5e is the happy meal of RPGs
Well, once again I am on a tear over RPGs.
I was looking at posts about OSR gaming on Reddit and I came across the post in the above image. At first I left a snarky comment about replacing the word individual with narcissistic.
Then I came back and realized there was a linked blog post:
I must say I I found this comment on the blog to be very compelling:
"It is not about humans exploring a strange world anymore - it is about a group of strange people exploring, well... themselves? Or, most likely, they are exploring a world that has more internal coherence than the party. [For example, when playing Curse of Strahd, I've noticed that the PCs were some of the strangest beings around; the rest of the setting is what you'd expected from a "gothic horror valley"."
Something about that comment hit a nerve. I have been calling D&D 5e, The Narcissistic RPG for some time. Yet, I could not fully formulate my reasoning for feeling this way; it was just a gut feeling.
More and more I am becoming not just mildly adverse to D&D 5e, but truly critical of the entire product line. It has to do with the how and why of the design.
When D&D was first released, what us consumers purchased was a tool kit. Even if one only ever owned the three little books, that was enough to launch into years of creative play. Then they added the supplements and we got more stuff, but it was still a tool kit. You got your rules and you built your world. It was very individualistic. Each DM created their own game experience. The players worked as a team to solve problems.
A good example of the differences between early D&D and 5e can be seen if one compares the Holmes Basic D&D set with the 5e Starter Set. Holmes is clear and concise. Holmes is complete. It has everything you need to play your characters up to level 3. It also includes extensive info on creating your own dungeon. And of course, it has the classic Zenopus dungeon which was what I used for my very first DM experience. The 5e starter set is not only incomplete, I find reading the rulebook somewhat difficult. The prose is impenetrable to me. It does not follow any kind of reasonable order. You must buy more pre-made product to play. It's a beanie baby - collect them all!
Both versions are a product. Yet, the essence of the game has been subsumed by far darker motivations in D&D 5e. I feel it is so heavily slanted toward being an addictive product, that the designers have actually broken the game.
I doubt my little blog post is going to change the game industry, yet I do feel that those who still play their older editions are doing so out of an unconscious desire to keep their game true to it's original intent.
The original intent is simple. Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson wanted to make a cool game that is fun to play, and possibly make some cash while doing so. The entire RPG industry evolved organically without huge market pressure in the early years.
I've blogged a lot about Traditional, or Retro RPG, you can read my older articles to find out more on that. Yet I believe 5e is something as sinister as social media. We don't really know all of its implications. Many who play 5e are not even aware that they are being manipulated by a large company with fairly opaque and questionable motives, especially younger players.
Please read the blog post I was responding to before reading my rant about 5e.
Well gee. When I first ran across this I seem to have missed the little link below the title. I was in speed snark mode and left a sarcastic comment.
To be fair, Shadow of the Demon Lord is a new system, so really what we are examining is 5e compared to just about every other RPG game ever designed.
I can't play 5e because the mechanisms for in-game player experience are too transparent to me. 5e is the Happy Meal of RPGs. Everyone gets a prize!
I call 5e the Player Narcissism RPG. Players get together and everyone is special and everyone is rewarded for participation. In fact, everyone is rewarded - always.
We are together playing, but really, everything is about me. But, I have learned to wait my turn about me and can share the about me with others. As you mentioned, the party concept is getting weaker and weaker, and that is just one component that is growing weaker.
RPGs can be a tool for learning life skills and lessons in a safe way, if... (this is the key aspect here) ...if actions in the game also have good and bad consequences. Ideally players learn to play better through their experiences, and can carry this practice play experience into their real life experience.
There is a ton of research on the 'Gold Star for Showing Up' generation that indicates they are conditioned to fear conflict and shy away from displaying individual will. Present them with a decision point and many will not even take an action out of fear of doing the wrong thing. They simply back away from adversity. Don't get angry at me for talking about this either, because I am not the one doing the science on this subject.
