Engage Smug Mode

Or “why are so many people unwilling to play anything but D&D”?


I’ve just been reading a post on one of the online Facebook roleplaying groups that I’m a part of, where someone asked what seems like a fairly simple question: “What are the reasons that so many people are unwilling to play anything but D&D?”

Now, I’m not the worlds biggest fan of D&D–although I’ve played all but the earliest editions and have been looking with interest at some OSR stuff recently–but even as I was preparing a reply along the lines of “well there could be numerous reasons, visibility of the game line, it’s what their friends play, etc etc” a number of responses popped up that gave me serious pause for thought. I’m not saying that all of the responses were in this vein, but there were certainly a number of posts that suggested people who stuck with D&D were afraid to play other stuff, or were too self-conscious or were subterranean Morlocks crouching in basements fearing to step into the warming light of the cool new systems in town. Okay, I’m exaggerating on that last one, but you get the idea?

Initially this made me fairly angry and my gut response was to post something along the lines of “let people play what they want, what the f*ck has it got to with you?”, however, I’ve learnt over long experience on the internet to step away from the keyboard for a short while when a post or series of posts makes me really annoyed. It’s a philosophy I wish some other people on the net would adopt, but hey, we can’t have everything can we?

Thinking about it a bit more calmly though, I found the responses quite saddening because–I’m no psychology major, nor do I have any qualifications in that area but–I’d be surprised if attitudes like these contributed to people wanting to try something else outside D&D. I certainly think that if I’d only played D&D and I read something like this, i’d be thinking ‘hey those people playing those “cool” other games sound like pr*cks, I’ll stick with the D&D thanks.”

It then occurred to me to take this as an opportunity to look at my own attitudes towards games and I realised that perhaps I’d been one of those smug people, sitting behind his stack of newer storytelling games, looking down the end at his nose of people who’d dared to have the temerity to enjoy older systems or ones that weren’t all the cool new thing. It’s odd how that sort of thing can creep up on you–and not just about D&D either–I take great pains whenever I do a video review to point out the sort of person I feel would enjoy a game, even if it’s not necessarily to my taste, rather than just trashing a game, because I don’t think that helps anyone. I’m not above giving–what I hope is–constructive criticism, but I generally try to adopt a balanced view.

However, as I was thinking about this I realised there are a few games–over the years–that I’ve probably not given a fair crack of the whip, including:

  • ShadowrunNever got into it because I don’t like games where the character generation is long.
  • Traveller: I’m not big into the hard sci-fi and that whole dying at character gen thing put me off initially.
  • Lamentations of the Flame Princess: I’m always wary whenever I game describes itself as having adult themes because–in my experience–it normally just means there’s sex references in it and/or the art is risqué.

These are just a few of the games I’ve shied away from over the years, but reading the response to people sniffing at those who want to play D&D it occurred to me that I’d probably done the same thing to those games that I’d not even given a fair chance to.

There are some people in the online roleplaying community who do a great job of crusading to teach the next generation about the hobby, I’m not one of these people, I’m not generally very fond of children and it’s been a while since I’ve bought anyone into the hobby, but just because I’m not flying the flag for the hobby in that way, it occurs to me that we are all ambassadors for the hobby in our own way, by the way we game and the way that we talk about the hobby with others. I’m planning to make a concerted effort to try out some of the games I’ve previously spurned without forming opinions based on just a surface glance and I’m also going to continue trying not to judge other people for the games they enjoy and play, even if they’re not my cup of tea.

After all, I’d rather when people thought of me, they thought of a guy who runs some cool games and will try pretty much any game rather than they think of me as an ar*ehole who thinks his type of made-up game is better than everyone else’s made up game.

14 thoughts on “Engage Smug Mode”

  1. For me it’s really simple – as someone who mostly DMs, stories and roleplaying are way more important to me than rules and systems. I have limited time and mental space to devote to gaming, so if I’m going to spend time on something, it’s going to be creating campaign stuff, not reading a bunch of books to learn how to play some new game. So unless I have a story idea I absolutely can not shoehorn into the ruleset I already know, it never seems worth the trouble to play something new.

    1. That’s certainly a valid point of view and one I can very much understand – personally I quite like learning new systems as long as they have something interesting to offer, but there’s certainly nothing wrong with wanting to spend your creative energies on campaign and session creation rather than mastering new rules.

  2. Shadowrun is a cool setting with an incredibly complicated dice mechanic. You can find that combat situations can end up being grindingly slow because of the way things are resolved. However the setting, in my opinion, carries the game superbly. You could try and play the Shadowrun setting using a different system but you would need to check that the system could represent all the nuances of the Shadowrun world.

    My current system of choice is Savage Worlds, not played it for ages but it’s a very simple and quite elegant system. Characters never get too powerful, it doesn’t use hit points (my biggest D&D bugbear) and generally has some fun mechanics (Playing Cards initiative system, using poker chips to represent fate points). It also has lots of interesting and diverse ready made settings across virtually every genre you can think of.

    On order from Kickstarter I have the Conan and Infinity role-playing games from Modiphius both of which use their own 2D20 system which has been used in other games such as Mutant Chronicles (and its year zero sister game) and generally seems to have positive reviews. I haven’t played it though so I can’t really say.

