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Monday, August 6, 2018

Locked in the Dungeon of Reality

Welcome Back Stompers!

As promised, I'm working to keep this blog (and now my GoblinStompCast) alive and healthy with a regular injection of  'content'  (that word I hate so much) and some things for us to chew on and if we are lucky, digest.

First, a new podcast episode is up.  You can download it all over the place but it's being hosted over at  Like many folks in our hobby, I'm finding it a convenient and quick way to get some thoughts down quickly and help guide the blog a bit.

Check it out here and if you like, subscribe by clicking on any of the podcast players listed so you can get regular updates.

Here's the 2nd, and newest episode...

Today I want to continue the thoughts in the podcast by referring you to a short blog post by The Mixed GM about D&D as a Lifestyle 

I can't stop the train from moving, but I think I've made it clear that while I'm fine with D&D being popular in general, and 5th edition + Social Media/The internet as the vehicle by which that has happened, I am not sure that the outcome for some folks is a positive one. 

This is not a post about politics in general, or the politics of gaming specifically.  What I'm wondering is this...if the corporate engine behind D&D (and RPGs in general) is creating a lifestyle brand out of their product lines, how much deeper might an individual fall into the spike pit of the unreal?  How much more tempting is it for a person to adopt D&D as a full on identity vs. a casual or even passionate hobby that they engage in?

Now, I wanna be the first one to say that I have spent countless hours playing in, DMing, and creating game worlds.    If you've listened to the newest podcast, I'm very up front about admitting that as a youth, I spent entire weekends devoted to game play.  Looking back on it, that intense and extended game time may not have been the healthiest choice for me, socially or psychologically.  The incentive was that not only did I get to take a long break from a reality in which I was uncomfortable and often unhappy, but that I had found a few friends who enjoyed playing as much as I did and good friendships were formed around a hobby and a shared social experience.  Yup, we were all nerds.

The difference between then, and now, is that we did not wear our colors proudly.  In fact, other than talking among ourselves about D&D, we didn't often share our hobby with others.  There were no t-shirts proudly proclaiming our love of the game, no chat rooms in which to meet other players, and a general hush about our pastime in mixed company.  I think that if the hobby had been more widespread, more socially acceptable, I might have fallen even harder into the game. 

Two things concern me about the current social state of the hobby.

First, by creating a 'lifestyle brand' around the game, and having popular television, movie, and internet personalities declaring their love of the game, are we creating yet another tribe.  The concept of tribalism has concerned me for some time.  While we talk about inclusivity and togetherness we continue to draw lines around ourselves to help us identify with specific groups.  Are you now a member of a team? Yet again, I am guilty of this.  I call myself an OSR guy, but does my love of Old School Gaming separate me from my fellow gamers?  Am I a member of a group willing to defend its position, and is this a dangerous thing?  Will there be a call to arms?

"We are OSR Gamers!  We Play the REAL D&D!  Join us, or get out of our way!"

My other concern is with obsession.  As a kid I think that I bordered on obsession when it came to D&D.  I admit freely that had I spent less time prepping and playing, and a bit more time on my social skills or on homework and studying, my life may have had a very different outcome.  I'm not blaming D&D for my current situation in life, but I think a deep examination of the events and behaviors that led me to this point is a valuable thing.

If D&D specifically, and roleplaying in general, become both increasingly popular and accepted as not only a hobby but as a social group with whom like minded folks can identify, are bad choices more or less likely to result?  How far will an individual go to find acceptance within the group? What sort of time investment is reasonable and rational when a hobby becomes a lifestyle?

I have more questions than answers, I know.  It's frustrating.  I still spend some time each day working on my game, my characters, storyline, VTT management and other aspects of our hobby.  This blog and the podcast are my attempt to remain involved and relevant in our community.  I certainly identify with other players of the game I love so much, regardless of which version or incarnation.  I'm not so keen on buying into this large tribe that seems to have arisen as a result of the forces I spoke of above.  I sit up on the fence...watching, waiting, and wondering.

In the meantime, Game on!



  1. I've been playing and GMing since 1978. I've been watching this change to the hobby all along and wondering whether or not the expansion of popularity is a good thing or not. However, that is a separate issue from my primary concern for the hobby. In the past 10 years I've noticed a distinct fracture into, as you call it, tribes within the hobby. And warring tribes at that. Most of this happened while I was busy hunkering down with my own RPG project, so I only witnessed this somewhat after the fact. Kind of like one day I poked my head up out of my rabbit hole, and ... woah ... the landscape was burning and two factions of RPGers were at eachother's throats. The so-called "Indie Revolutionaries" vs. (at first) "The Traditionalists" (the Proto-OSR). It's been a drag from the beginning, and maybe some part of the reason why I was hunkered down to begin with. I really can't stand the factionalism, which I associate with a jockish adherence to Sports Mentality. As far as I can tell, the Faction Wars didn't help the hobby, they hurt it. I know a certain number of people who might have joined an RPG but when they looked online to find out more found vitriol and hate instead of information about the various play options. It was all a big dumb waste of effort and emotion. I have my opinions as to why things went this way, but I'll just leave it at this: Factionalism in fantasy elf-gaming is about as dumb as a rock kite. There is no winning a Faction War. It is attrition all the way down, and in the end, if you take it far enough, all anyone has left is a bunch of smouldering ruins and bad memories. So my advice is this... if you feel like engaging in a Tribal conflict... have a snack. Enjoy a little walk outdoors and smell the roses. Take the time to get a good night's sleep. In the morning The Hate will be gone, and you can go on with your life and enjoy your favorite hobby without having contributed to the Mindless-Senseless-Fiery-Outrage of it all. You'll be glad you did.

