Why I Don’t Like Playing Dungeons And Dragons Any More (But Love Other RPGs)

I recently joined a Discord devoted to homebrew RPG mechanics, and I realize the more people talk about hacking D&D, the less interest I have in playing D&D ever again. And here’s why:

1) I Know All The Stereotypes.
Part of the appeal for new players is what makes me weary – I’ve seen the bearded dwarf, the archer elf, the whacky kender a billion times, and my thirst for novelty makes it hard to get excited about playing with the pixie faerie rogue who steals everything that’s nailed down again.

Which isn’t to say that you can’t play unique characters in D&D – folks certainly have! But the class-and-race structure of D&D draws people towards certain well-worn archetypes, and while it’s certainly possible to play a half-orc paladin struggling against his inner bloodlust, in practice most groups are gonna have another Drizzt Do’Urden clone shuffling up to the table just because unless everyone’s committed to wild novelty, the game encourages players to trod down those dusty roads.

There’s nothing wrong with it if you enjoy that! But for me, I’ve played so many sessions with the furious barbarian that those sessions feel like reruns.

2) D&D’s Broken After About 8th Level.
Because D&D has precisely one form of common damage, the hit point, at some point higher levels degenerate into “Save or die” scenarios where the amount of damage has to be threatening, but will absolutely kill the squishier characters. So the game becomes filled with literal GM dodges where they struggle to keep characters alive.

D&D has a serious sweet spot issue, where playing PCs of around 3rd-8th level are the most satisfying, and after that they either die or they run into D&D’s other issue…

3) D&D Is A Ramp To Godhood.
It’s not like other systems (and videogames!) don’t do this too, but D&D is so based on “You fight, you get stronger” that you encounter pushback if you give the hero a permanent injury or take away a magic item without giving them a better one.

I like games that have consequences to bad decisions, and they’re hard to engineer in D&D without player resistance – there’s great stories like Jaime Lannister losing his hand and having to find some other way to be relevant.

But in D&D, unless you’re constantly levelling you’re dying – and while, again, you can tell those stories if you’ve got a committed band of players who are genuinely protective of their NPCs, in most cases the mechanics and the player expectations make it feel like punishment.

And to repeat: Nothing wrong with a good ol’ slog towards 20th level. But I like to think about character level, and it’s hard to engineer serious setbacks when any mechanical setbacks are against the system’s grain.

4) Combat Is Character-Free.
We’re playing a Blades in the Dark campaign, and the fighting is always character-based because of the way the system (and our excellent DM Jim) keeps throwing specific drawbacks at us – one character fighting the impending insurrection of his troops, another character’s wasting away due to his usage of magic.

And in D&D, it always seems like character should matter… but then the swords come out, and the system encourages people to turn into these statistics-based machines of death. It’s very much about accounting, position, the right bonuses, the right spells – and there’s so much of that that it often overwhelms the heroism moments.

And for the third time, again, sure, a group can battle past that to concentrate on the emotions! But a friend of mine likened it to a car that pulled hard to one side; he could never take his hand off the wheel and enjoy the ride if he wanted to encourage the kids he was DMing for to do any sort of narrative gaming.

D&D’s not bad; I’m glad it has a place in the industry. But while any TTRPG can be a place for high emotion, depending on the players (hell, there’s probably a heartbreakingly epic saga told in TOON somewhere), D&D’s mechanics – and, more importantly, what most people expect when they start a D&D game – tend to create an environment I’m not all that into.

If you’re into it, swell! But I’ve got the Dungeon World-style bug, the Unknown Armies itch, that Delta Green dependency. And so I leave you to your enjoyment…

And if you’re not enjoying it, well, maybe think about jumping ship to those other games?

My Board Of Happiness ™ Awaits Your Contribution!

1) My Board of Happiness ™ is evolving as people have sent me little pins and I’ve purchased my own decorations. If you’d like to contribute to my Board of Happiness ™, just email me.

The Board Of Happiness!

2) I have a new essay up on Tor.com asking the question, “Is there such a thing as a necessary prequel?” I’m quite proud of the way this article takes cheap shots at Tom Bombadil’s slam poetry, so go check it out.

3) I mentioned it before in a status update, but my new podcast …And We Will Plunder Their Prose is now listed on Apple podcasts like many of you asked. This will be coming out every other week, so the next one won’t be until next Wednesday, but it’s listed in more places!

I Am, Regrettably, Declining To Debate You: Here’s Why.

You are a stranger who’s shown up in my comments, desiring a debate on the topic I just opined upon. “I am a logical human,” you tell me. “Swayed only by facts! So marshal your best facts, and you can convince me I’m wrong!”

While a kind offer, dear sir, I’m afraid I shan’t. And here’s the reasons why:

1) You’re Presuming It’s Worth My Time To Convince You.
I don’t know you. And maybe the same arguments I could use to convince you would be the same arguments that bring Ted Cruz to his knees, weeping, realizing that everything he thought is wrong.

But probably not.

