Saturday, August 16, 2008

Grognard Test Answers

For those who are interested, here are the answers to yesterday's Grognard Test.

Three brief comments:

1. Several of the questions dealt with wargames, as is only fitting. Though the term "grognard" has been appropriated by the RPG hobby to refer to old school players, it's applied more properly to old school wargamers. Of course, roleplaying grew out of wargaming, so many of the oldest players of RPGs are also wargamers of ancient vintage. And, for a long time, the two hobbies existed side by side and cross-pollinated one another in various ways. I was never much of a wargamer myself -- I did play some Squad Leader and a few other Avalon Hill games -- but I knew lots of them. My friend's dad, one of the guys who introduced me to the hobby, was a wargamer and we sometimes played with him. Anyway, my point is that connection between wargaming and RPGs is a venerable one and, if you don't have any experience of that connection, chances are you're not old enough to qualify as a grognard -- not that there's anything wrong with that.

2. Question 1 was phrased misleadingly, yes, but that didn't bother me. All I needed to see was "retired Scout" and the answer was obvious.

3. I contend that the tiebreaker was a trick question, because both Morgan Ironwolf and Aleena -- female characters drawn by Jeff Dee and Larry Elmore, respectively -- appeared in mass market editions of D&D. Anyone who not only knows who they are but cares enough to argue about the relative merits of their feminine virtues is probably someone who entered the hobby late, during its faddish phase in the 80s rather than earlier. Now, it's possible that some genuine grognards care about this nerdy debate, but I doubt it.

Finally, as the test proved, even many people whose grognard credentials are widely accepted had a hard time with at least a couple of the questions; I know I did. Being old school is, to some extent, as much a function of exposure and interests as it is of time and experience. I have no interest in kicking anyone out of the clubhouse because they didn't know about grues or the displacement tonnage of a Type-S Scout/Courier. I do, however, have an interest in ensuring that collective memories, history, and traditions of our common hobby are known and honored, even by those who weren't around to live through them. Without this past, our hobby has no future.

21 comments:

  1. >>this nerdy debate

    Careful throwing out pejoratives like that. To most (and I'd dare say even to most role-players), every single word you write concerns "nerdy debates."

    Not to mention it really sounds like you're slagging off the Basic D&D sets which, Elmore art aside with the Mentzer versions, were a fine, fine introductions to D&D, especially Mentzer's FAILURE AND DEATH introductory scenario.

    Hell, I think D&D would be better off if that was the main branch of D&D instead of AD&D.

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  2. Of course this is all just nerdy debate! I doubt I'd have much respect for anyone who felt any of this was really important in the grand scheme of things.

    That said, there are degrees of unimportance and the debate about the relative merits of Morgan Ironwolf vs. Aleena ranks quite low in my estimation.

    And, yes, to some extent I am slagging on Basic D&D. Both Moldvay and Mentzer have their merits and both an infinitely more infused with the old school philosophy than almost anything that's come since. However, both are products of corporate TSR and represent a calculated attempt to create games with mass appeal. To my mind, that's where it all started to go wrong. (And FWIW, I think AD&D is guilty of similar if not completely identical missteps, but then you've read Tim Kask's opinion of the matter)

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  3. re: wargames...

    I wonder if maybe this old school revival in RPGs will get some RPGs to try out some hex and chit games.

    I'd love to break out Panzerblitz or Panzerleader. Or even the new ones like Memoir '44

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  4. >>However, both are products of corporate TSR and represent a calculated attempt to create games with mass appeal.

    They were simple (not too many subsystems for every damn little thing like AD&D) well-organized. That's equal to OD&D on one hand and far superior on the other. ;)

    But whatever the intent, I do believe Mentzer's D&D is as D&D as you're going to get. That it's dressed up in Elmore and Easley art and actually teaches you how to play the game aren't real drawbacks for me. (Maybe I'm biased since it was my introduction to this whole thing, but hey, it worked, didn't it?) I like his dedication:

    "This game has undergone a startling metamorphosis from its earliest forms, written for hobbyists, to the current revision, usable and understandable by nearly anyone. The original flavor and intent has been carefully preserved. With the greatest admiration, respect, and thanks, this edition is dedicated to the president and founder of TSR Hobbies: E. GARY GYGAX."

    I don't think positioning Mentzer as pawn in the grand sell-out scheme is really fair.

