Sunday, April 13, 2008


Take a gander at this 20-Point Letter of Protest Regarding the New 4th Edition of Dungeons & Dragons (from a Gnome and a Half-Orc). Beneath all of the silliness, there's actually some insightful commentary about both D&D and the new edition. Some of them are points I've made myself or to which I am sympathetic.

Suffusing them all, though, is the most important point of all: the loss of an entire "culture" of gaming. Odds are that even younger gamers, who never played 1e or even 2e, let alone OD&D, get most of the jokes in that list of 20 points. That's because there was a common culture of players. We all spoke the same language, if you will, and shared in common experiences, including bafflement at the 10 x 10 room with an orc guarding a chest. That culture has its roots in the 70s and has been constantly under attack by designers and gamers alike, who want to "update" D&D in various ways, without regard for which fraying thread of the tapestry might be the one that unravels the whole thing. I'm not saying that 4e will be a D&D "culture killer" by itself, but there are many things in its design that trouble me as someone who places great value in the traditions and heritage of this hobby. Time will tell, I suppose, if my fears are misplaced or not.

Tip of the coif to Jason Barker for the link.


  1. On the other hand...

    How many hobbies are there in which mid-1970s through early-1980s customs and culture still prevail?

    Baseball fandom, for instance, has been turned upside down by sabermetrics - even the grognards who refuse to deal with it are still responding to it and themselves analyzing things very differently than they used to.

    Anime fandom went through a huge upheaval with the evolution and collapse of the Cartoon Fantasy Organization, and the rise of an entirely unrelated subbing community.

    I'm told that the Irish music pick-up scene has gone through big shifts since the advent of net-based advertising and response.

    I honestly don't think this is distinctive at all to gaming.

  2. Gaming certainly isn't distinctive in this regard at all, but it's the fan culture with which I'm most intimately familiar and the one I care about the most. Consequently, it's the one whose loss I feel most deeply, which is why I'm hoping, in my small way, that I might play a role not necessarily in reversing the tide (which is probably impossible) but in at least getting people to think about the history and origins of the hobby so that the traditions of the past aren't lost simply due to ignorance.

    This might be a Quixotic endeavor, I don't know. I feel I have to try, though.

  3. Okay, "this local manifestation of a general problem" is something that makes a lot of sense to me as a target.

  4. Local manifestations are about all I can handle at the moment, so I figure it's as good a place to start as any.

  5. Thanks for the link, and the discussion. I'm the author of that article, and though yeah, it was meant in fun, I do think there's a strong chance of D&D losing its identity. And the culture of gaming--well, I think it's already changing. Or changed.

    Anyway, just wanted to post and say thanks for mentioning this article. Looks like a good blog--I think I'll poke around a bit.

  6. Re: Changing Culture of Gaming

    I suspect you're right: gaming has already changed and there's probably no going back to the good ol' days. It's a real pity, though, because, as I get older myself, I find that the things I eschewed as a kid are exactly the sorts of things I now crave out of gaming. Life is full of these ironies, I suppose.

    Thanks for stopping by.

  7. There's definitely no going back to the old days, unless you recreate them yourselves. I still get together with my friends from high school at least once a year to game again, but that's the extent of my RPing anymore.

    That said, I read a lot about the hobby and what's going on, and I really do miss the rough-edged, hyper-detailed gauntlet of information one would need to master in order to join the ranks of D&D players. It was an interesting time, and it was the reach for the mainstream that ultimately did it in, I think. TSR is long gone, Dragon Magazine (or "The Dragon") is no longer in print, and very few current players know who Erol Otus, Kim Mohan, or Morgan Ironwolf is. And that's okay, I guess, even if it's something that some of us sincerely miss. I guess it has been a quarter-century.

    Next time my friends and I get together, though, I'm wondering about just chucking all the new stuff and going back to good ol' 1st edition again...

    Thanks again. Really interesting site--I've had fun reading my way around.

  8. I'm definitely looking for something simpler and more back-to-basics out of gaming these days. I've stuck with D&D through every edition change and watched it mutate from this little, unassuming game with few rules and lots of call for imagination into this behemoth of complex mechanics supported by pre-made campaign settings. I've decided it's time for me to get off that particular train and seek out like-minded people with whom to share my love of the ancient days. I have a feeling there are quite a few guys like me out there.

  9. I have a feeling you're right--I'm one of them, and so are most of the gamers I know.