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Dungeons & Dragons Roleplaying Games

Level-Based Systems Emulate the Monomyth; Skill-Based Systems Create Worlds

A paradigmatic dissonance exists in the roleplaying game community regarding the most popular roleplaying game — Dungeons & Dragons. Consider the following quote from the blog Generic Universal Eggplant:

When you read a D&D book, your mind always concocts various situations, encounters, plotlines, or ways to weave something into the world. Then you realize that it’s all very gamified – as soon as you reach a certain level, hordes of orcs stop being a threat, taking on a dragon stops being an undertaking that requires careful planning and a lot of resources, various minor abilities become useless, and the world suddenly feels much less magical, evocative, and believable.

Enraged Eggplant. (February 23rd, 2022). Why Play D&D in GURPS? Generic Universal Eggplant [web]: https://enragedeggplant.blogspot.com/2022/02/why-play-d-in-gurps.html

The dissonance to which I refer exists between gamers who profess a preference for sandbox campaigns and the popularity of Dungeons & Dragons.

Dungeons & Dragons — which employs a system that defines characters by levels, as opposed to skills — does not provide a sandbox experience, however, and it doesn’t set out to. D&D emulates the monomyth, or hero’s journey. The system doesn’t create a world you live in, but a narrative you play out. Characters don’t go back and fight those “hordes of orcs” for the same reason Luke Skywalker didn’t go back to the cantina on Tatooine and use his force powers on Jawas — doing so would result in anticlimax, which would distract from the narrative.

Games such as GURPS, Mythras, or Traveller do, however, create worlds that are lived in. Nevertheless, if you want to emulate a hero’s journey in a game like GURPS or World of Darkness, the Game master will need to incorporate some railroad tracks — which, looking at the popularity of D&D — might not be such a terrible thing.


Featured Image: Photo by aisvri on Unsplash

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