Not Playing Dungeons and Dragons

Whenever a hack writer wants to demonstrate that a person is a conspiracy nut (or just a nut), he has them mention Elvis being alive. This is an immediate tip-off that the writer has no idea what he’s talking about, because those nuts don’t care about Elvis. These same types of writers will similarly try to shorthand “geek” by having the character mention or play Dungeons and Dragons (usually with large plastic models on a gameboard). Again, this reveals the writer’s poor hand, since geeks don’t play Dungeons and Dragons. They pride themselves on not playing it.

Obviously this is an exaggeration and some geeks play Dungeons and Dragons, because if they didn’t, then who is loudly declaiming the adventures of his warrior-thief in the game store right now? But they don’t play without some caveats. For example, no matter how long they’ve been playing or how much of it they’ve seen, they always hate the newest edition, which has always “dumbed down” the game and made it more “roll-play” instead of “role-play”. (Because mere dice are not enough to convey that their dark, haunted character is the most badass half-elf to ever wield dual scimitars.) Whatever the current version of the game is, it’s always a worthless disgrace when compared to either the previous edition (despite the geek initially declaring that edition a travesty) or, more frequently, whatever edition was current when the geek first started playing.

The argument about which previous edition of D&D was best has developed to the point where some claim that tiny vibrations emanating from the fetus that would become Gary Gygax described the quintessential edition of the game, and all others are mere shadows of this Platonic ideal. Rest assured that whatever the best version of D&D may be, it’s not whichever one is being played at the moment.

A lot of geeks pine for the heady days of first edition D&D, but to some, even that is not “old school” enough, and for them there is Hackmaster, which started out as a parody in a gamer comic strip, but now is an actual game. It is “older-school” D&D, or Dungeons and Dragons first edition if it were actually as “kewl” as geeks remember it being.

Every female Vampire character ever. Why yes, she IS a Malkavian!

Every female Vampire character ever. Why yes, she IS a Malkavian!

For other geeks, though, Dungeons and Dragons in any of its incarnations is too juvenile, and they prefer the more mature and sophisticated games of White Wolf, where they can pretend to be crazy vampires having gang wars. This system is referred to as the “Storyteller” system, which demonstrates why their games are so much more intricate than mere D&D could ever hope to be. After all, they are “telling stories” whereas D&D people are merely “playing a role”. They are crafting intricate and intellectual narratives and not just pretending to be superhuman beings fighting others for valuable prizes.

One advantage that Storyteller fans will never tire of telling you about is how their system doesn’t have “alignment”, which in D&D describes a character as Good or Evil. This means they are more free to explore the various shades of morality and motivation, even though everyone just plays their characters as sociopaths anyway.

The other major competitor against D&D is GURPS, which is a generic system. In theory this means that you can use the same rules to play a game about spies, space marines, Elizabethan nobility, cavemen, or sentient bees, thus putting no limits whatsoever on your gaming. The truth, however, is that even GURPS players hate the rules for GURPS and the sourcebooks for all these different possibilities offer little more than, “If you’re going to play as sentient bees, don’t forget to have beehives!” because it’s worth forty dollars to have a hardback book tell you that (not that anyone who buys any of the sourcebooks ever plays those settings anyway).

In addition to other third-string games like Shadowrun (which asks the question of how many cliches can be crammed into a single RPG) and Rifts (which makes Shadowrun seem like a Ph.D thesis) there are plenty of “rules-light” RPGs which again emphasize “shared narrative” over die-rolling and stats-comparing. Only geeks are willing to buy a rulebook on how to play “let’s pretend”.

What these games all have in common is this: they’re NOT Dungeons and Dragons. Because that’s what LOSERS play. Well, losers play a different version than what the geek plays. Well, they play the same version but without the awesome house rules that he plays. Well…look, quit arguing and listen to this awesome story of how I tricked Orcus into giving me his wand!

Playing D&D is the one cliche that geeks seem to wish to avoid, so geeks LOVE not playing Dungeons and Dragons!

24 Responses

  1. I never played Dungeons and Dragons because I just could never get my head around it, but I always enjoyed hanging out with people while they were playing the game.

    There was usually ood music and the people were excited and interesting, especially when the mulled wine started coming out.

  2. Um, that should be good music, not the stuff that makes Donna cry.

  3. Though that could fit depending on the game.

  4. “Obviously this is an exaggeration and some geeks play Dungeons and Dragons, because if they didn’t, “…

    … it wouldn’t exist!

  5. I’m a new D&D player, and I went with the 4th edition because a number of the complaints about it was “It’s too much like a video game now, with all these powers and stuff.”
    I’m pretty sure its just one of many dumb bitchings they aways have, as explained above, but if its true, then thats fine with me. I’m a video gamer, and before D&D I’ve played games like Final Fanasty Tactics and WoW. So if the new system cuts into the roleplaying for more action, thats fine with me.

  6. The current 4e GURPS sourcebooks arn’t too bad. The basic set is really all you ever need, though their alternate suorcebooks are occasionally piss offs.

    For example: GURPS Space 4e. I love the book; it’s brimming with ideas, plot points, factoids and quotes. However it’s missing ships, weapons, planets, etc. THAT requires at least another book or two.

    With the relative difference in scale between SJGames and WOTC, It’s forgivable (they need to make money), but it still really irks me at times. (No magic in the Fantasy sourcebook; What?)

  7. No DnD? Perhaps you are but a faux geek. Alpha-geeks indeed DO play DnD.

    Alpha-geek: (n) Those that are cobbled together from the pieces of lesser geeks.

  8. Hmm. Interesting that you chose that particular photo of mine. The dress is actually based on one from the movie Legend. The gal in photo only played White Wolf on two occasions because she was invited to dress up. She picked a Malkavian because, well, she’s a psychologist. From my experience, most female vampire outfits include bustiers and fishnets. And so, in my opinion, this photo is not archetypal.