How 5e is designed indicates that it was heavily influenced by the computer game industry. Old computer games, I'm talking 70's to 80's, were hard. Interfaces were complex and there were no level saves. Die and you go back to step one. It required a bit of grit and tenacity to play the old games because addiction rewards were not intentionally built into the designs to the extent they are today. Many consumers did not have that strength of will to keep at it and thus it was harder to sell a lot of product. Well, over time, and as the cash flowed in, so did the research on how to make a game more rewarding for users.
5e is designed on the premise that what garners the most consumers is the most important aspect of the design. Good game design has nothing to do with it. It's all about tickling the consumer's happy feels while playing the game. It uses addiction reward methods to hand out feels so players keep coming back. Ever wonder why there are so many new splat books like, Tasha's Cauldron of Addiction? And of course, the last thing you want is for anyone to die in a game. Even the term Campaign has no meaning anymore. Now, Campaign means, completing the store bought module/world book. Everyone reaches level 20 together so that everyone can feel their ME being stroked as a group without having to feel guilty because someone else did not reach level 20.
Yup, group think is part of the design too. One needs to balance individual disappointment of being less than everyone else, with being the one who does so well they are no longer part of the group. Again, there are strange social behaviors being catered to here. No one wants to be out there on their own, either as the loser or the one who wins too much.
So while it is tempting to be nice and say things like, play what and how you want, the underlying mechanisms for how 5e is designed are no safer to consumers than many of the addictive elements one finds online with social media. Those gamers who only play 5e and never played anything else are literally incapable of enjoying a game that requires individual will to work as a group and overcome problems. They are there for the feedback loop in their pleasure receptors.
Unrelated perhaps, but consider that your RPG could be like Oreo cookies for rats:
The primary reason for this disturbing trend is that the driving force behind a large corporation is dollar signs. Things have changed from when the hobby was a cottage industry driven by game designers trying to make a fun game for their friends to play. What I call, gamers making games for gamers. This is no slam on capitalism, it has its place. But when your personal recreation time is now being designed as a product in the same manner as FB or Twitter, the end result is full of many very disturbing elements.
The consumer is being manipulated. The design is there to increase buy-in. And one can see it in how 5e players often are complete fanboy/girl fantasists. They do not cheer finding the solution to a problem, they cheer having their happy feels tickled. They aren't really gamers at all, they are consumers who have been convinced that Chevy is better than Ford and they are willing to die on their ampersand.
I personally feel that the design team that created 5e are soul-less corporate robots that have taken Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson's really inventive and beautiful concept and broken it in order to increase stock holder returns.
5e is D&D in trade name only. Wizards of the Coast thank you for your inability to control your addiction impulses.
Maybe I am a bit extreme in my analysis. I expect I will get the usual firestorm of criticism for my comments. I am in my house peering through my closed curtains and being watchful for WOTC ninjas as I write this. ;)
6/17/2021 12:06:17 pm
"5e is the Happy Meal of RPGs. Everyone gets a prize!"
6/17/2021 07:23:47 pm
Spot on! I hadn't thought of the soc media connection/parallel before and now it seems glaringly obvious. I've been objecting to the "But WAIT....there's MORE!" aspect to D&D since the last half of the 2e era when it was "Splatbooks Gone WILD!!!". It was never as compartmentalized as Pathfinder, which is the precursor to your 5e "stroke them feels, baby, yeah" analogy. Pathfinder started the whole "there's gotta be a perk for every level, not just another plus 'to hit' or a spell" thing. Reward addiction, mmo-style play.
6/24/2021 06:40:45 am
So the frustration of reading this post is that I half agree with you. I've long had an issue with D&D being taken over by weirdo characters playing out their psychodramas instead of just...a group of fairly normal people looking for adventure and solving problems creatively.
7/1/2021 01:57:00 am
7/1/2021 09:50:43 am
hee hee hee
7/2/2021 02:02:37 am
Indeed, but this way you risk to increase the odds of being addressed as the Supreme Gate Keeper, and once you're on the people nerves enough, it doesn't count how many times you warn anybody that you aren't on a crusade against people preferences per se as much as you care for making clear a difference in approaches, attitudes, techniques and purposes.
7/2/2021 09:20:09 am
I think people who have no sense of humor actually should block me and avoid me.
1/13/2022 03:06:43 am
Great article! Thank you
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