What is D&D, Anyway?

March 12th, 2009

Jeff Rients of Jeff’s Gameblog, who ordinarily has interesting things to say, recently decided to instead rant about 4th edition in a couple of posts, starting with positing an unbridgeable gap between old-school and new-school.  All of this was founded, mind you, on a misinterpretation of a single post by Trask of Living Dice.  (Later he added a second post based on an editorial by someone at Wizards of the Coast.)  Buried in the comments, though, he said something that’s actually thought-provoking and worth responding to:

3d6 chargen. Wandering monsters. Save or die. Rust monsters eatng my sword. Level draining. Random treasure (possibly no treasure). Dave the Game may be right and what I’m talking about is a ‘playstyle’ issue, but the playstyle that I learned from D&D is no longer one supported by D&D.

I find this interesting because it is, for the most part, a list of those things that I found most senseless and annoying as both a player and a GM in past editions.  If this is how the “old school” contingent (and we really need a better name for them — too many of them, judging from other comments on Jeff’s post, are too ignorant or too vested in the One True Way of Gaming to allow them to co-opt “old school”) defines D&D, then I think it’s no surprise that the game no longer feels like D&D to them.

3d6 in order chargen. Seriously?  Even when I played 1e, I never rolled up characters this way.  Well, to be more specific, I did it once.  It resulted in a party of 4 characters who were all clerics.  Not because the players all wanted to play clerics, but because nobody had a Strength, Dexterity, or Intelligence higher than 8.  There was literally no other class they could play.  The highest Wisdom among them was 13.  One of these was a reroll after the player’s initial stat rolls failed to qualify for any character class.  The group unanimously house-ruled character creation.

I fail to see how this could be fun for anyone.  Why force a player who wants to play a fighter to play something else because he rolled low strength?  Why force a player who doesn’t want to play a fighter to play one because strength was his only decent roll?  Why make the player who pictured a clever, fast-talking con man play a character with single-digit intelligence and charisma, when he rolled higher stats that went to strength and constitution?  What are the odds that that player is going to give a damn about playing that character?  Random chargen can be fun and lead the player to consider things he might not have before, but complete randomness does nobody any favors.  The player needs at least a little bit of choice over what sort of character he’s going to play.  In D&D, that means, to me, at least allowing the rolls to be assigned as the player pleases.

Wandering monsters. I’ve used these to decent effect, but I’ve also run long-term games without a single one.  I’ve never seen a random encounter add anything substantial to the game — at least, not to any game after I got past the pure “kill things and take their stuff” stage.  The one real argument I’ve seen for using them is to present a sense of danger to the characters — that they’re in enemy territory and monsters could happen across them if they dawdle.  I normally have planned patrols for that purpose, though.  Purely random wandering monsters?  I rarely use tables like that, these days.

Save or die. If I had to pick the single greatest improvement in 4e over older editions, it would be the general elimination of instant-kill effects.  These were at their most ludicrous in 3e, where casters could push the save DCs so high as to make the instadeath a near-certainty, but even in the earlier days, they spelled a 5%-plus chance that a PC or a major villain would just drop dead.  That’s rarely either fun or dramatic, from either side of the table.  My groups tended to house-rule these for the major players, and save the instadeaths for the mooks and hirelings.  Some of this is probably a result of my HERO experience; in HERO, there’s no true instakill method, and attacks that evade standard defenses are rare (ie. costly).  I happen to think that’s a pretty good design philosophy in general.

Rust monsters. Along with, I presume, the other nuisance critters like disenchanters, ethereal filchers, random thieves in the night, and other “I decided I don’t really want you to have that treasure I gave you” monsters.  I’ll also lump in ear seekers and other “I decided you play too smart, and I’m getting bored, so now suffer” monsters here, though I don’t know whether Jeff does or not.  Basically, these things are in-game methods of dealing with out-of-game problems.  My issue is that they’re bad methods — they take away the symptoms, sure, but they don’t address the underlying causes.  I’ve long preferred to handle these types of problems outside of the game.  My players are all mature enough to listen to my concerns, discuss (and suggest) methods of handling them, and then follow through.  And then when they lose the Artifact of Overpoweredness through blocking the Evil Archmage’s Ritual of Plot Device, they won’t feel it’s arbitrary and out of the blue.

Level draining. I don’t really hate the concept here so much as the result:  anywhere from 3 to 15 sessions of play essentially negated by a single hit.  Per level lost.  (Yes, in the old editions, it could easily take 15 sessions to progress a level, after a certain point…)  When you consider the things that drained 2 levels, or 1d4 levels, that’s a lot of progress — a lot of play time — negated from a single hit taken or a single save failed.  And worse, each level drained meant that the character was likelier to take subsequent hits or fail subsequent saves.  I usually replaced level drain with an attribute-drain mechanic instead; it still weakened the character, but it didn’t have the same kind of snowball effect, nor did it throw away two months of play at a single shot.  It also didn’t require the player to keep exact track of what he’d gained at each level, or try to subtract those gains in the middle of combat.  No, I don’t miss level draining at all.