    >>I doubt I'd have much respect for anyone who felt any of this was really important in the grand scheme of things.

    On the level of curing cancer and such, I'd agree, but these games unlock creativity, encourage reading and exploration into literary traditions and actual history, and develop social bonds like few other things do. If those things aren't important, then "grand schemes" aren't worth much. The "grand scheme" is just "importance" geared towards mass appeal. ;)

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  5. I don't think positioning Mentzer as pawn in the grand sell-out scheme is really fair.

    He's not; I never said he was. Frank is as old school as they come and I have nothing but respect for the man and what he's done over the yours.

    But -- and I don't think this can be disputed -- every attempt to make D&D "clearer" or "well-organized" is a step, even if a small one, toward stripping it of the do-it-yourself approach that, for me, is the essence of this hobby. As I said, AD&D is another step down this same path; it was a mistake and, like the Basic Sets, a glorious mistake we all loved and had grand fun with. But it was a mistake nonetheless and one whose fruits we can see today.

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  6. I wonder if maybe this old school revival in RPGs will get some RPGs to try out some hex and chit games.

    Hard to say. If I still had any of my old Avalon Hill games, I might give it a go with my friends, but I sold or lost them years ago. The only one I still have is Outdoor Survival, which isn't really a wargame at all.

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  7. But -- and I don't think this can be disputed -- every attempt to make D&D "clearer" or "well-organized" is a step, even if a small one, toward stripping it of the do-it-yourself approach that, for me, is the essence of this hobby.

    I'm going to respectfully disagree.

    OD&D required a context that was very rare and honestly not that appealing to many people OD&D's basic achievements are very appealing to. Organization was needed.

    You clearly consider Traveller (at least the LBB form) a DIY, old school game, yet it is orders of magnitude more organized than OD&D every was.

    B/X and BECMI are good, clear clean-ups of OD&D and some of the supplements. Excluding your unhappiness with the existence of the thief how do they not carry on the DIY spirit. Sure, at RC and the Gazetteers we're heading to the DL issue.

    AD&D1 was a mess and the tournament focus cut into the DIY hard, but even then I consider AD&D (as opposed to 3.x and 4) to still be on the good side of the line.

    The problem for both D&D and Traveller was the introduction of all the damned official settings. Those should have been more like Greyhawk and Blackmoor or the original World of Greyhawk at the outside. Traveller should have kept the Imperium implied by the adventures, not into things like Library Data.

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  8. You clearly consider Traveller (at least the LBB form) a DIY, old school game, yet it is orders of magnitude more organized than OD&D every was.

    Let me clarify (oh, the irony): I don't think organization or clarity are bad things in and of themselves. I certainly don't believe that OD&D as written could not be -- or should not be -- rewritten for ease of use. What I object to, and what I see the Moldvay and Mentzer Basic Rules as both doing, is heading down a path toward making clarity an end in itself. Where OD&D is vague and unclear, I see opportunities for individual referee interpretations, not occasions to make formal rulings that close the issue forever. Let me reiterate: I don't think either Moldvay or Mentzer are bad editions or "new school." I simply think that, in their quest for clarity, they started a ball rolling whose final destination was to enshrine rules lawyering as a viable career path for gamers.

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  9. >>and I don't think this can be disputed -- every attempt to make D&D "clearer" or "well-organized" is a step, even if a small one, toward stripping it of the do-it-yourself approach that, for me, is the essence of this hobby.

    I'll dispute that.

    Mentzer doesn't dumb anything down. The original D&D (at least the printing available in pdf form) set claims to be for ages 12 and up; Mentzer's for 10 and up. I don't think that's an appreciable difference.

    Holmes' Basic edition called itself the "original adult fantasy role-playing game," which puts it in a class by itself while Moldvay is for 10 and up.

    AD&D calls itself suitable for "10 and up" and nobody can say that's a kid-friendly or juvenile system.

    So I don't even know why I'm bringing up the age thing. :P I dunno, maybe to show that the intended player really wasn't different from version to version, according to the advertising of the items themselves. There was no "kids" version per se, and I'd say the BECMI being considered so was a marketing goof rather than intent. Hell, the "Basic" versions were just called Dungeons and Dragons, with the "Basic" nomenclature more our way of differentiating it from the other versions... surely it was "Basic" as in format, as a one book game, rather than having "basic" content... but Mentzer's version was really just called "Dungeons and Dragons," split between five sets, the first of which happened to be called "Basic." (yes, we all know that, but it's easy to forget, isn't it?)

