Are all magocracies geriocracies? Or only most?
April 27, 2009 12:19 AM   Subscribe

From the Dungeon to the Dictionary. A brief discussion of the origins of that least popular form of government, the magocracy, the author analyzes the dweomer of the word itself, consulting many a hefty libram in the process.
posted by kaibutsu (78 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
*ahem.* Being a brief discussion...
posted by kaibutsu at 12:21 AM on April 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

From the article:
This precedes any D&D book by several years, and is a plausible source for the word. Using this tip, I was then able to find this Usenet post from December 2006 which traces it back to 1950 and Vance's collection of stories, The Dying Earth. This provides further support for the position that the word originated in genre fiction (probably that of Vance himself) and was later borrowed by Gygax (consciously or unconsciously) for D&D.

Gary Gygax definitely read The Eyes of the Overworld, it's one of the books listed in the Inspirational Reading section of the 1st edition AD&D DM's guide and provides the basis of the class D&D magic system, often called "Vancian Magic." His use of libram, given the information here, almost certainly comes from Vance, although it's still known if Gygax knew it was invented by him.
posted by JHarris at 1:08 AM on April 27, 2009

When i was 12, I got a 640 on the verbal SAT. I attribute much of that to playing D&D and reading sci-fi. Curiously, my Latin classes didn't increase my vocabulary; instead it was my existing vocabulary that allowed me to painfully struggle through Latin.
posted by orthogonality at 2:03 AM on April 27, 2009

I feel like I just rolled a natural twenty reading these articles!
posted by brando_calrissian at 2:03 AM on April 27, 2009

D&D made me far too comfortable with i.e., e.g., c.f., and albeit.

Mini link dump time I guess.
Gygax talking about Vance (pdf). Man I need to go read Lyonesse, pronto.
Let's Read Dragon Magazine - From the Beginning.
Tim Kask's story of Arneson and Gygax. ('kaskoid's posts).
posted by fleacircus at 2:26 AM on April 27, 2009 [8 favorites]

As good a time as any to link to Lore Sjoberg's Monster Manual Comix.
posted by JHarris at 2:28 AM on April 27, 2009 [2 favorites]

That Let's Read Dragon Magazine link is beyond awesome. I own the complete Dragon archive CDs but never got around to reading many of them. The disks are now scattered randomly around my stuff. Still, since I paid for those archives, I'd feel justified in torrenting down the lot of 'em. Maybe I should do just that....

Gary Gygax talking about the underpoweredness of spears in Chainmail, saying people shouldn't complain about it because it is Historically Accurate , and also that they intend to introduce expanded details on polearms, rather than just having one generic entry for them. I think most of us know how that one pans out in the future. Oh yes.

Gygax carrying armload of sticks with pointy metal bits on the end: "Did someone say POLEARMS???"
posted by JHarris at 2:40 AM on April 27, 2009

Isn't Vatican City run by a magocracy?
posted by flarbuse at 5:56 AM on April 27, 2009 [8 favorites]

Dammit, I'm gonna run D&D this summer.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 5:59 AM on April 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


Bang goes the rest of the afternoon

(Although my inner nerd wants to say... evolution? Pah, magic sorts everything out in D&D)
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 6:58 AM on April 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

I read the wording of those last two links as "hefty librarian" and was all set to come here and ask why a corpulent bibliothecary would be preferable to a skinny one.

Now I think I'll just go gloat over my copy of Dieties and Demigods with the Lovecraft stuff in it.
posted by total warfare frown at 7:32 AM on April 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

I started RPGs pretty late in life (in fact, after I turned forty), although I've been into MMORPGs a bit longer than that, and was in fact playing D&D 3.5 last Saturday; I was rather stunned to find out that, although there are (to me) insanely detailed considerations for casting spells, I couldn't, for example, take advantage of a sitting/reclining position to slice someone's Achilles tendon or sap him in the nuts. Oh, well, live and learn.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:00 AM on April 27, 2009

Dwarves shouldn't dwell on dwindling dweomercraeft.

Dw- words are compelling for some reason...
posted by quin at 8:14 AM on April 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

All weird D&D creatures are the results of experiments by mad wizards, who for some reason really dig on making half-owl half bear creatures and the like.
posted by Artw at 9:09 AM on April 27, 2009

and also that they intend to introduce expanded details on polearms, rather than just having one generic entry for them. I think most of us know how that one pans out in the future. Oh yes.

Two and a half words:



posted by drjimmy11 at 9:11 AM on April 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

Artw, that's the owlbear of old. In fourth edition, the owlbear just kinda happened that way, in the Feywild. It makes for yet another reason to hate fourth edition — owlbears: sometimes they just happen.
posted by adipocere at 9:13 AM on April 27, 2009 [4 favorites]

Is there anything about Fourth Edition that isn't stupid and suck?
posted by Artw at 9:19 AM on April 27, 2009 [2 favorites]

just kinda happened that way, in the Feywild

That's just idiotic.... and the Feywild sounds rubbish. At least Warhammer had cool patches of chaos or something to explain it's silly monsters (I think... going on dim and distant memories)
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 9:37 AM on April 27, 2009

IIRC Warhammer Fantasy is set on a planet with two big holes into the warp at either pole, I’m hazy on why but it might have been something to do with an exploding Slann spaceship, and the whole thing is actually off in the future somewhere in the WH40K universe.
posted by Artw at 9:51 AM on April 27, 2009

Is there anything about Fourth Edition that isn't stupid and suck?