Random treasure (possibly no treasure). I agree with the second part here — but then, so does 4e, so that’s sort of irrelevant to “old school” gaming.  Random treasure?  Never used it, aside from rolling for coin amounts.  I discovered early on that it was better to place magic items myself, and, as Dragon advised me, to have the bad guys use them against the party, if the bad guys should be capable of doing so.  No killing a couple of orcs to luckily discover a broadsword +2 that none of the orcs had even wielded, thank you.  Now, the obvious answer to that is to roll it up in advance… but what advantage does that have over placement, exactly?  It seems to me that it only serves to make preparation take longer and, in the case of slavish adherence to the table, possibly provide the players with a magic item too powerful for my tastes.  (I suppose that’s what the rust monsters were for?  Silly.  Better to just not put it there in the first place.)

So, if all of that’s what defines D&D, I’d have to say I’m pretty happy not playing D&D any more.  Or, indeed, having almost never played D&D over all those years I’ve been playing this game in these books with “D&D” on the cover.  Obviously, that’s not how I define D&D.  My take agrees with Thasmodius, one of the commenters to Jeff’s post:

I’d agree with Thasmodius, actually. The game is pretty much the same as it was when I started playing it.

The mechanics are different, but if one feels that the mechanics are the game, then one might as well be playing one of those computer games that members of certain circles like to look down upon.

Mechanics are important, of course, but there are so many things that are so much more important — and so many of them have changed so much across various editions — that the import of mechanics is limited.

Which generated the following response from Chris Tichenor:

These are the kinds of statements that completely blow my mind. What is a game besides the rules? Nothing. What differentiates football from baseball? Chess from checkers? It’s the rules. You change the rules, you change the game.

Anyone who says the game is still “basically” the same has either never actually read the rules or is being intellectually dishonest.

O.K., now cue the 4e fan who lists the 7 or 8 things new D&D still has in common with old D&D (and three dozen other fantasy role playing games).

Which in turn boggles my mind:

See, that’s the kind of statement that blows my mind.

What is a play besides the script?

What is the whole besides the sum of its parts?

How can it be argued that old school is superior because it purportedly encourages creativity and improvisation more than recent editions, if the rules are all that’s important?

The rules are the least part of the game. And if you play D&D like you play chess or checkers, I frankly feel sorry for you.

Am I off base here?  Do that many people really see D&D as a game of rules, as if it were a board game?  How the hell do these people call themselves “old school” without apparent irony, if so?  Have I been misinterpreting the nature of the game I’ve been playing for over two decades?  Is it just another form of chess?  (And isn’t that one of the erroneous arguments against 4e, that it’s all rule-bound tactical combat?  Is the fundamentalist “old school” crowd having its strawman cake and eating it too, here?)

Is there an unbridgeable gap?  A week ago, I would have said no, and laughed.  After reading those posts, and the 170-and-counting comments between them, I’m beginning to think that there is, in fact.  And it’s being dug by this vocal group who call themselves “old school,” for the purpose of… well, I’m not sure, exactly.  I assume there’s some purpose, though.  I’m starting to think this group will still be fighting the Edition Wars right up to 5e’s release (and then starting afresh).  And I find it kind of sad, really.

It’s all D&D, as far as I’m concerned.  Play using the rules you want.  Fans are going to argue, it’s in their nature, but make it a Kirk/Picard or Star Wars/Star Trek argument, not a religious schism, yeah?  We all play D&D.  And we all play the right way.  For us, at least.

Except that one guy over there.  That’s just wrong...

I’m curious, though.  What’s D&D to you?


Related posts:

  1. What D&D Is (To Me)
  2. Ten Monsters I Love (But Rarely Use)
  3. Hanging in the Balance
  4. The Rules Gap
  5. 4E from One Year In

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  1. Tigerbunny, Mar. 12, 2009, 11:03 am:

    It is a little sad to see so much of the Old School Renaissance get coopted into tribalism – just as they are really hitting their creative stride.

    I have been playing since 1979, and while I have played “Rients D&D”, I have to agree with you that we pretty much jettisoned a lot of those things very early on – screw you monsters, 3d6-in-order (although 3d6-then-order was – and is – still fun for some kinds of games), level drains & instakills (except for heavily signposted “boss monster” encounters, at least – in those situations, the extraordinary monster threat becomes something you can plan for or avoid).

    On the other hand, I still use wandering monsters. I still use (semi-) random treasure (although adjusted a bit to tailor to my group or the adventure/site/monster/whatever).

    I just had a great time on Sunday playing 1E… Steading of the Hill Giant Chief, even. I ran over a year of RC before 4E came out, and had a great time with that. I also have a great time playing 4E – including running what’s basically an old-school megadungeon-centered campaign.