And honestly, saying I need to convince you attaches a kind of importance to yourself, doesn’t it? Like you’re the gold standard, and if I convince you then vast riches will follow. Unfortunately, a lot of white cisdudes carry this attitude – “I am the only person truly worth debating, and unless you engage me – me personally then your argument is worthless.”

Dude, you’re just some schmuck on the Internet. Same as me. Maybe if you had a Joe Rogan-sized audience or something I might think “Well, here’s a valuable investment,” but is worth taking an hour out of my busy day to try to win you over?

Especially when I don’t know you. I mean, you say you’re logical, but every flat-Earther-and-lizard-rulers claims that. Based on past experience – because I’ve debated thousands of folks before – there’s like an 80% chance that anyone who comes saying “You must win me over!” is so thoroughly in the other camp that there’s no possible reconciliation.

And 80% is generous.

So yeah, you’ve started out by inflating your own self-importance. But to me, you’re an investment – If I spend my time engaging with this person, is that expenditure going to pay off?

Already, based on assumptions? Probably not. That’s not a ding on you, or anyone who does choose to invest, but I’ve got books to write, a podcast to produce, and partners I could be texting.

You’re kind of a distraction.

2) Engaging You In Public May Lend Your Stupid Argument My Credence.
Someone comes to you and says, “Milk is actually just chalk urine. Because chalk is alive, and it pees milk.”

Do you:
a) Spend hours refuting this argument, or:
b) Have a laugh and move on?

Probably b. Because some arguments are so patently false that it’s easy to walk past ’em.

Ah, but what if the person is from the Chalk Is Alive movement, a group that’s posted hundreds of books and webpages refuting the idea that milk comes from – of all creatures – cows? Why, here’s a hundred links pointing to prominent celebrities confusing cows and bulls, obviously nobody would make that mistake if cows were real, SEE THE COWSPIRACY

Should you engage then?

I’d argue not, for three very important reasons:
a) No matter how much you argue, milk comes from cows. (Or, okay, mammals.)
b) A person this deep in the bag isn’t gonna be convinced they’re wrong.
c) Giving air time to this jamook’s views in your comment thread by treating this ludicrous proposition like it’s worth debating convinces some aspect of your audience that there’s a legitimate debate to be had, thus encouraging people to join the Chalk Urine movement.

I’ve discussed this before in my essay A Reminder: You Don’t Have To Propagate Right-Wing Talking Points… but there’s this weird idea that “the marketplace of ideas” will somehow expunge all untruths, when the actual truth is that the Internet has allowed for perhaps the greatest expansion of free speech in the history of humanity, where anyone can have a platform that rivals the greatest of newspapers…

And what we’ve gotten is one of the greatest swirls of mis- and disinformation ever, peppered with the same old depressingly anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.

If “free speech” was the solution, it would be solved.

It ain’t. Therefore, giving your skewed views time or credence by debate may be just rallying newbies to the cause.

Is that the case with all viewpoints? Of course not. Some concerns are legitimate. Some folks are worth engaging with, because they do have actual concerns that can be assuaged with data. But that brings me to point #3….

3) Data Isn’t Neutral.
The people who cram twenty links into a five-paragraph comment believe they’re the easiest to convince – but in my (anecdotal) experience, every time these folks are not so much “using the data to derive their opinion” but “justifying their emotions by seeking out correlation.”

We can get into a link war, where I muster fifty links from my well-placed sources and you muster fifty-one links from your bullshit ones, and at the end of the day, well….

We get back to “Is this a good use of my time?”

Because the problem is that it’s hard to tell good bullshit from actual sources these days. I believe firmly in wearing masks, but I’ve had some anti-maskers post reputable links from what looked like good sites and actual data, until physician friends of mine explained to me why those studies were bad.

Fact is, if you have an opinion – any opinion – you can find a thousand links to back it up, even if it’s terrible. And if you’re looking to have your opinion changed, I don’t think data’s the way that it happens for most people.

I think most people devise their gut first and then find data to support it.

And again, I don’t know you. Maybe you’re a special snowflake. But let’s get to point #4….

4) Will This Be A Debate?
I define a “debate” as “a place where both participants have a chance of having their minds changed.” I take care to delineate where I can have a debate (economic policies, effective methods of policing, best Pixar movie) and where I can’t (who gets to use the bathroom, whether cops should measure threats based on how scared they are, best Star Wars movie).

(A New Hope. I have classic Star Wars tattoos. You’re not gonna convince me otherwise, but you be happy in your fandom.)

But to too many others, “debate” means “we clash to show off who’s smartest,” and fuck that. I want the truth when I debate. And I’m smart enough and good enough with words to know how to deflect people away from your weak logic, how to put a shine on turdy ideas, how to structure a story so you’re sympathizing with the people I need you to.

That’s fine technique for winning an audience over, but… I actually want the truth, not to win.

Again, I don’t know you. Maybe you think the same way? But probably not. Especially not if you’re basically flinging the glove down to demand a duel.

