It's ridiculous. I'm still wearing my Mariners ball cap, and with four games to go in the season. Still not quite buying in...but I am watching. The kids and stayed up way past bedtime last night.
The school soccer team I'm coaching is struggling. We've been blown out and blown out and blown out, and unlike the M's, we don't get a 162 game schedule. Although we are playing in the 5th grade boys league, almost half our team are 4th graders. Only five of our 15 players have played together. Only a couple kids played any type of soccer last year (when the schools were closed for the pandemic), and for several kids this is their first time EVER playing soccer. Every team we've played against has been bigger, stronger, and faster than us...many have had multiple kids known to play on "select" or "premier" teams.
This weekend, our best player (my son) has a schedule conflict: his premier team is playing at the same time on the east side of the water. While my plan was to have him go to that while I coach the school team, he has asked if he can skip his premier game in order to play with our band of misfits. See, he's scrappy, too. And even as he gets frustrated with the school's team to execute even simple concepts (he refers to them as a "dumpster fire"), even though there's less than half a dozen kids on our team that he's even known, and only three that he'd really call "friends"...he feels a duty, a responsibility to helping them out. He knows what he means to their team and he doesn't want to give up on them, let them down, pick your pithy phrase to reflect "loyalty" and an unwillingness to quit.
The other day, Havard was reflecting on the "edition wars," the pointlessness of...and the wasted time spent...bashing other folk's preferred versions of the Dungeons & Dragons game. In his view, those who engaged in such grumpy bickering should look at their actions with embarrassment. Instead of "focusing on the negativity and the things that divide us," Havard urges us to...um...have fun experiences together? Remember that "we have a hobby that we love?" Something?
I guess he's not urging us to do anything except to NOT be negative. To be open-minded about other's preferred editions and welcoming to their preferred style of play. And (if I'm inferring correctly) to be glad and grateful that this is growing the hobby (i.e. getting more players into it).
So, okay...I have a different take on the "edition wars" from Havard. For one thing, if it is (or ever was) a "war" it's one that my side LOST a long, long time ago. Circa 1986. The "war," if one would call it that, was over about the time Lorraine Williams took over TSR and changed its focus from creating games to publishing books. When 2nd edition AD&D was published in 1989, replacing Gygax's byline with Zeb Cook's, the war was officially, completely lost.
Folks like me have just been fighting guerrilla actions since then.
My bitching-and-moaning about new style players and my criticisms of 2nd or 3rd or 4th or 5th edition D&D isn't a "war." Really. It is an attempt to keep alive an older style of the game that some folks might prefer to be relegated to the trash bin. Because it's one thing to say:
Hey, there are older editions of D&D and, here, you can buy copies of it on eBay, or PDFs from DriveThru and isn't that an interesting curiosity / piece of history? You can really see the war gaming roots and how funny, strange that style of play once was (not to mention how misogynistic, racist, and unenlightened the gaming community might have once been)....
And it's quite another thing to say:
Hey, there was this game that was new in the 1970s that blew people's minds and that was really fun to play, so much that it grew into a phenomenon that had profound effects on games and culture, and while it changed substantially some fifteen years after it's creation, maybe there's something to its original game play that's still fun and profound and exciting and worth playing, not just watching as a live-streamed "show."
See, I'm scrappy, too. And while I'm smart enough to know the "war" has been lost and times have changed, and more people would rather be shown or informed by others than take the time to educate themselves (by reading books, for example)...while I'm smart enough to see "times have changed" I'm stubborn enough and squeaky enough to keep shouting "hey, but don't forget..."
And sometimes I say (or write) things in an incendiary way in order to get forgetful folks' attention.
Last week I wrote a post that declared there is only one, true edition of Dungeons & Dragons, and that the particular edition in question was Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, the first edition, penned/compiled by Mr. Gary Gygax. This...predictably...ruffled feathers, but as the point of my post wasn't about justifying the position, I didn't take the time to elaborate on my statement.
Here, then, is the elaborate justification; we'll try to take this in order:
OD&D (the original Little Brown Books) was a proto-version of Dungeons & Dragons. It is not and was not "complete," crystalized, or a fully formed vision of game design. Its own creators (Gygax and Arneson) did not agree on how it was to be played, and had wildly divergent styles. Until it ceased being published, it was in a constant state of evolution, each new supplement adding or changing the original rules. Other gamers ended up creating their own versions and variant designs: Warlock, Arduin, Tunnels & Trolls, etc. It is amorphous. It is imaginative. It is wonderful...but it is not a single, concrete game. It cannot function without addition. AS A GAME (not "as a concept" or "in spirit") it is not "true;" in many ways, the LBBs themselves were supplementary material for the Chainmail rules that only (later) evolved into a distinct form of play.
