athornton: Angry.  Drunken.  BOFH. (Default)
[personal profile] athornton
So, this came out of a discussion on Google+.

Long story short, there's the Traditional D&D Endgame: you reach name level, you build a keep, you pacify the surrounding wilderness, and you retire to enjoy the fruits of your labors. This is in keeping with D&D as a metaphor for the Christianization of Europe, which may well be how Gygax saw it.

But....

First, I don't think that's the way the endgame goes down in actual play, and second, that's not the way the story ends in the myth that D&D actually is, which is, I think, a little different.

I hope we can mostly agree that D&D is an American myth. It's the American myth, in fact, which is the Western, and which kinda resembles the Christianization of Europe in some ways: it's about carving order and domesticity out of the howling wilderness, about taming the frontier. So far, so Gygax.

But after he's made the town safe again, the Man With No Name doesn't settle down there and plant a garden and get married and get old and die. Oh no. Instead, he leaves again; in fact, he's driven out, because there's no role for him in the society he has created.

This gets right at the heart of the core paradox of American self-identity: we have this myth of the rugged frontiersman individualist. And that's great, but it's no way to run a civil society, so the society comes with its own baked-in distrust of itself right in its founding myth.

Now, there's a high-falutin' phrasing for how the D&D endgame really goes down, which is just striking out for ever-more-distant horizons:

"The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
'Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die."

Tennyson's very pretty, But "Ulysses" isn't all that appropriate for a quintessentially American myth.

So, I think the best phrasing for the D&D endgame is, well, of course it's found right where it would have to be:

"But I reckon I got to light out for the territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she's going to adopt me and sivilize me, and I can't stand it. I been there before."

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athornton

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