Friday, January 10, 2014

Toyetic Fantasy

Taking some time away from Dungeons & Dragons has given me a little perspective on why I'm attracted to the game, even though I never stay for very long. For some reason, I'm drawn to the idea of basing a D&D campaign around old, obscure gaming ephemera. My recently abandoned Demon Verge campaign, which was based on a cheap wargame from the 1980s, is a perfect example, but there are others. (Earlier today, I toyed with the idea of a series of adventures based on DFC Toys' D&D-inspired plastic figure playsets.)

At one point, I obsessively collected everything I could find for The New, Easy to Master Dungeons & Dragons game, a version of "basic" D&D from the early 90s that featured big, modular, boardgame or playset-style "adventure packs", to the point of purchasing a bunch of shrinkwrapped material from Monte Cook on Ebay. (I also picked up the Thunder Rift series of modules, which were intended for use with the same version of the game.) The setting and the adventures were nothing particularly interesting, presumably since they were meant solely as introductions to the game. For some reason, that modularity and glossy packaging lured me in and made me want to use them -- even though I never did. (In fact, I eventually sold it all off.)

It's a pattern that I've repeated often with D&D. When 4th Edition launched, I dutifully purchased the first year or so's worth of products, with the intention of running the adventure scenarios as-is, in the suggested order. (Again, it didn't work out quite that way.) I've also caught myself wondering what sort of product line the next edition of D&D will launch with; even considering running a low-prep, out-of-the-box game despite my repeated past failures to do exactly that. It's almost like what I want from D&D is a straightforward, programmed, toy-like setup. This is kind of bizarre, because that's not what I want from roleplaying in general.

Either I'm more attached to the toy-like trappings of D&D as a product than I am to running it as an RPG, or I'm a lazy DM. Or both.


  1. I feel your pain. For years, deep in my heart I've wanted to run games base on G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero and Thundarr the Barbarian. Do you think it's nostalgia thats driving those desires? I know the idea of a D&D game based off the toys (or cartoon) resonate deeply with me. At the same time, much of my inspiration comes from saturday morning cartoons and toys, since I was a late bloomer when it came to reading. Warduke is more primal in my fantasy than Gandalf.

    1. I've been a reader since a very young age, but always preferred nonfiction and comic books. My feelings on the material you mention are similar to yours. I think nostalgia is certainly part of it. Maybe my affection for a more "cartoonish" approach partially explains why a lot of things that drive people nuts about Rifts don't particularly bother me.

  2. Holy crap, I recognize that box!

    The first dungeons I ever DMed were from an expansion for that set called the Dragon's Den. My grandmother found it at a yard sale, and I was never able to find anything else like it. I think I still have it somewhere, although one of the fold-out maps is missing.

    While I can't say the dungeons were terribly inspired (although they were fine for ten-year-old me), the mass-produced cardboard monster stand-ups from those sets are *incredibly* useful. I used them as makeshift minis for years even after running the game scenarios dry and TPKing that first party. I've been thinking about printing something like them out to use in my own games.