DM Rant: Gatekeepers, Critters and the New Paradigm

It’s the state of D&D these days that we sit in the balance of vastly different views of what it all actually is. Nothing is more indicative of this than a recent tweet by Dragonlance tomeist, Tracy Hickman. The top pic is a portrait of the second season of the critical Role characters with the words ‘Reject Modernity’ plastered over it. Under it is a picture of Dragonlance characters with ‘Embrace Tradition’. Now, although he’s taken it down and made clear his love of all eras of D&D, it stands indicative of an undercurrent of malcontent between two sides of a great divide concerning our favorite RPG.

It’s been heard since the onset of Fifth Edition; a disgruntled bit of nostalgia that pines for days gone by. The simplicity of 5E eludes them and they wish for the confounding complexity of former editions. I too have found it to be a bit lacking as the lore given is superficial and basic. This dismay has seen many rushing back to play the various editions that fueled their love for the game. It becomes a vast ‘back in my day’ rant for the ages. And I could be the worst of them seeing that I played 1E back in college.

But, adversely, the ever growing fanbase isn’t coming from earlier traditions. The new life that D&D is enjoying is thanks to many voices shouting from so many different medias. Critical Role has lead the charge and amassed an army and brought it to Wotc’s feet. And much of the new blood are, not only, new to Dungeons and Dragons, but RPGs as a whole. Therefore the simpler it is, the more fans can get on board. 5E becomes a win-win and a massive cash cow in these uncertain times.

For good or for ill, we have Critical Role and many other nerd outlets for bringing D&D back in a big way1

But, when actually considered, the offerings of both Critical Role and Dragonlance (and so many other resources across the ages) bring simultaneously similar and original ideas to the table. Both give us worlds to explore that are not our own and, especially, for those who have no time or imagination to create their own. They bring lore and stories that enrapture us and spur us to create our own story.

But, adversely, they are different medias and, therefore, bring different ‘things to the table’. Dragonlance, created by Tracy Hickman and Margeret Weis is a part of D&D history and will always be loved by a segment of the community. What we’re getting this year will be novels. While they don’t give us direct game material, they fuel our imaginations and feed games to come. Critical Role is a mix of the simplicity of a group of friends getting together and playing the game (which is the heart of its longevity) and the complexity of trained voice actors bringing it as theater to us every week.

What comes to the game is a diverse and complicated mass of players. You have those who grew up in whatever tradition they played in and it will always be their first love. But with online productions comes a love for the ‘cinema’ that is roleplaying that is a growing part of the game. Drama and storyline begin to take the forefront and I, for one, welcome it. BUT there is also something to be said for just getting together and playing for playing’s sake.

But where does that leave the ever growing gulf between them?

We saw this difference leer its ugly head when there were murmurings of doing something about racial traits and negative stereotypes inherent in D&D. Cruising Twitter and Facebook last year, you could see the divide deepen as each side ranted and threw stones from their perspective sides; much like some insane political rally. But, in the end, Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything brought us a brief mention in one paragraph that came across more like a suggestion than a rule.

But that’s the point, isn’t it? As it is true that every game needs its rules, Wotc with 5E have tried to err on the side of brevity and simplicity. It is obvious that their intent going forward isn’t to design a cage for us to fit ourselves into but resources to aid us on our way. In all reality, this edition is all things to all Dms and players. It can be as complicated or as simple as you want it. And, just because there are not mounds of new rules, races, classes, subclasses and the sort doesn’t mean you can add a few of your own, especially through creating various Archtypes and subclasses of our own that work within the scope of 5E.

And that brings us to the crux of it. Who owns D&D? Wotc, of course, but the truth is much deeper. Once it leaves the factory and shows up on your dinner table, it ceases to belong to the corporation that printed it and it becomes a special creation of the individual Dm and their players. It always has. It’s the reason Wotc lightened up on Third Party printing (so unlike our forefather Gygax). There are still rules to this, but they are wide and allow for so much more content and, therefore, playing of the game.

Obviously, Wotc has no say whether you play 5E, 3.5 or ANY of the editions. That is all for you to decide. In your hands too are the nuances of the rules. You may stay within the confines of the classic races (Elf, Dwarf, Gnome and Halfling) or venture into the new world of the various choices of race at your disposal (like the love for strange races like Tiefling, Half-Orcs, Assamars, Goblinoids and the like). Your choice of worlds whether old, new or homebrew are up to you. The game belongs to you.

Also don’t be a gatekeeper, eh?

And what’s the good news? The good news is 5E allows for all. If you want to complicate things, bring your own spells, races and subclasses to the game. It’s built to…well…build on. If none of the subclasses thrill you, either search online for the millions of homebrews or brew your own. Everything you want to do can be done with the ‘confines’ of 5E. And, in the end, it can be as simple as you want it too. That’s what I love about this new edition.

My love for lore? Well, luckily Wotc isn’t around to tell me what lore to pull from. So I pull from all editions. I love studying the width, breadth and depth of the storylines and mythologies that the great writers of D&D lore have brought us over the years. And, although great writers like Ed Greenwood are still around to give us aid in airing out the old tales. And the beauty is that we can take their ‘sage advice’ or ignore it completely and write our own story.

Because that’s the heart of it, isn’t it. I see every table where the game is played being a separate plane, world or dimension in the grand multiverse that is Dungeons and Dragons. The game in that pocket universe belongs, not only, to the DM running the game but each and every player. I’m a vast believer in the act of the collective story which makes the story turn on more than one man’s imagination. No, every action of the players tell the story as well. And no gatekeeper or even Wotc can tell you what to do in your personal universe.

Play on, true believer! Adventure forth into a myriad of worlds creating stories no one can and never will. What ever edition you play, whatever era you were born in, stop worrying about what everyone else is playing. For what is important in your part of D&D is the game you are playing and the story you are telling.

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