Why D&D?

September 1, 2014 at 7:34 pm
filed under Roleplaying
Tagged , , ,

I thought I’d fallen out of love with roleplaying. But it’s not so simple, is it? I hadn’t given D&D Next a second thought, disappointed after hearing rumors about spell memorization being back, that it was a rejection of 4E.

My wife was still interested, so I didn’t reject it out of hand. I certainly didn’t show much enthusiasm until a friend of mine wrote about it. So what gives?

It’s time for a long post, blog.

First, here’s a little story. I pray it’s not too tedious.

D&D, White Wolf

I discovered D&D in high school and, in the process, made a friend for life. (Well, at least for about 20 years and counting.) In retrospect one thing that’s remarkable to me is less that my closest friends and I played, but that even some of our ancillary friends got in on it. One guy bought a d30 and my DM let him play a half-giant and roll it for his damage. Because why the hell not?

It wasn’t all sunshine and roses. I was a dick sometimes. But by and large I remember having a lot of fun scheming with my fellow players, and alternately messing with and being in awe of our DM.

In college, I discovered the (old) World of Darkness. It was a breath of fresh air in a way: whereas D&D is YA friendly as written, White Wolf’s material was clearly for adults. “Juvenile” is an exaggerated description of D&D, but by facing adult topics head-on White Wolf felt more authentic, more relevant to me.

First Mage and then the new World of Darkness took up almost all of my roleplaying interest. I can’t tell you how many hours I spent reading White Wolf books. I really can’t tell you how much money I spent on nWoD books.

The real world, then the dry spell

As I said, I was pretty heavily into nWoD, but the number of games I ran was low: two Mage games, neither of which finished. I played in one Werewolf game that went for a session or two. There was a Promethean game that went for at least one session. It seemed like I always had ideas for games. But what I really wanted was to run games and play in games.

In ’08, 4E came out, and you can tell from this blog that I enjoyed it for a year or two. I ran many one-shots of 4E, too many to count. At least one was with pre-release rules! Others came from Dungeon Delve. And of course [one game][ereretag] I managed to finish, albeit hastily. In another case I even played in a game with some coworkers and their friends.

Over time I’d lost much of my interest in roleplaying. The new World of Darkness had petered out, at least subjectively. I’m not aggressively old school in terms of the digital-only strategy but I do think I prefer having both ebooks (incl. PDFs) and pbooks.

I think I was also tired of the edition wars; first oWod vs nWod and then 3E vs Pathfinder vs 4E. I could never tell how much of a chance some people gave 4E since it wasn’t categorically more complex than 3E, but 3E had already been around for almost a decade.

In the end video games are easier to play than tabletop RPGs. You play by yourself, which means no scheduling goofiness. You play when you want, for how long you want. There’s no prep required and in general games provide a more visceral experience.

D&D Next and 5E

In early 2012, I heard about D&D Next. I felt a mixture of sadness and frustration. My read was that there were enough people going to Pathfinder to force WotC’s hand. In other words: Pathfinder : 3.75 :: D&D Next : 3.9. I passed, at least until it was done, because it was probably not for me.

I’ll say it now: I was wrong. Really wrong. And I regret not having devoted the same amount of attention to 5E before release as I did to 4E before release. 5E is extremely well done.

Still, I’ve wondered why 5E snared me so hard. Obviously part of it is pent-up desire for rolling dice, killing things, and taking their stuff. And part of it is the warm feeling nostalgia D&D evokes in me.

But this can’t be all of it. I feel nostalgic about 2E, as well, but I have little desire to play it. Dice are obviously fun but before long you get tired of how uncooperative they are when it comes to pulling off cool scenes.

Drama vs co-op

I was talking to my wife about D&D. See, she likes D&D a lot. But unlike many people, it’s never led to crossover. It wasn’t a gateway drug; she tried a couple of others and enjoyed D&D just fine, thank you. Why was that?

Well, let’s talk about MMOs for a second. Conventional wisdom— right or wrong— says that they’ve been eating TTRPGs’ collective lunch. A major differentiator from regular RPGs is the “MMO” part, the social aspect.

Now, if you guessed that my wife enjoys MMOs, you win a cookie. She’s never enjoyed competitive aspects of them. It’s more about playing with me, or with a group of long-standing guildmates, and not just in MMOs but games like Diablo as well.

Co-op with friends makes a lot of games way, way more fun. And it occurred to me that this was the difference between D&D and other games. If you’ll permit me a gross generalization: D&D is, almost by default, co-op. Contrariwise White Wolf games tend to emphasize drama.

My gaming group, by and large, enjoys the more dramatic aspects of roleplaying. White Wolf was just one expression of this, perhaps the first one that my old DM and I stumbled across.

Again, this is a gross generalization. My Er-Eret game (D&D 4E) had drama aplenty; it took a bit of weaving to line up everyone’s agendas with the adventure. The first White Wolf game I played in had plenty of co-op and little intra-party drama in the beginning.

Why D&D?

At this point in my life, I suspect I’ve had enough of drama. I used to enjoy it, as an escape. Life isn’t noticeably more dramatic but it is more stressful. Drama was stimulating, activating. I don’t crave that anymore. I want some tension but mainly I want some kind of release.

D&D is probably one of the best formats for co-op roleplaying, while affording the flexibility to occasionally go deeper with drama. The format of a group on an adventure is well-understood, to say the least.

Another underappreciated piece is the extent to which D&D is kid-friendly. I’m not a huge fan of violent themes when it comes to kids. But on balance a cooperative fantasy roleplaying game is more conducive to cleaning up than a horror game, however awesome. When it comes down to it, as much as I enjoy adult activities, I’ve an eye to the horizon for activities the whole family can enjoy. D&D fits the bill and I just can’t wait to play with kiddo(s) and my friends.

In the end I think it was this combination of factors that rekindled my interest in D&D and thereby roleplaying. I want to do fun, goofy shit with friends. I want it to be light-hearted by default, with occasional forays into drama, twists, or intrigue. I want it to be like an ensemble cast show. And I want something my child(ren) can learn to love from a relatively early age, too.

What’s next

I’m not sure what’s next.

I’m putting the cart before the horse, surely, since we have one (1) baby now, and he won’t be capable of understanding rules for years yet.

My wife is talking about trying her hand at DMing. She is not quite confident enough in designing encounters, so I volunteered to NPC for her. We’ll see.

I have found myself devising a few simple adventure ideas. I would start mainly from the premise of a one- or two-shot, with the door left open for more. I think I would try to keep each session as self-contained as possible, so that at any given point the game could “die” and it would at least have had some resolution.

It’s the age-old problem, one that suppressed my interest before: the logistics of getting together N people on a repeated basis. And now the new wrinkle is how to do it with a child. Why enlist a babysitter for D&D night when you could instead do date night with your spouse?

Well, I’m certain of one thing: I’m excited about D&D again.

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