Join 3,512 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


40 Years in the Dungeons
January 24, 2014 6:40 AM   Subscribe

January 26, 2014 will mark the 40th anniversary of Dungeons & Dragons, and the anniversary will culminate with an event called Tyranny of Dragons. The playtest of the forthcoming D&D Next has been ongoing since 2012, and the final playtest version is available. Alternatively, the original game (complete with its supplements) is available as a boxed set.

The last two years have been a bonanza of early D&D history, including a recent discovery that may confirm that a document circulating over the past few years is a playtest edition of the original game. Jon Peterson's Playing at the World (previously) provides a detailed history of the origins of the game, but was written before the recent finds. For a shorter (and more up-to-date) version, Peterson recently gave a History of D&D in 12 Treasures.

For the anniversary, Ethan Gilsdorf (author of Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks) has written about D&D's life lessons, while David Ewalt (author of Of Dice and Men) gives a quick primer. Meanwhile, artist Tony DiTerlizzi recently investigated the origin of many famous D&D monsters (previously).

Anyone interested in the history of the game can also pick up the First Edition (DMG, MM), Second Edition (DMG, MM), or Third Edition (DMG, MM) of the game in print, or pick from the growing PDF library at D&D Classics (previously). Of course that's for official Wizards of the Coast products - there's also Pathfinder, a third-party revision of 3rd edition which surpassed 4th edition D&D in popularity, and the Old School Renaissance which has been keeping the torch burning for older editions.
posted by graymouser (139 comments total) 50 users marked this as a favorite

 
Over the holidays I was suddenly hit with the memory of young-me sitting on his bed on Christmas, going through my new copy of AD&D 2nd E player's handbook (the original one with the guy on horseback), with a little set of orange-and-yellow-specked Chessex dice and rolling up.. okay, so it was probably an elven ranger, and anyone who knows me will probably find that deeply amusing, but I like to think I've gotten better in the years since.. Anyway, it was a really nice, warm memory, and I'm waiting on interlibrary loan to deliver unto me a copy of that book so I can bask in the nostalgia a little bit.*

Does anyone have a short primer/changelog on what differentiates 4E from Next?

* having recently been trying to replay the Baldur's Gate games, I don't think you could pay me to play 2nd edition again, but it'll be nice to sit in bed and read spell descriptions, at least.
posted by curious nu at 7:03 AM on January 24 [2 favorites]


1ed 4 lyfe, son.

Somewhat related, I just finished David Ewalt's Of Dice and Men, which decently charts the history of the game, though it works less well as a personal gaming memoir. Sooner or later I'm going to begin hacking and slashing my way through the included bibliography, which is full of interesting sources.
posted by echocollate at 7:06 AM on January 24 [2 favorites]


This is a really nicely put-together post. Nice job.
I've never played D&D, but have had friends who did. I read this the other day and, from my outsider's perspective, thought it was a really nice write-up on the game.
posted by staccato signals of constant information at 7:07 AM on January 24


My daughter's college roommate plays D&D over skype with friends, which amuses my daughter to no end because daddy used to play it in the same college and the dorm next to hers decades ago - sans skype, of course.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 7:10 AM on January 24 [2 favorites]


Does anyone have a short primer/changelog on what differentiates 4E from Next?

My knowledge of 4E is limited, but I think Next is a pretty hard turn away from 4E; it's a lot more like 3.5, but simplified a fair bit. The class roles and the powers mechanics are gone. I like Next a lot in theory, and I'm starting a game tomorrow, so I guess we'll find out if I like it in practice.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 7:11 AM on January 24


I don't think you could pay me to play 2nd edition again

THAC0 still haunts my dreams.

Meanwhile, artist Tony DiTerlizzi recently investigated the origin of many famous D&D monsters

Speaking of 2e, the intro of Planescape blew my mind, due in no small part to DiTerlizzi's artwork. I still have all the boxed sets (Planes of Law, Planes of Chaos, etc) that they sold, and I would kill for his original artwork for a lot of it.
posted by zombieflanders at 7:11 AM on January 24 [1 favorite]


It seems the playtest materials for Next are no longer available on the WotC site as of December 15, 2013.
posted by echocollate at 7:13 AM on January 24 [1 favorite]


Hmm. Well if nothing else, Ghosts of Dragonspear Castle contains at least partial D&D Next playtest rules.
posted by graymouser at 7:15 AM on January 24 [1 favorite]


Few things bring such overwhelming feelings of nostalgia as seeing the cover art for the old D&D rulebooks, which I studied like cherished LPs. I don't know how or why I grew out of it.
posted by swift at 7:17 AM on January 24 [1 favorite]


I don't know how or why I grew out of it.

for me, in a word, girls, around the end of my first year of college. that and other interests and pursuits that sapped my time, attention, and energy. i returned to the game in my early thirties, and it really was like coming home.
posted by echocollate at 7:20 AM on January 24


...but I think Next is a pretty hard turn away from 4E...

Yeah, from everything I hear about Next, WoTC realized that, oh shit, people liked 3.5 a whole lot better than this tabletop MMO we made and we need to get our market share back.

I sort of wish I had the time to learn a new system. We've been playing 3/3.5 since it came out, and even though everyone sort of wants to try a new system, no one has the time or the energy. When we manage to sit down at the table, we just want to play, and the only way to really get that done is if everyone already knows the rules, or at least half the people know them well and the others are familiar. Starting from scratch is so daunting it sucks the fun out of the endeavor.
posted by griphus at 7:28 AM on January 24 [3 favorites]


graymouser

ISWYDT.


Also, HAIL SATAN.
With Satan you just tell him what you want and you get it.

*RIP BLACK LEAF*
NEVAR FORGET.
posted by Mezentian at 7:29 AM on January 24 [3 favorites]


Was going to drop that 12 treasures link in here if it wasn't already. Really love Playing at the World and Jon Peterson's stuff in general.

And while we're on about old gaming ephemera, let me plug The Play Generated Map & Document Archive again [previously]. We're always ready to accept donations of gaming ephemera of any era. I spent last weekend scanning a bunch of great stuff in, in fact, including some charsheets that came out of a nearly mint looking edition of the red box.
posted by ursus_comiter at 7:29 AM on January 24 [3 favorites]


I have a whole chest full of first and second edition stuff - first edition Monster Manual and DM guide, etc. I haven't touched it in years. Some of my first characters are in that chest. I liked the elven rangers best.

I got away from it because of intergroup drama. Plus, while I like games - it turns out I don't actually like people that much. And besides, around that time, I found computer games on the internet. Airwarrior 2 on Compuserve. And then quake online, and UO and so on.

Gotta pull that stuff out I guess. Maybe finally decide to put it on ebay.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 7:30 AM on January 24


I have a whole chest full of first and second edition stuff


Is it trapped?
Asking for a friend.
posted by Mezentian at 7:31 AM on January 24 [5 favorites]


So has anyone actually finished Playing at the World?
posted by griphus at 7:32 AM on January 24


My folks started playing 1ed when I was 7 or 8. I was an absolute fiend for BXCMI in my teens (Back when the game was still forked). I stopped playing just before 2e came out. I came back to the game when they launched The Essentials line of 4E. I wish I had grabbed the Next playtest materials before Wizards pulled them off the site. 4E was too much of a miniatures combat game as an RPG for my taste (though I do enjoy the boardgames & Dungeon Command combat games that more or less serve as an intro/basic version of 4E).
posted by KingEdRa at 7:34 AM on January 24


No. But I have used it to defeat a kobold infestation.

I lie. I have flicked through it, and enjoyed sections, but it is just so goddamn intimidating,
posted by Mezentian at 7:34 AM on January 24 [1 favorite]


Griphus, I was well on my way, but I was borrowing a copy and had to give it back. I have it sitting in my Amazon cart waiting for my next purchase cycle.

Pogo_Fuzzybutt, please consider donating to the PLAGMADA archive! Not the actual rulebooks and stuff, as those aren't part of our mission, but your old character sheets and maps! That stuff often ends up thrown into eBay auctions with the actual books and the like, but collectors who might buy a lot for the books usually don't care about the ephemera and will throw it out.
posted by ursus_comiter at 7:40 AM on January 24


KingEdRa, consider checking out Pathfinder -- it's basically 3.5e, but streamlined and improved.

I like some of what WOTC did in 4th -- it made Clerics a lot more fun than they had been before -- but Pathfinder is probably the best system I've played overall.
posted by Foosnark at 7:43 AM on January 24 [1 favorite]


1st Edition. Still have all the books. Who wants to touch me?
posted by delfin at 7:48 AM on January 24


I suspect that D&D Next is not really the return to old school that people have been clamoring for, but at least it's a backpedaling from the (IMO of course) terrible decisions of 4E. And Hasbro/WoTC has been republishing core books from old editions and putting them on store shelves, which in view of past attitudes is amazing.
posted by JHarris at 7:51 AM on January 24 [1 favorite]


Well speaking of D&D, this is the perfect time to trot out one of my all-time best posts, a bit of alarmist D&D marginalia starring a young Tom Hanks as a nerd.
posted by Mister_A at 7:51 AM on January 24 [4 favorites]


I've been out of it so long, I don't even know what edition I played, though if THACO was 2d, I guess that was me. Wilderness/Dungeon Survival Guides, Unearthed Arcana, was that all 2d? I hadn't realized people disliked the game I grew up on.

Of all the useful information I've encountered but never absorbed throughout the years, I still know most of the rules and stats from those books. I'd love to be able to replace the knowledge that a longsword (my half-elven ranger's weapon of choice, with +4 bonus against ogres) was 1-8 against human sized and smaller, and 1-12 against larger monsters with actual, useful life knowledge. On the other hand, I could probably assemble a character within five to ten minutes and be ready to go with my fifty feet of rope.
posted by Ghidorah at 7:52 AM on January 24


I am in this thread to say that I just created a Wizards account to download the DnD Next playtest materials.

Apparently I can't do that any more, or I can't figure out how to do that.

But my username is "Drowton Abbey", so I have no regrets. None.
posted by Shepherd at 7:55 AM on January 24 [11 favorites]


But my username is "Drowton Abbey"

I Lolth'd.
posted by Mister_A at 7:59 AM on January 24 [28 favorites]


I have a whole chest full of first and second edition stuff

You are not alone. TSR sold a gazillion copies in the late 70s and early 80s. So I don't understand how Wizards is able to sell brand new copies of 1E books with inferior artwork when the market is flooded with originals for basically the cost of shipping (5 or 10 bucks).
posted by stbalbach at 7:59 AM on January 24 [1 favorite]


I'd love to be able to replace the knowledge that a longsword (my half-elven ranger's weapon of choice, with +4 bonus against ogres)

So what you're saying is that you've got an orge slaying sword? You're sure it's not a knife?
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 8:03 AM on January 24 [2 favorites]


Please tell me someone else read the post headline and thought of Lemongrab.

