Sunday, March 4, 2018

The Corniness Threshold of High vs. Low Fantasy

I've come to the conclusion that my problems with or distaste for newer versions of D&D may be less about mechanics or rules and more about the fluff. I still have issues with the mechanics, but they're just different ways of arbitrating success or failure. What really turns me off anything 3e and up is I find the inherent high fantasy setting of modern D&D really corny.

There's way too much magic, too many superpowers, and an endless smorgasbord of player character options of classes and races of increasing silliness. The artwork matches this themepark/kitchen-sink setting where the weird and unusual - the truly magical - becomes mundane. It all crosses a threshold of credulity for me. Sure, I realize I'm complaining about my fantasy RPG having too much fantasy in it, but we all have a line where too much is too much.

All of these player options and powers in current 5e D&D are very popular - many feel the more, the better. At the same time, I doubt those players psyched to play a Tortle Monk in the style of Kung Fu Panda's Master Oogway would think playing something like a walking Lollipop Accountant to be just dumb. Everyone has their threshold.

I sometimes find myself watching 5e YouTuber character-build videos for a laugh, watching people talk seriously about playing something like a Dragonborn Paladin Warlock. To me, this is not any less corny than playing the aforementioned Lollipop Accountant, or an Arcane Barcalounger (see above). I don't really want to turn this into a rant of Bad-Wrong-Fun. If playing a Half-Dragonfruit Druid of the Lost Circle K is where it's at for you, go for it.

I've spent a lot of time recently trying to determine where this threshold lies for me. This is something I've always struggled with. Back when I played AD&D in the 80s, I was never particularly fond of Gnomes, and Half-Orc PCs were just right out. I've always been okay with the four standard Tolkien races (human, elf, dwarf, halfling), though lately I've even questioned these. Humanocentric games/campaigns have begun to appeal to me more, but I don't know that I'm absolutely done with demi-humans yet. I've been buying a lot of sword & sorcery-style games like Low Fantasy Gaming, Barbarians & Basilisks, and Crypts & Things. While these are all very cool, there is a definite jockish vibe about them and a real slavish worship of Howard's Conan. I'm sure from simulationist wargamer perspective, my preferred milieu is just as cartoony as I think 4e was, because perhaps it doesn't have enough historical, fact-based realism behind it.

Finding other players who have similar tastes and attitudes about how much fantasy is the right amount can be just as important as finding people who like the same systems or mechanics. We're all a little goofy in our preferences and we all take ourselves and our elf games a little too seriously from time to time.

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