I don't think 4e sucks, it's just Kids These Days that suck. The entire approach to D&D had changed because of the internet and MMORPGs. People think more in terms of optimum builds, max damage output, and so on than they did in the past. More and more, players (both players and DMs) are giving over their own control and authority at the game table to rules. This is somewhere beyond rules lawyering. Reading over a thread or two at ENWorld is completely baffling to me. In this example, people are arguing about a "rules glitch" that, like some sort of weird programming bug, could cause a character to float in space, never falling.

Back in the day, a DM would look at that and say "No, that's stupid. You fall. Also, you explode."

While there have been rules lawyers since Gygax and Arneson first rolled up (predating, even, given D&D's wargame past), they have been given a huge soapbox thanks to the collaborative power of the internet. Now, it's not just that One Guy who'll talk your ear off at the FLGS, it's an entire forum of people who are happy to explain in detail why X should be Y. You don't even have to come up with your own logic anymore, you just go online, find your justification, and since DMs have seceded a portion of their authority to the game makers, you can probably get what you want.

MMORPGs bring us the fun of the "optimum build." If you are playing an optimized character, you are at a severe disadvantage, not just because you don't have the right DPS or whatever, but because adventures and modules are more and more written assuming you are optimized. If you are not, get used to making death saves. So it's not just a matter of Being The Best now, it's a matter of You Must Be This Tall To Play This Game.

I think true, classic D&D exists within 4e. It's just a matter of playing with people who don't read the forums, who don't know the optimum build for class X in role Y, and who are not willing to give up their own authority over gameplay (DM's fiat, "cuz I said so", whatever) to a book.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 10:14 AM on April 27, 2009 [7 favorites]

(Also, Warhammer Fantasy is totally in the past compared to WH40K, just way, way back in the mythic age of Earth that exists time out of mind.)
posted by robocop is bleeding at 10:15 AM on April 27, 2009

drjimmy11, I'll see your bec de corbin and raise you a fauchard-fork.
posted by Mister_A at 10:15 AM on April 27, 2009

Well that's less fun.
posted by Artw at 10:16 AM on April 27, 2009

How so?
posted by robocop is bleeding at 10:17 AM on April 27, 2009

There was something sort of crazy and compelling about WHF being some backwater world cut off from the Imperium which just isn't there if it's just the past.
posted by Artw at 10:21 AM on April 27, 2009

drjimmy11, I'll see your bec de corbin and raise you a fauchard-fork.

I thought it ended with the the glaive guisarme, the glaive voulge, the guisarme voulge glaive, and the glaive glaive guisarme glaive.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 10:22 AM on April 27, 2009

What about bardiche? More like bar-douche, amirite?
posted by Mister_A at 10:25 AM on April 27, 2009

Oh, that. Yeah, the recent Horus Heresy books have detailed some of the past of the Imperium more. There's a dude running around who is as old/older than the Emperor (Abnett's Alpha Legion book) that implies Earth was once the setting of Fantasy battles until there was some sort of sundering type deal.

But who knows, it could be all donut shaped. I mean, I'm of the Emperor-was-making-a-stab-at-Godhood camp, so who knows what happens when/if he succeeds. I also think his creation of the Legions was an attempt to extract from himself his last vestiges of humanity. Each of the 20 encompasses some human failing that would impede his path to godhood.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 10:28 AM on April 27, 2009

I'm pretty certain that 40K used to be our future, not the WHF future - WHF doesn't even have the same solar system as us, whereas 40K defiantely does (foundries on mars and all that)

40Ks past seems to have had a lot of rejigging of late though - lots of ancient cosmic battles between alien space gods and the like, largely to support the Necron backstory.
posted by Artw at 10:32 AM on April 27, 2009

Me, I miss the smurf helmets.
posted by Artw at 10:32 AM on April 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

If I have to Lucerne Hammer you pole-arming motherfuckers, so be it.
posted by COBRA! at 10:33 AM on April 27, 2009

WTF, wikipedia doesn't even give the Slann their own entry. Fucking wiki-nazis.
posted by Artw at 10:35 AM on April 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

Heh. I actually like the addition of the Necrons and their backstory. It's like Lovecraft writing The Terminator. 40k seems to have taken a much bigger hand in shaping its own world than Fantasy. The latter is kind of saddled with Fantasy Trope Expectations, and while 40k has some of its own SciFi tropes (Borg knock-off? Check. Aliens knock-off? Check.), it has a lot of cool stuff of its own.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 10:36 AM on April 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

I stopped playing AD&D in the late 80s, and that WTF D&D link was hilarious. When I DM'd, there were a few things that always made a campaign more fun (mostly for me):

1. Roll dice at random intervals. You don't need a reason; the PCs will think you have one. Especially entertaining - rolling, looking at the dice with raised eyebrows, sighing and muttering "Hoo boy ..." Keeps the campaign ready for anything.

