Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Great D&D Schism

In spite of my better judgement, I've been posting a bit the last few weeks over on ENWorld again.  I may quit soon; I'm running into a number of the same issues that caused me to leave in the first place all over again, but in the meantime, I'm also coming up on a handful of interesting discussion topics.  My own interest in D&D is a bit low at the moment, since I'm using a house-ruled m20 ruleset to represent a setting that is avowedly non-D&D-like in a number of ways, and I'm also totally OK with that.  But as D&D Next, or 5e, or whatever they're calling it these days, approaches, I admit to an at least academic curiousity about the whole affair. 

One topic that came up, which I thought was kind of interesting, was the notion of "The Great Schism" of D&D players.  The assertion here is multifold.  To whit:
  • At one point, almost all gamers played D&D, and the game was very similar--either OD&D, BD&D or AD&D, but the differences between them were more subtle than not, and the vast majority settled on AD&D anyway.  The 2e revision rankled a few people, but as compatability remained high, it wasn't a big deal, and most people played it anyway.
  • Late in 2es life-cycle, a number of folks had left the D&D fold, and either weren't gaming anymore at all, or were playing other games (World of Darkness, for instance, or something else.)
  • In 2000, when 3e came out, everyone was again pulled up into the same big tent, and 3e was, again, an edition that everyone had in common, and was at least somewhat fluent in talking about, if not actively playing.
  • A combination of factors, most of which had to do with the bungling of PR at the 4e launch, dissatisfaction with 4e and all of the many changes it made to the system, and the fact that the OGL enabled the flowering of both the OSR and Pathfinder led to a schism of D&D players.  Due to the rancor and factionalism of the time, many players were drawn more or less permanently into their camps, and no longer had any significant common ground with the other factions.
  • D&D Next is meant to be another big tend unifier, but the factionalism is now so firmly entrenched that the notion of pulling OSRians, or Pathfinder players back to D&D is dubious at best.
  • This is a sad state of affairs, and we should all be one community and one game to rule them all, or some such.  Blah-blah-blah.
You can (and probably should) quibble with many of the points in this thesis (I'm paraphrasing it; it's not my thesis, certainly) but I do think the notion that the D&D player base is somewhat factionalized, and well-served by existing product, and therefore unwilling or unlikely to reassemble back into a common big tent game again is--I believe--more or less true.

Of course, where I disagree most ardently with this thesis is in the notion that this is a bad thing!  Frankly, I don't care about "the community" and I derive no satisfaction from knowing that some guy in Seattle and some guy in Germany and some guy in Uruguay are all playing the same game that I'm playing.  I don't care about that; the factionalist and relative freedom with which strikingly narrow niche products can be developed, produced, sold, or simply house-ruled is much more valuable to me than a vague sense of satisfaction that I'm doing the same thing as everyone else.  Where's the tradition of the Rugged Individualist who goes off and does his own thing?  I'd much rather be very specifically served exactly to my tastes than have to compromise just for the same of community.

Plus, this diversity means that I have a lot of rules and paradigms to draw from.  I've been well served by adopting the concept of mooks and healing surges into d20 games, for instance.  I've been well-served by attempts to streamline d20--either to appeal to OSR-themed tastes, or simply streamlining for its own sake.

There are, however, a few drawbacks to this new state of affairs.
  • If  you're Wizards of the Coast, your ability to market your products to the entire market of D&D gamers is significantly reduced.  Therefore less revenue.  Oh, well.
  • Recruiting new gamers into the fold is no longer quite as simple; which version of D&D (if any) are you playing, and if your new players are also D&D players, they may well have their own tastes and quirks and desires.  This means that finding new players might be harder.
  • Although, I'll point out that the ones you do find are much more likely to be on the same page as you in terms of what the game should be like.
All in all, I found the complaint a little hollow.  So what if we're not all playing the same thing, and aren't exactly speaking the "same language" about the same shared experience?  How was that a good and desirable thing anyway?

1 comment:

Cody Connelly said...

My opinion about the "Great Schism" of D&D pretty much matches yours. Its one of the reasons I really don't care about 5th Edition (I refuse to call it by the other stupid name). I have my preferred version of D&D (currently Pathfinder) and I really don't care about the status of the D&D community. All I care about is having a good time with the games I like to play/run and I hope others are having a good time with their favorite games as well.