Friday, March 30, 2012

[DnDNext] Warding Off System Snobbery

I'm as guilty of it as the next gamer.  If you mention that you play F.A.T.A.L. or one of a small list of games, I will roll my eyes derisively and mock you behind your back.  I might even make a snide comment about your gaming preferences.  Equally, I will be deeply offended if you roll your eyes at me when I mention that I love playing Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition Essential Edition or The Rocky and Bullwinkle Role Playing Party Game.  It's System Snobbery and one thing that the "edition wars" and the recent "dndnext" conversations have aptly demonstrated, it is alive and well.

The thing is that System Snobbery isn't new, and it isn't beneficial to the hobby as a whole.  I was recently reminded of how insidious System Snobbery can be when I picked up and read Laryy DiTillio's commentary on the topic in issue 7 of Different Worlds Magazine.  I've been spending a lot of time recently reading old gaming magazines, magazines from when I was just getting into the hobby.  At the time, as a tween, I had neither the resources nor the knowledge that gaming magazines other than "The Dragon" existed at all.  Heck, even though I lived in the same town as the talented and prolific Allen Varney -- we probably shopped at the same game store -- I hadn't even heard of The Space Gamer at the time.

Back to the point though.  In his commentary on System Snobbery, Larry DiTillio has a couple of key observations that I think are worth sharing as we enter discussions regarding what we would like to see from a new edition of Dungeons and Dragons.

Larry's commentary follows a visit in 1979 to a reasonably sized convention in Oakland, CA called GrimCon.  He mentions that the games organizers all are employees/founders of various small gaming companies like the Multiversal Trading Company and Grimoire Games.  As such, the Con offered a lot of non-traditional role playing games as their "tournament fare." 

Larry's firsts observation of gaming snobbery was that while the hosts of the convention were offering a wide variety of games for sampling, that the attendees pretty much ignored them to spend time in the open gaming area to play D&D.  His thoughts, and I agree, were that conventions are the perfect time to try something new.

His second observation is of how he was treated at a DunDraCon event.  At the event, Larry was scheduled to run a session of Tunnels and Trolls.  He had been invited to DunDraCon IV by Steve Perrin to run the game. After sitting and waiting for players to show up, eventually a convention representative asked Larry why he had cancelled is T&T session.  He notified them he hadn't, but discovered that someone had -- likely as a prank -- written "cancelled" on his sign up sheet.  He eventually got gamers to a T&T table, but not before being passive aggressively bullied by some System-hater. 

Larry makes a number of other observations, and is a talented storyteller in how he shares them, so I recommend picking up the issue.  The crux of is article is the following:

"[A Good GM] will provide you with and enjoyable, rewarding RPG [experience].  NO MATTER WHAT SYSTEM THEY PREFER." So long as the GM is talented and committed to providing the players with a good time.  He also acknowledges that we should be thankful to Steve Perrin (for "Runequest), to Dave Hargrave ("Arduin"), Ken St. Andre (T&T), Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson (D&D).  I would add that in the years since, we have many more names to add to the list.  These names range from Greg Gorden (007 and DC Heroes) to Mike Mearls (4e) and from Erik Mona (Pathfinder) to Chris Pramas (AGE/Green Ronin) to name only a few.  We should also thank those, like Shelly Mazzanoble, who may not be among the "creators" of our games, but who stand at the front lines of those who promote our hobby and try to bring new people in.  Not to mention the great stuff coming out of the Indie games marketplace.

Instead of being snobbish about the games we don't like, we should be thankful that we have so many great ones to choose from.  Does that mean that we cannot criticize mechanics?  No.  We can and should, in a constructive manner that moves the hobby forward.  We just shouldn't disparage people for preferring a system.

Gaming Snobbery...and public snobbery against gamers...are a couple of the reasons Wes, Joel, and I created the Dice Chuckers project.  Join us in that project as either a sponsor, a participant, or in conversation.  We'd love to hear from you.


Adam said...

I agree with the spirit of the article. Ridiculing games is foolish, especially when people are having fun. However, some games are better than others, or worse than others, especially when they try to accomplish the same play experience in different ways. As you said, we can still critique game design.

Philo Pharynx said...

@Adam, The trick is to keep the discussion civilized. Some games aren't my style, but almost all of them have good ideas in them. One trick that usually works for me is to remember that gaming is a spectrum of experiences and different games hit different people's buttons. It's often hard to avoid labelling the things we don't like as BadWrongFun. From there we fail to see the people who like it as people, and pretty soon we're rounding Synnibarr players up and sending them off to...

I'm gonna stop here.