2. Try to have a significant portion of your campaign outdoors. Outdoors is where things such as temperature and weather conditions can be a PC's greatest opponent. Say, it looks like rain! Hope you can find some shelter for your chain mail.

3. The party decides to stop at an inn for the night. Instead of the usual drinking and debauch that normally occurs, why not include games of chance? Chances are, at least one member of the party with poor impulse control will be ready to make large wagers, perhaps going in over their heads, perhaps obliging them to fulfill a loan shark's mission, or prompting other members of the campaign to cover his wager.

4. On that note, why do PCs expect to get loaded at the inn and not have any damage done from the alcohol? Subtract for the hangover.

5. Try to divide the party now and then. Seeing how the theif and the cleric by themselves deal with certain situations when they don't have a fighter or magic user at their backs (and vice versa) can be very entertaining.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 11:07 AM on April 27, 2009 [3 favorites]

Well, the aliens knock-offs, who were pretty awesome in their own right (Space Hulk FTW) got absorbed into the tyranids, who are pretty awesome too. I love me some of that stuff. It's the Anime knock-off guys I hate on general principle. They seems to no longer be hogging the limelight the way they were at their inception - I guess GWs effort to appeal to "the kids" with them failed.

WHF I know less about, but in someways it's a little more interesting than beng just a collection of generic fantasy tropes - it's more technologically advanced than most for instance, being more renaissance than medieival, and it's got a nice germanic feel to it. I'm mainly going by the Kim Newman books here, and Gordon Rennies Zavant stories, so possibly it;s just those guys adding their own slant.
posted by Artw at 11:14 AM on April 27, 2009

Oh and Owlbears... see my very first comment I made on Mefi (it's been that long!)
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 11:19 AM on April 27, 2009

All weird D&D creatures are the results of experiments by mad wizards, who for some reason really dig on making half-owl half bear creatures and the like.

I made this half-monkey half-pony monster to please you
But I get the feeling you don't like it
What's with all the screaming?

posted by Foosnark at 11:33 AM on April 27, 2009 [2 favorites]

Actually, I've heard that the 'feywild' in the fourth edition is the shattered remnants of the dreams of the guy that they brought in from White Wolf for game design, and spent much of the time ignoring. And indeed, I haven't read 4e, but used a similar idea in the game I'm currently running: Whilst searching for the Wind (which has mysteriously disappeared), the party must wander into the faerie forest to seek the advice of the strange and ancient beings that live there, and in the process give me an excuse to make up completely ridiculous encounters for weeks on end.

I'm tending heavily towards the notion of running something white wolf-y for my next game, just to get away from the rules lawyering aspect. In particular, I love the magic system in Mage, in that it really makes the story much more a collaboration between the players and game master. I'm also really interested in the 'troupe style' play in Ars Magica (kind of a predecessor to Mage) which makes that collaboration very explicit.

Oh, and by the way, Ars Magica 4th Edition is available for free download from the publisher. If you want fancy new rules and color printing, you'll have to pay for 5th edition, but 4e is full of fantastic ideas.
posted by kaibutsu at 11:37 AM on April 27, 2009 [2 favorites]

Anyone ever read Nodwick?

It was the only D&D based comic I ever got into. If anyone knows any other good D&D comics they should post em.

Oh, and one of the best campaign I ever ran took place in a mageocracy. If you actually look through the spells in the player's handbook there's easily potential for a dictatorship beyond Orwell's wildest dreams. Let's just say the "thought police" took on a whole new meaning thanks to Detect Thoughts.
posted by Pseudology at 11:37 AM on April 27, 2009 [2 favorites]

The Feywild is the result of the game designers folding the positive energy plane into some varieties of infinite Prime Material planes, mirroring the change of the negative energy plane into Shadowfell. These are the parts deemed "too bright" and "too dark" to be in the prime material — not necessarily too good or too evil. It's not a one-to-one match.

The Feywild is part of the reductionist strategy of 4e. Remember that multitude of planes in all of the previous editions? They've collapsed down to just a few, just as the number of languages in 4e is down to about ten. All of the elemental planes (and the admittedly hard-to-swallow para-elemental and quasi-elemental planes) have dissolved into the Elemental Chaos. Similarly, as the alignments have collapsed into something that is a rough diagonal rather than a two-axis system, so the alignment planes have also been reduced. Gods now live in cities in the Astral Sea, of all things.

4e has been boiled down, the flavor removed, and favors the min-max munchkin player.
posted by adipocere at 11:39 AM on April 27, 2009 [2 favorites]

1. Roll dice at random intervals. You don't need a reason; the PCs will think you have one. Especially entertaining - rolling, looking at the dice with raised eyebrows, sighing and muttering "Hoo boy ..." Keeps the campaign ready for anything.

I spent yesterday afternoon doing exactly that, and it's awesome fun. "Keep 'em unsettled," that's my DMing motto.

I'll be stealing your points 2-5 shortly.
posted by COBRA! at 11:40 AM on April 27, 2009

The whole alignment thing is especially bullshitty. It's basically good, evil, moar good and moar evil. They might as well just dump the fucking thing.
posted by Artw at 11:47 AM on April 27, 2009

Marisa Stole the Precious Thing : 1. Roll dice at random intervals. You don't need a reason; the PCs will think you have one. Especially entertaining - rolling, looking at the dice with raised eyebrows, sighing and muttering "Hoo boy ..." Keeps the campaign ready for anything.

