Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Which Way Do I Roll?

So apparently D&D is super popular again.

Anecdotally, I know that in the past year or three, I can say I play D&D to someone and they at least kind of know what it is, rather than getting the blank stare I used to get in years past.

There are swelling sales numbers and surveys that show that D&D has attracted a much more diverse crowd than was perceived in the past. There are podcasts. Celebrities play D&D for an audience. People watch each other play D&D on Twitch...which I do not understand, at all, but maybe that's just the mid-thirties guy in me talking. The point is, D&D has definitely become pop culture. I'd hardly call it mainstream, but the exposure is definitely higher.

Another anecdote: back in 2015 or 16, I saw the D&D starter set on the shelf at Target. Target. The closest thing I'd ever seen to gaming stuff in a big box store is the anemic gaming section at Barnes & Noble.

Of course, this is mostly all news generated by 5th edition. That makes sense: it's the current edition, it has stuff coming out for it pretty regularly, the art direction exudes inclusiveness.

The 5th edition of D&D does very little for me. I ran it for several months, played in a Princes of the Apocalypse campaign for close to a year. I don't hate 5e. I don't dislike it. It's just... fine. It doesn't excite me like the older editions do. There's just some factor that doesn't pop for me the way it seems to with others.

I understand that 5th edition is valuable for the future of the hobby, in that it is highly visible and very good for recruiting new players. I like that the days of the chainmail bikini are over with. I'm glad that gaming is a more diverse hobby.

I also have a feeling I'm going to let this new wave pass me by. Like I said, my heart isn't in 5th edition, but I feel a strange sort of obligation to participate in it somehow for some sort of vague "greater good" that may or may not exist.

The games I want to play are BECMI D&D or some clone of it...Stars Without Number... Zweihander. A few small indie games that have snagged my interest. Lamentations. I've found that gathering players for these games has been an intensely frustrating and often fruitless experience. I could have three 5th edition groups rolling by next Sunday if I so chose. (Whether they'd stay rolling is certainly up for question, but I could get them going, I have no doubt)

So here's where I'm at: I understand that it's far easier to get 5th edition going, to find players, and to find games... and I understand 5th edition's value in making sure this weird hobby of ours continues on, but goddamn do I pine for a group of people sitting around the table while I run from my brand new POD copy of the Cyclopedia, or my moldering old AD&D "orange spine" books, or SWN/SWN2, or... really, just about anything else.

I've kept my 5th edition core books and GM screen, just in case. I may well break down and run it again. I may well play it again. I'd just rather be doing other things.

9 comments:

  1. As an early-twenties person, I don't understand the appeal of watching people play D&D on Twitch (or listening to the same on a podcast). I've never been a huge fan of unedited live-streaming anyway, but other people seem to like it. And I once saw the 5e Starter Set next to the Magic and Pokémon cards at my local Walmart, believe it or not.

    You basically hit the nail on the head with how I'm feeling at this point. I don't really like 5e, which is unfortunate seeing as how it's pretty much all that gets played around here. But I am itching to get my POD copy of the Rules Cyclopedia, even if I may never run it; I certainly spent enough time looking for an original copy!

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    1. Weird...I thought you older for some reason, Fuzzy.

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  2. Perhaps I stumbled onto some kind of nexus, but I've got a regular weekly game of B/X going, largely with folks who have never played D&D or who played 3/3.5/pathfinder before. I've been running it since 1 October last year ... which is to say, my (small) experience was that to reach out to play old-school D&D the way I wanted to play it still drew in players ... so give it a shot!

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  3. "The 5th edition of D&D does very little for me. I ran it for several months, played in a Princes of the Apocalypse campaign for close to a year. I don't hate 5e. I don't dislike it. It's just... fine. It doesn't excite me like the older editions do. There's just some factor that doesn't pop for me the way it seems to with others." - Glad to see I'm not the only one who feels this way. Trying to find a group to tryout something more old school to see if that clicks more these days.

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  4. Basic D&D was sold all over the place in the early 80's, from Toy's R' Us, to Sears, which devoted a whole page to D&D related toys and gaming materials, and many non-gaming magazines carried ads for the game. In fact, I'd say 5E has less presence than Basic, in that respect.

