Join 3,411 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Play like it's 1974!
July 13, 2010 11:11 AM   Subscribe

In 1974, a pair of wargame enthusiasts from Lake Geneva, Wisconsin transformed the nascent hobby gaming world by publishing three little brown booklets. Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson's Dungeons & Dragons has become an important part of the lives of generations of young gamers. Along the way, D&D went through numerous editions, each with increasingly complex rules.

Some gamers feel that added complexity makes the game less fun, or makes it an entirely different type of game than old-school dungeon crawls. Is this enthusiasm for old-school D&D just nostalgia, or did those classic rules play differently? Matt Finch answers with A Quick Primer to Old School Gaming [PDF, but worth it], and Philotomy's OD&D Musings add further details.

Given that those old-school rules are no longer published or officially supported (and vintage copies run up to $5,000 on eBay), gamers have taken it upon themselves to produce a number of retro-clones. If you want to play the 1970's original "0e" rules, check-out Swords & Wizardry. If you're hankering for the 1980's Basic rules, look no further than Labyrinth Lord. Even 1st edition AD&D has OSRIC. Most retro-clones are available as free PDF's, and there are a growing number of small press modules and accessories to support them.
posted by paulg (157 comments total) 53 users marked this as a favorite

 
Recently, I've gotten involved in a D&D game for the first time since high school. I'm finding that it's still lots of fun. The game mechanics and dicerolls and all the little formulas for determining crap are decidedly NOT fun, and I could pretty much just toss that whole aspect of the game. The fun part is interacting with the story and the other players.

Not productive, won't help me get laid, and it's not really something that I brag about at parties. But you know what? It's not a bad way to spend a Sunday afternoon once a month. Not bad at all.
posted by Afroblanco at 11:17 AM on July 13, 2010 [6 favorites]


Henceforth, the 26th anniversary shall be known as "the dice anniversary".
posted by Joe Beese at 11:17 AM on July 13, 2010


Uhh... 36th.
posted by Joe Beese at 11:19 AM on July 13, 2010


Have you ever given a thought to White Wolf, Afroblanco? We're apparently polar opposites when it comes to RPs, so I you may enjoy it, as I couldn't really stand it.
posted by griphus at 11:24 AM on July 13, 2010


This reminds me—I should do an Empire of the Petal Throne writeup.
posted by adamrice at 11:25 AM on July 13, 2010 [10 favorites]


The game mechanics and dicerolls and all the little formulas for determining crap are decidedly NOT fun

I have to plug this game every time I hear that someone's looking for a system-light game: Universalis. Very simple, story-focused game play.
posted by Jpfed at 11:35 AM on July 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


I like making game systems, and I've thought about ways to simplify dice combat without making it mind numbing. I have some experience with a D&D hybrid of 3E and 4E, and it always struck me as a little too grindy in terms of combat.

I like the stats aspect of tabletop RPGs, but (from what I've played) it seems like combat could use some work.
posted by codacorolla at 11:35 AM on July 13, 2010


Also consider FUDGE and Primetime Adventures.
posted by Joe Beese at 11:36 AM on July 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


@Afroblanco, you should give Swords & Wizardy a look. It's quite a rules-light system, especially the White Box edition.

I discovered the retro-clones because—after a gaming lull of over a decade—some of my pals convinced me to play 4th edition D&D. 4e is an interesting system. I don't hate it. What's really struck me as a DM, though, is how much faster and more fun it is to prep adventures for Swords & Wizardry than for 4th edition D&D. As a player, 4e gives you a lot more character options to pour over between sessions, if that's important for you.

Both games are fun, but they do play very differently. Even when I played Basic in the 80's, we never really played it with the style A Quick Primer describes. It's been an interesting discovery, and I'm still re-learning how to play.
posted by paulg at 11:39 AM on July 13, 2010


One more religion post on Metafilter.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:41 AM on July 13, 2010 [9 favorites]


Great post - reading all the links will prove illuminating. Now if someone can just explain how Warhammer 40K works as I don't understand that either.
posted by longdaysjourney at 11:42 AM on July 13, 2010


You buy really expensive plastic figurines and then you put them on the table and pretend they fight.
posted by ODiV at 11:44 AM on July 13, 2010 [7 favorites]


At last! A place on the internet to discuss D&D!

I...I'm attacking the darkness!
posted by Cookiebastard at 11:45 AM on July 13, 2010 [6 favorites]


No, they're pewter. And you go blind painting them with really expensive paint.

Anyway, Warhammer 40K is just the most popular current iteration of miniature wargaming, which is an old, old hobby.
posted by griphus at 11:46 AM on July 13, 2010


ONLY WAR! ...and skulls.
posted by Artw at 11:47 AM on July 13, 2010 [4 favorites]


D&D's 4th edition is really very simple, and Wizards of the Coast puts out a free character creator program that makes building and understanding your character incredibly easy.

yes, as the 'incredibly complex' link quantifies, there are many more character building choices to make in 4e, but there is so much infrastructure around the game that things go incredibly quickly and are easy to understand for beginners.

3.5e is much more complicated, almost maddeningly so. sometimes there is absolutely critical information in one single sentence in an incredibly long paragraph that appears at first to be largely flavour.

my wife and i got into D&D recently through 4th, and were able to pick up the game incredibly easily. we then joined a 3.5 game. it was far, far more difficult to learn that system than 4e. it was also much more rewarding because the characters felt like they had variety, like they weren't all extracted from the same perfectly balanced spreadsheet.

i don't know much about the earlier versions of the game, but 4e was so simple to learn that "simplicity" wouldn't really attract me to playing those versions. it would have to be something else.
posted by striatic at 11:48 AM on July 13, 2010


Afroblanco, you might like the Amber RPG. I've never played it but it's also mechanics-light. The storytelling can be incredibly involved. One of my friends became so enmeshed that he cried during a gaming session.

Labyrinth Lord has some nice bits there, even the fonts looks similar to how I remember the Basic/Extended books. That's a heavy nostalgia trip right there. I keep considering fleshing out B2: Keep on the Borderlands. I started all of my players at the Keep or variants of it, just by default. This is important, because it gives them a nice shakedown before they begin roaming around the landscape.

Inevitably, some fresh characters fail in the usual bathtub curve. My absolute favorite was one was some characters the players had spent a day rolling up and giving elaborate backstory. Ah, but for all of the backstory, they paid little attention to equipment. So they venture from the Keep and out into the Borderlands and once they get past the crazy hermit, they went underground for the first monster slaying.

Kobolds, though wimpy, come with infravision and humans do not. Nor do they come with torches. Or oil. Or flint and steel. So the kobolds crunched upon the loud and overbold humans who failed to retreat from the darkness (we didn't have noming in those days) and the players whined and I eventually established sheets of equipment packs, available at your local merchant for a markup, guaranteed to have the basic necessities and some variation, like the odd pole or mirror.

"Den of the Morlock Shaman" looks like a good drop-in replacement for B2, although not as rich. I still find Lawful, Neutral, and Chaotic as very amusing ways of describing alignment, but this might make for a good, simple set of games.
posted by adipocere at 11:49 AM on July 13, 2010


Gamma World like it's 2010: Secrets of the Gamma World reboot
posted by Artw at 11:49 AM on July 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


I feel like I post this link in every D&D/RPG thread but if y'all won't then I guess I have to. Jeff's Gameblog is a great place to go for discussion of olde-schoole gaminge, and the dude is also responsible for the Erol Otus Shrine, one of my favorite religious destinations on the Web.
posted by jtron at 11:55 AM on July 13, 2010


I was going through a very old box of crap from my childhood a few weeks ago when I came upon an old, musty leather draw-string pouch. Inside was a number of tiny, well worn squares of paper with numbers on them. My wife was horrified when I quickly placed the squares back into the bag and placed it gingerly on the "keep" pile. Later when she confronted me about it I had to plead, "Don't you understand? Those are chits, damnit!"

Man, wenches, amirite?!?

Did I mention I didn't marry until well into my thirties?
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 11:56 AM on July 13, 2010


Okay, I'll buy that character creation in 4th edition is more complex than in first edition. I haven't any experience with it myself but from what I've been told, a starter character in 4th ed is equivalent to a third or fourth level character in earlier editions by design (more starting spells, feats, etc).

As far as longing for ye olde days of tabletop gaming is concerned, I seem to recall that 1st ed had a table to determine whether your character contracted a random disease every so often (per x steps traveled or something). Nostalgia for the 'simplicity' of original D&D kinda strikes me as a case of rose-colored glasses.
posted by trunk muffins at 11:56 AM on July 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


I shit on 4e quite a bit, but I like the idea of more powerful starter characters. I've been playing 3/3.5 regularly since the inception, and after the first campaign, we no longer started at level 1. Was there ever a pre-4e iteration wherein playing a non-physical-damage class wasn't boring as hell during combat between levels 1 and 3?
posted by griphus at 12:00 PM on July 13, 2010


When I was home to visit my folks about a month ago, my Mom had me clean out some closets with that still held a little of my stuff. Among the detritus of my youth, a small white box. 3-Volume Set. Published by Tactical Studies Rules. Price $10.00.

I had thought it long gone, but there was my first real badge of geekdom.

Extra-added bonus, the other volumes crammed inside: Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes (Supplement IV) ; Eldritch Wizardry (Supplement III), Blackmoor (Supplement II), and a roach-nibbled copy of Supplement I, Greyhawk. Extra, extra added bonus were the copies of Steve Jackson's Melee and Wizard.

It was quite the treasure trove.

Thanks for this, it definitely brings back some memories.
posted by zueod at 12:00 PM on July 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


Self promo-ing some stuff I've written about D&D:

House Rule: Fuck you I'm Awesome! Tokens
The DM's Dilemma
Basic D&D and Party Conflict
4E Skill Challenges made easy
4E Stunting & Fight Sets
5 Blades of Bahamut- a bunch of posts on a fun setting
posted by yeloson at 12:02 PM on July 13, 2010 [13 favorites]


I've been playing 4e recently. It's definitely a lot more straight forward than 2nd edition, which was the last rule set I used to play. (No more tables of saving throws, no more THAC0, etc.) I have 2 issues with the 4th edition rules: the heavy reliance on miniatures for combat and the structure of move/minor/major actions seems less imaginative and free form then just saying what you're doing; there are a shit ton of character classes, and they all seem to be the same. Otherwise, I think it works quite well as a rule set. It also got a ton of people I know gaming again or for the first time. So in that regard, I think it can also be seen as a success.
posted by chunking express at 12:03 PM on July 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


@jtron, if you like Erol Otus, you should check-out Peter Mullen, who happens to be doing cover art for some of the retro products.
posted by paulg at 12:04 PM on July 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


Okay, I'll buy that character creation in 4th edition is more complex than in first edition. I haven't any experience with it myself but from what I've been told, a starter character in 4th ed is equivalent to a third or fourth level character in earlier editions by design (more starting spells, feats, etc).

The big difference between fourth edition and everything that has come before it is that 4E is predicated on the idea that you're playing heroes, dammit, and as such having barely-competent characters is just silly. You start out ready and able to kick some ass, and in a lot more ways than ever before.

I dig.
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:04 PM on July 13, 2010 [4 favorites]


I bought the core 3E and 4E Player's Handbook, but have never played. I bought them solely for compare-and-contrast game design, and just fun reading.

It was immediately obvious to me (and everyone) that 4E was designed to compete for a player's attention vs. World of Warcraft.

I likened it do the difference between a grocery store and a buffet. With the grocery store, you have everything you need to make whatever tasty meal you want. At a buffet, you have many, many options to choose from. But everything is already seasoned, cooked and slotted in dishes.

Some people like that, I guess...
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:08 PM on July 13, 2010 [3 favorites]


I'm not a role-player but my brother-in-law is. He has strongly recommended Wushu to me as a game that's all about creating awesome stories and not so much about dice-rolling and stat-tracking. Plus it's free and "open source." I still have yet to play it but it actually sounds like fun, so I thought I'd mention it here.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 12:08 PM on July 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


The big difference between fourth edition and everything that has come before it is that 4E is predicated on the idea that you're playing heroes, dammit, and as such having barely-competent characters is just silly. You start out ready and able to kick some ass, and in a lot more ways than ever before.

Well, that makes a certain kind of sense I guess...

(It's still EVIL)
posted by Artw at 12:11 PM on July 13, 2010


FYI: On searching further for Wushu, I found it has an official web site. I'd found plenty of dead links to its old site (the domain name apparently expired) but it seems everything's been transferred to a new location.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 12:18 PM on July 13, 2010


"No, they're pewter. And you go blind painting them with really expensive paint.

"Anyway, Warhammer 40K is just the most popular current iteration of miniature wargaming, which is an old, old hobby."


Most minis being played are plastic; it's only low volume or really old minis that are metal.

"I have 2 issues with the 4th edition rules:[...] there are a shit ton of character classes, and they all seem to be the same."

We usually play a pretty balanced, mostly by accident, party of six. However the last couple of months; with the addition of several new junior gamers to assorted player's households; has often seen our weekly group reduced to four players and I can tell you now from horrible experience that not all the roles are interchangeable. We've ended up with no striker or defender on several occasions and the flavour of combat was much different (and deadly).
posted by Mitheral at 12:21 PM on July 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


If your first-level character is a complete creampuff, the job of your DM is to make sure you either have backup characters or to buff as appropriate, but only just barely. The 1hp magic-user is not "okay," but 2hp and a heal potion or a ring of protection (which gets thieved later on) is just fine.

Institutionalizing asskicking, as part of the ruleset, is a drag. The most memorable parts of a long campaign are often the most early adventures, when players are scared out of their wits that their characters might not make it through. It's a knife-edge balance you cannot maintain for an entire campaign — odds are, a character will die by then and the player investment is dashed. Not that you can't whack a character every so often, it's simply that death in the early levels is more acceptable and yet also more spicy.