    I get that those who are strongly attached to one particular way of playing the game feel abandoned by the direction it’s taken in recent years. But the truth is, their cherished “old school style” was never a majority taste, not even back in the day. I really don’t see what is gained by railing against 4E when they have a vibrant, thriving hobby community of people who ARE interested in that style of play, and games like Swords & Wizardy, OSRIC, etc to play it with. Except that age-old joy of feeling superior.

  2. RandallS, Mar. 12, 2009, 11:11 am:

    I wish I had time to take these point by point, but unfortunately, my schedule today gives me five minutes, So I’ll limit my comments to character generation. Original D&D did not give many bonuses based on attributes nor where their attribute-based requirements for standard classes. Therefore, your attribute rolls seldom dictated your choice of character class. A fighter with a strength of 8 was no worse off than a fighter with a strength of 14. My cleric with a wisdom of 9 was worse than my other cleric with a wisdom of 17 in only one area. The 17 wisdom cleric qualified for an experience bonus. No matter what you rolled, you had a playable character who could function well in any class.

  3. Zachary, Mar. 12, 2009, 11:19 am:

    D&D for me is sort of like Justice Potter Stewart once defined pornography: “I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material but I know it when I see it”. :)

    See, though, I *liked* Rust Monsters. I liked having gnomes, bards, and barbarians in the core book (when it wasn’t ALL or continual “core”). I liked the Gygaxian core of things still nestled at the center of the d20 SRD. I liked random treasure, and if a player told me what magic items they wanted, I would nod sagely and put the request in my circular file.

    I didn’t even mind level drains and save vs. or die. I thought there’s a place for that–and there still very much is at my table.

    I know for many D&D 4e scratches the D&D itch. But for me, it just doesn’t. I’m not saying it isn’t D&D (and here’s the important distinction), it just isn’t *MY* D&D. Sorta the same way comic book fans choose a certain ideal of a superhero in their heads, and no matter how much retcon or line restarts happens, that’s their picture of that superhero (Bruce Wayne *is* Batman, damn it!).

    For D&D, there’s a mix of not only what I want, but what I don’t want. I don’t like Eladrin BAMPFing around a battle grid. I don’t like the splitting of spells vs. rituals. I don’t like battle powers that sound like they were robbed from Dragonball Z (please don’t take that as a slam, that’s just what it reminds me of). I don’t want to buy a procession of handbooks, guide, and manuals, each claiming to be “core”, just to get the classes and races I considered as a baseline with the last edition.

    There was a forking of the road after 3e. Every edition has had those who haven’t converted, but this time, with the OGL and Pathfinder and the like, people who didn’t convert this time have more of an option than just watching their numbers dwindle quickly (which, due to the constraints of the GSL, is exactly will likely happen to the 4e fanbase when 5e hits–though many of them may not mind).

    I’m perfectly willing to admit that my idea of D&D isn’t everyone’s idea of D&D. (People who can’t are what cause the continual 3e vs. 4e crapstorms). But it must that of enough people to make this split viable.

    In any case, whatever edition I play, I still really enjoy your blog, and think it would be a great day when folks could accept that people are going to have different benchmarks and expectations for their gaming, and that that fact isn’t cause to slam folks who don’t agree. I love reading about awesome 3e play. I love reading about awesome 4e play. Its just one of those happens to appeal to me more.

    Zachary´s last blog post: My 5 Favorite DnD Classes

  4. Judd, Mar. 12, 2009, 12:45 pm:

    It isn’t an unbridgeable gap but on the internet there is some unbridgeable identity politics and that is all this is.

    D&D, to me is a fun group of toys: githyanki, beholders, ten foot poles, forty foot of rope, “Never split up the party!”, the liche, back to town for supplies.

  5. Mad Brew, Mar. 12, 2009, 12:47 pm:

    Dungeons & Dragons is definitively whatever product that bears the trademark. The original boxed sets were D&D, 1st Edition was D&D, 2nd Edition was D&D, 3rd Edition was D&D, and 4th Edition is Dungeons & Dragons, because the owner of that brand declares it so…

    The true question at hand is “What do I like to experience when playing Dungeons & Dragons?” Well, you’re going to get as many answers as there are people who answer it (though there will be definite trends in answers).

    Does it matter that you or I disagree with what the yahoo (not directed at any particular yahoo) on the otherside of the internet likes to experience? The only thing that should matter is whether or not you or I play way the way we like to play with people who mostly agree with that playstyle.

    Mad Brew´s last blog post: Accessories: Terrain, Cardstock, & Tutorials

  6. Gary, Mar. 12, 2009, 12:57 pm:

    As far as I can tell, their beef with 4e centers around three things: 1) 4e has a rich combat mechanic that ensures that no two encounters are ever the same, and it gives everyone something to do. I guess they can’t wrap their heads around it. 2) 4e doesn’t have prices 10 foot poles. 3) Teh eebil WotC is charging people money for their games. How awful!