Oh god yeah, every game I've ever judged, from D&D to Vampire had some of this. Usually I'd wait till a character did something mundane; "I put my helmet on the bar and greet the tavern-keeper" where I suddenly roll the dice and start muttering to myself as I scribble notes. Kept the players nice and paranoid.

I also had a spoiler character that I introduced early. Somebody so vastly more powerful than any of the player characters that there was absolutely no chance of them ever being able to beat him. Then, if the characters got too out of hand, I could send in a pre-established ass kicking;

Player "Yeah, I steal all the gold and burn down all the villagers houses"

Me "Uh, you are lawful good. And these villagers just saved your lives..."

Player "So what! my character has a concussion and I'm not thinking clearly, besides it'll be funny..."

Me "... Ok, so as you've lit the fires, by the way, remember when you rode into town there was that that totem tied to the tree? Good. Now... do you remember when you saw that demi-god chiseling down that mountain the other day? These are his followers and he is very protective.

Player "..."

Me "So, you feel a cold wind, and hear a voice that asks 'You like fire? Good. I have some wonderful games we can play..."

Damn. Now I wanna judge an adventure again.
posted by quin at 11:55 AM on April 27, 2009 [2 favorites]

Ladies and gentlemen I've traveled over half of the world of Greyhawk to be here tonight. I couldn't get away sooner because my new dungeon crawl was coming in at the Caves of Chaos and I had to see about it. That dungeon is now flowing at two thousand gold pieces and it's paying me an income of five thousand electrum a week. I have two NPCs working and I have sixteen henchmen producing at the Keep on the Borderlands. So... ladies and gentlemen if I say I'm an AD&D man you will agree.

Out of all men that beg for a chance to prowl your dungeon, maybe one in twenty *rolls dice* will be AD&D men; the rest will be rules lawyers - that's men trying to get between you and the drama of the game to get some of the enjoyment that ought by rights come to you. Even if you find one that has secondary skills, and means to crawl, he'll maybe know nothing about playing and he'll have to learn from a power gamer, and then you're depending on a gamer who'll play the game through so he can get more magic items and level up just as quick as he can. That is the way that this works.

I own my own bec de corbins and the henchmen that work for me work for me; I have an 18 charisma. I make it my business to be there and to see their work. I don’t lose my party in the hole and spend months fishing for the exit. I don’t botch the checking for traps or get into trouble with the thieves guild and ruin the whole adventure.

I can load a iron rations onto mules and my henchmen them here in two weeks. I have mage guild connections so I can get the spells for opening -- such things go by friendship in a rush like this. Any sufficiently popular and complex hobby, game or sport will quickly develop its own cant, a mode of discourse that by its nature includes insiders and excludes others. And this is why I can guarantee to start dungeon crawling and to put up the gold pieces to back my word. I assure you ladies and gentlemen, no matter what the others promise to do, when it comes to the showdown, they won’t have the dice.
posted by Smedleyman at 11:56 AM on April 27, 2009 [10 favorites]

*Partisan-izes COBRA!*
posted by Mister_A at 12:16 PM on April 27, 2009

"4e has been boiled down, the flavor removed, and favors the min-max munchkin player."
When we played if you weren't well rounded, you would die.
'So you're a master swordsman, you've spent your life training in swordsmanship, you're hyperspecialized and you can do supreme damage with a sword. Ok. Now you're in the woods, it's cold, and you're wet. ....the swordmasters teach you how to make fire?'
On top of that - hunting skills, knowledge of construction (from mining to wood), how to exchange coin ( copper isn't worth 20 gold?), and a million other little things can really cut down that overspecialization.
'Hey, you're an expert bow shooter. Ok, so you can kill a deer. But that's not hunting really. So you expertly take down some game. Hack away some muscle and cook it. Know how to cook so you don't get disease from undercooked meat? Know how to spot parasites?' Etc. etc.

Logistics and social interaction should be big parts of the game (although some - some - gamers don't like social interaction - which is why they're gamers). Otherwise it's just a dice game.
posted by Smedleyman at 12:33 PM on April 27, 2009

I thought it ended with the the glaive guisarme, the glaive voulge, the guisarme voulge glaive, and the glaive glaive guisarme glaive.

I think you're drifting into another sketch, sir.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 1:40 PM on April 27, 2009

About fourth edition...yeah. A bunch of us are playing games that are near re-releases of older editions. There's Swords and Wizardry, for original D&D; Labyrinth Lord (my own game of choice) and Basic Fantasy RPG for Basic/Expert, and OSRIC for first edition AD&D. They don't have that baroque Gygaxian prose exactly, but they're good for when you need to cut the BS and get down to some good old-school gaming. I also have to plug Fight On! because they publish my stuff.

