I get a lot of emails and comments where people ask me questions about how I handle X or Y in my games, with X or Y being some D&D mechanical distinctive like Armor Class or demihuman level limits. I sometimes feel bad for my correspondents, because I expect they were hoping I employed some clever and original house rules to "fix" this or that aspect of Dungeons & Dragons, when the reality is that, in 9 out of 10 cases, I generally use the rules as written. Certainly, I have my house rules and variant interpretations of ambiguities in the texts, but, as anyone who reads this blog ought to know, I actually run a fairly "orthodox" D&D game, most of my eccentricities manifesting in setting rather than rules design.
In thinking about this, I was reminded of experiences I had in my early days of gaming. Back then, there were basically two sorts of D&D players: those who played because they liked D&D, warts and all, and those who played because they felt as if they had to do so. I was -- and am -- firmly in the former camp. The latter group were the guys who were endlessly complaining about the absurdities of hit points, character classes, Vancian magic, and so on. They were always introducing "house rules" into their campaigns in order to correct what they perceived as D&D's flaws, often to the point of making the game unrecognizable.
Way back when, these guys used to bug the hell out of me. I simply couldn't figure out why they wanted to change D&D so radically. I realize now that the reason was quite simple: they didn't really want to play D&D at all. For whatever reason, the game simply didn't appeal to them, but, even though there were other games out there -- many of them, in fact -- it was often hard to find people who played Tunnels & Trolls or RuneQuest or The Fantasy Trip. I was pretty well connected to other gaming groups back in those days and I knew of the existence of all of these games and many more, but it was rare to find a group that was actually playing any of them. Then, as now, D&D was the proverbial 800-pound gorilla and, if you wanted to game and weren't willing to swim against the popular tide, you played D&D, even if you really didn't like it.
The funny thing is that I think this dynamic is still at work for a lot of people, even though there are now more RPGs available than ever before -- literally a game for every taste. In terms of what's available, there's simply no reason why anyone should feel forced to play D&D -- or any other game -- if their tastes, mechanically or thematically, aren't in synch with the game and its idiosyncrasies. Yet, if my emails are any indication, there still are a lot of folks who continue to "make do" with D&D, trying everything they can to twist it and bend and otherwise alter its basic form so that it's more agreeable to their own tastes.
Maybe that's why, when newer editions slaughter sacred cows long associated with the game, my reaction isn't "Finally!" but incomprehension. I've never really had trouble with most aspects of D&D. Even my much-discussed dislike of the thief and cleric classes is more philosophical than practical. In actual play, I've never had (much) difficulty with either class and wouldn't bat an eye if a new player came along and expressed a desire to play either (as Brother Candor of my Dwimmermount campaign shows). Armor class, hit points, Vancian magic, demihuman level limits, alignment -- none of these really bother me and never have. Sure, I nip around the edges of many of them, making little changes here and there to better suit the pulp fantasy style I prefer these days. But reject them outright? If I were going to do that, I'd play another game, since there are so many excellent ones available.
For whatever reason, I like Dungeons & Dragons pretty much as it was when I first entered the hobby. I guess I'm just easy to please.