    I don't know. Basic D&D gives a baseline, allowing someone new to pick up the box and actually play the game. I don't think it's good to have a product like OD&D that doesn't even really do that much for a new person just getting into it. Kask may have said that Arneson's manuscripts were a mess, but what was published as OD&D isn't all that great as far as being easy to understand, and that's mostly Gygax, right? Houserules because you think your idea works better than the official rule = awesome. Houserules because the game text doesn't adequately explain itself = crappy.

    And look at the modules released for the Basic set. B1 has to be stocked by the referee. B2 is very vague beyond locations, inhabitants, and treasure, and needs a ton filled in to be a fleshed-out environment. The original B3 was set up to be stocked by an individual referee like B1 was. B4 barely scratched the surface in detailing its environment. It wasn't until B5 that the Basic line got very exact in detailing its adventures.

    Within the Mentzer Basic set itself (that's the only Basic version I've ever owned, admittedly), they have a sample dungeon. The first level is detailed. The second level has a map but leaves it to the referee to stock it himself, giving a few suggestions. Level three doesn't even have a map.

    Sounds like a giant training manual for DIY to me, really, with the advantage of also handing its players a clue.

    I really wonder how many white-(or woodgrain) boxers there are out there that are still with the hobby that didn't either play with the original authors or their pre-publication players (thus getting guided through the process) or that didn't start with a later edition and then realized OD&D was better for their tinkering needs after the fact.

    ... and I think it's a bit unfair to pin the "they started a ball rolling whose final destination was to enshrine rules lawyering as a viable career path for gamers," tag on Moldvay and Mentzer, because they aren't responsible for what people did after them. It's not a Dragonlance case where the influence and "errors" are right there to see and in many ways part of the design goals.

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  10. Oh, and I'll be running the Ruined Monastery adventure tomorrow. I'll tell you how it goes!

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  11. ... and I think it's a bit unfair to pin the "they started a ball rolling whose final destination was to enshrine rules lawyering as a viable career path for gamers," tag on Moldvay and Mentzer, because they aren't responsible for what people did after them. It's not a Dragonlance case where the influence and "errors" are right there to see and in many ways part of the design goals.

    Again: I'm not pinning them with any such thing -- at least not any more than I'm pinning Gygax with the same for having created AD&D. What I am saying, though, is that the Moldvay and Mentzer Basic Rules opened a door that has never been closed since, namely "the rules to play by" rather than "the rules to play with." It's a fine distinction, I'll grant, and Moldvay at least (Mentzer is fuzzier) still tries to balance the two positions, even if, in my opinion, he still comes down in stronger favor of the former.

    Like I said, I don't think either the Moldvay or Mentzer Basic Rules are abominations before God and man. I do, however, see them as transitional stages away from the approach embodied in OD&D (just as AD&D is as well).

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  12. I think B/X and BECM were both more than mere clean-ups of OD&D; they added various elements and took the game in some different directions. In fact, in many ways, I consider AD&D to be closer to a "cleaned-up" OD&D (including the Supplements in the mix, obviously).

    I also think that the B/X and BECM sets are much better introductions to the game for a new player, compared to the other editions. They're cleaner (i.e. more organized), less open to interpretation, and have fewer "holes." (Of course, that's a big reason that I prefer the original rules over them.)

    I guess that last paragraph lines me up with James M., on this question.

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  13. I think B/X and BECM were both more than mere clean-ups of OD&D; they added various elements and took the game in some different directions. In fact, in many ways, I consider AD&D to be closer to a "cleaned-up" OD&D (including the Supplements in the mix, obviously).

    I strongly agree with this, especially the notion that AD&D is in fact closer to a rationalized OD&D than Moldvay/Mentzer are. Again, I don't mean that just as a knock on those fine editions, both of which have many virtues (being good introductions is one of them). However, they both begin to veer off into territory that I don't like and that I see as the seeds for what came later. I won't fault the editors/designers for that, because I'm sure they had no idea what they had wrought, but that doesn't change the course of subsequent history or the role those sets had in forever changing D&D.

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  14. If I am getting your general stance on things clearer James M, you consider OD&D the best precisely because its massively uncorporate, generally barebones, and mostly requiring lots of DM work because its more like an old set of Legos (Yeah yeah Lego building elements. I say Legos and LOVE IT.) than say, an action figure?