    My reply is thus: 1) Ok, so why even bother with basic OD&D rules? Just flip coins to see who survives the encounter and narrate the result. There: rules light with plenty of random senseless instadeath! You could even flip coins again on the survivors to impose some horrible ongoing effect. My point is reinforced by RandallS’s assertion that stats in those games are meaningless. Why bother rolling? 2) 10 foot poles are cheap as free. Get over it. 3) Someone had to pay for OD&D at some point.

  7. Donny_the_DM, Mar. 12, 2009, 1:09 pm:

    i really HATE it when people I respect get into these really pointless “Yer doin it wrong” modes.

    Aside from beauty, I don’t think there is anything else out there that is as subjective as the RPG experience. We see it most often as not feeling comfortable with a particular group/player, and less often as the DM from hell.

    Here, even. Jeff DOESN’T like 4E because it’s missing elements that A large group of us think are retarded. It takes an (unfortunately) very small jump to consider his opinions to be crap. After all, would you read FORD reviews from a chevy owner who stars off each review with “God FORDS are terrible”.

    Maybe it’s time that RPGBloggers starts seperating edition specific content or something. I know that sounds lame, but I KNOW I’mnot the only one getting tired of this.

    Hell, Even the grognards can’t get along – though it appears that LofFP doesn’t seem to get along with most folks.

    So Yes, there IS an unbridgeable gap. I know that I would never play another OD&D game. Why? Because I couldn’t stand it. It was boring, the whole “sandbox” thing where you describe you actions in nauseating detail made every single fracking 10×10 room a 1 hour exercise in who can cram the most words into his action. BORING!

    3D6 chargen…If it is Sooooo cool to RP crappy ability scores, why CAN’T you RP GOOD scores? I mean FUUUUUCK! How many times have you made a Terrible character, and watched the jackass across the table either cheat or luck roll 3 18′s? Suddenly RP is ALL you have since the other character is just plain better.

    God, here I am ranting like a fool – on someone elses porch even…sorry :)

  8. PrecociousApprentice, Mar. 12, 2009, 1:31 pm:

    The day we eliminate “D&D is not…” from our dialogue and replace it with “D&D is also…and it is good for me this way because I like…” will be the day the edition wars will stop. The unbridgeable gap is solely due to the former. WotC sort of started it with the tone that they advertised 4e with, but the “old school” crowd has a very vocal minority that is trumpetng “D&D is not…” like a battle cry. Neither side is free from this crap, there are a ton of very thoughtful and interesting “old school” people out there. We should all just get over it and realize that we are all a bunch of nerds with more in common with each other than we have with the “mundanes”.

    The gap is not unbridgeable. It is being defended ravenously though.

  9. Wyatt, Mar. 12, 2009, 1:31 pm:

    War…has changed.

    *Solid Snake salute*

    Anyway, I agree personally. Each of those elements were bothersome to me, and I don’t use them or miss them. Even when I played retroclones or old versions of D&D (such as for review purposes) I did not use them and didn’t miss them.

    In-Order roll chargen is just awful. Wandering monsters is decently entertaining when you have nothing plotted, as long as the table makes some sense…but using it all the time would be overkill for me. Random treasure, in that same vein, is fun every ones in a while.

    The rest of the elements mentioned are just annoying to me both as a player and a DM because they are very easily seen as antagonistic and random cruelties. You got too powerful for my taste? Eat a level drain and fight a few rust monsters. It’s like a game reset button. It bothers me.

    But that’s just me. I think arguing with the old school folks about their preferences is really pointless and just contributes to the amount of faux-spam on the web.

    Wyatt´s last blog post: Might of Eden: Additional Class Features

  10. Ktulu, Mar. 12, 2009, 1:38 pm:

    Hi, long time lurker, first time poster (god, I love how lame that always sounds).

    Anyway, great post!

    What is D&D to me? Getting together with my friends to play a fantasy adventure using the defined tropes of fighters, wizards, thieves, dragons, and the like.

    I can do this using Star Wars Saga edition (and did, until 4e came out). I can do this with 2e, 3e, Pathfinder, whatever. For me, it’s just finding the mechanics that fit your group’s style best. We love the balance of 4e and the ease of playing/prepping games. We also love the power system and the more obvious “role” mechanics; some don’t.

    That’s cool, too, but please don’t whiz in my cheerios just because you disagree.

  11. Chuck, Mar. 12, 2009, 1:47 pm:

    First, I think one of the problems is that no one can agree on what “old-school” even means. For me, it’s not about silly monsters, save or die effects or unrealistic wandering monster tables. It’s about being around the hobby and seeing it grow and evolve.
    What it D&D to me? It’s just another game in my inventory that just happens to come in a few flavors. There’s AD&D, 2nd Ed, 3.x/Pathfinder and then there’s 4th Ed. As far as 3.x vs 4th Ed, I prefer 3.x. They’re both D&D just different flavors and people have different tastes.