It's one of many reasons that 4e is a very bad edition of D&D, as editions go. Your characters do not get crunched by kobolds.
posted by adipocere at 12:22 PM on July 13, 2010 [9 favorites]


One day I was in a used book store in New Westminster BC, and came across one of the early white cover boxed sets, including the DMs notes and handwritten additions, all for $25. The store only took cash and I had none and had to meet someone so I left intending on coming back. I did about a week later but the box was long gone. Still very sad.
posted by swimming naked when the tide goes out at 12:27 PM on July 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


What if the character is playing, like, a bard or something?
posted by Artw at 12:27 PM on July 13, 2010


The game mechanics and dicerolls and all the little formulas for determining crap are decidedly NOT fun, and I could pretty much just toss that whole aspect of the game. The fun part is interacting with the story and the other players.

I can't let this slip by without mentioning RISUS. It's rules light & free. BYOG/S.
posted by juv3nal at 12:27 PM on July 13, 2010


The big difference between fourth edition and everything that has come before it is that 4E is predicated on the idea that you're playing heroes, dammit, and as such having barely-competent characters is just silly. You start out ready and able to kick some ass, and in a lot more ways than ever before.

It's the old High Fantasy vs. Low Fantasy dichotomy.

Do you want your pen-and-paper RPG to feel more like World of Warcraft, or do you want the gritty world of Fritz Leiber? In 4e, your characters start as ready minted heroes on a path to saving the world. In pre-1e D&D, your characters start as average Joes who buy a bunch of swords so they can venture into the underworld to make their fortune. The hopeful goal of 4e is godhood. With 0e, your thieving and tomb raiding might end in rulership of a modest fiefdom.
posted by paulg at 12:30 PM on July 13, 2010 [6 favorites]


I'm afraid my first D&D love will always be Second Edition, right as Unearthed Arcana came out. It was ridiculously overpowered compared to everything else that had gone before. Character balance was sort of a vague afterthought. It had tons of corner cases, and weird interactions where you could get undeservedly strong effects with clever application of spells and powers.

And, you know what? That's why it was fun! Finding all the weird stuff and interesting interactions was kind of like the card game, Magic. The later versions are just so damn bland in comparison. They did their very best to find those corner cases and fix them, and for me at least, that didn't improve it at all. It felt like they went very, very carefully through the rules and filed off all the fun bits. It was fun that mages started so weak, but got so strong later on. It was fun that you could double-specialize in longbow and shoot three times a round. When you watch the Lord of the Rings movies, where the dwarf and the elf are counting kills, and the elf is shooting two arrows at once, and other such completely nonsensical exploits? Yes, those things are silly. But they're fun, and that weird, creaky system captured that essence far better than the later efforts.

Say what you like about Second Edition, and I'll probably agree with many criticisms, it was NOT bland.

It's been interesting watching the guy over at Penny Arcade get into DMing for the first time. It really put into perspective just how much video gaming in general, and WoW in particular, has changed the thinking for pen-and-paper roleplaying. With our big battles, in general we were running semi-realish encounters, on fairly mundane battlefields of whatever type. The influence of video gaming has made Gabe's adventure designs just completely over the top -- most recently his players were hopping from tiny planetoid to tiny planetoid in nearly null-G, battling some evil arch-demon or other. Our worlds tended to be medium-magic, tending lower and lower over time as we evolved. We usually stopped with a given set of characters sometime between levels 10 and 12. We had a couple of sets of high level ones we'd grown up over the years, but we only rarely dusted them off for use. It seemed like the part of Second Edition that was most fun was between fifth and tenth level, and that just doesn't apply well to planetoid-hopping glitzy attacks against the hell dimension or whatever weird shit he's doing over there. :)

Hell, toward the end of my time playing (I moved away from my group for a job), I'd actually gotten to the point of trying to figure out what creatures ate and how they lived before the PCs encountered them. I'd really just started with that, never really developed it that far, but there was a fundamental sense of reality that we were starting to grasp after, trying to make the worlds live and breathe in a way that made sense. Being young makes that sort of thing much harder, because you just don't understand how even your own world fits together yet, much less imaginary ones.

I kind of miss that feeling. WoW is just so completely silly and over-the-top. It's got all the bad parts of the old dungeon-looting mechanics, just with really kickass graphics. And that whole game, the whole genre pretty much, is based on exploiting bad enemy AI. The whole idea of tanking and DPSing and healing is oriented around the fact that AI sucks, and yet that thinking is creeping out and infecting freaking everything. It was all over Dragon Age, for instance, which bugged the shit out of me. You didn't have that kind of crap in Baldur's Gate, so why on earth should it be in a game that's ten years later, on computers fifty times as powerful?

Everything seems to have shifted to scale and spectacle, because that's what computers are good at, and it bothers me a little to see Gabe emulating that kind of thinking. Pen and paper is fantastic at the small stuff, like "Try To Survive In The Swamp And Get Home Alive". I miss that, and I miss the sense of tactical combat, rather than just tricking crappy AI routines.
posted by Malor at 12:41 PM on July 13, 2010 [11 favorites]


I have to agree with adipocere. I ran and played in many campaigns as a teenager and many of the best times were those first levels where you meet the cloaked guy in the inn, get waylaid by bandits, and experience other such prosaic events ("Yay! I can finally afford a longsword!").

Once everyone was striding around alternate planes as demigods ... meh. That's usually when people starting wanting to roll new characters.
posted by freecellwizard at 12:45 PM on July 13, 2010


On the other hand, there's a lich...
posted by Artw at 12:45 PM on July 13, 2010


Artw: "What if the character is playing, like, a bard or something?"

I've been playing a 3.5 bard for over a year now. Holy shit was it a wondrous discovery that no one was ever meant to PC a bard in 3.5. God knows I'd be dead three times over (instead of just once) were it not for a level in fighter and the bard feats in Song and Silence.
posted by griphus at 12:47 PM on July 13, 2010


I miss that, and I miss the sense of tactical combat, rather than just tricking crappy AI routines.

You should really read my post on 4E Stunting and Fight Sets.

My basic view of all tabletop gaming is that whatever you're into as a gamer, you can't do the same thing that can easily be emulated by a computer and hope to keep a group going - it's too much effort to get that many people together for that long, regularly, to do what they can do at home.

Even if you're doing tactical fight stuff, you should be able to, as a player, say, "I throw the boiling soup in it's eyes!" as a valid combat move or, "I tell them I'm a messenger from the Dark Lord and lie my way through" as a response.

And you can't blame 4E for shitty playing of NPCs & monsters- people have been doing that from early on - remember when morale rolls got put in to try to hint to groups that most things would rather run than die?
posted by yeloson at 12:51 PM on July 13, 2010


My heart will always belong to OD&D (also known as BECMI or the Cyclopedia set). When you break out the full set of options from boxed sets (or Cyclopedia) and Gazetteers you get a system that is simultaneously simple and robust. The combat and class system never got much more complex than 0e rules, but the game still managed to become effective and fun for fighting with armies, micromanaging lands from baronies to empires, running merchanting operations from solo caravan operators to merchant princedom and eventually becoming a god. And then PLAYING as a god for another 36 levels, in an actual god-like way - not just fighting bigger and badder enemies.

While 3rd Edition exemplified the ability to do anything and then have a rule for that, it also made the bookkeeping and rules tracking incredibly tedious. (When running a sandbox, merchant-based game in 3e, the joke was that someone would name some obscure activity like raising and selling chickens and I would answer "I've got a rule set for that!") In OD&D you could do just about as much but it all seemed so much less mechanical, even if there was still bookwork involved.

4e is fun for what it is, but I just can't do what I used to with it.
posted by charred husk at 12:54 PM on July 13, 2010


Ooh, is this the part where we talk about our favorite systems and recent games?

Pathfinder is my system of choice. It's 3.5-based, but better, so much so that we call it D&D 3.75. Plus, they create a ton of campaign settings that make it really easy to run a quick game or two.
posted by specialagentwebb at 1:00 PM on July 13, 2010


My friends and I were always on the verge of death in the 4e campaign my friend ran. It's possible we just suck at D&D, but I think it's equally likely that you can run the game however you choose.
posted by chunking express at 1:03 PM on July 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


It was all over Dragon Age, for instance, which bugged the shit out of me. You didn't have that kind of crap in Baldur's Gate, so why on earth should it be in a game that's ten years later, on computers fifty times as powerful?

I can get behind the notion that WoW leads to stuff that's silly and over-the-top, but tank/DPS/healing roles have more or less always been around. The roles aren't exactly the same and maybe weren't so strictly codified due to multiclassing or hybrid-type classes, but this kind of stuff has been baked right into the class abilities in pen and paper games long before the arrival of WoW. I don't see how you can look at the rogue's backstab ability or the class description for a mage and see low hp and area effect spells and not think "these guys would do better with some dude with better armor and more hp occupying the enemy's attention."

Sure combat can and should be more interesting than that (as yeloson mentioned), but it often isn't despite the best of intentions and that's not down to WoW.
posted by juv3nal at 1:05 PM on July 13, 2010 [5 favorites]


I always read D&D discussions with a bit of wistfulness - I never lucked into the right set of friends at the right age to get into roleplaying games. I almost played Shadowrun in 9th grade but never got beyond building a character, which really wasn't all that fun. The campaign never actually happened because we all lived too far apart to get together with any regularity.

A group of friends invited me to join another game of Shadowrun during my freshman year of college. It was almost fun, but as a know-it-all 18 year old I had a very hard time willfully suspending my disbelief... and maybe it was that particular bunch of people, or the mechanics of the game, or a combination of both, but there was no real flow or sense of narrative that I can remember, and I bowed out after one session.

Which is a bummer, because I love the concept of D&D style gaming! I was just never in the right place at the right time. The closest I got was playing some of the Fighting Fantasy books, which were actually pretty cool; think choose-your-own-adventure with inventory and fighting mechanics.

(I still kind of want to play Call of Cthulhu.)
posted by usonian at 1:15 PM on July 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


Spoiler: You'll end up mad or dead.
posted by Artw at 1:18 PM on July 13, 2010 [4 favorites]


Well-run Call of Cthulhu is fantastic. Poorly-run Call of Cthulhu is painful and boring.
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:24 PM on July 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


The problem with the "tank" role in modern MMOs/Dragon Age is that it's an artificial way to get enemies to pay attention to the least threatening guy on the field. What annoyed me about Dragon Age combat is that, unlike Baldur's Gate, monsters will plow unopposed through your front line (which will part ever so politely) to get at Leliana if their magical "hate" score is high enough, which is exactly how that sort of thing shouldn't work.

And in tabletop games as far as I can tell it's an attempt to instill organized tactics in a party that's far too small to actually fight in a formation.
posted by furiousthought at 1:27 PM on July 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


What, the monsters should focus on the big tank instead of the huge-damage mage just because you'd rather they hit the tank?
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:31 PM on July 13, 2010


What should happen is that the guy in front, with the weapon, should either be dealt with, or you take a chance he gets a free swipe at you while you try to get TO the mage. Which is exactly how it works in 4E, and, basically how it worked in 3E, and you can see stuff about opportunity attacks allude to it in 2E stuff.

Leave it to the players to figure out the best positioning to limit how many folks can do run-around.
posted by yeloson at 1:39 PM on July 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


Huh? No, they should focus on the mage, if they know there's a mage, unless the tank is in the way!

Ok, my CRPG example. You start a fight in a doorway, and stack your frontliners there so nobody can pass. In Baldur's Gate, which does not have modern aggro mechanics, your front line will stay there if you order them to and the monsters have to kill them to get past. In DA:O, they will part if your mage or archer draws enough aggro to get the monster's attention. That's what's ridiculous about it. The tank's status as an obstacle is an arbitrary value independent of any other factors including placement.
posted by furiousthought at 1:45 PM on July 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


Well-run Call of Cthulhu is fantastic. Poorly-run Call of Cthulhu is painful and boring.

Well, whether or not the players decide to try and treat it like D&D can be a factor.
posted by Artw at 1:53 PM on July 13, 2010


In DA:O, they will part if your mage or archer draws enough aggro to get the monster's attention.

Ah, that's not an issue with using threat to model monster behavior, that's just an issue with shitty game mechanics.


Well, whether or not the players decide to try and treat it like D&D can be a factor.

So back around 2003, I was sick of D&D and wanted to run Call of Cthulhu, but my players wanted D&D. So I sneakily created some adventures that were D&D adventures but which were structured like CoC.

I would've got away with it if the new player the third week could've kept his mouth shut.
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:55 PM on July 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


If your first-level character is a complete creampuff, the job of your DM is to make sure you either have backup characters or to buff as appropriate, but only just barely
... or the job of the DM is create encounters that actually scale to the party. as a former DM, I made it my job to ensure that my players could have fun regardless of how buffed or how wimpy their characters may be. I think it's easy to kill characters in 3.5 (at all levels*) if your DM is stressed, distracted, or just capricious and the secret is always to have the big fights balance the threat to your players of ever present DOOM with the hope that they can win by being smart, clever or outlandish (while also sprinkling in a few pushover encounters to let them revel in being awesome)

recognize the strengths and weaknesses that each of your players have and build encounters that strategically exploit one or two weaknesses for purposes of tension, but are vulnerable to a couple of their assets for purposes of victory.

personally, from what I've seen of 4E, it's my impression that the system is more optimized around helping both DMs and players deal with this sort of balance, but I still love 3.5 for the flexibility in building both PCs and customizing threats.

* a 5 hp 1st level wizard is only marginally more fragile than a 35 hp 11th level wizard. Even though the 11th level wizard has more hit points, magic items and spells, they're also running into clerics and sorcerors with save-or-die spells and/or big bruisers who can still eat all of those 35 hp's with a full attack from a flaming, large greatclub.

advancing in levels doesn't necessarily make you harder to kill, it just means that death greats you in more complicated and colorful clothing as you're being petrified, balefully polymorphed, disintegrated, death attacked, swallowed whole or simply slain by massive damage.
posted by bl1nk at 1:57 PM on July 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've been playing again recently; it's sort of "Cafeteria AD&D" with the base being 1st edition, with occasional reference to the OSRIC writeup and an increasing inmixture of Hackmaster 4e. Works well so far but I think it helps that the group is a mixture of lifers and new blood and we're more focused on figuring stuff out and roleplaying than LOOT HAULZ
posted by jtron at 2:09 PM on July 13, 2010


...the job of the DM is create encounters that actually scale to the party.

