Wednesday, July 03, 2024

Tired of Dungeons and Dragons

I've been playing Role-Playing Games for over 40 years. Not just casually. I have played and continued to play these games on a regular basis during every bit of that time. My friendships are largely centered around the activity of role-playing games. This blog was created to give me a place to "think out loud" about my own RPG designs. I wrote in my memoir about first playing D&D and the impact that it had on my life at the time. That impact remains.

RPGs led to board games. Those too impact my life. They are an important way that my wife and I can interact and connect. I am fairly certain that I wouldn't be so engrossed in the world of board games if I hadn't first discovered and immersed myself in RPGs. I have made a few friends here in Michigan. I made those friends while playing Dungeons and Dragons. I will be playing Dungeons and Dragons this Saturday.

I need to "level up" my character. Currently, I have one level of Fighter and one level of Druid. Fighter and Druid are character classes. These help to define what your character can do. I have two of them because I can't make up my mind. That's a problem with me. I always want something different. We have so many board games because I love playing different games. I like exploring new mechanisms in different combinations.

That's kind of a problem when it comes to RPGs. The board game hobby seems to be driven by a thing people like to call, "The Cult of the New." It seems like the term is used as a negative one by those people who have been playing board games for a lot longer than I have. It refers to a preference for the newest shiniest game on the store shelf. I don't see this as a bad thing. It means that people are always trying new games.

In the RPG world, there are plenty of new games. The problem is that people don't play them. The RPG groups in Muskegon mostly play D&D. Those that don't struggle with low attendance. Humorously, the "Cult of the New" vs "Cult of the Old" debate also exists in the RPG hobby, but it's about different versions of Dungeons and Dragons. The new "5E" (5th Edition, the latest version of D&D) versus the old "OSR" (Old School Rules, versions of D&D that are written to emulate older out of print versions of D&D.)

The RPG hobby can be about so much more than different ways to play Dungeons and Dragons. There are many other RPG games that have been written and could be played by an enterprising RPG group. I've reviewed a few. The thing is, when I step into the local public game groups, those games aren't being played. One of my friends is super excited about a new game coming out called DC20. It's really just another company publishing their own version of Dungeons and Dragons.

There's as much diversity in the RPG industry as in the board game industry, but not in its player base. How is that possible? Well, in the RPG hobby usually a new game book is purchased by the person who will be the Game Master. A Game Master is someone who hosts the game. That person is usually someone like me. They are someone who likes creating worlds and imagining all the different things that a game can do at the table. 

Maybe like me, they purchase new and different games, or create them themselves. However, when it comes time to play, if they bring this innovation to the game table, especially in a public forum, they will experience diminishing returns. I mean, low attendance and reduced interest. The greater RPG player base wants to play D&D. This bias is so strong that Hasbro, the publisher of D&D doesn't attend conventions, and doesn't interact with their customer base in any meaningful way. They don't have to.

GMs hope and dream of new ways to play. We are the ones who purchase the products and drive the industry, but in the end, when all is said and done, we buy these games just to read them, not to play them. And this happens a lot. I guarantee that 95% of games purchased on DriveThru RPG are read, but never played.

And people like me, who have been running and playing the same game in the same way for 40 years, continue to do so, because it's the only game in town. In a hobby that should be an abundance of riches, I can look at all the shiny options on the shelf, but I'm only allowed to touch just one.

So, I look at my Fighter/Druid and consider taking my 3rd level in Warlock just to mix things up a bit, because -- because I just don't care about the options that I have. They aren't new. They aren't interesting. They aren't all that different from the options that I had in 1984. D&D's tactical combat isn't fun. Killing monsters isn't fun. Gathering treasure isn't fun. Leveling up my character isn't fun.

… And yet, playing D&D is fun. 

How is that possible? Because role-playing at its core is about pretending with your friends, and I will always enjoy that. I had a blast during our last few games. I will have a blast on Saturday. But, D&D doesn't get the credit for that. The credit belongs firmly in the hands of the RPG process itself. Maybe that's why people don't want to change. Maybe learning new systems distracts from the RPG process. 

I don't know. I do know that I will still be playing RPG games in another 40 years, even if D&D is still the only game in town. 

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