I recently read this thought-provoking article by Brie Sheldon. There was a follow-up discussion on dice.camp (which, incidentally, you should join if you haven’t already).
It got me thinking. I started to respond on dice.camp, but then my answer grew too long to be useful for social media, showing just how badly I need an editor.. I recommend at the very least reading Brie’s original article. It raises some interesting points, and provides an exercise that I recommend for anyone who plays RPGs.
It raises the question as to whether or not D&D is the game you should be playing, given your reasons and goals for playing roleplaying games. For me, the answer is no. I agree with Brie’s conclusion. It’s a shame that so many Dungeons & Dragons games get heavily modded to try to do something that other systems already do, and do better. But, we’ll get to that.
So, my regular group plays 5e. Of the four players, three had never played a Tabletop RPG before. The only TTRPG all three had ever heard of? D&D. Selling three rookies on D&D was easy because they all were familiar with Lord of the Rings and World of Warcraft.
My entrée into TTRPGs came when the McElroy brothers started Adventure Zone, which originally highlighted D&D. I started my gaming group because what they portrayed sounded like so much fun. I only found out that there even were other RPGs when someone I knew from the board game community pointed me to a Kickstarter because they thought I’d like the setting. Once I got that book and read it, it was as though scales had fallen from my eyes. It stirred in me an insatiable appetite. I started consuming RPG books as quickly as I could get my hands on them.
Now we’re a couple months from finishing our years-long campaign. Last week, I floated to my group the idea of picking a new system once this game is over, running a handful of one-shots to test out some new games. One player was visibly scared.
At one point in the conversation on dice.camp, D&D is compared to Doom 3, and then to the whole video game genre of shooters. Neither are unfair. But, I think TTRPGs are more like creative computer software. We call them systems, after all, right? FATE Core is Clip Studio Paint. Dungeon World is Adobe Illustrator. 7th Sea is Acid Pro. Cypher System is ZBrush. And D&D is Adobe Lightroom.
Lightroom—and D&D—are good at what they do. For many people, Lightroom as it is out of the box is just what they need: fantastic photo editing software that’s plugged into an industry-leading ecosystem. Other users will find Lightroom works best for them by implementing user-made presets and actions. Still others might use Lightroom as an entry point into the Adobe Creative Suite, learning the language of an entire host of different kinds of creative software for different tasks. But, generally speaking, unless you’re editing photos, you should probably look elsewhere.
In the past 6 months, I’ve read something like 60 RPG system core books, and I can say that Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition is a good game. It’s mostly well designed. There are a lot of optional rules that make the system flexible, and a number of high quality supplements that expound on and correct design missteps in the core rules. BUT, it’s only really good at one or two things, and, as Brie points out, it might not even be the best at what it does.
All that said, while I lament D&D’s popularity to the exclusion of other RPGs, I think its position in the market can be especially useful. Just like the guys in my group, just like me, D&D can be a fantastic jumping on point for TTRPGs. Some people might settle there, never playing another system. Those people will certainly be missing out, likely playing a game that isn’t the best match for their roleplaying goals. But others will move beyond Dungeons & Dragons to explore the depths of all that tabletop rpgs have to offer. Most importantly, though, everyone who plays Dungeons & Dragons has a chance to connect with a community that may bring joy to their lives. Maybe that’s the D&D community, maybe it’s the broader RPG community. Either way, I think it’s something we can intentionally work to bring more people into a wonderful hobby.