In 0e (and even from what I remember playing first edition), the party has to be careful. Encounters are not always balanced. The adventure doesn't run on rails, and there may well be things in the dark that can lead to a total party kill. Part of becoming a good player is knowing when to hide or run away.

This also explains why XP was awarded for treasure: the characters are in the dungeon to get the gold, not to kill monsters. If they can sneak around the deadly monster to steal the gold without a fight, all the better. XP for gold thing was something I never understood until I started reading the old-school stuff.

When the players know their characters have a very good chance of winning every encounter, it does lead to a different style of play and flavor of game.
posted by paulg at 2:10 PM on July 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


In my (worryingly lengthy) RPG experience 4e is a splendid system - it has some notable flaws, but they're generally not the ones that get cited in discussions like these.

To name three common misapprehensions - classes don't play at all identically, and the aggro mechanism is absolutely nothing like WoW's. And kobolds at first level can kick your ass handily - PCs are more powerful, but so are monsters.

4e's main benefits are that it is a delight to prepare an adventure as a DM, because everything is freeform apart from the combats, and they can be whipped up literally in minutes. Also, the three lots of ten levels 'tier' system does a neat job of giving shape top a 30 level campaign.

The main negatives are that combat, as written, is fun but lengthy. And the game sort of assumes you're having combat after combat, which can be draggy. Both of these are fixable with some sensible DMing (up monster damage and lower monster hitpoints, have them run when all is lost).

Oh, and magic items are sort of flavourless by comparison with earlier editions.

Old school - huh. I dunno, the way everybody seems to be playing it these days sounds great, but doesn't have much to do with the way we played back in '82 or whatever. Sounds fun though, so all power to them.

Now that I've fought my contractually obligated battle for the edition wars - everyone go check out Eclipse Phase. It's a transhuman scifi game of surpassing richness and oddity, and is licensed on a creative commons license so they don't mind if you download it (though I'm sure money would be nice too).
posted by Sebmojo at 2:12 PM on July 13, 2010 [3 favorites]


Wow! I haven't played AD&D since about 1983 (1e) and this thread (and links) have made fascinating reading. I never knew people still played! Excellent stuff.
It's had me rooting around for my rulebooks - all in dreadful condition it turns out. And some of them aren't even apparently first edition!
posted by Monkeymoo at 2:16 PM on July 13, 2010


Institutionalizing asskicking, as part of the ruleset, is a drag. The most memorable parts of a long campaign are often the most early adventures, when players are scared out of their wits that their characters might not make it through. It's a knife-edge balance you cannot maintain for an entire campaign — odds are, a character will die by then and the player investment is dashed. Not that you can't whack a character every so often, it's simply that death in the early levels is more acceptable and yet also more spicy.

Play Shadowrun. I know it's not a full-out fantasy setting, but that fear for your character's life never goes away if you have a halfway decent GM. With a no more than mediocre NPC and a good roll, I can send one of my players from full health to dying, and they know it. Of course, when they plan well and play it right, they can wipe out a group of enemies that are as tough or tougher than they are and outnumber them three-to-one in about 12 in-game second. One of the many reasons point-buy–based systems are better than level-based ones.

Though for what it's worth, I really like 4E. The selection of powers and tactical movement based combat means everyone actually gets to have fun in combat, as opposed to the 3.5 game I'm playing in where one optimized fighter does 3/4ths of the damage to any and all enemies, and the rest of us just sort of stand around and miss. Which is lame. (Actually I summon skeletal trolls that do the last quarter of the damage to most enemies, which is fun, but once they're summoned, my actual character just stands around and misses, and if I don't then go to sleep for eight hours I'm useless for any future encounters.) And we're all level 7.

The nice thing about roleplaying, though, is that if you don't let yourself get paralyzed by rules lawyers, you can make whatever changes you want to make whatever system you're playing fun for you and your players. Imagine that.
posted by Caduceus at 2:21 PM on July 13, 2010


So I sneakily created some adventures that were D&D adventures but which were structured like CoC.

Your plan might have worked. For many years, I avoided playing Call of Cthulhu like a plague (I'd had some bad experiences with Boot Hill that had instilled in me an unreasoning hatred of percentile-based systems that persists to this very day). One of my friends loved the Lovecraftian themes, though, so he slowly began working batrachian idols, olive-complected cult leaders and fragments of the Liber Ebonis into his Vampire campaign.

Not being as familiar with Lovecraft as he was, it took me a long time to realize what he was doing, and by the time I put all the pieces together, I was so entranced by his vision of the setting that I was willing to play some pure mythos.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 2:45 PM on July 13, 2010


My problem was that the newbie twigged to what was going on about halfway through the evening and went "man, this is just like Call of Cthulhu!" I was pleased that the style was recognizable, and people appeared to be having fun, but suddenly the others were displeased at the Folger's Crystals.
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:49 PM on July 13, 2010


Technically speaking, if you just want the Old Ones and other mythos trappings they are all right there in D&D from the start.
posted by Artw at 2:52 PM on July 13, 2010


There's a lot to love in 4e. The thing that really sold it for me was that they made the Cleric fun to play. Instead of making him a band-aid dispenser, he does most of his beneficial effects to other players when he hits things.

I love my Dwarven Cleric.
posted by lumpenprole at 2:59 PM on July 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


...is that if you don't let yourself get paralyzed by rules lawyers, you can make whatever changes you want to make whatever system you're playing fun for you and your players. Imagine that.

This. I've gotten to the point where I believe my roleplaying days are over, and I turned over all of my D&D stuff to my niece and nephews, who are at the right age and were asking about it.

I told one of them that the most important rule with the game was to have fun and tell a good story...and if the rules got in the way of that, it was time to change them.
posted by never used baby shoes at 3:02 PM on July 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


Once everyone was striding around alternate planes as demigods ... meh. That's usually when people starting wanting to roll new characters.

It was not uncommon to occasionally have a high-powered campaign for those characters, though my sadistic DM often shifted the high-tension crisis away from scenery-demolishing combat and toward other kinds of contests. As an alternative, we often established a tavern, bought extensive complexes of underground caverns, ruins, etc., and stocked them with various and sundry pets, curiosities, shiny but comparatively worthless baubles and trinkets imbued with low-level magical gimmicks... you know, the sort of stuff low-level adventurers are willing to risk their necks for.
posted by Hylas at 3:06 PM on July 13, 2010


At last! A place on the internet to discuss D&D!

Are there any girls here?
posted by turgid dahlia at 3:20 PM on July 13, 2010


One brief mention of Pathfinder so far in the thread? That ought to have been in the post itself in the list of "retro clones", if we can stretch the word retro quite a bit.

I don't see how you can look at the rogue's backstab ability or the class description for a mage and see low hp and area effect spells and not think "these guys would do better with some dude with better armor and more hp occupying the enemy's attention."

The problem is in how they occupy the enemy's attention. "Get in the enemy's face, taking advantage of game mechanics that punish even smart enemies who try to ignore or get around you", as in many paper RPGs, is a good method. "Use a taunt, which then forces your enemies to be tactically stupid", is not.

Stupid enemies are fine in small doses as target practice, but when it really counts, your enemies should be brutally intelligent foes who will exploit any tactical weakness your party offers, whose choices are not artificially constrained, and who are controlled not by a simplistic script but by a malevolent Dungeon Master bent on killing your characters in a desperate battle whose difficulty is limited not by weaknesses like mercy but by a cruel sense of fairness which understands that a player character's death is all the sweeter when the player's greatest distress is the knowledge that he could have, indeed should have, been able to avoid it.


Yes, I was a DM, in middle school. I don't actually recall ever permanently killing a player character, but I think everyone had more fun knowing I wasn't softhearted and their characters really were at risk.
posted by roystgnr at 3:32 PM on July 13, 2010 [3 favorites]


Are there any girls here?

Because if there are I want to do them inform them that a proper D&D group is a rather accepting place for anyone, regardless of gender and that a good DM will make everyone feel welcome and necessary.
posted by griphus at 3:34 PM on July 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


Hey Pathfinder DMs/Players- tell me more about it. I had a lot of frustrations with 3.X, and only really had fun with Iron Heroes.

1) Does Pathfinder have include "bad feats" - feats you would never, ever take? (WOTC put in bunk feats into 3.X claiming it was like bad cards in Magic - "good players would learn to avoid them!")

2) Do players need to carefully plan character builds, often several levels ahead or even the full 20 levels to meet half the requirements for feat trees/classes?

3) Is there anything to push players to choosing more than one optimal feat/attack choice over and over in a combat?

4) AoOs. Any changes? Things you consider improvements?

5) Anything else you consider really great about Pathfinder?
posted by yeloson at 3:50 PM on July 13, 2010


Nostalgia for the 'simplicity' of original D&D kinda strikes me as a case of rose-colored glasses.

Absolutely. I've played from 1st through 4th ed., and "simplicity" is NOT the word I would use to describe 1st or 2nd ed. THACO? Weapon speeds? Seriously?

Afroblanco, you might like the Amber RPG. I've never played it but it's also mechanics-light. The storytelling can be incredibly involved. One of my friends became so enmeshed that he cried during a gaming session.

You pretty much need to be a big fan of the books, though. I did have the opportunity to play with Erick Wujcik once, and it was absolutely one of my best gaming experiences ever. My character was a bastard son of Corwin, who grew up in his Shadow Paris, and ... *sigh* Never mind. You had to be there.

Was there ever a pre-4e iteration wherein playing a non-physical-damage class wasn't boring as hell during combat between levels 1 and 3?

In 3.0/3.5? Play an elf, grab a bow, and take pot shots at the monsters, even if you're a mage. You're not exactly Robin Hood, but you're not appreciably worse than the ranger at that point either.

To name three common misapprehensions - classes don't play at all identically, and the aggro mechanism is absolutely nothing like WoW's.

Ah ... I dunno. I won't try to rain on your parade since pen & paper games are *meant* to be played differently by different groups ("There's no UR DOIN IT RONG in tabletop!") but I have to agree with Cool Papa Bell and roystgnr.

The problem is in how they occupy the enemy's attention. "Get in the enemy's face, taking advantage of game mechanics that punish even smart enemies who try to ignore or get around you", as in many paper RPGs, is a good method. "Use a taunt, which then forces your enemies to be tactically stupid", is not.

Yup. This. This is the WoW tanking thing. It's fine for that game, but it's too mechanically transparent, IMO, for D&D, and one of the main reasons I'm not into 4th ed, even though I had a WoW account and a 3.x game running concurrently for years.
posted by Amanojaku at 4:11 PM on July 13, 2010


Also, can we get a JHarris post up in here?
posted by Amanojaku at 4:11 PM on July 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


There's a lot to love in 4e. The thing that really sold it for me was that they made the Cleric fun to play. Instead of making him a band-aid dispenser, he does most of his beneficial effects to other players when he hits things.

I love my Dwarven Cleric.


I love 'em too, but the new bards and shamans more. We had a dragonborn cleric in our group, follower of Kord whose answer to "okay, we could use some healing" was "Walk it off, mammal." And yes. She hit a LOT of things.

And the group *loved* it.

We've moved on to Legend of the Five Rings now - time to see just how crazy our group can get in a samurai-esque setting. Rolling on the 'lifepath' tables certainly made character creation interesting for us...

But hopefully we'll delve back into the 4e goodness so I can make that Ardent 'cheerleader' with a wand colored like a spirit stick for flavor.
posted by palabradot at 4:13 PM on July 13, 2010


The problem is in how they occupy the enemy's attention. "Get in the enemy's face, taking advantage of game mechanics that punish even smart enemies who try to ignore or get around you", as in many paper RPGs, is a good method. "Use a taunt, which then forces your enemies to be tactically stupid", is not.

Just to be clear, the first is 4e. The second is WoW.

In 4e a 'mark' gives fighters a free attack if the marked dude tries to get away or attack someone else (and makes other enemise a little harder to hit). That's all. It forces the DM to make an interesting tactical decision - go for the squishies and maybe cop a beating? Or try and take down the fighter?

In WoW a taunt requires the enemy to attack the taunter. There's no discretion involved.

That's what I was getting at above - 4e isn't flawless, but I get riled by criticisms that are just wrong.
posted by Sebmojo at 4:33 PM on July 13, 2010 [7 favorites]


Somebody upthread recommended Amber and for those interested, I'd like to point them at the Rite Publishing Diceless Roleplaying project, which is powered by the ADRPG system but isn't Amber per se, if only for licensing reasons. I prefer my Amber game powered by Everway mechanics, but if ADRPG is your cuppa, this may be for you.

I tried to go back to to D&D with 3rd ed when it came out, but I figured out that I'd burned out on dungeon adventuring pretty hard. Nobody we know locally since we moved to Austin is doing D&D, but if someone were doing some indie games and I could make it work with our schedule, Mr. immlass and I would be all over that.
posted by immlass at 4:38 PM on July 13, 2010


It's not diceless, but pretty dang close, Polaris uses a system of bartering between players to determine events in play - "I save the princess from the army" "But only if you leave behind your best friend" in a back and forth manner that resolves most of the events in play.

The die (D6) is only rarely used at a deep impasse, and more often determines how fast your knight goes from idealistic to weary and cynical.
posted by yeloson at 4:46 PM on July 13, 2010


I've played from 1st through 4th ed., and "simplicity" is NOT the word I would use to describe 1st or 2nd ed. THACO? Weapon speeds? Seriously?

Dungeons & Dragons effectively forked in 1977-78 with the first release of the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons line.

In 1974, Dungeons & Dragons was only three little booklets: These rules were super simple. In the next three years, they released four supplemental booklets (Greyhawk, Blackmoor, Eldritch Wizardry, and Gods, Demi-Gods, & Heroes) with settings and optional rules.

In 1977 TSR ended the original "0e" Dungeons & Dragons line, and forked their products into Basic D&D and Advanced D&D. 1st edition Advanced D&D was a quantum leap in complexity. It incorporated most of the supplemental rules from 0e, and added a lot more. The Basic line initially maintained much of the original edition's simplicity, but additional Basic boxed sets (culminating in the Immortal Rules) added a lot of stuff.

