If I Ruled the (D&D) World

Over at storygames, folks are talking about a fun hypothetical:

Someone hands you “Dungeons & Dragons: The Game” to do a re-release. What would you do with it?

Here’s my answer!

All my versions of D&D will be full of lists, illustrations, tables, and long, dry descriptions of nonexistent worlds written in an invented language

I would stop mass-producing D&D anything. I would spend the same amount of money on having artisans hand-craft books, each of which was inscribed in a scriptorium with a different version of the D&D text (put together by a Manhattan Project of designers and lunatics, like in Watchmen). I’d geocache these in locations around the world which would require serious adventuring skills to reach, and would take considerable pains to do this anonymously, so that no one could tell which were “official” and which were just some nut writing up their own dream D&D on stone tablets and burying them for some other nut to dig up.

I would flood the interwebs with better-quality versions of everything that’d previously been released under the D&D brand, make it 100% open content using the OGL, and make these easy to find (text-only SRDs, etc.) for talmudic scholarship. If people tried to scan and share my geocached books I would flood them with variant scans to make it hard to tell which was the real gospel.

I would hire away top-level Scientologists and suchlike cult leaders to run my organized play program. They’d be in charge of managing the project johnzo proposed earlier in the storygames thread:

I’d recruit an elite street team; I’d partner with retailers to find the DMs with the best reputation and dumptruck those DMs with goodies in exchange for them running regular public games of D&D.

The cult leaders would be forbidden to interfere with the street team’s play experience but given a mandate to grab people as they get up from the table, sated and blown away, and turn them into fanatics. I would pay some other people to impersonate these cult leaders and perform bizarre occult performance art rituals, 5% of which I’d leak to the media.

At the peak of this activity I would fake my own death, get plastic surgery, lead a hostile takeover of the D&D brand, and then spend millions on a public image makeover devoted to establishing that D&D is a healthy, social alternative to video games, with grant money for researchers to prove this thesis. I’d open game cafe emporiums in every space that used to be a Barnes & Noble and sell drinks, books, and toys on the margins of a place to hang out and feel safe leaving your kids.

I’d do nothing to stamp out all the berserkers I’d created in phase I – I’d just distinguish squeaky-clean D&D from that occult media hysteria thing that never really happened anyway, pay no attention to the people who might invite you into their basement if you know their secret handshake. I’d harness all the edition war energy into a struggle between above-ground D&D and polyhedrals-inked-in-blood D&D, and let the geek one-true-wayism metastasize in the subterranean culture where people fight over which is the true apocrypha from phase I while in phase II we work on an elementary school curriculum designed to build mastery in the elements that all previous editions of D&D have in common.

10 Responses to “If I Ruled the (D&D) World”

  1. 1 maldoor
    January 14, 2011 at 3:34 pm

    This is a compelling vision. Indeed, I wonder if you have all carefully checked the books I have bound to see if there are any departures from the original text…

  2. January 14, 2011 at 4:20 pm

    While I enjoy this, I’d say that if you replace ‘D&D’ in this post with ‘History’, you’ve got a fair sight on what has been happening for a good long while. :)

  3. January 14, 2011 at 5:02 pm

    If you’ve ever read the book “Einstein’s Bridge”, then you’d understand how I grok the whole “faking death and starting over” thing…

    The rest was just hilarious! Good stuff!

  4. 4 Chris Newman
    January 14, 2011 at 9:04 pm

    You truly are a mad man Tavis

  5. January 14, 2011 at 11:37 pm


    Now, where’s my upvote button…

  6. January 15, 2011 at 3:42 am

    …please do this. Please. My love of esoterica and roleplaying combine into one? So awesome. I don’t know what else I can possibly say about this.

  7. January 15, 2011 at 7:49 pm


    Tasty, tasty madness… >.>

  8. January 23, 2011 at 2:51 am

    Here’s a translation of that Imagonem pingback, thanks to its author Anders Nygard via the Storygames thread:

    Complaints are being voiced over the direction taken by Dungeons & Dragons, or, at any rate, over which direction the “brand” is taking. Or possibly over it’s lack of direction. But haven’t we already embarked on a somewhat crooked and unpleasant road when dedicated fans start to describe the game they love as a “brand”?

    I’d rather do Story Games’ twist on the discussion. Scre the traditional fannish wailing choir, and do something creative instead.

    Tavis’ idea has some merit, especially at the start, though we are also obliged to praise any plan involving faking your own death as a marketing ploy. There is something magical about the unique, the handmade, something that works well with classical role playing as I remember it in my most blurry moments of nostalgia.

    As you shuffle trough the postapocalyptic wasteland of pop culture, grab what you can get your hands on. Bring a crowbar in case something is nailed down. Mix, remix and make your own games. Assemble them with scissors, glue, leather and stitches, with burned edges and whiskey stains. Share them. Make the sharing a game too. Weave your game into public spaces, private spaces, forgotten spaces, new spaces and waste spaces. Thou shalt gamify your life!

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Past Adventures of the Mule

January 2011

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