Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Good Job, Guys.

My friend decided to play some D&D for the first time. He credits this very blog for becoming motivated to do so. "Seriously, though, all this rpg reading kinda makes me want to play D&D!"


"I had to explain to my wife that I was going to New Jersey on Monday to play Dungeons & Dragons. She looked at me like I said I had made an appointment with a male prostitute. At first blush she clearly thought it was the most ridiculous thing I had ever said. "But... you've never done this before!"

The discussion was very odd and funny. I guess the issue was that with all the many things I do which occupy my time (and against which she sort of competes), it seemed bizarre to her that I would up and add a new time-sucking activity to my schedule. It turned into a fairly long conversation about why, exactly, I even wanted to play D&D, particularly right now. And in a lot of ways, I clarified the decision for myself."


"So... that sucked. First off, only two other people showed up, from an original commitment of 10! We played in a conference room at one guy's office. He said he normally DMs, but he wanted to play at this session, so the other guy DMed. No one in our group of three had ever met another. They were both friendly fellows, and generous enough to see me through my first session, but the session itself was pretty lame. The framework they used for this "adventure" was beyond fucking lame. Maybe it would have passed muster for a 12 year old, but these are men in their late 30s (at least)! I understand that a one-off adventure is not going to come with the narrative depth of a yearslong campaign, but I was nevertheless hoping for more than "magical doors that lead to awesome!"

Basically, there's a town (about which nothing is ever known - town exists for hiring henchmen and resting, apparently.) And near this town is some kind of magical keep with mystical portals. Step through a portal and you're... somewhere else. Primed for adventure, no doubt! There is no accounting for time, for travel, etc. From town to the keep: an instant! From the portal-world back to town: almost as fast! And about the keep, nothing is said, either. Are there more magic portals than just the one? Who knows, and who cares. And what brought together my dwarven fighter and, um, some cleric? "A dwarf and a cleric walk into a keep and..." I had rather hoped for mystery of another sort.

Anyway, passing through the portal (the experience of which is also left undescribed), we end up in some scrubby, low forest. A castle is visible in the distance. How far? Well, who the fuck knows - time and distance are immaterial, apparently. There are well worn, grassy paths, but the forest itself is just too dense to move through. Convenient! My first adventure, and already I am learning the true meaning of "railroading."

So yeah, we walk down the path and encounter giant bunnies. I kid you not. He actually called them bunnies, too. These things the size of massive dogs. They're grazing, possibly on giant carrots (okay, I made that part up.) So, I throw a rock at them, to see if they'll run off. I was thinking that perhaps the secret to the rabbits' giantism would be more interesting than a fight-to-the-death. But, the DM assumes I'm hurling the rock as a missile, and a lucky 20 on the die condemns a poor (giant) bunny to a quick and painless death. I was trying to be "lawful," but what the hell! Of course, the bunnies turn out to be bloodthirsty and hissing, in addition to giant, and before you know it, a battle ensues. Our henchman dies. We kill the bunnies. I suggested skinning the bunnies or something, but I don't think anyone had anything in mind beyond killing them.

Moving on, we encounter goblins cooking lunch: presumably, giant bunny stew. I'm coming to understand that the DM expects us to fight whatever stupid fucking monsters he puts on the path. I'm trying to, you know, actually role-play, but no one seemed interested in that. Maybe they were trying to keep things simple for me, but I got the feeling that this was par for the course. So it became, more or less, a board game. We were to walk around on this map (which the DM sketched out as we moved - there was no mapkeeping by the players), find goblins, fight same. Get to castle, try to sneak in, fight more goblins.

Then, we all died. The session was scheduled to go on until 10:00. It was a bit after 8:30 at this time. Fortunately, I didn't have to be the guy to say, "This seems like a good time to call it a night." I could have rolled up another character and killed more goblins, and that wouldn't have been without it's small pleasures, I suppose, but I was feeling rather disappointed in the experience.

Most annoyingly, I don't think the DM had a great command of the rules (never mind his complete lack of awareness to time and whatnot. Or the effect it would have on a dwarf to be carrying the body of his unconscious henchman back to town). He could ably run the combat, but all the other mechanics of the universe were left to founder. And honestly, it's the "everything else" that I was most interested in! I can kill goblins on the computer, after all. Plus, I think he fudged some rolls and calls in our favor, I guess to prevent us from dying or whatever. I wanted the brutal reality, but I got "easy mode." All rolls, no imagination.

At one point, bearing the body of a dead henchmen (we went through 3 of them, I think) we saw, in the distance (although those distances tended to always be about 100 yards) giant horses. Thinking I'd not like to fight giant horses, considering the difficulty of giant bunnies, I suggested we wait and see if they go away. "You wait a little while and the horses wander off." How long? Who knows! How did we avoid detection? Who cares!

OD&D is brutal. You'd think, using that system, you would adapt to LESS combat, because each fucking fight is so likely to end in death! But no, it's like the notion of sneaking around goblins had never occurred to these guys! When I did finally manage to work some sneaking into the action, I repeated failed DEX check after DEX check, but still very little trouble befell us until we more or less marched straight into the castle.

Man, it was dumb. The whole thing, dumb. I admit, I like rolling the dice in combat, but what we played, I guess, was Chainmail, minus the miniatures and any semblance of rules for movement. There was no roleplaying whatsoever. My lawful dwarf fighter could have been an evil elvish fighter. Didn't fucking matter.

When one of our henchmen "died" along with the other player, and I could only carry one back to town, these guys looked at me like I was crazy for suggesting we go back to haul the unconscious henchman to town, or even to check if he was still alive. Even I had given up on accounting for time (as if I could run back to town with a cleric on my back, drop him off, hire another henchman, run back to the magic keep and through the magic door, run back down the well-trod grassy paths through the impenetrable forest, and rescue a bleeding henchman whom I had left in the bushes just across the moat from Goblin Castle.) I am not wrong to think that this was an example of very lame D&D, right? I mean, shit, they never even asked me THE NAME OF MY CHARACTER!

So yeah, in short, considering this was an hour and twenty minute drive for me, it will take more than another session of Magic Portal Keep to get me back to that table."


  1. Man, this is a big pet peeve of mine, to see people who were excited about gaming, who were gamers-in-the-making have their opinion of RPGs ruined by jackasses. I've seen it time and again, sadly.

    It's one of the strange quirks of RPGs--they're unlike movies, or comics, or music, where you can hand someone an excellent example of that medium and it will be objectively excellent all the time (I know, I know, these things aren't truly objective, but you know what I mean).

    Hopefully your friend isn't completely turned off of D&D or RPGs in general.

  2. So that is what its like for other people...

  3. You know what's funny? When I got interested in gaming again, my wife had just about the same reaction as your friend's wife, down to the "you didn't seem to show an interest before now." Never mind that throughout my teens and most of my twenties I was very into it... but she didn't know me then.

    She has grown more comfortable with the idea, but she seems to think I'll never get my act together and actually get a game together or find any players. She may be right, but I like keeping her nervous regardless. ;-)

  4. This is exactly the sort of thing my wife ran into again and again, through high school, that turned her off on gaming. She could see the potential, but nobody she knew was playing up to it. She was shocked when I first suggested a game to her, but by the end of our first session, she was hooked.

    Frankly, I suspect most people play the game in this style. I blame the collapse of the hobby from its hey-day on this sort of play. Who would want to play like this, considering the time and effort this hobby demands, even at this level of play? I suspect that the hobby might experience a Renaissance due to people being able to get together online to play, creating a situation where good GMs are in demand and raise the level of expectations across the board. But from what I've seen, most of the new generation of RPGers have eschewed rules entirely, and embraced free-form.

    - Brian

  5. Maybe I'm just old but I tend to think the rise of "Fate/Lazy GM/Storyteller" games are just making this worse. The thinking seems to be "Well, if roleplaying is not garanteed to be fun, there's no point in using all those rules anyway!"

    What can be done to prevent this?

    How can the word get out that GMing is not supposed to be easy? And that if you're not willing to do it "right" you shouldn't do it all because bad roleplaying is worse than no roleplaying. :/