    Chuck´s last blog post: Six ways to control looting

  12. Wimwick, Mar. 12, 2009, 2:09 pm:

    I find these debates between old and new D&D interesting. Many of the elements you’ve listed are aspects of the game that annoy me as well and they haven’t had a part at my gaming table for years. The edition I was playing didn’t matter, I didn’t enjoy random treasure or encounters and I thought that assining stats in order was rather silly.

    I play D&D for the Role-playing as much as the Roll-playing so when I create a character I want it to matter to me. I also want the stats to match the concept I’ve envisioned in my mind.

    With each new edition that has been published my gaming group has debated whether we would convert. We always have and are currently finding that 4e is the most fun we’ve had playing D&D for some time. This doesn’t mean other people are wrong, I don’t have the right to tell people that. What it means is we enjoy different aspects of a shared hobby.

    That’s a good thing. That’s an aspect of the game that’s worth celebrating. I suppose I find it odd that 4e has been out for almost a year and this debate seems to just be starting.

    Wimwick´s last blog post: Playing Characters With Low Ability Scores

  13. justaguy, Mar. 12, 2009, 2:15 pm:

    DnD is hard to define for me. The rules matter but they don’t, there is more of a… mythology to the game experience for me… I’ve considered everything I’ve played from Basic to 4E and Pathfinder to be DnD. Home ruled or by the book. And while I might say “Wow, OSRIC is just like basic” or something, I can’t see myself saying “Wow, Osric is DnD”. I guess the name of the product means a lot to me, which on some level is silly but there it is.

    Can we carry the analogy to far, and if we like both old school and new school call ourselves post-old schoolers? Or something?

    justaguy´s last blog post: Old school, new school… I’m the one with the dice

  14. Tom, Mar. 12, 2009, 2:24 pm:

    “Old-school” is a made-up BS term that means nothing, so anyone can apply any definition that want.

    Anyway, you DO know the rust monster is coming back right? Its in MM2 – http://www.wizards.com/default.asp?x=dnd/dramp/2009Mar

  15. Mearls, Mar. 12, 2009, 2:51 pm:

    The strength of D&D is that it can be anything you want it to be. That some folks mistake their way of playing D&D for the One True Way is just an unfortunate byproduct of that strength.

  16. Donny_the_DM, Mar. 12, 2009, 5:24 pm:

    @ Mearls – Unfortunate byproduct, indeed.

    Evidently EVERYONE secretly wishes all these OTHER assholes would just do it right :)

    I avoid the issue entirely by being a DM only these days. As nobody else does it to my satisfaction.

    Snobbery? Not if you ask my players – they are just happy to play.

  17. Swordgleam, Mar. 12, 2009, 5:26 pm:

    It seems pretty obvious to me. All the things listed contribute to D&D as a game that one can advance in, lose at, and if not win, then at least achieve measurable goals. So, closer to a boardgame, or the wargames from which D&D came. You lose levels, you get useless treasure, you lose treasure – so it makes it more worthwhile when you finally have a character with 18 strength who does find a +3 flaming greatsword and manages to slay the lich without suffering any drain.

    Which is great – if you don’t care about the story. If you don’t think, “I want to play a silver-tongued conman,” but rather, “I want to live past lvl 10 this time.” I don’t want to say ‘gamist’ vs ‘narritavist’ because of the pavlovian response those labels trigger, but I think the issue is similar. If you want a story, a game where advancement is measured more in terms of plot objectives than levels and loot, it’s counterproductive to have random stats, treasure, and monsters, and lose any of those things at random. But if you want to get to high numbers, it does lose some fun if you start with good numbers and have the knowledge that they will only get better.

    I’m not saying that’s all old-schoolers care about. I wouldn’t even try to define what that label means. But it does seem to be that that is one of the core issues that is confusing people.

  18. Passingby, Mar. 12, 2009, 6:10 pm:

    I think there’s a lot of BS that comes out of WotC and their game designers.

    Spin, spin, spin.

    The bottom line is that 4E is a new game, not the continuation of D&D as everyone has come to experience it to this point.

    WotC just can’t seem to learn that a classic game requires little change, not more. With each edition of the game, they leave dedicated players behind.

    Saying that D&D is a living game is their discourse for “let’s sell them more crap they don’t need to play the game.”

  19. Scott, Mar. 12, 2009, 7:08 pm:

    Good grief. I obviously should’ve saved this one for a day when I wouldn’t have to work. Thank you all for your responses. ^_^

    @Tigerbunny: You’re a little older than I am, then. I do have a soft spot for “3d6 6 times, put them where you like.” (I think that was method II?) I prefer point-buy methods, but I think that’s another legacy of HERO. When I play BECMI/Cyclopedia D&D, I usually use a variant on the “4d6, drop lowest” method, where each player rolls once (or twice) until six scores are generated, and then they all place those six scores in whatever stats they want. Keeps the party internally stat-balanced, so no one vastly outshines another character on the strength of luck alone, but the actual stat arrays are still different.

