Friday, July 10, 2009

A pair of random thoughts

First, in case you missed it on Twitter or Facebook, I did an interview last week with local public radio station KUOW (94.9). It's supposed to air at 12:26 tomorrow afternoon, and a couple of times over the next week, but you can listen to it now on the web.

I got thinking later about one of the things I said in the interview, and I realized that for a number of books that I've worked on, the funny little chapters are my favorites. To wit:

  • The one I mentioned in the interview was the chapter in Deities & Demigods that presented Taiia (the god of a monotheistic religion from Aquela), Elishar and Toldoth (the dualistic religion practiced by my last 1st Edition AD&D character), and the dwarven mystery cult of Dennari (from the Roman campaign).
  • The chapter of Oriental Adventures where I talked about using dwarves as the Crab clan of Rokugan (and elves as the Crane) and talked just a bit about using Asian cultures other than China and Japan as sources.
  • In Expedition to Castle Ravenloft, the chapter with the three fanes you can use to weaken Strahd.

I don't know what it is about those three chapters that I like so much, but somehow they feel like some of my most distinctive contributions to the D&D game. They're quirky and unique. They're me.

The dog food test

I read this, talking about Google's Chrome OS, last night:

In short, will Chrome OS pass the dog food test: is it something Google’s own engineers will want to use?

I’m skeptical about the prospects of any new system or product that isn’t intended for use by the people creating it. Gmail, for example, is the best web mail system because it was designed to be used not just by “typical” users but by expert users, including the engineers at Google who made it. The iPhone is simple enough to appeal to almost anyone, but guess which phone the people who created it use?

Make something intended not for your own use, but for use by dummies, and you’ll usually wind up creating something dumb. The future of computing probably is in the direction of thin clients connecting to network services for storage and software, but my hunch is that Chrome OS is too thin.

It struck me because it dovetailed directly with a conversation I'd had the day before about D&D 4e. Some people think that we designed the game for World of Warcraft players, or for kids, or for stupid people. We didn't. We designed it for us—and by "us," I mean not just the people inside this department who are lucky enough to play more D&D than just about anybody in the world, but also people like us: People who love the game and want the best gaming experience possible. People who had a great time playing 3rd edition but grew increasingly frustrated with its mechanics. People who still enjoy the tabletop experience of sitting down, face to face, with your friends and spending a couple of hours lost in fantasy.

From my perspective, it was incredibly successful. I'm playing more D&D than I ever have in my life—five regular campaigns, plus frequent games with my son (and sometimes my wife). I'm having more fun while playing, too. And I still hunger for more—I want to get the old band back together and return to the glory days of the Imperium Romanum campaign (back in the SPQR!). From what I've seen, a whole lot of people feel the same way.

Some people don't. Well, that has to be OK. No edition of D&D has pleased everybody. Some people still consider 2nd Edition a blight on the purity of the original AD&D, and some think it's been all downhill since "Advanced" first got appended to the name of the game. Fourth Edition can't please everybody, either. So play the edition of the game that makes you happy.

But, for crying out loud, play the game. I have no patience for armchair generals who stir up the so-called edition wars without ever actually playing any edition of D&D. Play the game the way you want it, and lay off the people who don't like the game you're playing. But play. The D&D kitchen table is big enough for all of us.