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D&D General Oh, the Humanity! Exotic Races, Anthropocentrism, Stereotypes & Roleplaying in D&D

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
I needed some time and space to delve into a topic that I have been thinking about for some time, and touched on a while back in my 5,294 Greyhawk posts (numbers are approximate). The issue of races (cultures, lineages, peoples) in D&D and roleplaying, as opposed to humanity, is one that I have given some thought to, and I wanted to present those thoughts for a reasonable discussion. You know, the kind you always get on the internet.

First, a disclaimer: I will be using the term 'race' to refer to playable races in D&D as usually defined. I do not mean this to be controversial or the focus of this post. By race, I mean humans, elves, tabaxi, tieflings, tritons, etc. I understand that this term is in somewhat in flux at this point, and that some prefer to use the term lineage, or culture, or people, or some other term.

Given that this will be a lengthy post with section titles that may only make sense to me, I will provide a shortcut TOC and the following thesis statement:

Roleplaying non-human races is about exploring aspects of our humanity.

1. What this essay isn't about (Optimization, Modeling After Fictional Characters)
2. Advantages of Roleplaying Non-human Characters (Why 'guide rails' are helpful)
3. Disadvantages of Roleplaying Non-human Characters (Of crutches and caricatures)
4. The Game-level Perspective (Why some prefer to keep humans at the center of D&D)
5. Conclusion


1. If there is one thing I dislike, it is the man who tries to air his grievances when I wish to air mine.


There are a number of reasons to choose a race that have nothing to do with role-playing. For example, a person might simply want the mechanical bonuses. This has always been true- ability score bonuses and race have gone together in D&D in history like peanut butter and jelly. As such, there is, and has always been, a cadre of players that simply choose a race in order to optimize their ability scores. But not just ability scores- races often had other advantages, too, throughout the various editions. Whether it's infra/darkvision, or thief ability bonuses, or skills, or spells, or movement, or any one of a number of things, playing a different race provides you with different abilities than playing "just" a human. Heck, it might be as simple as "I wanna fly, so give me some wings." In terms of creating your character, race has always been one of the two major choice points (along with class) that you could use to differentiate your character. Along with level and (sometimes) alignment, it was a quick shorthand. "One of my favorite characters was Legolas XVI, the elven fighter magic-user."

There is also another reason - we often want to model fictional characters when we play D&D. Whether it is a straight-up borrowing ("This party consists of Gandalf, Drizzt, Legolas XVI, and Hemoine Granger) or a closely inspired borrowing ("Let's send Kronan, the off-brand Barbarian, and Johannes Wick, the assassin, to scout ahead") people like to play characters from fiction; after all, this is an impulse that runs from childhood on, and D&D and RPGs allow you to act as your hero-by-proxy. And if your hero/modeled fictional character is an elf, or a cat-person, or a merperson (merman, mermaid, triton), then you will probably want to play a non-human character in order to model it. Otherwise, you might end up with-
Player: "I wanna be Drizzt."
DM: "Okay, but only as a human."
Player: "Um, okay, but can I be Legolas?"
DM: "Sure, as a human."
Player: "How about a Cheetah from Wonder Woman?"
DM: "Yep, great as a human."

While there are interesting discussions to be had about how well D&D is as an RPG tool for modeling fiction of different types (as opposed to being D&D), there is no real argument that D&D has a long history of borrowing fictional characters for use in its games; standard character types we take for granted (such as the Ranger or Paladin) have, at the core, the desire for someone to play a particular character from fiction or were modeled after a particular fictional character. From the past (what stats does Gandalf have?) to today (how do you stat up Geralt in the Witcher?), people like understanding fictional characters in the context of D&D, and sometimes playing them.

Anyway, the point is that both choosing a race for its different scores/abilities and choosing a race in order to model a particular fictional character (or fictional archetype) have a long history in D&D; but that's not what I'm discussing here. Instead, I'm discussing choosing a race purely for roleplay reasons. And yes, I understand that almost everyone has mixed motives- "I start with a character concept and optimal build, and then I come up with the RP ..." But I am looking primarily at the pros and the cons of roleplaying non-human characters.