    @RandallS: That may be the case, but it certainly wasn’t the case by 1e AD&D or BECMI D&D, which are where I started. A fighter with Str 8 couldn’t exist in those rules — you needed a minimum of 9 just to qualify for the class. A cleric with Wis lower than… 12, I think… would suffer spell failure chance. Wizards with low Int had both much lower chances of learning a spell and a lower number of spells known overall, leading to fewer options.

    @Zachary: That might be the only useful definition. ^_- As far as your opinions go, I think that’s fair. None of the editions is for everyone. I’ve played most of them over the years, and enjoyed them, but the only past edition I go back to with any frequency is BECMI. I don’t hate the rest, though. They just don’t do it for me any more. They (and the newer retro-clones, or at least the ones I’ve tried) are good for an occasional one-shot, but I doubt I’d sustain the interest to play a full campaign any more. It’d have to be a really exceptional game. But… and this is important, I think… I realize that that’s not the game, it’s just me. My tastes. Either they’ve changed, or I’ve found something that better suits them. End result’s the same, whichever the case might be.

    @Judd: Never split up the party? You’re lucky… mine like to split up at the drop of a hat, if I’m not careful!

    @Mad Brew: Ahh, semantics. And you’re right — but I like seeing the answers. And of course it matters! Everyone knows Star Wars was better! Wait, wrong squabble…

    @Gary: Somehow I doubt that’s entirely fair. ^_- 4e’s got some annoyances of its own. Any game system does; it’s just what you’re willing to live with. Or play with, rather. And how much work you’re willing to do to house-rule it. I’ll admit that that amount has dropped quite a bit for me, since I graduated a decade or so ago…

    @Donny_the_DM: I expect some ranting, it’s the internet. Anyway… I still have fun with BECMI, but I never played it that way, either. I played it more or less exactly the way I play 4e. I wasn’t either deluded or intellectually dishonest in my comment quoted above — for me, they’re the same game, barring a couple of mechanical differences.

    @PrecociousApprentice: Yeah, I don’t think WotC’s pre-release advertising tactic helped matters. But it’s nine months since the release… I’d like to think at some point we could all just agree that that was dumb (regardless of whether they were right or wrong, it was dumb) and move on.

  20. Scott, Mar. 12, 2009, 7:32 pm:

    @Wyatt: Arguing with anyone over anything is usually pretty pointless, but it passes time. I’d just like to see less… vitriol.

    @Ktulu: Welcome. I agree. ^_^

    @Chuck: Lack of a useful definition of old-school is part of the problem, no doubt. Not all of those “old school” people define it the same way, even. The cynic in me thinks, though, that trying to form a more concrete definition will only exacerbate the problem toward big-endian/little-endian extremes.

    @Wimwick: I’ve always converted, too. Dragged my feet a little on the 2e/3e change, but for the most part I’ve gotten into the new editions fairly close to their release. As far as AD&D is concerned, I’ve enjoyed each edition more than its predecessor. By the time the annoyances really start to grate, it seems like another edition is near… I suppose that’s part of the reason I don’t see it entirely as a money grab.

    @justaguy: I’ve been thinking about calling myself no-school, just to be contrary. ^_-

    @Tom: I’m not a subscriber, but I’ve heard. I’m going to hope 4e presents them in a reasonable way and not in an “instantly disintegrates all your metal equipment and treasure” way. I’m on the fence as to whether I’ll pick up the MM2 at all, though; with 4e, creating new monsters is incredibly easy, and I have a shelf full of books with 1e, 2e, and 3e monsters for inspiration…

    @Mearls: Well said, I suppose. I was going to say I found it odd that HERO, a universal system, hadn’t inspired that kind of thing — but then I remembered the Fuzion version of Champions. Which was bad, and better left forgotten, and did inspire that kind of fan backlash. Of course, it also removed almost literally everything but the name and replaced it with an entirely new system. Much more drastic than the 3e-4e change. Think going from 3e to, oh, Sen’Jin with a “4e” sticker on the cover. But that’s another story…

    @Swordgleam: Okay, I can see that. I can’t imagine it would be much fun on an extended basis, though. The occasional trap-filled-dungeon delve, even S1 Tomb of Horrors, sure. Campaign? Not to my taste. But I could see it.

    @Passingby: You have any numbers to back that up? I’ll admit I don’t, but by observation, it seems that 3e had a much larger playerbase than 2e in their respective heydays. (I’m not so sure about 1e, because I was pretty young when 1e was in its heyday, and not inclined to pay much attention to other gamers outside my own group.) 4e doesn’t seem as large yet, but it’s less than a year in, so it hasn’t yet hit its stride — I’d have to wait another year, maybe 18 months, before I’d feel comfortable eyeballing it. As far as selling crap… hey, they’re a business. TSR did it, now WotC/Hasbro does it. I’m fine with that, as long as the crap they’re putting out is of reasonably high quality. So far, 4e generally has been, for me.

