Monday, February 24, 2020

Should D&D be Competitive?

(The article below discusses Tournament D&D, if you are unfamiliar with that concept, please click here for an explanation.)

              Something happened last week in my local area there was a 5e D&D tournament. I know this was a popular event in the D&D in the 70s and especially the 80s, but as far as I know seemed to start to die out with the introduction of 2nd edition. I joined the hobby right as 2nd Edition came out and was quite young so I was never able to attend any of these events in their heyday, but in reading and listing to interviews with some of D&D founding members, it was not only popular, but highly profitable. It seems weird that something that was this profitable (according to interviews) would not have continued with D&D in a bigger fashion or at least be picked up by someone else, unless the culture had changed dramatically. I know that there are still many versions of “organized play” i.e. Adventurers League, Pathfinder Society, etc, but I believe people would not classify those as competitive. I also know that tournaments still happen at major events, but from what I can gather, they are not nearly as popular. 

                I use to go to DragonCon every year before my son was born. I was there 1999 thru 2012, and there was an event that I played in a few times called “Cheese Grinder”. It appears that they are still running these up to today, but the goal was to live the longest in a series of death trap style rooms. You make the “cheesiest” character within the guidelines and try to not die. If you die you are immediately replaced by another person. I think it was $1-3 per character, and you waited in a bull pen for your turn. It was competitive D&D in a sense, because you were only out for yourself. These events were a lot of fun, I wouldn’t exactly call it a tournament, but it had some of the same elements that a tournament might have.

Responsible for tournaments in the past.

With the Old-School Revival being gaining a lot of traction, and 5e being super popular in the past few years it seems that these type of events might start gaining traction too. If it is though, I am unaware of it. It also seems that with the advent of computers and the technological revolution it would be easier to organize and get something like this running. Would people play in it though? Here is the kicker from the story above about the D&D tournament that was local here in town, it was a ghost town. There are several possible reasons, the store hosting is very new and this was an attempt to get people in the door. The city I am in has about 5 solid gaming stores with D&D Adventurers League running 5-10 tables per event, so players in the area is not an issue. I also run a D&D club at my local college with about 30 members, I offered to run a tournament at a games day we were having, and I received no interest in the idea at all. Competitive D&D was not accepted by newer generations in my group.

From Designers & Dragons, shows that AD&D was being developed for the tournament scene.

Could one of the Old School Publishers like Goodman, Necrotic Gnome, Goblinoid Press, or Frog God Games step up and organize these tournaments on a semi-regular basis? I know that they are often extremely small companies, but I believe they could get a lot of help from volunteers in the community. Or has the culture of D&D shifted over the years and the tournament scene could never get to the place it was before? The people that play D&D now are not into the idea of being competitive, and only want to play a co-operative experience. Could WotC create a new competitive scene with 5e D&D and promote it within the community? With Twitch and YouTube taking off it seems like you could find a possible wider audience for tournaments with D&D. ESports and D&D are popular on those mediums so maybe the tournament scene could flourish?

Sweep the character sheet, do you have a problem with that?

This brings us to the overall question, should D&D ever be played competitively? D&D has its roots in wargaming, and wargamers have tournaments all the time. Have role-playing games separated themselves so far from the roots that tournaments are no longer a viable option? I find it to be an interesting question. Have any thoughts on the matter? Post below with your opinions.

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  1. As part of a slightly younger generation than you, who has been playing almost weekly for 3 years. I have this to say, sure competition is fun, but there are so many good competitive games these days, with huge esport events and tournaments all over the world, so I don't think we need dnd to be competitive, we need it to be something else than all the popular competitive games, we need it to be a gathering of friends. We need it to be a safe place where fun stories get made, and honestly I think dnd in general is really poorly designed to pit players against players, as a dm I've pitted my players against each other several times for different reasons, and the different classes are not designed for it, when fighting a dragon everyone can contribute in some way, but pit the players against each other and it's usually the one with highest initiative who wins, and if it's two different tables competing it won't be balanced either cause no two dms are the same. So yes competition is fun, but there are so many alternatives to competitive gaming that dnd needs to be an exception instead.

  2. Usually competitions were team based though. There wasn't direct competition. More like figure skating, seeing who runs the dungeon the best for the most amount of points. Not head to head.

  3. Unfortunately with people always looking for hints on how to make the most powerful character builds in the various forums, including on Facebook, most seem to make it a competitive game. They work to find the best, most powerful, character to "win" the game. It is ok, if that is their groups style of play, but it isn't really cooperative play, they are trying to "beat" the DM. I have even seen references in some of these posts to DPS, which is a direct hold over from MMORPGs...

    1. That doesn't mean the tournament scene would be bad per se.

  4. We used to run competitive tournaments of AD&D (with prizes). Players generally entered as teams to play in two adventures over the weekend, each two hours in length. Points were given for both mission objectives and role-play and the winner was the one with the most points. Although most teams entered for the challenge and the fun, rather than to win a prize. The war stories at the prize-giving where "entertaining" solutions to the various problems were revealed was quite popular (especially since everyone had shared the same experience).

    It actually managed to draw a surprising number of groups out of the woodwork. There were a large body of gamers that just played with friends and were not very vocal or connected with "the hobby." They just liked to play the game with their friends.

    It was lots of fun. I enjoyed creating competition modules and gamematering lots of people with different play styles. Also the playtest sessions where the gamemasters got to play the sessions were fun since there was a lot of years of play experience at the table.