So, yes, 1st edition is not a low complexity ruleset. I encourage anyone who wants simplicity to download the free PDF of Swords & Wizardry Whitebox Edition, which include only rules from the first three little brown booklets (which came in a white box).
posted by paulg at 4:57 PM on July 13, 2010 [4 favorites]


Another retro system for your attention: Dragon Warriors. Not a retro-clone, an honest-to-goodness retro system, nicely repackaged and republished. Originally released as a series of paperback books in the mid-80s, mostly in the UK and Australia, it was written by Dave Morris--who went on to be the best-selling author in the UK in 1991--and Oliver Johnson, now a senior publisher at Hodder in the UK.

It's got honest-to-goodness classes and levels, but it also has a fantastic background world and a system that emphasises the folkloric and mythic rather than the hit-it-wiv-sords stuff, and stories over mining for XP.

Acknowledged bias: I publish it. And back in 1986 I co-held the Guinness World Record for playing AD&D non-stop (84 hours) so I know my games, and this one's a good'un.
posted by Hogshead at 6:50 PM on July 13, 2010 [3 favorites]


I always read D&D discussions with a bit of wistfulness - I never lucked into the right set of friends at the right age to get into roleplaying games.

This. I always thought it looked like so much fun (and yeah, CoC held a lot of appeal for me), but I never lucked into the right group of people.
posted by lovecrafty at 8:09 PM on July 13, 2010


>> Nostalgia for the 'simplicity' of original D&D kinda strikes me as a case of rose-colored glasses.
>Absolutely. I've played from 1st through 4th ed., and "simplicity" is NOT the word I would use to describe 1st or 2nd ed. THACO? Weapon speeds? Seriously?

Those aren't 'original D&D'. Just so we're clear, OD&D/0E = those little books. Pretty simple stuff, probably better experienced now via the Swords and Wizardry retro-clone. Even first edition AD&D is often thought of as too late for "old school D&D" by the people who prattle on about these things.
posted by fleacircus at 8:25 PM on July 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


1st edition Advanced D&D was a quantum leap in complexity.

Really it was the DM Guide that added most of the complexity but AD&D wasn't published all at once. First came the Monster Manual, then the Player's Handbook. The Dungeon Master's Guide didn't come out until 1979. What my friends & I played at first was a mixture of boxed D&D, the supplements & AD&D, until the full AD&D set was available. From what I've read here & elsewhere, I'm not sure I'd recognize the game we used to play in what you're all talking about.
posted by scalefree at 8:41 PM on July 13, 2010


In 1974, Dungeons & Dragons was only three little booklets:

It was, but it wasn't quite super-simple as you say because a lot of things were left out. The last D&D thread we had a discussion about that, concerning confusion to how many experience points monsters were worth. The books don't actually say! The closest they had to go by was an example which implied monster hit dice x 100xp. That plus treasure experience (1xp per gp harvested). AD&D 1E reduced monster experience greatly, favoring treasure. 2E made experience for treasure a seldom-used option. But anyway, the rules were incomplete enough to cause D&D to evolve, in the early days, along regional lines as different referees added their own assumptions and house rules into the game. AD&D 1E stopped that and "officialized" the game, but some of the variants would split off and become their own RPGs, such as Tunnels & Trolls.

1st edition Advanced D&D was a quantum leap in complexity.

Many of the rules from it were introduced in OD&D via supplements. Playing AD&D 1E is a lot like playing OD&D with all the supplements.

I shit on 4e quite a bit, but I like the idea of more powerful starter characters.

Oh 4E is like my personal bathroom, and I hate the idea of more powerful characters, starter or otherwise.

The biggest difference between the older editions of the game and the newer (and D&D 4E has rather little to do with earlier editions, they threw out most of what made the game "Dungeons & Dragons") is how fragile characters are. People die all the time, even in "Basic D&D."

If you allow that characters die like flies and consider the implications, a lot of the crap of the game gets cut out. You can't work up an overwrought fantasy heartbreaker backstory about your elf Eladar and how he's an estranged prince to the Elven Throne of Alaiod due to being the first Knashtar Bloodknight since the Age of Galdiael when the KILLED BY KOBOLD ROLL UP ANOTHER. And if they die so quickly, then you can't use a complex character creation system that takes hours to make up your guy because the odds are you'll only get a fraction of that out of him in play.

It also keeps the game perilous, where most dangers remain meaningful. A pit trap's d6 of damage barely matters to a character with 50 hit points, but to one with just a few it's a lot more worrying. The game as it stands now is way too influenced by action movies where ordinary people can pull off martial arts stunts and jump between moving vehicles simply because they're the protagonist. To hell with that! One of the great things about Call of Cthulhu is that characters are never invulnerable. If a character makes a bad decision, then he will almost certainly die barring incredible luck.
posted by JHarris at 9:01 PM on July 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


It's one of many reasons that 4e is a very bad edition of D&D, as editions go. Your characters do not get crunched by kobolds.

Oh my no. That's not true at all. As I know from bitter, bitter experience.
posted by Neofelis at 9:12 PM on July 13, 2010


yeloson: I currently DM two games a week. Both use the Pathfinder ruleset. My preferred version of Dungeons & Dragons is the one I started with (which would be the not so venerable Mentzer Basic Set).

1) Does Pathfinder have include "bad feats" - feats you would never, ever take? (WOTC put in bunk feats into 3.X claiming it was like bad cards in Magic - "good players would learn to avoid them!")

Not nearly as such. Most feats do scale up a bit more than they did previously, so they stay useful longer. Toughness is no longer a complete waste and Skill Focus is a feat that keeps on giving after you have enough ranks in a skill (the bonus increases). I definitely don't hear the same complaints from players that I used to in the 3.0 days, when feat prerequisites seemed more like a tax to get the good stuff later. A "bad feat" seems more like an ill informed choice in Pathfinder, which brings us to two:

2) Do players need to carefully plan character builds, often several levels ahead or even the full 20 levels to meet half the requirements for feat trees/classes?


There should always be at least some forethought on the part of players when it comes to 3.0/3.5/Pathfinder. A player only gets so many feats. As for optimization and planning, some players I have from the 3.0 days still do. I have a few that absolutely love pouring over the books and planning each and every little bit of their character's mechanical development, but the funny thing I've noticed is that all those notecards with feat builds scrawled on them get thrown out the window as the game is played. I have a player who planned his Barbarian from level one to twenty meticulously, but when Giants started to be his big foe and he realized he couldn't toe to toe with them and soak the damage, his gaze started wandering to other classes. So now is playing Barbarian/Fighter/Ranger combination, possibly less optimized than if he planned it out, but he still gets to kick butt. I think the style of play dictates these types of things more than the ruleset. Optimizers can definitely be nurtured, but so can the dramatists. Other players take every new level as a blessing and are astounded at what new and cool things they can get (if they remember to level[!]). Both types have fun.

3) Is there anything to push players to choosing more than one optimal feat/attack choice over and over in a combat?

I haven't really encountered this situation that much in 3.5/Pathfinder, but I see it a lot in 4th Edition. Optimal builds and strategies are so easily broken. Power Attack only works against things you can hit and saving throws scale up with hit dice, so what seemed like an unbeatable strategy early on, eventually falls by the way side. Players seem to learn this through trial and error. I suppose the only thing that pushes players to choose better tactics is if an old tactic doesn't work, and that's more of the DM's job than the ruleset, because with a natural twenty even the most sub-optimal attack is a "hit."

4) AoOs. Any changes? Things you consider improvements?


AoOs remain pretty much the same, and initially I seethed with hatred when it came to this mechanic. Now that I've actually made friends with the exception based design behind 3rd edition, I'm actually quite fond of them. I guess a major improvement I've seen is a much stronger codification of actions and consequences. "Don't fire that bow whilst threatened and you won't get smacked for it." Players know what provokes and so they try to avoid what used to seem rather random and unavoidable. But now that they know, it makes for interesting tactical sacrifices occasionally.

5) Anything else you consider really great about Pathfinder?
My players dictate the game system I run, but so far I'm liking Pathfinder a lot more than 3.5. There's a significant amount of power creep in all the classes, but this has only served to make the players more awesome. I like the Cleric's Channeling mechanic for healing which allows them to burst a radius of allies instead of being a point-to-point band aid. I like that Fighters now actually are the best at fighting with their weapon mastery and armor training. I like the bloodlines for sorcerers and the schools for wizards. I LOVE the new CMB rules as opposed to how grappling worked in 3.5. It is very rulesy given it's antecedents (especially when compared to the humble LBB beginnings), but my players seem to dig a bunch of rules. Doing awesome things in the constraints of a draconian ruleset is sometimes more awesome than I would have ever expected.

I still long for the day when Elf was a Class, Name level was Ninth, and a monster's stat block fit on a single line of notebook paper. But for all it's fiddly bits, Pathfinder is still fun for me and my players.
posted by ktrey at 9:22 PM on July 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


(And as if I needed to prove I'm one of the prattlers, here's a taxonomy tree of D&D version and many direct offshoots.)

From what I've read here & elsewhere, I'm not sure I'd recognize the game we used to play in what you're all talking about.

I think it's about realizing that the way you may have played it in junior high wasn't the only way to play it, nor even the way it was sort of meant to be played. Speaking for myself, I'm interested in re-examining a style of play that is lost or misunderstood, that happens to draw from the original way the game was played by the people who created it.
posted by fleacircus at 9:23 PM on July 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


If you allow that characters die like flies and consider the implications, a lot of the crap of the game gets cut out. You can't work up an overwrought fantasy heartbreaker backstory about your elf Eladar and how he's an estranged prince to the Elven Throne of Alaiod due to being the first Knashtar Bloodknight since the Age of Galdiael when the KILLED BY KOBOLD ROLL UP ANOTHER. And if they die so quickly, then you can't use a complex character creation system that takes hours to make up your guy because the odds are you'll only get a fraction of that out of him in play.

See, I like playing role-playing games, and I don't understand why you play role-playing games if all you want to do is move minis around and not care if they live or die. There's Nethack for that. Or Chainmail. Or any wargame at all.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:31 PM on July 13, 2010 [5 favorites]


What happens is that you care less about who your character is and more about what your character does, and define things by what you actually do within the game. And you definitely do care if your PC lives or dies. The way many modern games are run, your character can't even FAIL, much less die, and IMHO that is a faster route to not really giving a shit.

It's like the difference between wrestling and a sports match. In one, they are improvising a bit to play out the wink-wink nudge-nudge story. In the other, they are creating the story themselves.
posted by fleacircus at 9:49 PM on July 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


Indeed.

JHarris put it well, though he and I are foemen in this struggle. Frankly I want to have a game where there are characters I have built up in detail having awesome action movie adventures. He doesn't.

But I understand the philosophy behind old school gaming too - it's much more about the players vs the DM, exploring a terrifying world without dying too much. And if you do die, well, Bob had a cousin! Bob II!

Another interesting shift is that combats in old school gaming are really to be avoided through cunning and trickery. As such they're brief, dry and not particularly fun.

In later editions they're made into a complex and sophisticated minigame that is fun in itself - almost to a fault in 4e.
posted by Sebmojo at 10:10 PM on July 13, 2010


Fleacircus - the wrestling vs sports analogy is clever and not inaccurate.

But ensuring the party survives is only a matter of choice as a DM. There's nothing stopping you having a sandbox style game in 4e where if the party go down the left corridor rather than the right they will die. Sure that's not the way the system slants, but it's the work of a moment to tilt it a little - just as consequence-free monty haul games were an easy (though not intended) consequence of 1st ed.
posted by Sebmojo at 10:22 PM on July 13, 2010


Words Dungeons & Dragons Taught Me
posted by Artw at 10:45 PM on July 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


The way many modern games are run, your character can't even FAIL, much less die, and IMHO that is a faster route to not really giving a shit.

I've seen this since I started playing in the 80's, so... I'm not sure how much the term "modern" applies here.

Thing is, there's a lot of folks who do want to play games where death is not common, or even on the table. The source of conflict is not, "Do I survive?" but shifts over to different things depending on the game and setting.

I'm running a game of Primetime Adventures with an alternate universe Star Wars- the question is never whether the players will survive the action, it's stuff like, "Will I stand up against my own people to give rights to clones?" "Can I end this conflict without any civilians getting killed?" We give a damn about every conflict, even though we know the PCs will see the end of the campaign.

There's a whole bunch of different things people are looking for from roleplaying and enough room for everyone.
posted by yeloson at 11:43 PM on July 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


We give a damn about every conflict, even though we know the PCs will see the end of the campaign.

Imagine for a moment any other medium of expression in which people complained that the characters weren't in constant danger of violent death.
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:33 AM on July 14, 2010


People give that as a supposed flaw of Superman stories all the time...
posted by Artw at 12:39 AM on July 14, 2010


Words Dungeons & Dragons Taught Me

I still use looking up 'Paladin' to check the power of any dictionary I might come across

(Also casts a fireball at ArtW for yet again posting a link I specifically came into mefi to post...)
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 4:12 AM on July 14, 2010


Institutionalizing asskicking, as part of the ruleset, is a drag. The most memorable parts of a long campaign are often the most early adventures, when players are scared out of their wits that their characters might not make it through. It's a knife-edge balance you cannot maintain for an entire campaign — odds are, a character will die by then and the player investment is dashed. Not that you can't whack a character every so often, it's simply that death in the early levels is more acceptable and yet also more spicy.

It's one of many reasons that 4e is a very bad edition of D&D, as editions go. Your characters do not get crunched by kobolds.


And here apparently you have no experience of playing 4e with a tactically good DM. One of the points raised against 4e is that it's balanced that combat feels bland. Quite the reverse. Because 4e is so well balanced, I can hit the PCs with exactly the amount of force to drive them to their knees and make them think they are all going to die without actually doing so.

Last sesson, for instance, I was going easy on my PCs (I was worried about the MM3 damage boost - and was throwing a lot of RP hooks in there). Despite this, at the end of one fight there was one PC unconscious on negative hit points with no healing surges remaining (read: most healing including healing potions will only restore 1hp), no party healing left (didn't help that she was the primary healer), and in the middle of a burning bush doing 2d6 fire damage per round. One or two unconscious PCs making death saves per fight, and no remaining healing by the time the PCs mop up is normal. Leaving them wondering if this time they are going to fail. And I haven't yet killed a single PC.