2. I think the mistake a lot of us make is thinking the state-appointed shrink is our friend.

Role-playing a non-human often comes with a built-in advantage. By definition, non-humans are not human. Therefore, they can be roleplayed a certain way. Think of this in terms of 'guard rails' or extra RP instructions. This can have some beneficial aspects. I will delineate them into the following categories- introductory roleplay, special topics, and advanced exploration.

In terms of beginning to roleplay, humans can be the most difficult. Think of in terms of the paradox of choice- because humans can be roleplayed in any way that we know of, it is often more difficult for some people to roleplay humans. When they pick a human, they often just RP as "themselves" or don't really RP at all. A non-human race, on the other hand, either comes with a set of pre-defined characteristics from D&D lore, from fiction, or from other sources that can be used as guidelines for roleplaying. "I'm a hard-drinking type dour type that doesn't like elves and has a Scottish accent." Sure, that might be a mangle of clichés that doesn't necessarily exist in 5e D&D lore, but at least it provides clear guidelines for someone trying to roleplay. For players that need a pre-set hook for roleplaying, non-human races will often provide that.

This same reason is why, IME, non-human races are often helpful for people with autism spectrum disorders or people who otherwise have difficulties either expressing or understanding certain social cues. Again, while this is not the central point of this essay, it has been shown (and I have seen) that RPGs, such as D&D, can be helpful in terms of communication and social skills. Non-human races, which often have "pre-set" emotions and communications that can be used, can be easier to both use and understand.

Finally, there is the central idea; in terms of understanding our own humanity, non-human races allow for advanced exploration of certain topics. This is the area where I want to tread lightly, because it can be referred to (dismissively) as "funny hats" or "crinkly forehead" (from Star Trek). However, the basic concept behind those terms is correct. It is a banal observation to say that science fiction is really about the present. In much the same way, the roleplaying of non-humans at the highest level really tells us about our humanity. The reason for this is simple- when we take a trait of a non-human (such as the elves' extraordinary life-span) and attempt to roleplay it, what we are really doing is attempting to extrapolate what it would mean for us to have such a long life-span. The "funny hat" or "crinkly forehead" is the long life-span. This is common in fiction, where (to the extent it is examined) the existence of the alien and the non-human serves to illustrate points about our humanity.

This isn't a bad thing; I can remember a time when, for some people, it was popular to play elves because of the whole Corellon and gender issues. Given that RPGs and D&D were very much male-dominated and heterosexual, it was not uncommon to see people find a safe way to explore their own gender and attraction issues through roleplaying as an elf. Even though this could be done as a human, it was easier to do as an elf- after all, no one would question you for roleplaying an elf correctly.

And it goes this way, all the way down the races. Even the most alien of the non-human races, such as Kenku and Lizardfolk, force you to consider your humanity while roleplaying them, if you are trying to roleplay them correctly. A race that explicitly states, "Doesn't think like a human," because you are a human, forces you to think about how not to act as a person would act, and therefore causes you think about ... well, how you think.


3. Technically, of course, he was right. Socially, he was annoying us.

So after all that, why do so many people (including, sometimes, me) hate on non-human races? Well, in addition to the game reasons listed below, there tends to two reasons- the crutch, and the caricature. Let us ignore, for a second, the idea that most (some, all?) personality types and concepts could be played by the diversity that is humanity. The very strengths listed above for roleplaying non-humans can also be their two greatest weaknesses.