    The thing is, being clear cut and concise isn't bad. Having an organized structure isn't bad.
    Having Elmore artwork is TOTALLY FREAKING RAD, but that really doesn't have much to do with anything.

    From being a gamer in general for 20 years and 2 months now (which makes me a young pup for the OD&D crowd but YODA to most gamers...) I can safely say that no matter how structured or corporate something is, people will do whatever they please with it regardless of how it is set up.

    And having structured, organized, easy to learn rules is good. Once you know what you are doing, THEN you can twist it to your own desires.

    Having poorly worded, loose, and confusing rules is actually where the BAD GAMERS come from.

    Having played Warhammer 40K since early 2nd edition, I have to say the more corporate and tightly worded the game gets, the better it becomes. Sure I can DO more with 2nd, but even as a GM running it people will try to bend, twist, and munchkin the everloving SNOT out of what I tweak. To the point some people I don't want to game with ever again, if not hate them as human beings!

    Tight rules that are rock solid help make for good games.

    And you can still play around with what you want to do. Provided you have good open minded people to play against. Which is a rarity, even among people who you consider friends.

    I have used this concept with miniatures gamers that might help explain my viewpoint better.

    Now in miniatures gaming there is currently a bit of an uproar as the old "art project" people who love to paint, and assemble, and sometimes customise their models are feeling encroached upon by the prepainted minis and the new influx of gamers who merely want to take out their toy men and make with the PEW PEW.

    I say the prepaints should be the way it is done. It brings NEW BLOOD into the hobby, and the old blood who have things like jobs, family, or other interests can do that and still get the core fun of miniatures wargaming.

    Now the paint and green stuffers can STILL ROCK OUT as its merely a matter of repriming and painting on top of the better grade of prepaints. It doesn't affect what they can do, it just lets the people uninterested in the artistic part skip it.

    You see the same thing with computers and action figures. Some folks just buy their toy or computer and off they go. Others kitbash, repaint, modify, or turn into some Frankenstein's monster of self created awesome/massive time waster.

    It is INCLUSIVE, not exclusive. Everyone can join in and there is a place for everyone to have fun together.

    Mentzer Basic is pretty much the RPG example of the above. Its easy to learn. Its very nice to look at. Its also great to customize and tweak if you want.

    But you DON'T HAVE TO.

    And that's a beautiful place to be.





    (Something D20 D&D cannot do as it was designed in such a way that every system is so interlinked that you really can't tweak it without breaking it horribly. Without basically stripping it to its frame and rebuilding it from the bottom up. See Basic Fantasy and Castles & Crusades for examples of that.)

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  15. It brings NEW BLOOD into the hobby, and the old blood who have things like jobs, family, or other interests can do that and still get the core fun of miniatures wargaming.

    The evidence of D&D's history of development would suggest that, every time the game has changed in an effort to bring in new blood, it has generally failed to do so and become less like the game Gary and Dave created so many years ago. You can see this trajectory quite clearly, as you chart the course of the game from the early 80s to the present. 4e is the latest attempt for an inclusive, clear, concise, and organized game that is inclusive and it's not recognizably D&D in my opinion. I have no interest in supporting that vision of the hobby and in fact see it as detrimental to its ultimate health.

    When I was a kid, RPGs were arcane, mysterious things. The rules, as written, served people who already knew how to play them, which is why I had to seek out those people. That's how I got to game with my friend's metalhead teen brother and his friends; that's how I met the old grognards. I had to be initiated into the mysteries of the hobby and it was precisely that which has kept me in the hobby so long.

    I don't see much lasting benefit from making the hobby more accessible. I realize that makes me a horrible elitist and a snob in some eyes, but so be it. My experience is that the people who stick with gaming, who're still playing D&D after all these years are the ones who had to work at it a bit to figure out the rules of these crazy games. I still want people to have to work at figuring this stuff out; that's what ensures the future of the hobby in my opinion. It may not be a mass market future, but I'm fine with that.

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  16. >>The evidence of D&D's history of development would suggest that, every time the game has changed in an effort to bring in new blood, it has generally failed to do so and become less like the game Gary and Dave created so many years ago.

    ... D&D's history of development after the Mentzer sets, that is. It sold millions, according to Mentzer. That thing was *huge*, and especially all over Europe it was *the* version of D&D to be translated into the local languages.

    And for some anecdotal evidence, one of my players brings his Finnish version of Mentzer's rules (all tattered and well used these past two decades) every week to the games, and the guy who hosts the group cut his teeth on "red box" D&D as well. My first group back in Connecticut, even though we moved to AD&D soon after (or claimed to... half the shit that was "AD&D" I didn't realize we did wrong until finding Dragonsfoot... in reality we were playing Red Box with AD&D classes, monsters, spells, and combat charts), half of them are still playing together... 3.5. Maybe 4.0 by now. But they're still roleplaying. One of them was the very first purchaser of the Creature Generator.

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  17. The Mentzer set hugely successful; I understand that. But part of what it was successful at doing was laying the groundwork for the brandification of D&D. The mere fact that people still alk about Aleena and Bargle today is evidence of that.

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  18. ... that's kind of like blaming Queen for The Darkness, isn't it?

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  19. But part of what it was successful at doing was laying the groundwork for the brandification of D&D. The mere fact that people still alk about Aleena and Bargle today is evidence of that.

    Not very well then...given I've owned all three versions of Basic and, like Jim, most of the games I played in (included adult groups where I was one of two teens) were that Basic/Advanced hybrid Jim mentions I go "huh" about Aleena and Bargle the branding didn't hit too hard.

    I think you got it right that the branding line was Dragonlance. That was the first branded item that was high proscriptive of "how to play".

    Moldvay even had an extensive reading list, so it was trying to translate not only the rules but the underlying culture.

    What's interesting is, by your standard, the only way into D&D should have been through wargaming. Even someone like Lin Carter had insufficient background to use OD&D and I suspect he had a much better grasp on the literary side than Gygax or Arneson.

    Yet wargaming did not have the same view of creating a hard to understand, confusing standard that was as much mystery cult as hobby. AH (who you've praised so much) put a lot of effort into creating easy to get into the hobby games. In fact, their catalog ranked games by complexity. For the most part wargaming grognards did not think Tactics II were bad for the hobby, nor did they refuse to embrace them . They considered them key to finding new players.

    So here is my question, do you think that merely clarifying OD&D was the start of ghettoizing the hobby by allowing anyone to buy the game and play without being part of the culture or was it the specific methods? If the later, what specific methods was it?

    And are those elements divorcible from the culture that created OD&D? For example, tournament play drove much of AD&D's formalization but the very culture you're saying we need to remember and should have been the requirement to get into the hobby made tournament play inevitable which made the need for AD&D inevitable.

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  20. ... that's kind of like blaming Queen for The Darkness, isn't it?

    A lot depends, I think, on what TSR's intent was with the Mentzer rules. It's entirely possible that what resulted was entirely accidental and unintended, but I don't think it was. Remember that those rules came out the same year Dragonlance premiered. I don't think that's entirely coincedental.

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  21. So here is my question, do you think that merely clarifying OD&D was the start of ghettoizing the hobby by allowing anyone to buy the game and play without being part of the culture or was it the specific methods? If the later, what specific methods was it?

    And are those elements divorcible from the culture that created OD&D? For example, tournament play drove much of AD&D's formalization but the very culture you're saying we need to remember and should have been the requirement to get into the hobby made tournament play inevitable which made the need for AD&D inevitable.


    These are great questions. I should probably address them later in a longer post, but I can give some quick answers now to tide you over, because I don't want to ignore them.

    On the first question, my answer is that it's complicated. There's "clarifying" in the sense of making sure that the text is properly edited and not riddled with typos and omissions, as well as organized in a way that makes it possible to find the information it contains. I have no problem with that. Holmes Basic is (mostly) an example of this principle in action. There's also "clarifying" in the sense of providing definitive answers to certain ambiguous rules or concepts, so there is now an "official" ruling, for example, on how elves work in the game. Moldvay/Mentzer are examples of this principle in action.

    On the second question, I'd point out that not everything about the old school culture was healthy or didn't contain within it the seeds of its own destruction. As I said elsewhere, I don't think there was a plot to destroy gaming by people outside of it. At the same time, what ultimately destroyed the old school culture was its desire to make changes to its traditions in order to achieve mainstream success. This includes things like the tournament scene, which was in my opinion a huge stake through the heart of the early hobby's idiosyncrasies.

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