Wednesday, January 25, 2023

YOU Are The Story

Jeez many topics to get to (none of which are OGL-related, thank goodness!) and so little time. I'm trying to write a damn blog post about an orc (not just any old orc, but a SPECIFIC orc), and then THIS comes up. Sheesh.

But it's (kind of) important. 

So, Adam (Barking Alien, for those in the know) posted a comment on my last post (Boring Old D&D) saying:
"It's posts like this that confuse me in regards to what it is you enjoy and why you enjoy it. You don't go in for the Story, Narrative driven games but 'it's not just about killing monster and taking stuff'. How does that work? 

"How do you have no story but it's not just a video game with paper and dice?"
For the record, this is (perhaps) the thousandth time BA and I have danced this little dance. He is very much of the (now old) New School of RPG game play...the kind that came out of Dragonlance and 2E-era D&D, the kind that in the '90s led to White Wolf games like Vampire and all its many imitators. Games that wanted to explore story and genre until birthing (and being killed by) the rise of the indie, Story Now (or Narrativist-oriented) games. For those of us who've been around since 1981 (and followed the evolution of the hobby), its pretty easy to recognize the foibles of 5E D&D as the second coming (and rebranding/marketing) of 2E AD&D. 

[that's probably a whole 'nother post. What'd I say? Too many topics these days. However, here's a hint: WotC/Hasbro's quest to "more monetize" the D&D brand has direct parallels with post-1985 TSR]

ANYway. Adam is no 'spring chicken.' He's been playing RPGs nearly as long (or perhaps longer) than I have. He came in with Basic...Holmes, if I remember correctly...long before Dragonlance. Certainly long before 2E. One might jump to the question, "Hey, why isn't this guy on the same page as JB? He's an old geezer...doesn't he have the same sensibilities?" Just remember: the story-centric "role playing" that followed Wargamers Gygax/Arneson initial creation was created by folks OLDER than us. The Hickmans are OLDER than me...they were married adults in their 20s when they were writing epic Dragonlance modules.  This is not an issue of age, generation, or "wargamer background."

[in case anyone's wondering, I don't have a wargaming background]

The way I see it, the problem here is one of confusion and misunderstanding. There is a (LARGE) segment of the hobby that sees RPGs as vehicles for "telling stories." That "telling stories" is the OBJECTIVE of play. "This game [insert name] allows you and your friends to tell stories, just like [insert favorite book, film, or genre one wishes to emulate]."

Before going any further, in this post you need to BREAK that presumption. Even if the game instructions SAY that's the objective of play, you need to nip that right in the bud because there's a good chance that A) the game writer had a poor understanding of what was going on, AND/OR B) was simply emulating prior games description of 'what an RPG is' when they wrote it.


Okay. Are we clear? Blank slate everyone? Now we can advance.

There ARE games on the market that are specifically designed to tell stories. Once Upon A Time is a good example. Story Cubes are another. The Adventures of Baron Munchausen is yet another and also includes some elements of 'role-playing' in it. 

There are ALSO many RPGs (and Fiasco) that have been published over the years that have the objective of telling stories, using recognizable RPG elements, that can somewhat succeed presuming everyone is on board with genre emulation. The Dying Earth RPG. My Life With Master. New Fire: Temikamatl. OrkWorld (maybe). Dust DevilsPrince Valiant. Maybe Amber Diceless. Christian Aldridge's Maelstrom (i.e. Story Engine) The degree to which the telling stories is supported by the game's mechanics (rules/systems) varies between games, but they are GENERALLY supportive of creating their particular genre...and they don't do much else. 

[there are other examples...really, too many to list]

Then there are...the other games. Games that are based on D&D concepts, mechanics, and play dynamics. "Role-playing games" they are run and moderated by a game master while the other participants play the role of a single character. Games with explicitly stated (or else assumed) objectives of "telling a story." Of creating a narrative with a point to it. Because OTHERWISE the act of play is deemed to have no point or reason to play

Or, to use Adam's words, "How do you have no story but it's not just a video game with dice?"

This is coming at the game from the wrong angle. It is starting with the presumption that playing the game must be about something (it is), about something meaningful (it is), like creating a narrative with a plot a climax and heroic...or at least worthy...protagonists (it is not).  

