Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Kids

It is both amusing and frustrating to read about gamers who've only ever played Third Edition Dungeons & Dragons calling themselves "grognards" -- amusing because it's good to see that younger gamers might finally understand that preferring an older edition doesn't mean you're "afraid of change" and frustrating because I don't believe invitations to the clubhouse have actually been sent out to these guys yet. Heck, I didn't start gaming until five years after OD&D was released; I began with the Holmes Basic Set rather than the little brown books and I never played a wargame until after I'd started roleplaying. I'm not even sure that I qualify as a grognard, so I'm pretty sure that gamers who didn't join the hobby until after 2000 don't.

But life is full of stuff like this, so I shouldn't complain.

Too much.

15 comments:

  1. I hear ya. As I posted earlier, I started with B/X D&D around '81, and I have yet to play a wargame, so I'm pretty sure I'm not a real grognard. Heck, I'm not even sure I qualify as a "gamer" (I can't stand board games, card games, etc.). I'm a SF & F reader who was initially attracted to D&D by the prospect of getting to "be" a ranger or an elf.

    Point being, I'm not particularly amused or frustrated by d20ers who think they're veterans, as I don't feel all that proprietary about grognard status. But it boils my blood when someone who has never read The Hobbit or the The Lord of the Rings, and has never even heard of The Silmarillion, says s/he is a big Tolkien fan based solely on the movie trilogy. I feel like smacking them around with my 1200-page red pleather collector's edition of LotR. And heck, I wasn't even born until 3 years before Tolkien's death.

    I guess what I'm trying to get at is that all of us who came into D&D at a young age, when the hobby was still relatively new, felt like Christopher Columbus discovering the New World. It was ours, nobody else could possibly understand it or love it as much as we did, and despite knowing intellectually that there must be thousands of other kids out there playing it, felt like it was ours alone.

    30 years from now, today's 3rd (and 4th) edition "kids" will be patting themselves on the back and telling the 7th edition newbies, "I've been playing since 4th edition hit the shelves; now THOSE were the good ol' days." Hopefully my Player's Handbook won't have turned to dust yet.

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  2. I feel like smacking them around with my 1200-page red pleather collector's edition of LotR.

    I have that very same edition, but I like it too much to use it as an implement of violence. For that, I'll use a mace my friend constructed for me out of plumbing supplies.

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  3. Such is the reason why, although I can enjoy "old school gaming" one one level, I'll never call myself an "old school gamer" or a "grognard". I started in 1993, and while that's 15 years ago, apparently there's still too much of a perspective shift between then and the "good old days" for me to ever really "get it".

    But yeah, the 3.0X crowd doesn't qualify for "grognard ststus". But then again, I'm sure a lot of them don't really "get" what it means, either, since I think it does get tossed around a little too liberally.

    Or, to be the devil's advocate, is the term being used too restrictively? Has it just come to mean "veteran gamer"? If that's the case, what qualifies you for "veteran" status? Just a thought.

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  4. It's funny in that I don't consider myself 'worthy" of the grognard label since I started playing rpgs so "late." That is, in the middle 80's with the Moldvay Basic set.

    Also, I feel there's an "attitude" part to the label, that I don't possess.

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  5. Or, to be the devil's advocate, is the term being used too restrictively? Has it just come to mean "veteran gamer"? If that's the case, what qualifies you for "veteran" status? Just a thought.

    I think it's more likely that my understanding of "grognard" is more restrictive than the general usage. As I always understood it, a grognard was not just a veteran gamer but also one who was in on the ground floor and was almost certainly a wargamer before he started roleplaying. By that definition, very few people qualify anymore, though I still know quite a few who meet even those stringent entrance requirements.

    I think the key to grognardism is seeing and disliking the paradigm shift in the way RPGs are presented and played nowadays from the way they were played before. By this definition, being a grognard is more a state of mind than an age, although age helps, because I doubt many younger gamers have a good grasp of what RPGs used to be like.

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  6. Also, I feel there's an "attitude" part to the label, that I don't possess.

    There is. As I said in my reply above, I think the key to being a grognard is seeing and disliking the ways the hobby has changed from the early days. If one sees this changes as positive or evolutionary or anything like that, you probably aren't a grognard, even if you were gaming from 1974 to the present.

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  7. "I have that very same edition, but I like it too much to use it as an implement of violence."

    LOL. I like it too, but it's my toss-around reading copy at this point (I've compulsively purchased every hardcover edition I could afford, the leather ones I don't even touch let alone open). The paperbacks aren't heavy enough to employ as bludgeons, so it's a compromise.

    Anyway, I agree that being a "grognard" (I hate the sound of the word, BTW) is a matter of perspective on the shift in prevailing RPG style rather than a matter of vintage. I'd argue that there were plenty of RPGs even "back in the day" that weren't old school in the sense of being open-ended in the way player's interact with the game environment. Rolemaster comes to mind, and even a lot of the Chaosium stuff (aside from CoC) is a little mechanical/skill heavy (esp. in the case of perception skills) or "gritty" (routinely losing limbs in combat might be realistic but isn't very heroic).

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  8. Absolutely. There have always been games that weren't old school; it's definitely not limited by time. RuneQuest, for example, isn't old school -- too skill heavy and too closely connected with its setting to qualify in my opinion.

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  9. RuneQuest, for example, isn't old school -- too skill heavy and too closely connected with its setting to qualify in my opinion.

