Why I Sold My DMG

A little while ago I blogged somewhat snarkily about how I sold my Dungeon Master’s Guide. I didn’t really have time to explain it at the time (and I dont’ really now but I’m going to anyway, while my art scans in).

There are a few things I should mention as a preamble:

  1. I was introduced to D&D in Grade 9. Not having a job or an allowance, I didn’t buy my own copy. Rather, I made up my own roleplaying game which was called “Super-Powers” and eventually “Power Enterprise.” I subsequently made up a number of other roleplaying games including Bounty Hunter, Trapland, Godrealms, Ardomworld, and others.
  2. In 2000 I co-designed the roleplaying game Spaceship Zero (the rules of which were partially based on Godrealms) which was published by Green Ronin and won a Silver ENnie Award.
  3. Last year I ran a 3.5 Edition D&D campaign using Green Ronin’s Freeport series of books.
  4. I moved several times last year and my new ethos is ‘less stuff.’
  5. I “laid myself off” from my current gaming group until I have more free time to play and, preferably, learn the rules.

I am 95% sure I won’t DM 4th Edition D&D. I have other gaming plans should I ever have the time to enact them, but even when I ran Freeport I used the D&D 3.5 rules pretty loosely. I doled out XP without consulting any books, just made up a lump sum per session based on how fast I wanted the group to advance. Monster & antagonist weapons always did a pre-calculated average amount of damage so I didn’t have to waste time rolling and doing math. We made use of Fate Points which were a mash of Mutants & Masterminds Hero Points and Spaceship Zero’s Zero Points. We used an insanity system, critical hit system and critical miss system all from either other sources or stuff we made up. Suffice to say, I almost never used the Dungeon Master’s Guide.

So I don’t anticipate missing it.

Further, I have to say I like the idea of not having a DMG. I feel, and this is probably a personal change rather than external, that some rule books are too calculated, too structured, too restrictive.

Sure, rules are important. Structure is important. They provide a level playing field for everyone – a fairness. Well-designed, balanced game mechanics are a beautiful thing and they’re something I have very much enjoyed picking apart and analyzing in the past. But I’ve always felt that D&D was written for cheaters. Don’t take that the wrong way, because the strength of D&D has always been that it’s the most popular, most well-known RPG. As a result, it is accessible to the broadest range of age groups and indeed gamers in general. Because of the game’s very nature the authors must write the rules for people who don’t understand RPGs or who exploit open-ended concepts or who are for lack of a better word “bad gamers.” I don’t think it’s written for me and the people I game with: mature people with creative and analytical minds but with little free time; people who like to experiment and test the limits of game design and the craft of roleplaying itself. This may be hubris but I don’t think we need an entire book of rules.

For me not having a DMG is freeing. (This despite the fact that I am neither running or even playing in a D&D game at the moment.) It reminds me of my friend’s “Tron” systemless RPG campaign: no dice, no numbers, no character sheets. Fred would tell us what was happening around us and we’d tell him what our characters did. How did he decide whether or not our punches landed on the opponent? Storytelling.

Without a doubt I love Dungeons and Dragons, but it’s never been about the rules (except for the ridiculous ones that became running jokes for all geekdom). It’s always been about the roleplaying and the atmosphere and the imagination and the anticipation of what’s behind that stout reinforced bronze door.

Just don’t ask me to give up my Monster Manuals I-IV because they’re just too cool.

One Reply to “Why I Sold My DMG”

  1. I can appreciate the zen-ness of playing without rules. We did that once long ago during a sleep-deprived gaming session.

    If you’ve got to use rules might I suggest Savage Worlds?

    I’ve given up on all other systems since Savage Worlds has consistently shown itself to be simple enough that I won’t spend hours looking for “that chart” yet detailed enough to provide some fun creating characters.

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