Tabletop System Exodus Advocate OR Say What You Want, but Don’t Be Ableist…

With events at Wizards and Hasbro being what they are, more than a few people have opted to move away from Dungeons & Dragons as their primary material for creating games and are looking to other systems. This is a good thing and means more options for experiences in the space.

They are also asking for people to seriously consider learning a new system. This is good as well.

What’s not good? Saying that it is easy to learn a new system and that all someone has to do is head over to a site, pickup a book, and study it. I’m just going to tell you here and now: that’s ableist. Stop it.

* * *

One of the first things I thought about learning was Mage the Awakening. I acquired the PDF and… well, I’ll let this photo say what I need it to.

Me, peering into a new book of rules.

The assumption is that people learn things purely by reading and that the language of any ruleset is easy to read, understand, and apply. Let me help you real quick: neurodivergent people exist, language processing issues exist, people who have those conditions play, write, and otherwise participate in the world of tabletop games.

Also? Half of the language we use in games for mechanics wasn’t accessible to most people for like 40 years. Don’t believe me? Tell me in a sentence what THAC0 is.

Beyond that, we need to talk about the support systems that go into learning games. One of them is formal and documented. Things like the written material, the official websites and rulesets that exist in all of their forms, and whatever authoritative figures exist to speak to whatever disputes exists on the rules-as-written (RAW).

The majority of the channels by which people learn about D&D, however, come through informal channels. To explain this, let’s talk about my dayjob.

* * *

I spend my days doing webinars where I teach people how to use a particular software platform. Most of the people – at least the good ones – who come to me have read the documented material that exists and may have even experimented with a couple of the features up for discussion that day.

Here’s the thing: they take the training sessions anyway.

But why? They read the material. The thing is, they aren’t here to ask me about something they could read. They ask my experience to contextualize what they’ve read. A lot of the training isn’t, “this is what this is” but rather “this is what this means“.

Common questions look like this:

  • “Is this the best way for me to accomplish the thing I want to?”
  • “Which of these two similar things is best for the goals I have?”
  • “What order should I do these things in?”
  • “Is there something that works in a way the documentation doesn’t describe?”
  • “I read this, but the way it was worded was unclear. Can you explain [thing] a bit more and help me understand?”

The questions go back and forth with me asking several of them in the vein of, “Now that we know what this does, how do you want to use that knowledge?”

* * *

This, more than anything else, is what Dungeons & Dragons has to its great benefit – whether we like that or not. If I have a question about how to accomplish a particular thing for my story, there are no end of people who will come out of the proverbial woodwork to offer information even if, in my case, the common answer is “homebrew it”.

If I do decide to homebrew something, most people are willing to step out to help me with doing that. Hell, the collective experience that most people have with D&D which is summed up with “I learned it from/with someone”. The growth and evolution of any DM isn’t going by the rules and most of D&D in particular is about not following them.

This is also why telling someone that “all they have to do is pick up the book and read it” is ableist in addition to being straight up ass.

If we’re going to make a future in this tabletop roleplaying game space where people have a wider range of knowledge about other systems, we’re gonna have to talk about what it looks like to volunteer our time to helping people learn new things and being patient with them.

If you’re not going to do that, at least spare us these nonsense takes about how “easy” it is to learn games.

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