Compare with print ad: The clothing colors are
different and the girls have switched places
“Dungeons & Dragons” exists as different concepts. The Product is the trademark, intellectual property, merchandising, and everything associated with D&D that makes money for Wizards of the Coast. The Practice is how people play D&D. WotC has learned to its detriment that the Product does not control the Practice. The Practice doesn't need the Product and, for some people, the two are entirely divorced. With this latest edition, WotC is attempting to embrace the current Practice in the hope that the Practice will embrace the Product. It is also attempting to cultivate the future Practice. Only by thus engaging the Practice can WotC maintain (if not increase) the profitability of the Product. I don't know if WotC will succeed, but they're certainly trying. The true test of this latest edition is not acceptance by a legion of jaded grognards, rather it is the favorable exposure of new players to the game (and thus to the hobby).
When looking for a picture for today's post, I came across this commercial. About five seconds in, there is a glorious pronouncement, “You're playing the most phenomenal game ever created!” One might easily dismiss that statement as advertising hyperbole, but it's arguably true. Thanks to the commercial, not only did I have an image for this post, but I also had a title. (The title I originally intended – “Playing D&D with Paint Sellers” – lacked a certain gravitas.) Anyway, I participated in a 5E game yesterday. This is not something I would normally make the subject of a post; however, this particular session was the first tabletop role-playing experience for a majority of the players.
The most important change in 5E from previous editions is the inclusion of Personal Characteristics – Personality Traits, Ideals, Bonds, and Flaws – along with Inspiration, the tool that integrates Personal Characteristics with play. Many experienced players might ignore these rules as they are not essential to the game. After all, D&D has managed to exist for forty years without them. In a post two-and-a-half years ago (!) when 5E was first announced, I said “D&D needs to leverage its differences from computer gaming.” This is exactly what 'Personal Characteristics/Inspiration' does. It accomplishes what graphics and algorithms cannot; it emphasizes the personal interactions inherent in tabletop role play.
Elitists might sneer at the notion of using game mechanics to promote “playing in character.” The execution is new, but the idea isn't. In 1E, Gygax associated 'good role playing' with adherence to class function and professed alignment. Characters who deviated from the ideal were penalized with extended training time and costs for level advancement. (DMG, p. 86) 5E approaches the issue differently, it immediately rewards 'good role playing' with a currency the player redeems at will. This sort of thing isn't necessary for veteran players, but it effectively educates new players as to how tabletop role-playing is different from/better than computer role-playing. 'Player' means “theatrical performer” as well as “person who plays a game” and both senses are applicable to RPGs. Just as a theatrical performer considers the motivation of the character he portrays, so should the role-player consider the 'Personal Characteristics' of the D&D character he plays. Appropriately, the Personal Characteristics are written on the character sheet alongside other important pieces of information like Armor Class and Attack Bonus.
In addition to Product and Practice, there is also the Phenomenon of Dungeons & Dragons, by which I mean the effect of D&D upon popular culture and the lives of the players, as well as the reciprocal effect of culture and individuals upon D&D. The world is a different place than what it was thirty and forty years ago when D&D was achieving its initial popularity and the new players now are a different generation from the new players then. The Phenomenon is necessarily different and so is the Product. What made the Product successful back then may not be the best way to make the Product successful today. The Practice may not need it, but the Product can benefit the Practice. Regardless, D&D remains most phenomenal game ever created.
(“Only by doing so can we hope to have a Fifth Edition that’s worthy of the Dungeons & Dragons legacy” – I actually wrote that?)
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