Saturday, March 12, 2011

Kids vs Adults in D&D

I think - and this is more true of the for-profit publishers but it might also apply to those who are producing free resources - that there is a general split within our community. This one isn't a split that causes acrimony, or at least, it only causes acrimony at the far ends of the spectrum.

The split is between those who are thinking of the game in terms of what younger kids - let's say middle school age - will or would see when introduced to the game, or the retro-clones, or the community, or the modules currently being produced. Many people who are playing Swords & Wizardry are using it as a game to play with their kids. I imagine the same is true of Labyrinth Lord. By contrast, OSRIC is a fairly overwhelming book, and obviously LotFP is simply not designed as an intro game for middle schoolers ... even though middle schoolers could probably handle the currently existing contents of Jim Raggi's products without too much trouble. Look at what's on the video games they play, and you see plenty of stuff that's over the top of what Raggi has done. I think Jim plans to get further out there than that, but I'm talking about his rulebook and the modules that have been published so far. But I don't think the material is aimed at kids.

So there are two different target audiences in operation. Most of the people playing right now are the generation between 35 and maybe 45. There are plenty of people in their fifties, and plenty of college students, so it's more diverse than that, but those are the far ends of the bell curve. This majority has kids that are roughly between 10 and 20, as a general estimate. And the dads (and moms, perhaps) are either playing with the kids or they aren't.

Which creates a big mental split in terms of what they want "the OSR" to look like. The ones who game purely as adults are perfectly willing to have material that shows a big more dark to it - we know what the actual world has and had in store for us. There's still the limiting factor of good taste, but the mental scope of escapism is fairly broad.

On the other hand, the parent-gamers don't want to see too much of that reach in the resources and games that they're looking at. It doesn't need to be "kiddie D&D," but there's a whole realm of fantasy that's rich and compelling without delving too deeply into villainy as it was portrayed in the sword & sorcery fiction. Let's be clear - even though most of the evil happened off screen, the suggestions of what was going on back there could get pretty rough, raunchy, or both.

This leads to two different approaches. One of the comments I made during the process of producing Swords & Wizardry Complete was that I wanted a 9 year old girl to be able to identify with it, and that I wasn't - in the rulebooks, going to cater to the darker side of a 13 year old boy.

That's in the rulebooks, not the modules - I have a much more flexible standard for the modules. Those are either getting bought by parent-DMs or by kids that are familiar with what the x-box programmers are dishing out to them.

In any case, this is something that I don't think many people have really identified as being a tectonic plate in our community. It's far less contentious, but it's an interesting way of noting that there are many "divisions" in our community that aren't the source of internet battles. We have many, many subgroups in the community that are perfectly healthy ones to have.


  1. I find myself right at the forefront of the issue - I run an adult game that tends to be darker in tone (and happily embraced the Flame Princess approach to D&D) but I also run a game for kids and dads that needs to stay in the Moldvay BX/LL realm. For instance, I'm not entirely sure we'll be able to stay on the LotFP train going forward unless I go with an artless version for the table. The kiddos read the game books and whatnot, and there's even some cross over of the game sessions.

    I can appreciate a publisher taking the approach that the mature content will stay in the adventure modules and supplements, and the table books (like rules) should be safe for a wider audience - my daughter is only a few years away from getting recruited herself, after all.

  2. My "target audience" is myself. I simply write what I wish someone else would write and thus save me the bother.

    Even when I was 10 years old (and my D&D group ranging in age from 9 to 13), we included so-called "adult" things such as evil magic-users sacrificing humans (including infants and children) to demons in exchange for riches and/or power. It never bothered us. It was always merely a part of our D&D games. (Our inspiration on this score was Deities & Demigods by James Ward, which is ironic considering his later efforts to banish such things from the game.)

    In my opinion, anyone old enough to read the Bible is old enough to use anything published by Lamentations of the Flame Princess:

    The men of the city, certain worthless fellows, surrounded the house, pounding the door; and they spoke to the owner of the house, the old man, saying, "Bring out the man who came into your house that we may have sex with him."

    Then the man, the owner of the house, went out to them and said to them, "No, my fellows, please do not act so wickedly; since this man has come into my house, do not commit this act of folly. Here is my virgin daughter and the man’s concubine. Please let me bring them out that you may ravish them and do to them whatever you wish. But do not commit such an act of folly against this man."

    But the men would not listen to him. So the man seized his concubine and brought her out to them. And they raped her and abused her all night until morning, then let her go at the approach of dawn.

    As the day began to dawn, the woman came and fell down at the doorway of the man's house where her master was, until full daylight.