Dungeons & Dragons was...originally...never about creating stories in the way an actual story telling game is designed. That doesn't mean stories didn't result from the antics of the players, stories that might emulate much of the genre books that inspired D&D (i.e. the infamous Appendix N). But any story creation was the by-product of play, not the point of play. The point of playing Dungeons & Dragons was playing Dungeons & Dragons.  And any textual statements to the contrary should be chalked up as either:
  1. a failure to understand/grasp the appeal of a very new, very unusual game by the original authors, AND/OR
  2. blatant lies and/or terrible attempts at marketing a game that was poorly understood even by its own publishers.
Later RPGs tried to take the "magic" of D&D into their own genres, settings, with tweaks to the system (as TSR did with Top Secret, Boot Hill, Gamma World, Star Frontiers, etc.). But for a number of reasons (which I might get to in a later post) these were LESS successful...and not just because people prefer elves and swords and magic. 

[like I said...needs its own post]

But SOME folks really still wanted elves and swords and magic but with something MORE. For the Hickmans, they had very specific design goals: they wanted objectives that weren't limited to pillaging and looting, they wanted an "intriguing story" that was "intricately woven into play itself," and they wanted scenarios that could be finished in an evening's play. When the Hickmans were hired by TSR, they incorporated these design priorities into their adventures and when those adventures were successful, the design priorities of the (for profit) company shifted to match.

And all the imitators of D&D followed suit.

Again, realize that creating a story was NEVER the "point of play" for the D&D game. The systems (i.e. rules) it has are there to facilitate playing D&D, not to facilitate "telling stories." People like playing D&D (it's why the game is so successful...and will be explained in that later post), just like people enjoy playing baseball or soccer despite there being no real "point" to the game. The point of play is the play of the game. You are not creating ARE the story. 

Some of the biggest name designers in the story-oriented RPG industry never understood this. Here's Mark Rein-Hagen, designer of Vampire: The Masquerade:
"I have always been in love with roleplaying. Slap-happy mad over it. Ever since that first Sunday afternoon when my father and I sat down with the church intern and played Dungeons & Dragons, it has been my passion....

"In short order we'd created our characters and begun our adventure. I rolled up a Dwarf and my father made a Cleric...we were prepared to encounter all manner of fell beasts and sinister mysteries, but not to be caught up by it the way we were. The adventure was called In Search of the Unknown. How apropos that title was I was not to realize until much later.

"After a few hours of play we found ourselves hopelessly lost due to a magical portal...(description of adventure follows)...I was so excited that I couldn't sit still whenever the gamemaster rolled the dice...and when we finally got out of the dungeon with our treasure and our lives intact, I raced around the house screaming with relief and exaltation.

"It was wonderful. It was exhausting. It was miles beyond any other experience I've ever had.

"In that afternoon I was transformed, elevated to a new plane. I had a profound, almost spiritual experience. My entire goal in roleplaying has been to once again visit that mystical garden in which I so enjoyed myself, and discover a means by which I might remain is the sort of thing that changes a life.

"But the trouble is, it didn't happen every time I played. In fact, it didn't happen for a very long time...(long description of seven years of gaming, going from dungeon crawling to wilderness crawling to PVP to min-maximing munchkinism)...sure we had fun, but it wasn't exhilarating, it wasn't transforming, and it wasn't what I really wanted....

"Eventually, it grew altogether too wearisome, and I began to roleplay less and less. Roleplaying became a hollow experience, a sad reenactment of the rites of youth. 

"Then it suddenly happened again, while playing Runequest and exploring the ruins of Parvis. An experience just as intense and transforming as the first. All of a sudden I realized what I had been missing, and I was horrified. A skilled and intense gamemaster had brought back the magic.

"These two experiences are what, for me at least, define what roleplaying is about. Is is what attracts me, and continues to compel me."
[all excerpt taken from The Players Guide for V:TM, essay: "A Once Forgotten Dream," copyright 1991]

That's not the end of Rein-Hagen's essay, as he goes on to explain his thoughts about how to create that exciting, transformative experience in your own games. He arrives at the wrong (practical) conclusion despite having the right answers. He gives four simple points to follow, none of which require one to play a "deeply personal," "intense," "story focused game" like Vampire: The Masquerade:
  1. Make you mind as open and receptive as you possibly can
  2. Believe in the world and scenario created by the game master
  3. Identify with your character (the character is your avatar for interacting with the world)
  4. Exercise (grow/develop) your imagination
Of course, all that is just player-facing advice (this is the advice section in the PLAYERS Guide, after all). The part that he glossed over...or ignored/forgot/discarded...was the most important revelation of his essay: All of a sudden I realized what I had been missing, and I was horrified. A skilled and intense gamemaster had brought back the magic.

