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  • Essays
  • Red Box Dawn - The Ballad of Bargle - Memories of Dungeons & Dragons Red Box

Red Box Dawn - The Ballad of Bargle - Memories of Dungeons & Dragons Red Box

AL Updated
Dungeons & Dragons Red Box

Game Information

Publisher
There Will Be Games

Some memories still cut to the quick. A brief meditation on formative gateways and childhood trauma.

Despite being confined to quarters via hermetic seal, barred from the outside world and its plague-ridden winds, in Anno 2020 the gateway to Role Playing Games has never been wider, more gilded or more inviting. Traditional barriers to entry have been supplanted by myriad resources that for better or worse, render what was once arcane into an easily grasped nettle that entices more and more acolytes with every passing year.

I’m sure many of you remember the shroud of esoteric mystery that enveloped the entire endeavour as countless attempts were put to paper in describing the act and process of turning these dusty tomes of lore and arcane tables into an actual gaming experience. It was the sort of thing that could only be grasped by immersing yourself in the actual act of play. A leap of faith was required as you dove into a limitless sea that revealed its secrets both slowly and in a succession of eureka moments that punctuated your journey, as pieces fell into place, cogwheels locked and the wide vistas of possibility revealed themselves.

Red Box 01

By contrast, today there are any number of dedicated YouTube Channels that enable initiates to witness the act of playing in a way that will inform and perhaps constrict their nascent endeavours. Forums and FAQ’s abound in the wild proliferation of memetic symbiosis and reproduction that is the internet, and programs such as Roll20 or Fantasy Grounds et al enable remote play and access to an enormous community that has the capacity to tutor, mentor and welcome the mewling novice into the billowing folds of its ample bosom.

Woe betide then the brave argonauts who were first tasked with explaining this amorphous phenomenon armed with only the printed page and a grognardic lexicon at their disposal. This Sisyphean process underwent continual evolutions as the concept of roleplaying took its first faltering steps out of twin cities basements and blinking into the limelight of wider consciousness.

In the murky timeline of antiquity, Moldvay built on Holmes who built on Gygax who built on Arneson who built on Wesley, each iteration refining both the mechanical and conceptual frameworks of the games, as well as the ‘more art than science’ process of indoctrination via expository blurb.

It was however, in 1983, from the pen of Frank Mentzer that upon these foundations the format was first perfected with a brevity, a breadcrumb trail and an emotional impact that still resonates wildly some 40 years later.

I was nine years old in 1987 when I received what is still the finest Christmas gift that ever steered a lad’s trajectory. I had been bestowed with ten whole dollars with which I could finally (finally!) acquire and invite it into my home, my head. The iconic red box bulged under my arm during the car ride home as I busily failed utterly to comprehend what I was letting myself in for.

From out of that unassuming carboard crypt emerged a lifetime of engagement as well as a particular trauma that as the years passed and recollections were shared, I realised had seemingly afflicted an entire generation.

Cannily drawing upon the solo-play pioneered by St. Andre’s Tunnels & Trolls system and later ferried to prominence by a certain Zagor of Firetop Mountain, the Players Guide component of this set ushered us in gently with its introduction of player agency being funnelled down to a selection of binary narrative choices accompanied by some rudimentary stat tracking and amateur cartography.

Red Box 03

Via this Thesean string, players were invited into, rather than out of the labyrinth in a manner that was both easily digestible and utterly enthralling to the fertile pre-teen lobes of the brain.  And within its slim volume, it contained a tragedy in three acts that taught us invaluable lessons about weight, consequence and permanence within this brave new world.

The fact that it did so by drawing upon only the mustiest of archetypal tropes perhaps only lent further heft to its resonance with a target audience that was still yet to decode the recurring symbols and semiotics of popular culture, myth and legend that would later serve to bookend and stifle our imaginative sweep as we resorted to a default shorthand engendered by the familiarity that ubiquity brings.

Those of you who trod this path surely know where I’m going with this by now.

Aleena was my first crush. Bargle my first nemesis. Lost, floundering and wounded in that first-of-many mazes with monsters, an angelic beacon appeared that beckoned, promising salvation with an intoxicating blend of stern pragmatic experience, and peak Elmore-rendered doe-eyed wistful beauty.

Red Box 04

Her appearance was our first real encounter with a companion, a sage-like benefactor, and to the more cynical adult revisionist- a weapons-grade pre-teen dream etched provocatively to push emerging hormonal buttons all in one.

