For my post 6 Popular Things in D&D That I Fail to Appreciate, I aimed to air some trivial, possibly-wrong gripes in an amusing and thought-provoking post. Usually I avoid bitching in favor of a positive slant, but my earlier list of 9 Things met a good reception, so I figured a follow up would work. This time, I fumbled. While the old post targeted things in the game and landed a much funnier tone, my new post sometimes aimed at the way people play. Many people felt criticized for their style of Dungeons & Dragons. When I fostered that impression, I missed the mark, and I apologize. Play D&D in the style you love. Use Starburst, or salt shakers, or pure imagination. I love playing D&D—even at tables that feature everything I fail to appreciate. This hobby is too great for quibbles.
I asked readers to help me appreciate the things I griped about, and I meant it. The conversation led me to change my opinions on two things.
My post targeted D&D worlds that unnecessarily cast adventuring as a common profession. I wrote, “If your D&D campaign just includes a few players, why cast them as a common rabble of wandering treasure hunters? I would rather picture the player characters as heroes of legend.” But I overlooked great campaign models where the promise of fame and fortune lures characters to a megadungeon, a frontier, or a point of light that needs help against the darkness. These models start the characters as aspiring treasure hunters and let them rise above the crowd to gain wealth and renown. “I generally don’t like ‘the chosen one’ trope,” writes Andrew Bishkinskyi. “The idea that everyone made themselves is more appealing. I think the game’s tiers also reflect this—by time you’re tier 3 or 4, you are that great, known hero. But it’s a journey.” This rise to glory forms the heart of D&D and I’m humbled because I needed readers to remind me. Plus the adventurer-as-profession trope makes hooking players into adventure easier, especially in a campaign like the Adventurers League. “It’s useful when NPCs have a baseline understanding of adventuring/mercenary work,” writes Brandes Stoddard. “Basically it’s saving me the first 5 minutes of each interaction.”
As for carnival games, several readers explained that the mini games offer a good way to introduce players to the game. Instead of dropping fragile new characters into a dungeon and risking an early death, mini games introduce players to their attributes and to D&D’s core mechanics. The barbarian in the caber toss makes a Strength (Athletics) check. The elf in the archery contest makes attack rolls. And the dwarf in the drinking contest saves versus poison. Players learn the game in a fun and familiar setting. David Gibson writes, “No one wants to die because they didn’t know how to play.” The carnival scenario works particularly well with new players who invest in their characters’ stories and personalities.
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I completely agree with carnival games as a way of introducing new players! I did it for my second adventure (with basically all newbie players) and it let me drop them straight into the story without them worrying about dying or messing up. Basically all of their player relationships and big parts of their pc’s personalities got established during the rp in the festival, and it also lead them right to the story hook.
That said I can also see your point in the first article about carnival mini games having no real impact. I tried a (smaller) celebration with some carnival games later that same campaign and it was definitely less impactful. They ended up using the prizes they won in really clever ways, but I remember very little about the scene surrounding it compared to the introductory one we had.
Does the more lighthearted content even necessarily need to have a massive impact on the overarching story? After having spent the last 2 months worth of game sessions inside a dungeon surely a pie eating contest is much more fun than a yet another bandit ambush?
I really don’t think you missed the mark on your original post. You referred to all the things as stuff “normal players” enjoy. You weren’t calling anyone out. Just expressing things you don’t enjoy. People are too sensitive
I dunno. I think it’s fair to feel how you feel about the way some people choose to play. It’s not like they’re wrong-headed or wrong intentioned in any way… I thought it was understood that you weren’t targeting any person’s particular preference.
Maybe the comments would have been better received (or maybe not, we ARE on the internet) if you had stated that your opinions were for *your* games, or how you prefer to play. I think that many of the things you fail to appreciate are shared by many others. Certainly, it would annoy me to DM a player who settles on naming their character Arthur McGuffin, Goofy McFly, or Mon T. Python. It saps the hard work that a DM puts forth toward setting the tone of their campaign.
Carnivals can be great “palette cleansers” between epic adventures. Lord knows Curse of Strahd could have used a little levity at times, so a carnival would have been perfect. But yeah, it’s a trope that’s not for everyone, and I think it’s perfectly okay for you to say you don’t care for it.
D&D has certainly become a game that can be played so many different ways that you’re bound to upset someone by criticizing some aspect of it, whether it’s the game itself or how it’s played. That shouldn’t be grounds for compromising your opinions though. It’s okay to plant a flag and say you don’t appreciate some things, just realize that not everyone is going to agree with it.
They don’t have to.