    1. I very much agree, I love the Shadowrun setting but I find the mechanics a bit of a chore, the couple of times I’ve had people prepping to run a Shadowrun game we’ve ended up using a different rules system and just keeping the background. I do have a copy of Savage Worlds along with a number of the setting style books for it (Deadlands, Pirates of the Spanish Main, etc) but I don’t think I’e ever run or actually played in a game of it to the best of my knowledge, although my friend Whitey is a big fan of it.

      I have played the Conan system and very much enjoyed that (I also have a copy on order), the system is a little crunchier than I generally go for, but not enough to distract for the game IMO.

      1. I can highly recommend Deadlands Noir, especially if you like the original Deadlands. It’s the same alternative universe but set in 1930’s New Orleans as opposed to the 1870’s wild west. And if you like miniatures as well, Reaper do a set of the pre-gen characters. It’s a nice twist on a classic setting with some very nice source books.

        I would probably go so far as to say Savage Worlds possibly has more settings available for it than any other game. I think they succeeded in doing what D&D 3.5 never quite managed

        1. I have looked at Deadlands Noir from time-to-time but haven’t taken the plunge yet; I’ve never played Savage Worlds Deadlands despite owning it but I did play the original pre-Savage Worlds version way back when. Sounds intriguing though, I do love my 20s and 30s settings.

          I’m not fussed about miniatures TBH–especially since I do most of my tabletop gaming online now–but you’re right about the variety of books available for Savage Worlds, I might have to try and find a one-shot or something to play in 🙂

          1. Previously I was just using Google Hangouts but I have recently started to use Roll20 a bit.

  3. In defense of those Morlocks afraid to try something else: D&D – especially 3.x/PF – requires a massive investment of time from GMs and players to get a hang of the rules, read long lists of abilities, spells, etc.
    Maybe those people are not afraid to try something new per se, they’re afraid to invest again a similar amount of time (and once you’re not a teenager anymore, time becomes really precious) in something they’re not sure they’ll like, not realizing that a lot of systems are massively easier and quicker to pick up than D&D.

    Personal case: with a couple of friends we recently came back to RPGing after years of inactivity. I wanted to try Fate, or maybe Numenera, or *at least* D&D5e, but the others voted for Pathfinder. Why? Simply because that’s what they were already familiar with, and switching to a new system *was perceived* like a big investment. In a discussion we had, one of my friends even defended Pathfinder by saying that it’s not crunchy!
    Another point for PF was the amount of material available: we have tons of campaigns in PDF ready to be played with no extra preparation required.

    Then my GMing turn came. We played a Frontier Spirit scenario with Fate and – despite our clumsy inexperience – it went quite well, so much that for the next campaign they want to go with Fate instead of bringing on the PF campaign (as originally intended).
    Now the hard decision: Strange Stars, Mindjammer, or Bulldogs! ?

    1. Quite so, hence my blog post decrying those attitudes; I think you make a very good point about the perceived level of investment in a new system, some people may certainly find it daunting or off-putting.

    2. I haven’t read Strange Stars yet, but would suggest Bulldogs! It slightly resembles “Firefly” except the characters are working stiffs who signed on for 5 whole years to the TransGalaxy Corporation out of financial need or some other desperation, hauling the “Class D” cargo no one wants, to places no one else wants to go. There are human-like Arsubarans, robots and 8 other zany alien species with their particular alien Aspects and Stunts. The stress-box system is dialed for rock’em sock’em action although science fiction armor would be recommended any time advanced weapons come into play.

    3. ….oh, and remember there were older editions of Bulldogs! for FATE 3rd-edition and d20, but choose the newer Fate Core version.

      1. Yes, I think I have one of the older versions of Bulldogs knocking around somewhere, although I don’t think I’ve ever ran or played.

  4. Minds are like rubber bands: they have to be stretched or…or…you know when a rubber band has been in place for years and dries out and goes solid and either sticks to surfaces or crumbles away? I went nuts with RPGs 30 years ago and bought lots of systems and speed-read them all.

    D&D hardcovers are the most well-known game, the books and miniatures and other paraphernalia are a big cost and people imagine another system will likewise be a lot to buy and learn. That is not necessarily true; try something new. A multi-genre system (GURPS was the first I believe, then Hero System, but now Savage Worlds and Fate and Cypher System and many more) makes it easier to switch setting with minimal new supplements.

    The site “Unpossible Journeys” explains the basics of RPGs, offers hints for experienced players to improve their game, and presents 50 current RPG systems and lets people make their own choices.


    I like Savage Worlds and think beginners will like it because they get two dice to roll for success instead of one (either their Skill die of a certain denomination, or the Wild Card die (d6) must reach 4 or more). If the highest number on a die is rolled, they keep that and roll again, so this gives an ample number of “critical roll” thrills for every 4 beyond the number they needed (but if both dice come up as “1” that’s a Fumble!) This stuff is great for beginners, at least until they out-grow the novelty of polyhedral dice. It is simple, but additional options are there for those who crave complexity.

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