It's not about creating a's about experiencing the fantasy. And to do that requires a skilled, intense, and committed GM...and players who are open, receptive, and committed to operating in the GM's world. When THAT happens...whether you're playing D&D, RuneQuest, Vampire, whatever...THEN you're getting the point of play. The point of play is the experience of playing. YOU are the story.
: )


  1. The story is an emergent quality of the gameplay. Same way you can have a story in a computer game that doesn't actually have mechanisms for it.

    With a sufficiently advanced AI, you COULD play an RPG with it. That doesn't mean there's no story.

    1. Um. Not sure I agree with much (any?) of that.

      I mean: sure. "Story" IS an "emergent quality of game play" when it comes to the D&D game. I have often compared D&D 'war stories' to miserable camping trips.

      But none of that matters. We don't go camping in the Olympic Peninsula in winter because the suffering we undergo will "make a great story." We go camping to go camping.

      *sigh* It's really not rocket science, folks.

    2. I mean, some people do do things for the stories. I think those people are odd, but they do.

      Leaving that aside, Dwarf Fortress can have stories take place in it. Ditto games like Old World or Crusader Kings or even just Civilization or Master of Orion. Those stories can, to some extent, move outside the parameters of the actual rules of the game. D&D obviously takes this massively further because the parameters of what the game allows are basically infinite.

      In short, what I am getting at is that Adam's initial "how do you have no story" query is wrong from the beginning. There is a story. It is just not a designed one. Even playing a series of unconnected one-shots is still a series of stories.

      I would also note that a designed video game story is a LOT closer to a new RPG experience than an old school one, and so I don't think he has a great understanding of video games either.

  2. Because I can't let it alone ...

    Old D&D is like going to an open waterpark with fifty or sixty chutes available for use. It's a lot of choices, but all you need do is put on your trunks and go. The fun is the rides, finding which ones you like best, trying different positions with each chute and chasing your friends around the park as you exuberate on how much fun you're all having.

    The people who invented the theme park, who run it, who clean the chutes and keep them in good order, are INVISIBLE. Once in awhile some red-shirted guard comes and warns you not to do something stupidly dangerous.

    New D&D, or "Dragonlance" D&D, is arriving at the same waterpark only now you're met by a red-shirted official with a clipboard. You're TOLD you're going to go down chute #1. Because that's how the "story" of the waterpark works. Yes, you'll eventually be allowed to go down all the chutes, but not until we reach "the right place" in the story. Then we have to sit and be lectured on what the story is about before being allowed on the first chute. Everyone has to go down the chute in the same way, because "that's the story." Wow, what fun, as we go down the chutes. Storylines are great!

    Adam's problem, and the problem of most DM's, is the whole "staff and designer are invisible" part. Because the storyline is about the DM ... the one who gets to TELL the story. Whereas the Old D&D waterpark is about it being a damned waterpark.

    If Adam doesn't get to tell a story, he thinks that the only thing that's left is putting chutes in front of players in order. That's how he sees "a video game with paper and dice." He just can't imagine that the players will run their own game if they're given a park to have it in.

    After all, a video game is STILL the Dragonlance waterpark. It's still a story, telling you to ride the chutes in the right order. The idea that players can just DO stuff they want to do, in the order they want to do it, feels impossible ... because it's impossible, in the minds of most of these people, to present a waterpark with more than one chute at a time.

    As they tell me, constantly, "Making a whole world is impossible. Who has that kind of time."

    An Old D&D DM. That's who.

    1. The older the better. It takes a lot of invested time to make a decent game world (as I'm sure you can attest).
      ; )

    2. Wow that's incorrect. But points for trying. First, the story is about the players/their PCs as much as the events I or other GMs with my approach include in our campaigns. It's more a team effort.

      Second, my older players would indeed charge into the Waterpark and go on the rides. My younger, newer players stare at them waiting for the GM to tell them which one is fun.i try to alleviate this by suggesting different activities at the park while also asking them what their characters like to do. What are they interested in? That leads us on an often unexpected journey through the setting.

