This is not something that’s going to go away any time soon.

But that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth talking about.

It’s the idea of winning or losing at D&D.


So, my gaming group has this joke we perpetuate. It’s a joke about “winning at D&D.” Of course we understand that there’s no such thing, and so we use it as shorthand for “awesome.”

See, it’s a funny joke. We take an absurd idea — winning at D&D — and use it to represent a similar concept, “awesome,” which in its simplest expression is, “something so overwhelming it makes you pee a little.”

It’s a clever joke.

But it’s sometimes easy to forget you can’t win D&D. Honestly, it defies the conventions of most games. Competitive games are totally about winning, or beating someone else. And there just isn’t any of that.

Sometimes, the best parts of D&D aren’t even fun.

And I don’t mean like, the “math” parts that are technically un-fun because everybody hates math (except people who play D&D don’t hate math, in the most boring paradox ever). Unfun parts like, well, . . . losing.

Sometimes you lose at D&D.

It’s like when your party is teetering on the edge, but you really want that treasure, and so you push on just a little too far — you overreach — you get into one more encounter and somebody dies. Maybe everybody dies.

Who do you blame in that scenario?

If you didn’t answer “yourself,” then you’re wrong. But you might also be missing the point if you’re looking for someone to blame.

Because rolling badly is part of playing. And losing is part of winning.

You don’t “win” D&D by getting the XP or the treasure. Those things are meaningless. Believe me, I’ve rolled a lot of characters. You don’t win by beating the monsters, or even by pulling off glorious shenanigans.

You win, . . . by caring.

You win the game by giving a crap. Honestly, this is part of the reason why, despite boys traditionally flocking to D&D, girls tend to be better at it. Believe me, I’ve played with a lot of both genders. Ten years and lots of convention play.

I think part of the reason might be in that care/not care divide.

I’m generalizing here, but boys are “more boyish” when they prove how little they care about something. Girls are “more girlish” when they do care.

It’s way worse when a woman says “I don’t care” than when a dude says it.

So, roleplaying is about caring. It’s about having experiences. Not those points you collect, though they are similar in concept.

Yeah, it sounds stupid when all you did was beat up a spreadsheet to increment your spreadsheet, but when that spreadsheet is a dragon and you beat it with a flying carpet and flasks of burning oil, it’s awesome.

You pee a little.

Losing is part of winning. Sometimes it’s the best part of winning.

Sometimes your party is teetering on the edge, and you decide that it isn’t worth it. You stop everything, hike back to town, and rest up for a few weeks. You go back to the dungeon, and you get that treasure. Everybody lives.

Playing smart usually means everybody lives.

When you can’t play smart, whether it’s because you aren’t smart, or your group doesn’t allow for it, or because you are smart but your luck sucks and your dice hate you, . . . you have to change your attitude.

Dying in D&D isn’t losing.

Losing in D&D isn’t losing.

The only “losing” in D&D is quitting the game.

And I mean, I’m oversimplifying things here to get to a point. Yes actually, dying in D&D is a kind of losing. Sometimes it’s a punishment for a bad idea, or a bad dice roll. Sometimes it’s significant . . . and sometimes not so much.

But D&D rewards players who are willing to look deeper.

I don’t mean “deeper” like character motivation, though that’s one way to do it. I stopped worrying about “metagaming” ages ago when I discovered how boring it was to keep playing “ignorant/inexperienced” PCs after twelve years.

You do what you want. You participate or you don’t. You contribute. Or not.

Sometimes you do more, sometimes you do less. If you really aren’t feeling it that day, it’s cool. Try to work through it and don’t get in the way of others.

It makes sense that you have “less fun” when you’re tired and have a hard time engaging with the game. Because the game isn’t “about” fun, it’s about that engagement. Have I repeated myself enough? Am I crazy?