Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Doctrine of Appropriate Food

My wife and I went out to dinner the other night at a place she had previously disliked but was willing to give it another shot. When I asked her why, she explained to me her relatively new Doctrine of Appropriate Food, and it makes a lot of sense.

In short, what you order at a restaurant - regardless of what is on the menu - should depend on what that restaurant is and where it is located. For example, you wouldn't want to order pasta at a Mexican restaurant; have a fajita or a burrito instead. Swordfish in Montana should raise eyebrows, but the steak and burgers are bound to be pretty good. And, even if they start making one, don't order the filet mignon at McDonald's.

So what does this have to do with gaming?

A lot, actually.

You see, I get occasional e-mails from people asking why I like Dungeons & Dragons, because they just don't understand what I see in the game. These are people who would walk into McDonald's and ask for the filet mignon.

The primary comments I get from these people are:
How can you like such a bad game?
Is it a bad game? Sorry, I was too busy killing things and taking all their stuff while laughing with friends to notice.

D&D is the big kid on the block, so it's cool to hate it and uncool to actually enjoy it. And sneering at the new edition? Definately cool, because "it was better in the old days." But, as a roleplayer, I have no problem being uncool.

And yet, 4E is more approachable than any earlier edition was. I occasionally miss THAC0, it's true, but the new system makes more sense.

Yes, they reduced classes to lists of powers - but (and let's be totally honest here): It was boring to play a fighter in 2E, especially compared to Wizards and Rogues who had actual choices to make every level.

This was one of the huge changes 3E made: Suddenly, fighters were more interesting to play because of the Feat selection and customization it provided.

And now, with 4E, every class is equally interesting. Only instead of a "Leaping Spin-Kick" Feat, you gain the ability to choose the "Leaping Spin-Kick" power.

Is there an optimal way to create characters for 4E? Probably, but you'll lose some of the fun if you just munckin.
But you can't roleplay in D&D! It's all Hack & Slash play! There are no rules to support actual roleplaying!
Dungeon Master's Guide 2 has a paragraph that you may have missed. It says that you should award players XP for every fifteen minutes of RP as though they had overcome a challenge of the appropriate level. Meaning that the higher the level you are, the more XP you received for RP.

And 4E supports roleplaying better (to my mind) than 2E did. Seriously. Read through a few of the 2E books some time. They're filled with arcane formulas to figure out what you can hit and how hard.

Also: Take a look at some of the other games on the market. Look at how much time they devote to combat rules vs. roleplaying rules. You'll find that even some of your favorites are probably disproportionately in favor of combat, rules-wise..
My friends would never play D&D.
Even by e-mail I can hear the pretentious sneer in this one. My wife often accuses me of being a game snob, and she's right. I am a snob. But I have a section of my shelf set aside for SPOG.

SPOG meaning "Steaming Pile of Game." Most of the time, it's games that had potential to be great and then ... weren't. Or games that didn't even have a chance for greatness because the designer was completely insane. Some of them are games with great settings and bad systems. Some of them are bad settings married to ... less bad systems. And some of them are transparent ripoffs of other games.

D&D doesn't live on this shelf. World of Synnibarr lives on this shelf. Deadlands d20 lives on this shelf. The Everlasting lives on this shelf.
But D&D ignores the story-driven mechanisms developed by other games over the last 25 years!

Seriously. At this point, you're asking for a Filet McMignon. You need to understand that D&D is what it is. It doesn't pretend to be more than that or less than that. It's a game that is honest with itself - and I appreciate that.

Do I like story-driven games? Yes, absolutely. I very much like the trend towards including tools which give players more and more control over the story. At the same time, I don't tend to like the GM-less model of play. I should talk about both of these some time.

I also need to talk some time about Your Game vs. Literature, and RPG Books vs. Genre Lit. But that's a rant that'll take some time to spin out fully. For now, realize this: Your game? It's not literature. And the more you think it is, the more likely it is that you're wrong.

Maybe I should go work on that rant now ...

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