FORTY YEARS DUNGEON!
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 8:05 AM on January 24 [1 favorite]


Hey i have the 10.14.13 playtest Shep, which is I think the last or close enough. The zip is 34MB though, so LMK if you have some kind of FTP or something I can use to get it to you.
posted by Mister_A at 8:06 AM on January 24 [1 favorite]


I don't understand how Wizards is able to sell brand new copies of 1E books with inferior artwork when the market is flooded with originals for basically the cost of shipping (5 or 10 bucks).

WoTC could put a D&D-branded turd on the market and people will be lining up to buy it.
posted by griphus at 8:09 AM on January 24


I'm still slogging through Playing at the World – the discussion of the development of wargaming in the 19th c. and the addition of miniature soldiers around the turn of the 20th c. is dense, and I find myself impatient to get to the matter more familiar to me. Mainly I'm pleased, in general, that the subject has enough source material to support such a deeply-researched and scholarly work.

A FPP from two years ago, when the "Next" play test was announced, led me to try an "Encounters" session at a local gaming store. 4th ed. is definitely not my cup of tea, but I've been downloading and reading (though not playing) the 5th ed. playtest packets. I'm pretty hopeful about this version, and it may be one that nudges me from passive "following the hobby" to actively finding a gaming group again.
posted by The Nutmeg of Consolation at 8:19 AM on January 24


Man, I miss AD&D2E. Cut my roleplaying teeth on that and.. Marvel Superheroes? can't remember.

Played for a few years but then discovered Shadowrun and William Gibson at the same time, followed not long thereafter by Rifts (magic AND guns and YES... until the world became too fucking bloated for words. Also Rift's combat system left much to be desired. You could take an entire afternoon just to have one small melee between four or five characters. House rules were instituted right quick.)
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:22 AM on January 24 [1 favorite]


So what you're saying is that you've got an orge slaying sword? You're sure it's not a knife?

Man, literally every time I go to play, touch or even think about Steve Jackson's Ogre, my mind is flooded with, "I'VE GOT AN OGRE SLAYING KNIFE. IT'S GOT A +9 AGAINST OGRES!" I expect that will be my, "Rosebud".
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 8:22 AM on January 24 [1 favorite]


(Also I can't wait to see what OOTS does with this...)
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:23 AM on January 24


There's a lot of 1ed flavor in the NEXT test, but also these feats and abilities and things that are more spelled out, which should give melee characters a little more versatility besides breaking, smashing, occasionally sneaking, etc. But I have had a trial getting the time to really learn how to integrate that stuff, so I've been playing as enhanced 1ed with my kids, mostly.
posted by Mister_A at 8:25 AM on January 24


Sadly, D&D Next just isn't a very good product. It's a real shame that Heinsoo left Wizards and then Wizards caved to the people demanding a return to the dark ages. Having played every edition of the game and a dozen or so other tabletop systems, the 4E system is head and shoulders above anything else me and my group have ever tried. (Other favorites include Shadowrun 3E and pre-Savage Worlds Deadlands.)

Also, I saw the always hilarious MMO complaint leveled once here already, so somebody please, enlighten me: In what way is 4E like an MMO? Please include in your answer which MMOs you have experience with.
posted by IAmUnaware at 8:26 AM on January 24 [1 favorite]


Man, literally every time I go to play, touch or even think about Steve Jackson's Ogre, my mind is flooded with, "I'VE GOT AN OGRE SLAYING KNIFE. IT'S GOT A +9 AGAINST OGRES!" I expect that will be my, "Rosebud".

As I said, I'm starting a campaign tomorrow. There's not much experience in the group (we're half first time players). I suspect my wife (the DM) will play that for everyone to explain 1) what they're getting themselves into and 2) why she always has Cheetos every time we play.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 8:29 AM on January 24 [1 favorite]


I'm gaming tomorrow with the same core DnD group I've been playing with since 1979. So I approve of this anniversary.
posted by elendil71 at 8:36 AM on January 24 [10 favorites]


a return to the dark ages

As somebody who's been a part of the OSR for six years now, I'm just going to say that this is not a universal view.
posted by graymouser at 8:40 AM on January 24 [5 favorites]


I saw the always hilarious MMO complaint leveled once here already, so somebody please, enlighten me: In what way is 4E like an MMO? Please include in your answer which MMOs you have experience with.

Come on, this can't possibly be your first encounter with this argument.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 8:49 AM on January 24


Hey Mister_A, I'd like a copy of that too if possible, my most recent version is 09_02_13.
posted by JHarris at 8:50 AM on January 24


Also, I saw the always hilarious MMO complaint leveled once here already, so somebody please, enlighten me: In what way is 4E like an MMO? Please include in your answer which MMOs you have experience with.

OOOOoooohhhh, FIGHT! FIGHT!
posted by Naberius at 8:51 AM on January 24


It's a real shame that Heinsoo left Wizards and then Wizards caved to the people demanding a return to the dark ages.

It seems a bit disingenuous to claim that the issue is simply WotC "caving" to people who are "demanding a return to the dark ages". This is basic business sense: since the release of 4E, the mainline D&D offering has dropped from the #1 spot to, as of a bit over a year ago, the #3 spot in terms of sales.

Look, 3.x isn't perfect. Pathfinder improves on it in many ways, but itself has blemishes. There are huge chunks of it that I'd love for Paizo to streamline, to fix, or to remove outright.

Similarly, 4e has some real improvements on 3.x. When my own group tried it, we really wanted to love it. Unfortunately, overall, it just wasn't very good.

None of us went from 3.x -> 4e -> Pathfinder because we saw 4e and said "oh god, they've made it too good!" or "how dare they make this accessible to more players!". We did it because we tried 4e, we wanted to like it, we gave it more than a fair shot, and ultimately, the good parts didn't outweigh the bad.
posted by tocts at 9:00 AM on January 24 [3 favorites]


> "We've been playing 3/3.5 since it came out, and even though everyone sort of wants to try a new system, no one has the time or the energy."

Try Pathfinder. The switchover is relatively painless.
posted by kyrademon at 9:03 AM on January 24


Also, I saw the always hilarious MMO complaint leveled once here already, so somebody please, enlighten me: In what way is 4E like an MMO?

I will present it as best I can. Note, while I agree with the general attitude that 4E isn't a good thing, and somewhat with the MMO argument, I am not actually trying to make that argument here, I'm just trying to describe it as I understand it. I don't feel up to another Metafilter knock-down drag-out right now.

The general argument against 4E is that the game is basically a combat game with the roleplaying parts tacked on. Combat has always been part of D&D, but the explicit statement that combat must involve a mat, for example, is fairly recent; even 3E mentions the possibility of playing without one, even though its mechanics make little sense without it. (Area effects are laid out in terms of spaces.) That is in line with the MMO complaint.

Also, the emerging generalization of roles in a MMO into things like "DPS," "tank" and "crowd control" seems to have influenced some of the development of 4E's classes.

The root of all this comes from D&D's gradual abandonment of simulationism over the years, embracing more and more its nature as a game. The original books were made to try to realize the kinds of fantasy worlds Gygax and friends liked reading, and give players an opportunity to experience those worlds on a personal, interactive level. As the game diverged from that ideal, as more people played D&D more for itself than for its basis in literature, it has become self-reflective and circular, trying less to obscure the abstract nature. (All games are fundamentally abstract, but some hide it better than others. This is related to the power of theme in board gaming.) Since the worlds of games like World of Warcraft are essentially wholly fictional and derived from D&D, it is just a larger version of that inspiration loop.

Whatever you might think of that argument, it should be said, there are a lot of retroclones out there, so dissatisfaction with recent systems seems to run high.
posted by JHarris at 9:08 AM on January 24 [8 favorites]


Come on, this can't possibly be your first encounter with this argument.

It isn't, but every time I've asked someone who said that to explain themselves, their answer boiled down to "I've never played an MMO before and don't know anything about them, but I use the term MMO as a general stand-in for 'thing I don't like' because I have a low opinion of MMO players". I have never heard an actual credible defense of the idea that 4E is like an MMO.

JHarris's argument (which he posted right as I was about to hit "post") is a far better defense of the idea than I've seen anywhere else, and I've been playing and talking about 4E since it was in beta (because I was way, way into 3.5 and I'm the kind of nerd that will sign up for the beta of a tabletop game).
posted by IAmUnaware at 9:11 AM on January 24 [2 favorites]


From what I've seen and read about 4e it is like a MMO because of its use of powers of various levels. A fighter doesn't just get to swing and hit (or miss) and be a good fighter because they have a better chance of hitting, instead they get various abilities that they can use, similar to the skill trees that can be found in MMOs. D&D had skills before, but they were like Jumping and horse riding and the like. You would decide what you wanted to do and roll a die to see if you could do it. Now with powers you have encounter, at will and daily level powers (similar to various cooldowns in a MMO) that cause you to bend the rules and do wicked awesome things.

A lot of those things are things that you would try and do anyways, but in the past it would just be adjudicated by your DM and now it is almost like clicking on a button that will execute the double strike power and you get double damage, instead of saying that you are going to do a running jump attack and having the DM say ok if you roll over a 15 on your jump skill then you'll get double damage.

Coupled with the various roles as described by JHarris above makes it feel like a MMO to me. Note it isn't identical to a MMO, but it kinda feels like one.
posted by koolkat at 9:12 AM on January 24 [3 favorites]


C'mon everyone! It's the 40th anniversary! Can we PLEASE not get into an edition war here? There is no badwrongfun.
posted by charred husk at 9:15 AM on January 24


Ohh forgot as far as MMO's go I've experience with Star Wars Galaxies (pre rework so skill based circa 2005 I think), WoW (to level 60 circa 2006 and D&Donline circa 2007.
posted by koolkat at 9:15 AM on January 24 [1 favorite]


C'mon everyone! It's the 40th anniversary! Can we PLEASE not get into an edition war here? There is no badwrongfun.

