Monday, February 28, 2011

In praise of plain old vanilla

Once upon a time, a group of women went shopping for ice cream. 

The first bought super-fifteen berry banzai suprise.
The second bought extra-dark bitter mocha chocolate with almonds and hazelnuts
The third bought super funky cookie dough monkey delight.
The fourth bought plain old vanilla.

They took their purchases home and tried them out in a variety of ways.

The first woman's ice cream made a great milkshake, was okay with pie, but made a terrible banana split.
The second woman's ice cream was great to eat by itself, but made a terrible shake, was disgusting with pie, but was not bad with a banana split.
The third woman's ice cream was decent in a shake, not bad with pie, but horrible for a banana split.
The fourth woman's ice cream went well with everything.

Ever tried to create some 'concept campaign' with a group of players, only they all show up with a variety of character concepts they want to play but don't fit your mold?

Or alternately, as a player, have you ever had a great idea for a character, but it just didn't work with the campaign the DM had devised?

There's something to be said for plain vanilla fantasy worlds.  They leave room for lots of different character types and backgrounds, as well as multiple play styles.

Vanilla doesn't mean flavorless.  Ever tried some home made ice cream WITHOUT any flavoring?  Makes vanilla taste amazing after that.  It's just a flavor that's well known and comfortable for a lot of people.

For a DM, that means less work you have to spend on exposition.  For players, it's less work trying to figure out how to fit into your DM's world.  That means you have more time to play, and that's where the real fun is, isn't it?

There's nothing wrong with a 'plain vanilla,' pseudo-western Europe with pseudo-whatevers on the fringes, because that means more time to play and less work/homework for everyone.


  1. I'm in total agreement here.

    Also, I like vanilla ice cream.

  2. True, there's nothing wrong with vanilla, but there's also nothing wrong with wanting butter pecan or mint chocolate chip, provided one checks with all the attendants at the party beforehand.

    I don't think "other flavors are harder than vanilla" should ever be a reason not to experiment with them.

  3. Personally, I'm a bit anti-vanilla.

    I guess vanilla is tasty if, and only if, you have it one in a while like you would any flavor aside from your favorite. Your certainly going to have your favorite more often than any other.

    But if all you ever have is vanilla, if all you ever serve is vanilla, it gets really boring really fast.

    Vanilla doesn't mean flavorless? That's true but IMHO it does mean bland. Its typical, regular, nothing special.

    I never want to run or play 'nothing special'.For me 'super special' will always be the way to go.

  4. 'There's nothing wrong with a 'plain vanilla,' pseudo-western Europe with pseudo-whatevers on the fringes, because that means more time to play and less work/homework for everyone.':
    Absolutely. But just because something's the norm, doesn't necessarily mean it's either superior or for everyone, of course.
    As for less work/more play due to 'standard fantasy' quo: this is assuming that the potential players are familiar with bog-standard 'D&D'-type fantasy, as opposed to say Urban Fantasy or Epic Fantasy or Science Fantasy, Fairy Tale Fantasy , even Whimsical Fantasy, etc...(all of which diverge to varying degrees from the general assumptions of most RPGs) combinations thereof or even none, really. (I've had this situation fairly recently, in fact. Still a lot of homework, if you will, for those players.). And just 'cuz they are doesn't mean it'll run smooth. Then there's experienced players jaded by the concept and who want to try something new.

    There's a lot of variation in the 'vanilla' these days. And of course, I like 'vanilla' well enough, but I'll try most flavors! Though, in the end, it usually is 'chocolate' for me.(Sometimes with 'toppings!')

    It all boils down to personal preferences, imo. I don't mind coming up with more on my end, and my players seemed to like it. But, there's nothing 'better' about a more exotic world vs. a more stereotypical one. You can have 'Forgotten Realms' and 'Tékumel' and mash-ups of same with little problem, I'd say.

  5. I think as long as its what everybody wants getting away from Vanilla is fine. The problem is that all too often everybody shows up with their hearts already set on something else.

  6. *Good* vanilla is my absolute favorite, mostly because root-beer floats and vanilla malts are two of my five desert weaknesses (the others being key lime pie, fudge brownies, and good apple pie).

    Aside: ze bulette reminded me that you were based in Korea. I'm actually going to be in Korea next week. I won't be getting down to Busan this time around, but I will have a a whole day to myself in Daejeon.

  7. Don't get me wrong, folks. I'm not saying all vanilla all the time. Just don't underestimate the ease with which a standard D&D campaign world, with all the expected tropes and cliches, can expedite play at times.

    Risus Monkey--I've never been to Daejeon (been through it on the KTX only). If you're coming to Busan sometime in the future, give me a heads up and maybe we can get together for some gaming.

  8. Vanilla is my favorite flavor of ice cream, actually.... but often I like to put a little chocolate syrup or caramel on it. I suppose that also sums up my gaming tastes.

    A pinch of spice is better than a whole box.

    Insert your favorite food/flavor cliche here!

  9. If you're coming to Busan sometime in the future, give me a heads up and maybe we can get together for some gaming.

    Will do. I was in Jinhae for a day on my last trip, so getting down near Busan isn't completely outside the realm of possibility.