Did D&D Ruin Roleplaying?

Editor’s Note: We apologize for the “clickbait”-style of title of this article. We know it is controversial, and may seem rather hyperbolic, but as you will see below, the title really is appropriate.

“Dungeons & Dragons” is a legendary roleplaying game, perhaps the one game truly responsible for the rest of the pen-&-paper roleplaying industry, as a whole. That said, D&D is not without flaws, nor issues that have corrupted much of the roleplaying genre for the last four decades. Today, I would like to point out how one little thing about D&D has effectively ruined much of the roleplaying genre.

Specifically, it is this: D&D has rules.

Seriously. That’s it.

You see, “Dungeons & Dragons” has effectively been the model for all roleplaying games that came after it, be they pen-&-paper, Live-Action, or video games. And with that, the various rules and conditions baked into D&D made their way in various forms into all of these later games, as one might expect.

But here’s the problem with this: Roleplaying doesn’t need rules. By applying structure and systems to a genre which beforehand had been simply “Cops & Robbers”-type imagination games, D&D effectively applied structure and constraints to the genre as a whole.

Structure that was neither necessary, nor needed.

I do get it, though. Rules make playing the game easier, especially for the Game-Master, who has to keep the story flowing, while keeping all of the players in line. Without rules, games can devolve into shouting matches, along the lines of “I SHOT YOU!”, “NO YOU DIDN’T!”, etc.

Oh, wait. No, that only applies to competitive games, such as the aforementioned “Cops & Robbers”. Cooperative roleplaying games like D&D don’t have this issue, so such arguments would be much less likely to occur. So why do we need rules again?

Seriously, think about it for a moment. Why do we need dice? Why do we need rules? Why do we need character sheets? All of these things are simply tools to help the GM keep the characters from attempting actions which are “beyond their abilities”, and perhaps (in the case of character sheets), to help players recall bits of information about their characters.

But why is this necessary?

Look, I have been a GM of various roleplaying games for literally decades, and while rules, charts, and the like can be useful to help form a cohesive game-world, they are far from necessary. All that really matters is imagination, and as long as you and your players have that, you’ll be fine.

“So what if your players attempt actions their characters shouldn’t be able to do?”

To that, I would simply answer “So what if they do?”

Seriously, who cares! If a player in a game without rules, dice, or any other restrictions, were to proclaim “I cast ‘Magic Missile’ at the darkness!”… while playing a character without magical abilities of any sort, I’d be fine with that. I’d just tell them that nothing happened. Why? Because the character they created upon starting the game can’t do that, or at least hasn’t learned how to, yet.

In short, it comes down to this: GMs quite often use the rules and restrictions of their game like a crutch. They rely on these restrictions to keep players “in line”, while also being able to say “it’s not me, the rules say you can’t do that!”… Which is why so many GMs get completely confused, should a good player use those rules to do things the GM didn’t expect, and completely blow said GMs story to Hell!

This is why I say D&D ruined Roleplaying games, because it has effectively created a genre that is entirely dependent upon rules and structure, when all that is really required is imagination, and perhaps a bit of acting ability. Because if most roleplaying games were free of rules and restrictions, players and GMs could focus more on the story at hand, rather than spending half an hour looking up obscure rules. And that doesn’t even discuss how Live-Action roleplaying games would be improved by removing rules and restrictions, aside from the GM’s rulings on contested actions, of course!

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