Dungeons and Dragons does this thing that is simultaneously incredible and a curse. The incredible part is that you get to write a story on the spot with friends. How often does that happen? How often does that happen outside of those dumb writing activities you do at the $5 workshops where you write a sentence, pass it to the person on the right, fold the paper over the last sentence, write another one…? It’s pretty goddamn cool, this idea of writing on-the-spot fiction.
The curse is that you’re so, so incredibly limited in the kind of story you can tell. Dungeons and Dragons is generic high fantasy. End of story. Boom. Stuck in that one setting. Also you gotta deal with being stuck to an ensemble cast. Specifically, an ensemble cast of players, most of which have no sense of good characterization or storytelling, at least one of which who doesn’t like at least one of the other players, and at least one of which who wants to power game rather than telling a story (for very understandable reason; it’s difficult for me to resist the urge myself). The result: Every story you tell is complete dogshit.
Perhaps I should watch the Adventure Zone because I am told they bypass some of this.
So, let’s make a hypothetical D&D campaign that avoids all these issues. What are the prerequisites?
• Players should have some sense of storytelling and a strong sense of characterization
• Players should have some experience acting so they can act out their characters in the manner they wish to characterize their characters in
• The Dungeon Master should have all these qualities except accompanied by a much, much, much stronger sense of storytelling and a general idea of an overarching narrative with where to go
• Everybody should agree that if they’re gonna do fantasy, it’s gonna be something different that hasn’t been done before. Oh wait… guess that means no fantasy.
^ This basically means throwing out the entire book mind you, which does raise from the grave the great debate of Are the parts of D&D that make D&D good actually D&D?
• Everybody needs to be pretty familiar with one another, ie no rando games
• Everybody needs to get along for the sake of cooperative storytelling. No, not necessarily beyond that, but to that extent they should get along
Basically then what we’re looking at is fuck-all nobody but the nightly crew of 27 rue de Fleurus, hopefully before Gertrude’s given them her pot brownies.
Oh yes, believe me, I am severely bothered by shows like Critical Role for this very reason. Besides how hw-hw-hwite they are, their strict adherence to the Tolkien-style of setting and clear lack of experience acting well-written characters (Guys, they all do anime voice acting. Anime. Who the fuck watches anime?) and further lack of experience being able to write good characters themselves, it certainly doesn’t help that dear ole Matt keeps things so goddamn streamlined that the only story you can really tell is “A ragtag bunch of folks fight some monsters and save some people.” Puts on my creative writing professor’s glasses and slams papers onto the table. “It is not literary fiction! Disqualified.”
Maybe that’s the problem. Maybe I’m too absorbed in the realm of academic creative writing that I’ve lost my sight of what a nice and normal story looks like. But… they break the fourth wall for no reason… Bu-bu-but… the denouement of the arc was totally weak because of their obsessive over-reliance on Freytag’s Pyramid AKA Blackmon’s Rhombus….
What even does a good story look like? Genshiken exists, but I think Genshiken is more likely to be about people playing D&D than the story created by the D&D players. Perhaps it is folly to attempt to make good stories in D&D after all. I should go full-form OSR and focus on PLAYER SKILL OVER CHARACTER SKILL. I will not be satisfied by these mediocre MacGuffins and shallow Mary Sues! The purpose is SKILL. TALENT. EVERYTHING ELSE IS SECONDARY. D&D IS A GAME FOR RRRRRRRREEEEEEAL BRAINS.
Oh dear. What have I done.
Let’s move on to the real questions then, like How many white people does it take to make the D&D books not racially insensitive?
Answer: More than they have!
Haha! Get it? Humor!
(It’s funny because they designed the entire Monk class as just a catch-all for Asian people, and also had a subclass of the fighter class being the Samurai because oooh boy being a knight from Japan sure is so cool and different to afford its own subclass! I’m sure the shogunate were the ones to grant them the undying strength and whatnot. And also there’s an interesting trend of the good albeit snooty high elves being white and the evil drow elves being dark-skinned. And also there’s an overrepresentation of white people in the images drawn (“Bu-bu-but there’s blue-skinned people too!” Yes, blue-skinned people whose faces are clearly modeled off of white people. “Bu-bu-but there’s a black person here!” Yes there is. One black person followed by twenty-five white people. Sooo proportional). And also the holy cleric and paladin classes are clearly heavily based off of a certain Abrahamic religion. And also… and also… and also…)
Yeesh. What has become of this blog? I’ve barely got the Asian blood in me to make this not pure white knighting. Cut me some slack though, I’m from the midwest.
God dammit, now I’m all riled up. Better go listen to Critical Role to cool off.
WAIT A SECOND!
Alas, maybe the real issue is that I simply don’t have any friends whose company I enjoy enough to afford playing D&D with them.