With the announcement of D&D Next, many gaming groups are likely now in the process of forming an exit strategy for their 4th Edition campaigns. It is first worth noting that most D&D campaign do not reach a conclusion. Even DM Extraordinaire, Chris Perkins, recently commented, “A D&D campaign is like a television series; statistically, the odds are high it’ll get cancelled before its time. The first ten years I spent playing D&D, I never completed a single campaign, either as a player or as a DM. My experience up to that point taught me that campaigns only ended when the characters died or when the next campaign began.” This is not a unique phenomenon as veteran DM, Randall Walker from This Is My Game explained, “I’ve been DMing for about 15 years (although I’ve been playing the game for 30 years now) . . . as a DM, I have not had a campaign reach a finishing state.” Campaign conclusions are difficult for gaming groups, and an enormous challenge for DMs.
I humbly request for you to clear your mind and consider the challenges of successfully ending a campaign.
Imagine you are a DM of a campaign that has played out over the course of multiple years. During that time, the DM has introduced his or her players to a variety of railroad and sandbox game experiences with a wide array of characters, storylines and plot points. The DM has managed content to accommodate individual player interests, which have taken shape over the course of the campaign and continue to change to the present day. Also consider the gaming group has not been composed of the same players throughout the life of the campaign; some players have been in the gaming group since Level 1. But other players in the group have only joined recently, and thus their knowledge of the campaign setting and associated characters, storylines and plot points are not the same as those who have been in the group since Level 1. In addition, players who participated in the campaign at Level 1 may no longer be included in the group because they no longer had time to participate and had to leave for other duties. Each time a player leaves the group, a part of the shared experience is lost for everyone since the entire campaign is formed through a collaborative process between the DM and players.
In terms of successfully ending a campaign, the DM faces many obstacles to bring closure to the events in a manner that is acceptable to everyone remaining in the group. Imagine how this DM must feel with the responsibility of concluding a campaign on his or her shoulders. The DM must consider the preferences of each player left in the gaming group, who have all had a very individualized experience during the entire campaign. How does a DM find a way to unite a diverse set of characters, storylines and plot points with players who have experienced those factors in different ways or not at all? Picture that DM as they sit at a desk attempting to develop a clean conclusion to their campaign. Can you see the DM wrestling with the task?
Now imagine the DM is Bioware and the campaign is Mass Effect.
Earlier this month, a spotlight was shone on the save or die game mechanic by members of the development team for Dungeons & Dragons Next. The vast majority of my experience with D&D is through 4th Edition, which is built with less lethality as the default option compared to earlier editions. For example, our group played a BASIC D&D game last year and the character I played died while I was away from the table during a 90-second roundtrip to use the bathroom. I left the table while the character had full health only to return to a corpse riddled by zombie teeth and claw marks. The lethality of the game has certainly shifted over time, and the developers of D&D Next are now seeking input about the utility of the most lethal aspect of D&D – save or die effects.
As a relative newcomer to D&D and tabletop roleplaying games, I find the save or die mechanic fascinating for all that it means for the game and those playing it. I have been playing computer- and console-based RPGs and other videogames since Atari and I cannot think of an equivalent mechanic to save or die. I have never played World of Warcraft or similar games, but I have learned if a character dies, his or her progress is not lost forever. The player – and character – continue to adventure another day. Even thinking about punishing games like the original Ninja Gaiden on the Nintendo Entertainment System, which resulted in a multitude of deaths, they still featured the same protagonist after the character died. No matter how many times the player was punctured by throwing stars or knocked out of the sky by birds, the player still continued Ryu’s journey set forth by his father.
Ignoring Raise Dead and other options, D&D is one of the few games I’ve played where character death is FINAL. Save or die effects add an element of chance to the finality; saving throws in 4th Edition, not factoring in any relevant modifiers, will fail 45% of the time. In earlier editions, the fail rate was less favorable to the player. Fail a save, and the adventure was immediately over for that character forever. This strikes me as an odd way to manage a roleplaying game in terms of fostering a level of attachment and emotional investment from a player.
I have been an observer of numerous discussions about sexism in gaming in recent months. My plan was to write a post about the subject, but I could not decide on a specific theme for an article. I did not want to be just another male writing about the topic, but I though it would be interesting to have an in-depth discussion about sexism and the gaming culture with a person quite knowledgeable and passionate about the topic. Thankfully, Anna Kreider of Go Make Me A Sandwich agreed to spend time discussing a variety of topics related to sexism and the greater geek culture.
I first became aware of Go Make Me A Sandwich after listening to a DM Roundtable Podcast. I visited the site and was impressed with the content. Anna has supported her assertions that the gaming culture is sexist with analysis and often hilarious comparisons of how male and female characters are dressed and portrayed in games. During the past month, we had an extended conversation about sexism in the gaming culture. Specifically, I inquired about the individual gamer’s responsibility in changing the culture and how Anna continues to enjoy sexist games and continue with her blog in the face of great resistance from sects of the gaming community. We also discuss sexism in other realms of geek culture and how some games move closer and closer to a form of pornography. I believe the two of us were quite honest throughout the discussion, and encourage readers to pay close attention to the segment on cognitive dissonance, which is a subject I will return to in future posts.
Please enjoy the interview with Anna Kreider; I realize this is a topic people feel strongly about and I encourage you to keep your Comments and questions respectful.
Thank you for agreeing to meet with me. Could you please introduce yourself, and talk about how you first became interested in gaming?
Hi, there. The canned introduction I usually give goes something like: My name is Anna, though online I mostly go by Wundergeek. I write a feminist gaming blog called Go Make Me a Sandwich, in which I explore issues of sexism in gaming. In addition to being a cranky feminist blogger, I am an artist, photographer, and somewhat half-assed writer living in the wilds of Canada with a wonderful spouse and two slightly broken cats.
I’ve been playing video and board games pretty much my entire life, but I didn’t start roleplaying until my then-fiance (now husband) introduced me to gaming and got me started. Sadly, our tabletop group has long since fallen apart, but I still do LARP. So I guess I don’t completely fit the stereotype of the woman who didn’t start gaming until her significant other introduced her to it, but I think it’s fair to say that my husband definitely made me nerdier. (Not a bad thing.)