  21. Thasmodious, Mar. 12, 2009, 11:30 pm:

    Cool, I got a shout out from a blogger whom I regularly read. :)

    I missed that response from Chris, and I find it ridiculous. It doesn’t even make sense.

    “What differentiates football from baseball? Chess from checkers? It’s the rules. You change the rules, you change the game.”

    The rules to baseball, basketball, football, on its highest level change every freaking year when the owners have their annual meetings with league officials. New rules are proposed, the game is changed, but its still the same game. Actually, maybe his statement isn’t so ridiculous after all. It’s actually a great analogy for exactly why each edition of D&D is still D&D. Baseball is broadly defined as the game elements we all recognize as making it different from other ball sports, but the hundreds upon hundreds of rules that make up organized play change from year to year. D&D changes from edition to edition, but the broader game is always recognizable and hasn’t changed at all. You still play a fantasy based character with a race and class who is an adventurer in a fantasy world with monsters that often sit atop or block access to piles of ancient treasure just waiting to be found. The broad game has not changed much at all in its many years, just some of the smaller rules have been tweaked here and there by the “owners”. For the broad, “organized” game the owners are of course, TSR and WotC, but for individual games, its the DM and group. And I’ve never, in 30 years of gaming, played in a single game without houserules.

    One of the reasons I started spending much more time reading the RPG Network blogs as opposed to message boards is that boards have been so bogged down with this ridiculous edition wars, your way of playing is no TRUE way, bullshit and the blogs were pretty free of it. I could get as much from reading Grognard blogs as I could from fellow 4e bloggers. But now the grogs have decided, for reasons unknown, to go on the warpath like a bunch of douchebag barbarians. Maybe someone slipped something into their grog? Perhaps a lvl 12 master thief?

    The funny thing is there is a lot of talk about “people on both sides”, but it never seems to be the 4e players starting this nonsense. I’ve yet to see some 4e player post something like “man, i am so happy I play 4e instead of all those stupid editions of D&D that really sucked with their silly sucky things and crappy rules, if you aren’t playing with powers you aren’t playing REAL D&D” Yet, this is exactly the kind of nonsense we are hit with, daily. And over things like ear seekers and level drain and 3d6, no less. I never even played 1e with 3d6 in order.

  22. Trask, Mar. 13, 2009, 1:22 am:

    I feel vaguely responsible for this recent flurry of posts. All I did was complain about an encounter I thought was poorly designed and somehow this becomes a new vs old flamefest. I am truly trying to ignore it all, since who really cares what mechanic is used, so long as the game is fun and interesting?

    Trask, The Last Tyromancer

    Trask´s last blog post: 2009 GAMA Trade Show List of Exhibitors with Links

  23. Bryan, Mar. 13, 2009, 5:42 am:

    I’ve been playing and running D&D since 1E, and have seen a hue and cry being called for 2E, 3E, and 4E. Just wait it out and it will calm down. Many of the “old school crowd”, I suspect, are people that never accepted 2E or 3E to begin with. Ironically, the “old school” games that they seem to be playing are actually rule sets that were developed post-3E (e.g. Labyrinth Lords and Swords and Wizardry), which have presumably made official house-rules that fixed a number of issues with 1E.

    I think the problem is that both games have D&D in the name – has anyone heard cries and screams about how 4E betrays the core concepts of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay? No, because they are DIFFERENT games, just like OD&D and 4E. The sooner everyone accepts that, the happier we will all be.

  24. Blotz, Mar. 13, 2009, 9:10 am:

    “My players are all mature enough to listen to my concerns, discuss (and suggest) methods of handling them, and then follow through.”

    Are you somehow implying that there are people out there who play their D&D with other rational adults! Mature human beings? Who (GASP!!!) might be friends with one another? You mean we’re not alone?


  25. Zachary, Mar. 13, 2009, 11:02 am:

    @Thasmodious: If you’ve never heard a 4e player start anything, you must not be a regular visitor to ENWorld in the past few months. ;) Which, I grant you, is likely a wise move given the climate.

    @Scott: I think you’re right–the end result’s the same. 1e, 2e, 3e are respectively the same games they’ve always been. But what we want out of a game–and therefore, I think what we tend to highlight about those experiences–certainly can change.

    Zachary´s last blog post: Friday Discussion: Which RPG Rules/Setting Would You Love The Rights To?

  26. Chgowiz, Mar. 13, 2009, 12:23 pm:

    A couple of thoughts, since I’m one of those dreaded graybeards who has a preference and likes to advocate it, while not really minding what people play…

    1. Each side likes to lump everyone into buckets. I’m this, or that, you’re this or that. That’s no different from the comments here and the comments there and the comments everywhere. I’m probably guilty of it as well when I get too worked up over what is, after I calm down and think about it, just a simple expression of fondness for what I enjoy.

    2. I have preferences and I have people that I like to play with. I happen to identify with those who play OD&D and older versions. Why is it wrong to say “I like to play this way and this way comes from older versions – I find nothing in particular that I like in the newer versions or in the way the vast majority of people who I’ve personally met, play these new versions” ? Why is that a Bad Thing?