The first is the crutch. Roleplaying guidelines can be great. The give you a starting point. To mangle this analogy, they are the push to start you walking. But if you keep using them, over and over again, they are just a crutch. "I'm a tabaxi, so I'm like a cat, so my personality traits are that I am impulsive and cough up hairballs." Great! And .... It becomes easy, too easy, when provided a specific set of personality traits to simply lean into that for all occasions. You have the same character and personality at level 1 as you do at level 20, because you're playing your tabaxi. You don't grow, and you don't change, because you are always playing to your guidelines. Your race is straitjacket, and you remain bound to it in all circumstances. And a lot of the time, the choice to roleplay a race as a trait or two for twenty levels that never changes can be really really annoying to other players. That impulse to run into battle which is great & funny for a session can be really tiring after several months. Which leads to ....

Caricature. A dwarf with a Scottish accent. Annoying kender. The trouble with non-human races and caricatures is both micro- and macro. On the individual level, I have seen white players approximate a Miss Cleo accent (if you're young, think dubious Jamaican patois) to play a bullywug. I once knew a player that prefers to play his dwarf with an Irish accent ... because he drank a lot more than the average dwarf. There are a lot of players who will do things with "non-human" races that are ... well, let's just say questionable .... if they were to do it with a human character. And that leads to the macro level. For all of the complaints that led to the change in Tasha's regarding ability scores, there is at least some logical sense behind why ability scores were different, at least for a game (halflings would likely be less strong than a goliath). But what was not addressed is, well, culture. We have long taken for granted that humans throughout game worlds exist in infinite diversity (as do we), but non-humans, while they might be different from game world to game world (Eberron Orcs, Greyhawk Orcs), they are largely the same within a game setting. Which is both wild and crazy when you think about it. That is the essence of caricature and racial essentialism.


4. This is dialectics. It's very simple dialectics: one through nine, no maybes, no supposes, no fractions. You can't travel in space, you can't go out into space, you know, without like, you know, with fractions! What are you going to land on: one quarter, three eighths? What are you going to do when you go from here to Venus or something? That's dialectic physics, okay?

Since the beginning, the reason for keeping D&D humanocentric (anthropocentric) has not really changed.

A moment of reflection will bring them to the unalterable conclusion that the game is heavily weighted towards mankind. ADVANCED D&D is unquestionably "humanocentric", with demi-humans, semi-humans, and humanoids in various orbits around the sun of humanity. Men are the worst monsters, particularly high level characters such as clerics, fighters, and magic-users - whether singly, in small groups, or in large companies. ...

The game features humankind for a reason. It is the most logical basis in an illogical game. From a design aspect it provides the sound groundwork. From a standpoint of creating the campaign milieu it provides the most readily usable assumptions. From a participation approach it is the only method, for all players are, after all is said and done, human, and it allows them the role with which most are most desirous and capable of identifying with. From all views then it is enough fantasy to assume a swords & sorcery cosmos, with impossible professions and make-believe magic. To adventure amongst the weird is fantasy enough without becoming that too! Consider also that each and every Dungeon Master worthy of that title is continually at work expanding his or her campaign milieu. The game is not merely a meaningless dungeon and an urban base around which is plopped the dreaded wilderness. Each of you must design a world, piece by piece, as if a jigsaw puzzle were being hand crafted, and each new section must fit perfectly the pattern of the other pieces. Faced with such a task all of us need all of the aid and assistance we can get. Without such help the sheer magnitude of the task would force most of us to throw up our hands in despair. By having a basis to work from, and a well-developed body of work to draw upon, at least part of this task is handled for us. When history, folklore, myth, fable and fiction can be incorporated or used as reference for the campaign, the magnitude of the effort required is reduced by several degrees. Even actual sciences can be used - geography, chemistry, physics, and so forth. Alien viewpoints can be found, of course, but not in quantity (and often not in much quality either). Those works which do not feature mankind in a central role are uncommon. Those which do not deal with men at all are scarce indeed. To attempt to utilize any such bases as the central, let alone sole, theme for a campaign milieu is destined to be shallow, incomplete, and totally unsatisfying for all parties concerned unless the creator is a Renaissance Man and all-around universal genius with a decade or two to prepare the game and milieu. Even then, how can such an effort rival one which borrows from the talents of genius and imaginative thinking which come to us from literature?


