Get Out of Your Own Way, Grognard

The advice in this post’s title is mainly directed at me, but it’s advice that I’m sure many of us could take.

I’ve been playing Dungeons and Dragons since the mid 80’s. That’s a long time, and I know it’s still less time than a whole lot of other people have been playing. During that time, I’ve developed a pretty solid understanding of what Dungeons and Dragons is. Parallel to this idea of what Dungeons and Dragons is, I’ve also developed some pretty strong opinions regarding what Dungeons and Dragons “is suppose to be.” That second bit is what often gets in the way, you see, because at the end of the day all Dungeons and Dragons is really “suppose to be” is a fun, immersive gaming experience that you share with a few folks that you’ve cajoled into sitting around a table with you for a few hours. But a lot of the time these notions about the way things are suppose to be can get in the way of that.

For instance: When I, and likely many people from my generation of gamers, look at the new Player’s Handbook and see things like Dragonborn and Tieflings listed among the standard races, there is a tendency to say things like “no, this doesn’t belong here,” or “not in my game!” It looks wrong to me, not for any objective reason, it just looks wrong because it’s different. I’m not familiar with these things, and I have a gut reaction to reject them because they are alien to me, and don’t fit in to the way I’ve conceived of things for a very long time. I don’t know enough about them to feel comfortable weaving them into the tapestry of my game world, and rather than try and accommodate them my first instinct is to just cut them out of the picture. That, of course, is easier, but I don’t have any empirical evidence that would suggest that it’s better.

I have a lot of new players in my game group. They all have no, or in some cases very little, experience with Dungeons and Dragons. They don’t have all the baggage that I have in my brain about things like what races do and don’t belong in the player’s handbook. So when one of these new players looks through the player’s handbook and reads about dragonborn, and thinks they look awesome, should I discourage him from selecting the option that sparked his imagination the most because I, for no concrete reason, just don’t like it? Of course I shouldn’t. I don’t want to stifle the fun and creativity of someone coming to the game with fresh eyes because what looks fun to them falls outside of my comfort zone.

Of all the people at my table, I’m the only one with this narrow picture  of what should and shouldn’t be, and it doesn’t feel right to make everyone’s picture look like mine because that’s what I’m comfortable with. A much better idea is for all of us to make a new picture, together. That’s the best way to make Dungeons and Dragons what it’s “suppose to be,” which of course is a fun, immersive gaming experience that you share with a few folks that you’ve cajoled into sitting around a table with you for a few hours.



8 thoughts on “Get Out of Your Own Way, Grognard

  1. To be honest, It’s the first time I encountered them and I’m playing a Dragonborn now, first time I’ve killed a D&D kobold in seventeen years and first time I’ve killed anything using my own breath weapon… 🙂

    1. I think it’s fair to say that, by the same token, you don’t have to include a given race or class in your game just because it’s in a rulebook (I had a campaign world where I had gotten rid of elves, but at the same time I had given more fey-like abilities to half-elves, per the rules in some “skills and powers” book that, sadly, I actually owned). But you really need to step back and ask yourself why you’re not including something in your game, especially if it’s in the core rulebook. If the answer is just because “it’s different” or it “isn’t D&D,” then you probably do need to get out of the way and freshen up your brain a bit.

  2. For me the whole OSR movement was about validating the old style of play in response to others saying how the game should be. Sometimes we need a remember it isn’t about invalidating other styles.

    1. Well said! Also, you don’t have to like one at the exclusion of the other, but I think people tend to draw a line in the sand a lot of the time. Personally, I like things about the old school and the new school. I mean, I’m running some classic modules with a set of retro-clone rules right now, but I’m also playing a character in a 5e game (provided we can keep getting a group together, but that’s a whole different issue).

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