    Seriously, I would think that, as much of the culture has been taken over by Geeks, D&D would now be as commonplace as any other game or activity. But when comparing it to the past, when being a D&D nerd was a swirlying offense that implied you were slightly odd, at best, but it still sold millions of copies, I would expect sales to be much higher today! So, I'm always a bit mystified by the hype 5E generates.

    I really don't get the live-streaming of the game, either. For one thing, it is a well understood fact that people DO NOT act in a normal fashion when on camera, and I think this hurts the spontaneity of the game, especially for the GM, who tends to over-prepare for the sake of the audience, and the players, who are 'performing' for the same. I hate to generalize, but it has become kind of the 'hipster cool' thing to do, these days, with tons of actors and the like trying to cache 'geek cred' for something they wouldn't have touched with a 10' pole 10 years ago, or using it to push political points (really, D&D was always 'divers' because you can play anyone you want, and you didn't need to be told that specifically by the rules). It kind of irritates me, TBH...

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    1. "For one thing, it is a well understood fact that people DO NOT act in a normal fashion when on camera"

      Oh yeah, totally. The podcasts and streams don't really look or sound or 'feel' like round-the-table sessions. I totally feel the whole 'performing' bit, and I find those sessions aggravating to watch.

      " D&D was always 'divers' because you can play anyone you want, and you didn't need to be told that specifically by the rules). It kind of irritates me, TBH..."

      I don't think that's the issue, at least not as I've perceived it. Yes, we know you can play anyone in D&D without needing rules. What I'm talking about is representation.

      The trade dress of a game carries a subtext: "this is what the game world looks like, this is the game universe." When I say 5e exudes inclusion, I mean that the art direction has moved past "white people doing things," which for many a year it was. Sure, some of the white dudes had pointy ears. The game is definitely more inclusive now in that there are more diverse characters illustrated, and these depictions are a lot more...flattering.

      In addition, I think the increased diversity of 5th edition also describes the community of players. In decades past, D&D was a hobby full of nerdy white dudes. In my early days in the hobby, I knew exactly one girl gamer for years. These days, I find that gaming groups I play in or know are a bit more varied in terms of gender and ethnicity.

      Maybe I've gone off at length about something you weren't even talking about. I can agree that "celebrity nerds" are obnoxious, and I don't buy into the whole cult of personality thing.

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  5. @ DMW:

    Wow. The frustration is palpable, and I can empathize.

    Mmm.

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  6. I playtested 5e, at least. It was… fine, I guess, but it didn't do the Old School thing as well as OD&D did, so in the end I saw no reason to bother with it.

    As for attracting players, I can't say that I've seen 5e have much impact. I was able to run whatever I wanted to run in the days when 3e was current, when 4e and PF1 were, and nowadays as 5e is popular and PF2 sits on the horizon. At least in my experience (limited as it is to being a "forever DM"), players who are showing up to *play an RPG* will roll with whatever the DM is running. Players who are showing up to *build their power fantasy* are the ones who gripe about the specific edition or system. I'll have no truck with the latter, if given the choice.

    In short, "if you run it, they will play." Or, if that cliché doesn't satisfy: "We are the music makers. We are the dreamers of dreams." And we few, we DMing few, when we sit behind the screen and bust out the dice, the players have to live in *our* world.

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    1. You've definitely had better luck than I, John. I ended up in your game because I happened to read your old flier on the storefront of our beloved FLGS.

      Since most of the gamers I know from my home groups are impossible to get in one place these days, I've tried to recruit using other methods, and I've found a legion of people who want to play 5e or Pathfinder.

      Although, as of last night, an interested party informed me that they had nearly assembled a group, having talked me up as a DM. (Ruh roh)

      I'll also admit freely that I've let myself become embittered by a string of bad luck when it comes to starting games and keeping them together. I've never had as much trouble putting together a group in 26 years of Dming than in the last year and a half. It's been, in the words of Casey Casem, "ponderous man, fuckin' ponderous."

      You know what's weird? We've been DMing longer than some of our players have been alive.

      Anyway, see you at the table this weekend.

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