DMG (1e), p. 21 (Gygax).

This is the primary argument of the human-centered campaign world. The converse is the so-called "Mos Eisley bar" where it's aliens of all descriptions and sizes. Notably, lost in this discussion is that in the movie the Mos Eisley bar was supposed to be shocking and disconcerting, and if you think back to the original move that had that scene, the main character were all "human" (Luke, Leia, Obi Wan, Han).

On this, I am somewhat torn. I think that there are very good arguments as to why we have human-centered campaign settings in D&D. And why many DMs prefer to keep things human-centered. On the other hand, it is also true that there are a lot more influences (including, but not limited to, non-western ones such as anime and manga) that have a large impact on culture that exist than when Gygax wrote the above, many of them featuring non-human protagonists. It is certainly somewhat difficult to take the above quote from Gygax at face value, knowing that the author was publishing a number of options that would be put together in the upcoming Unearthed Arcana, such as Drow.


5. In my life I have seen people walk into the sea just to find memories plagued by constant misery. Their eyes cast down, fixed upon the ground.

In the end, I am equivocal on the issue. I prefer playing humans, now, in almost all cases, but will occasionally play a non-human when there is some roleplaying concept I really want to explore. But I am interested in the conversation. For the most part, I think the fault lines tend to go down the usual sides- it's the whole "DM sets the rules and strictures for the campaign" v. "Player Agency, you don't tell ME what to do" arguments that get repeated, just with a new coat. I have been somewhat mystified that the focus on non-human races has been on the ability scores as opposed to the racial essentialism that is baked into them for roleplaying purposes. Anyway, these are some baked, half-baked, and somewhat gooey thought for conversation. It's already a long enough post. :)
 

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Mercurius

Legend
Good ruminations. A few things.

I would probably move your thesis to a secondary position, as I don't think that is what role-playing nonhumans is primarily about. I think it is mostly about the fun of it - as you say, people want to play Drizzt or Legolas, or think that halflings are fun and Dwarvish lore is interesting.

Now, nonhumans--as human-created ideas (in the real world)--do represent aspects of humanity. Tolkien's elves are, in many ways, embodiments of our higher natures, just as orcs represent a twisted, degraded form. Most D&D worlds don't deal with mythic archetypes in the same way that Tolkien did, but certainly all races can be viewed as variations of specific aspects or themes of humanity. But my point is that the primary motivation for playing a non-human race is usually because, well, it sounds fun at the time.

In a different vein, since the advent of the internet 25+ years ago, there seems to be a rising focus and centralization on game canon and the rules-as-written. This was furthered by the design of WotC's versions of D&D, both 3E and 4E, which were so complex and tightly constructed that variation and house ruling became more difficult and rare (imo). Still possible, just not as easy to implement compared to the more "heapish" rules of AD&D. I think, also, that the rise of video games had an impact. In a video game, one can only choose from what the game offers - one cannot generally hack the system, or change it in any way other than what the program allows.

What I have observed is that younger generations of D&D players seem to not realize or actualize the idea that D&D is infinitely customizable, and each table and campaign can be different and unique. In the old days, one of the first questions players would ask when joining a campaign was, "What are the house rules?" Now it seems largely replaced by, "which version are we using?"

I take the view that the RAW are merely a starting point, a default, not a set of codified laws; the ideas and tropes in the rule books aren't absolutes, but rather a toolbox to draw from. And more to the point: the DM usually has the largest role in determining which "tools" are available, and if there are any new tools (not in the rule books) that are on offer.

(Of course it isn't so black-and-white, but there does seem to be this general trend, moving away from a more free-wheeling "toolbox approach" to a more canonical, centralized "codified approach")

This, I think, also leads to internet conversations which often boil down to, or at least have a strong element of, defining what the "Right Way" to play D&D is, which often misses the basic truism that the right way is whatever way you want to play it, whatever is fun for you and your group.