As for the really weird WTF creatures: it's easy to forget that D&D was not a game played by ultra-serious people. Jim Ward, who was responsible for Metamorphosis Alpha and Gamma World, was a player in Gygax's Lake Geneva games. Weird, outlandish and humorous creations were a part and parcel of the milieu in which the game took root. People who expect it to be totally coherent and serious and never take the piss are, to some extent, missing the point.
posted by graymouser at 2:11 PM on April 27, 2009 [2 favorites]

1. Roll dice at random intervals. You don't need a reason; the PCs will think you have one. Especially entertaining - rolling, looking at the dice with raised eyebrows, sighing and muttering "Hoo boy ..." Keeps the campaign ready for anything.

Shortly before my game this past Saturday, I found my old dice, including some that had been made for the old Middle-Earth: the Wizards game. These are six-sided dice, red, with black pips – except for the 1, which is the eye of Sauron. So that was pretty much my "stuff happens" die, whereas a plain Bicycle six-sider remains my "PC sees / hears stuff" die. Because, you see, the rules of old school D&D are such that you're basically supposed to be rolling a few d6 per turn, just to see if the PCs hear anything, notice any secret doors, or wandering monsters appear. Gives me a great reason to always be noting the roll on my dice.
posted by graymouser at 2:16 PM on April 27, 2009

one of the best campaign I ever ran took place in a mageocracy

I was gonna go all Ars Magica on your ass, and then saw it referenced in the very comment above. So much for reading threads backward. Great game. Can't be played with min/max'rs, however, which is both a curse and a wonderful, wonderful blessing.

The whole min/max thing certainly didn't start with MMORGs (though I caught the "build" references in that forum thread -- eesh). I think the overt manipulation really came into its own during the collectible card phase (at least in terms of what a given rule "is" rather than what the DM says it is), but min/maxing easily goes back to weapon specialization, which I tend to peg as the root of this particular evil.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 2:43 PM on April 27, 2009

I was most amused by the Tomb of Horrors WTF D&D

Back in the day I attempted it on my own playing one each of the main character types, swapping a Paladin for the fighter to give me half a chance, with my mate DMing.

It basically went...

1 party walks into new room/ten feet down corridor/ten feet across room
2 does something innocuous/does nothing at all
3 half the party gets killed
4 heal party
5 wait to relearn spells
6 goto 1

After we both rapidly got bored of this we just read the rest of it together, laughing at how ridiculous it was.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 2:49 PM on April 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

Vance. Yeah. I read The Dying Earth years after my regular D&D campaign had broken up, and I was astounded by how much of D&D's magic was lifted from Vance. All of the weird words, the way the system worked, the rhythms of the names of the spells, even weird rare treasures like ioun stones* came straight from those stories.

You could also probably steal the setup of the book for a decent campaign: PC tries to steal some stuff off a high-level wizard, wizard rolls his eyes and teleports him halfway around the world. PC vows vengeance (despite being in the wrong) and lies, cheats, steals, and 'adventures' his way across the world... only to have the wizard roll his eyes, go "You again?" and teleport him around the world again. Repeat until you decide the campaign is over, at which point you let the PC kill the poor wizard in an unlikely bit of cunning and trickery.

* Vance spelt that one "IOUN", all in caps.
posted by egypturnash at 3:01 PM on April 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

You guys who are talking about GMs seceding control to rules and rule glitches should play Paranoia GMs are all-powerful in that game. (Actually, they should be in any game, but they have forgotten their former godhood.)

egypturnash, I read the Dying Earth books a few months back. (And liked them.) Interestingly, IOUN stones have completely different properties in the books, where they're actually fairly unexplained.
posted by JHarris at 4:05 PM on April 27, 2009

Have to fly the 4th ed flag, here - in my view it's actually much less minmaxy that 3rd edition.

3rd edition was sort of a fantasy world simulator that worked much better in theory than practice. With the 4th ed changes, D&D is now an excellent tactical combat game with a streamlined world simulation engine tied to it.

Combat in 4th edition is hilarious and insane to both play and DM, and the rest of the game mechanics have been pared down in a way that's initially shocking but actually works perfectly well (with a little judicious modification).

Overall, they've endeavoured to strip out most things that don't lead to the primal geeky fun inherent in killing imaginary beasties and taking their stuff. In my view they've succeeded pretty well. It's still fun to minmax, but the fun is in no way dependent on it, as you'll be perfectly adequate if you just pick abilities on 'feel' or even at random.

Slightly befuddled that this - this! - is what's led me to drop the five spot. To add some substance to me first post, here's a neat riff on a possible 4th ed setting, and here's an AAR from a guy playing with his six year old son.
posted by Sebmojo at 4:11 PM on April 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

pseudology: I have a couple of friends who love Nodwick. I wonder if it's going to survive without a physical Dragon Magazine to see print in.
posted by JHarris at 4:11 PM on April 27, 2009

Hey JHarris, checked out the new release of Paranoia? Know if it's any good?
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 4:28 PM on April 27, 2009

sebmojo's last link is great:
"Sweetheart, this is just a village. You probably won't have to fight here, and if we do then I'll make up a map on the spot."

"No. I need to know now. It could be a monster village, daddy. You. Never. Know."
posted by kaibutsu at 4:31 PM on April 27, 2009

Durn Bronzefish: It (Paranoia XP) is excellent. I don't blame you for being suspicious, after the greatness of 2nd edition I went and bought, sight-unseen, "5th edition," and had one of the most grievous letdowns of my life. West End Games deserved to die after publishing that one.

