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 preference...as 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.