Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Thoughts On Pushing The Envelope

Yes, D&D was and is about chainmail bikinis, scenes of indescribable gore, and forbidden, dark necrotic wizardry.

But it’s also about groups of all ages coming together to play. It’s about being able to share your hobby with your kids, and being able to pass on a legacy.

Personally, I don’t care for the too-saccharine taste of AD&D 2e. I like things to be a bit gray, perhaps slightly purple. But that’s a far cry from having NC-17 or X-rated material in my games, damaging that common meeting ground with youth and friends, and , all so I can ostensibly show how I’m bucking “Victorian societal values” or rebelling against…well, something. If that’s all D&D is, I think we’re missing a big piece of the pie.

There’s no reason it can’t be both, and it shouldn’t have to align with one or the other. Just as I’m glad there are people like Jim Raggi pushing the envelope (and if you haven’t checked out Death Frost Doom yet, I’d encourage you to do so!), I’m also pleased that there are products out there that won’t offend, that can be used with a wider audience. Just as there's room for the freaky stuff, there's room for that bane of true "indie" artists, the Middle Ground.

In other words, the naked succubus in the Monster Manual isn't quite as forbidden or fun if she's on every page.

People don’t like the term “big tent”, thinking it implies some sort of mediocrity. But there has to be room for all styles. There always has been. And from the moment someone deviated from the rules as published for Original D&D, the game has been branching out in near-infinite directions.

After all, we’re supposed to make the game our own, aren’t we?

15 comments:

Mad Brew said...

I find it disappointing that after all these years Ron Edwards greatest achievement is pissing people off and stirring the proverbial feces with his brand of gamer elitism.

The bottom line is that an epic tale of heroism against PG villains can be just as fun and entertaining as a romp through the XXX Abyss, except it applies to a wider audience.

Especially the demographic that will be tomorrow's gamers, our children. So if we ignore the side steeped in so-called "Victorian societal values" we are only hurting the hobby.

Chris Tregenza said...

There are two different aspects of this debate.

There is 'Adult Content' by which we mean semi-pornographic or fully pornographic material that is there for titillation.

And there is 'Adult Themed' by which we mean material that deals with ideas and concepts not suitable for a younger audiance.

The difference between the two is important.

An adventure about young women being enslaved for a demon prince can have 'Adult Content' with lush descriptions and dodgy line drawings.

Or the same adventure can be 'Adult Themed' and look at how people might cope with the 'reality' of the situation and even draw parallels with modern prostitution.

As a hobby we need more adventures that deal with adult themes in a mature way without resorting to 'Adult Content'.

The mainstream games companies tend to focus on the PG market and shy away anything controversial and for as long as the hobby does this, it will never be taken seriously. Imagine how seriously cinema would be treated as an art form if all the movies ever made were Disney films.

There are a large number of mature, articulate players out there who want adventures that challenge them without reverting to soft porn.

Zachary The First said...

@Chris: I’m sure they do. And I think there are outlets for it, just as there are for products that are less mature theme-oriented.

People should be free to follow their creative leanings. We just need to remember there’s nothing wrong or limiting with people taking precautions as they see fit (or to request those precautions, whether or not they are honored) to ensure their games remain youth or family-friendly.

Zachary The First said...

@Chris: Most importantly, I’m saying those “Victorian Societal Values” have a place in D&D, as does the abrogation of those values. To disdain one for the sake of the other is to ignore a vital piece of the hobby’s legacy and future.

Jason Richards said...

I feel fortunate to have very rarely run into a GM that thought it was "awesome" to throw a bunch of sex into his games, but those few times have been terribly forgettable. I'm no prude, and adult relationships and situations certainly have a place in gaming, but far too often the characters just end up playing out the storyteller's personal shallow fantasies; it's like being caught up in an early Wonder Woman comic.

I think you push convention by putting a little reality into the fantasy game, which can certainly include the occasional naked lady, but is more about placing characters in positions to make difficult decisions. In our real lives, our choices are rarely so cut and dry as, "Do I save the town by slaying the dragon, or do I just forget it and go home?" It seems that usually the heroes happily kill the villain, only to never hear of that incident again, but that certainly isn't how things work in any world grounded in reality. The same goes for directors who place a character in a situation where he has to "get with" his prize NPC (for whom he probably has an awkward, seedy character sketch), who then achieves whatever goal and then moves on like nothing had ever happened, while fellow players try to forget it. I fail to see how that is a mature approach to gaming.