Basic (Holmes edition) D&D was designed to be introductory, specifically introductory, to the game of Dungeons & Dragons, and is thus far from complete. It draws parts from OD&D, the first supplement, The Strategic Review, Chainmail, and the Warlock variant. Its rules diverge from the AD&D game it was written to introduce and is not compatible with that, nor with "official" OD&D rules.
Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (first edition): this is the TRUE version of D&D. It took what had come before then adjusted, edited, and codified it into a singular vision of game play with rules covering every anticipated potentiality of game play. Note: not "every potentiality," just what was judged as being part of the scope of game play. Folks interested in "coloring outside the lines" would certainly be allowed to do so (outside of official, sanctioned tournament play), but were adjudged to be be playing something other than "standard" (i.e. "true") Dungeons & Dragons.
B/X(Moldvay/Cook/Marsh) D&D: another introductory game; it is a streamlined version of OD&D + Supplement I that leaves out some of the stickier complexities (race/class separation, weapon adjustments, AD&D ability score modifiers, 9-point alignment) in favor of simplicity. The best introduction to "true" D&D and nearly fully compatible with AD&D...so much so that many folks in the 1980s were able to combine the two editions into a single mishmash with varied results. It sacrifices complexity and nuance for accessibility and ease of play.
BECMI (Mentzer) D&D: yet another revision of the introductory game; not only was it written for an even younger audience (complete with solo tutorial adventures), but it was written in such a way as to NOT include monsters, spells, and content specifically designed/developed for Advanced D&D. It became its own separate line of play, though again designed for simplicity, lacking the complexity, nuance, and interlocking of systems found in AD&D. While it is designed as a "complete" line (taking player characters from level 1 all the way to immortality through discreet rule systems) it deviates far from the singular vision found in "true" version of the game. Played straight, BECMI D&D does not call to mind the fantasy literature or pulp fiction that inspired the original game; instead, every player is on a quest for legendary power and (eventual) godhood. It is staid and mechanical, less organic, and in an effort to be more "family friendly" (or less controversial) has lost some of its original character...and thus some of its potential game play. The original game may have accounted good stronger than evil, but evil (as a player choice) was still a possibility. That possibility was all but excised in the presentation of BECMI.
In terms of the Seven Elements identified for "true" D&D game play, it begins to fail on both the "magic is limited" and "economy is present" scale. BECMI D&D lacks the various checks-and-balances for both magic and wealth found in AD&D; as a consequence, long-term game play turns into something very different from "true" D&D (see the Principalities of Glantri and Thyatis/Alphatia gazetteers for examples).
[just like to note that I spent a couple hours yesterday combing through some 100+ pages of Frank Mentzer interview notes to find his own preferred version of play. As of the early 2000s he was still running his home game with what he referred to as AD&D 1.5 (AD&D + the Unearthed Arcana) in combination with his own Immortal set rules. His reasons for including the UA was fairly simple: he'd compiled and edited much of the work himself and was quite satisfied with its usability in terms of the D&D game. He also did not favor the totally "humanocentric" vision that Gygax did, and so liked the extra power given to demihumans in the UA]
Second Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons: while mechanically very similar to 1E, it lacks the original vision of the "true" game's designer (evidenced by many stylistic changes) and begins to fall down in both the "economy is present" and (mainly) the "cooperation is necessary" categories; the latter because the default reward (advancement) system of 2E has the character classes pursuing disparate goals from one another. The shift in tone for supplementary material (especially "module" adventures) starts to break the elements of "PCs are heroic" and "the Universe does care" as more and more railroad-y or excessively moralizing texts are published, forcing PCs into certain avenues of play.
Third Edition Dungeons & Dragons: moves farther from the game as originally designed, overemphasizing "violence is inherent" (through its reward system), breaking "cooperation is necessary" (by de-emphasizing asymmetry), and paying only lip service to "economy is present" with rule stipulated treasure/monetary amounts at every level for both PCs and NPCs. On the adventure front, more of the same trends as from the mid-1980s (see 2E above).
Fourth Edition Dungeons & Dragons: extreme over emphasis of "violence is inherent" coupled with extreme DE-emphasis of "magic is limited" and "economy is present." Interestingly, there is a return/resurgence of "cooperation is necessary" but NOT via asymmetry so much as specific "adventure roles" needing to be filled for successful endeavors...still this is more of an aside, and adventures can certainly be written for specific groups lacking particular role characters. The same issue with published adventures continue.
