The wonderful Joshua A.C. Newman recently tweeted this:

In my Human Contact backer’s survey, the players who said they played D&D said, “D&D, of course”. All three of 248.

This raises an interesting point. All three of us here at Transneptune began gaming with D&D. A lot of what we do exists in reaction to this, whether we want to admit it or not. A lot of our idea of what pathological gaming is and can be, and what good gaming is and can be, stems from this common ground we have.

But I think that the whole story-games movement is opening up the field to many people who might never have played RPGs precisely because they weren’t interested in D&D. The game is undeniably still popular, but the audience for games where you sit around a table with friends and make up a story with the aid of some dice seems to be widening.

So what, then, is the purpose of our D&D reactionism? Well, it certainly provides a common language and a common set of experiences among the three of us. But let me turn that question outward for a moment, and ask what you, our phantasmal readers, have found as the recurring touchstones of this genre? What benefit do you see to having a common set of references, and how common do you think D&D really is?

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  • Man, my avatar totally gives my gaming background away XD

    To tell the truth, though, I started out doing diceless roleplaying over IRC when I was in middle school, mostly in Star Trek games. The very first physical tabletop game I ever played in was D&D, where the others involved gleefully turned on my character and ate him after mistakenly thinking they were out of rations. It wasn’t a good experience, and that made it easy to be elitist about both D&D and D20 systems in general later.

    There is certainly a feeling of restriction about D&D, both a sentiment that I have experienced and I’ve heard from others. In addition, D&D has a lot of cultural stereotypes attached to it, cultural stereotypes many of us want to distance ourselves from it. This is especially true when explaining our pastime to others: “Well, do you know what D&D is? That’s the general idea, but it’s a lot different.” D&D continues to be the primary point of contact that the majority of non-gamers have with tabletop roleplaying games, though it’s arguable that Vampire has gained equivalent stature with its own negative baggage.

    So, to answer your question as to what the purpose of our D&D reactionism is, it seems to be to distance ourselves from a negative ideation of a kind of game and perhaps even a kind of roleplayer that we feel is not indicative as what we enjoy and the people that we are. Given how familiar D&D is to both tabletop roleplayers and people who are not enthusiasts, it is likely that many feel the need to react both strongly and often to keep some psychic distance between what they see D&D representing and themselves.

    • Fair point. The reaction can be as much for ourselves as for any audience we may have.

      I’m reminded of an anecdote about someone demoing Trail of Cthulhu for a bunch of people who had never played RPGs before. The person running it kept pointing out the kinds of things you didn’t have to roll for, and the players kept being unsurprised; they had never developed a “should I roll to check if I see anything?” reflex. The ways the system was innovative were only clear to someone who was reacting to a tradition spawned by D&D.

      Perhaps we would do well to make such iconoclastic systems, sure, but also remember that many people have never toiled under the (false) idols we’re smashing.

      • It’s like listening to grandpa’s stories about the way things used to be. Some of it can be irrelevant, some of it can be informative, and if grandpa’s a good storyteller it doesn’t matter really matter if it’s one or the other.

  • Can you explain “recurring touchstones of this genre”? That phrase is confusing to me.

    • I’ll try. I mean “what forms a recurring and common frame of reference and central point from which to navigate in discussions and experiences of this genre, tabletop role-playing?”

      Does that help at all?

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  • Troy_Costisick


    For me personally, I used D&D (all versions) on my blog as a sort of common language when I give examples of play or tropes or design. However, I’m finding this harder and harder to do. First, I’ve had almost no contact with 4e. What little I’ve tried has totally turned me off. Second, viable alternatives like Pathfinder are out there now, and so people are being introduced through that game without the real knowledge of D&D history. Third, the folks like me who played AD&D have either vanished or moved so far beyond that game that it’s no longer a common experience among us! It’s a distant, foggy memory and most of the time not all the pleasant.

    10 years ago it was easy to use AD&D as a frame of reference. Not it’s not. 10 years from now I think it will be entirely impossible.



    • I think that’s the position we’re finding ourselves in, or about to. We’ve realized we all have a lot of stuff to say about D&D (and Exalted, but that’s another matter), but I was sort of wondering how relevant that would really be at this point.

      I’ve also not touched 4e, and I feel like D&D is drifting ever further from the AD&D2e of my youth. Which is probably a good thing.