Yeah, the tone of my original post was extremely not good and very reactionary and I apologize for that. I also am not interested in an edition war.
posted by IAmUnaware at 9:17 AM on January 24 [1 favorite]


I actually think that 4e is kinda neat in a MMO way :)

The main thing I like about D&D is that the old editions don't ever go away you just always get a new take on things and can continue to do whatever you want.
posted by koolkat at 9:19 AM on January 24


Does Pathfinder fix Druids? I banned druids in the game I'm DMing right now, but we're going to have a new game in the next few months and I might be able to convince people to use Pathfinder druids instead of 3.5 druids.

Try Pathfinder. The switchover is relatively painless.

That's what I keep hearing, but the problem remains that a critical mas of players (2-3) need to get their hands on the books, read them (or at least the changelog from 3.5 to Pathfinder) and be able to adequately explain them to the rest during gameplay. As things stand, no one -- myself included -- really wants to put that effort into fixing something that isn't necessarily broken (at least entirely.)

I'm not at all complaining that other systems are too complicated to play or whatever. We have two new players, and they both grasped 3.5 pretty quickly, and one even gave DMing a shot until he was, uh, retired by consensus.

A bunch of us actually sat down with the 4e books, considering them for a bit, but they just honestly felt like a D&D-branded product rather than the continual evolution of D&D the game. And I'm sure it's a perfectly fine game and that my reaction is mostly based around the concept of the mechanics and not the mechanics themselves and I, as well, have zero interest into getting into an edition war. Lord knows the best thing is to have the most people playing the most games than figure out which one is the best based on some totally unobjective standard.
posted by griphus at 9:20 AM on January 24 [1 favorite]


Now to get back to more fun conversation: Is there anything interesting you can do with a monk (prestige class, particularly fun cross-class, etc.) in 3.5 that doesn't involve psionics at all?
posted by griphus at 9:24 AM on January 24


Speaking personally I've played every edition of D&D starting with Holmes and had equal amounts of fun with all of them. Each one has its strengths and weaknesses. An interesting thread on RPG.net about using the right tool for the right jobs is here. Don't know that I agree with it all, but the sentiment that there are certain styles inherent to D&D that are better fit by some editions than others matches my beliefs.
posted by charred husk at 9:26 AM on January 24 [1 favorite]


griphus:
Is there anything interesting you can do with a monk (prestige class, particularly fun cross-class, etc.) in 3.5 that doesn't involve psionics at all?
When I first read the 3e Player's Handbook the first idea I had was a monk/sorcerer who cast nothing but touch attacks. Not the most optimized way to do things but fuck optimization 'cause it's cool.
posted by charred husk at 9:29 AM on January 24 [1 favorite]


A fighter doesn't just get to swing and hit (or miss) and be a good fighter because they have a better chance of hitting, instead they get various abilities that they can use, similar to the skill trees that can be found in MMOs.

It should be noted that this is basically in 3E as well to a degree, with its large selection of "Feats," each with prerequisites, although I think it's more generalized.

Also, I think I should elaborate a bit, I'm not fond of 4E as a version of D&D because there's so much of the game's history it ignores or tries to remake, and as long as it's around there's no incentive on the part of the rights holder to rediscover that stuff.

But as a game itself, I actually don't know of anything wrong with it. It makes perfectly valid design choices based on a certain perception of what D&D is. It is certainly possible to enjoy that game. (I actually own a copy of the 4E-based Gamma World, although I've been unable to find anyone around here who will play it.)
posted by JHarris at 9:35 AM on January 24


From what I've seen and read about 4e it is like a MMO because of its use of powers of various levels.

This isn't really like an MMO so much as it is like D&D, though. Casters always had this stuff, but in 4E everybody has it. It's an attempt to solve the old "linear fighter, quadratic wizard" problem.

For those of you who aren't familiar, the problem is that in earlier editions caster classes outscale non-casters to such a degree that after you have a few levels under your belt there's not really a good reason for a caster to have non-caster party mates anymore. The name of the problem is a little bit misleading because it implies that the issue is one of magnitude, but that doesn't get the whole of it. A wizard is tremendously more powerful than a fighter, but he's also better at a much larger range of things. Spells exist that allow you to do just about anything you can imagine, and you can use various kinds of magic to tweak your statistics and skills and just out-fighter the fighter at anything that he's good at that's still useful.

People still want to play fighters, of course, because very few people play older D&D purely for the mechanical thrill, so you have people desperately clinging to their very cool characters that they have a lot invested in and hoping that maybe the wizard will deign to let them do stuff. As I said, I was way into 3rd Edition, and this was a problem that we ran into. We did our best to keep everyone involved and make things fun and let everybody do stuff, but when my fighter jumped in front of the balor and shouted heroically for everyone else to stay behind him, the coolness of it was somewhat diminished by the fact that we knew the wizard could just turn the thing inside out in two rounds and the rest of us didn't even need to be there. He could also out-diplomacize any of us and he could make potions and create cool items and he was better at horse riding than us too. I appreciate that he didn't make it "The Wizard Show (featuring three bumbling sidekicks)", but we all knew he could and he was just being nice. It's not fun to feel so useless!

One of the places that 4E really succeeds is bringing everybody to similar power levels. When the fighter or whoever jumps in front of a 4E balor, it's both because it's cool AND because there's an actual mechanical incentive to do so. That thing, the meshing of the mechanical world and the fluff world, is very important to my group. Given a choice between doing the mechanically correct thing and doing the cool thing, we'd usually do the cool thing, but we really appreciated that 4E rarely made us choose. Maybe this is less of an issue for other groups? My friends are largely programmers and mathematicians, so that may influence the way we feel about the underlying mechanics of the game.

They tackled the versatility part of the old problem in two ways: ritual magic, and simply making magic much less versatile. There are a lot fewer spells that let casters rend the basic assumptions of the world in twain, and anything of that nature that's really powerful got turned into a ritual spell. Ritual magic requires a character to have the Ritual Caster feat, and the Ritual Caster feat is available to anyone trained in Arcana or Religion. This made these elaborate non-combat spells available to anyone who wanted them (while still making them slightly easier for classic caster types to get, since most of those classes get free training in either Arcana or Religion).
posted by IAmUnaware at 9:39 AM on January 24 [2 favorites]


It isn't, but every time I've asked someone who said that to explain themselves, their answer boiled down to "I've never played an MMO before and don't know anything about them, but I use the term MMO as a general stand-in for 'thing I don't like' because I have a low opinion of MMO players". I have never heard an actual credible defense of the idea that 4E is like an MMO.

JHarris's argument (which he posted right as I was about to hit "post") is a far better defense of the idea than I've seen anywhere else, and I've been playing and talking about 4E since it was in beta (because I was way, way into 3.5 and I'm the kind of nerd that will sign up for the beta of a tabletop game).


Well, I have played many MMOs, including (but not limited to) Asheron's Call and World of Warcraft. D&D 4e felt fairly similar to WoW to me, in that WoW really codified the tank/healer/DPS thing (as far as I know; possibly/probably someone got there first, but WoW brought it mainstream) and 4e realy ran with it. I mean, they didn't call them that, but they DID put in that whole "role" concept (Controller/Defender/Leader/Striker) which is extremely similar.

Ultimately, the reason I didn't like it was exactly the reason JHarris spells out above: it's "basically a combat game with the roleplaying parts tacked on". I always felt, as both a player and a DM, pretty well on rails because each combat encounter took a fair amount of time to plan out that the adventure just moved from combat encounter to combat encounter because that's where they meat was. I never felt that way in 2e or even 3/3.5. Plus combat takes forever in 4e. It's just not for me.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 9:49 AM on January 24 [2 favorites]


This isn't really like an MMO so much as it is like D&D, though. Casters always had this stuff, but in 4E everybody has it. It's an attempt to solve the old "linear fighter, quadratic wizard" problem.

Yep, although really that problem is rooted in the nature of the theme. Wizards are supposed to be super-powerful, that's why they're wizards. Howard's Conan stories are one of the fundamental archetypes D&D was based on, and Conan, while possibly the greatest fighter in Hyperborea, still regularly ends up facing powerful wizards, because powerful wizards are generally stronger than fighters, and that gives the story dramatic tension.

So, attempts to fix it, I think, are actually misguided. But its implications are still a long-standing design problem, and I can see why the designers of 4E would attempt to sidestep it. Early editions of D&D handled it by making wizards squishy at low levels ("OW MY HIT POINT!") so reaching those power levels was a reward for good play, which worked well for early styles of play because death was common even for fighters, and, what, you expect to get to level two?? On your first character? Har har har!
posted by JHarris at 9:49 AM on January 24


Yep, although really that problem is rooted in the nature of the theme. Wizards are supposed to be super-powerful, that's why they're wizards. Howard's Conan stories are one of the fundamental archetypes D&D was based on, and Conan, while possibly the greatest fighter in Hyperborea, still regularly ends up facing powerful wizards, because powerful wizards are generally stronger than fighters, and that gives the story dramatic tension.

So, attempts to fix it, I think, are actually misguided.


But that's not the same thing. The dramatic tension there doesn't come from the fact that wizards are more powerful than Conan, but from the fact that Conan's adversary is more powerful than Conan. If Conan had a wizard buddy who was dramatically more powerful than both Conan and the adversaries, the story would have no dramatic tension at all, and that's what pre-4E D&D is like.
posted by IAmUnaware at 9:53 AM on January 24


WoW really codified the tank/healer/DPS thing (as far as I know; possibly/probably someone got there first, but WoW brought it mainstream)

DikuMUD is essentially the source of MMO combat.
posted by bleep-blop at 9:56 AM on January 24


Ultimately, the reason I didn't like it was exactly the reason JHarris spells out above: it's "basically a combat game with the roleplaying parts tacked on".

This isn't true, though, and it's another thing I've seen said a lot and never defended well. 4E has exactly as much roleplaying in it as 3E, which is "as much as the players feel like doing". Can you explain more of what you mean?
posted by IAmUnaware at 9:56 AM on January 24 [2 favorites]


I agree that fixing the melee/casters problem is the greatest achievement of 4e, however the whole thing became so unfun in the process that the cure was probably worse than the disease.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 9:56 AM on January 24


As I recall, early rules had high-level fighters gaining power by gathering troops of followers and building a keep of their own. Becoming a regional warlord is a far cry from being able to cast wish, though.