Balance isn't bland. It's a huge tool in the DM's box to allow them to pitch with laser-sharp precision to give all the advantages of crunching the characters without the drawbacks of actually crunching them.

As for other myths on 4e, there's no aggro mechanic. Aggro is mind control. 4e's marking is the reverse. You focus on the fighter because he's the cold eyed guy who will fuck you up if you take your eye off him for a second. Or you can ttry to clobber the rogue who is creeping past to gouge out your kidneys and be fucked up by the fighter - or make a break to get at the wizard and again you're taking your eye off the fighter. Your choice - damned either way. (The barbarian might hit harder - but he'll only get an extra chance if you turn your back on him rather than simply take your eyes off him). For all the complaints about the structure of the character classes being the same, the cold eyed fighter literally driving the enemy back with sword and board is more different from the screaming Barbarian cutting people in two with his greataxe than a previous edition fighter is from a monk or a wizard from a cleric in 3e. (And that's not going into the grizzled sergeant watching the whole battlefield and encouraging and inspiring people to pull out their reserves of strength (Warlord), the walking avatar of the Wrath of your God (Invoker), the Shaman who casts all his spells through his spirit companion, and half a dozen other out of the box archetypes I could mention).

I'll also second that as a DM it's a delight to prepare. High octane combat with a wonderful and versatile shopping list from the various Monster Manuals for fights (or use the tools provided by DDI). And a good rules light system out of combat. But more than that it's got an excellent framework for dealing with "PC plans" in the form of skill challenges. ("You want to what? Oh, OK. I'll treat that as a skill challenge level foo, complexity bar, and that will guide me on how far to make it, how long to run it to keep it interesting, and how much experience it's worth.")

What 4e doesn't do is a gritty game. It's heroic fantasy from the word go (which has a longer pedegree than people think in D&D - Arneson's original draft had the PCs starting at level 4). And high octane and highly kinaesthetic heroic fantasy where you regularly get to throw monsters into their own pit traps rather than just stand there statically attacking each other. If I want gritty fantasy, I break out GURPS.

As for rules light, the next game I'm going to be running (ignoring the ongoing 4e campaign) is Dread - where the conflict resolution mechanic is Jenga. The game's a horror game and as that tower gets taller and less stable, everyone round the table gets more and more nervous automatically. And when it falls, someone dies.
posted by Francis at 4:41 AM on July 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


I likened it do the difference between a grocery store and a buffet. With the grocery store, you have everything you need to make whatever tasty meal you want. At a buffet, you have many, many options to choose from. But everything is already seasoned, cooked and slotted in dishes.

I think you've fundamentally misunderstood 4e then. You aren't looking at a buffet - you're looking at a deli bar. And whereas you'd have walked into the grocery store and asked for half a dozen goblins and a sorceror to go, in 4e you get the response "What sort of goblins? We've got Goblin Cutters on a 4 for 1 deal - but they don't last long. We've also got Goblin Warriors as a good solid goblin running around, or Goblin Sharpshooters if you want something with a little more focus. And for your sorceror we've got the Fist of Mugablyet - a shaman who specialises in throwing people around and goes really well with bonfires, and the Hexer with his blindness curses. If you want something a little more exotic, we have this collection of goblins who trained with kobolds and throw nasty pots of stuff but jump back like goblins rather than swarm like kobolds."

Yes, most of the parts of the meal are pre-packaged, but the overall meal certainly isn't.
posted by Francis at 5:45 AM on July 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


OK, but I want the Goblin Trappers and Groin-Punchers. You know, the ones that build the snares and spiked pits. Got any of those? No? Guess I'll just whip some of those up myself at home.

Which is not to say you couldn't do that with 4e -- I'm not being obtuse. Just that you're not really encouraged to. You have a large set of things available in the deli, and for most people that's enough. Get a big enough deli, and I suppose it will be good enough for anyone.

One of the best encounters I ever saw in a commercial product was in one of the Slave Pits modules, where a group of orcs was pre-arranged in a defensive formation, and I though, "Wow, all it takes is ua staircase and some hand axes, and it's a completely different orc battle." That's what I mean about using imagination to dress up "plain ingredients" from the "grocery store."
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 6:22 AM on July 14, 2010


You know, the ones that build the snares and spiked pits. Got any of those? No?

Sure. The ones I mentioned who trained with kobolds are exactly that sort. Including using tricky traps and pots of gunk in combat. (Never mind that the use of traps has been massively expanded in 4e as even simple pit traps are much more fun when you have forced movement powers meaning you can actually push people into them). Reskinning, tweaking, and reusing is easy in 4e. And because unlike previous editions you expect all monsters to have powers of their own (and not to be simply casting the same spells anyone can use) there are almost no issues here.

where a group of orcs was pre-arranged in a defensive formation

Formation fighting is pretty normal once you start mixing skirmishers and artillery in 4e. It only is remotely odd if all the orcs are interchangeable (as in previous editions).

Also for the record, the Penny Arcade 4e stuff all feels to me like epic level encounters rather than heroic tier.
posted by Francis at 7:01 AM on July 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


This seems like a good place to mention Encounter Critical.
posted by clcapps at 7:12 AM on July 14, 2010


The way many modern games are run, your character can't even FAIL, much less die, and IMHO that is a faster route to not really giving a shit.

That's really on the DM then. You can run D&D games where characters can't die just as easily. It's not like there is some mechanic in either rule set that determines how well a character will fare. I've actually played 4e, 2nd edition, and the version of D&D that came in a box in the early 90s. I can't say the style of the games was that different between any of them, though the D&D game was probably far more role-playing and less fighting than the current 4e game I am playing.
posted by chunking express at 7:17 AM on July 14, 2010


Which is not to say you couldn't do that with 4e -- I'm not being obtuse. Just that you're not really encouraged to.

That's just silly and unconnected to anything in the books.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:20 AM on July 14, 2010


Which is not to say you couldn't do that with 4e -- I'm not being obtuse. Just that you're not really encouraged to.

You should read the DMG. There's stuff on modifying monsters, "reskinning" other monsters, coming up with new monsters altogether, and same with traps. The overall 4E rules are crunchy, but all this modding and creation is usually 10 minutes or so for a new monster. ("I want my goblin wolfriders to ride spiders! And throw javelins from the ceilings and walls as they scurry around before jumping down for biting action!")

Yes, they give you a lot of pre-statted creatures to whip together encounters. It's to make things quicker and easier to get to playing. You can still custom build the hell out of things, and it's also pretty easy (and definitely easier than dealing with 3E's derived totals, skill points, etc. etc.).

I can totally dig people not being into it because it's not their type of D&D, but the constant claims that it doesn't do things it does do ("No More Roleplaying!"), or, does things it doesn't do ("Forced Aggro!") is pretty tiresome.
posted by yeloson at 7:42 AM on July 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


I think there is more room for creativity with 4e. The AD&D rules often felt so structured that unless you had a DM that was cool with setting up his own house rules, the things you could and could not do seemed limited or complicated. With 4e basically everything is decided with a D20. The amount of book keeping seems to have come down a lot. (The exception, as I mentioned up thread, would be combat; it sometimes feels like you need a computer to do the number crunching for you, but i'm not sure if it's any worse than the previous rule sets before it.)
posted by chunking express at 7:58 AM on July 14, 2010


Having recently read about the Circumcellions (an early christian sect) who interpreted Jesus' instruction to Peter to put down his sword as a ban on bladed weapons (instead, they clubbed people), I'm wondering how widespread the idea of religious clerics eschewing bladed weapons has been. (Actually, do clerics still have to avoid bladed weapons in new versions of DnD?)
posted by rmd1023 at 9:12 AM on July 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


Wow, so that was based on an actual thing?
posted by Artw at 9:23 AM on July 14, 2010


(Actually, do clerics still have to avoid bladed weapons in new versions of DnD?)

Only if their God tells them to.

3e clerics are proficient in all simple weapons (including daggers, spears, and sickles) and can wield swords if they take training. 4e clerics also get simple weapons (including daggers), I think - and can also be trained in whatever.

But if it's a religious rule for that Deity then yes they need to follow that rule (even if in 4e the cleric won't be stripped of powers).

Also 4e introduces the Avenger - the cloth armoured divine assassin wielding the biggest weapon he can get his hands on (normally a Fullblade or Executioner's Axe in my experience). And the Paladin's been there all along. (4e also has the Invoker who doesn't generally bother with bladed weapons, instead just channeling the Wrath of God directly - and not healing much.)
posted by Francis at 9:32 AM on July 14, 2010


I once took a class taught by Dave Arneson (before his death, he worked for a vocational college called Full Sail). The class was essentially an introduction to the art of creating game mechanics. At the time, he was very much a proponent of the KISS principle as applied to games. A complex system of rules and general game logic correlates to a steep learning curve. This in turn has the adverse affect of creating a large barrier to entry. Furthermore, the large barrier to entry reduces the population of game players; thus, you have a game played only by experts (i.e. nerds). I think the lesson he was attempting to instill was that games should be fun and easily accessible to a wide audience. The more people there are at the game table; the more imagination there is in the game play.
posted by aurelius at 9:42 AM on July 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


The Quick Primer to Old School Gaming captures my 'get-off-my-lawn' gripes about the way recent versions of D&D are presented in the rulebooks. I've been trying to explain this to my lawyerly son - can't wait to show this to him!
posted by sudama at 10:47 AM on July 14, 2010


sudama's mention of this lawyerly son reminded me of the following anecdote from around the time I started high school. I went home after school with one of my D&D playing buddies. His dad was a real estate lawyer who was usually at work when we got home from school, but that day he was at home. We said hello to him as we walked past his study, and noticed that he was reading our 1e Dungeon Masters Guide.

Dad: "You boys actually play this game?"
Boys, nervously, in unison: "Yes, sir."
Dad, with disbelief: "By God! It reads like it was designed for tax attorneys!"
posted by paulg at 11:23 AM on July 14, 2010 [7 favorites]


>>The way many modern games are run, your character can't even FAIL, much less die, and IMHO that is a faster route to not really giving a shit.
>I've seen this since I started playing in the 80's, so... I'm not sure how much the term "modern" applies here.


The problem was the word 'game'. I didn't mean the thing on the shelf at the bookstore, I meant the activity going on at the table. It was a statement about the prevalence of a certain style, not saying it's brand new, or that it's the game system's fault (though there's certainly a connection there.)

Imagine for a moment any other medium of expression in which people complained that the characters weren't in constant danger of violent death.

The point isn't that your character is in "constant danger of violent death", it's that the focus is on agency, which is a good thing. I suspect you know this and agree, but you're just having more fun being all grar. In which case carry on but maybe with less putting words in peoples mouths then holding it up for ridicule, which is kind of an asshole tactic.
posted by fleacircus at 3:45 PM on July 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Fleacircus, I don't think that statement was meant snarkily.

This is an interesting discussion, not least because JHarris was so honest about what he wants/doesn't want in his gaming.

How to draw a distinction between an old school campaign with high levels of risk and basically interchangeable low level characters (Bob the Fighter 1! Bob the Fighter 2! Bob the Fighter 3!) and, say Paranoia with its interchangeable clones?

In other words if you're not risking much (because you can just whip up another character in 30 seconds) is that really 'risk'?

And if the real risk comes later when you've developed the character and have a set of memories and adventures, is that really so different from having a competent, well developed character from the outset?
posted by Sebmojo at 4:50 PM on July 14, 2010


This is the JHarris post, for people coming in late.

I hate the idea of more powerful characters, starter or otherwise.

The biggest difference between the older editions of the game and the newer (and D&D 4E has rather little to do with earlier editions, they threw out most of what made the game "Dungeons & Dragons") is how fragile characters are. People die all the time, even in "Basic D&D."

If you allow that characters die like flies and consider the implications, a lot of the crap of the game gets cut out. You can't work up an overwrought fantasy heartbreaker backstory about your elf Eladar and how he's an estranged prince to the Elven Throne of Alaiod due to being the first Knashtar Bloodknight since the Age of Galdiael when the KILLED BY KOBOLD ROLL UP ANOTHER. And if they die so quickly, then you can't use a complex character creation system that takes hours to make up your guy because the odds are you'll only get a fraction of that out of him in play.

It also keeps the game perilous, where most dangers remain meaningful. A pit trap's d6 of damage barely matters to a character with 50 hit points, but to one with just a few it's a lot more worrying. The game as it stands now is way too influenced by action movies where ordinary people can pull off martial arts stunts and jump between moving vehicles simply because they're the protagonist. To hell with that! One of the great things about Call of Cthulhu is that characters are never invulnerable. If a character makes a bad decision, then he will almost certainly die barring incredible luck.

posted by Sebmojo at 4:52 PM on July 14, 2010


I play D&D and CoC for different reasons.
posted by Pope Guilty at 4:54 PM on July 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


The point isn't that your character is in "constant danger of violent death", it's that the focus is on agency, which is a good thing.

The removal of agency I've seen mostly as an outgrowth of a lot of games in the 90's which advocated railroading or, "branching" railroading as the primary means of running an adventure. More people read about it as "the way to roleplay", so more people start roleplaying that way.

On the flip side, since 2001-2002, there's been a ton of games which focus on player agency: Inspectres, Universalis, Primetime Adventures, Polaris, Bliss Stage, 1001 Nights, Dogs in the Vineyard, etc. where removing player agency basically means throwing out the rules wholesale. So again, "modern" is too broad to define one way or another.

Though, if we're talking 4E and about agency and not lethality, 4E has nothing different than previous editions of D&D. People are already out there, using the rules as written, to:

- run sandbox/run around the map games
- use the Quest rules to let players decide their characters' goals
- improvise on the spot, both combat encounters and skill challenges.
posted by yeloson at 5:48 PM on July 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is the JHarris post, for people coming in late ...

I think JHarris was overstating things a little to make a point, which I have tried to unpack a little better. Let's not have an excluded-middle fight over JHarris's literal words.

And I don't think it's reasonable to pretend to be talking about something I said, then running back to some ungenerous reading of JHarris's post because one thinks one can objectively disprove it, or riff on it, without actually knowing what one is talking about.

