I’ve been trying to find a post on Steve Darlington’s LiveJournal for the past ten minutes (this is one of the reasons why I don’t blog on LiveJournal; there’s no way to search someone’s archive). Some time ago, maybe a year, maybe three, he was posting about a D&D campaign he was in. He wrote something along the lines of the inherent silliness of the setting, and how he couldn’t help imagining cavalry charges straight up castle walls whenever he read the spiderwalk potion description.
In the meantime, I found a more recent post where he relates his reactions to D&D 4th Edition, which is just as relevant. Oh, sorry: The reason I’ve been ransacking Steve’s LJ is because I’ve been listening to the podcasted Actual Play recordings of Tycho and Gabe of Penny Arcade and Scott Kurtz of PvP playing Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition with Wizards of the Coast’s GMs. The recordings are pretty damn fun. All three of the players are witty, creative guys – which, as they’re behind two of the most popular webcomics out there, is no real surprise – and they attack the concepts of the session and the results of their rolls with gusto. Probably the most hilarious moments come from Mike Krahulik, who has never played a tabletop RPG before, and his character Jim Darkmagic, to whom he always refers in the third person – “Jim thinks you guys are pretty fuckin’ lucky to have Jim”, “Jim casts Jim’s Magic Missile”, “Jim goes to the bathroom and deals 5 damage.” It seems like an example of the kind of silly that Steve was advocating.
This is the kind of fun I reckon I want out of a D&D game. Leave the characterisation, plot and drama for games with rules that explicitly support them; give me a character, a dungeon, some dice and some people witty enough to see the absurd in every encounter, creative enough to come up with something more than a Monty Python reference and willing to simultaneously respect the rules and not take the game seriously. I like me a bit of tactical crunch and juggling, but I like levity too, and it seems these guys have found the magic balance point between the two extremes.
Still, that balance requires a bunch of guys as intelligent and witty and as Tycho, Gabe and Scott, as it’s not one that the D&D rules support or encourage – I’ll grant you that the text might, but the actual rules in action, as far as I can see, encourage only tactical thinking in response to tactical challenges. I'm of the opinion that without people with the wit and willingness to create and maintain that fine balance of tactical oomph and witty improv, D&D play would otherwise degenerate into dry discussions of abilities, feats and powers interspersed with dull moments of "I roll then you roll" (neither of which are infrequent in those podcasts).
Maybe I ought to just stick with InSpectres. Heck, I’m sure a podcast featuring the Penny Arcade/PvP guys playing InSpectres would be comedy gold.