Have They Gone Crazy
Several years ago I used to love Role Playing Games but I haven't played them in quite a while.
I first played D&D back in 1976 and found it captured my imagination. As the game grew I found it better and better, and more and more fun to play.
I quit playing Dungeons and Dragons when the 3rd Edition came out because they changed the game so much that I felt it was almost fraud to call it Dungeons and Dragons. In an RPG newsgroup I wondered how long it would last before the 4th edition came out. The 2nd Edition lasted 12, 13 years while the 3rd only lasted 6 or 7.
Today I was at a local bookstore and was thumbing through some of the 4th edition and just shaking my head. Weird RPGs are OK, but they should not be the foundation of the whole idea, but I looked at this and couldn't help but feel that the game had "jumped the shark."
Part of a successful fantasy story or RPG is the suspension of disbelief that allows the game to be played. In order for this to happen there has to be a logical order to the story and its background, and it has to be "real" enough that your mind can accept it. In a well done game dragons, chimeras, manticores, etc. were all unusual but everyday creatures were everywhere which gave our fantasy world a link to reality. Even in completely alien worlds the basic critters were things that theoretically could have existed on earth.
I read the new Monster Manuals and all I see are creatures that exotic and deadly. You want a few of those in most adventures but you want enough normal that the world can seem "almost real" to you. You read Tolkien and you only encounter a couple of totally exotic creatures, The Orcs, dwarves, and elves, though not real, are human enough and real enough that you can connect to them. If every creature is a Nazgul or a Balrog you would have difficulty connecting to such a world.
More than one horror writer has said that a realistic setting makes a horror story all the more frightening. If you can connect to the place then the story hits you harder. If the place is surreal then it will quickly lose its impact.
Dungeons and Dragons has quit being a cultural phenomenon. It will be around for a while yet, but I can't help but believe that it is downhill from here on for it.