Oh how we pondered the many and varied adventures we would undertake together. The dank recesses of the underworld we would plumb, the fell beasts we would subdue and the plunder we would haul in encumbrance-defying feats back to our cosy nest for two. With our sword arm taut and her healing hands cradling the counter-weighted grip of her menacing mace, our backs wold press together to fend off the encroaching darkness in a litany of tales that would surely inspire bardic soliloquy throughout the known world.

It is with heavy heart I recall the hope that sprung fluttering in my belly that day lasted all of three pages.  Cowl-shrouded and missile-flinging he emerged to shatter my illusions. Bargle. The name still cloys like ashes on my tongue.  As swiftly as the dream unfurled, it was punctured by a trio of bolts that pierced not only the beautiful Aleena’s frame, but also our sense of certainty, goodness and justice, both in the game and the wider world at large.

Red Box 05

Before the death of a grandparent, before the move to an upstate farm by a beloved childhood pet, Bargle was there to leer at us with his stunted introduction to the concept of death.

The hook was now baited, and we were left to nurse our aching breasts as all the while we plotted our revenge. Our arc of justice would be swift and bend towards the righteous. Our journey would be anchored and our eyes fixed on resolution.

Red Box 06

But of course it wasn’t like that. The Red Box beget the Blue Box, beget the Green Box, beget the hardbacks, beget the clones, the off-shoots, the indies, the hexes and counters, the abstracts, the entire spectrum of an evolving, living thing as we rode its scaly back throughout the years. Countless antagonists would emerge out of the murk to provoke and imperil us. Countless companions and personas would flit in and out of our parties, our consciousness and our notepads to help, hinder and harangue us throughout our travails. But none would ascend into the pantheon of our formative firmament with the speed and insistence of the black-hearted Bargle and the poor, doomed Aleena.

Feel the lump in your throat even now and remember.

And you can stick that in your Lost Mine and smoke it.

 

Red Box 07

 

There Will Be Games

Andi Lennon
Associate Writer

Andi Lennon is Sydney based writer, musician and soap dodger. He graduated from Wizbang University with full honours and no teeth. When he isn't feeling conflicted about Morrissey he likes to play indie games with a dubious 80's aesthetic.

You can read more of his work by visiting Mongol Cult

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Sagrilarus's Avatar
Sagrilarus replied the topic: #312331 22 Jul 2020 14:25
She's going to pull it to left field every time with that stance, likely foul.

She needs to square up more, and get some weight on her back foot.
Shellhead's Avatar
Shellhead replied the topic: #312336 22 Jul 2020 15:38
I started playing AD&D some time between the publication of the Monster Manual and the Dungeon Master's Guide, so I had to wrestle with an unwieldy set of rules and plenty of guidance from Dragon Magazine while I was teaching myself the game. A few years later, I was babysitting a kid who had just gotten the Red Box edition for his birthday. I was amazed at the organization and utility of the Red Box rules, and a little jealous that this kid was going to have such an easy time getting into the game.
jason10mm's Avatar
jason10mm replied the topic: #312340 22 Jul 2020 17:37
I love Elmore. It's is pleasure to see him at every dragoncon. So many adolescent dreams were made in his images. How shocking to see as an adult that he has quite a few adult sketches.

Was the red box the one that had that intro solo module with the yellow invisible ink highlighter stuff? Am I totally confabulating that product?

Any one else remember the days of red filtered hidden text books, scratch off gray squares, invisible ink puzzles, and what not? Kids these days have no idea the lame cheese they are missing out on with their new fangled full color touch screen "pay to play" apps :P
Andi Lennon's Avatar
Andi Lennon replied the topic: #312344 22 Jul 2020 18:10

Sagrilarus wrote: She's going to pull it to left field every time with that stance, likely foul.

She needs to square up more, and get some weight on her back foot.


Hahahahahahahahaha
Poor Alena, it seems she has trouble with projectiles of all stripes.
Andi Lennon's Avatar
Andi Lennon replied the topic: #312345 22 Jul 2020 18:23

jason10mm wrote: I love Elmore. It's is pleasure to see him at every dragoncon. So many adolescent dreams were made in his images. How shocking to see as an adult that he has quite a few adult sketches.

Was the red box the one that had that intro solo module with the yellow invisible ink highlighter stuff? Am I totally confabulating that product?

