So that personal bloglet about how D&D (and Pathfinder, it turns out) is Objectively Bad and the Worst and Here Are Thirty Systems You Should Play Instead is apparently doing the rounds again. In it, the author preaches the gospel of how there is a Wrong and Bad way to have Fun. It’s insulting, condescending, and dismissive, turning a single person’s opinion into an objective truth. So let’s talk about the idea of WrongBadFun today, yeah?
So the idea is that, if you think you’re having fun playing D&D (or Pathfinder), you’re obviously just deluded and have never experienced a REAL fun tabletop game. You think you’re having fun, but you’re not, you just don’t know any better. I’ll allow, some people may play D&D, but they’d have more fun playing a different system more suited to their tastes and just aren’t aware of those games. That part is fair.
The ridiculous part is to say that no one is actually enjoying D&D (or Pathfinder), because those system are objectively bad. People play for different reasons. Some people like the rules-crunching component of D&D and Pathfinder. Some people enjoy it because it’s familiar home territory and it reminds them of games in the past. They might even like it because they like the system, which is complex but not objectively bad. Do the systems have things that are a problem? Sure, they try to do a lot mechanically, but there’s a reason for that, which stems from we GMs.
Likewise, there’s an avowal someplace that the only way someone has fun with these systems is all the house rules, put down in a way that makes it clear that if you use house rules you’re not really playing those games and you’d be happier playing something else. Folks, I will tell you right now that there is not a single campaign in the history of role-playing games that has not had house rules to account for things that the designers couldn’t know you’d want to do, or that their personal design biases led them to think about in the other direction. It’s the nature of a cooperative game like this. Tell me that your system is so simple and easy it doesn’t need house rules and what you’re telling me is that I’ll need to house rule everything outside the specific scope of your game. Don’t have rules on crafting items? I’ll have to invent them, or borrow them from a game that has a solidly-designed crafting system. Players want to build a keep and claim land, and you don’t have those? Guess what, I’m breaking out Pathfinder’s Ultimate Campaign sourcebook, because while their nation-building rules aren’t as clean and fluid as they could be, they exist and I can house rule the details.
At the core of this insistence that D&D and Pathfinder are objectively bad, as near as I can tell, lay two specific statements: “I had a bad time playing this game, and therefore I believe it is objectively bad because I don’t like it” and “I’m one of those people who will hate a thing because it manages to be popular.”
The second one, there’s not much to say other than to tell them that’s great and you hope they enjoy playing their super-obscure so-far-underground-it-was-written-by-drow RPG if that’s where they get their kicks. Meanwhile, the system lineage that brought tabletop games into the world in the first place and then gave birth to the explosion of games that resulted from the OGL will keep on going. Given that it’s the literal reason that tabletop games aren’t relegated to the back corner of comic and hobby stores these days, tucked away behind the miniatures wargaming, this kinda feels like sour grapes.
The first one, though? All right, I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. They may really hate the rules-heavy nature of the system, which was the direct result of GMs during the 2nd Edition era of the game, or they may have had a really bad experience with a bad GM who only used D&D as a basis for their games. It doesn’t excuse the shouting about it being Wrong Bad Fun, but it does allow for some sense to it. If that’s the reasoning, well, friend – I’m sorry. I really am! Bad GMs are the reason the system is the way it is now. During 2e, the system was sufficiently chaotic, patchwork, and freeform that a GM could cause untold headaches to their players. What worked in one GM’s game wouldn’t in another GM’s game, despite it being a clearly labelled section in the rulebooks. 2nd Edition, for all my nostalgia about it, was literally the result of a bunch of house rules on 1st edition being made official rules. It’s even described that way in the foreward of my DMG.
And that’s why all those systems – especially the D&D But Better offerings – are so condescending. Anyone who plays those will have to make house rulings on anything the system doesn’t cover, the same way we had to before 3rd edition brought the heavy, crunchy rule system with it. There’s nothing wrong with that – I still wish they hadn’t made the Elemental Spell metamagic feat, because it has caused an entire generation of GMs who have a hard time with tweaking spells so that a wizard can specialize in cold magic – Frostball instead of Fireball, Freezing Ray instead of Searing Ray, and so on – because but there’s a feat for that doesn’t do it the way the character should be able to do it.
So that person has my sympathy – bad GMs and hatred of overly-heavy sets of rules? I understand this. I still refuse to accept it as a reason to preach the gospel of Wrong Bad Fun.
Because in the end, if you’re having fun at your table, and so is everyone else there, you’re doing it right. That’s all there is to it.
Go out and roll some dice, geeks.