Thursday, August 25, 2022

D&D Fatigue

Except for a period in the 1990s, Dungeons & Dragons has always been the most popular and bestselling RPG (and, before anyone mentions Pathfinder's brief ascension during the 4e debacle, I pre-emptively respond: Pathfinder is D&D). D&D is most people's introduction to the hobby of roleplaying; it's also the only RPG that non-gamers know by name. D&D is thus the proverbial 800-lb. gorilla of roleplaying games. In a very real sense, the entirety of the hobby (and the industry supporting it) owes its very existence to D&D. 

I don't think I'm being hyperbolic when I say this. Not only is it a historical fact that roleplaying games, as we know them today, are all ultimately descended from Dungeons & Dragons, but I contend that most of them would never even exist were it not for a phenomenon I'm going to call "D&D fatigue." As I'll explain, D&D fatigue takes two distinct forms and each of them plays a vital role in the continued existence of other RPGs – and perhaps of D&D itself.

The first form of D&D fatigue comes is the more rarefied, experienced by those whose weariness with the game compels them to write their own game. For example, the second roleplaying game, Tunnels & Trolls, owes its existence to Ken St. Andre's dissatisfaction with Dungeons & Dragons, but neither St. Andre nor T&T are unique in this regard. Indeed, if you were to look at the history of RPGs, you'll quickly find many examples – many of them quite early – of people who felt that D&D was somehow lacking and resolved to improve upon it. 

The second form of D&D fatigue is more common but no less important. This is a more literal type of fatigue, one experienced by those who've simply played D&D so much that they want to play something different. In my youth, my friends and I suffered many bouts of this kind of D&D fatigue. We'd play D&D furiously for weeks or months on end, enjoying ourselves all the while, and then, at some point, one of us would look up from our copy of the Players Handbook and ask, "Do you want to play something else?" Almost invariably, we did and thank goodness for that; otherwise, we might never have had the chance to play other great RPGs like Gamma World, Traveller, or Call of Cthulhu

D&D fatigue is not a bad thing. As I stated at the beginning of this post, the existence of a larger roleplaying hobby depends, in large part, on people becoming dissatisfied with or tired of Dungeons & Dragons and creating and/or seeking out alternatives to it. Very few of those alternatives ever came close to rivaling D&D's popularity or sales – but they didn't have to. During the days of D&D's first faddishness, there were more than enough players to support many RPGs and the companies, large and small, that produced them. Simply by existing, D&D created a demand for alternatives that others stepped forward to fill.

Over the course of the more than four decades I've been roleplaying, I've fallen in and out of love with Dungeons & Dragons multiple times, for a variety of different reasons. In each case, I'd eventually return to playing it, because I do like D&D, warts and all. While I was feeling the full force of D&D fatigue, I'd explore other options, in the process learning to love other games I otherwise might not have noticed. I also learned to appreciate better the things I liked about D&D, so that, when I returned to playing it, I often had more fun with it than I did before. 

As I said, D&D fatigue is not a bad thing. 


  1. D&D is definitely a love/hate affair for me. I (all of us) immediately changed/added/omitted things in OD&D, then with AD&D, and then we all started to branch out due to "fatigue".

    I'm currently in a "hate" period. I'm OD&D'ed out. I'm retroclone'd out, and I'm 4E and 13th Age'd out. Sick of D&D lore, classes, mechanics, all of it.

    The older I get, the further I find myself going back full circle to
    somewhere around 1980 and finding it much easier to relate to the St Andre, Stafford, and Perrin mindset.

    1. Yea, I'm definitely hitting a fatigue wall with D&D. I am in one play by post, but I've stopped keeping my map up to date. I'm much more excited about the RuneQuest (x2) and Cold Iron Samurai Adventures campaigns I'm running, and the Bushido campaigns I'm in. I do have a bit of Traveller fatigue, but I am still playing in a Traveller campaign. And I've signed on to a Talislanta (4e) campaign which greatly interests me.

      But I'm sure at some point I will return to D&D and run something.

    2. I should add that behind RuneQuest where I've run campaigns every decade since I got it in 1978, D&D is the other game I consistently return to in some fashion. Traveller and Cold Iron are really the only other repeat contenders (I WOULD do a lot more Cold Iron if I could convince people to play).

  2. I find much of the problem is the sameness. we roleplay to try new experiences, in the safe zone of our kitchen table. but if it is just "Dark stranger/tavern->dungeon->trap->BBEG->save the day" then the game stops being new quite quickly. I hated the original diablo, because "hey look, going down the hole here...again"

  3. I keep trying Basic & Expert to re-capture that feeling from 1981, then I go to AD&D but to no avail. At this point I just enjoy the challenge of being a DM and trying to create that feeling in my players. For me that is "the juice".

  4. I'm one of those weirdos who has never liked playing non-D&D RPGs much at all. I luxuriate in the fact that the OSR has given us the likes of White Star, Skyscrapers & Sorcery, BX Gangbusters, etc. I like not having to leave the OD&D ecosystem.

    But I do get edition fatigue. Right at the moment, I'm shifting back into a "sick of complexity, putting away AD&D, recommitting to Basic" phase. And every once in a while, I grow to despise Vancian magic before softening on it (but thank goodness for Beyond the Wall and The Hero's Journey).

  5. It also works the other way around: if there hadn't been all those other rpg's over the years that fed new mechanics and ideas into the rpg hobby, D&D would have become stale by itself and probably would have died out somewhere before 2nd edition came around.

  6. @OP: Man can't live on bread alone.

    There was once a great interview of Billy Joel where he explained the purpose of a bridge in a song: you go away, and you come back refreshed. That's what other games are for.

  7. I think it's as much genre fatigue as it is mechanics fatigue. Note that the games gone to are Traveler, Gamma World and Cthulhu.

  8. The problem is finding a group that will play something else. It seems that some players never get GM fatigue and can't even understand why you would want to play something else.

  9. D&D fatigue is real and I'm thankful for it. After a three year game that I ran, we were ready for something else and I was able to run a summer Marvel RPG game that wrapped up last week. Everyone had a blast and we are looking forward to getting back into D&D this week. In the past we would peel off of D&D for CoC as well. In the wings we might break out the 4E for a laugh, I also have a complete set of Top Secret S.I. that the group might be interested in giving a go.

  10. I don't get D&D fatigue so much as I want to try so many other systems and genres! I love Supers games, and I've tried a zillion of them. Mutants & Masterminds 2E is my favorite, but roll out a new system and I'll be rarin' to try that one too.

    westerns? Heck, yeah I wanna play a Western! Why looky here, I just happen to have Aces & Eights standing by.

    Space? How about we try The Expanse, only it's going to be a Firefly game, but my bastard of a GM secretly made it an Alien game.

    I freely admit: I'm a gamer with loose morals. I'll try anything twice. (and probably find something to like about it. I go into games wanting to have fun, not looking for things to complain about mechanically)

  11. For me, some of the fatigue is dissatisfaction with the RAW. But some of it is that I want to play or run something that isn't fantasy.

    Yes, you can adapt D&D to other genres, but then it's something else - and there's probably a ruleset out there which is already better adapted to what you want to play.

    However, I end up back at D&D because of other players. Either they don't know the other ruleset and don't want to learn, or they are weirded out by the settings and "Why can't we just do the " again.