Any one else remember the days of red filtered hidden text books, scratch off gray squares, invisible ink puzzles, and what not? Kids these days have no idea the lame cheese they are missing out on with their new fangled full color touch screen "pay to play" apps :P


I believe you're thinking of Dave Cook's 'Blizzard Pass' module. My copy has unfortunately lost it's battle with age and the pen is long gone with both factors conspiring to make the hidden passages illegible. Some lemon juice on a paint brush might do the trick though. I remember the mid 80's proliferation of this 'technology' well though. My favourite was a series of detective stories where you solved puzzles and hunted for clues. We didn't need no Xbox get off my lawn etc etc
Andi Lennon's Avatar
Andi Lennon replied the topic: #312346 22 Jul 2020 18:32

Shellhead wrote: I started playing AD&D some time between the publication of the Monster Manual and the Dungeon Master's Guide, so I had to wrestle with an unwieldy set of rules and plenty of guidance from Dragon Magazine while I was teaching myself the game. A few years later, I was babysitting a kid who had just gotten the Red Box edition for his birthday. I was amazed at the organization and utility of the Red Box rules, and a little jealous that this kid was going to have such an easy time getting into the game.


Yeah it was a godsend to have it spelled out with such benign patience, however the hurdles to entry didn't stop there. Now you had to find people to actually play it with. It wasn't quite as immediate as the Transformers toys my friends were enamoured with at the time so it fell upon my younger brothers to be the guinea pigs in my nascent labyrinths. I believe they're still scarred by it if drunken Christmas recollections are to be believed. Pit trap. Pit trap. Pit trap. Darts! Kobolds! Failed Save! I was such a shit.
Jackwraith's Avatar
Jackwraith replied the topic: #312352 22 Jul 2020 20:56
I started a little earlier, when the box was just the Basic D&D rulebook and The Keep on the Borderlands module. Shortly thereafter, I arrived at a school where people were already playing AD&D and so I left the "basic" game behind. This was circa 1981. Then I discovered the A series (Slavers), the G, D, Q series (giants, drow), and the S series (Tomb of Horrors, White Plume Mountain, Expedition to the Barrier Beaks, and later The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth.) Pretty soon, I had a map of Greyhawk on my wall. Then, I discovered Gamma World...
jason10mm's Avatar
jason10mm replied the topic: #312359 22 Jul 2020 22:21
Ah man, Gamma World was the best. I remember they had that "black death ray" pistol that killed anything in one shot. The dog people with a fetish for eating human hands, so cool.

I liked Star Frontiers quite a bit as well, and Top Secret S.I.

Wow, TSR got so much of my money back in the day...
Andi Lennon's Avatar
Andi Lennon replied the topic: #312363 22 Jul 2020 22:36

Jackwraith wrote: I started a little earlier, when the box was just the Basic D&D rulebook and The Keep on the Borderlands module. Shortly thereafter, I arrived at a school where people were already playing AD&D and so I left the "basic" game behind. This was circa 1981. Then I discovered the A series (Slavers), the G, D, Q series (giants, drow), and the S series (Tomb of Horrors, White Plume Mountain, Expedition to the Barrier Beaks, and later The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth.) Pretty soon, I had a map of Greyhawk on my wall. Then, I discovered Gamma World...


I have both the original Keep on The Borderlands and the ridiculously opulent reprint and conversion of that and Into the Unknown put out recently by Goodman Games. Ditto for Barrier Peaks- they're a lot to unpack but fabulous collector pieces.

The first module I ever bought back in the day however was B6- The Veiled Society. An odd choice perhaps but my child-like mind was possibly swayed by the chintzy card standees included. Turned out to be a great choice as it was an unusual approach for the era and eschewed the standard dungeoncrawl for a more urban mystery theme that i came to appreciate even more in subsequent years.

One of my friends actually just picked up one the 80's Gamma World starter boxes too, so no time like the present to revisit that particular irradiated gem.
Andi Lennon's Avatar
Andi Lennon replied the topic: #312364 22 Jul 2020 22:41

jason10mm wrote: Ah man, Gamma World was the best. I remember they had that "black death ray" pistol that killed anything in one shot. The dog people with a fetish for eating human hands, so cool.

I liked Star Frontiers quite a bit as well, and Top Secret S.I.

Wow, TSR got so much of my money back in the day...


