I find philosophical humor that I was born at nearly the same time Dungeons & Dragons was born. I grew up in what is ostensibly a cult, which I later in life made peace with----taking the good parts of the experience and leaving the rest behind. Things generally aren't universally bad or good. You learn, you grow.
We are creatures of the times and places we inhabit. We reflect, like mirrors, the ripples of human choices, back and forth, endlessly.
My reflections, part of being born in 1970 in rural Minnesota, include perhaps the inevitable exposure to a game created right there, in the Midwest. Dave Arneson's Blackmoor happened in my backyard, not 45 minutes from where I grew up in Cannon Falls.
By the time I turned 10, Andrew Jackson's older brother was in college and, on his trips home, he disseminated many wonders to his younger brother including Blue Oyster Cult, Rush's Tom Sawyer (which had just been released) knowledge of the Lamborghini Countach, and of course: Dungeons and Dragons. Andy, in turn, disseminated such things to me.
My hometown of Cannon Falls MN (roughly 2,000 people at the time) was a place of wonder and awfulness----like many rural towns. Like anyplace where humans exists, you might argue. Kids played with Ouija Boards and believed black magic was real. Maybe it is? I don't know much. There was the Satanic Panic so: Midwestern town full of Baptists and Lutherans and Catholics all warring with each other AND with Satan: they didn't much like Cultkid either (that's me).
I managed one girl friend in highschool. She admitted her family was not thrilled and that she'd lost friends because of me. Maybe this is my origin story. Hero or villain, you decide.
Being ostracized for any reason is tough. You find your tribe. Mine were similar outcasts, though some were lowkey pleasure seekers. Jocks who dipped into dungeons and dragons as a forbidden vice. Hiding out with the nerds on a Friday night, risking association. Then going to the party on Saturday where the rest of us D&D-ers were uh...not welcome.
Yes. D&D was an escape. When the world surrounding you excluded you or, to be honest, would sooner destroy you than learn why you were different, escapism was a big draw.
The up side was that unlike other addictions, D&D fostered creativity, problem-solving, interpersonal communication skills, leadership, resource management, risk assessment, friendship, trust, and a sense of wonder for the unknown. It also made you keenly aware of just how uninformed, ignorant and or willfully manipulative grown-ups are: telling you that your pastime was harmful and would destroy your soul when you could see plainly they were full of shit or had other motives. I guess add critical thinking to the list?
D&D also brought into direct contact people who were vastly different for a single purpose: the game.
Unlike today where rockstars, moviestars and pornstars play D&D, back then you didn't have a big pool to play with. You had to take them as they came. Your motley crew of players was very much like that rag-tag band from season one of Stranger Things. (the authenticity, not the Upside-Down, is what made that season so endearing----but I digress)
Point is, D&D forced you to make connections with people you would not have otherwise socialized with just so you could play the game. There is an untested, unstudied thesis hiding right there: that D&D might have inadvertently been one of the catalysts for social change we see today, as people who learned those lessons grew up and instilled similar values in their children.
Thankfully, even with the explosion of popularity that D&D currently enjoys, this same dynamic is not lost. Everyone knows that the people you play D&D with are people you likely would not have otherwise connected with. And we still have that opportunity to learn from differences at the table.
Players love their DMs. They also always wish they could modify their DMs ever so slightly. Or the system. (I heard recently that 1st Ed AD&D was too mathy. Add to the litany of commendations above that D&D also teaches math. What does this game not teach?)
Point is, D&D never gives anyone precisely what they want all the time, including the DM. And I think that's a good thing. As a result, all of us change just a little bit.
In simple terms, people interacting with people naturally bring about these kinds of discussions. Especially when there are stakes. In this case, the game and the quality of the experience it delivers represent the stakes.
Each person at the table is seeking the optimum experience. Unlike Monopoly where only one person wins, D&D's carrot is that EVERYONE can win if the synergy is there. This means that unlike other games where a person might tap out if they seem to be losing, players at the D&D table are willing (to differing degrees) to suffer setbacks or even occasional catastrophic losses if the framework of cooperation appears intact. This is because of the shared goal. The table is a kind of grist mill and the rougher interactions can be worn smooth as friendships form.
On some nights, Player 1 feels great but Player 2 only has an okay time and Player 3 might suffer a character loss. On another night reshuffle these outcomes. Collectively there is incentive to return. Take time off work. Use valuable evening hours. Reconvene for the next leg of the adventure.
I don't have to tell you. But yes please list all the reasons you can't wait for the next game here: _____________________________________
It's hopeful in a philosophical way that even though I will never run a game that perfectly delivers to every player precisely what they think they want, I will deliver a game that keeps them returning week after week, year after year. A game that (hopefully) teaches as much as it entertains----not because I'm a guru imparting wisdom, but because I'm a facilitator who helps frame the interactions of people: wherein they teach themselves and learn from one another. This is possible because D&D is a game that is so focused on cooperation that friendships are forged out of sheer compression.
The crisis that player characters are forced to deal with requires players to first: listen, speculate and grapple with the world and its problems, together. "Seek first to understand, then to be understood." I think some dead guy actually trademarked that. It should be a crime to trademark human wisdom, but whatever.
Are you a person that is able to take pleasure in the successes of others? How do you behave when when someone else's area of expertise eclipses your own? If you play D&D with me I will find out.
Are you able to handle setbacks as well as you handle victories? Play a game of D&D with me and I will find out.
Do you embrace people different from yourself, find the things that are good in them, capitalize on your common ground, pour your different skills into a crucible and create a glittering spear? This is what an adventuring company is made of. It is what many good things are made of.
But you already knew this. Because you are here. You have already been in the sauce. Probably for years. You understand why D&D is the greatest game ever made. Why its value is not just in entertainment but TO society. Like any tool, D&D can be placed in the hands of tyrants, fools and narcissists.
Guy who just got here: "C'mon. It's just a game. It's just a way to have some fun killing goblins and shoot the shit. This all sounds too self-aggrandizing, Anthony."
Me: "I mean...we build our own cages."
If you are running D&D with folks who play nice, who don't grandstand, who are empathetic and who, above all, like to learn, I think you'll find out for yourself whether D&D is self-aggrandizing or inward-gazing.
The irony is that, for me, D&D was an escape. But through it, I didn't escape life or responsibility or what matters. I found life and responsibility and what matters because of the things D&D helped me learn. I admit, this seems lofty and possibly unrealistic or insupportable if you are drinking beers and casually slaying goblins. And you're not wrong. Slaying goblins and taking their treasure is proven reason enough for a good time. Same as a hand of Rook or a game of Cornhole at the park.
But sometimes, if you take that thing you are familiar with and turn it over and think about it in a different way, it dawns on you. Maybe this thing I took for granted does and can have more value than I thought. You get out of a thing what you put into it. That's the short answer.
Learn math. Become a leader. Strengthen your friendships. Play D&D. I've written a few blog posts like this in the past, but well, shucks. 'Tis the Season.
and happy gaming.
Oh yeah, and as a reminder: the Limited Edition of Castle of the Silver Prince will be retired Jan 1st.
And one last thing, I am working on a supplement that's a COTSP add-on but will also work on its own. Might be available first part of next year. All I will say for the moment is that it's "devilish".