Something Awful is getting steadily worse over time. There are funny things in the Monster Manuals, yes, but their house tone of explicating everything as if they were Morning Zoo radio hosts is getting on my nerves. And interestingly, there is an edition of D&D where they took out many of the weirdnesses of the early game, and strove to give the monsters ecological justifications. It was called 2nd Edition, and reading those books nearly drove me away from D&D. A lot more realistic perhaps, but I wasn't interested in a fantasy adventure game for realism.
posted by JHarris at 4:54 PM on April 27, 2009

Oh, and welcome, Sebmojo!
posted by JHarris at 4:55 PM on April 27, 2009

Kaibutsu: He did all the way to Irontooth, and they're a really fantastic story.

Let's see... Ah, here we go. Next session. And the next.

Also: pictures!
posted by Sebmojo at 5:25 PM on April 27, 2009 [2 favorites]

Overall, they've endeavoured to strip out most things that don't lead to the primal geeky fun inherent in killing imaginary beasties and taking their stuff.

No. This is not the source of the fun. In classic D&D, combat was one aspect of a system that contained traps, cursed magic items, and devious hidden things besides, all things that have been severely neutered in more recent versions of the game. The original purpose of thieves was as a "utility" class, whose strengths, other than backstabbing, resided primarily outside of combat.

The more I read about all the editions, the more I see that the OD&D/1E approach was probably the best, maybe with a bit of the 3E rule streamlining thrown in. But I've already spilt a lot of words over this in other threads.

However, if you and your son are having a blast with 4E, then don't let me in any way invalidate that with my grousing about new-fangled editions. Rock on.
posted by JHarris at 5:44 PM on April 27, 2009

I think you misread me - but let's just agree to disagree :)

The biggest issue with 4e that I can see is that combat is so much fun it's easy for players to ignore other options. The corollary to that is that it's up to the DM to recognise the imbalance and provide lots on interesting non-combat things for the players to do.

In OD&D (etc) combat was so basic and deadly that the onus was on the player to find imaginative ways around problems. In 4e the prospect of another exciting tactical murderfest tends to send my players into a bloodfrenzy, so I've started to take that into account in planning my games.
posted by Sebmojo at 6:46 PM on April 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

Sweet. Thanks for the review, JH.

In OD&D (etc) combat was so basic and deadly

For reals? We tended to think of "The Robin Hood scenario" as the epitome of why 1st ed kinda missed the boat. I mean, the guy had to be at least 7th level. He'd laugh at the sherrif's men, even with a whack of 1d4-dealing crossbows aimed at him.

Now, playing D&D with the Top Secret combat system swapped in, otoh...
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 7:46 PM on April 27, 2009

If I have to Lucerne Hammer you pole-arming motherfuckers, so be it.

Really? No off-color jokes about the man catcher?

Anyone ever read Nodwick?

It was the only D&D based comic I ever got into. If anyone knows any other good D&D comics they should post em.

I'm a fan of The Order of The Stick. There's a bit of breaking the fourth wall, but some of the observations it makes about the game are clever, and there's even real meat to the story once it gets going. I also have a soft spot for "Zogonia," but I can't find a functioning page to link to, so ... oh well.

4e has been boiled down, the flavor removed, and favors the min-max munchkin player.

This. Maybe 4th ed is better balanced or more tactical, both things I've heard in defense of the new rules. Good for them: for the audience they seem to be looking for, it would need to be. But there's been that loss in both flavor and complexity; sure, maybe it's arbitrary, but the Vancian system gave the game personality.

I'm a big proponent of 3.x edition (it feels like 1st edition, without all the cumbersome bits like THACO), so in my opinion, the definitive version of modern D&D is the Pathfinder stuff from Paizo. The rules "beta" is even a free download, much like Wizard's core 3.5 rules still are.

The whole alignment thing is especially bullshitty. It's basically good, evil, moar good and moar evil. They might as well just dump the fucking thing.

Oh, I don't know -- I rather like the Moorcockian flavor of the nine-point alignment system, and it helps keep everybody honest when it comes down to whether Sir Pureheart is good enough to wield the Holy Sword of Niceness, or whether his penchant for burning heretics alive might be a bit of a problem to the forces of Good. It's not to say there can't be complexity to alignment, just that as far as the mystic forces of the universe are concerned, there's a point where they'll say, "Yeah, you, Dark Wizard of Nur: it's nice that you call your mother on weekends, but you also killed every gnome in a thousand mile radius, so if were thinking about setting foot in the sanctified sepulcher of Saint Sebas, it's probably not going to go too well for you. Sorry."
posted by Amanojaku at 10:08 PM on April 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

Also: I feel I should mention that I tabbed out of playing World of Warcraft to post that. I'd like to think that means something (other than a high probability that I was a virgin for a very long time).
posted by Amanojaku at 10:13 PM on April 27, 2009

Since my last comment, I've read more of Sebmojo's reports of adventures with his son. They keep getting more awesome!