    Well, I gotta go prep for Gen Con.

  9. I’m a geek, and I LOVE playing D&D. I also LOVE telling people I play D&D. Heck, I’ve created a group that contains one other fellow geek, two jocks, and one of the “popular” kids at school. We have a great time playing, too.

  10. you are right about the board and figures D&D image. Ive never played that way.

    im a geek, i think D&D is a boring game system. Id rather stay home and starve than go play D&D and get free pizza.
    im such a geek a rewrote battletech combat system to the way i want it. I love playing Gurps and shadowrun (with gurps rules)

    Im a game snob geek, I don’t get to RPG much don’t waste my time with D&D

  11. Ah the joys of oversimplification, generalization and not knowing what the fuck you’re talking about, all in the name of comedy.


  12. Firstly, I’ve played several dozen systems since I starting gaming in the 80s. Currently I’m playing Pathfinder (which is basically D&D) and I’m running Desolation Road, a new weird/pulp fantasy using GURPS 4e. I’m not much for system bashing, period.

    “The truth, however, is that even GURPS players hate the rules for GURPS”, I realize that this is in jest, or whatever but I want to just point out that this is hardly true at all. My gaming group (most of whom I introduced to the system) don’t want me to run anything else. I ran a D&D 3.5 game a couple of years ago, and heard a lot of “When are you getting back to GURPS?” Many players find that they prefer the ability to make the character they want, to define personality characteristics in character creation, and to be able to do things in-game (especially in combat) that can be described and understood with real-world concrete terms and images.

    “the sourcebooks for all these different possibilities offer little more than, ‘If you’re going to play as sentient bees, don’t forget to have beehives!'” I assume you are complaining about genre-books like Fantasy, Space, and Horror here? I understand that many people don’t find these books very useful, because they feel they have some intuitive understanding of the genre or something. Personally, I pride myself on my worldbuilding (and my players can attest to that) and I find these kinds of books invaluable for framing my thinking about the campaign in ways that relate genre to games. I suspect people like you would find the “worked example” series like Dungeon Fantasy, Action!, and Monster Hunters to be more useful as they concentrate less on worldbuilding and more on game mechanics.

    “(not that anyone who buys any of the sourcebooks ever plays those settings anyway)”. I have run games in some published GURPS settings (probably about 1/3 of the GURPS games I run). I currently have proposals to run Madness Dossier and Transhuman Space along with some original campaign settings for my next campaign (I let the players chose the next campaign from a prospectus). As far as non-setting books are concerned. in my current game I’ve gotten a lot of use out of Fantasy, Space (Desolation Road is set in a post-Newtonian universe with magical interstellar travel), High-Tech, Martial Arts, Thjaumatology (especially Book and Realm magic), Magic (for the Alchemy), and Fantasy Tech.

  13. @criticalfailuregame
    “For example: GURPS Space 4e. I love the book; it’s brimming with ideas, plot points, factoids and quotes. However it’s missing ships, weapons, planets, etc. THAT requires at least another book or two.” Space certainly does have planets. It has two weighty chapters based entirely around world and system design. I know that many people find the lack of crunchy statistics for Spaceships perplexing (which can be found in the Spaceships series), but I think that in most science fiction ships are merely transportation between adventures. When designing a space setting, how interstellar travel works in general is important (and Space certainly covers this), but rules for spacecraft operation, and combat are only important in games that are about spacecraft operations and combat.

    “With the relative difference in scale between SJGames and WOTC,”
    Yeah this is something that few people realize. SJGames has exactly two employees working on GURPS, neither of whom live anywhere near the companies offices in Austin.
    “(No magic in the Fantasy sourcebook; What?)” Fantasy has two chapters about magic. One discusses the roll of the supernatural in a fantasy campaign, the other variations to the magic system in the Basic Set and GURPS Magic.

  14. Unless you’re playing in a Pathfinder global gaming thing, Rules are just guidelines – you can apply them all but you’ll still not be playing the game the way the writers play it.
    D&D about Role-playing? To me the whole system is designed around Roll-playing. Vampire and Magic and Werewolf were Role-playing – and too much so.
    GURPS is about numbers. You can assign a value to anything and apply a skill or a rule of some kind to everything (If you search hard you can find a GURPS Kama Sutra and Haute Cuisine).
    Space – does SF background; Ultratech does the hardware; Spaceships does the ships.
    Fantasy – delineates fantasy backgrounds; Basic Set has the spells; Magic adds more spells (soooo many).

  15. “GURPS is about numbers. You can assign a value to anything and apply a skill or a rule of some kind to everything (If you search hard you can find a GURPS Kama Sutra and Haute Cuisine).”

    That’s quite right.

    Something which is amazing with GURPS is precisely the fact that you can play it exactly as you want. It can be one of the most simple role-playing system you’ve ever seen (if you content yourself with the basic rules) or you can add as much optional detail as you like. If you are fond of Haute cuisine, for instance, you can develop the skill Cooking with a lot of specific Techniques. And it is still the same game, with the same rules, for everything you can imagine… No matter the universe (past, present or futur). No matter the genre (realistic, heroic or even super-heroic). GURPS let you do it with one set of rules which always make sens. And your characters and campaigns will always be compatible. Few other role-playing games allow that.

    Having said that, as ever, it is just a point of view. Some people prefer other role-playing games, which are good too… As long as you like the genre and the universe they propose!


  16. I know a lot of geeks don’t play D&D (I’m trying to start) but I haven’t met one that is proud not to play it, that says “Yes, I am a geek, but I DON’T PLAY D&D”
    They just see it as one of te many things that involve geeks, of course all optional.

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