      The adamant attitudes are so amusing. I will admit to not understanding and being curious about your approaches while you are definitively certain of mine and it's obviously wrong. LoL

      Very entertaining.

    3. I am not "very certain" of yours, Adam...I apologize if I misrepresented you.

      You asked how a game without story would be anything more than a "video game" played with paper and dice. You've stated (on more than one occasion) that you don't understand the way I play or the style of play I proselytize.

      So this post has tried to explain it.

      Adamant? As in, unchanging? I've changed over the years...for certain I have. I'd like to think I've grown and discovered. I'm not playing D&D the same way I was when I was 9 or 12 or 15 or 35. Not really.

      But I'm still playing D&D, after 40 years. You *appear* to have a different opinion of what the D&D game is about and how it's used and what it's for...and, yet, you (for the most part) left this particular game behind a long time ago.

      Maybe if your approach to the game had been different, you might still find it fascinating and enjoyable?

    4. Played this game too many times with you Adam. You say "this," then when you're called on it, you suddenly change the goalposts. I'm not as forgiving as JB. I know when I'm being conned.

  3. Does this last bit tie into your previous post on world building? The one where I was slapped about by Alexis Smolensk for my comment?

    1. HAHAHA. It took me a while, but I think you were referring to *this* post?

      Damn, I get sidetracked easily. There were at least two, REALLY juicy follow-up posts from that one that I still need to get to. Thank you for reminding me.

      To answer your question: yes, of course. It all ties into the world building. Now that the holidays are over (as well as my time coaching) I hope to get back to this line of writing (adventure design, world building, etc.).

      Chin up Jake. The beatings (and pontification) will continue until morale bloody well improves around here!
      ; )

  4. So, that was well put together. My D&D experience is cut from the same cloth as yours: born in the late 60s, introduced to D&D in 1979, played Keep on the Borderlands as my first adventure… D&D was adventure was the point. There was no “story” back then. Story would have been the adventure background read before the session began. But that’s where story ended. Everything that we did after that WAS the story. There wasn’t a plot objective we were trying to fulfill. Did that make the adventure more similar to a video game? Maybe. There weren’t any video games in ’79 that could do what we did in D&D. Galaxian? Space Invaders? Missile Command? Nope. We had the freedom to loot, pillage, enslave, rescue, bargain, or befriend as we saw fit. So, as far as I remember, the game wasn’t about making stories back then. It was about surviving in an imaginary world where (almost) anything was possible.

    The other big difference was that your character wasn’t an external “thing” that could be optimized like a World of Warcraft toon, it was YOU. You, the player, were the character. I think the definition of “role”-playing has moved so much since the early days that people don’t really understand the basic premise. Maybe if they had played Wizardry on an Apple II they would get it. Your character was not separate from yourself. It WAS yourself. I’m probably butchering this concept. It’s too late in the evening for me to expound upon it… but it meant that you didn’t have a Backstory, or a previous Profession. It was just you, a 1st level schmuck, no matter what race or class you chose.

    Anyway, selling story-telling to people is much easier than explaining them how to adventure well and survive. Anyone can get into talking in a funny voice and explain why some obscure fact from their character’s history explains the in-game action the player decided to make. Someone at some point decided that character death was the worst thing imaginable… and that about did the game in. Ugh. The game’s design has evolved to accommodate and coddle.

    Okay, I’m going down a dark hole. In short, I totally agree with you. It’s not about creating a story. Story is going to happen regardless. No one has to plan for it. Not the DM, not the player.

    1. @ Coffeemate:

      You're a bit older than me but, yeah...we are very much on the same page. Since you're new around here, I'd direct you to this old post:

      ...which pretty much illustrates your take on "character" (mine as well).

      I agree that the shift in gaming...especially with regard to D&D gaming can seem, mm, disheartening. Best advice: don't get down about it. Just play real D&D. The more of us that keep the flame alive, the less chance it'll go out.

      My wife (very much a Non-Gamer) told me tonight, hey there was this story on NPR about D&D and Hasbro changing their license and screwing all these people and, hey, have you heard about this? Is this going to affect your books?


      Look D&D is bigger now than ever. If there was ever an "importance" to representing the hobby as originally constructed...heck, no time like the present.
      ; )

      Happy gaming.