But it isn't so simple, because of the question and nature of DM authority. I have always taken the view that the DM has the right and responsibility to define the parameters of the campaign, be it a homebrew or published setting, while at the same time, it is generally a good idea to keep in mind what the players want...to a point. A DM might have a vision, especially with a homebrew, and a sense of what fits within and supports that vision. As the author of the campaign, they inherently know things that the players don't, they have the big picture in mind - even if it is an official game world like the Forgotten Realms. The players have freedom within the context of the campaign, but can really only make requests about meta-issues (e.g. what races are available to play).

Every situation and group is different, so it would be somewhat absurd to make absolute declarations, such as, on one hand, that the DM should create and allow whatever they want and if a player doesn't like it, that's just too bad; on the other, the DM is meant to facilitate whatever the players want, so anything goes (I fully realize that some campaigns take the assumption that every member of the group co-creates the campaign, and the DM is merely the person who happens to be refereeing the co-created world at a particular point in time).

Perhaps a preliminary statement of intention by the DM is helpful: Asking the players, "I'm wanting to run this type of campaign...who is in?" If a player says, "That's fine, as long as I can play (fill in the blank)." The DM then balances the request with their vision, and if it doesn't overly compromise it too much, can acquiesce and/or adjust what the player wants to fit within the campaign. Negotiation can commence. If what the players wants does compromise it too much, the DM can come back to the player and say something like, "I hear you, but it doesn't fit into what I have in mind, so bear with me and trust that what I'm going to offer will be fun, even if not exactly what you have in mind."

If the player is intransigent, it probably points to deeper problems, and more issues to come, so it may be that such conversations act as a useful litmus test for DM-player compatibility.

One final note. I want to bring up Talislanta as an example of a "zoo world" that works really well. But that is partially because it is a built-in assumption. Talislanta is its many races and cultures--that is central to its atmosphere. While D&D includes many worlds, they all share the basic body of tropes and ideas that have been found in 45+ years of D&D products. Players come to the table with certain assumptions based upon their experience. Perhaps what would be helpful is nourishing the idea that each campaign, group, and world can be different, rather than doubling down on such notions as, "I want to play D&D, and D&D is this." Meaning, open it up a bit.

I think the best, or at least easiest, way to do that--from the perspective of the shepherds of the game, WotC--is to offer many different worlds, with different variations and themes*. And to re-emphasize the point: All of these worlds are yours, make of them what you will...Or, better yet, make your own!

*EDIT: Centering D&D on different worlds not only has the benefit of diversifying the game and encouraging variation, but it also potentially solves some of the socio-cultural issues around, for example, orcs. One published world could state, "This is classic D&D in which orcs are inherently evil, races have specific ability bonuses, and so forth;" while another could say, "In this world, there is no such a thing as inherent evil, and all races--ahem, ancestries--are as customizable and diverse as humans, etc." Revised core rulebooks could emphasize this point: that "D&D is as diverse and wide-ranging as its worlds, and the key is to customize the game to your liking. The worlds we publish are just examples of what is possible--make the game your own."
 
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DemoMonkey

Adventurer
That was a very long post (entertaining, don't get me wrong, just from trying to identify the header quotes) to say "I'm undecided"

I think games are humanocentric for the same reason that they (in the vast majority*) take place on 1 gravity worlds with 24 hour day/night cycle where the known laws of physics are the default unless magic is involved. Because that's what our brains are hard coded to understand, and the further away you move from that the more mental effort the suspension of disbelief takes.






...
*I will now enjoy the steady stream of people saying "Well in MY campaign there are 9 suns and no such thing as inertia or liquids!"
 



jasper

Rotten DM
Harrumph LT DAN um Snarf it peas and carrots not peanut butter and the other thing which shall not be named. Good post.
 

