Oh, I suppose I could invoke differing schools of thought on how this sort of thing is done. I could call one an “old school” approach and another the “new school” way. The latter would still be taken as derogatory. The former would provoke testimonials from people claiming to have played the “new” way in 1978. Besides, after watching an “old school revival” transition from a celebration of unearthed arcana to being about making new things inspired by old stuff to simply being about making new things, well… what’s the use?
No need to mince words anymore. No need for a shell game. No need to try to soften the blow. Might as well just come right out and say it: the people pictured in this comic are playing wrong.
And I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, hey… if they’re all having fun, then it’s clearly working for them. What’s the big deal? Well let me tell you. You might do all manner of boneheaded things and have a good time, that doesn’t make it right. Just because something seems to work doesn’t say anything about whether it’s right or wrong.
I mean look at ’em. These people are ostensibly playing a fantasy role-playing game, right? And what is the most distinctive thing about this particular genre of game? Well, the main thing about it is that you can do anything you can imagine. You aren’t limited by anything on your character sheet. You aren’t limited by what’s in the rule book or even by what’s in the adventure module. Anything can happen. And it does. That’s the beauty of these things.
Granted, the dice do play into this. You might say that there’s something almost oracular about them. But the players bring something to the table as well. Or at least, they used to. Certainly at my table I would never think of letting a player substitute rolling a die in place of giving a verbal description of what they were trying to do. I mean… why?
And before you say it, I get that the comic may be simplified in order to deliver the joke. But I have seen people that play as they are depicted as they’re doing there. And I’ve had people from those sorts of games come to my table. They have no idea what to do when they don’t have a pile of skill targets to pick from, “Choose Your Own Adventure” style.
What’s going on with this…? Well, you have this whole body of gaming matter that was once marketed with the catchphrase “Products of Your Imagination.” You have a generation of people where, as Lewis Pulsipher puts it, “everything in their lives [was] served to them on a plate, no imagination required.” Put those two things together and what do you get? A guy that can’t even come up with a description of his character’s insult to an orc.
So yeah. There’s all kinds of ways to do these games. There are many differing approaches and schools of thought. There are all kinds of styles and subgenres and scenarios. Everyone should feel free to go out and find one that best suits their table, that goes without saying.
The people depicted in this comic, though…? They’re playing it wrong.