Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Canned D&D

The first feedback I received on the Adventurers' Guide was that player's don't want to read more than one page of setting material. Bundled right along with this revelation was the fact that any DM who writes a setting manual of any kind is suspect, that they are automatically placed into a dangerous category of nutjob who probably won't run a good game. To me, this is bizarre; it led me to think about the way that D&D has changed since I started playing it, which is a topic that seems to get a frequent workout here.

The assumption that home-made D&D settings are somehow inferior to the boxed products seems to underlie that statement. Let's not even begin to try to unpack the sadness of the claim that reading a book is too much work for someone who wants to play a roleplaying game; the inherent contradiction there must rest for another time. But really, it brings home a shock that I've experienced all over the internet: people simply don't like homebrewed material. It looks like D&D has gone from something you make to something you buy, which is a true loss for the community. The same clearly can't be said about the OSR, so there's some hope yet, I suppose.

Roleplaying games always had a very strong streak of DIY when I started playing them. It wasn't uncommon or unheard of to purchase a "book" or "magazine" that looked like it had been photocopied in a library for cents a page. Groups were expected to customize the games, adapt them to their playstyle, and even to design settings for themselves. There really was no implied setting, and being told that you had to use a boxed campaign set was an insult.

While I ran the Forgotten Realms and Planescape from time to time and a friend solely ran Al-Qadim, no one else I know ever ran a long game set in any of TSR's official worlds. Any foray we took into Cerilia or Athas was a brief one, and it would always end sooner or later in favor of a home-brewed setting. They came fast and furious when I was young, but as I grew older there was but a single setting that I found myself working on; fleshing it out, carefully and slowly adding information and that was the 10th Age.

TSR never seemed to be pushing for an elimination of DIY ethic. The books always suggested that you should throw out anything that you didn't like, combine what you wanted with other editions or systems, and generally make a collection of things that would suit your gaming group well. Even after the Big G was forced out, they continued to tow that line, which was classically Gygax's.

Yet, this pervasive attitude to homemade creations (rules, expansions, settings!) flies in the face of the strong DIY atmosphere of the D&D of my youth. I suppose I haven't been involved in the heart of things for too long, since I stopped giving a shit after I played 3e for a year and was disengaged again when I preordered 4e for the sole purpose of utilizing their internet game table only to discover that, upon release, there was no such thing.

Apparently, D&D isn't something you make at home anymore. D&D, and maybe all rpgs, is something that you buy at a store, pre-packaged. When you get home, you open up the can, and out falls your setting, rules, and more, all form-molded to fit inside the can which in this case is a shiny (but often anemically thin) book. I still remember when D&D wasn't about buying the meal, but rather about buying a recipe.


  1. I think part of what's been happening is that for older gamers like myself, we tend to not have time to do all the DIY work like we would like to. So we are more and more looking for material that is ready to use. For example for me one of the great things about the SW Solomon Kane RPG is that it has 28 adventure campaign included in the book. At one adventure per week, you have enough material for a 7 month campaign.

    That said would I like to do more DIY, Yes, Yes I would. It's just not a good use of my time right now. So all I can do is lament at the lost of my DIY stuff.

    1. I understand why it can be difficult to get enough time to do it, but that's simply a matter of expedience. I don't begrudge anyone that doesn't have time: it's just when the ideal shifts away from that sort of DIY methodology that I begin to wonder.

  2. I'm not sure you can make such a blanket statement. Right now I am running two campaigns. A DIY hexcrawl sandbox (which means a lot of work) for 4E. And the second is a canned Savage Worlds Superhero game (Necessary Evil). Before that it was a DIY world for 4E with a linear plot (slightly less work though I still had to do a fair amount of work on world creation). Before that my wife ran a DIY 3rd edition Gamma World game.

    I find it all depends on what I want. Sometimes a DIY world eats at my brain wanting to get out and play. Other times I will read a "canned" campaign/setting and like it so much I want to run it as is.

    That said, there are more things to suck a person's time away, time they would have in the past spent on DIY design. With the ease of travel, ease of social media, ease of access to quality computer games there are more things occupying a person's time. RPGs are now something a person does along with the many other things they do. Example: I wonder how many people are letting game night adventure prep slide while they play Diablo 3 or Skyrim or WoW or etc.
    And if a person can buy a quality canned product that will allow them to pursue all their varied interests then that is what they will do.

  3. That's a fair assessment, but I feel that the industry itself is saying "D&D is something you buy, not something you make."

  4. "It looks like D&D has gone from something you make to something you buy, which is a true loss for the community."

    Spot on, but to be fair, it's been like that for a long time. Nonetheless, it's a great loss, in my opinion.