Sunday, January 14, 2018

The Color of Money

Let's hit pause for a moment.

Consider (if you'll indulge me) a hypothetical universe, very similar to our own, in which the best way to play the Dungeons & Dragons game is something like the way its originators stated waaaay back in the days of yore, before it became the cornerstone of an industry and gaming empire. Back before there were published game settings and adventure paths but (instead) an idea that each individual Dungeon Master would create his or her own world ("campaign setting") and develop his or her own additional rules (to cover things that were not already covered in the limited instructions provided).

Imagine, as best you can, a reality in which the popularity of the game was driven by two, major components: firstly, it's ability to be customized to the imaginations and whims of the players (especially the referee, or "dungeon master") and, secondly, by the experience that was provided to the participants in actual play (especially those we commonly refer to as "players").

NOW...still holding this idea in your head...consider if the founding D&D's creators had stopped developing the game, only updating it by issuing a cleaned up, well edited, technically written set of instructions/rules that...in essence...simply polished the original, amateurish product found in those saddle-stitched pamphlets, those Little Brown Books cobbled together by hand using artwork cribbed from the pages of Marvel comics. Something perhaps available in both hard and soft cover, perhaps in a box (as most table games are sold)...maybe including dice and other play aids, though probably NOT any sort of multi-volume set adding hundreds of additional pages.

Allowing that the popularity of the game might (in this imaginary world I propose) send up a hue and cry for more material, perhaps the publishers might create some type of periodical...a newsletter or magazine...that provides additional (non-official) options for use in one's home game, or that contributes advice and instruction on the two things driving the interest in playing the game, i.e. methods on how to create one's own campaign settings and on how to provide a more powerful game experience. And, sure, perhaps also the odd example "adventure."

Hell, the company might even publish the occasional "modular" adventure to be dropped into one's home campaign setting.

Ccertainly one might expect other fan-related communities, periodicals, and (later, with the internet) blogs and forums to pop up over time discussing the game and sharing tips, ideas, and material, but these would be tolerated by the publishers as helping to promote the game and keep it living and breathing.

Because the main point and industry of the designers and publishers of the Dungeons & Dragons game would be (in this imaginary universe I posit) to simply be the keepers and publishers of the game. To make it available to the public, perhaps in different languages, just as (for example) Parker Brothers was responsible for publishing and selling the game of Monopoly from the 1930s until the company was acquired by Hasbro in '91 (thus conferring actual responsibility to the latter company).

Just consider this possible, parallel universe. Roll it around in your brain a bit.

Do you think (in this imaginary universe I describe) that the Dungeons & Dragons game would have faded into obscurity after ten or twenty years? Do you think it would continue to sell, forty years today (2018), forty years after its initial publication? Do you think it could continue to hold the attention of people for decades the way other tabletop games...like Monopoly or Scrabble or Sorry...have managed to do? Enough that parents would introduce it to their children, teach them the rules, buy new copies when old copies need replacement?

More than half a century in the same format.
Consider that until Hasbro acquired Monopoly in 1991 the board game was only published in two formats (standard and "deluxe"). While I couldn't find sales totals for Monopoly prior to its Hasbro acquisition, it was selling at least a million copies per year following World War II (according to Wikipedia anyway). Would a simple business model (like the imaginary one I propose) have allowed Dungeons & Dragons to sell even a tenth as many copies as "the world's most popular board game?"

Would that have been enough money to comfortably sustain the game's publishers?

Perhaps not. Perhaps the profit margin necessary to maintain and publish the game would have, over time, necessitated a diversification of product, the need to publish different editions, similar to the way Hasbro continues to create different varieties of the Monopoly game. Perhaps. But then, Monopoly (to my mind) is a much more static game than Dungeons & Dragons. While I prefer its classic version (duh...I'm old), I can see how folks might like to "tart it up."