To be frank, I never liked playing a character well into those upper levels (say, 15+). When your remaining challenges as an adventurer are the gods themselves, it's time to look again at your priorities. There was always something that tugged at me, yearning for a return to the simpler days when my 2nd-level schmo faced off against a bugbear, and was excited to get a +1 sword.
posted by The Nutmeg of Consolation at 9:59 AM on January 24 [2 favorites]


Also: charred_husk's link to the different playstyles of D&D is great, and really gets across the fact that there are multiple ways to play D&D, almost one for each edition.
posted by JHarris at 9:59 AM on January 24 [1 favorite]


The main problem with 4E is it actually made fighters and rogues equal to the spellcasters, and people hated that. Seriously, I've seen people argue in general fantasy threads that a non-magic user should never be able to compete with a spellcaster, and if you backtrack with them on it, it turns out that their idea of magic comes from 3rd edition spellcaster superiority.

Also, 3rd edition really was oriented to the people who treat characters like Magic the Gathering decks, combing through sourcebook to get the right combination of maximized power. If you spent enough money, you could get characters to be far more powerful than normal- you could even create a halfway competent fighter. That turned out to be an incredibly popular idea, for the same reason M:tG is incredibly popular after all this time.

The best example of the 3rd edition attitude is how the 3e designer, Monte Cook described how he promoted "system mastery" by putting in deliberate "trap" traits like certain feats. If you had enough knowledge of the game you would learn to avoid those traits in building a character. Pathfinder had one-upped the concept by making entire classes traps like fighters and rogues. They may look like fun, and who doesn't want to play a grizzled mercenary or Grey Mouser type? But then you find out that mechanically they are inferior in their roles to other classes, and in the rogues case their primary function is almost completely useless (Pathfinder traps are pretty much all just minor nuisances).

As a result, character creation in 3.X and Pathfinder is a slow and grueling process that really requires a dedicated character generator. Even if one isn't trying for an optimized character, the huge volume of options makes creating a character a hugely complex task. That's why I world never recommend 3rd edition or Pathfinder to new players; they're better off with either an earlier version like Basic D&D, or a generally simpler game system...like, I dunno, GURPS. Or Hero.

(Confession: I play both 4e and Pathfinder, but I really wish I could switch them over to Dungeon World or Fate Core.)
posted by happyroach at 9:59 AM on January 24 [7 favorites]


This isn't true, though

I'm not just going to counter with a playground-esque, "yes it is," but please try to not be so dogmatically dismissive in the face of my experience.

Yes, I can do as much roleplaying as I feel like, but the roleplaying always feels very secondary to the combat. As I mentioned in my previous post, combat encounters take a lot of time to plan out and prepare to run and a lot of time to actually play out, so adventures tend to (in my experience) pretty much revolve around them. I have had people tell me on more than one occasion that the DM's job is to make it seem like the group isn't on rails even when they are, but that attitude really blows. To me, the DM's job is to facilitate whatever the players feel like doing. Back in college, my DM would sit down with us and say, "Ok, what do you guys feel like doing?" It was a pretty free-form campaign for the most part. I can't even imagine that in 4e because the combat is structured to the point of removing that ultimate flexibility. When stuff takes that long to prepare for, damn it that's what you're going to do.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 10:03 AM on January 24


DikuMUD is essentially the source of MMO combat.

Howso? I only ever played ROM MUDs which are something like 2 or 3 steps removed from Diku and I recall them all being rather different than MMO combat: spells and abilities didn't have cooldowns (albeit spells had mana) and all AOO wasn't really a thing because either you targeted a single mob or the entire room. I'll admit I'm not really familiar with MMOs as I never found one I could get into, but am I missing something about Diku having influence beyond any other generic hidden-dice video game fighting systems?

Also, I've been seeing this illustration of wizard leveling all over the place and I really, really like it.
posted by griphus at 10:04 AM on January 24 [1 favorite]


So has anyone actually finished Playing at the World?

Twice! But I may be an outlier.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 10:06 AM on January 24 [3 favorites]


But that's not the same thing. The dramatic tension there doesn't come from the fact that wizards are more powerful than Conan, but from the fact that Conan's adversary is more powerful than Conan.

But Conan's adversary is almost always a wizard. Gygax didn't adopt the narrative structure of Conan for the game ("Let's go hang out in weird dungeons, kill things and find cool treasure!"), but he did its setting.

If Conan had a wizard buddy who was dramatically more powerful than both Conan and the adversaries, the story would have no dramatic tension at all, and that's what pre-4E D&D is like.

Dramatic tension is overrated. D&D, run right, gets its tension just from the act of surviving in a dangerous world. It doesn't need the traditional planned rise-to-climax of drama. Indeed, well-made simulationist games -- like my beloved roguelikes -- make a mockery of that, because a player's choices might result in reaching the climax early, or even finding a way to subvert it entirely. And that's a good thing, because resolving the climax without fighting is just another method of problem solving, and should be rewarded just like any other.

To be frank, I never liked playing a character well into those upper levels (say, 15+).

That's a very common complaint, enough so that one retroclone (I forget the name) works by imposing a very low level limit, I think like 4 or 5. And in Basic and AD&D, remember demi-humans have what seem to us to be very low level limits naturally.
posted by JHarris at 10:10 AM on January 24


So has anyone actually finished Playing at the World?

I keep getting caught at the midboss.

Also, I've been seeing this illustration of wizard leveling all over the place and I really, really like it.

Could also be taken as Call of Cthulhu investigator development.
posted by JHarris at 10:12 AM on January 24


The best example of the 3rd edition attitude is how the 3e designer, Monte Cook described how he promoted "system mastery" by putting in deliberate "trap" traits like certain feats.

I am not fond of that aspect either. "Toughness gives me three whole extra hit points! That's almost like I had a good CON score! That's like one hit with a mace but not a longsword!" A good sense of if a printed scenario is pulling its punches is whether it gives Toughness to its enemy NPCs.

But the idea that (high-level) wizards should be stronger than fighters certainly predates 3E, and the idea that "whole classes are traps" is rejected by retroclones in general, which generally reject the idea that classes should neatly line up with each other. For them, playing Conan might not be the best gameplay choice, but theme overrides that.
posted by JHarris at 10:18 AM on January 24


am I missing something about Diku having influence beyond any other generic hidden-dice video game fighting systems?

I think you're missing the forest for the trees a little. I played more LP and am not an expert, but you can read Ralph Koster on it here and I think he knows his stuff:
Everquest was created by players of DikuMUDs (specifically Forgotten Realms ones β€” Sojourn, Toril, Duris), and even had the same wording for many server-generated messages (β€œit begins to rain,” which was completely superfluous for a 3d game!). It played so similarly to its inspirations that some wondered if it actually was a DikuMUD, with graphics added on. See here for the resolution of that (false) rumor. Meridian 59 had DikuMUD players on its team. UO had three Diku players on the original core team (and a couple folks from other codebases). Of the early MMORPGs, UO played the least like a Diku, whereas the line of inheritance from Diku to EQ and thence to WoW is completely undeniable.
posted by bleep-blop at 10:30 AM on January 24 [3 favorites]


What we really need is a "Fighters vs Wizards" game, where magic users are the bad guys and the PCs are fighters/rogues/rangers only.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 10:31 AM on January 24 [2 favorites]


I know I can't stop talking about Call of Cthulhu, but that would be very thematically appropriate, considering how often magic users were villains, dealing in secrets Man Wasn't Meant To Know, in classic fantasy literature. Hell, Howard was a correspondent and friend of Lovecraft, they both published in the same venues, and it's possible to see a connection between Howard's Hyperborea and the Cthulhu Mythos.

So, maybe don't change the mechanics, but give the villainous magic users a dire explanation for their spells. Maybe Magic Missile is fueled off of corpse dust, and saps away at the victim's very soul. Maybe Fireball is the flames of Cthuga! (Hell is so banal, the fashionable sorcerer channels star-spawn.)
posted by JHarris at 10:38 AM on January 24 [1 favorite]


...but you can read Ralph Koster on it here and I think he knows his stuff...

Ahh, that makes a lot more sense and is also a nice fat dose of nostalgia.

What we really need is a "Fighters vs Wizards" game...

I will bet you a frosty Mountain Dew there's one in here somewhere.
posted by griphus at 10:40 AM on January 24 [1 favorite]


I've played and run every version of D&D since 2e, and I've enjoyed them all, which apparently makes me quite unusual in the world of sniffy nerds (though not, I am pleased to hastily add, unusual here in this conversation).

Many of the problems I had with 4e, I also had with 3e. As the game began to insist more and more on the miniature grid with rules that referenced discrete spaces, I found that my adventure planning was increasingly orienting towards the next big fight and not necessarily to the next big conflict. It's all well and good to say that you can play a session without rolling dice, but when your friend has been roleplaying a single-minded archer character quite well for ages and has finally achieved a landmark "move 6 squares and shoot twice at any time" feat, if you don't give him the opportunity to move 6 squares and shoot twice at some things, what was the point?

For all its (many, many) flaws, what I appreciated about 2e was that physical combat was highly encouraged but never quite insisted on. In 3e and 4e, I burned out after a while because as our lives got busier and we only had a few hours every week or couple weeks to play, we began to realize that a slightly larger-than-normal fight would take up an entire session, and that the game's design pulled us towards more of those fights and not less.

I like D&D quite a bit, and I'll be interested in the final product of Next, but it's been a number of years since I felt like my groups were roleplaying using the D&D system instead of in spite of it.
posted by Errant at 10:41 AM on January 24 [3 favorites]


(I hope people don't think I'm dominating the discussion. I'm going to step out of the thread for a while after this.)

JHarris:D&D, run right, gets its tension just from the act of surviving in a dangerous world.

Absolutely agreed! That's one of the biggest problems with the old-school casters: They trivialize survival because almost nothing can provide a realistic threat to them (and anything that is threatening to a high-level wizard will probably be lethal to the non-casters just by proximity!).

JHarris:And that's a good thing, because resolving the climax without fighting is just another method of problem solving, and should be rewarded just like any other.

Also thoroughly agreed. Players that are good at the combat system can be fun to run, but clever players who are good at derailing conflict entirely are more fun. Also, this is one reason I like highly lethal systems like Shadowrun: they really encourage clever problem-solving, because even the street samurai doesn't really want to get into a gunfight.

Steely-eyed Missile Man:As I mentioned in my previous post, combat encounters take a lot of time to plan out and prepare to run and a lot of time to actually play out....

Okay, this I totally understand. 4E is more mechanically demanding than earlier editions of D&D and I understand why people wouldn't like that. (Incidentally, for my group, it was a big plus.) That's actually what the roles system was about: reducing the amount of work that you had to do ahead of time.