    I like the 3d6 chargen, I like ‘save or die’, I like the whole kit and kaboodle and I have a lot of fun with the way I run/play it. I’ll be glad to take the slings and arrows for what I like, because I’m still going to do that at the end of the day. I may even enjoy a pickup game of something else now and then.

    Chgowiz´s last blog post: Ask My Wife About the Solo Game

  27. noisms, Mar. 13, 2009, 8:57 pm:

    3d6 in order is a great mode of character generation if you like to be surprised. I love the feeling of not knowing what I’m going to play, and having to work with whatever strange results I get. That’s D&D to me – the joy and wonder of randomness – and it’s why I also like save vs. die, encounter tables, and wandering monster charts.

    But that’s just me. Your mileage may vary, to coin a phrase.

    noisms´s last blog post: More Extracts from My Game Idea Grimoire

  28. Scott, Mar. 13, 2009, 10:00 pm:

    @Chgowitz: That’s not a bad thing. But that’s not what I see in a lot of comments on the subject. What I see is “Older versions didn’t do it that way. The new way sucks. You’re stupid for playing that way. Now go away.” I’m pretty sure I’ve even seen that verbatim. There’s also a lot of the sneakier insult: “Yeah, play what you want, I’ll settle for being part of the only real creative force in RPGs.” (Not kidding — someone pulled that one out in the comments on Jeff’s post.)

    I see all too many new-edition people who’ve clearly never played an extended old-edition campaign, and too many old-edition people who’ve clearly never played a new one. I see too many people on both sides who have people-related problems and blame the systems. (I’d have to lump your cleric of war in that category, actually — I’ve seen the same thing happen under 1e. You play a cleric, some groups will expect you to just heal them.)

    I’m hoping it starts to calm down soon. I seem to recall the 2e/3e bitchfest going on for 18 months, give or take, though, so we might have another 9 months in store…

    @noisms: I suppose if you can sit down at the table not caring who you’ll be playing, that works. I usually like to have a background in mind by then, though. I’m not sure I’d want to dedicate the first session to hashing all that out, just to get the benefit of additional randomness.

  29. James V, Mar. 14, 2009, 12:03 pm:

    The strength of D&D is that it can be anything you want it to be. That some folks mistake their way of playing D&D for the One True Way is just an unfortunate byproduct of that strength.

    Man, do I have to run around the internet giving my few words of wisdom to distill the above into its atoms? The one kernel of truth, that even on our crankiest days binds us all to EGG’s baby?

    The best edition of D&D is the one you play with your friends, house rules and all.

    - When you shift one square because your daily power lets you, to the cheers of your friends, you’re playing the best edition of D&D.

    - When your only sword becomes breakfast for a Rust Monster to the jeers of your friends, you’re playing the best edition of D&D.

    I do think there are a few fundamental elements to D&D: Themes of adventure and treasure, the stat block at its simplest (the 6 attributes, HP, AC), the opportunity to beat up kobolds. The rest are the infinite variations spawned from a few simple and elegant notes. Even the old-school folk know it. They just get grumpy sometimes because some of those variations grate on them, but it doesn’t stop their love of the game, not really.

    These discussions will come and go much quicker when we realize that these are individual opinions, not ex cathedra proclamations from the Pope.

  30. d7, Apr. 30, 2009, 7:02 pm:

    These discussions will come and go much quicker when we realize that these are individual opinions, not ex cathedra proclamations from the Pope.

    Contrarily, I think this gets at a part of the edition wars. The D&D Pope does exist, and publishes proclamations at regular intervals (for $49.95 MSRP each), and the Protestant gamers froth in their fury at the perceived abuses of their game that these contain.

    Woah, that metaphor is getting too good for comfort.

    Anyway, the tangential point I’m trying to make is that the grognardiat does perceive the officialness of 4e as a slight on their home games. There will always be people who say that deviations from the current official rules is “playing the game wrong”, and that does grate. It’s unavoidable so long as there is a canonical version, blessed by the D&D Pope to be in the spotlight.

    Not so say that grognards don’t get in canon arguments, what with their “RAW” this and “RAW” that. Nobody who’s online can avoid analyses of the rules as-is, whatever the edition, and this will always produce a few people who escalate from trying to perfectly understand/use one particular set of rules to declaring that these are the zOMGbest rules. That’s why edition wars are inevitable.

    Tribalism, too, is inevitable on the internet. Going from “I’m the only one who does X” offline to “there are others who like X as much as I do!” online, and the resulting tribe-like communities, is just the Network Effect at work.

    d7´s last blog post: Essential reading on Beliefs in Burning Wheel

  31. d7, Apr. 30, 2009, 7:07 pm:

    (Aside: Your anti-spam plugin detects the CommentLuv stuff as spam and prevents your Click to Edit plugin from saving the changes.)

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