Minigiant

Legend
Supporter
What I have observed is that younger generations of D&D players seem to not realize or actualize the idea that D&D is infinitely customizable, and each table and campaign can be different and unique. In the old days, one of the first questions players would ask when joining a campaign was, "What are the house rules?" Now it seems largely replaced by, "which version are we using?"

I think it's less that younger players are afraid to customize as much as the DM field is loaded with older DMs settled in a groove, forced forever DMs who may have already customized long ago, and new fresh DM with wavy confidence. So the number of customized worlds that could push the limits of race and class are few. But the young still push as players and go for the edges of the limitations given to them.


I think games are humanocentric for the same reason that they (in the vast majority*) take place on 1 gravity worlds with 24 hour day/night cycle where the known laws of physics are the default unless magic is involved. Because that's what our brains are hard coded to understand, and the further away you move from that the more mental effort the suspension of disbelief takes.
I think it's more that it's an easier sell.

Selling a group on a world that is not humanocentric take effort, confidence, charisma, and luck many people don't have.



I have been somewhat mystified that the focus on non-human races has been on the ability scores as opposed to the racial essentialism that is baked into them for roleplaying purposes.

I think that's more because the infor on nonhuman humanoids are often the same tired things repeated over and over with only the ability scores and racial traits mattering from setting to setting. The deep talk on races in official forms comes often in specific niche books only hardcore fans of each race ever buys.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
What I have observed is that younger generations of D&D players seem to not realize or actualize the idea that D&D is infinitely customizable, and each table and campaign can be different and unique. In the old days, one of the first questions players would ask when joining a campaign was, "What are the house rules?" Now it seems largely replaced by, "which version are we using?"

I have also observed older folks making generalizations about younger folks... and being wrong. Very wrong. Often. So, maybe such things ought to be based on more than just, "I have observed," given that our individual observations are usually not statistically relevant random samples.

That being said, "in the old days," the marketplace was not flooded with options as it is now, and players had much less ability to find out about the ones that did exist. I have the sneaking suspicion that with the stagnation of RPG prices over the years, a new ruleset is proportionally a smaller amount of the younger player's disposable resources as well.

The internet has given us the whole wealth of possibilities at the lick of a mouse - there is no need to do lots of homebrew rules when you can just pick another game that does what you want instead.
 

What I have observed is that younger generations of D&D players seem to not realize or actualize the idea that D&D is infinitely customizable, and each table and campaign can be different and unique. In the old days, one of the first questions players would ask when joining a campaign was, "What are the house rules?" Now it seems largely replaced by, "which version are we using?"
. . . That says absolutely nothing about the younger generation.
 


Mercurius

Legend
I have also observed older folks making generalizations about younger folks... and being wrong. Very wrong. Often. So, maybe such things ought to be based on more than just, "I have observed," given that our individual observations are usually not statistically relevant random samples.

That being said, "in the old days," the marketplace was not flooded with options as it is now, and players had much less ability to find out about the ones that did exist. I have the sneaking suspicion that with the stagnation of RPG prices over the years, a new ruleset is proportionally a smaller amount of the younger player's disposable resources as well.

The internet has given us the whole wealth of possibilities at the lick of a mouse - there is no need to do lots of homebrew rules when you can just pick another game that does what you want instead.
No need to come to the valiant (if misplaced) defense of the younger folks, nor to make this into something it isn't. I'm not generalizing--in any sort of definitive, concrete way, at least--about them in terms of their character, but just in terms of what I have observed, specifically in relation to the degree that the rules are set in stone vs. malleability. Thus the "I have observed."