  5. Replies
    1. You were part of the impetus for me writing this post

    2. Ha! Right on, man...I'll be sure to check it out.
      : )

  6. Some people drink wine for the taste. Some people, as a way to socialize. Some to relax. Others to get drunk. There are other reasons, I'm sure. But it sounds as if you are telling readers that the only reason people drink wine is for the taste. Now, that may be you, but you go further and say that if somebody else said otherwise, they were mistaken or lying. That's where I have trouble following your line of thinking.

    Anyway, you said it yourself: stories are a by-product of playing D&D. In other words, you agree with a gazillion other people that D&D games create stories. As a by-product, sure. Some people do things for the by-product, don't they? And that doesn't mean they did it wrong in the first place. As you replied to one comment, "not rocket science."

    Now, a small request. You alluded to AD&D 2e as problematic. I never played that edition. I've read a lot about "what went wrong" with 3e, 4e, 5e. I've even read a bit about what went wrong with Holmes Basic, B/X, BECMI, and what went wrong with AD&D 1e. I've read about what went wrong with OD&D. Everybody has their explanations about the best edition ever (usually their first) and how the next one ruined the game for all time. But there's not as much old-timer blog material about the errors of AD&D 2e. I looked and found your posts about AD&D 1e as the "TRUEST version," but I'd be interested still more testimony about what you think went wrong with 2e, if you find the time. Thank you!

    1. @ Tom:

      Probably I wasn't clear enough: I think it is a mistake to come from a starting point of "this game is about the [byproduct]."

      Let's talk about the wine analogy. Lots of reasons to drink wine. For the taste. For the buzz. For the camaraderie of other wine drinkers. For the prestige (as opposed to being a swiller of beer). For the tradition (say, your family is from a wine drinking culture). Lots and lots of reasons.

      And maybe you NEED one (or more) of those reasons to drink wine besides the fact that you "just like how wine tastes." And maybe you don't. Maybe you're just thirsty and wine is expedient.

      There are folks who say D&D is about creating stories...that THAT is why they play D&D. No, it's not ABOUT creating least, it wasn't originally (i.e. in the first decade of the game, the way I play it). And there are folks, like Adam, who say "why would you play THAT way, I don't understand!" Okay, cool. understand me, first start at the beginning, BEFORE the game's stated purpose was "to create stories." That is, before a BY-PRODUCT became the OBJECTIVE of play and the thing that's hyped to people as a way to sell the game. "Buy our system and read our 600 pages of text so that you and your friends can tell stories together!"

      Because if you're coming to the game of D&D (especially, say, early D&D) with a mindset of This-Is-A-Game-Of-Story-Making, then you're going to be confused when there's no character backstories, no plot, no themes. "You just want to pretend to be an elf with a sword? Killing orcs and taking their gold? Why? Why not just play a video game? What's the appeal?"

      Confusion because of the faulty premise. YES, D&D is "fun to play." YES, D&D includes "social bonding." YES, there will be a story that can told from the play at the table...which is all the same as if you'd been to the bowling alley with your buddies that night ("wow, Jill got over 200 tonight, and Ralph's team got their ass kicked," etc.).

      The by-products aren't the appeal. "I drink wine because it gets me drunk faster than beer." Okay, so why not drink hard liquor.

      "I play D&D to create stories." Okay, so why not write stories? "I play D&D to create stories with my friends." Okay, so why not write stories in collaboration with others. Why do you need D&D (or any RPG) to do that? Because you like the pretty pictures in the books? That's kind of like saying you buy wine for the bottles.

      [now, to be fair, *I* have purchased wine based on the bottle before...more than once...and I have purchased MANY (unplayed) RPGs just for their "pretty pictures." But the discussion here is about playing, not collecting]

      Does that make sense? Does that make it any easier to follow my line of thinking?

      I feel like you have a bit of block here because I'm telling you your way of playing is wrong, and you're resistant to that. Hey, man: play how you want to play. If you feel bad because I am being all "judgey" and, don't let it bother you? I think folks who want to use RPGs to "create stories" are (probably?) the majority opinion these days, so you'll have plenty of company in that opinion.

      [McDonald's food is kind of terrible for you, but it doesn't stop billions from eating it, either, right?]