It's totally possible in 4E to make a party that just isn't very good at combat if you're not taking advantages of the neat synergies built into the various systems (and especially if you're not building your character with the other characters' strengths and weaknesses in mind). This isn't necessarily a problem as long as your DM realizes that this has happened and tailors the combat encounters to it. If your DM also isn't very familiar with the system and its math, though, you can end up with a party that's not great at fighting in encounters that are too hard for them and you'll either find that the combat drags a lot or that your characters die a lot.

The roles are guidelines that are intended to let new players craft a party that "works" without having to have a lot of system familiarity. If you just run a Defender and a Leader and some Strikers you have some automatic synergies that will make your party more than the sum of its parts, and you're likely to have some degree of skill coverage and stuff. Parties don't actually need a Defender or a Leader or anything if the characters are cleverly constructed and/or synergize well together, but 4E is mechanically pretty complex and intimidating and I think it would be a lot to ask for new players to figure it all out on their own without having some experience under their belt. During our time with the game, we tried a lot of different party makeups, and I'm confident that you can successfully run a party of almost any composition, but the further you get from the suggested Defender/Leader/Murderers the more you have to work together when building your characters. Party synergy will let you conquer just about anything, and the game really has a strong emphasis on working together in combat.

(Incidentally, the D&D roles don't really sync up too well with the classic MMO tank/healer/DD roles. Everybody in D&D is much more broadly capable, and obviously there's the fact that you can be a lot more imaginative in a D&D encounter than you can while fighting Razorgore.)

If you didn't read the 4E DMG, you might not know that monsters also have roles that are intended to make the enemy "party" easy to assemble quickly. (They aren't the same roles, but rather simpler stuff like Artillery, Lurker, and so on.) It's not really the case that you have to spend a long time preparing combat encounters; there's actually a bunch of tools in the DMG to help you with this. You estimate your party's combat level, and that gives you an XP value that the enemies should add up to, and then you just pick out some stuff from the book with some complimentary roles that add up to that value and you've got an encounter that should work at least reasonably well. The various monster books have tables at the back to help you find monsters of the appropriate level and role easily. It only takes a minute or two to do this once you've gotten used to it, so you can easily run very free-form games. It does, however, require familiarity with the math of the game, which the DMG teaches you. the DMG also teaches you some quick and dirty ways of raising or lowering a monster's effective level to fit it into an encounter that your party will like if you can't quite find the right thing at the right level.

Like I was saying, my group really enjoyed that it was easy to have encounters that made sense from a fluff perspective while still being mechanically interesting (challenging but conquerable and different from the last fight and the fight before that), but we had to get familiar with the system before we got into that groove. The combat in 4E is a lot crunchier than in older editions, and it takes more effort from both player and DM to be "good at". We found that that effort was rewarded with incredibly satisfying adventures, but if your group is less math-nerdy I can see how that wouldn't be the result.

By the way, anybody who liked some of the ideas from 4E but not so much the intricacy of the mechanics should check out 13th Age, which is made by Rob Heinsoo and Jonathan Tweet. It has a lot more of a storygame bent to it with no requirement for a combat mat or anything and much simpler characters and combat. I've been enjoying it.
posted by IAmUnaware at 10:43 AM on January 24 [5 favorites]


Want to fight wizards, do you?*

*I have not played or vetted this, but I just knew there'd be a Thundarr setting out there.
posted by ursus_comiter at 10:46 AM on January 24 [2 favorites]


What we really need is a "Fighters vs Wizards" game...

I will bet you a frosty Mountain Dew there's one in here somewhere.


Actually, come to think of it, this was almost what Iron Heroes was about, wasn't it?
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 10:54 AM on January 24


IAmUnaware, your comments are great! I don't think you're dominating the conversation at all, I love hearing your opinions on this.
posted by JHarris at 10:56 AM on January 24 [1 favorite]


You are so lucky Elindil. I really mean that.
posted by Our Ship Of The Imagination! at 10:59 AM on January 24 [4 favorites]


Seconded! I bet you guys have some good stories to tell.
posted by JHarris at 11:09 AM on January 24


There's a tension inherent to role-playing games like D&D.

They started from two sources: wargaming, and a love of things like fantasy and SF stories. Wargaming is a combat simulation than enourages crunchy stats and dice rolling and tactical maps; the fantasy story base encourage the development of character and the concept of storytelling, hence the application of dramatic techniques in the area of game-mastering, character creation, and so forth.

Some prefer the wargaming aspects over the storytelling; others prefer the storytelling over the wargaming. I tend towards the later group myself, but have many fond memories of dungeon crawls where the focus was the former. And I can also recall nights where very few - if any - dice were rolled as the characters worked through problems in other ways.

The best is when they both combine, which happened in the last session of Pathfinder I was in - the storyline came to a climax with a nasty, difficult combat that required all of us to pull deep on our bag of tricks to survive and prevail - but with an emotional undercurrent because we were invested in seeing the bad guy brought down for a variety of reasons beyond that. And at the end, everyone - including the Game Master - was impressed with what had happened, what the players had done (and also frustrated and confused because it was a partial victory, not a complete one that leaves storylines and hooks dangling and some things just unresolved) - and it becomes a story that is meaningful in many ways.

No way is more right than the other; the enduring beauty to me of D&D and its many inheritors/successors/other systems is that each one is about finding the right balance for the group. They are all an exercise in joint storytelling and world-creation, but what the story is and what it focuses on are up the group at the table (virtual or otherwise). And it's best when people can surprise each other with an unusual application of skill or well-timed bit of roleplaying or some footnote from a character or a world history that solves or introduces a problem in an unexpected way.

There's not a right way; there's not a wrong way. The rules are the starting point, not the end, of possibility in these systems. And I've walked away from a few playing groups who had trouble with that concept over the years.
posted by nubs at 11:27 AM on January 24 [5 favorites]


Ultimately, the reason I didn't like it was exactly the reason JHarris spells out above: it's "basically a combat game with the roleplaying parts tacked on".

This isn't true, though, and it's another thing I've seen said a lot and never defended well. 4E has exactly as much roleplaying in it as 3E, which is "as much as the players feel like doing". Can you explain more of what you mean?


Well, for one thing:
[T]he game really has a strong emphasis on working together in combat...[M]y group really enjoyed that it was easy to have encounters that [were] challenging but conquerable and different from the last fight and the fight before that...[T]he combat in 4E is a lot crunchier than in older editions, and it takes more effort from both player and DM to be "good at".

Sorry if that comes off as snark, but that's actually a good description of how 4E is at its core a combat game. The classes are defined by their combat roles, and the synergies between those: they're not defined by their non-combat roles -- Striker/Defender/Leader, not Explorer/Healer/Charmer. Combat is intended to be challenging, tactical, and mechanically varied; that isn't necessarily the case with 3.5/Pathfinder, where you can find plenty of encounters that amount to 'I swing my sword' x4. 4E presumes you want engrossing combat encounters, and provides a plethora of rules to support them. 3.5/PF allows them but does not require them. That's the crux of the argument -- that 4E is D&D optimized around combat and doesn't particularly support non-combat.

You can have a perfectly fine time RPing 4E and ignoring combat; it's just that that goes against the design of the game -- you're taking advantage of none of its strengths and all of its weaknesses. I don't know why you would -- there are plenty of games out there that are better for that.

As an aside, the way 4E talks about itself is often very combat-centric, too. Here's how 4E's Player Handbook 1 describes (some of) the core character classes (on page 52):

Cleric: A divinely inspired warrior.
Ranger: A ranged or two-weapon combat specialist.
Rogue: A combatant who uses stealth and slyness to thwart enemies.


And here's how Pathfinder's Core Rulebook summarizes them (on page 30):

Cleric: A devout follower of a deity, the cleric can heal wounds, raise the dead, and call down the wrath of the gods.
Ranger: A tracker and a hunter, the ranger is a creature of the wild and of tracking down his favored foes.
Rogue: The rogue is a thief and a scout, an opportunist capable of delivering brutal strikes against unwary foes.

The Rogue is fairly close, but the other two -- defining a ranger by the kinds of weapons he uses vs. where he lives, and defining a cleric as 'a non-atheist fighter' vs. 'a healer' -- is a pattern often repeated.

There's a separate but parallel case to be made that the biggest difference between 3.5/PF and 4E is that 4E eschews many of the simulationist elements in 3.5 in order to better balance combat, and that RPing -- for which many people drew heavily from the game's attempts at simulating a world through rules -- necessarily suffered as a result of that. To put that another way: the way that 4E balances the classes is by abstracting a lot of stuff away, and it turns out that a lot of people liked that stuff.

Anyway! That's not to say that 4E is bad, only that it's different from 3.5, which should be unsurprising since that was at least part of the intent in designing it.
posted by cjelli at 11:31 AM on January 24 [3 favorites]


That's the crux of the argument -- that 4E is D&D optimized around combat and doesn't particularly support non-combat.
posted by cjelli


I've never read the Pathfinder rule book so I'm curious: what percentage of the rules deal with combat? Is there really anything apart from diplomacy checks which guide you outside of combat?

What I'm getting at, as someone whose only played 4th ed before moving onto indie games so I may be wrong, is that all D&D has always been essentially a combat game. Virtually all the rules as far as I am aware in all editions deal with combat or its after effects. Which is fine and I'm not saying it's not roleplaying or anything. But D&D as I've played it you're mainly just freeforming out of combat rather than being driven by the rules. You could quite easily do that without ever picking up the rulebook.

It's a great legacy D&D has created though and I'm really thankful it exists. It's such a weird and interesting idea, which someone sits between other types of creative activities. When I've tried to explain what roleplaying is to people I've always failed massively.

This has been your requisite angry hippy comment.
posted by Erberus at 11:49 AM on January 24 [2 favorites]


IAmUnaware: "This isn't true, though, and it's another thing I've seen said a lot and never defended well. 4E has exactly as much roleplaying in it as 3E, which is "as much as the players feel like doing". Can you explain more of what you mean?"

Combats take so long that it actually pushes roleplaying out. My group is a bit of an outlier on this; maybe because we are inherently tactical and 4e played to that, but OMG we could spend four hours playing and accomplish nothing more than two combats and a minor interlude. Game time dragged on forever; it could take us months to get through a week. Despite most of us having been long time DnD devotees with experience back to the basic set we drop 4e in favour of 13th Age and never looked back.
posted by Mitheral at 12:23 PM on January 24 [2 favorites]


Yep. 4e is the RPG equivalent of Munchkin.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 12:25 PM on January 24


I started playing D&D with the Basic Set, back in 1982. My first character was a pixie, because I opened the book, saw a picture of a pixie fighting a rust monster, and said "I want to play that guy!" I was about 8, and the 12-year-old DM just shrugged and said okay.