Star Frontiers was actually the first RPG i ever played. I had older neighbours who had emigrated from Canada and used to play. I pestered them til they relented and let me sit in on a game when i was about eight years old. I was duly smitten and thus began my quest for that first red box. Top Secret never crossed my path and i was probably a little young to grok the cold war paranoia that fuelled it.
jpat's Avatar
jpat replied the topic: #312372 23 Jul 2020 09:41
I went the Basic-Expert-AD&D route. In retrospect, there wouldn't have been anything wrong--in fact, probably a lot right--in playing more Basic-Expert, because we were far from expert, but at the time there wasn't all *that* much for anything below AD&D, and the lure of the hardbacks and the sophistication they portended was too strong.

I still have my autographed copy of the guns and gadgets book from Top Secret/SI. I was able to play with the author, who was the author of the earlier Top Secret version, back in 1988.
Andi Lennon's Avatar
Andi Lennon replied the topic: #312403 23 Jul 2020 18:49

jpat wrote: I went the Basic-Expert-AD&D route. In retrospect, there wouldn't have been anything wrong--in fact, probably a lot right--in playing more Basic-Expert, because we were far from expert, but at the time there wasn't all *that* much for anything below AD&D, and the lure of the hardbacks and the sophistication they portended was too strong.

I still have my autographed copy of the guns and gadgets book from Top Secret/SI. I was able to play with the author, who was the author of the earlier Top Secret version, back in 1988.


Yeah we never finished the BECMI spiral either. At some point the hardbacks took precedence and we never really levelled past the companion set so sadly we never got to oil up our chests and punch deities as Immortals. I think the glut of products at the time had the unintended side effect of splintering campaigns as various members of groups were keen to try out different stuff. I'm experiencing the same thing now with the abundance of indie and OSR systems vying for my attention. Those BECMI boxes sure looked nice lined up on a shelf together though. I was lucky enough to inherit a friends full set after he returned from a church festival retreat type thing with a strange new glassy-eyed zeal and renounced roleplaying games as a pernicious influence. That lasted all of three weeks I think but I was a firm adherent to the 'no backsies' rule in this instance. Wish I still had them all.
san il defanso's Avatar
san il defanso replied the topic: #312415 24 Jul 2020 00:18
I'm not one who is nostalgic for old-school D&D in any meaningful way, but I do feel like the idea of a simplified D&D product like this, to be sold in big-box stores, has never really been attempted on the same level. There was the Essentials line from 4e, and the Starter Kit and Essentials Kit from 5e, but those are basically just the regular game. I can only speak for the 5e Starter Set, but it does struggle to explain things like the process of dungeon-crawling. (That's a general issue with how 5e is written.)

Anyway, a simplified version of what 5e does, with a more structured ruleset, would be pretty cool. Certainly 5e cares more about getting new players than WotC has since they've owned the game, but I feel like they could do a lot better at it.
Andi Lennon's Avatar
Andi Lennon replied the topic: #312419 24 Jul 2020 01:37

san il defanso wrote: I'm not one who is nostalgic for old-school D&D in any meaningful way, but I do feel like the idea of a simplified D&D product like this, to be sold in big-box stores, has never really been attempted on the same level. There was the Essentials line from 4e, and the Starter Kit and Essentials Kit from 5e, but those are basically just the regular game. I can only speak for the 5e Starter Set, but it does struggle to explain things like the process of dungeon-crawling. (That's a general issue with how 5e is written.)

Anyway, a simplified version of what 5e does, with a more structured ruleset, would be pretty cool. Certainly 5e cares more about getting new players than WotC has since they've owned the game, but I feel like they could do a lot better at it.


Yeah, I picked up the 5e Starter Set as part of a bundle some time ago and it struck me as being a pretty bare bones collection with little to no hand-holding or effort to ease players into not only the mechanics but the concept of Role Playing Games in general. It's basically a truncated rule-set and a pretty vanilla adventure in a nice box.

(Also no AIeena. Sorry Gundren, but no-one cares)

I think WotC are banking on the aforementioned access to videos, forums and the free online resources to do most of the heavy lifting in that regard. I've not really checked out much of that stuff so I can't say for sure what the efficacy is but I will say that when learning a new board game i appreciate the hell out of a good instructional video so perhaps it's just indicative of the times and the changing media landscape. Still- not everyone is privy to such access so a more fleshed out breadcrumb trail would be great, more egalitarian, and to have it all in the one package would probably birth a million memories not unlike this one.
Shellhead's Avatar
Shellhead replied the topic: #312427 24 Jul 2020 09:58
My first rpg experience was with Gamma World, 1st edition. But most people were playing D&D, so I got into that less than a year later.