      RE 2nd Edition AD&D

      Hmm. I don't have a "definitive" post about the problematic aspects of 2E...they're just kind of sprinkled here-and-there throughout the blog. Here's a really early one, though it's more emotion-heavy:

      However, the most "problematic" bit about 2E is the changes to the experience/advancement system. I've written about this before and (you guessed it!) at length; check it out:

      Anyway...check out those posts and if they don't satisfy, maybe I can write-up a more fulfilling smack-job.
      ; )

    2. Naw, I don't have a block. I didn't think you were telling me the way I play or used to play is wrong, either. (If you were, that would be pretty strange, because you don't know how I play. On this issue: I play to play, and stories happen anyway.) I was surprised that you claim that the game was originally played a certain way (which happens to be your way), when ample records by early DMs say that they played in different ways, and for different reasons. You can say that a bunch of DMs in 1974, 1975, 1976, etc., when you and I were little kids, all got it wrong, and that you are the one who really understands, and... well, that will be your opinion, which doesn't bother me. Everybody has opinions, but sometimes people look at the evidence to see if they're true. ;)

      I appreciate the references to your criticisms about AD&D 2e. I'll take a closer look. Thanks!

    3. Hm.


      Am I saying that THIS is how folks "used to play" or how folks ONLY "used to play?" No. I don't think so. This post was never meant to be a historic treatise on the way people played D&D...especially considering the ample historic evidence that exists showing many groups played many different ways (Gygax and Arneson didn't even play OD&D the same).

      No, Tom. I'm not "claiming" anything about how "the game was originally played." I'm talking about what it was designed to do. And, at least with regard to AD&D, I have it on authority from the main author/architect (by his own writings) what the game was designed to do.

      As for what works and what doesn't...well, that's a matter of my personal experience and my readings of the experiences of others. Which isn't exactly good social science, I'll be the first to admit. But if you're coming to this blog for good social science, um...sorry?

    4. Okay, cool! I don't want to drag it out, especially as you said it's your personal experience and your interpretation. Nobody can deny you those. I appreciate that you engaged with my comments on your blog! A thought-provoking entry on "what the game was designed to do."

  7. Dear Tom, even though I know your question is not directed at me, I wanted to add my 2e experience as a DM. First, the product design suffered. While I loved the Al-Qadim and Kara-Tur campaign settings, the actual adventure products were largely plot lines for DMs to flesh out. Sometimes there were maps that contained some location-based play, but for the most part, the products moved toward a “here’s a predetermined story to usher your players through” model. Worse, there was no advice offered in the sourcebooks on how to referee this new style of play.

    Each iteration of D&D ushers in a new crop of gamers. The gaming model that the B/X and AD&D products espoused was displaced by plot-driven products, which began to bifurcate how D&D should be played in the minds of its consumers.

    As for the rules set itself, I don’t remember it being much different than AD&D. Sure, it added Skills, but we never used them. If I remember correctly, there were too many to remember what each did, and they lacked practical application for in-game play.

    For me, the greatest shame was the product model. Products had little game material in them and too much world building. TSR went on a setting frenzy. It sold a lot of novels (which I read), it created a lot of splat books and splat boxes (which I bought), but 2e started an era where the product was meant to be read and not used.

    I’d be curious to read what others have to say on this matter.

    1. A lot of the later becmi products are the same, it's really a trend that started in the mid to late 80s and 2e was more of a fulfillment of that trend than the beginning

    2. @Coffeemate and Lance. I really like to hear the perspectives of others, so thank you. I was/am aware of these things but was not playing D&D any more at the time, and never bought a 2e product. Sounds like the modules were a bigger issue for you folks than the rules (though our friendly blogger here points out his complaints about XP distribution in AD&D 2e). If the modules were so disappointing, I wonder why folks didn't just make their own adventures (situations and settings). Sometimes it seems like TSR, with all those modules, taught DMs not to make their own stuff. If they were so bad, why did folks keep buying the stuff, and then later on feel traumatized by it? I'm just teasing by putting it that way, but the point is real.

    3. Well, yeah… you bring up a good point. Four our group, we did just that, we made up our own stuff. It went well for a very long while. I gotta say, though, is that it was tougher to DM. When we were younger, it was much easier being able to pick up a TSR published dungeon crawl and just run with it. When the 2e era hit, our adventures became more free-form since the modules were written that way. Don’t laugh, we were wondering if we were “doing it right,” since those modules (or boxes) felt and played so differently.