Of course your next two paragraphs provide another angle that supports the idea: which is that homebrewing is less common these days, for a multiple of reasons that I conjectured about and you added to.
. . . That says absolutely nothing about the younger generation.
What exactly do you think I'm trying to say about the younger generation that I didn't say in the paragraph that you quoted me as saying "absolutely nothing" about them? Maybe I wasn't making the kind of judgment you seem to think I was saying?
 

zarionofarabel

Adventurer
The only issue I have with your post is the implied idea of "just playing yourself" is somehow a bad idea. I learned how to DM without any mentors, or teachers, or YouTube videos to instruct me or even give me a hint on how to do it. My original players had no idea as well as they learned to play at the same time I was learning to DM. I got my original Red Box set as a Christmas present in 1988 because I thought the art on the front was neat so my aunt got it for me as a gift. It didn't take long before my original players figured out that they didn't need to just play themselves. The fact that there were no races (elf and dwarf and halfling are classes in Red Box) and very little lore driving players towards playing certain tropes seemed to have little effect. In fact, one of the first things I do if I have a player that is completely new to roleplaying and seems lost as to how to act in the game is tell them to just be themselves and do what they think they would do in such a situation. I have never found the restrictions that are put on people by the lore present in later editions to be very helpful as new players almost always just use it as an excuse to play up the tropes in a cliched way.
 

Mercurius

Legend
I think it's less that younger players are afraid to customize as much as the DM field is loaded with older DMs settled in a groove, forced forever DMs who may have already customized long ago, and new fresh DM with wavy confidence. So the number of customized worlds that could push the limits of race and class are few. But the young still push as players and go for the edges of the limitations given to them.
That may be the case, and is an interesting angle.

Another that comes to mind is that maybe the rules require less customization, as popular house rules have been (to some extent, at least) incorporated into later editions. No edition--except, perhaps, for OD&D--arose in a vacuum without reference and relationship to past editions (and even OD&D had a relationship to Chainmail), so--in theory, at least--mistakes were learned from, and some degree of evolution has occurred.

That said, it is still my sense that the D&D 5E player base is more centralized than in past editions, or at least TSR times. I think the internet has a lot to do with it, but also how 5E specifically is presented and published, and elements of the current internet-based cultural zeitgeist. For instance, 1-2 story arcs make it so that a large segment of the player base are playing the same thing. Yes, plenty of folks are playing older adventures, DM's Guild and 3PP modules, as well as homebrews, but there's a shared and collective awareness of the active story arc as a kind of center of gravity, the default of what "everyone is playing," even if that isn't actually the case. This, of course, comes from the Pathfinder adventure path model. And the internet allows us access into each other's worlds, at least to some degree--and far more so than in, say, 1990.

The point being, there's more of a hive mind, or perhaps multiple hiveminds that overlap and interact, vs. in the pre-internet days, the D&D community was mostly only united through Dragon Magazine and conventions. So perhaps this "shared world" or hivemind creates a strong gravitational pull towards a D&D canon.
 

What exactly do you think I'm trying to say about the younger generation that I didn't say in the paragraph that you quoted me as saying "absolutely nothing" about them? Maybe I wasn't making the kind of judgment you seem to think I was saying?
Basically, in the least offensive way, that you think they can't/don't think outside of the box. My experience (which has also been with young-folk) has been the exact opposite.

Also, one of the first things asked in a new campaign is "what variant rules are we using", as there are quite a few provided in the core rules (Feats, Multiclassing, Flanking, All of TCoE, Encumbrance, and so on and so on).

If I understand earlier editions correctly, when new books/official content was released, it was much less "this is something that you can allow in your games" and was more "this is official content available to all players unless the DM bans it". This shift from "what homebrew rules are we using?" to "what version are we playing" isn't with an age group of the community, it is with the hobby in general, as there are far more "pick-and-choose" parts of the game than there were before.

That doesn't show anything, and doesn't really support the "don't realize the game is customizable" claim from your first sentence of that paragraph, as they recognize that the game is customizable just by asking which optional parts of the official rules they are using. And, if you want to respond with "yes, but they don't realize that things don't have to be official" or something like that, I would rebut that by saying that I've seen a ton of homebrew from younger players, they just are yet to become good enough at homebrew to be comfortable with adding their stuff to their campaigns (IME, at least).
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
No need to come to the valiant (if misplaced) defense of the younger folks

It is less a defense of the younger folks, and more a suggestion to not go down the road of discussion based on faulty generalization. For, while you said "I have observed" if that observation is not questioned the typical default is to continue as if that observation were true.

