I feel that with each edition of Dungeons and Dragons that comes out, the next wave of new players and Game Masters steps further and further away from the imaginative exploration that the older gamers were forced into long ago. With dozens of compendiums and and handbooks and guides that are released as additions to the basic set (Dungeon Master Guide, Players Handbook and Monster Manual) a little bit of the soul of the game is taken away. One horcrux destroyed at a time until only a hollow shell is left. And now, with the “complimentary” assets such as dungeon tiles, pre-painted figures, 3-D settings, and all of the other accessories that people with too much money buy, it takes away the creativity of the GM and the players. Is the heart of the RPG fading away?
I have heard too many times of people fretting over the fact that they aren't told what a certain DC is, such as climbing a tree, negotiating a ledge, walking across a tree branch, or noticing a pixie in the corner. They don't understand why they can't just be told what needs to be done and why every minutia of the game cannot be outlined for them. They bicker endlessly over what specific ability it would take to shove a ten foot long stick through a keyhole in order to poke the sleeping gnome on the other side. And if someone else is using a different set of skills than you to accomplish this goal then it begins a cyclical argument because we must all use the same rules set! Or Pelor forgive us if the player attempts something that isn't clearly defined in one of the thirty-two books that we have spread before us, because if it isn't covered in our vast plethora of knowledge then it must not be possible. I always take solace in a quote from the late Gary Gygax who said, “It is the spirit of the game, not the letter of the rules, which is important. Never hold to the letter written, nor allow some barracks room lawyer to force quotations from the rule book upon you, if it goes against the obvious intent of the game.”
Hand-in-hand with rules lawyers and the lack of rules crafting is the lack of imagination by game masters within their games. More specifically, with the world that their games take place in. Forgive me for not remembering who this story came from, but it is the best example of an all too popular sentiment from current D&D players. The anecdote starts with a man sitting in an airport when he overhears a small group of young gamers talking about their upcoming campaign. He sits back and takes in their conversation as they bicker over rules, spells, and generally everything that I have thusly complained about. At one point, one of the members brings up an effect that they would love to use with their wizard, but they aren't sure what could cause such an effect or where to find it. At this point, the gentleman listening in leans over and calms them by telling them “I know where you can find that spell.” The group lights up and eagerly asks what book they can find it in. “It's not in a book yet, because you haven't created it.” The young men looked at him with a queer look, then turning back to each other to continue their bickering. This is the main problem with gamers in these days: No imagination.
With video games and dozens of compendiums handed to them on a near daily basis, the creativity of the game has been taken out of the hands of the players and instead thrust into the hands of the brothers Research and Development. Players and GMs will spend hours...days....WEEKS searching for the perfect item or ability to complete their character. Some of the best creation sessions have included designing a new feat around an idea that a player had about their character, but they just could not find anything in a book that did precisely what they were looking for. Nothing is created by the common player anymore; dungeons are made up of a set of purchased pieces of colored cardboard laid out in a predetermined order told to them by a pamphlet and every rogue takes the same feats in a certain order and each sorcerer has the same spell list.
Give me back my blank character sheet and a piece of gridded poster board.