Monday, May 2, 2011

The D&D Resurgance

This piece in traces the 'rediscovery' of Dungeons & Dragons by middle-aged men (primarily).

We are ready to embrace those nights of unbridled game-playing and storytelling as crucial, formative experiences that were as real and memorable as any heroic feats on the football field...

But, as much as I applaud this renaissance in game-playing, imagination and story-telling (having no slight interest in these myself) I have a few reservations about this 'rediscovery'. These reservations can be encapsulated in three characters: D&D.

I recently returned to role-playing games myself after a hiatus of many years, but my game of choice was never D&D. In my teens, I came into role-playing games with Traveller, the science fiction game, and, after several years of intermittent to non-existent play, went on to play RuneQuest and now its modern compilation, Basic Roleplaying (BRP). So D&D for me, and I suspect many others, was never a system that engaged me (though its worlds no doubt informed a lot of our RuneQuest fantasy gaming).

D&D, though it has many capable and imaginative players and DMs in all its versions (and a fascinating classic or 'old school' movement for enthusiasts), it is still, in all its incarnation, a system with severe mechanical flaws. I won't go into details here, but game mechanics matter in as much as they influence pacing and ease of play, and the kind of play they require. Combat in D&D, for example, is generally slow and uninspiring, and miniatures-based combat seems to be the principle focus of the current edition. And, let's face it, in all versions of D&D you gain experience and level-up by defeating monsters (which usually means killing) and looting exclusively. Of course, you can always house-rule your way around these rules, but at what point do the house-rules accrue to a point where you've really rebuilt a fundamentally flawed game?

So, whether you chafe at D&D's restrictions or revel in them, I'd prefer to celebrate the rediscovery of all RPG's without tying it down to one particular exemplar in the shape of D&D.