Paul had a thesis in the other thread
I think that if I wish to play a more dramatic/character-oriented kind of game, I wouldn't hesitate to play something other than D&D. I'm not sure (although I'd love to hear arguments to the contrary!) why I would want to reach for D&D for this kind of gaming instead of a more well-suited game. Passions, moral and religious alignments, crises of confidence, and mental illness... I don't really see why bolting such onto D&D is a better idea than designing from scratch (or playing a more appropriate game).
This was in response to me kneading out some ideas about alignment being potentially useful in challengeful wargame-like D&D. So let's look at it closer.
My core thesis on this is that there is very little inherent in human psychology and dramatizations of the same that would make them the sole purview of story games. Rather, it's a nice change of pace and an actual necessity for ambitious wargaming to consider these matters sooner or later: if your goal is the Great Work of Wargaming, the mastery of dynamic systems as they actualize under this common sky, then why wouldn't humanity be just as important as encumbrance rates?
So it's not "this kind of gaming" that I'm pursuing here - it's the other kind, except with a different subject matter.
For clarity's sake, this proposition implies an universal view of D&D: it's not just a game about dungeon skirmishes with monsters. Rather, it's a game about the low trash of a hierarchical society, working their way to fortunes by hook or by crook, in a world where the GM actively facilitates "adventures" - opportunities to succeed in an exciting, dynamic, challenging way.
(In a completely real world this sort of "from rags to riches" is really rare, and when it happens it's not gonna be a romantic adventure sort of enterprise. That's the big, fat genre element in D&D: it's a pulp adventure wargame, not a "everything's gotta be as real as science can make it" wargame. It's a game where we speculate about how to best kill a dragon or become a king, not how to actually succeed in the real world by boring work or low graft. You gonna graft in D&D, it's going to involve the Mob + poison hijinks at the least, and it's going to be the romantic sort of Mob and the kind of poison with a skull on the bottle.)
Given that, what does D&D look like when it gets into the human element? This is actually under constant exploration in the adventure game scene, it's not some weird personal obsession of mine. Consider these keywords:Urban adventure
is the third big milieu for D&D alongside dungeons and wilderness. It's not about conducting commando operations or expeditions; if anything, the urban adventure resembles a '70s cop show: detective work that may burst into violence at the moment's notice. NPC depiction is central to the detective work bits, it's all about human nature. It's an old and established genre for D&D, you can already see Gygax in struggling with its construction in the first Dungeon Master's Guide
is hella popular, but it's not all drama, drama, drama. There's a vivacious tradition of intrigue wargaming that shows up here and there, also in D&D on occasion, even if in a hamfisted way. I see no reason why Amber
, the more wargamey sort of Vampire
- why they all couldn't and shouldn't be brought back into D&D. We do that in our sandboxing regularly, in fact, because why not, seems like an adventure. I've toppled royalty myself in D&D, you should try it - great fun.Psychological thriller
is a literary genre that has been bothering me lately in D&D terms. To be specific, I was watching Hannibal
(the tv drama about the villainous cannibal doctor from Silence of the Lambs
) a couple years back when I became convinced of the potential greatness in playing that sort of shit in D&D. Specifically, it would be interesting to play D&D where characters are constrained by their human weakness, and where psychological stress and obsession are real tactical issues. Sort of what Vampire
tries to be when it occasionally tries to be a challengeful game.
In what manner would D&D step when it attempts to take a step in this direction? This isn't even some sort of abstract issue, one could well argue that the fundamental artistic failure of the 2nd edition era was that what they really wanted D&D to be was the kind of game that could meaningfully act upon human nature and make adventures out of relationship maps. We know what the failure looked like: long and detailed NPC descriptions which the GM was responsible for regurgitating for the players in the context of a railroaded plot.