Of course, some might say that Dungeons & Dragons lacks the universal appeal of a game like Monopoly. I'm not sure I agree. Thematically? Are more people really interested in playing ruthless real estate tycoons than heroic fantasy adventurers? The former smacks too much of our harsh reality, while the latter provides a pleasant diversion and escape.

No, it is the experiential gameplay of Monopoly (handling money...wisely or unwisely, wheeling and dealing, and cursing the whims of fate in the forms of dice rolls and card draws) that makes it appealing to people, and it is readily accessible: easy to learn, easy to set-up, easy to play. Dungeons & Dragons over the decades has rarely ever approached the type of accessibility found in Monopoly, being either too obscure in its presentation (the earliest editions) or two large in scope and page count (most of the later editions). For the most part, D&D over the years has relied on mentorship for the teaching of its rules rather than "out-of-the-box" instruction. And the support for such mentorship has been weak to nonexistent.

Which is too bad, for a number of reasons.

BUT (stopping our hypothetic imagining for now) that is, unfortunately, the actual reality. My little dreamscape isn't true history...and even considering such "alternative history" may seem a wasted effort. Unless, you're feeling hopeless and looking for some way out of our current state of affairs.

[I know Alexis is actually made of pretty strong stuff, but it was his post that prompted my train of thought here, even if he has since backed up from the ledge]

I don't think that the actual game, nor its potential, has been lost quite yet. In fact, if there's any good that's come out of the amorphous OSR and it's backward-looking nostalgia (and, yes, I think there's a LOT of good that has come out of it), the greatest of its offerings may have been the re-kindled interest in the "home game" that has come about because of it.

And there's more I want to say on this subject, really. I want to talk about the present reality (so much as I can) and talk about possible roads to the future. And about finding a way back to something ...some track that we wandered off a long time ago.

But that's will have to wait for the future. Right now, I've got a hot game of Axis and Allies with my boy that I simply must get back to. More later.
; )


Thursday, January 11, 2018

The Need For Escape

Happy F'ing New Year.

Man, there's a lot of stuff I could (and would like to) write about. Most of it has fuck-all to do with gaming, however, and much of it is probably "too political" (and too partisan to boot)...things that many of my readers find tedious in the extreme. And I do have a few (fifty or so) gaming topics in mind for the New Year, though precious few are specific to Dungeons & Dragons, let alone B/X.

[though rest assured, I am compiling a list...for YOU, gentle readers, all for you]

In fact, my original plan for the day was to sit on down at the local cafe and bang out a couple-four posts to schedule over the coming week. This didn't happen as I ended up spending much of my morning dealing with the police and my delinquent brother and his asshole-ness. Which...trust me, I know...I could go on and on about and elicit all sorts of sympathy for, but fuck, there's not much one can do with sympathy, besides appreciate it and get on with the effort required for dealing with life's realities.

Thanks anyway. Everyone has problems, and my personal ones are pretty small compared to a lot of folks out there, even those of my fellow Americans.

So, instead I'm at the bar attached to a local game store, blogging like this. I bought a beer and a bowl of chili and a game (the newly re-issued Adventures of Baron Munchausen...a beautiful book with new rules for Sinbad the Sailor-type storytelling) and I'm calming my nerves and getting ready to be a fucking parent again with my two darling children who deserve so much more than their uncle's bullshit and the future inheritance we, as a fucked up society, are leaving them.

Games, especially role-playing games like D&D, are a fantastic cure for the various ills that plague us. Don't get me wrong: I use lots of escapist means to deal with my mental stress and suffering. But alcohol (one of my favorites) has a lot of downsides to it, and video games contain few of a tabletop RPG's virtues (like requiring literacy, engaging your imagination, and forcing you to interact with fellow human beings). Thank God for games...I can only wonder at what I might have done with myself over the years if I hadn't had them for an escape outlet.

That's it. That's all I've got for the moment. Seriously, no one wants the sordid details. But I'll try to get back to posting here in the next few days. I do have other things to write about, after all.