Although I never had the red box Basic edition, I did end up picking up some of the sourcebooks for the wonderful Mystara setting. The elves were okay, and the dwarves had some great maps. The orcs one included the Orc Wars board game, which was moderately fun. But my favorite was the City of Glantri, which was a fantasy version of Venice ruled by an aristocracy of mages.
jason10mm's Avatar
jason10mm replied the topic: #312432 24 Jul 2020 12:11
I'm not sure how WOTC markets to new young players. I think they feel that RPG are so ingrained at this point through media and video games that it doesn't need much explanation.

I also think they want to get away from mechanic based dungeon crawl "murder hobo" adventures to more personality driven acting workshops that stream really well. Their published adventures are a bewildering array of characters, conflicting motives, overarching plots, and layered bad guys. A far stretch from the 'go from A to B to C killing and looting' modules of old. I think they yielded that terrain to DCC.

The news that orcs, drow, and the like will become "nuanced" just confirms this to me.
Gary Sax's Avatar
Gary Sax replied the topic: #312433 24 Jul 2020 12:42
^I think that's right. I think they've seen where the zeitgeist of DnD is going (Critical Role) and they're following it. Makes sense. Barnes pushes back hard against this all the time but from a market perspective it makes sense.
Sagrilarus's Avatar
Sagrilarus replied the topic: #312441 24 Jul 2020 14:21

Gary Sax wrote: . . . but from a market perspective it makes sense.


That's the heart of it. There's not a lot of money in a small self-standing product. You need something that generates follow-on sales unless you're a small privately-owned publisher.
Andi Lennon's Avatar
Andi Lennon replied the topic: #312449 24 Jul 2020 18:30

Gary Sax wrote: ^I think that's right. I think they've seen where the zeitgeist of DnD is going (Critical Role) and they're following it. Makes sense. Barnes pushes back hard against this all the time but from a market perspective it makes sense.


Yeah, I think it's easy to ascribe too much credit to WotC for the game's current resurgence when in fact it probably comes from a confluence of factors like a generation raised on video games, the huge amount of community content and the accessibility that online streaming, hosting and distribution services enable. They're just busy riding that wave and making hay while the sun is shining. I must admit I've never watched Critical Role. There's something about that dude that just gives me the creeps. He looks like the singer in a Christian rock band or a guy who hangs out at university parties with a pocket full of rohypnol :/

I'm all for more variety and nuance in adventures and settings but I just wish they'd retain some more of the cryptic wyrdness and esoteric overtones. (Which to be fair were already fading by the time they got to the featured red box). However, yeah DCC and the indie scene are doing a fantastic job of mining that particular vein. I've actually not played any of the official 5e modules (apart from the aforementioned Lost Mines of Vanilla) but it's telling how many of them are reprints and reimaginings of old fare such as Saltmarsh and Ravenloft.
Gary Sax's Avatar
Gary Sax replied the topic: #312450 24 Jul 2020 18:33
The only area where I will ascribe some foresight to Wizards is that they always kept at it with dungeons and dragons, doing their absolute best to keep it in mainstream bookstores, etc. I think it woul dhave been easy to abandon the core cultural artifact, the RPG, to mainly trade on the intellectual property. So they had nothing to do with RPG streaming and actual play podcasts becoming big, but they did keep the option open by sticking with the product.
Andi Lennon's Avatar
Andi Lennon replied the topic: #312451 24 Jul 2020 18:47
Yeah there's been acres of licensed tat over the years. TSR were all over that too. Shrinkie Dinks! Jeremy Irons! But yeah you're right, they definitely kept the lights on so-to-speak. On the other hand, they would have been crucified otherwise. It's a legacy they're entrusted with. It has serious weight and cultural, historical significance. It's arguably the most influential game ever created. And that includes Chess.
Sagrilarus's Avatar
Sagrilarus replied the topic: #312453 24 Jul 2020 19:14

Andi Lennon wrote: It's arguably the most influential game ever created. And that includes Chess.