Fifth Edition Dungeons & Dragons: extreme de-emphasis of ALL elements EXCEPT "PCs are heroic" and a warped/twisted version of "the Universe does care" which does its best to coddle the players rather than challenge them in any meaningful form. Even the idea of "D&D is a game" (element #1) is de-emphasized, as the idea that D&D is an amusing pastime, performance/show, becomes ascendant and character advancement is no longer tied to character's pursuit of specific objectives but is instead linked to how well the players perform the story being told. The singular vision that once guided the GAME of Dungeons & Dragons has been cast aside for a "do anything you like" attitude...objectives of play, mechanics and rules, all are meant to be changed and discarded as whim (and "fun") dictates. The term "D&D" doesn't refer to a specific game but, rather, a particular brand/IP that has been purchased...ostensibly to be "played," but what that play looks like will vary from table to table.
"Sixth" Edition Dungeons & Dragons: are you serious?
Harsh, harsh words, Old Man (actually, I'm trying NOT to be harsh in this post but, whatever...). JB, you're telling folks there's only one way to have D&D fun, and if it's not the same way as yours, then they totally suck.
No, I'm not.
At least up until 1985 or so (i.e. about when the "war" was lost), the D&D game still had a uniting, singular vision that people could fall back on REGARDLESS of the rule set that was being used at the table. That vision, clumsily stated in the original Advanced D&D game allowed all players, regardless of system, to get on the same page when it came to the question of "what is (D&D) game play all about?" Some folks didn't like the answer to that question, and handled their dislike in different ways (drifting the system, changing games, quitting the hobby, whatever). Some folks just took a break for ten or twenty or thirty years, either because they either A) didn't see the potential promise of game play or B) didn't feel the effort needed to reach that potential was justified, and they could get their "kicks" somewhere else.
[you can count me as one of the latter folks who first kicked AD&D to the curb in exchange for other games (a LOT of other games) and then spent a decade plumbing B/X and finding its depth (as designed! and well designed!) to be less than satisfying]
But that singular vision, incorporating those seven elements (to a lesser or greater degree) was a unifying force and you can SEE that in, for example, Prince's recent "No ArtPunk" adventure design contest: adventures were written for AD&D, B/X, BECMI, OD&D, retro-clones, ACKS, etc. but all finding a way to create interesting "dungeon" adventures suitable for their particular systems. Dungeon crawling by itself is NOT indicative of "true" D&D play, but it IS an important portion of the game aspect of D&D...and recent adventure offerings (both 5E and "OSR") seem to have very...mmm..."strange" ideas of what such design entails.
The point being: *sigh* yes, you're still playing "D&D" even if you're not playing AD&D. But if you want to play the game in its "highest expression," you have to start with AD&D. Other versions...especially pre-1985...have similar guiding spirit/principals and (more usually) recognizable tropes. But you can't play post-1985 editions of D&D as they are designed and written in the same way that the game was originally set down and codified. Sure, you can take a late edition version and twist it or tweak it or drift it or whatever...you could also just run GURPS or write your own damn game.
OR...you could play the TRUEST version ever written and just spend your free time designing a fine campaign that is supported by the rules.
That, I guess, is my "scrappy" message. If you've never tried it and you find "old" D&D objectionable for some reason (it was written by white American men for white American men, or it exhibits too many colonialist sensibilities, or whatever)...I get it, I sympathize, I understand. Try giving it a chance. Try giving the crazy-ass rules a chance. If you're an "OSR" aficionado who prefers something lighter, rules-wise and are turned off by the opaque, clunky writings of Gygax...I get it, I sympathize, I understand. Try giving it a chance. Try reading it and parsing it and running it.
If you've run or played AD&D before, and just can't understand why anyone would still want to play the game based on that particular antiquated/clunky version of the rules anymore (or for WHATEVER reason)...I get it, I sympathize, I understand. I do! Really! But did you really give it your best shot? How long ago was it that you tried running it? How have you grown/changed since then? I know technology has changed a lot since the 1970s...the ability to create easy-to-use spreadsheets and play aids is incredibly simple. And it makes it O-so-easy to run the crunchy bits with just a little time and energy.
Maybe...try it one more time?
All right, that's all I have time for today. Have to go pick up the kids from their (club) soccer practice. Which they are doing in the pouring rain. Like troopers.
Go Mariners. Keep proving me wrong.