Tuesday, August 9, 2011


I've mentioned before that long before I got back into D&D, I spent a lot of time swimming the waters of the indie-gaming scene, especially with regard to thoughtful design theory. In fact, it's the kind of thing one really can't "turn off" once you've started doing it...you just end up getting a much more narrow (dare I say, "elitist") perspective on this RPG hobby.

For example, I look at D&D through the same design lens with which I view any new game I pick up, purchase, or play. The reason I'm so hip on the B/X Dungeons & Dragons is that I find this particular edition to be an incredibly excellent game. No, it does not do some of the things indie games do, but it does everything D&D does (at least, everything I want it to do) very well. Like 9 stars out of 10 for me.

This is why, after playing it nearly non-stop for nearly a year (more?) and trying various house rules and tinkerings, my current game is almost completely "straight B/X." The only deviations from the original Red & Blue books?

- Clerics don't have to memorize spells in the morning (cast on demand)
- Thief skills (and dwarf, halfling abilities) automatically work, no roll

That's it. My "weapon variations?" Dropped. Firearms? Phased out. Magic-user studies/spell learning? Exactly as written. New classes? Well, we still have one guy playing a "scout," but for the most part he works just like any other character...I mean, it's such a basic concept you can't really distinguish him from a leather clad fighter (one that can read tracks).

Anyway, it's a great game, something I don't need to harp on (again) to my readers, I'm sure. But what about that whole indie community with which I used to spend so much time prior to (allegedly) joining the OSR?

The last few days I've been buzzing around those sites again, mainly The Forge (which has gotten considerably more streamlined in the last year...yow!). I just wanted to see what I was missing, you know? If anything.

What I found in the "Actual Play" forum (the place I used to go to learn about and read about and get excited about new indie games) is: 4th Edition D&D.

What the F*CK?

Certainly, it's not ALL 4E, but enough of it...5 posts on the first page, 10 on the 2nd, with pages and pages of discussion thread. To me, this is so...gross. I mean, it's like going to your neighborhood farmer's market and seeing a Walmart has set up a stand. If you read the "about" page of The Forge you'll find the following:
This site is dedicated to the promotion, creation, and review of independent role-playing games. What is an independent role-playing game? Our main criterion is that the game is owned by its author, or creator-owned.
Hmm...it's strange enough to see ANY discussion of D&D on the site (not that it's not a touch-stone subject for most of us who "grew up in the hobby;" but so much of the indie-theory is about alternate approaches to game design). But isn't Hasbro's latest-greatest kind of the antithesis of independent, creator-owned games? Aren't these the folks that killed (or cut the legs off) the OGL, making their product even more faceless and corporate and soulless than it already was?

I guess I've become an elitist's elitist. Man, I am such a jerk!

I can't even bring myself to engage in these on-line discussions. Ideas and questions about how to tinker with 4E and "make it better" just makes me want to ask, "why the hell even bother?" But even that is a losing discussion...I mean, why would I want to waste time - any amount of time - discussing how to "tinker" 4E on a site that purports to be devoted to the promotion and creation of indie RPGs?

I mean, what could such a discussion possibly be in aid of?

Sorry for yet another mini-rant. I guess I've just been in a bad mood today.


  1. Wow, that's messed up that 4e is crowding out the indie games on their own forum.

    But what really caught my attention was:

    >>Thief skills (and dwarf, halfling abilities) automatically work, no roll<<

    I do that with dwarven underground knowledge but I am having a little trouble with how that would work for thieves. Searching for traps always works? Picking pockets? Opening locks? Do you just make it burn some time (a turn or something)? So thieves just increase HP, saves, and to-hit as they level up?

    The more I think about it, I am not sure that failing at searching fro traps etc. adds much to the game, really, but I guess I'd be more hard-ass about making players say how/where they are looking for traps. Hmm... secret doors too?

    I think B/X thief skills are a little too low as written and I'm not rejecting this house rule but i'd like to hear more about it works and how it affects play.

  2. Yeah, The Forge could take a flying leap, I'm curious about the thief skills never fail rule as well.

    (I play a thief in a weekly game and haven't found or disarmed a trap in 3 months. I've sure set some off, however.)