Things came full circle last year, when I got to play in a 4E game as a pixie vampire named "Count Cobweb" - a 6-inch fearsome creature of the night, with a terrible Transylvanian accent (and created entirely in accordance with the rules). Easily the most fun campaign that I've ever played.

You can have a perfectly fine time RPing 4E and ignoring combat; it's just that that goes against the design of the game -- you're taking advantage of none of its strengths and all of its weaknesses.

In my experience, roleplaying has been much, much easier in 4E, because all of my RP choices are mechanically supported. I wanted Count Cobweb to be supernaturally charming - and he comes with a "Charming Gaze" power, which gives him a +4 to Diplomacy checks (or, in combat, lures enemies closer). Want your Barbarian to be terrifying? Take the Thundering Roar power, which forces enemies to move away from him.

In other editions, that kind of thing is handled by the DM, which is great if your DM is understands what you're trying to do and responds to it, but if they're having an off day, or just disagrees about how charming/terrifying your character is, you're out of luck.
posted by Bill_Roundy at 12:26 PM on January 24 [1 favorite]


I've never read the Pathfinder rule book so I'm curious: what percentage of the rules deal with combat? Is there really anything apart from diplomacy checks which guide you outside of combat?

You can actually check out the whole of the rules (but none of the fluff) online at the (official) Pathfinder Reference Document; part of the deal with moving stuff over from 3.5 was that they had to keep the game open.

It's hard to answer what percentage of the Pathfinder rules deal with combat because everything is co-mingled -- you've got a list of spells for a class, say, not a list of Powers and a separate list of explicitly-non-combat Rituals, as in 4E. Tossing everything together means that the idea of something being 'for combat' or 'not for combat' is almost meaningless -- things exist in Pathfinder (or 3.5) often because 'they should exist,' as a simulation; Silent Image, for example, is a spell that has tremendous utility both in and out of combat. It's not an Attack Power and it's not a Utility Power (and it's not a Ritual); it's just a spell ('just a spell, and also a whole bunch of rules, and then some keyworded references and...)

That being said, Combat. There are a lot of combat rules. A lot of them, though, are framed as specific cases of more general rules -- for example, the Pathfinder rules for Movement are under the "Additional Rules" section, and the combat use-cases are detailed in the Combat section. In 4E, Movement is detailed only in the Combat section (excluding Overland Movement).

In other words, Pathfinder (and 3.5) doesn't so much have rules for stuff outside of combat as it has A Bunch Of Rules, of which many (possibly most, honestly) deal with combat, and of which many interact with combat. But the framing of Combat Rules as a subset of The Rules, rather than combat being the main thing around which rules are based, means that there's hugely more interactivity between different aspects of the game -- all the different systems work hand-in-hand with each other. Some people find that stultifying; I wouldn't argue that it's a universal good, although I do enjoy it.

The other thing that's not evident from the percentage of rules that deal with combat is that Pathfinder (and 3.5) combat tends to go much faster than in 4E. The rules that govern it are extensive, but the way it plays is actually quite smooth. The group I played 4E with would be lucky to get through a combat or two a session; with PF, we can do several times that. Partly that's because it's just less complicated -- combat in PF isn't supposed to always be a challenging intellectual exercise. Sometimes it's just you punching goblins, or having to run away from a bear. And that, importantly to me at least, makes the combat feel more like roleplaying rather than wargaming: story stays centric.
posted by cjelli at 12:29 PM on January 24 [1 favorite]


I think the best way to even up the fighter v wizard thing is to require 5x as much XP for wizardly characters to move up to the next level. BECAUSE THAT'S HOW IT IS IN REAL LIFE! Dissertations and all that stuff you know.
posted by Mister_A at 12:42 PM on January 24 [1 favorite]


I'm interested to know if any of the people here have ever tried "Ars Magica"?

The notion that pre-4th edition versions of D&D suffered from "linear fighter, quadratic wizard" syndrome is interesting to me. I don't think it's wrong that the game actually does position the different character classes in that fashion...but I'm not as certain that this constitutes an actual design flaw.

I'm intrigued by the idea that something like "Call of Cthulhu" might represent one method for turning this (potential) flaw into an aspect of the world being simulated...specifically, the "make all magic users villains" method.

"Ars Magica", on the other hand, explicitly takes another approach: it recognizes right up front that wizards are vastly more powerful than other characters. So, while each player will have their own specific wizard character, the entirety of the rest of the "cast" belongs to the play group as a whole. I.e., if you're playing a man-at-arms, you're playing that man-at-arms in addition to the wizard that's actully your "main" role. And somebody else might be playing the man-at-arms next time.

Every non-wizard character with a name is handled like this. But Ars Magica has some other odd conventions, as well, such as rotating the DM role amongst the group regularly, and since I've never been able to participate in a game, I'd be interested to know what the experience was like.
posted by Ipsifendus at 12:43 PM on January 24 [3 favorites]


One part of the inherent fighter/magic-user imbalance was that in the original campaigns, play groups were large, sprawling groups of wargamers. A higher level magic-user was probably only treating the other PCs as glorified henchmen for some specific tactical needs, and would go solo when it suited him to do so. There wasn't a "party" of equal-level PCs, and it really wasn't designed with the assumption that there should be. At high levels, the fighter players were expected to be off running their baronies while magic-users traversed the planes and plumbed the depths of knowledge. In a way - Rob Kuntz has talked about this the most - the high level game sort of became a one-on-one game rather than staying focused on the party.

Which makes sense - the Fellowship of the Ring broke apart, after all, and most sword & sorcery heroes tended to go solo (or in pairs) a good deal of the time.
posted by graymouser at 12:50 PM on January 24 [1 favorite]


Casters always had this stuff, but in 4E everybody has it. It's an attempt to solve the old "linear fighter, quadratic wizard" problem.

My two cents on this... 3E removed many of the balancing factors to wizard power that made this problem worse in 3E than it was in earlier editions.

I think the core of the problem, though, was not entirely 3E's doing. It came from moving away from smash and grab explorations, with lots of downtime back at the Keep before the next trek out to the Caves— from that to (much easier to run) linear plot-following adventures where you get to rest almost any time you like before NextFight. When you get to rest a lot more, wizards get to cast way more spells per game session and don't have to worry about conserving spells: Always Be Casting. It started in 2E, but 3E pushed that Baldur's Gate style of play even more as the official one. In 4E they just embraced Always Be Casting for everyone, and changed the rest of the system to match. D&D Next looks much the same, but with dice pools you spend to activate powers, and the dice pools refresh in 4E-ish rhythms.

Other things about 3E that increased wizards' power:
- Letting wizards cast spells in melee easily and instantly, vs. 1E era rules which could be harsh (like: have to declare spells before round, casting times, no casting in melee, easy to lose the cast).
- Wizards being able to get decent AC, and HP bonuses from Con.
- Making targeting HTH opponents easy. Pre grid-intensive combat, two opponents in melee with each other were kind of a conceptual blob and you couldn't precisely target just one. In 3E, wizards have more mobility and precision. They can just line it up.
- Some spells more foolproof: No more DM snickering while calculating fireball AOE or lightning bolt rebound.
- Decreased number of enemies which makes single-target spells more powerful.
- More bonus spells for that high Int that you're pretty much guaranteed to get.
- Easy access to wands (with ridiculous #of charges) and scrolls.

And fighters were nerfed some:
- Removing the awesome 1 attack per level against wimpy foes that made fighters feel so badass. Yeah you get it back with Cleave, if you pay for it. Feats are like the Company Store for fighters.
- Tying multiple attacks to full actions which are tactically limited.
- Reduction in importance/usefulness of hirelings.
- Weakening vanilla classes by creating special classes that have abilities that by implication vanilla classes can't have anymore. Some think this began with the OD&D Thief, or Unearthed Arcana, or 2E's splatbook explosion. In 3E they just made the vanilla fighter really lame, while putting in crunch everywhere else, that limited narrative flexibility.

Just my observations, anyway; not edition warring.
posted by bleep-blop at 1:10 PM on January 24 [3 favorites]


Some day I'm going run a 4e game where players are required to shout the name of the power that they're using.
posted by charred husk at 1:19 PM on January 24 [1 favorite]


That is in fact my plan with the monk I'll be rolling for the next campaign.
posted by griphus at 1:20 PM on January 24 [3 favorites]


cjelli has stated the deficiencies of 4E better than anyone else, myself included, that I have seen.

Ereberus, responding to him: I've never read the Pathfinder rule book so I'm curious: what percentage of the rules deal with combat? Is there really anything apart from diplomacy checks which guide you outside of combat?

It's not a question of percentage of the rules (which is a clumsy measure), but the design stance behind those rules.

They started from two sources: wargaming, and a love of things like fantasy and SF stories. Wargaming is a combat simulation than enourages crunchy stats and dice rolling and tactical maps; the fantasy story base encourage the development of character and the concept of storytelling, hence the application of dramatic techniques in the area of game-mastering, character creation, and so forth.

This is interesting, but it doesn't account for the remaining third of the game: places where there's rules and crunch that aren't combat, which I think are the most interesting parts of D&D in any edition. Rules for establishing a stronghold. Attracting followers. Advertising for henchmen. Treasure generation. Random dungeon creation. The Deck of Many Things. I love all that about Gygaxian D&D, and they're what I love about the FREAKING AMAZING blog The Dungeon Dozen, which now has hundreds of random D12 tables that could nearly let you improvise an entire campaign from scratch! I'd post it, but I already posted it over a year ago. (I may have a new angle on it soon though....)

Ipsifendus, that's very interesting!
posted by JHarris at 1:26 PM on January 24 [1 favorite]


And bleep-blop that's a terrific summation. I feel like I'm just passing out the compliments, but I love this thread.
posted by JHarris at 1:30 PM on January 24


Just my observations, anyway; not edition warring.

I feel like I should add that caveat too -- I played a lot of 4E and enjoyed it; I'd pay good money for a faithful adaption of the 4E ruleset into an Icewind Dale-style CRPG adaption. Different editions (and different games) are good at different things, and that's A Good Thing.
posted by cjelli at 1:34 PM on January 24


Has anyone played ACKS? I always wanted to try Ars Magica but never had the time or people. STORY OF EVERYTHING ALL THE TIME.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 1:45 PM on January 24 [1 favorite]


My gaming group pretty much decided that 4th edition, once you got a few levels in, actually had MORE bookkeeping in combat and it just got too awkward.

