This is the Dungeon

Sam W

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Two heroes are walking along the dirt path one day when an older adventurer passes them going the other way. The older adventurer waves and says, “Morning boys, how’s the dungeon?”

A while later the two heroes, still walking, look at each other and one of them says, “What the hell is a dungeon?”

To DnD players who started playing when the fifth edition came out, the idea of voluntarily entering some enclosed space where it seems you will be in combat all the time, someone is probably going to die, and the only reason you’re in there is Plot or Treasure, seems stupid. Yet for quite a while, this is how the game was enjoyed. Even though all of the amazing DnD stories we hear now make us jump to some grand narrative story, the pressure of a dungeon was the original tool for creating amazing stories.

Despite the great leap forward we seem to have taken in gaming from the original DnD, the new introductions have given rise to new issues as well. Many players want to be the center of attention, want their individual needs met, and don’t want to face challenges a good roll can’t solve. And if you don’t get a good roll? Well, you get mad but justify it to yourself as the way the dice fell.

But many of these issues stem from some expectation, some assumption, on what our gaming experience is going to look like. It could be from a friend’s stories, or your favorite actual play series, but at some point we made a decision, choice, of what the ideal game looked like. And we stuck with it, with some nebulous ideal of what a DnD game should look like.

But this has led us into trouble, as any RPG help forum will reveal. So what gives? What went wrong? I can’t speak for your game, but it’s clear that something needs to change. You need to make some different choices on how to play. You have that freedom, after all, to change your idea of what the ideal game looks like. To try something new, and perhaps be surprised by liking it.

This seems almost outright dumb; if I know what I want, why should I bother settling for less? Well, who said something different was less? Maybe there is something out there you don’t know, and if you tried it you would like it better. I’m not saying that you are inexperienced in exploring games, I think all of us have seen games we don’t like before. But all of the potential rulesets of games are infinite, and you can never get through all of them. Can you say what the perfect game is, without having seen all possible ways of rolling dice to influence actions?

Now it may seem I’m picking on the Most Popular Roleplaying Game, but I’m not. These points equally apply to any game you don’t enjoy. If you have issues with a game, explore others. Hell, even make up your own rulesets. But don’t be convinced that your chosen game is the best, and it has a bunch of issues, so everything else is strictly worse. That’s the cardinal sin of taste, in any area.

What I’m advocating here for is a radically open mind with games and fun. After all, these games are just conversation and die rolling at a table. As long as you can enjoy your time at the table and keep coming back to it, you are doing a good job. As much as big game companies seem like they have handed down the best produts, they haven’t. This is not a kind and benevolent god handing out favors and manna. It is a band of powerful and selfish entities dishing out as they see fit. They fool us into thinking their way is the only way. I propose something non-radical: no gods, no masters in games. You are just sitting at a table with friends, rolling dice and having a conversation. Do as you have the most fun.