Drag Racing and D&D

Trex the Toddler and I spent all Saturday at the drag races with my family. It’s what we’ve always traditionally done as a family-sat in the heat and grime and noise that comprises a drag strip and wait to run our cars again. From the ages 8 to 15, we ran Jr. Dragsters, mini versions of the big, real deal. They have 5 HP Briggs and Stratton engines, essentially lawnmower engines, and can do upwards of 60 MPH in the 1/8th mile. From there, my brother raced a circle track dirt car for a while, and Katie moved up to motorcycles. At 16, I was blessedly relieved from racing. /sigh of relief

On the way home, screaming kid in tow, I got to thinking about why, exactly, I hate racing. From the time I finished until now, I’ve managed to avoid the track at all costs. Trex, however, has made that difficult, as he loves both his grandparents and the race cars. So back out to the track we’ve gone, with Mom smiling and nodding and bearing because it’s a family event, and it makes him happy.

Everything about the racing experience bugs me. For starters, it’s hot. NorCal is a million in the summer anyway, so choosing to sit on sun-baked asphalt just amplifies the problem. It’s also dirty. There’s dust in the air, everything everywhere is covered in a coat of oil and dirt and if there’s running water, you’re a lucky bastard. And when the cars do burnouts, it launches burnt rubber and track in the air, which drifts delightfully down to stick to any spectators. Racing is damned expensive in addition to everything else; I once bought my dad a sign that read, “Broke means being involved in any form of racing.” I don’t begrudge the money other people spend on what they love, but that bill is a little rich for my tastes. Last, all racing is a hurry-up-and-wait scenario. You only manage to drive the cars for maybe 7-10 seconds every two hours, maybe 60 if you count start-up and burn outs. Before that, you can spend ungodly amounts of time in safety gear, sitting strapped in a metal heat trap with a motor.

What does this have to do with D&D? I don’t like that, either. The game does nothing at all that I want in a role-playing experience. I’m finding that I thrive on heavy story and intrigue and character-driven play, and that I have neither the patience nor the attention span for minis and long, heavy combat. The moment I realized it wasn’t for me was when I tried to take a Kobold captive and my party had a “What the fuck are you doing that for?” moment. The fact that goons were goons and they didn’t matter; that a party tends to have a certain makeup of character types; that the combat and story leads and the personal stories of the characters are laid on top as mere flavor, all bug me.

There was a cool moment at the strip today, though. The nostalgia class was running and the motors on a lot of these cars vibrate everything. They vibrate the trailers, the other cars, the equipment, your body. So as this car was running, I put my hand flat on the panel of my mom’s car, parked in the pits. Every thrum and beat of that engine came through a completely separate car and up through my arm like it was some archaic telegram that needed deciphering.

But I get it. Those vibrations and that feeling speak to the art and knowledge of those engines and vehicles. They people who design the motors, retrofit the cars and run the crews are incredibly smart. Artists in their own right, they know motors like they speak their language. That vibration wasn’t a message for me, it was a thank you to the crew chief and the mechanic.

All of it makes sense to me. I know why people go out and sacrifice thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours on this hobby. There is nothing that is lost on me in this sport. Even with respect for what these people do and the talent involved-I still don’t have to like it.

It’s not my thing. The amount of money racing takes bugs me, the heat is obnoxious, the dirt is worse, and overall I find it a rather dull event. Kudos to the people who do it but I’m afraid I’ll leave it to you.

“Still not getting the D&D thing, dickbag,” you say. First off, that’s not a nice name. Second, I’m getting there. While thinking about all of this, I found a lot of parallels to my feelings on D&D. People tend to take great offense to my dislike of the game and I don’t quite understand that. We spend a lot of time introducing folks to Burning Wheel, fully aware that there’s people who will always hate that game, but it’s what we like and we want to share it.

Like with the racing, I get what Dungeons and Dragons offers. It scratches a lot of itches for people in very efficient, fun ways. For minis, it’s actually fairly light. For people who have better attention spans than I do, the combats are actually pretty good. It does what certain people want in their game, and it does it better than anything else. That being said, it’s not my thing. Maps and minis send me running for the hills, and no matter how many times you insist that it does, D&D doesn’t do big character plot and social activities very well. That’s what I like. I like when killing baddies, even Kobolds, matters. And it doesn’t in that game.

In that regard, to me, the two are comparable. It’s important to understand what you dislike and why other people disagree. There’s way too much hate bouncing around and too much Bad Wrong Fun speak out there. Like what you like, why you like it. Don’t hate on people who enjoy other things, and try to understand. Basically…Don’t be a dick.

Things don’t have to have blanket approval from everybody. We all are entitled to our preferences and tastes and if you can’t grasp that we probably can’t be friends.

Mostly, I wanted to talk about cars vibrating. Vroom, baby.

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4 thoughts on “Drag Racing and D&D

  1. Funny because my group in high school loved the story aspect in D&D, but we also didn’t use the books as rule books, just guidelines. If we could convince the DM about some off the wall mechanic it worked, so my love of D&D was built from that dynamic. I also liked the somewhat simple stat mechanics. Easy to mold or manipulate. There were also corn dogs, cookies, and ice cream trucks.

    I too dislike games where story is on the back burner and people “follow the rules”. RPG’s are like improv games with structure to me, and the books ideas to build on. It’s also about the people you play with and if you understand each others style. Not trying to convert you, just rambling on because I can.

    1. I think that’s a common story with D&D, which is part of the problem. By the actual rules, a lot of the story and character stuff that people fondly remember doesn’t actually work. It’s forcing what players want on top of a system that wasn’t designed to support it. I fully believe that you guys, and most people, had great character drama playing D&D, but you had it in spite of the system, not because of it. Also, now I want a corndog.

      But to me, there’s systems that straight-up do what I want. If I’m going to play a game and play it right, I want to do it by the rules. Dogs in the Vineyard supports exactly the kind of play it was intended to. Burning Wheel has built-in boons and rewards for playing certain ways, ways that lend themselves to both combat and social issues. Even the 4th ed D&D, if I recall, had mental or social damage.

      I’m absolutely cool with people’s stories in D&D, but you’re right-it supersedes the rules and the group tailors the rules to allow it.

      1. Shit. I passed up a corndog at the Scottish games to get something I thought T would eat. I don’t know if the kid is worth such a sacrifice…

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