We actually were a tactics-heavy group all along (we were a bunch of game developers, what can I say?) though there'd be roleplaying-only nights, and other nights when we'd spend 4 hours planning an attack and then screw it up in the first round of combat... and sadly, other nights where we spent 2 and a half frustrating, boring hours going through peoples' combat turns just trying to retreat. Some of our players actually were playing Star Wars Galaxies or watching football games on the side during gaming sessions.

(Even when we played Vampire: the Masquerade and combat was a much more abstracted thing, we could spend hours arguing about whether somebody could buy an iPod at Wal-Mart late at night (GM's answer: no, because it's a dark and depressing world and vampires have to suffer for all eternity until they're painfully, brutally killed), or why we could smell things when we didn't breathe.)

4th edition was supposed to come with software tools to handle all of that for you, with DM tools for mapping. I don't know if that ever happened, but it didn't during the period when we were playing it.
posted by Foosnark at 2:26 PM on January 24


Happy Birthday D&D!!
posted by Renoroc at 2:30 PM on January 24


Steely, I have played ACKS, but it was not for me. If you still like red box and dungeon crawls, it may be for you, but I simply realized that OSR is not my thing at all.
posted by ursus_comiter at 2:57 PM on January 24


4th edition was supposed to come with software tools to handle all of that for you, with DM tools for mapping. I don't know if that ever happened, but it didn't during the period when we were playing it.

They released a few tools for download -- a character sheet builder for players, a monster builder for DM's -- a while after release. They both mirrored all the information of the printed material so you could easily look up anything, even if you didn't happen to have a book handy. They stopped updating those in late 2010 and rolled out a new, online-only character builder. I don't know if they've added any other tools beyond that one, because I moved over to Pathfinder around the same time. I do know that they had an online-only virtual table-top system in beta for a while, which necessarily included a mapping function, but that was cancelled in mid-2012 to much wailing and gnashing of teeth.

The entire thing feels like a tremendous missed opportunity -- if they'd been able to get more and better tools out earlier to automate some of the game's more monotonous number-crunching, I really think it would have helped them retain players. As it is, a lot of third-part providers have stepped into that space for prior editions -- see, for example, FantasyGrounds.
posted by cjelli at 3:02 PM on January 24 [1 favorite]


4th edition was supposed to come with software tools to handle all of that for you, with DM tools for mapping. I don't know if that ever happened, but it didn't during the period when we were playing it.

Dear god, they've been promising that since the beginning of 3rd edition!

The original printing of the 3E Player's Handbook (yes I own a copy) came with a CD with a really slick character builder tool, and the promise that the full version, the "Master Tools," would be out forthwith. We're still waiting. At this point they should just license PC Gen!
posted by JHarris at 3:07 PM on January 24 [1 favorite]


HeroForge is really great but a) you need Excel and b) it keeps fucking up the math when I try to level up with it.
posted by griphus at 3:10 PM on January 24


Ipsifendus, I did play some Ars Magica. I absolutely loved the magic system, along with the rules for creating the place where everyone lived.

I think the problem my group ran into was a lack of time - I was trying to do Ars at the same time as several other campaigns of other systems were in progress - and people seemed to really like the wizards and the companions, and they had a ball creating Grogs (a Fezzic-like one was one of the first created by one of the players, and when he was killed on an adventurer, they just put "II" next to his name so that there was always a Fezzic involved).

But it was a new system, with it's own idiosyncracies and complexities, and we didn't all have time to learn it in depth so I think it suffered for that in our play. It's still a game I want to go back to someday. Two things I learned:

-while the system encourages the GM chair being switched between everyone, I wouldn't do that - it's better to have one GM; the players are actually responsible for a lot in Ars Magica - multiple characters, in-game projects and creations, and research of same...having one person responsible for the world outside and ensuring that things didn't get overlooked was needed.
-the system encourages that one wizard, some of the "other characters" - companions (knights, priests, other more specialized roles) and Grogs (the men-at-arms, cannon foddeer, etc) go out. It makes for an interesting structure, any everyone gets a chance to be the focus/most powerful character in turn, which is awesome. I did find, however, that taking brief moments during the adventure to check-in back at the homebase and have something small/funny/strange going on for the wizards and other characters left behind to investigate was also helpful to making everyone feel connected/contributing - because if you're just playing three of the men-at-arms for the evening, it can feel a little disengaging.
posted by nubs at 3:15 PM on January 24 [3 favorites]


Yeah the reason the 4e online tabletop never appeared was not WOTC's fault - there's a really tragic story behind it

Personally I've played every edition of D&D extensively, and I really enjoyed 4e. What grinds my gears about the MMO comparison is that it generally means

'4e is terrible, like MMOs!'

and not

'4e is a well designed, balanced, accessible, cooperative, modern game, like MMOs!'

The 4e character and monster builders are actually pretty good, I found that complete novice players could happily sit down at the computer, produce a character and play it. We are now playing Pathfinder and those novice players are having a terrible time with chargen.
posted by xiw at 4:31 PM on January 24 [5 favorites]


Oh no, that's horrible. Are official D&D computer tools cursed or something? The last first-party computer tool that D&D license holders have been able to sell was the ancient Dungeon Master's Assistant vol. I and II, which was available for 8-bit microcomputers and DOS PC.
posted by JHarris at 5:02 PM on January 24


It's also the 36th anniversary of Gamma World.
posted by Mezentian at 6:06 PM on January 24 [1 favorite]


Are official D&D computer tools cursed or something?

JHarris, I've tried everything. Grow-you-own spreadsheets, custom programs, databases, you name it. Nothing works.

Here's the problem: magic. Magic breaks the damn rules! Which is kind of the point of magic, if you think about it. Sooner or later, you encounter a character/race/class that just has to be its own special snowflake. I'd rather work on timezones. It's more logical!
posted by SPrintF at 6:24 PM on January 24 [1 favorite]


D&D Fourth Edition is the perfect game for wizard-on-wizard action
posted by homunculus at 7:50 PM on January 24 [1 favorite]


Well, these days unofficial projects have obsoleted them. Character Generation? HeroLab flat works. The virtual table top? Pick any one of a half dozen.
posted by absalom at 8:23 PM on January 24


There's a few free character generators out there as well. PCGen, Scoreforge and YAPCG (Yet Another Pathfinder Character Generator) are good as well. Hell, there's even a free online Java character generator. Pathfinder really needs a 33 megabyte excel file to create characters with.

I suppose the real question is, why has D&D pretty much defined the rpg genre for 40 years?, MOre than that, why has it gone beyond to be the standard for computer rpgs and a lot of other fantasy? There's been a hell of a lot of changes over the last 40 years, and wildly differing levels of complexity, so what is the core of D&D tat makes it so popular?
posted by happyroach at 10:38 PM on January 24 [1 favorite]


IAmUnaware: "By the way, anybody who liked some of the ideas from 4E but not so much the intricacy of the mechanics should check out 13th Age"

13th Age is brilliant but I don't think it's much like 4e with the exception of pretty good class balance. It's our main game since we abandoned 4e.
posted by Mitheral at 11:05 PM on January 24


I suppose the real question is, why has D&D pretty much defined the rpg genre for 40 years?, MOre than that, why has it gone beyond to be the standard for computer rpgs and a lot of other fantasy? There's been a hell of a lot of changes over the last 40 years, and wildly differing levels of complexity, so what is the core of D&D tat makes it so popular?

There are actually a lot of good reasons. It was first, giving it time to build up an initial fan base. In the late 70s/early 80s when RPGs were a craze, it was D&D that sold millions of copies. Up until the 90s when management drove TSR into the ground, it was unchallenged for RPG supremacy. Vampire was the only game that ever gave it a run for its money, and Wizards of the Coast recaptured the market share pretty handily with 3e.

For an RPG, the barrier to entry is pretty low. The players just need to get a character together, and the referee just needs a dungeon, and you're set. And of course, being the most popular has meant it is the best-supported. The concepts are familiar, unlike an early competitor Runequest where you feel like an anthropology student trying to get into the setting.

In video games, the system translated reasonably well to knockoffs in early computer gaming. Hit points, armor class, straightforward statistics, classes, levels, experience points - it all went over smoothly. A billion variations have been tried since, but the way D&D does it just works. Hit points particularly are "sticky" - there are all kinds of other wound systems that have been tried, but HP are just such a straightforward abstraction that they don't go away. So D&D-esque sort of became "how it is done" for video game RPGs.

And the setting is straightforward and easy to do. You just go a little pseudo-medieval and you've got a world where you can do whatever you need to. It has Tolkien-esque elements without needing the IP of Tolkien or any of the complicated backstory. The dungeon setting is also great from a game design perspective, since it lets you create environments that are limited but allow for interesting exploration without railroading players.

Finally it made itself part of the culture, with the cartoon show and Dragonlance novels and the game itself. In big ways and small, D&D got to rewrite what pseudo-medieval fantasy was. Once it reached a certain level of popularity it really cemented its influence.

It's always made a lot of sense to me why D&D has remained popular. There's just a lot going for it, and each thing has fed into the next, creating a cycle that resulted in the game having a lot of staying power.
posted by graymouser at 3:01 AM on January 25 [4 favorites]


I may have talked about this before, but hey why not again.

The most remarkable D&D campaign I played in had totally home-grown rules. It wasn't really D&D at all anymore (for example, there were 13 abilities scored 1-100*), but we still called it "D&D", and the DM had been running it since ~1989. There was kind of an oral history from players and adventures gone by, puzzles that had lain around for years unsolved*, old player-made maps with mysterious notations—lots of great stuff.

The most un-D&D-like thing about it was that players never rolled any dice. We knew how to calculate skill scores, but we didn't know what the numbers actually meant. We interacted with the DM through the described world, so role playing and interaction were important. Asking good questions meant your character would be more observant. Reacting quickly to what the DM said meant your character would react quicker too; you could phrase it as reflex saves had a large real life component. I saved the party's bacon a couple times that way, once when my archer snap-shot an enemy spellcaster who dropped out of invisibility, right before he could finish our fighter off. Never mind rigid initiative and turn order. I also lost a character that way too: Our party was riding summoned "rocs" (aka, giant robins) away from an island, two characters per roc, clutching onto their backs. The roc bearing my PC swerved hard after a near miss from a lightning bolt. (We were fleeing a certain situation.) The character behind mine started to fall off the roc, and I impulsively said "I grab him!"; the DM rolled and kept describing the chase to the other characters, only at the end telling another player how they noticed the roc my PC was on was now riderless.

