S03E07 – Dungeon in a Box

Today on Save Vs. Rant, we are giving our review of Dungeon in a Box, a monthly service that sends you everything you need to run a brief adventure that combines with 11 others in a series to create a coherent campaign for D&D 5th Edition.

Happy Labor Day! …it’s still technically Monday, so let the record show I posted on time.

Review episodes are always prone to fall victim to the dread specter of subjectivity, so let the record show, we do NOT think Dungeon in a Box is a bad product. The price is fair, the material is good, the props are excellent quality and well-selected. It’s simply not for us, and even though it’s only tangentially related, that’s what I would really like to blog about right now.

One of the most liberating things I have realized in my 20+ years of gaming, is that I don’t have to like everything. Not only do I not have to like everything, but me not liking something does not make it bad. Furthermore, everyone doesn’t have to like everything that I do, and that doesn’t mean I’m wrong. Everything is not for everyone. Very few things are. Most things are for a lot of people. Some things are for a few people. All of these things can still be ok or even good even if they aren’t intended for everyone

Don’t mistake this for saying “everything is good, actually,” because there are things that are bad. There are products that are poorly designed. There are materials that are ineffective. There are games that are cumbersome, boring, poorly designed or offensive, and that’s all on a sliding scale, of course.

Some things aren’t good, but it can still make sense to enjoy then. I hate Monopoly. Monopoly is not a good game – even if you play it correctly, it can drag on for an uncomfortably long time. There are known correct strategies to monopoly, mathematically speaking, but the game can still feel alarmingly arbitrary. Monopoly is a poorly designed game, and notably a product of a time when board games had not come into their own. Even so, some people enjoy Monopoly. Some people consider it their favorite game. I’m never going to play it with them (sorry, guys), but, honestly, have fun! I’m glad you have a thing you like!

I love Kingdom Death: Monster. It’s unforgiving, unfair, morbid, periodically gross and frequently frustrating. It is absolutely not for everyone, and while the game is quite polished and well designed, it has some features that are, perhaps, considerably less than optimal. For some things, the math doesn’t even work (if you plot it out, for example, the entire Survival of the Fittest ideology literally results in negative growth each time Intimacy triggers). But I still like it. I’m always glad when someone else likes it. I don’t expect anyone to like it, though, and recognize the myriad reasons that it’s not for everyone.

Oneupmanship, though? Literally one of the worst games ever made. Nothing about it is good. It’s an annoying game with a terrible attitude. It’s still unclear if it’s intended as a (completely humorless) satire, or if the douchebaggery is genuine. Seriously watch reviews of the game or look at the components or pull it on Tabletop Simulator or whatever. It is an incredible example of what absolutely NOT to do when designing a game. Everything about it is terrible, and if you ever meet someone who likes the game, it’s safe to assume that they are either a deeply disturbed individual or a shill for the author. Some things really are bad.

Likewise, I don’t like 4th Edition D&D as a roleplaying game. I think it could be salvaged as a pretty great miniatures combat game, but as D&D, it doesn’t feel like D&D at all. Even so, I know people personally that genuinely think it’s one of the best games ever made. It brought more people into the hobby than ever before. It was substantially easier to teach and learn than D&D 3rd Edition and followed a strict separation of gameplay and narrative*, which made it play more consistently. So, if 4th Edition is your jam, I get it.

Nobilis is weird. The rules are kind of awkward and half-baked. The setting and narrative are silly. The prose is sophomoric. Those are only opinions in the sense that it’s hard to objectively pin down those things, but I think it’s fair to say that they’re opinions that almost everyone will share about it if they were to look. If you like Nobilis and enjoy playing it, I’m happy for you. Whatever sparks joy, as Marie Kondo says.

FATAL is bad. I’m not going to link to anything it involves. It is literally the worst roleplaying game ever made, and its author is either a small-minded racist sexist jerk or a humorless troll. It doesn’t matter. It’s bad. If someone likes it, they’re either deeply misguided or they themselves are bad.

Saying that enjoyment is subjective doesn’t mean that there’s no such thing as bad (or evil for that matter). What it does say is that just because I don’t enjoy something or don’t find use from it does NOT mean that people who do are somehow not as good as me. One thing I do when I look at things is try to understand WHY someone might like them. Almost everything that exists was designed deliberately by people who genuinely wanted to make something others (or even just they themselves) would enjoy, and if something is bad, we can usually understand why it’s bad. This is why I enjoy learning and talking about the Flavors of Fun and Save the Cat and top down vs. bottom up design – because I don’t just want to know what I enjoy, and I don’t just want to know what other people enjoy, I want to know why we enjoy the things we do. What are the underlying causes of enjoyment in these things?

Knowing not only what makes you happy but why you enjoy it is a major step not only toward being able to make better decisions about your choices in entertainment and leisure, but also in understanding and appreciating the past times and hobbies of others, and being open to new experiences and respectful of the interests of others are not only admirable character traits to cultivate, but it is my belief they are one of the important keys to living a happier more fulfilled life.

* A heavily derided (but nonetheless excellent) example of this is one particular rogue power that could make enemies perform their basic attacks against themselves, causing horses to buck themselves, beholders to bite themselves, minotaurs to gore themselves and oozes to slam themselves. This worked from a gameplay perspective, and I don’t think anyone should apologize for the absurdity of some of these situations.

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