While I’ll be the first to admit, I’ve only openly ‘loved’ Dungeons and Dragons these past few years, it is, nonetheless, a lifelong passion of mine, properly kindled during the Baldur’s Gate and Neverwinter Nights eras, and complimented with a love of the fantasy genre that has spanned The Wheel of Time and The Lord of the Rings in between.
What I don’t think, however, is that I have any sort of ownership over either DnD or the genre itself – but boy, I’ll tell you what, it is rife in the DnD community. Rife.
I’ve had a fairly tepid appreciation of Chris Perkins’ lack of humility and the dismissive attitude he has to the community for a while now, but I also love 5e that much that I’m willing to sit him quietly in my blind spot and just consume his content cf. his personality.
James Haeck annoys me for many, many reasons, not least of which is his choice to use awful language choices (in the spirit of: ‘why use a small word when a diminutive one will do’). If you’re a writer, catering to an online audience, and you have to link to a word you’ve used on Dictionary.com when challenged on it, then you’re either too proud to use an editor, you have a bad editor, or you’re just a wanker.
Of course, Haeck shares similar acclaim to Perkins in that he had the distinct honour of having co-authored the Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount, which has seen incredible popularity since COVID forced everyone inside and Critical Role saw a resurgence. But in contrast to Haeck’s aesthetic evolution from affable nerd to channelling Inigo Montoya represents less of a ‘glow up’ and more of ‘lean in’ to the vapid personality traits of celebrity, my appetite for reading his content goes from tolerance to actively avoid.
Not a great position to be in when Haeck pretty much wrote everything on DnDBeyond for the past few years.
Nonethless, I do want to close out this tirade with a qualification. Both Haeck and Perkins are big fish in the DnD world, and to some extent, they both – quite rightly – couldn’t care less what I think of them. Whatever I might think of their personalities, they still, ultimately put pen to paper, knuckled down, and have contributed to the game we all know and play and love.
That’s not nothing.
No, my lament today is much more of a personal nature, and it’s to do with a friend who has recently discovered DnD. In the real world, I’d be quite pleased for him. In fact, I’m happy to admit I started off quite pleased for him. This lad was someone I had directed in theatre a few years ago, and he falls into the overlap of gamer, actor and nerd much like myself – so it was only natural that he find a home in DnD. Today he made a post about how much he loved DnD and couldn’t wait until the next session – and I’m not afraid to admit – I was a little jealous. Here’s a man who can have a regular, face-to-face game with friends and enjoy everything about it, while I’m being mocked by C-grade friends and struggling to find ten minutes to teach my son the dice mechanics of the game. But they’re my problems, not his, and so I suggested that he watch some Critical Role to tide him over between games. His response? “Duh, how do you think I got into it?”
Well, no, actually, I know that’s not how you got into it. You posted that on Facebook as well, you muppet, and I know that a good friend introduced you into his game first – so revising your history for me doesn’t work. But I’m too introvert to call out that little untruth, so let’s move on. My next step was to celebrate CR with him and call out some of the early victories of Vox Machina (I’m only early into Campaign 1 myself!) but then I was curtly told: “You’re talking of Season 1. I started on Season 2.”
OK, fine, perhaps it would be quicker just to tell me to go fuck myself?
The thing is, this heightened sense of self-worth in DnD isn’t unusual. I find it on the Critical Role Discord Server (which I soon left), I find it among people in the forums and groups I visit, and I find it talking to people who get a regular face-to-face game with friends and pizza and beer.
Today while “playing” DnD with my kids, I have to admit, I got a little glimmer of joy in my heart when my wife said “I’ll play!” but as it turned out it was just a ruse to stir up my son. I appreciate the ruse, we stir him up like that all the time, but as it turned out it was just another extension of her active distaste for Dungeons and Dragons.
So, now people who play it are self-important, know-it-all, insular little types who are empowered by the likes of Haeck and Perkins in elevating their social status. (It’s a terrible analogy, but it is like watching a very bad extension of the Washington DC riots, whereby Trump inflames his base and then they take action against “someone” – in DnD this can be anyone, including others in their own playing group.)
People who don’t play it are still riding the old wave of “DnD is for Nerds”. Something to be hidden away or ashamed of. It’s almost like being more interested in geriatric pornography would be a more socially-acceptable pastime than DnD, and that’s saying something in the year 2021, when we’re all supposed to be a little more understanding and a little more tolerant – perhaps, that is, as long as we confirm to social ideals.
So, what’s the lesson here? Does DnD have a cultural problem (moreso than its recent redress of racial stereotypes)? Am I too soft-skinned? Is this a broader human failing being seen through the lends of DnD or – as I suspect – are humans just a little bit shit?
I love fantasy. I love the mechanics that DnD gives me to be able to play in that kind of fantasy world. I think, if anything, the strength of the game comes from my ability to enjoy it in spite of these flawed personalities – both big and little.
Though, I have to admit, I do wonder from time-to-time if the grass is greener over with those Pathfinder folks.