I may have a severe grudge against 4E, but it obviously is getting you two there. Maybe I should introduce my RPing friends to the benefits of using minifigs for miniatures....
posted by JHarris at 11:45 PM on April 27, 2009

JHarris, it's not me! Though he's a great writer so thanks for the compliment... I've just been DMing an irregular 4e game (of the Keep on the Shadowfell module, modded to hell as it's a bit rubbish) with my old RPG buddies, along with our weekly 3e game. The comparison has been ... interesting. Two of the four were skeptics, but they've both been (I think) pretty much won over.

I sort of admire the WOTC peeps - they slaughtered a metric fuckload of sacred cows, made useful implements and handicrafts from the bones then had a fine old cookout. Takes balls. But I think they were right to do that rather than just make D&D 3.79 or whatever.
posted by Sebmojo at 2:20 AM on April 28, 2009

Amanojaku - Order of the Stick is phenomenal. Rich Burlew, the author, actually makes sense of alignments too. I envy anyone who's starting on that series - it's an incredible ride.

As to munchkinism - 4e chops off the top and bottom of the power curve. You're much more durable to start off, (as are your enemies) and you gain power much more slowly. There are very few 'save or dies', surpassingly powerful magic items or world altering spells, except as out of combat rituals. Spell casters are less powerful and versatile, non-spellcasters are more so.

I agree this might seem a little bland but it really doesn't play that way.
posted by Sebmojo at 2:34 AM on April 28, 2009

Those accounts of play with D are pretty awesome. Of course, in standard Gamer style, the comments following each account devolve into rule quibbles.

Also, anyone know a good source for bulk minifigs? It shouldn't be too hard to bring my Warhammer painting skills over to minifig conversion for hopeful summer D&D.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 5:01 AM on April 28, 2009

Ah, sorry about the confusion as to the author of the links, heh.

I'm still wary of 4E, and I don't think I can be won over to it on the presentation of anecdotal evidence alone. Reading around the internet, it seems people's willingness to accept 4E is directly related to the degree they remember/have read about D&D's origins. It's not that 4E is a bad game by any means, it's just not Dungeons & Dragons. Throwing out sacred cows would have gone a lot better if they hadn't ended the 3E line, which I thought was fine even with the occasional deafening MOO caroming off the walls. Some of the cows they threw out were strange choices, too: was it necessary that they kill off Vancian magic? The full alignment system? Did they have to divide elves into Vanilla and Fudge Royale Tutti-Frutti? They could have had all that tactical combat goodness without needlessly distancing the game from its origins.

(Also, though this is a bit off the subject, the license attacked to 4E is a masterpiece of lawyer evil.)
posted by JHarris at 1:05 PM on April 28, 2009

was it necessary that they kill off Vancian magic?

I know this is just one guy's opinion but: motherofgodyes.

Not familiar with 4E, though. Perhaps the cure was worse than the disease.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 1:24 PM on April 28, 2009

(also: lawful evil, I hope. What would chaotic evil licensing schemes look like? Creative commons-licensed Monsanto terminator genes?)
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 1:27 PM on April 28, 2009

Well, you could argue that they just spread the Vancian love around all the classes - what are daily powers, if not Vancian spells?

As to the historical thing... hmm. I've been doing this since 1st ed. I agree some of the kooky flavour is gone, but in my experience that was more fun to read about than to actually play.

But I respect your unease. It's definitely a huge change, and I'm glad Pathfinder and Castles and Crusades and the pdfs of the original booklets (not to mention 3e itself) are still around for people to play if they want.
posted by Sebmojo at 2:54 PM on April 28, 2009

I rather like the Moorcockian flavor of the nine-point alignment system

...well that's what's gone.
posted by Artw at 3:06 PM on April 28, 2009

Durn Bronzefist:
I did mean lawyer evil. 3E had the "Open Game License," or OGL, which was surprisingly cool. An argument could be made that it was a big reason that 3E took off. A lot of adventure publishers were standoffish about supporting the game after TSR's legal efforts to stamp out add-on products in the 2E days. All kinds of OGL-licensed d20 stuff was published, and continues to be published.

4E has the GSL, or "Game System License," a deceptively generic-sounding document that explicitly stated that people couldn't use both it and the OGL. The later license invalidated the previous one for those who used it, meaning one couldn't go back and make OGL content after publishing GSL stuff. I hope I don't have to go and make a tortured analogy to explain why this is bad.

However, I notice that my info may be outdated on this. Going over to the Pede to check on things, it notes that Hasbro updated the language in the GSL near the beginning of March, so this might not be true anymore. I haven't seen the text of the new license yet.

On Vancian magic... it's a weird thing. I didn't feel so strongly about Vancian magic until reading Dying Earth, and about D&D's other pulp fantasy influences. The more I do, the less that classic D&D looks like Generic Fantasy Role-Playing Game and the more it looks like Pulp Fantasy Role-Playing Game. Gary Gygax obviously loaded stuff from all his favorite books into his game, and viewed as a statement the designer made in creating his game, I think it's shameful to lose it.

But Vancian magic doesn't really provide a lot of flavor to the game system unless you use it like Vance did, and most players these days haven't read Vance. And mind you, I also seem to remember Gary Gygax (or maybe just someone writing in Dragon) using a different justification for going with Vancian magic rather than magic points, that it helped cut down on math, which I think is a transparently bogus rationale.