If your observation isn't true, and there's no real issue of calcification of rules among younger gamers? What then? Is there any there, there, to discuss?
 

What I have observed is that younger generations of D&D players seem to not realize or actualize the idea that D&D is infinitely customizable, and each table and campaign can be different and unique. In the old days, one of the first questions players would ask when joining a campaign was, "What are the house rules?" Now it seems largely replaced by, "which version are we using?"
This is a meaningless statement in that it applies to every pen and paper tabletop RPG ever made. D&D is not unique in this regard. In order to perform an analysis of D&D, we need to consider D&D as it is presented to us in RAW form, as opposed to Call of Cthulhu or Warhammer Fantasy or Vampire, etc.

Also, your statement can be interpreted as a preemptive shutting down of discussions and analysis of the way mechanics shape play expectations. It basically amounts to saying "design is meaningless" and closes the door on discussing the way mechanics can be changed and refined.
 

Mercurius

Legend
Basically, in the least offensive way, that you think they can't/don't think outside of the box. My experience (which has also been with young-folk) has been the exact opposite.

Also, one of the first things asked in a new campaign is "what variant rules are we using", as there are quite a few provided in the core rules (Feats, Multiclassing, Flanking, All of TCoE, Encumbrance, and so on and so on).

If I understand earlier editions correctly, when new books/official content was released, it was much less "this is something that you can allow in your games" and was more "this is official content available to all players unless the DM bans it". This shift from "what homebrew rules are we using?" to "what version are we playing" isn't with an age group of the community, it is with the hobby in general, as there are far more "pick-and-choose" parts of the game than there were before.

That doesn't show anything, and doesn't really support the "don't realize the game is customizable" claim from your first sentence of that paragraph, as they recognize that the game is customizable just by asking which optional parts of the official rules they are using. And, if you want to respond with "yes, but they don't realize that things don't have to be official" or something like that, I would rebut that by saying that I've seen a ton of homebrew from younger players, they just are yet to become good enough at homebrew to be comfortable with adding their stuff to their campaigns (IME, at least).
Yeah, that is taking things further than what I said or meant (the idea that young people can't/don't think outside of the box).

Perhaps I should have written "newer" rather than "younger," as I'm mainly talking about the hobby itself and how it is played now vs. "back in the day," as well as how we interact as individuals and as a culture now vs in the past. "Hivemindism" and tribalism seems more...aggressive than it was a few decades ago, if only because it is more out there (through the internet and social media). There is a strong impetus to be part of one team/tribe or the other, and in the process what I think is often lost is the idea that one doesn't have to glom onto any ideology or group, but be radically self-creative and individualized. This is a wider cultural trend that infuses the D&D community, afaict.

I do think the toolbox approach is less explicit in the WotC era than it was in TSR, especially 1E AD&D and before, for reasons I stated in my first post. I could be misremembering.
 


Mercurius

Legend
It is less a defense of the younger folks, and more a suggestion to not go down the road of discussion based on faulty generalization. For, while you said "I have observed" if that observation is not questioned the typical default is to continue as if that observation were true.

If your observation isn't true, and there's no real issue of calcification of rules among younger gamers? What then? Is there any there, there, to discuss?
How do you know that I don't question my observations? Why make that assumption or turn this into a logical debate?
 

Yeah, that is taking things further than what I said or meant (the idea that young people can't/don't think outside of the box).
Do you not see how this. . .
Younger generations of D&D players seem to not realize or actualize the idea that D&D is infinitely customizable, and each table and campaign can be different and unique.
would be interpreted as "younger/newer players don't think outside of the box [in terms of roleplaying games]"?
 

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