Recently, somebody told me that I clearly just play Dungeons & Dragons wrong. It was something of a peculiar experience, since so much of the discussion recently has been "How you play D&D is the right way." To have somebody so handedly dismiss me and my idea of the game was disturbing, to say the least, insomuch that it left me rattled for at least a day and I considered canceling all of my D&D games in response. For whatever reason, I took it very seriously.
In resolving the issue, I had to spend a lot of time thinking about why my D&D experience was different than the apparent norm. My experience with D&D, and tabletop role-playing, followed a slightly different course from some but I do not think it was such as to be considered "wrong." I thought it would be appropriate to write a little bit about it here to provide some prospective.
|Red Box Awesome!|
Years passed without me ever finding a group to play with. I had kept up, getting books and sets here and there, even exploring the bowels of AD&D 2nd Edition. My brother got involved with a group in high school and I would hear exciting tales of his games. It was not until late 1992 or early 1993 that I finally cobbled together a group of people to play with. For five years, all I could do was read and hear about how great a game this was without ever getting a real chance to play.
|Gargoyles. They look evil.|
As to how this relates to the idea of me playing D&D wrong relates to the notion of monsters, alignment, and sentience. By the time I played D&D for the first time, Ultima had already affected my perspective. Ultima VI: The False Prophet taught me the importance of considering and understanding alternative perspectives. The gargoyles, who appear to be a race of monstrous humanoids at first glance, are a legitimate race of sentient creatures with just as meaningful a claim on survival as humans.
|Only evil monsters sacrifice the Avatar, right?|
|But Meepo is friend!|
When I finally got to playing D&D, the lessons of "The False Prophet" still resonated. Goblins, orcs, and the rest of the intelligent races of D&D Land had just as valid a claim to civilization as any other. So, when I read that a monstrous race was "always Evil," it bothered me. It seemed very small minded, very ignorant to assume that a race was "always Evil." The idea that Goblins or Kobolds were something you killed on sight, not because they attacked you first but because they're an evil race, did not correlate with my worldview. I could not help but try to rationalize it in a modern view: "Yeah, we kill those goddamned <your_least_favorite_race_or_nationality> because they're evil!" It did not settle well with me. It bothered me that people would want a fantasy setting where killing people because of their race was acceptable (or, to a certain extent, desirable).
|This... is... D&D!|
Obviously, after some consideration, this opinion is neither true nor universally held. If Eberron taught us anything, it's that a D&D game can be complex, interesting, and morally ambiguous while still fitting within the framework of Dungeons & Dragons. D&D did not have to be the mindless hack-and-slash and treasure-gathering that Gary Gygax's original adventures back in the late 1970s and early 1980s seemed to be. Although Dungeons & Dragons may have its roots in a tactical combat game that developed into an adventuring game, the modern D&D has become much more than its progenitor. But it does not have to be, if the group wants it to be simple. Really, it's the game you want it to be (as long as you want a primary method of conflict resolution to involve violence).
I acknowledge that D&D started within a certain framework. I also acknowledge that every group, every player, shapes the game into the game they want to play. For me, it was complex. It was ambiguous. "Good" and "Evil" are relative terms and practically meaningless. Goblins and orcs held just as valid a title to life and society as elves and dwarves. This is how I play and this is how I continue to play. The words of one close-minded player will not change that.