In other words if you're not risking much (because you can just whip up another character in 30 seconds) is that really 'risk'? [...] And if the real risk comes later when you've developed the character and have a set of memories and adventures, is that really so different from having a competent, well developed character from the outset?

What happens is that some of your characters survive and are successful, and become more entangled in the world, and theres's a greater sense of having 'earned' it, and there's a more organic nature to it. So yes, there is more risk because you can't just recreate an equivalent character on a whim, and yes, it is different that just making that up from the outset.

I've played a lot of different styles of games, so don't leap down my throat telling me other games have risk and stuff too. I know that. I'm saying there's something to the old school style of play that a lot of people don't understand, and they're missing something.
posted by fleacircus at 5:56 PM on July 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think JHarris was overstating things a little to make a point, which I have tried to unpack a little better. Let's not have an excluded-middle fight over JHarris's literal words.

Well, he can speak for himself, but it matches pretty closely to what you will hear from Grognardia and the like. I just think it's a much more interesting and accurate line of argument than 'ITS TEH WOWZ' and the like.

And as I understand it you're saying much the same thing - character developed by action is more, I dunno, moral than character produced by fiat. And for you, ultimately more fulfilling.

I'm not sure I even disagree with you.

Another angle on it is the vanishing of random character creation - I made a Stormbringer (1981) character and literally the only thing you decide is the name and the sex. Everything else is dice rolls. It was charming and awesome. Especially as that system is unbelievably lethal, so he'll be lucky to last out a session.

Is this better or worse than 4e's character creation, which is nothing but choices?
posted by Sebmojo at 6:58 PM on July 14, 2010


"Is this better or worse than 4e's character creation, which is nothing but choices?"

FYI: The 4e character builder will auto generate a character with only three inputs: Race, Class and Build (IE: class variant). I just checked you don't have to specify anything. Just click the auto build button and out pops a character. You can also specify a starting level and the builder will automatically make all your level up choices to that level. The generator also picks your (level appropriate) equipment. It literally takes longer to start the character builder (because of an update check) than it does to make a character if you elect that route.

I've never played any of the auto generated characters so I don't know how they'd compare to a twinked out custom but considering how even the choices at each level tend to be they probably aren't too bad; certainly not much worse than the average noob's character.
posted by Mitheral at 11:13 PM on July 14, 2010


Ha, cool.
posted by Sebmojo at 12:34 AM on July 15, 2010


I don't fully agree with what JHarris posted above, but we really liked the fragility of first-level characters. It really meant something when you leveled up. We didn't make generic characters (no "Bob the Fighter 1/2/3" things), but we'd typically put no more than an hour or so into making one up at first level.

We didn't make big backstories either. Our focus wasn't so much on who they HAD BEEN as what they WOULD BE, and of course we couldn't know that ahead of time. We tried to evolve the characters as the story progressed, and they started to develop real traits and interesting quirks by third or fourth level, based on what they'd seen and done.

With one batch of characters, for instance, a first- or second-level rogue managed to kill a peryton with a +1 magic dagger. He went on to a storied career, one of the better characters that came out of our group. He wasn't particularly interesting before that, but that act of heroism made him 'real', and he executed many daring exploits over the years.

(for those who didn't play D&D: perytons were bird-ish creatures with four legs and huge beaks, could be damaged only by magic weapons, and had four or five hit dice. (rough equivalent to levels). A low-level rogue killing one with a magic dagger was amazing.)

We tried, in other words, to evolve the story of the characters based on the campaign, rather than trying to jam preconceptions into the existing world. And when you got to fifth or seventh level, you felt very heroic, because you'd earned every damn experience point. Our overall survival rate to that level was probably, oh, about thirty percent.

One character I lost that really bummed me out was a redheaded psionicist nerd that grew up and started adventuring out of a barbarian village somewhere in the far North. He was really, really unpopular with his tribe, being all weird and scary -- not to mention redheaded in a culture of black and brown hair. He was remarkably well-developed for an early character in our campaigns, even to the point of having definite enemies in the tribe, and fell prey to a gargoyle at about fourth level. Gargoyles were immune to both non-magic weapons and mental powers, so he was pretty much meat on the hoof for that thing. He suffered a gruesome death, and an interesting story went up in smoke.

It's been like twenty years now, and it still makes me a little sad, and you know what? That's good adventuring. You don't have to win for something to be really memorable. When dying is a VERY real threat, living and prospering is all the sweeter. All you get out of D&D is memories anyway, and the time you did your damndest and still got killed can be more memorable than the successes.
posted by Malor at 1:49 AM on July 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


Argh, this thread has quickly become rather tl;dr, and I haven't even been away for very long.

And here apparently you have no experience of playing 4e with a tactically good DM.

Tactics, shmactics. It's not Warhammer. And now, the reverse:

See, I like playing role-playing games, and I don't understand why you play role-playing games if all you want to do is move minis around and not care if they live or die. There's Nethack for that. Or Chainmail. Or any wargame at all.

fleacircus responded to this one excellently:
What happens is that you care less about who your character is and more about what your character does, and define things by what you actually do within the game. [...]
It's like the difference between wrestling and a sports match. In one, they are improvising a bit to play out the wink-wink nudge-nudge story. In the other, they are creating the story themselves.


This, this, this. A story is a hell of a lot more than backstory. All the interesting stuff should happen in play.

You don't have to be in constant peril to have a good roleplaying game (the death rate in our CoC campaign has actually been rather light), but the way D&D is themed, it seems like there is really no point to it without danger. Without danger, it becomes a game of flouncing around Toril with a hundred fantasy cliches. The cliches work in D&D only because they're a means to an end; you generally know what an elf is like from literature, which works as an aid to play, but one cannot be as sure about an "Eladrin;" it might functionally be the same as an elf, but the fact that they gave it some hack fantasy name means they're trying to distance it for whatever reason, and that distance harms the very reason elves are in the game.

If that's the way you like to play then don't let me tell you to hate it, but for me at the very least, playing pretend rapidly becomes less interesting the more bluesky it becomes. D&D needs the danger to help keep it grounded. I like whimsy a lot, but not when it turns pretentious and thinks too much of itself.

Let's look at the Nethack analogy. One of the secrets about Nethack that people who don't get the game often fail to see is that it is not a game about combat; it's a kind of dungeon crawl simulator, and that necessarily means a lot of combat, but there is a lot more you can do besides. You can do a lot of things that are not fighting, and many of those are important to survival and success. (Angband, that's a game about combat.)

Another angle on it is the vanishing of random character creation - I made a Stormbringer (1981) character and literally the only thing you decide is the name and the sex. Everything else is dice rolls. It was charming and awesome. Especially as that system is unbelievably lethal, so he'll be lucky to last out a session. Is this better or worse than 4e's character creation, which is nothing but choices?

It is neither better nor worse. There is room for both kinds of approaches. Neither is necessarily bad by itself. Just like 4E is not necessarily bad, when considered in a vacuum. It's not a game that I would particularly care to play, but I can see that there are strengths to its design. What is bad about it is that WoTC decided to say this is Dungeons & Dragons now and nothing else, discarding everything substantive that came before. To think some players were up in arms over 2E, which changed far less about the game!

The removal of agency I've seen mostly as an outgrowth of a lot of games in the 90's which advocated railroading or, "branching" railroading as the primary means of running an adventure. More people read about it as "the way to roleplay", so more people start roleplaying that way.

I think that railroading thing is unavoidable to some extent, but going off the rails should be encouraged whenever feasible. The most entertaining Call of Cthulhu session we've had to date is one in which the players obliterated the adventure plan very early with a well-timed bundle of dynamite, and I had to improvise two entire thirds of the thing using the printed adventure only as a guide.
posted by JHarris at 6:22 AM on July 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


What is bad about it is that WoTC decided to say this is Dungeons & Dragons now and nothing else, discarding everything substantive that came before.

How so? They released a new edition of the rules. I don't recall them trying to rewrite the history of D&D.
posted by chunking express at 7:03 AM on July 15, 2010


> > > Your characters do not get crunched by kobolds.
> > And here apparently you have no experience of playing 4e with a tactically good DM.
> Tactics, shmactics. It's not Warhammer.

Way to miss the point! I was pointing out that in 4e, contrary to your assertion, a DM who is adept with the system can crunch the characters every damn level without actually killing them unless he wants to. Dismissing one of the core DM skills (how to challenge PCs) as being "Warhammer" merely shows that you shouldn't be DMing a detailed combat-heavy game.

And that's without bringing in that 4e makes it easier to know how much crunching you'll be doing of PCs than just about any other RPG I can think of (and is pitched to make it appear even greater than it is).

you generally know what an elf is like from literature, which works as an aid to play, but one cannot be as sure about an "Eladrin;" it might functionally be the same as an elf, but the fact that they gave it some hack fantasy name means they're trying to distance it for whatever reason, and that distance harms the very reason elves are in the game.

The problem is that the concept of "elf" is massively overloaded - the fey creatures of the forest armed with longbows are nothing like the decadent magical and semi-withdrawn race. Yes, Tolkein called both of them elves - but that doesn't mean that the same shorthands dealt with Legolas and the Elven King that Bilbo dealt with as with Galadriel. The point of Eladrin is to separate out these two tropes, and it normally takes people about three seconds to realise that in 4e Elves are Sylvan Elves/Wood Elves and the poncier sounding Eladrin are Noldor/High Elves.

D&D needs the danger to help keep it grounded.

Agreed. And as I pointed out, the fact that 4e is better balanced means that it is much easier to give plenty of danger (and even more apparent danger) without turning into a Killer DM. At least if the DM is good tactically.

What is bad about it is that WoTC decided to say this is Dungeons & Dragons now and nothing else, discarding everything substantive that came before.

Which means they've broken into your home and stolen all your old books?

It is neither better nor worse. There is room for both kinds of approaches. Neither is necessarily bad by itself.

Agreed. And I mentioned Dread upthread. Where chargen involves twenty (or so) leading questions from the DM about your character and there's not a number near the game. Or there's Spirit of the Century for group chargen. The world's big :)

I think that railroading thing is unavoidable to some extent, but going off the rails should be encouraged whenever feasible. The most entertaining Call of Cthulhu session we've had to date is one in which the players obliterated the adventure plan very early with a well-timed bundle of dynamite, and I had to improvise two entire thirds of the thing using the printed adventure only as a guide.

Yay them. (And good for you. One reason I dislike Call of Cthulu is that in my experience it's a game where the Elder Horrors are inevitable and DMs dislike derails - after all, human extinction is inevitable and you are only delaying things).
posted by Francis at 8:30 AM on July 15, 2010


How so? They released a new edition of the rules. I don't recall them trying to rewrite the history of D&D.

I don't know if this is something too long and insidery to get into in this thread, but....

Under 3e, Wizards of the Coast created an Open Gaming License, which said that you could use anything in their System Reference Document for your own third party products as long as you met certain conditions. The 3e system was called d20 (because all actions were resolved using a 20-sided die). WotC had a separate free (as in beer) license that let you use the d20 logo and explicitly market your product as compatible with Dungeons & Dragons if you agreed to abide by additional restrictions on the use of Wizard's IP.

Under the OGL, third party gaming companies flourished. The OGL is enabled retro-clones like Swords & Wizardry to go ahead without fear of a lawsuit from WotC. During the 3e period, WotC also release a huge chunk of their back catalog as downloadable PDF's (some free, some for a few bucks), including the original 1974 little brown booklets.*

Most people were pretty happy with Wizard's stance that a vigorous market makes for a healthy hobby.

Then came 4e. Wizards killed the Open Gaming License. They pulled all the PDF's. They offered a new license called the Game System License, but this license was far more restrictive than the OGL. It forbade third party developers from making reference to pre-4e rules, and allowed WotC to change the terms of the license, retroactively, at any time.

In practice that meant that publishers who had produced hundreds of successful products for 3e could no longer sell any 3e products if they wanted to produce any 4e stuff. It also meant that the publishers couldn't release products that contained both 4e stats and stats for older editions. They could not even provide separate, downloadable conversion information for players.

A couple of years after the initial outcry (and when third-party support for 4e failed to materialize) WotC relented to the extent that they allowed publishers to produce both 3e and 4e products as long as they were not part of the same product line. Many major 3e publishers still view this as unacceptable, and continue to produce only 3e content under terms of the original OGL.

So, yes, to some extent they are trying to rewrite (or erase) the history of D&D.

The above is based on my cursory reading of this stuff. I'm not really an industry insider, so I may be incorrect in some particulars. I'm sure someone here will correct me.

* Which I returned to the hobby just too late to purchase before WotC pulled the PDF's. I would gladly pay a reasonable fee for legit PDF's of the little brown books and supplements. Please reconsider, Wizards!
posted by paulg at 8:51 AM on July 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


Hi paulg,

While I agree on all points that the GSL is a really crappy move - how does that rewrite or erase anything?

(my personal rant on OGL/GSL):

The problem with the OGL, was that it attempted to be "partial open source"(25% of your product must be Open Source), which led to nearly everyone involved only putting the crappiest stuff up as open source, and all the neat, useful, innovative stuff kept private.

Mike Mearls pointed out that since everyone was charging to see ANY of their material, generally, you had a lot of stuff that wasn't getting seen anyway.

So, OGL never got full advantage of open sourcing. The idea was to have all the other publishers & fans produce secondary material, leading to more core book sales. Instead, the best successes of OGL in the hobby were separate gamelines altogether.

Now comes 4E, and since no one paid attention to how they futzed up OGL, "Clearly it didn't work, we need to be hyper protective of our game mechanics and make sure no one else makes games off our license" etc.

(end rant)
posted by yeloson at 10:34 AM on July 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


So I'm late to this, but whatever. I read an interesting article that claimed that the difference between old school and modern D&D was the emphasis on settings vs. characters. In old school D&D, the settings were interesting, the characters were fairly two dimensional. In new school, well, the settings don't have a lot to write home about, but you are strongly encouraged to actually justify your choices in creation and development.

Not that that's always true. In college I was in a 2E game where most sessions we received more XP for roleplaying than for combat. But I know just how rare this was. And even then, combat was "roll d20, hit, roll d20, miss, mage casts spell- ooh interesting, roll d20, miss, etc." The monsters always had more interesting attacks than you did.