I don’t see anything that comes within 100 miles of it. Its effect on Hollywood alone is measured in the billions.
Andi Lennon's Avatar
Andi Lennon replied the topic: #312454 24 Jul 2020 19:19
Yeah not to mention video games which dwarf even Hollywood. Even golf simulations have stat blocks and levelling systems now. It also probably took the mantle from Tolkien for informing our cultural shorthand for fantasy tropes and archetypes. For better or worse. It's the Big Kahuna.
san il defanso's Avatar
san il defanso replied the topic: #312463 25 Jul 2020 01:02
D&D is one of those brands like Star Wars where it can be very difficult to do much different with it without people losing their heads. There is just so much nostalgia and attachment to adolescent memories that if you inch out of the wheelhouse much, you alienate a huge number of people. However, unlike Star Wars, until 5e D&D hadn't been a mainstream hit since the early 1980s. It really couldn't afford to tell people to suck it up and deal with it, because until like 2015 those hardcore fans were pretty much the whole market.

Considering that I feel like 5e has threaded the needle about as well as could be expected. It's a fairly versatile system really. But in trying to be all things to all people it also isn't really one thing to such an extent that it's awesome at either extreme. It doesn't have the mechanical framework to really support the old school dungeon crawl simulation aspect, but it also doesn't really support the sort of mechanics focused "build" culture that a lot of people on say /r/dndnext seem to want from it. It also has too many mechanics to support the more free-form narrative style to satisfy a lot of TTRPG hobbyists. The key is that you can hack it in any of those directions (though perhaps not build culture as much) without too much trouble.

So all that considered, I think WotC is making the right move in making D&D the lingua franca of the community. I feel like that's a pretty clear strategy. The Youtube culture is a real boon for D&D, because it sort of defies verbal description. That's one reason it was so easy for bad-faith arguments about demons and satanic rituals to take hold, because when you explain D&D it sounds weird and arcane. Youtube has been able to demonstrate it, and all of the sudden the mystique is gone. It's just make-believe with lots of rules.

It really isn't the same kind of game anymore, to what it was in the 1980s. It's a lot more focused on broad-strokes storytelling than it is on simulationist gameplay. I've read a lot of takes on how bad this is, but I think a lot of those takes come off as kids-these-days scolding. It's like those people who think CRPGs have gotten too easy because people aren't forced to reload old saves or mess with ugly inventory systems, to me.

One thing WotC has done really well is embrace the hackable nature of D&D. You can pull at it in a lot of different directions and come away with basically the same game. Things like the DM's Guild or the Unearthed Arcana really promote this, as does the general attitude of the design team. They've done a good job of promoting blogger and Youtube culture, and if you don't like something about the way the game is written, it's super easy to find someone who can give you some advice. Is this lazy on the part of WotC, in that they let other people do their development work for them? Maybe, but it also prevents them from constantly releasing splatbooks and errata, which was an issue with 3e, 3.5, and 4e. The product line is way more manageable, the community is far more varied and expansive, and their cultural profile is as broad as its ever been. It's not always done very cleanly, but the overall result has been hard to argue with.
Andi Lennon's Avatar
Andi Lennon replied the topic: #312464 25 Jul 2020 03:18
Oh absolutely but I don't think there's ever been a session of any RPG that hasn't been hacked and homebrewed in some form or other. A dogged adherence to 'rules as written' is the enemy of cool emergent storytelling in most cases. I'm so far from being a purist that I'm not fussed about what direction they take it in as long as its cool y'know? Although that's a very subjective thing haha. I'm also not a participant in the edition wars as I was MIA for all of three and four. I think the OSR is as much about 'rules light' immersion in story and worlds as it is some misty eyed nostalgia for a more purist era

It's odd that D&D is the system being used when talking of a shift to more narrative heavy interpersonal stories though. D&D as a system has never really been well built for that. Its texts are largely based on conflict and combat heavy resolutions with lots of emphasis on gaining strength, power and dominion over your surroundings. It offers precious little in terms of framework for telling stories that stray too far from a tolkienesque heroic journey. Even the shorthand parlance (BBEG etc) reinforces that.

Ultimately I only really still play at all due to the door opening qualities that are calcified and baked into the sheer recognition factor the name supplies. I'd much rather get my fantasy fix from the likes of Mork Borg, DCC et al and get my narrative heavy stuff from indie one shots, Call of Cthulhu or the like. I just invested in Invisible Sun which although daunting, looks fascinating (if not a little pretentious). But again it all stands in the shadow of D&D. A case could be made that it's probably as much a burden as a boon to the adoption of the wider hobby in a lot of ways at this point. But it will always have given me Bargle...