Last week I talked about returning to 4e DnD. It was a decision that just... happened. I may never be able to fully describe it. It just seemed to happen to me, as opposed to me making it. Whatever it was, it was not to be argued with. I've begun planning a Dark Sun campaign in full earnest, happily throwing myself into that setting. But something a little odd happened to me. I am not going to try to understand it or analyze it. But maybe it will prove useful to others. Maybe you'll understand it. Who knows until you're done reading it?
In the years since I stopped playing 4e I've been looking at various Indy RPGs. And who could blame me? Burning Wheel opened up a whole new world. But there was another impetus in there. I wanted to prove to myself I wasn't yet another DnD drone. That's not a particularly positive tendency, mind. My misanthropic tendencies are well known to me, even if not dealt with as well as they should be. I wonder how many of my own issues would be fixed if I figured that out.
See, the problem was that the more stuff I looked at the more this curious chasm of desire began to open up. Something wasn't right. I didn't know what, but reading these games wasn't making me any happier. At the time I'd a lot of other things to focus on, and I was quite happy with Burning Wheel. It is an odd fact of human nature that you can be otherwise happy but yet yearn for something more. I was very happy with Burning Wheel's character centric gameplay; that engine can help generate more meaning in a night than other systems can in years. And if there's anything I crave it's meaning.
And yet that gnawing continued.
Finally I stopped futzing about. I'd been doing multiple Burning Wheel campaigns for years. I was burned out. I needed to do something else. And I did! I tried out Bleak Spirit, Torchbearer, Trophy Dark and Gold, Tenra Bansho Zero, Sword and Board, and Hearts of Wulin, and others I've forgotten about. And some of these games really stuck with me! Bleak Spirit, Hearts of Wulin, and the Trophy games are great palate cleansers for me. Each of them helps me blow off steam from my time with Burning Wheel. I'll definitely go back to them from time to time.
But the hunger continued.
And I began to feel desperate.
Like I said previously, the decision to return to 4e wasn't something I made. It seemed made for me. I've been questioning this reality, but have decided to see where it goes. Well the other day I went into a Barnes and Noble. I just needed a place to burn some time and what better place to do that than a bookstore? Now most of the time I'll head to the RPG section. I'll look at the section, and kinda fantasize about getting the whole freaking shelf. Just to have it. I wouldn't even do anything with them. Just have them on my shelf to have them.
So I went to The Shelf.
And felt absolutely nothing.
I picked up a copy of The Mutants and Masterminds GM Guide. I own the Hero's Handbook. I opened the book. And immediately thought "I'll never want to play this." Superheroes at one point was something I had thought about getting into, but as I held the book I knew there was only one thing I really wanted to do: fantasy. That's where I've found my chief meaning in fiction, from the more grounded high concept/slice of life like Clannad to the weird science fantasy of The Solar Cycle and Star Wars.
In case it wasn't clear already, I demand that I put meaning in what I do. It's not an option. The world is a pretty meaningless place these days, and to be able to give meaning? That's actually an escape for me. The world only has the meaning we infuse in it. Man named the animals and what name Adam used was the name of that animal. Man is the creature who names, who gives meaning.
And when I looked up from the GM's Guide to that shelf there was no meaning I wished to give to any of it.
Oh, don't get me wrong, I wandered the shelves in shock for about a half hour, trying to find something to tickle my fancy. There was a phantom hunger in my soul. But I couldn't give any additional meaning to the things I found. There was nothing in me to give.
So I went home. And pulled out Dark Sun.