I haven't found a group to play 4E with, but honestly, I'm really looking forward to it. I read through the guide to "Old School Gaming" and we never played like that. (I count 2E as old school as we were playing it 18 years ago. If that's not old school enough go catch the early bird special and Libby's and leave me alone.) The improvisation wasn't there. Maybe it would be now, as an adult, but even as a college student, we didn't think that way.

And those complaining about the marking mechanic- if there's a person with a four foot long piece of steel that she's getting ready to stick into your kidneys the moment you stop paying attention, how well will you be able to tell that the weird guy with the wand in the back is trying to kill you too? Unless you really want to increase your iron intake, you tend to stay away and keep your focus on the very large butter knife.
posted by Hactar at 11:02 AM on July 15, 2010


The problem with the OGL, was that it attempted to be "partial open source"

The problem with the OGL was that it wasn't intended as an open source license at all—it was a way for WotC to use contract law to restrict the use of its trademarks in way which would otherwise be perfectly legal under intellectual property law. WoTC didn't care if the percentage of open content was zero, so long as the publishers gave up their fair use rights to those trademarks. Wizards' OGL FAQ has these telling lines:
Q: My understanding of Trademark law is that it is legal for me to indicate compatibility or co-adaptability with a Trademark so long as I don't dilute the mark, confuse consumers about the ownership of the mark, or attempt to claim ownership of the mark. How can the OGL stop me from using a Trademark in a way that is otherwise completely legal?

A: The terms of the Open Game License supercede the terms of general Trademark law. By agreeing to accept the Open Game License, gaining the benefit of the consideration of being able to use Open Game Content under the terms of the OGL, you limit certain other rights that you might otherwise have.

Q: I want to make a product that claims compatibility with someone else's Trademark, and uses Open Game Content. I'm going to put the Open Game Content in a separate booklet in a box, and only use the Trademark on the packaging on the box. Can I get away with this?

A: No. The terms of the Open Game License extend to the whole work. If you have questions about the technical legal definition of a "work", consult your legal counsel.
Notice that they also made it impossible for publishers to release products which had stats for D&D and other competing systems. It's the same thing WotC is now doing with the new GSL license, except that license makes clear that Wizards considers 3e to also be their competition.
posted by paulg at 11:25 AM on July 15, 2010


OGL led to a massive flood of shitty products that, had it continued into 4E, would likely have led to history repeating itself.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:31 AM on July 15, 2010


paulg,

Yeah, the whole point was to get other companies to take up the cost of producing supplemental material ("the supplement treadmill"), which tends to exist primarily to promote the core books while having a smaller and smaller consumer base.

The failure of it was that people started figuring out there was too much hassle and too little profit in writing supplemental material and instead, the restrictions made it much more worthwhile to develop competing games which happen to use "close enough" mechanics and start poaching the fanbase. (Secondary issue- the lack of real open source availability means instead of being able to crowdsource innovation, it was stifled. Not only were a lot of products shitty, they stayed shitty because finding innovative design had cost barriers.)

Still not seeing how they're "rewriting/erasing" D&D's history, though.
posted by yeloson at 12:15 PM on July 15, 2010


How so? They released a new edition of the rules. I don't recall them trying to rewrite the history of D&D.

What they do, and have always done, is discard everything about old editions when they make new ones. They did it in 2E, but the rules didn't really change that much in retrospect. They did it in 3E, moving combat officially to a tabletop grid system. And they certainly did it in 4E. None of your 3E stuff can be used with it. The game system is entirely different. This was less of an issue before when the general idea and form of the rules didn't change so much, but now the game is much changed. Now is someone is going to comment that no, it hasn't, because it still involves moving around a grid turn by turn?

Way to miss the point! I was pointing out that in 4e, contrary to your assertion, a DM who is adept with the system can crunch the characters every damn level without actually killing them unless he wants to. Dismissing one of the core DM skills (how to challenge PCs) as being "Warhammer" merely shows that you shouldn't be DMing a detailed combat-heavy game.

No, it means I have developed a good dislike of overemphasizing tactical combat! Clapping figures around a gameboard! You could easily run a combat-heavy D&D game without tactical combat up to 2E, and at least it was more flexible in 3E. As should have been obvious, I'd think.

Also, the OGL stuff.


The problem is that the concept of "elf" is massively overloaded - the fey creatures of the forest armed with longbows are nothing like the decadent magical and semi-withdrawn race. Yes, Tolkein called both of them elves - but that doesn't mean that the same shorthands dealt with Legolas and the Elven King that Bilbo dealt with as with Galadriel. The point of Eladrin is to separate out these two tropes, and it normally takes people about three seconds to realise that in 4e Elves are Sylvan Elves/Wood Elves and the poncier sounding Eladrin are Noldor/High Elves.


Then what is wrong with "Wood Elves" and "High Elves?" And it took me a lot longer than three seconds; to get the core of the idea that these really are the old elves I had to go into the race section of the FIRST OF THREE SO FAR GODDAMMMIT Player's Handbook and read their terrible fantasy explanation of the race. I realize you're speaking hyperbolically, a little, for interest's sake, but I did not find the information even closely as upfront as you imply, and it was obscured by the new powers they have been given.

It's the same thing WotC is now doing with the new GSL license, except that license makes clear that Wizards considers 3e to also be their competition.

Does not Wizards of the Coast forbid those who publish GSL material from also publishing OGL material? That seems like a major, and terrible, change from the OGL. Really, what you are saying here does not seem borne up by what I know about the licenses.

I haven't found a group to play 4E with, but honestly, I'm really looking forward to it. I read through the guide to "Old School Gaming" and we never played like that. (I count 2E as old school as we were playing it 18 years ago. If that's not old school enough go catch the early bird special and Libby's and leave me alone.) The improvisation wasn't there. Maybe it would be now, as an adult, but even as a college student, we didn't think that way.

The improvisation arises when you inhabit the situation well-enough to think more in terms of what they would do, rather than what is tactically best. It comes from your expectations of the game.

Yay them. (And good for you. One reason I dislike Call of Cthulu is that in my experience it's a game where the Elder Horrors are inevitable and DMs dislike derails - after all, human extinction is inevitable and you are only delaying things).

It is funny, but one of my favorite things about Call of Cthulhu is how the published adventures seem to go out of their way in places to describe what should happen in certain instances.

OGL led to a massive flood of shitty products that, had it continued into 4E, would likely have led to history repeating itself.

To refute you, I offer a little-known corollary to Sturgeon's Law, that 90% of everything is crap: thus logically, 10% of everything is awesome. The existence of a flood of bad things is not a great harm, but having to do without the few good things also made possible is horrendous. This is also why the App Store sucks. And yes I went there, it is an important comparison to make.
posted by JHarris at 12:39 PM on July 15, 2010


ARGH the "Also the OGL stuff" should have been under the previous quote. Dammit.
posted by JHarris at 12:40 PM on July 15, 2010


Yeah, the whole point was to get other companies to take up the cost of producing supplemental material

You're probably right. Or, at least, that was most of the point at the time.

the restrictions made it much more worthwhile to develop competing games

I guess the GSL has "fixed" that.

Still not seeing how they're "rewriting/erasing" D&D's history, though.

The GSL puts the kibosh on anyone publishing new material (or updated editions of old material) that continues support for 3e or 0e or any competing product if they want to claim compatibility with 4th edition. Wizards wants to force publishers and players to the new edition by ending third party support for older editions.

It was actually not me but chunking express responding to JHarris who called it "rewriting/erasing" D&D's history, but I don't think JHarris was talking about the licensing/market issues. I think he meant the design and play philosophy of the game.

I more-or-less agree with JHarris, but I'm saying that Wizards is using the license (and the implicit threat of lawsuits for doing unlicensed 4e stuff) to get everyone on board with their new product; that the license also encourages an entirely different play style is a side effect.

Maybe Pope Guilty would disagree with me, but I think it would be better for consumers if RPG products supported multiple rule sets.
posted by paulg at 12:41 PM on July 15, 2010


Also, to Pope Guilty's invoking of the game crash, it is highly unlikely that would have happened here. The game crash was caused by the withdrawing of mainstream culture from video gaming. RPGs have never been mainstream, except possibly back in the 70s and only very briefly.
posted by JHarris at 12:43 PM on July 15, 2010


Does not Wizards of the Coast forbid those who publish GSL material from also publishing OGL material? That seems like a major, and terrible, change from the OGL.

It's my understanding that Wizards revised the GSL so that publishers can produce 3e and 4e products so long as they are in different product lines. But either way, I agree that it is a bad policy for consumers and third party publishers compared to the OGL.
posted by paulg at 12:49 PM on July 15, 2010


What they do, and have always done, is discard everything about old editions when they make new ones.

Here you mean both TSR and Wizards of the Coast? I thought you had a beef with Wizards, but it seems clear you actually dislike the way both companies update the rules and throw the old ones under a bus. The thing is, you don't have to follow either company in their great march forward. My friend continued to DM using the D&D boxed set till he stopped playing. I still have all the books I need to run a Dark Sun campaign.

As far as I can tell, the only reason D&D is still around (being developed today) is because Wizard bought TSR and tried to turn it into a profitable business. I don't get why there is such a hate on for them. I think they've probably done more to get people playing RPGs again than any other company in a long long time.
posted by chunking express at 1:04 PM on July 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


Then what is wrong with "Wood Elves" and "High Elves?" And it took me a lot longer than three seconds; to get the core of the idea that these really are the old elves I had to go into the race section of the FIRST OF THREE SO FAR GODDAMMMIT Player's Handbook and read their terrible fantasy explanation of the race. I realize you're speaking hyperbolically, a little, for interest's sake, but I did not find the information even closely as upfront as you imply, and it was obscured by the new powers they have been given.

LAWN. KIDS. GIT.

It is neither better nor worse. There is room for both kinds of approaches. Neither is necessarily bad by itself. Just like 4E is not necessarily bad, when considered in a vacuum. It's not a game that I would particularly care to play, but I can see that there are strengths to its design. What is bad about it is that WoTC decided to say this is Dungeons & Dragons now and nothing else, discarding everything substantive that came before. To think some players were up in arms over 2E, which changed far less about the game!

Well... not at all. The fact that we're talking about '4e' rather than 'Dungeons and Dragons' means that even if they were trying to do this, then they failed completely.

I mean they're not producing any new 1st, 2nd or 3rd ed stuff - but should they? There's a metric (actually probably Imperial, given the age) fuckload of material for older editions, and OSR/Pathfinder means other companies are also producing new stuff. Better for them to stick to their knitting, surely?
posted by Sebmojo at 1:05 PM on July 15, 2010


And if you're talking about backwards compatibility with earlier editions, dropping that is a deliberate decision and one that has a lot of merit.

By slaughtering many sacred cows and making useful handicrafts from the skin and bone, they came up with what even you admit is a solid game.
posted by Sebmojo at 1:09 PM on July 15, 2010


The existence of a flood of bad things is not a great harm, but having to do without the few good things also made possible is horrendous.

The problem is that game store owners had no way of knowing which OGL products were shit and which weren't. Sure, it's obvious in retrospect, but if it's 2000 and you're a game store owner staring at a suddenly much thicker copy of Game Trade and trying to figure out which of the sudden glut of D20-compatible products you should order and which ones you shouldn't, OGL is suddenly not the greatest thing in the world. It's especially not the greatest thing in the world in 2006 when the clearance box is full of stuff there's been sitting in your store not getting paid for for years. I know of two places specifically where this happened, and I've heard of this story playing itself out all over the US.
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:24 PM on July 15, 2010


I think that railroading thing is unavoidable to some extent, but going off the rails should be encouraged whenever feasible. The most entertaining Call of Cthulhu session we've had to date is one in which the players obliterated the adventure plan very early with a well-timed bundle of dynamite, and I had to improvise two entire thirds of the thing using the printed adventure only as a guide.

And, last quote - I completely agree with this one.

But I think it's important to note that in 4e going off the rails is really easy, because DMing it is so easy. They have a whole suite of rules devoted to nothing but that.

I suspect that's what people mean when they compare 4e to older school games - you can tap your chin, flip open the book, and five minutes later have an awesome, challenging, (though admittedly lengthy) fight or thrilling escape or whatever.
posted by Sebmojo at 2:27 PM on July 15, 2010


LAWN. KIDS. GIT.

I was explaining my reasoning to a prior comment. Which you might have noticed if you weren't so quick to be dismissive. Pah.

Here you mean both TSR and Wizards of the Coast? I thought you had a beef with Wizards, but it seems clear you actually dislike the way both companies update the rules and throw the old ones under a bus.

I am not fond of it, certainly. But there's more to it than that. 3E attempted to appease old fans with a healthy simplification of the game, although at the cost of some of its simulationist basis. 4E doesn't seem to be simulationist at all, and that I think is at the core of why I personally don't like it.

I don't like it, but I would not be morally opposed to it if WotC didn't then claim that this is now Dungeons & Dragons, which ultimately is something the players must decide. And many players disagree.

By slaughtering many sacred cows and making useful handicrafts from the skin and bone, they came up with what even you admit is a solid game.

"Even" I "admit" that it is a solid game that is not Dungeons & Dragons. The name stands as a mockery both to the old versions and this new one, which more people would accept if it hadn't had this ornate and ponderous mask put over it.

As far as I can tell, the only reason D&D is still around (being developed today) is because Wizard bought TSR and tried to turn it into a profitable business. I don't get why there is such a hate on for them. I think they've probably done more to get people playing RPGs again than any other company in a long long time.

Wizards of the Coast has done good concerning keeping the game alive and played, although really 3E isn't that close to the original game either. We probably wouldn't be roleplaying ourselves now if it weren't originally for Third Edition. But none of our group cares anything for Fourth Edition.
posted by JHarris at 2:35 PM on July 15, 2010


I was explaining my reasoning to a prior comment. Which you might have noticed if you weren't so quick to be dismissive. Pah.

It was a jokey reference, but a serious point - Elves/Eladrin is a new way of expressing an old distinction. As I read it, you find it disconcerting and annoying and wish things would just stay the way they were (while not getting that het up about it, since you've got your own games that you enjoy).