In any event, the new system isn't Vancian in any way. The term means a system in which characters memorize up to a certain limit of spells that are lost from memory when used. In classic D&D, it requires that players make a judgement about the spells they think they'll need, and I think that's what's lost in the new system. (I do think that adventure writers didn't use the system well. For a player to be able to make a decision about which spells they'll need, they'll need to have gotten some hint about it ahead of time, so that, say, they'll know to have Slow Poison handy when they face the giant spider.)

Vancian magic, admittedly, was dealt a blow when 3E introduced sorcerers, a class that could just cast spells instead of memorizing them.
posted by JHarris at 2:17 AM on April 29, 2009

The decision about picking spells (abilities) still happens in 4e, as does the decision as to when those spells/abilities/resources are used. In fact, those decisions are now spread around all the classes rather than limited to the casters.

It's pretty obvious that I like 4e for what it is - a game about a bunch of adventurers going into places, kicking butt, and taking stuff. That's a pretty core concept to oD&D and it was kind of neat that they decided to go "old school" and embrace it. WotC identified a core fanbase that wanted to kick butt and built a game based on that. The claims of a tabletop MMORPG are not that far off.

But at the same time, WotC managed to alienate another large core fanbase, people who are more into the genre and storytelling than just kicking kobold butt and taking their stuff. In their effort to make a core engine that drives the game, they seemed to forget about what the hell the car looks like. With 3x, at least, they had the OGL there so people could plop down whatever car body they wanted around the game engine, but now, not so much.

What's missing? First off, A Big Book of Rituals. WotC chopped out most of the wacky, fantastic spells in favor of utility spells. The reasoning behind that is that, I guess, when Mizard the Wizard heads off to the dungeon to plunder, he's only going to bring the useful to combat spells, not the weird walking hut spells. That makes sense for the core of the game, but it's really a missed opportunity. Same thing with magic items - where's the Deck of Many Things? The infamous Girdle of of Femininity/Masculinity? Universal Solvent? Portable Holes?

There are spells and items that really capture the flavor of D&D and by reducing them to stat bonus and actions, WotC left out a huge part of the game. Sure, it is pretty easy for a DM to add this stuff back in, but by leaving them out in the first place, the designers are pretty much saying "this game isn't for you" to certain players which isn't the best tack to take. They could have come out with a Big Book of Rituals and a Big Book of Wondrous Items, but that stuff would be divorced from the core mechanics and would likely lead to cries of gouging. Why pay 30 bucks for something you can just make up?

So what can WotC do? Pretty much what they have been doing - keep their head down and churn our mechanically relevant material. Thus we see Martial Power and Arcane Power (and will see, I assume, Divine Power, Psychic Power, Ki Power, Elemental Power, and so on) and new races. A free resource (or free to Insider subscribers) that details rules for creating new rituals and wondrous items would be pretty nifty.

What it really comes down to is what the fans and players do. What we now think of as D&D was built on a less resilient frame than 4e and it turned out all right. But with the inspiration that drives players coming more from video games and MMORPGs and less from Vance or Moorcock or even Tolkien, leading to the ceding of authority/imagination to the Official Published Books(tm), the hopes for wonderment are dwindling. The best thing that can happen is for new/old players who want that fantastic element to come back to 4e and start playing, developing, and imagining a future for it. House rule up some mechanics, don't take no guff from Internet Rules Lawyer Guy, and start rolling some damn dice. Allow rituals to be prepped ahead of time? Sure. Let Bardo the Bard gain the service of a 4th level fighter thanks to a lucky draw? No problem. One of those house rules get out of hand? Then change it.

And if anyone in the Salem, MA area needs a Warlord, drop me a line.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 5:39 AM on April 29, 2009 [2 favorites]

Robocop is bleeding, very well said.

I really love the ritual idea - it is also a mainstay of fantasy literature, and offers enormous flexibility for the DM to fashion cunning McGuffins from purest Storytonium.

Adventurers Vault is the list of magic items you were talking about - it's not too bad for wacky wondrous items, though it does lean a little towards the tactical.

Something that hasn't been mentioned is how easy 4e is to prep as a DM - you can imagine an exciting fight in your head, flip through the Monster Manual and pick some likely sword fodder, reskin a couple of powers from other monsters and make up some neat terrain and you've got an exciting, challenging and balanced encounter.
posted by Sebmojo at 6:02 PM on April 29, 2009

That is one thing I guess I can agree that 4E does pretty well, it makes it a lot easier to balance an encounter.

One of the ideas that's been going around the grognard boards and blogs, something I think there just may be something to, is that OD&D's incompleteness was actually something of a strength. People had to come up with their own ways to fill in the gaps in the text, and the result was that people felt a unique ownership of their games. It also resulted in D&D (again, according to these blogs) picking up something like a regional flavor, with different areas of the country having come up with their own ideas of how the unexplained parts of the game should be run. When supplements and later editions spelled that stuff out, some players were disappointed, and some of those went and published their own versions of the rules, becoming some of D&D's first RPG competitors.

Not that I think that approach could really work now.
posted by JHarris at 1:44 AM on April 30, 2009

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