How you described things your character did or said mattered a lot, especially in social situations. There were no diplomacy/bluff/sense motive/detect lie type things. It wasn't an acting exercise, but you couldn't really get away with saying your character had some personality type or social acuity without showing it at the table somehow. There were no intelligence or charisma stats. The joke went: you can't say, "My character solves the puzzle." How you role-played also mattered for when your character was out of the narrative for awhile. If you played your character well, they tended to do a lot better when the DM NPC'd them "off screen". If the DM hated your character they tended to fuck up or get killed when left behind to guard the camels.

There was definite player skill, and little system skill. The closest thing to a system skill was managing inventory and planning expeditions, but that was treated as a game-world thing too. If you were the inventory monkey at the table, your character was the inventory monkey in the game world. (The best part about being inventory monkey was you can set your own salary *cough*.) It was the kind of campaign where the DM would solve a related rate problem to figure out how far our dog sleds traveled as we consumed the food on the sled the dogs were carrying.

I could go on and on about it; it was a special campaign of a mad genius DM. Not all of it would translate to other campaigns. I couldn't pull it off, and it's not my style of DMing anyway. But in a lot of ways it was a pure role-playing, and I do wish more people had a chance to play in campaigns like that.
posted by bleep-blop at 6:28 AM on January 25 [1 favorite]


The joke: new D&D is rule playing instead of role playing.
posted by saber_taylor at 7:36 AM on January 25


bleep-blop, there are elements of what you describe in old-school D&D, where a character was a much thinner membrane between the player's will and the described world. Many of the "skills" that are considered part of the game now actually began with 2E, with "non-weapon proficiencies." Before that, it was up to the DM to come up with a way to simulate those aspects of the game, and they were usually done with questioning. (Or so I've come to understand, from my reading of old-school RPG blogs.)

Like, if there's a trap in the corridor ahead, the players would have to ask about searching the area or it would go off when they stepped on it, regardless of whether the party had a thief or not. The DM would describe the situation, and the player would have to find, say, a catch, or pressure plate, or tripwire, or whatever mechanism, to find the trap. Hence the reputation of the ten-foot pole as the essential piece of adventure equipment, as a way of probing floors and walls from a safe distance. Basically, although PCs had Intelligence and Wisdom scores, those were just abstract qualities for certain game purposes, and the character's actions were only as smart or wise as the player.

greymouser's right, but it's worth noting how profound D&D's influence still is. Dungeons & Dragons is everywhere now, its take on how to present a fantasy world became the default and is everywhere, inescapable. Hit points has become a ubiquitous trope, certainly, despite being one of the less realistic of D&D's abstractions. This aspect of the game, with influence from videogames, has spread, and nearly everything uses strict it as health now.

(The 1st edition books actually say that hit points are not a direct measure of player health, but more a matter of how far he's pushed his luck combined with minor wounds and PC attention, which explains why PCs don't suffer diminished abilities when wounded. I've heard Tarn Adams of Dwarf Fortress complain about this; he has DF characters use a more Runequesty individual body part simulation.)

But more than that, the idea of how Generic Fantasy land works is mostly due to Dungeons & Dragons, and the assumptions made by it and its sources. We're all playing in Gygax's world, whether we think we are or not.
posted by JHarris at 9:53 AM on January 25 [1 favorite]


(On traps: 1E gave traps a percentage chance to Find Traps, which might be seen as the beginning of the end for this kind of direct play.)
posted by JHarris at 9:56 AM on January 25


(Gives THIEVES a percentage chance. Sorry, my dumb is brain.)
posted by JHarris at 10:03 AM on January 25 [1 favorite]


Find/Remove Traps was originally just Remove Traps in Supplement I: Greyhawk and the Holmes basic rulebook. Both the 1e AD&D Player's Handbook and the 1981 Moldvay basic rulebook switched it to Find / Remove Traps. Philosophically I've always preferred the earlier interpretation, since I've had quite a lot more fun with players trying to find traps "organically."
posted by graymouser at 10:17 AM on January 25 [1 favorite]


Yep, that campaign was old-school in spirit. It departed from very early D&D and never looked back. (One of that group claimed to have played with some old name in an early game called 'Catacombs' but I never run across that anywhere else.)

It had a couple things that were nice for old school style play.

The first was that you could make a starting character who was useful even a more experienced party. It was skill based and you could start out expert in some niche skills that were useful, or make your character a good generalist. You could make some magic dabbler type characters, who just knew a little useful magic but were still semi-viable general adventurers, or who were even "scroll casters". A lot came down to player skill in the moment, but it was nice being able to be useful even as a newbie. It helped that it was low fantasy, and higher level PCs were not like superheroes compared to low-level PC schlubs.

The other thing that helped a lot with old-school gameplay was the magic cast/sleep/cast cycle. I won't detail it, but imagine if casters were like 3E's Sorcerer, but an overnight rest only restores a single spell cast. So you can actually accomplish a lot in one foray, even with low-level characters, but if you blow through all your casts then you'll need a week or two to get back to full strength. You can't stay that long in a dangerous area so you'll have to go back to town; you're done. The effect has a nice exploration feel—you don't get to the boss's door then turn around and run back to camp. You make decisions to press your luck and take risks, instead of being able to be very boring and conservative.

I'm not sure what published system would be best for running an old-school style campaign out of the box, especially if you put in the hands of a DM who didn't know what old school exploration type games were about in the first place. I don't think the answer is a retroclone, though I haven't been in touch with the OSR type stuff for awhile so I don't know what is going on there anymore.
posted by bleep-blop at 5:49 PM on January 25 [1 favorite]


I have a set of the original handbooks. Sigh, no one wants to play anymore. My hubby would rather play World of Warcraft than DM and the rest of the group have lives or something.
It was fun while it lasted. :)
posted by Gadgetenvy at 10:10 PM on January 25 [1 favorite]


There's going to be an AMA with Jon Peterson, author of Playing at the World today.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 4:12 AM on January 26 [3 favorites]


Gadgetenvy, there are still people out there willing to play. Maybe you could get in an online game?

A couple years back I did a forum Call of Cthulhu game for some MeFites. It might be fun to try something like that for OD&D.... (Not that I'm adverse to doing CoC again. Just, been difficult to find time to do such things lately.)
posted by JHarris at 11:02 AM on January 26 [1 favorite]


Jason Thompson illustrates Expedition to the Barrier Peaks.
posted by Zed at 11:23 PM on January 26


That AMA is interesting.
The Dalluhn Manuscript... The Mornard Fragments.

"Jon Peterson: the Indiana Jones of D&D" indeed.

I'm a bit sad his interest seems to fizzle out in the early 1980s.
That's a book I'd like to read.

It also tells me about two new D&D documentaries which I will enjoy seeing someday.

I'm also really curious about proto-Grayhawk.
posted by Mezentian at 11:24 PM on January 26 [1 favorite]


If he showed he was interested in writing about the 80s, I suspect a lot of Jon's sources for what happened before would dry up. Still a lot of bad feelings left over from that era.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 7:33 AM on January 27


Any standout bits in the AMA?
posted by griphus at 7:43 AM on January 27


In the vein of general D&D talk: does anyone remember the blue and green cover "history" sourcebooks? Stuff like this or this? Does anyone still make these kinds of things (history stuff geared for specific gaming, versus e.g. Osprey guides which are just general reference guides)?
posted by curious nu at 5:43 PM on January 27


Maybe Fief and/or Town?
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 6:35 PM on January 27


SJG might still be popping those out for GURPS. Here's a couple from 2013.
posted by bleep-blop at 12:29 AM on January 28


Any standout bits in the AMA?
* Ernest G. Gygax Jr (Reddit's Tenser) seems to have a "new TSR" producing something called GP Adventures, and his grandson is in the biz. He also has a "Hobby Shop Dungeon".
* Why do clerics not used edged weapons? There's a quote in a book that Gygax read, apparently.
*The 10-foot pole came from a Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser story. I know I've read that one too, and thought the same thing.
* There was a pre-D&D Western RPG called "Brownstone" Arneson played.
* Chivalry & Sorcery was billed as a "D&D killer", and yet...
* Somehow, he has never seen the Community D&D ep

And this (not from him though, so ST Vs Truth):
Another tidbit, apparently Lorainne Williams hated Peter Adkison for some reason and did not want to sell to Wizards of the Coast. WotC kept making offers and she'd reject them unopened. When the financial crunch hit them hard, Ryan Dancey of Five Rings Publishing Group went to Williams and said, "If I can get you $25 million for TSR no questions asked, will you take it?" She said yes. He then went to Adkison and said, "If I can get you TSR for $25 million, would you do it on the condition you also give me $5 million for Five Rings?" Thus Wizards of the Coast bought TSR.
posted by Mezentian at 3:26 AM on January 28


D & D Yoga
posted by homunculus at 3:36 PM on January 28 [1 favorite]


Hah! That yoga is great.
posted by curious nu at 4:38 PM on January 28


You know, between a general dungeon-y mood that I've been nursing for six+ months now, and this thread, I'm probably going to grab this new version whenever it hits and at least run a couple of sessions with it.
posted by curious nu at 4:39 PM on January 28 [1 favorite]


Ernest G. Gygax Jr (Reddit's Tenser) seems to have a "new TSR" producing something called GP Adventures, and his grandson is in the biz. He also has a "Hobby Shop Dungeon".

Apparently Wizards let the "TSR" mark expire and Ernie, Luke and a few other folks created TSR Games which publishes a quarterly magazine called Gygax Magazine. The third issue has a teaser for Ernie's forthcoming megadungeon, "The Hobby Shop Dungeon," so named for the Lake Geneva hobby shop owned by TSR where Ernie would run games. He's doing it with help from Benoist Poire, who writes a lot on megadungeon design.

Chivalry & Sorcery was billed as a "D&D killer", and yet...

As rough as the OD&D booklets are, Chivalry & Sorcery first edition was "typeset" using an IBM Selectric with a 6 point type ball. I have a copy and I've tried delving into it, but there was no way in hell it was going anywhere.
posted by graymouser at 8:43 PM on January 28 [2 favorites]


« Older The library platform OverDrive has announced that ...  |  The final confessions of a Sil... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments