Friday, October 29, 2010

Some Quick Philosophy Before the Blood-Spilling

I'll write about last night's...quite satisfying...Thursday night game a little later. Characters died and everyone seemed happy (apparently, these guys have signed up to be killed and were a bit disappointed I hadn't been "doing my job")...more on all that in a bit.

Yesterday, I asked what folks thought of the longevity of the 4th edition game. Thanks to everyone for the feedback on the question. Rather than reply to individual comments, I decided to write a short (I hope!) follow-up post.

Several people came down on the side of 4E having just as much staying power as anything created and published by TSR in the 70s and 80s, and there was at least one suggestions that 4E has been designed as it has from necessity...necessity of competing with video games, both the CRPG and MMORPG variety. The thought seems (to me) to be that 20 years from now, people who started playing D&D with 4th edition will pull it out from nostalgia and play the game, remembering "the good times of their youth" and perhaps wanting to introduce it to their kids as we (the current bag of grognards) are doing with our own Old School games.

Um...folks? I'm not playing B/X D&D for "nostalgia."

Let me say again that I think of RPGs as MORE than just entertainment. Yes, they are games; yes, they are entertaining...but RPGs do more than any other game you can buy in the store, including so-called computer "RPGs." MMOs and CRPGs ARE entertainment...table-top role-playing games are fucking muscle-building for your brain and imagination.

Visualization, logic and reasoning, constructive and critical thought, creative design, expression, and exploration...this isn't present in a video game. A video game is an interactive television game involving problem solving within a fixed environment with fixed parameters. Most table-top board games are the same, just without the pretty moving pictures on your screen...though at least with table-top board games you (usually) have human interaction and community building (i.e. learning social contract and how to be "nice to your neighbors").

It may not seem like it, but I'm not just gaming on Thursday nights because I don't have the money or inclination to get Mass Effect 2 for the XBox 360.

And I'm NOT just playing B/X D&D because I can't "do the math" or abide the crunchiness of the later edition rules. It's not "nostalgia" that brings me to B/X D&D...if I neglected to mention it before, I spent the vast majority of my "gaming youth" playing 1st edition AD&D, NOT B/X (we rolled each hard cover into our game as soon as it was acquired, and were pretty much exclusive AD&D from 1984 or '84 till...well, until 3rd edition in 2000 (when I made the occasional foray back into D&D in the '90s, we always used 1st edition rules, never 2nd edition). Any nostalgia I have surrounding Dungeons & Dragons is with regard to AD&D, NOT B/X. The only memories of my youth as a player is in playing BARDS for God's sakes! There is no bard in B/X!

Last night, Matthew ("Cod Sandwich") and I were having a discussion of the rules, away from the table, because of the ambiguity in some of them. I don't remember the specific rule...maybe we were talking about how much of a body was necessary for Raise Dead. The text in the book is fairly unclear and while my ruling on the issue "made sense" to Matt, he asked what would prevent someone from ruling that you could raise just a severed head...or a limb...or multiple body parts.

"Nothing really." But I explained that the point of the game is NOT how best to "game the game." I mean you can play D&D (or any real RPG) with a mind to that kind of play, but in the end that's not what it's about.

The rules are present to AID you in the point of play...which is to explore and interact with a fantasy world you can't really do in real life. Whether that fantasy world has elves and dwarves, or is the Old West or another galaxy Far, Far Away makes no nevermind. The rules are designed to facilitate play, and if they get in the way of that play, if they hinder the imaginative process, then they're probably not doing the job. If they are constrictive to the point that your table-top game is a video game without the "video," then you're not exploring the real potential of what table-top RPGs are all about.

The guy who commented that 4E would be better AFTER WotC/Hasbro withdraws its support "because then people can get away from the official line and have freedom to institute their own house rules"...he may be grokking my vibe a bit. If rules are constrictive, if the game is about "working the system," well...then (in my opinion) you're kind of missing the point. Cool system mechanics aren't what the game is about. System mechanics are to facilitate play, not to show "hey look at the neat things we can do with dice and text!" If the search & handling time gets in the way of play (whether that S&H is flipping pages or poking at your IPad) then why not move to a game that better facilitates play?

Of course, this may all be just my personal my Baranof players can attest, I tend to run things a little "fast & loose" at the table. But I think, even though the current game is only a "funhouse" type adventure, that the players are finding what's going on to be a different animal from the usual step-and-fetch World of Warcraft fare...or, to put it in 4E terms, "step-and-kill."