    1. Thanks for your thoughtful reply to the post. It's a big question, a very real issue, and is one of the reasons I've moved a bit away from my gaming hobby into photography. Me + my Camera = meditative creativity and productivity. Everytime I sit down to build a bit as a DM, I wonder if one of my players might be offended. 1983 me NEVER did that...

      Thnaks again for reading. it's always good to have your opinion on matters big and small :)

  2. Historically, successful Tribes cooperate as a hegemony. Isolationism fails.

    Gaming tribes are isolationist. qed

    1. Thanks for your input Frank. It's always welcome. We need more common threads and less differences in the social aspect of our community, and we don't get alot of that right now. Not sure if that's a symptom of a larger social influence or the nature of the tools we use to manage our newtech social existence online. Certainly my small group from school in 1982 suffered from no such external influences, but had social media been an influence, things may have been very different.

  3. How does one use this tribalism in positive ways? If the tribe can be "steered" in the right direction...

    1. small groups, or 'tribes', of around 100 individuals or less can be very successful. As a species, we seem to have trouble when the numbers grow too large. Usually when it gets too bad we kill each other or mother nature uses a heavy bitch slap to fix the issue if it impacts her. In our hobby, where we have always argued about gameplay, the right way to play, the correct rules, etc we've always had some level of tribalism. The internet has really exploded it. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  4. It’s for this reason that I am very wary about folks trumpeting too earnestly their factional credentials- I stay the hell away from that dubious nonsense. I too fell hard for D&D as a teenager: it saved my miserable life in fact, and has been a major formative/cultural factor in making me who I am today. Likewise it was not something to be worn as an identity badge I adopted, so much as just organically being a part of my social development amongst a group of fellow nerds. I have heard it discussed elsewhere that it while nerds are open and inquisitive, geeks are territorial and fandom focused, and this I feel is part of what is happening. My friends and I played D&D because it was interesting and fun- nobody I knew played it because it was ‘cool’, a hilarious idea in retrospect. Well, it now offers a whole prefab culture package that can just be adopted, and this is partly by virtue of it no longer being seen as socially unacceptable. In fact it has identity currency. It is a bit like the cultural transformation of the tattoo- where once it marked you as an outsider, now you are as likely to express that by choosing not to get inked. The whole roleplay thing can be donned like a onesey now, so we are seeing a large influx of folk who are entering the hobby for reasons other than an interest in gaming. Me, I try to keep my head down and just do what I’ve always done: never not be running some game or other. Thanks chum for the thoughtful article.

    1. Thanks for reading and for your thoughtful comments. The thought of D&D as a purchasable identity is frightening and disheartening indeed. Still, play your game, play it your way...Game on brother.

  5. Different people desire different things from role playing. As such, it's natural for those within the broader hobby to gravitate towards implementations which scratch their own personal itch -- providing such options exist. As long as you don't lambaste other styles, I don't see this as being "tribal" behavior -- rather, it's more a case of realizing individual preferences.

    I currently live in a fairly remote rural area. The only local RPG group I've been able to find uses a set of rules that I don't particularly like and tends to focus on a style of "hack-n-slash" adventuring which I find dull (and occasionally a bit disturbing). I continue to play with this group even though I don't particularly enjoy our sessions simply because I don't really have any other option for a gaming outlet (unless I'm willing to drive an hour or more). Conversely, when I used to live in a city there were dozens of groups I could join, with many different rule set options and playing styles -- it was relatively easy to find something that meshed with my personal preferences.

    My point is that role-playing doesn't have to be a monolithic entity with just one point of view. It's a broad enough community that it can readily encompass many different rules, genres, and play styles. The key is to maintain an open mind and be willing to compromise, otherwise you end up isolating yourself far more than you can convince others to adapt to your definitions.

  6. Thanks Howard for admitting you may have been devoting a little too much to your hobby. If I didn't do things in my youth that were probably mistakes I was doing it wrong. As to tribalism, I don't think we choose to be tribal, I think we evolved that way because it used to be a good way to survive. I would much rather argue about our hobbies on the internet than fight in the streets, or arenas.