      Why did the 2e stuff keep on selling? Well, that’s just it. It didn’t. All those different game worlds splintered the market, and the market was shrinking. A lot of people seem to forget the meteoric rise of CCGs during the mid-90s, as well as the growing video game market (SNES, Genesis, and PS2!). All those things took a bite out of the D&D crowd.

      Another thing, now that I’m thinking about it, is that some worlds were shuttered to make room for new ones. Both Oriental and Arabian Adventures were wound down once sales slumped, to be replaced by stuff like Planescape, Ravenloft, and Dark Sun. But what if those newer products didn’t resonate with you? They didn’t for me. I mean, yeah, they are genuinely cool, but just not my jam. Having to sunset campaign settings ends up being not the best strategy to retain buying customers.

      I’d be curious to see how receptive the market would be for 2e-style products today. There seems to be much less tolerance for adventure products that only offer a “sketch” of what the DM should do. Spare time seems to be a precious resource these days. Products are being asked to be more pick-up-and-play, and I’m not sure that’s a bad thing.

  8. Having another go:

    "It's not about creating a's about experiencing the fantasy. And to do that requires a skilled, intense, and committed GM...and players who are open, receptive, and committed to operating in the GM's world."

    I've had to read through the post several times (a bit tricky on my mobile phone), but I think that I get it.

    My understanding now is:

    The creators (Gygax, Arneson & others) created a game the point of which allowed the players to experience a fantasy adventure of dungeons, dragons and treasure. The objective was the fantasy itself.

    The game has to handle how manage jeopardy and uncertainty and provide the players with a way of influencing the outcome through the decisions they make.

    The fun in the game comes from how well (well here means with sufficient verisimilitude) the game's rule systems emulate the necessary decision making that a character (or team of characters) would have to make in that fantasy environment.

    The more the DM focuses on giving the players the ability to make meaningful decisions which could reduce the uncertainty and affect the outcome of the jeopardous situation to their benefit the greater the fun.

    None of this requires a storyline, pre-planned narrative or backstory for the player's avatar (PC). The objective could be as simple as "what's in this dungeon" and it would still be possible to have a lot of fun. In fact detailed scenes and pre-planned narratives, railroads, linear dungeons and quantum ogres remove agency from the players by reducing the numbers of meaningful decisions they are offered and this ultimately lessens the fun.

    I think that I'm now close to understanding what you were saying in November. To take the Dragonlance modules, they were always about the Hickman's story rather than the fantasy of time spent exploring Krynn.

    1. @ Jacob72:

      Yep, that about nails it.

      A couple-three points to chew on:

      1) Because of its premise, D&D is fairly unique amongst RPGs in its ability to deliver on its gameplay experience. It provides jeopardy, it provides asymmetrical play styles, it provides goals that require cooperation, it is encapsulated in a manageable world/environment (unlike, say, a space opera game like Traveller), and yet provides enough magic weirdness (the Underworld, outer planes, etc.) to facilitate mystery and discovery.

      2) D&D's authors/publishers have never been great about teaching what and how it functions (or functions best). The closest we get is Gygax's essays in the 1E DMG about creating and running campaigns, and most of us (in the old days) tended to "gloss over" that stuff in order to get to magic items, spell research, combat systems, etc.

      3) Following on the heels of #2: while the power of the game can be discovered organically through emergent play (despite the lack of instruction) what goes completely unstated is the need to evolve and develop your campaign as YOU (the DM) mature and develop. You don't really want to run the game at age 30 the same way you did at age 12. But while it's explicitly permitted to add or alter rules as/when needed, the NEED to do so isn't well defined. Folks then tend to either A) throw out/change rules whimsically/unnecessarily OR B) adhere as tightly to the rules as possible even when they are no longer useful/applicable in order to maintain the same style of play...even when the campaign has grown beyond that.

    2. I'm glad that after 3mo ir so that I've got it. Every day's a school day as they say.

      On point (2) I think that the creators were doing something new and that because things evolved in that wargaming space 71-74 that they didn't really set out with a set of objectives and a design process which generated the necessary functions. So in my mind that's why they were bad at explaining what the game was about.
      On point (3) I noticed this gap since returning to the hobby in 2017. It is a huge gap and it is only being filled by bloggers like yourself and others.

  9. The point of living is to tell a story.

    1. I can’t say I agree, but it makes a nice slogan.
      ; )