My advice is always to give the player characters free reign to do as they like, but don't forget that their decisions have consequences. With weight placed on character actions, I think it enhances the game and adds a tinge of reality that cuts down on the Disney factor, while not forcing in awkward situations to fill some need for "adult" material.

Rob Conley said...

I am a "big tent" advocate and think that D&D and the OSR can cover a broad range of sub-genres without us having to step on each other's toes.

As for Ron Edwards he was being a troll and a twit in his editorial. The problem isn't what he likes but rather he is extrapolating that to the rest of us. In addition making a mountain out of a molehill stating that there is active censorship going on.

He doesn't get (and other people as well) that we are a decentralized bunch who happen to running in roughly in the same direction using roughly the same set of rules.

He doesn't get that the McKinney's put out the expurgated edition at people's request not by the dictate of a higher authority.

If his editorial's tone was more about what he prefers then it wouldn't be a piece of troll writing. There is nothing wrong with the sub genre he describes and more power to him when he gets his product out.

It doesn't interest me as I like my fantasy dark, gritty, somewhat realistic in terms of combat, and healthy dollop of magic.

Zachary The First said...

@Jason: Nice thoughts, man. Thanks for sharing!

@Rob: I agree. Good for him if he’s got a game out that does what he wants. But Ron Edwards’ problem is that he’s been projecting what Ron Edwards wants and what Ron Edwards has experienced on everyone else in the hobby for a long time now.

satyre said...

@Chris Tregenza: Bravo! Now all we need to do is meet that need and infinite riches are ours...

As to the opinions expressed by Ron, it's interesting to note that article was also pitching his own product. :-/

How much weight that opinion has is down to us - by presenting alternatives to the 'received' wisdom everyone gets to play.

WalkerP said...

In my gaming history, the titillation and the pornographic material all came at the beginning, when we were a bunch of nerdy and spassy 13-year old boys (the Rod of Red-Hot Ramming comes to mind). As I grew older, that stuff became less interesting. So it really isn't a case of Victorian values, but just not all that interested in gaming that stuff.

I do think there is a place for it if everybody at the table is cool with it. And I do like a bit of a hardcore edge in my sword & sorcery for sure.

Tim Shorts said...

I gotta say I like to keep my games away from adult content for one reason only. If you ever heard Rob (Bat in the Attic) pretend to be a seductive woman that would cause you nightmares only HP Lovecraft could write about. brrrr

Zachary The First said...

Well, we all have our different reasons. :)

Stargazer said...

Interesting discussion, but can anyone tell me who this Ron Edwards guy is and how he is involved in the debate?

Wally said...

I'm no prude, and adult relationships and situations certainly have a place in gaming, but far too often the characters just end up playing out the storyteller's personal shallow fantasies; it's like being caught up in an early Wonder Woman comic.

On the other hand, substitute 'violent' for 'sexual' in your complaint and you have a legitimate criticism of nearly every D&D adventure ever written.

Wally said...

As a hobby we need more adventures that deal with adult themes in a mature way without resorting to 'Adult Content'.

[...]

There are a large number of mature, articulate players out there who want adventures that challenge them without reverting to soft porn.


This is an excellent comment. It's also a stinging implicit criticism of D&D itself (among RPGs), though I assume that's not intended.

The Forge folks might be silly, but they're invested in games that evoke and enforce 'adult themes' at the mechanical level; D&D simply doesn't do anything remotely like this. Modern 'indie' RPGs are often written, near as I can tell, partly as rejections not of 'sword and sorcery' genre fluff, but of the approach to storytelling and drama that's built into D&D and its descendants.

Wally said...

(Aargh, hit 'send' before meaning to.)

In this regard, the so-called 'OSR' and 'indie' RPG cliques have commercial/cultural problems and opportunities in common, but they're separated by a pretty big difference of opinion on the best use of table time...