So you’re not the person I’m debating. And I’m sorry. I know you thought it was important to talk to you personally. But in the end, you’re an investment, and I’m the banker saying I don’t see a profit here.

There’s people who are probably willing, though. Maybe you can find someone! Or maybe you can educate yourself.

If you were ever willing to admit you might be wrong in the first place. But there’s a good chance I’m not because I’ve sifted through enough evidence that I’m reasonably certain that milk comes from cows, which, again, is a good reason for me to decline.

Sorry. It’s not me, it’s you.

I’ve Started A New Podcast! And A New Newsletter! And… Oh, Please, Just Check It Out.

So as part of my 2021 New Year’s Resolutions, I decided I would get good at art that I sucked at. And what have I wanted to do for years?

I’ve wanted to podcast. About books I loved. More specifically, about extracting the writing techniques that made those books so damn lovable.

Now, I wrote at length today in my new Substack newsletter about my terror of being bad at art in public, in an essay I called “The Dreadful Necessity Of Imperfection.” And if you feel like looking at that essay, well, it’s there.

The post today here is that the podcast I have is called “…And We Will Plunder Their Prose,” which is 12 minutes of me detailing why Stephen Graham Jones’ “The Only Good Indians” is such an effective horror novel. And I’ll be posting a new episode every two weeks; I already have three more in the hopper, waiting to go.

So. If you like what I do and want to follow me elsewhere, I’ve got three new things for you to check out!

If you feel like giving feedback on anything (or specifically the podcast), I welcome it – but don’t do it here. I’m still a little tender, so comments with feedback will be deleted. Instead, email me at theferrett@theferrett.com with what you think I could have done better, and I’ll read ’em when I’m in Big Strong Critique-Man Artist headspace… which is not now.

Today, I’m just vowing to start sucking more in public – taking more chances, putting art that’s as good as I can make it into the world, knowing that I have so much to learn. But to quote Jake in the wisest thing Adventure Time ever said, “Sucking at something is the first step to being sorta good at something.”

And also, my favorite thing Ira Glass ever said:

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”


I have new art.

Take a look if you want.

How Many Coping Mechanisms Have YOU Built During The Pandemic?

“I had another breakdown,” I say, shamefaced.

My therapist, as always, keeps her face neutral. “Okay. What’s bothering you about that?”

“The ‘another’ part.”

“So you feel like you should have only had the one.”

“I feel like I should be stronger. That I should be resilient enough to cope without having shrieking meltdown days.”

“You are strong,” she says. “Really, really strong. But you get that this is a pandemic, right?”

I stammer for a bit. “Sure, but that can’t – “

“I’ve watched you,” she says, her tone low and reassuring. “You got thrown into a situation where the people you loved were in danger of dying, where you couldn’t hug your friends and partners, where all the ways you blew off steam were forbidden to you.

“And you did it,” she continues. “You developed new coping mechanisms. They weren’t perfect replacements, because you were being asked to suffer under a lot of changes, but… you managed.”

“Okay, but then – “

“But then the world changed more – which wasn’t unusual. You had your mother get sick and your daughter move in with you; I had to find a new apartment in the middle of a raging epidemic. Life didn’t stop happening in the middle of all this change, dumping more pressure down upon you. You had coping mechanisms you’d patched into place with little more than duct tape, a couple of spare parts, and pure determination – and then something else went wrong.”

“Okay, but – “

“Then the stress of elections and insurrections, and the winter where you couldn’t even see your buddies outside because it was too cold, and that transition from ‘it’s been a while since I’ve hugged the people I love’ to ‘it’s coming up on a year and there’s no clear end in sight,’ and you know what?”


“You’ve developed a new coping mechanism every two or three months, minimum. You’ve done fabulous. But this pandemic is asking a lot of you, and you’ve been slapdashing repair after repair to make up for a broken world, and it’s time to realize that you crashing from time to time is not a weakness but a sign that nobody – especially you – was engineered to live in a plague.”

It’s then that I realize: I’m hyperventilating. “But some people are coping well – “

“Some people – a lot of people – are coping by going into denial, which is only making it worse. They’re not coping well, they’re coping by distributing their risk among other innocent people. You’re looking your risks square in the face and being compassionate in terms of what you’re willing to give up to avoid endangering other people – and, yes, that empathy comes with a cost.

“You had a bad weekend. I’m not minimizing that. But part of why you had a bad weekend stems from being responsible in the face of immense personal cost, and you’ve been rebuilding yourself repeatedly as your country keeps ignoring the risks, and rather than thinking of yourself as weak I might suggest it’s time to think of yourself as someone who is repeatedly rebuilding their coping mechanisms so rapidly that it’d be more unusual if you didn’t have a couple of bad weekends along the way.”

I sit in silence for a long time.

Then: “Thank you.”

Her: “I’ve been telling people that a lot recently.”

(As usual with me reconstructing therapy sessions, this isn’t the exact conversation, it’s been restructured for dramatic clarity, but the takeaway is pretty much the same.)