Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Dungeons & Dimwits

You could say I like Dungeons & Dragons.

You could also say that Einstein was a bright guy, the Spartans enjoyed fistfights, and Napoleon liked cookies[1].

Thusly, when Wizards of the Coast announced it was ceasing production of my favorite version in favor of a new Fourth Edition, I was both intrigued and skeptical. The artwork was more beautiful than ever before, a feat in itself, but something about the way they said it would be "more accessible" stuck in my craw.

To fully understand why that bothered me, a bit of background is necessary. I am not a stupid man. Dumb sometimes, often ignorant, but not stupid. I hate being treated as though I am. I hate mollycoddling and condescending step-by-step instructions where they aren't necessary.

I have seen, over the course of my short life, the country I live in and the world around it cater to stupidity. Standards lower daily with little or no response from the public. Schools stopped teaching people how to learn and began teaching them how to pass standardized tests, completely defeating the purpose of the experience. Legislation is passed to keep people from endangering themselves in common sense situations in the form of helmet and seat belt laws. Warning labels prevent us from eating things common sense tells us are harmful, and there are directions printed on packages of Ivory soap. (Oddly, they say "Use as regular soap" the last time I checked.)

Technology is an active accomplice: calculators teach us it's okay not to learn the underlying theories of mathematics, while the proliferation of personal computers has caused us to all but completely eschew good penmanship. Cellular telephones and instant messengers have gone a step further, mutilating the English language into lol- and 1337-speak,something almost unrecognizable. The "small world" effect of global communication has encouraged us to forget about geographic spatial relations and cartography as a necessary skill. Who cares where Georgia or Tibet is if you can talk to people there on AIM instead of counting out postage? Who needs to be acquainted with Rand McNally when MapQuest or Tom Tom will tell you where to turn?

D&D was my safe spot. The complex mathematics involved, unique to the system in that they don't always coincide perfectly with what you'd see in a textbook, kept many at bay. The immense amount of variables and the ridiculous number of sourcebooks were prohibitive to anyone without at least a great desire to learn or a minimal intellect. I know people to this day who played AD&D and still don't understand how THAC0 works, just that they remember how to do it. When I picked up my dice (all of which but the d10 are Platonic solids) and my pencil, none of the silly stupidity of the world mattered anymore. I was free to use the full potential of my imagination in a world where creativity, quick thinking, and intelligence meant something.

You can see now, I hope, why a larger target audience would be great for WotC but bad for my play experience. A new edition with a bigger audience would cause their pocketbooks to swell, as they bring less-nerdy and less-geeky people into the fold. Capitalizing on the Massively Multiplayer popularity, they gained a greater audience. By making it "more accessible", they essentially turned it into a point-and-click MMO on paper. You have a certain set of powers to choose from, each with different cool-downs, and you just cycle through them until the enemies are dead. Is counting money too hard for you? No worries! No longer do you need to sell your findings for gold for new equipment. The rulebook even suggests that your Dungeon Master doesn't let you sell anything. The entire economy of 4e resembles that of Star Fleet: if you need it, it will be handed to you. In fact, the whole system reminds me of Enterprise: wonderful series, but you can't really consider it Star Trek.

WotC, I'm terribly glad you want to expand this wonderful game to a bright, new, inquisitive audience. Really, I am. It's getting harder and harder to find players and DM's for adventures and campaigns. Must you, though, treat them as though they are complete morons? Slighter changes could've made it appeal to a broader audience without giving the entire process a lobotomy. D&D != Everquest, so why do your best to make it seem like I should put down my pencil and pick up a mouse?

Wizards has proven that unless the public acts quickly we are doomed to a lifetime of decreasing standards. Speak up, or tomorrow your computers will make your decisions for you because we're all too dense to think.

4e D&D is a harbinger of the fall of western civilization. Don't believe me?



Hark, A Vagrant #135, Kate Beaton.

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