    I dunno... Empire of the Petal Throne is entirely dependent on its setting, and I think that safely qualifies as old school. I think it's entirely possible for something to be old school and be skill-based. What is much more of a qualifier, to my mind, is not to put The Rules above The Gamemaster. That's one of the things that makes A/D&D unique; it flat-out tells you to ignore the rules if they get in the way of play. I can't think of too many RPGs, even from the misty dawn of gaming, that were so bold in their pronouncements.

    For the record, I was a huge AH and SPI wargamer before and during my time as a D&D'er. I still have fond memories of playing months-long games of War In Europe in my friend's basement. He had dismantled the model train set to make room for the maps because it was the only table big enough to hold them. :-)

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  10. I think it's entirely possible for something to be old school and be skill-based.

    I agree that it is possible for any RPG to be played in an old school fashion, even 3rd edition D&D, but the focus of skill- and feat-based forms on all-encompassing rules and character builds begins insidiously leading to min-maxing and reliance on the character sheet as a toolbox rather than the players' (and DM's) minds.

    I currently play, for lack of anything else, with a group that swears by 3rd edition, but which used to play AD&D 1e exclusively (skipped 2e). There has been a steady shift over the last 7 years we've been at it from an "old school" approach to the worst sort of 3e-ism.

    One example: After killing a gnoll chieftain and his bodyguards, we were in his lair and about to begin the usual looting. The DM told us there was a large dire badger pelt on the floor with thousands of silver pieces on top of it, which the chief had evidently been using as a bed. Thinking "old school" as I like to try to do even while playing 3rd ed., I reasoned that there might be a trap door concealed underneath the pelt. So, I decided that I would pull it to the side when my turn came to act, and was prepared to describe exactly how I was going about it. What does the DM say next? You guessed it: "Everyone make search rolls." I groaned audibly, he asked what was wrong, and I told him I had no need to make a search roll since I planned on actually searching. This guy has been DMing since about 1980, for chrissakes, and once I explained why I found the search roll unnecessary (and not much fun either) he agreed with me. But the game system we're using had led him to get lazy. He never would have handled it that way back when we were playing 1st edition. It just wasn't an option.

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  11. You know though, don't blame the game, blame the GM there. I've had GMs who'll take my "I search this, I search that..." description, and either allow me to find things if I specifically looked somewhere for them, or treat it as a modifier to a "search" type roll, or use the search type roll as a "bonus" of sorts to the find - perhaps not only do you find the thing you were looking for, but you spot it right off, rather than digging around for a few minutes, or you spot it AND avoid the trap it was protected by...

    On the flip side of the coin, I've had that sort of "old school" GMing in it's most asshat-like form - the GM who gives you NOTHING unless you feed him EXACTLY the right sort of question or description, and uses the slightest vagary or slip-up in your communication with him as a means to stick it to you sideways at the first opportunity. You didn't SAY you pick the sword up by the hilt? Whoops, you just cut yourself with the poisoned blade. Crap like that. Anyone who thinks that sort of GMing style is the right kind of "Hardcore Old School Awesomeness" is more than welcome to keep it, cuz I don't want it.

    I know a lot of the "Old Schoolers" around here talk about those early gaming experiences like they were heaven-sent, but there were more than a few douchebag DMs out there, and it was in part to combat these people and their jackass-itude that things like a "stealth" skill or an "observation" skill were invented.

    Yes, such people could still screw over the players, but at least the players could then come back with "if you're going to re-write the rules on us, at least let us know before hand". I admit when I GM I like to have the "my game, my rules, my way" attitude, but you have to EARN that right. Ideas like "rules for everything" are there, in part, to serve as training wheels for GMs and players who aren't ready to "let it go" and do things on their own.

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  12. Fair enough; there's definitely a balance to be struck. I just tend to think that the rules "training wheels" (an apt metaphor) tend to end up being crutches, even for DMs who started out without them. It's difficult to remove them when you're ready, if that time ever comes, which I bet for some it doesn't. There is no excuse for unfair or "killer" DMing, regardless of the system, of course.

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  13. I think it's entirely possible for something to be old school and be skill-based.

    Anything is possible, but I don't think it's likely. As David Howarth notes above, there are many aspects of a skill system that tend to militate against old school play over time. So, yes, you're correct that, in and of itself, a skill system doesn't necessarily mean a game isn't old school, but I think it's fair to say the odds are against it.

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  14. there were more than a few douchebag DMs out there, and it was in part to combat these people and their jackass-itude that things like a "stealth" skill or an "observation" skill were invented

    No doubt. One of the things I've said, time and again, is that old school gaming depends very heavily for its success on the skill and seriousness of the referee. Indeed, it lives or dies on that basis. You're almost certainly correct that the increasing mechanization of roleplaying games is a direct result of bad referees, but that's a cure in my opinion that's almost as bad as the disease.

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  15. Mr. Howarth's anecdote is fantastic. In a recent session, I got grief for not relying entirely on dice.
    Player 1: "We search for secret doors."
    GM: "OK... make Notice rolls."
    Players roll; the highest is a success with a "raise".
    GM: "OK, you are certain that none of the stone walls in the cellar contain any kind of door."
    Player 2: "Those barrels... I thump them. Anything sound hollow?"
    GM: "In fact, one of them does! Make Notice rolls."
    Players achieve at least one basic success.
    GM: "The front of that barrel seems to open on hinges!"

    Followed by bitter complaints that I had not allowed them to find the barrel-door based on a very unspecific search.

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