is involved, and maybe in so doing I can bring some folks around in other areas. Certainly telling them that they’re playing it wrong doesn’t seem likely to change many minds.

      1. I see a lot of folks having real fun with 5E. There’s no way such people would ever believe they were “doing it wrong,” even if I told them…because that wouldn’t be truthful (the rules say the object is to have fun, they’re having fun, hence they must be “playing right”).

        I’d say I must simply be too old to play with “the kids these days.” Then I hear podcasts like this one:
        http://tao-dnd.blogspot.com/2016/05/tao-taos-daughter-podcast-episode-5.html

        …and I feel like, okay, maybe I’m not some crazy crank of a geezer. When a kid in her 20s prefers first edition AD&D, I see hope for the hobby.

        1. I know a great GM who loves running 5e. Admittedly I think he’s sometimes hampered by the system, but he won’t be swayed away from it. I’ve also played in a 1e convention game that was linear, stilted, and everything I’ve come to expect from the term “organized play”. Sure, system can encourage or discourage a certain style of play, and these experiences were likely outliers, but I don’t think you can lump too much on system choice. GM style and technique have an impact regardless of what system is being run.

          I think as old school advocates we always run the risk of being immediately categorized as cranky old geezers. I’d rather approach the conversation with “You like D&D? Cool, I like D&D too! Have you tried this…?”

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