    When her master arose in the morning and opened the doors of the house and went out to go on his way, then behold, his concubine was lying at the doorway of the house with her hands on the threshold. He said to her, "Get up and let us go," but there was no answer. Then he placed her on the donkey; and the man arose and went to his home.

    When he entered his house, he took a knife and laid hold of his concubine and cut her in twelve pieces, limb by limb, and sent her throughout the territory of Israel.

    (Judges 19:22-29)

  3. In my opinion, anyone old enough to read the Bible is old enough to use anything published by Lamentations of the Flame Princess

    How old is that? What age is this for?

    Even when I was 10 years old (and my D&D group ranging in age from 9 to 13), we included so-called "adult" things...

    I've known kids who play ultra-violent videogames and watch slasher films before they're in 1st grade. That doesn't mean it's a good idea or that the people creating that media thought it was suitable for kids that age.

  4. Keep in mind, I'm not talking about the reality of kids in middle school - I'm talking about how their parents see them, what it's appropriate for another gamer to say when he's at the table with someone's middle-schooler, etc. Kids in middle school are more adult - and I don't mean necessarily in a good way - than we generally prefer to think. Especially if we're the parent who remembers them as sweet little toddlers.

  5. I never had parents that shielded me from stuff - I saw Conan the Barbarian in the theater (I was 7, but had already started reading Savage Sword), Return of the Living Dead in the theater as well (I was 10), both accompanied by my father.

    (read Elfquest for the first time in this time period - that's not exactly a kid's comic even if it's not as graphic as much of the other stuff I'm mentioning)

    My mother was showing me horror stuff when we got a VCR (I was... 12?), things like Flesh for Frankenstein, aka Andy Warhol's Frankenstein.

    I got into D&D around I think my 9th birthday, maybe 10th, I can never get that straight, reading comics and watching these movies certainly did a number on how my imagination worked - The Getalong Gang just wasn't going to cut it... :D

    But combine that with authority issues (cops coming to the school to warn us about D&D, teachers and other parents FREAKING OUT over D&D and X-Men comics, not to mention the reactions from people when I got into metal after high school - ridiculous, and I never stopped fighting that battle), and the fact that the kids issue is what doomed my first marriage...

    Yeah, "gaming and kids" isn't at all on my mind because I apparently like weird things and wear my influences on my sleeve, but I hardly try to fool anyone in that area. I actually think I worry too much about that because of the Carcosa and "Pornogate" controversies which I still can't understand.

    (Although in Vaasa I had a 15 and 16 year old player, and one of my current gaming group in Helsinki started playing with us when he was 17, so the definition of "kid" might be different...)

    Matt, you need to set the blog so one can subscribe to replies without having to comment, because I think I just blurted all this out to read other people's replies. :D

  6. Kids in middle school are more adult - and I don't mean necessarily in a good way - than we generally prefer to think.

    @Matt: Lalala not listening lalala. My kids won't know anything about [stuff they shouldn't know about] until they're at least 18. Or hopefully 12.

    @Geoff: Yeah, I don't think my daughter will be reading the Bible any time soon.

    For me, there are two levels to the question of gaming with kids - the actual maturity of the kids, and the perceptions of the parents of those kids (deluded as we all may be to their actual maturity, as Matt pointed out). Once the kids are 12 and older, it'll be another story, but running a game for 8 or 9 year olds requires some sensitivity - and the main concern is what their parents think of what we're doing, so they can come back next week.

    I'm not advocating *not publishing* gaming materials for adult game tables, but for something that will see dual-use (like a rulebook) I agree with Matt that an all-ages approach makes sense.

    You'd be hard pressed in the blogosphere to find someone that has played and discussed some of the LofTP stuff more than me over at Dreams in the Lich House; that being said, an art-filled version of the new edition isn't going to see time at my game table when the 8 and 9 year olds are playing. Will I pick up a copy? There's a good chance - I'll be heading to GenCon this year and would love to get some publisher's books directly since it looks like a lot of OSR publishers are heading out there this year.

  7. Matt, you need to set the blog so one can subscribe to replies without having to comment, because I think I just blurted all this out to read other people's replies. :D

    How? I looked through the settings and can't find out how to do that...

  8. One thing I consistently worry about as a gamer is that much of what we do blocks out newcomers to the games we love. I think introducing children to our hobby is one of the best ways to bring in fresh thinking and fun to it.

    While I'm not zealously trying to bring masses of people to role-playing, Its nice to have a game I can teach them quickly, and run without much issue.