Ludomedia Extra: “D&D: Chasing the Dragon”


Lesens-, hörens- und sehenswerte Fundstücke aus der Welt der Spiele.

Editorial Note: This is the first “Ludomedia Extra” all focused on a single author. I felt it was appropriate given the extraordinary depth, density and volume of this highly important series of articles, as well as its full release over the course of just about one week.

Samuel Ratchkramer: D&D: Chasing the Dragon

“Why six articles? There’s a lot of ground to cover, and there’s a lot of angles of attack. I’ll be talking about the rules of the game and how they inform character design, influence plot, delineate narrative power, and what this all means to the stories you’re likely to tell using D&D.”

  • Part One: Rule Zero is Bullshit
    “The way D&D gets by lies in being a homogeneous, squishy ungame that invites you to project whatever you want onto it by way of a do-it-yourself game design. […] One game can’t be all things to all people, so if a game isn’t working for the direction you’re pushing in, there’s another game waiting for you that you’ll like just as much.”
  • Part Two: On Good Characters
    Focusing on how characters fight instead of why they fight is all wrong. It captures the wrong parts of the fantasy archetype, and leaves only a hollow shell. […] For as many questions as the character creation process asks, for as many combinations of stats, feats, and armor are possible in the game, they all tend to resolve down to about the same thing: a guy that can kill stuff.”
  • Part Three: On Plot and Narrative
    [D&D] is most at home when players are killing things and taking their stuff. […] If we want a gripping narrative, we’ve got to have more than just fighting going on. The motivations and the stakes behind the fighting need to matter, or else the conflict is little more than a sporting event played for fun. […] Conflicts are about people and how their humanity clashes with other people – without that it’s just a meaningless spectacle.”
  • Part Four: On Narrative Power
    D&D exists in a strange space: while the game claims not to be a competitive game, it also claims that the game functions best when players think that it is. […] Players of D&D may outwardly agree that the game is collaborative, but in real play the relationship between between player and DM turns out quite adversarial. […] All the while, the game rules help or hinder either the DM or the players at random. They’re designed as a neutral physics engine instead of a narrative guide, so they care very little what happens.”
  • Part Five: What About 5th Edition?
    I really can’t stress enough how destructive this dedication to realism truly is. […] Either you intend your rules to be about simulating a world, or you intend them to be about generating a story. There really isn’t a middle-ground, because those two design directions are on different layers of detail. […] But by trying to rope all these different interests into the same game, the design of the game often doesn’t know what it wants to be.”
  • Part Six: An Open Break-Up Letter to D&D
    “Every single game that has ever been made has the values of its designer baked into the rules. Every mechanical stroke was put there to serve some purpose, with some particular play experience in mind. […] I’ve been very hard on Dungeons & Dragons in this series. But that’s only because I’ve been evaluating it as a game specifically about storytelling, which is wrong. It never tried to be any of this, not in the beginning. It’s clearly designed as a Conan simulator, a micro-wargame on a global scale.”

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