Monday, November 23, 2009

When did we become "The Man?"

Something I noticed when I was flipping through recent D&D come our D&D characters are agents of "The Man" nowadays?

I don't have a complete collection of 4e adventures, so I can't claim to be comprehensive. But in nearly every adventure I flipped through, the PCs are either the agents of the authorities or they're acting congruent to those interests.

Where are the rebels? Where are the capers? Where are the heists?

Some of this is a natural consequence of the "Points of Light" proto-campaign. Back when we were designing it, we talked a lot about "dark points of light"--and yes, we were aware of how dumb that term sounds.

A "dark point of light" is a spot where local authority has coalesced, but it's tyrannical/pathological/evil/just-plain-mean authority. And the PCs need to go there and bust that shit up.

I don't see much evidence of PCs getting the chance to stick it to The Man in, what, a year and a half of adventures?!? So adventure writers, let's get on the case! We need to overthrow some dudes who are duly constituted authorities--but evil.

And we need some morally ambivalent stuff. Give me an Ocean's Eleven-style caper adventure where the quest isn't "Help The Man" so much as it's "Get...Paid..."

Set the wayback machine for the mid-'80s, and you'll an adventure landscape replete with plenty of "let's get rich!" adventures. Lots of moral ambivalence--why do you think there's a bank in the Keep on the Borderlands? So we can knock it over! And there's a fair amount of "stick it to the evil overlord" in there, too.

At some point, maybe we got too genteel. I don't know. But I'm tired of getting deputized by the proverbial sheriff to go and clear out a nest of bad guys. I shot the sheriff, all right? Maybe I did it just to rob the bank and burn the whole town down. Maybe the sheriff had it coming. But I'm tired of being the sheriff's monkey-boy, that's for sure.

Out of Context: Brains should be spelled with one "a." Or five.
Music: Jeff Buckley, Grace


  1. I'm pretty sure the typical "Let's go into the dungeon" scenario involves "Getting Rich". After all, unless there are badguys the plot requires destroying in that dungeon, then the PCs are going into that dungeon for the purposes of loot, or to explore it.

    I too would like to see some capers and heists. Although that usually takes a group who's a bit more social, involved in planning, etc. For your 'kick in the door' types, not so much.

    Although there was this early 3e adventure, "Three Days to Kill", where the PCs' are hired to just break up a meeting between two organizations. They could use as much force as they wanted, but their job was to just make sure the meeting went south.

    Aside from morally gray heists, et al, I would like to see some RULING adventures. Where the PCs declare themselves sheriff in a lawless or otherwise tyrannical place, go in, and take that thing over! They take charge! THey run the show! They deal with upstarts! I'd like my PCs to become The Man, not because some Bigger Man deputizes them, but because they have the gumption to carve out a good place in the world and make it work.

  2. Oh, Dave. I sure miss this kind of awesome! Just found your blog the other day, and, as you were the guy who got me interested in Podcasting, I was really happy to see that you hadn't fallen off the planet! Good to see you!

    But, on the off chance that you still like Podcasting, you should check out my new Podcast on 4E, The Power Source, over on iTunes (or the website at ). If you like it, I know for a fact that Scott and I would love to have you on the show sometime.

    Yes, I know how dorky I sound. The offer stands. Either way, you're awesome, Dave. Good to hear your opinions again!

    Host of The Power Source

  3. This was awesome. I so love DMing when the party has to hide from the authorities. Especially when the authorities are in the wrong but doing what they think is good and morally justified right thing.

    Muahaha... Nice article. I really enjoyed the reminder.

  4. Maybe we are so grounded by hegemony in our "real lives" that our first response in creating a D&D story is to recreate that hegemony and not fight against it. It is easy to create stories where the PCs are agents for a more powerful or legitimated authority whose interests are communicated to the PCs as their own. The PCs are not coerced to pursue the interests of the dominant bloc, they consent to do so! Perhaps, more than simply enjoyment, D&D can also provide an avenue for us to examine the level of our own consent and the degree in which we are subject to hegemonic forces, the same forces that perceive see us as the vehicles in gaining the power they so readily employ.

  5. My own view on this, and the 4e alignment scale's form in general, is that there's an ingrained belief in D&D's current ruling class that law vs. chaos is -- rightfully, to their minds -- just a lesser form of good vs. evil. Lawful Good is real good, while (Chaotic) Good is just kinda-sorta-good. So, if you really wanna play proper good guys, you're playing Lawful Good characters in Lawful Good-oriented adventures. The Chaotic market isn't going to pay you half the time anyway, so who cares about them, right? -- Pteryx