Thursday, 27 June 2013

There is no Quicksave for D&D next.

I had the recent great and unexpected fortune of having a friend ask me to run a game for him and his housemate. He had never roleplayed and the housemate had a long time ago. He wanted D&D so I grabbed the D&D NEXT playtest packet. I followed my own advice (or Bungie's to be more accurate) and worked up a quick setting with some interesting options. 
Come game day I had everything ready to go.
Then we sat down and it took over 2 hours to make characters. This was a really interesting experience because despite playing lots of MMORPGS and video games, neither of them had played D&D. I felt the horror mounting as we followed the printed instructions and trudged through the leviathan task of choosing and then creating a character for both of them. A process that might take 5 to 10 minutes with kewl music and graphics in a video game. Hours of page turning, chart referencing, figuring out the compromises resulting from earlier decisions and contextualizing all of this in terms of the game world I had created for them.
This was no fault of theirs, they are smart guys who happen to not know the rules for Dungeons and Dragons. I don't take any responsibility either, I read through the play package several times and made notes about the stuff that I expected to get caught up on. The real challenge is that there is a whole language of jargon associated with D&D and a massive base of assumed knowledge that you don't realize you require until you have two players who don't have access to either of these things. Sure, there are trainer wheels like using pregen characters and linear plots to get them on-track. But these guys are Adults and I didn't want to game down to them. I wanted to show them how cool D&D is for people who's common experience of gaming is in front of a monitor. 
Watching and trying to help these guys get a grasp of the game taught me a valuable lesson: D&D has completely failed new gamers. It is a relic of an age when there was no such thing as disposable multiplayer entertainment. The upfront time and knowledge investment is bizarre to the uninitiated. 
Finally we were done and went on to have a great time. As we played I found myself having to search up specific rules frequently and soon decided on the 10 second rule. If I couldn't locate a rule in short order I just made it up. And this had absolutely no impact on their expectations because they didn't know the rules either. The natural conclusion to that line of reasoning was: why bother using these rules at all? Do I need to be an educator, on sabbatical from D&D University to teach these new students? I didn't sign up for that, I want to have fun.
The game that we played that night used a d20 and hitpoints but it wasn't really D&D. And it was the most fun game of D&D I have ever played. My nostalgia for the D&D, massive rulebook, style of play foundered on the rocks of now. A now in which I am smarter, better educated and far busier and a now that is informed by a lifetime of gaming. Video and computer games have taught players that games do not need to be ponderous and that fun resides somewhere in the shadowed intersection of shared interaction, imagination and common tools. The complexity of the tools does not determine the quantity of fun.
So I sent them both an email today asking if they are willing to change over to Five by Five. Thankfully the answer was `we're both in it for the experience and not the mechanics' and that was endgame for D&D next.