James 'Grognardia' Malizewski's "I Hate Change" post is in similar vein.
posted by Sebmojo at 3:00 PM on July 15, 2010


Wizards wants to force publishers and players to the new edition by ending third party support for older editions.

And... this rewrites/erases history how?

It's a poor and unfriendly decision to 3rd party support, it's not like "D&D the world's first roleplaying game published in 2008! Created by Wizards of the Coast Hasbro, perhaps inspired by some grubby guys who played arcane war games and used terms like 'Gygaxian'!"

Like I said above, it's hyper-protection of their IP in a way that hurts their base rather than expands it, but it's still not "rewriting/erasing history".

Every company wants you to buy their latest and greatest thing, though, unlike iPods, they can't design tabletop rpgs to fall apart every 2 years. The only way to drag someone over to a new game is either to fulfill a new niche or do an old thing much more elegantly.

4E is pretty much aimed at an under-served niche, which is why most of the complaints really boil down to, "Well, it's not my D&D!". Meanwhile stuff like Pathfinder and the retro-games are designed to be improvements on existing games (gawd, I remember trying to read Gygaxian language at 12 and having no fucking idea how the game worked).

Still, it's not like they're sending game police to mindwipe players or rewrite your books while you sleep. The gamebooks often mention bits about older editions, how monsters were inspired, and they're releasing stuff like "30 years of D&D" etc.

So how exactly are they rewriting/erasing history again?
posted by yeloson at 4:38 PM on July 15, 2010


The "it rewrites history!" line reminds me of that dumbass on rpg.net who was insisting that 4E allowing you to change your lower-level spells/abilities was "rewriting your character's history."
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:31 PM on July 15, 2010


It's walking right up to Jack Vance and punching him in the face!
posted by Artw at 5:32 PM on July 15, 2010


It's walking right up to Jack Vance and punching him in the face!

I get it! Creating a new edition erases all previous ones from their memory like replacing memorized spells?

Staff of Editions
Legendary Artifact

The staff of editions permanently modifies stats of characters, creatures, magic items or spells, 3/day.

Every time the Staff is used, roll 1D10 to determine which rules will apply to the target. If rules for the target don't exist in said edition, the staff has no effect.

1 -OD&D (Little Brown Books w/o supplements)
2- Holmes Basic
3- Moldvay Basic
4- Full BECMI line
5- AD&D 1E
6- AD&D 2E
7- D&D 3.0
8- D&D 3.5
9- D&D 4.0
10- Wielder's choice- including which supplements will/will not be used.
posted by yeloson at 5:41 PM on July 15, 2010 [3 favorites]


No, no.

01-17 OD&D (Little Brown Books w/o supplements)
18-20 Holmes Basic
21-33 Moldvay Basic
34-40 Full BECMI line
41-47 AD&D 1E
48-59 AD&D 2E
60-72 D&D 3.0
73-80 D&D 3.5
81-89 Pathfinder
90-99 D&D 4.0
00 Roll twice and develop homebrew of both editions rolled.
posted by Sebmojo at 5:59 PM on July 15, 2010 [3 favorites]


Still, it's not like they're sending game police to mindwipe players or rewrite your books while you sleep.

They've done their job well, then.
posted by scalefree at 7:34 PM on July 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


It was a jokey reference, but a serious point - Elves/Eladrin is a new way of expressing an old distinction. As I read it, you find it disconcerting and annoying and wish things would just stay the way they were (while not getting that het up about it, since you've got your own games that you enjoy).

Disconcerting is too strong. I do sure as hell find it annoying though. Wishing things would just stay they way they are is also too strong. Change is good if it is good change. D&D has never been perfect, but it has been better.

Like I said above, it's hyper-protection of their IP in a way that hurts their base rather than expands it, but it's still not "rewriting/erasing history".

GRAR IT'S A METAPHOR OF COURSE THEY DON'T HAVE MAGIC BOOK ERASERS
calm down now... think about Cthulhu, that always cheers you up...

The problem is that game store owners had no way of knowing which OGL products were shit and which weren't.

Then if they're a good game store that cares about their customers, they would have done their homework. I am sorry, but if there is even one awesome thing which I would have been denied access to in the name of keeping selection simple for the benefit of retail establishments, then I will declare that entire idea stupid and you probably won't change my mind easily. That reasoning can be used to justify almost anything, including keeping excellent roleplaying games like Call of Cthulhu and Paranoia off of shelves. (How are store owners supposed to know one RPG or another is any good? Do I expect them to stock all roleplaying games? Maybe some agency should come in and decide what games deserve to be published?)

But I think it's important to note that in 4e going off the rails is really easy, because DMing it is so easy. They have a whole suite of rules devoted to nothing but that. I suspect that's what people mean when they compare 4e to older school games - you can tap your chin, flip open the book, and five minutes later have an awesome, challenging, (though admittedly lengthy) fight or thrilling escape or whatever.

This is an interesting concept, yes, and improvised generation of material is an area of particular interest to me. Before I say more on this issue, I should probably refresh my memory on just exactly what 4E's improvisation mechanisms are. What I remember unfortunately is that categorization system of minions and bosses that reminds me of City of Heroes. There was probably more to it than that, though.
posted by JHarris at 10:03 PM on July 15, 2010


I'm afraid my first D&D love will always be Second Edition, right as Unearthed Arcana came out. It was ridiculously overpowered

This. "My wizard Magic Jars himself into the body of that Barbarian. Now I can cast chain lightning and hit you 16 times with this broadsword, with which I now happen to be double specialized. Did I mention Raistlin the Asthmatic now has 18/00 STR, a bazillion HP and minus several hundred AC?"

Also, Solonor Thelandira.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 11:11 PM on July 15, 2010


Then if they're a good game store that cares about their customers, they would have done their homework.

How? By getting things in a month late so that they could wait for the reviews? By buying everything just in case it's good and worth buying?

I am sorry, but if there is even one awesome thing which I would have been denied access to in the name of keeping selection simple for the benefit of retail establishments, then I will declare that entire idea stupid and you probably won't change my mind easily.

Those stores have to stay in business somehow. Maybe you end up having to special-order stuff; I've never special ordered at any store that charged me extra for the privilege, so I don't see how that hurts, either.

What I remember unfortunately is that categorization system of minions and bosses that reminds me of City of Heroes.

It's more like Feng Shui, actually, and it's more about the roles the characters play than anything like "bosses" in the video game sense. Think of bosses more like Dragons.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:42 PM on July 15, 2010


How? By getting things in a month late so that they could wait for the reviews? By buying everything just in case it's good and worth buying?

By doing what every other independent book-selling establishment in the nation does. I am no merchant, but I would think you'd start by testing the waters with one or two items from companies that seem on the ball, see how they sell, read them yourself and form an opinion. Solicit information from the publishers. Ask for a sample. And yes, read reviews and buy late if need be, these aren't comic books and they don't go out of date as fast. Use the interwebs to check wind direction. Play the odds; if you seem to sell an average of X items from a company, then order that many. If they sell out quickly then order more. If they don't move, put 'em in the bargain bin to cut losses and make a note to order fewer next time. In short, do what is needed to remain profitable.

In Statesboro there is Galactic, nee Gallops, which has been around in this and its past incarnation decade at least. I got a lot of classic Paranoia stuff from their bargain bin; they never seem to ever throw anything out, and there are board games on their shelves even now that have been there for as long as I've known of them. They mostly keep going by catering to college students and a loyal, some might say fanatical, local Games Workshop fanbase. They don't carry Call of Cthulhu RPGs at the moment, but they do have the Call of Cthulhu card game, and Arkham Horror and supplements, and even an old copy of one of the Cthulhu RPG fanzines.*

I know it is locally owned and operated, and I still remember the days when I could still reliably find 2E stuff on their shelves. I don't think its owners or staff get rich, but they make a go of it somehow. I don't ever recall them complaining about OGL or 3E, although really I never asked; I'm pretty sure they sold a ton of the stuff overall judging from how long it was on their shelves.

Game stores hopefully talk to their customers and find out what they think. It is hard work yes, but running a such a niche business requires a certain amount of involvement. There is no guarantee even then that you could make a go of it, but then, such is the plight of the small businessman in the United States.

* Shockingly, the last time I was there I spotted on their shelves an honest-to-goodness Arduin Grimoire book. It's probably a later reprinting, but still, there it is, a relic from a past age.
posted by JHarris at 1:20 AM on July 16, 2010


This is an interesting concept, yes, and improvised generation of material is an area of particular interest to me. Before I say more on this issue, I should probably refresh my memory on just exactly what 4E's improvisation mechanisms are.

Off the top of my head, the DM screen contains suggested DCs, guidelines for running complex challenges where one failed skill roll won't derail the entire process (skill challenges), guidelines for the hp, defences, attack rolls, and damage of improvised monsters and traps. It is entirely possible to have only one side roll in any competition without loss of problems and therefore the DCs for skill challenges and having the PCs roll will handle out of combat interactions (and also reflexively take into account the difficulty of what's being attempted). You thus have mechanical support for individual actions, long term actions, and all the stats you need for any monsters.

About all you don't get [i]on the DM screen[/i] is citybuilding advice and mapping advice.

What I remember unfortunately is that categorization system of minions and bosses that reminds me of City of Heroes. There was probably more to it than that, though.

It's a reasonable system.
Minions = Rabble, very low morale, or otherwise out of their league but still trying. It's a dramatist convention and minions are there for the scenery.
Standard = Standard.
Elite = Highly skilled and normally named in the plot.
Solo = Dragons and other really big and nasty monsters.
posted by Francis at 3:42 AM on July 16, 2010


Minions = Rabble, very low morale, or otherwise out of their league but still trying. It's a dramatist convention and minions are there for the scenery.

Mike Mornard ('Old Geezer' on the rpg.net forums) talks about having a midlevel fighter rolling a d6 to see how many mooks he killed a round in his OD&D game, and he played with Gygax, so this has some historical resonance.

For me one of the main improvisation tools is that you can flip to the index of the Monster Manual, pick out a few monsters, maybe reskin a couple of others, then have a ready-to-run encounter that is exactly as balanced and fun as any other 4e encounter (i.e. very) in just a few minutes.

And by balanced, I mean you can also choose to put the screws on your players. If you know they manage (but don't munch through) encounters 3 levels above them, then an encounter 5 levels above them may test them sorely.
posted by Sebmojo at 4:54 AM on July 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


GRAR IT'S A METAPHOR OF COURSE THEY DON'T HAVE MAGIC BOOK ERASERS

I'd really like to talk about how the different editions work, and how the business choices have helped (rarely) and hurt (mostly) D&D as a game hobby, but I keep running into folks too busy demonizing 4E, and not for actual things and how it works. Guh.

It doesn't even make any fucking sense as a metaphor - they want people to buy their new thing, they're doing a clumsy, hamfisted way of doing it. The whole "can't print 3E material if you're doing 4E" cut out their biggest 2nd tier publishers (who, were also usually making competing games using OGL as well).

But I'd say the real thing stopping 3rd party support is the number of restrictions on -just publishing- material for 4E. (I looked into it because I wanted to put some stuff together myself).

You can't redefine anything color-wise- if I make a setting of TechnoMagica I can't say "Dwarves are cyborgs", I have to call them something different, because redefining Dwarves is disallowed by the GSL. I'd have to call them something like "CrappyCompoundName Dwarves" or whatever. You can't refer to any of their deities, setting stuff, or color material already in the books, either. And then there's fuckload more restrictions on top of that.

Basically, it's such a nightmare, even the folks who -haven't- any OGL materials, aren't interested in doing anything either. Again, all of this is a response from halfass-ing the process of going Open Source with 3.0 to get the "worst of both worlds" and then trying to do the exact opposite instead of either going fully open source or just dropping it altogether.

(Other poor business decisions- charging a ridiculous licensing fee for publishers the year before release, waiting over a year and a half to make power cards, so everyone had made their own, then shutting people down for doing so when they're charging $12/pack. Not putting together a simple 2D flash method for people to play online. No one gives a fuck about 3D, just give us a map, a dice roller, and some voice chat. Trying to slam out new rules regularly, which inevitably will lead to horrible unbalanced combinations as Magic the Gathering has proven for 15+ years now. Etc.)
posted by yeloson at 8:55 AM on July 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


Mike Mornard ('Old Geezer' on the rpg.net forums) talks about having a midlevel fighter rolling a d6 to see how many mooks he killed a round in his OD&D game, and he played with Gygax, so this has some historical resonance.

There is a rule in 1st edition, if I remember correctly, that allows for killing multiple sub-1HD creatures with a single "attack." Remember that in 1E and OD&D, a combat round is a minute long, and an "attack" is really an abstraction representing a series of maneuvers, feints, blows, parries, and so on. I like the idea of that generally, although I'm still a bit creeped out by the MMORPG trappings of 4E's system. Still, it is enough for me to admit there is a chance I'm wrong here. What? I do rethink my position once in a while.
posted by JHarris at 7:05 PM on July 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


In 2E, for reference, a fighter got a number of attacks per round equal to his level against 0-level creatures. Even a second-level fighter was very potent against 0-level critters, and at 10+ could essentially maintain full movement speed straight through a huge rabble. (and, in fact, would probably have to, just to get enough critters within sword reach.)

I don't remember whether rangers or paladins could do that, but fighters definitely could.

We always hated that '1 minute round' thing, and we ran our 2E rounds at 10 seconds. We shortened combat spells appropriately, but typically left non-combat spells alone.
posted by Malor at 11:14 AM on July 17, 2010


The one minute round was something I didn't understand at all when I tried reading the 1E DM's guide straight. As I said last time one of these threads came up, I failed to understand the game well because I hadn't had the experience with OD&D that Gygax expected people to have, just as OD&D is hard to make sense of without a background in wargames.

Now I think it does make sense. It is Gygax's nod to the fact that AD&D contains a lot of gameplay conventions to make it playable, and to keep the game realistic in the sense that, in real life, a single sword blow can be fatal no matter how skilled you are. Thus hit points are a measure of luck, dodging proficiency, skill, and consumption of minor resources such as presence of mind, not raw wound-taking potential.
posted by JHarris at 1:24 PM on July 17, 2010


« Older Hunter S. Thompson vs. a Hell's Angel. On a talk ...  |  The paradox of good parents wi... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments