Monday, September 12, 2011

Is There A "Wrong Way" To Play D&D?

Dammit. I really did just want to blog about dinosaurs.


Is there a "wrong way" to play Dungeons & Dragons? No, there is not. Not really. D&D is a game, which (as a term) is an important distinction from either "play" or "sport." Man, I wish I still had my textbook from phycho-physical development (that was what my high school called "P.E. class"). Well, whatever...if I remember correctly, the main distinction between game and sport is the presence of a finite time limit (which D&D does not have) and the distinction between game and play is the presence of rules/structure.

D&D does have a rule set that provides it with structure, but it is a very loose rule set, explicitly stating that certain aspects of play will need to be improvised or refereed and that none of the rules are sacrosanct or incapable of change, should the DM choose otherwise.

Does this mean D&D is really just "play?" No...even if the DM chucked ALL the rules out the window, it would still have an inherent structure that "play" lacks, namely the presence of a "DM" in opposition to "players."

Right? Okay, yeah, let's just say it is so for the moment. SO...being a game with explicit text allowing changes at a whim, I suppose the only way possible to play D&D in a "wrong way" is to play in a fashion that doesn't jibe with the rules/structure as laid down by the DM. If the DM says everyone's going to roll D30s instead of D20s for attack rolls, than not doing so (playing the contrarian) would be playing wrong...with some predictably unhappy consequences for the player doing so.

All right, so, having said THAT...I do think the D&D game as written acts as an excellent vehicle for some styles of role-playing, and is less than adequate for certain other styles.

Oh, man...I really want to say "FAR less than adequate" but I know I'm already going to be ruffling feathers with this whole line of discourse.

In fact, screw this...I got two hours of sleep last night and it has been one exceptionally long day. The baby's been sick the last couple days, and this is my first real break in more than 24 hours. I'm going to veg out and watch some Monday Night Football. Or fall asleep in front of the TV. Or a little bit of both...zzzzzz...

[Tomorrow: Dinosaurs]


  1. I don't know. I always kind of thought that if you weren't having fun you were playing wrong.

  2. I suppose the rules are part of the "social contract" so playing "wrong" is anything which violates this contract.
    On a more technical level, I suppose there cannot be a "generic" game which can be played according to arbitrary playing styles. That's true of D&D as much as Monopoly.

  3. I wrote a whole post on this a couple of weeks ago, called Doing it Wrong. I really do think as a GM you can make decisions that steer the game down really depressing directions. I think I have to echo Antonio's point about the "social contract" idea. Everybody at the table has expectations, and many times the direction of the dM and the players can diverge over time or there can be multiple ways of play that the different players find fun such that it is hard to please everyone, or when one group or individual at the table is having a good time it is at the expense of everyone else...

    So yeah, I think you can do it wrong, lol

  4. It's a very interesting subject. I'd say a game system will suggest a particular approach by the restrictions it sets, even by the layout of its ruleset, by the supplements that then come along etc. A key issue in this case seems to be the expansiveness of the approach, or rather the haziness of the limits. A sport for example might be expected to have more clearly defined lines to follow; so much is possible in D&D even without modifying the ruleset that binary ideas like right and wrong have much less traction.

  5. I do think the D&D game as written acts as an excellent vehicle for some styles of role-playing, and is less than adequate for certain other styles.

    I TOTALLY agree with you on this point. I've been considering writing a detailed post about how different rule sets (especially in the case of the many iterations of D&D) definitely lend themselves to different styles of play. I think what's stopping me is lack of time and also the fact that I need to do some digging into the various eras of D&D to really do it justice. Then there's also the consideration that I kinda want to branch out beyond D&D and explore how other systems (Savage Worlds, Gurps, FATE, etc.) may also have a style of play that they facilitate. Of course, there are ways to break away from the style that is implicit in a system...

    Yeah, I need to think about this more before I blather further...

  6. I don't think anyone's going to dispute you on this point, JB, because you're ultimately not saying much of anything at all, other than "everyone ought to agree on the rules". :P

    However, if what you really meant to say (and refrained in order to avoid a snarkfest) was, "Old school D&D is about going into dungeons, killing things, and taking their stuff - if you want special-snowflake storytime, try some White Wolf and keep it off the OSR blogotron," then I might just take a little exception to it. Mostly non-ruffled exception. :)

    Most of us special-snowflake types grew up in old school D&D culture, and we read Tolkien as kids. For better or for worse, we're married to D&D (and its direct derivatives). Not to mention that we often want to game with our hack-and-slash dudebro buddies, the ones who would rather blow fifteen minutes with minis on the table in a goblin skirmish than talk about the very special bond between the druid and her wolf companion. That's another advantage of D&D - it's deliberately loose enough to accommodate a broad range of styles at the same table with the same people on the same night.

    If this post did indeed grow out of the comments on your post about character advancement in old school games, then this makes me wonder: are you saying that the RAW for XP are a fundamental aspect of the "style" of D&D, and that altering those rules significantly means that it's not D&D anymore? Because the rest of the style markers are still there. Or is it the special-snowflake bit that makes it not D&D? Which I can understand; the deadliness of early-level old school makes backstory barely worth the bother, though developing a particular character's personality is still one of the most rewarding parts of D&D as written, even if your goofball cleric is going to die at the end of her first session. Maybe it's running a low-combat game? Is it My Elves Are Different syndrome? I don't think any of these kill the fundamental nature of old school D&D - maybe all of them at once, I guess.

    I promise I'm not attempting to start a riot based off of total conjecture fabricated from a perceived unstated subtext in a follow-up post - I just want to understand the distinction you're trying to make here, with the acknowledgement of all the caveats you issued at the close of your post. With two young kids of my own, I know precisely how a good, pertinent point can turn into a murky headscratcher when you try to set it down on keyboard. At the moment, it sure looks like this is a continuation of the XP discussion, but I sure can't tell where you wanted to go with it. >.>