SO...that's it. I'm not saying 4E won't have longevity. But will it still be relevant in the future? I get nostalgic for the Bards Tale video game of the early 1980s, and would love to download a workable copy to my Mac, but there sure are a lot of slicker vids out there if you want that kind of action. There's nothing like an Old School RPG. There's nothing that can do what the human mind can do with a few short rules texts and a handful of dice.

And I like exploring the limits of the mind and imagination. That's why I intend to keep playing this "D&D crap" until the day I die.
: )


  1. Agreed.. my motivation for using OD&D, Whitebox, Labyrinth Lord, Moldvay, etc. isn't nostalgia. My motivation is that I feel they are better game systems than 4e. Or 2e, for that matter.

  2. Great post. The greatest epiphany I've had recently is that I NEVER ACTUALLY PLAYED 1e or 2e or any actual edition in the past. I don't know whether it was laziness or excitement or my tendency to tinker. Each book, each edition was a menu that I picked stuff off of and cobbled together into some Frankensystem. Everything was houseruled and everything was simplified. Why? Cuz I wanted to PLAY I didn't want to memorize the rule book and I didn't want to be hassled by rules lawyers. :) I'm with you, JB. Any rule that gets in the way of the play is a bad and useless rule.

  3. I'm on board with the rules-light approach. The one thing I AM missing in this B/X game, though, is the spell options. Especially on the cleric list, there are just huge chunks of what I consider "core" spells that just ain't there. The MU list is a little better (12 per level, as opposed to 8) but it's still missing a lot.

    All that makes sense when viewing B/X as some sort of starter set, but when you're coming at it from the other direction like this, it seems like you'd want to fill out some of those options.

  4. @Iron Goat, yup, big time. I'm playing Alster the cleric in Jonathan's game and I've discovered that the BX cleric spell list is very odd. Like there's Snake Charm (which is not a figurative title, it literally just charms snakes) but not Dispel Magic. Create Food is (I shit you not) a 5th level spell.

    Labyrinth Lord has a nicely fleshed out list but it's not allowed.

  5. @ Fumers and Iron Goat:

    Now, now, guys...this is something we can talk about at the table if you want (and something we will certainly discuss prior to starting a new campaign). A couple things to consider:

    1) Your vision of a cleric may be colored by what the class has become more recently. I see the character class as a holy (if crazed) individual...a champion of their deity...a paladin even. You wear armor, you use weapons, you take the battle to the infidel. As a reward for your piety, your deity grants you some boons: actual miracles. But your role is not one of "spell support." flamestrike, Luke.

    On the other hand, Heron with his 8 strength and +2 mace did more damage in melee than Brian the Halfling with his 8 strength and +1 sword. Something to consider...

    2) As I pointed out at the beginning, we are running B/X not Labyrinth Lord (whose spell charts are a little too "AD&Dish" for my taste; i.e. "specific to Gary's campaign"). However, I could certainly be swayed to using my own Companion supplement which does flesh out spells a little bit (including Dispel Magic for clerics at 4th level). If you'd like, I can bring an extra copy to next week's game for you folks to use...?
    ; )

  6. Absolutely, you should use your Companion rules! What's the fun of writing it if you don't get to use it at the table? It's not like any of us are edition purists or anything.

    Just to be clear, this being the internet and all, I don't think anyone is whining that they have to have X or Y. Stick to your guns, by all means. But if you want to allow for more options, I'm certainly happy to take them.

  7. Gentlemen,
    May I introduce you to page X51 "Spell Research".
    You're welcome ;)

  8. @ Pat: Dammit man! You stole my thunder! I completely intended to mention that myself! I knew there was third point I wanted to make!

    And what Mr.Armstrong says is right on the money...B/X provides player characters (not just DMs) with the tools you need to "flesh out" your spell book (or prayer book) in the form of spell research. Something to put that hard earned gold into (while waiting for Sweet Tito to recover from his latest bout with death).
    : )

  9. Your insight on why and how you approach the game is always a pleasure to read.

    Rules are meant to be bent/broken in a table-top game anyways (i.e. feats, class powers), and I've always tried to keep a game moving and wing a situation, rather than thumb through a book. My first exposure to the game was very different, with lengthy arguments over whether or not a centaur can plow through a room of wall-to-wall gibberlings.