  3. Well, to add to the chorus, and since I still remember when you blogged about the thief skills before, I wanted to ask you about your clerics house rule.

    Does that mean that clerics can spontaneously cast any spell to which they'd normally have access (i.e. high enough level) or are they limited to a list of known spells from which they can cast X per day (like a 3E sorcerer)?

    I've thought of doing something like this in my own game and would be curious to hear more about your experiences.

  4. In my opinion, a better place to go for an idea of what's going on in the Indie scene is the Story Games forum (www.story-games.com). While there is a bit of D&D talk - even 4E - there is much more talk about Apocalypse World, Dungeon World, Old School Hack, Leverage, Smallville, Danger Patrol, etc, etc, etc

  5. 4E is widely available and has a deep catalog with lots of high quality supporting materials (tiles, figs, etc). It makes sense that people are trying to make it work despite the inherent flaws (see Microsoft Windows).

  6. @ Mike and Gregory: You can see my original post regarding this here:

    If folks are interested, I can discuss how it's worked in practice in a new post.

    @ Drew: A cleric casting a spell is the equivalent of a holy man beseeching his god for divine intervention (i.e. "a miracle"). The number of times a cleric can do this is a sign of his favor in the eyes of the deity (i.e. how high level he is).

    Yes, clerics can cast any spell on their spell list. In practice, this prevents PCs from stocking up on healing spells and allows the class to be more versatile than just "the party medic." It also distinguishes the character more from the party magic-user.

    @ Fumers: So the fuck what? I don't care that lots of people play it...go talk about how it sucks on the Hasbro forums...maybe THEY will fix it for you.

    The point is, The Forge is a site devoted to the promotion and creation of independent games; not the promotion and discussion of WotC's most recent board game.

  7. @JB, the fucking reason it's relevant is that if you go to an RPG gaming forum, go to the "Actual Play" threads, you shouldn't be surprised that people are playing the current version of D&D. (trolling you so hard)

    People are drawn to comparatively higher quality community. The WOTC forums are kinda ghetto, and I guess the Forge moderators don't mind the traffic even if it's a bit off-topic.

  8. @ Luke: I am soooo going to have to kill your magic-user!
    ; )

    I totally disagree with you, man...I DO have every right to be surprised at finding these types of threads at The Forge, just as I'd be right to be surprised a bacon cheeseburger on the menu at a vegetarian restaurant. I would be equally surprised to find a thread on someone's recent Monopoly game complaining "how can I get more characterization out of my Top Hat?"

    Who knows what is up with the moderators of the site...I don't, that's why I said, "what the f?!" as in "what's going on?" 'Cause I don't know. It's pretty f'ing bizarre.

    BTW: Isn't it a tad ironic that 4E "has a deep catalog with lots of high quality supporting materials" but "the WOTC forums are kinda ghetto" and players of the game have to go elsewhere for a "comparatively higher quality community?"

    (feel free to troll all you want, you devil's advocate Libra, you!)

    : )

  9. I'll concur with Story Games (http://story-games.com/forums/) as the go to place for what's really happening of interest in the indie scene.

    I go there a lot.

  10. My understanding is that one or two of the personalities who are so central to the "Forge Philosophy" (which should really be called a "cult of personality") decided that D&D was about "killing things and taking their stuff", and that 4E was the optimum approach to that formula. Once that happened, 4E became the darling of people who previously had championed indie gaming as the best approach to designing games to match concepts.

  11. JB, not that ironic. The popular thing always has the most annoying participants. I always try to get into games other than 4E RPGA stuff at Gencon because it has the worst players and GMs. The quality of play in the smaller stuff like Savage Worlds is noticeably higher.

    Unfortunately, the popularity of 4E (and corporate sponsorship) means that it's a lot easier to get into 4E slots at the con.

  12. @ B.A.: Checked out "story games;" didn't much like what I found (though I may need to peruse it in more depth).

    @ Faol: If this is true, it's pretty...ugh...ignorant. "Killing stuff" is REALLY missing the point.

    @ Luke: *wince* That doesn't sound like GenCon was all that great. I hope you DID get to play some Savage Worlds (and by the way, the local con - DragonFlight - had a TON of SW tables going last year).