Friday, October 3, 2008

Orcus Ponders


In a post over at the Necromancer Games forum, Clark "Orcus" Peterson indicated his interest in creating what might be called a "4e variant" that brings the game more in line with the old school sensibilities it has abandoned.
But I look at how Monte's Unearthed Arcana did things and I like the concept of a niche version of the rules. Plus, I want a version of 4E that I want to play. So that is what Scott and I and maybe Bill are going to do while this GSL mess gets sorted out. We are re-writing 4E the way we want it, with the soul of 1E put back in. I am really, really excited about this. I played 4E and I like some stuff about it. It is a fun game. It just isnt D&D to me, the more I play it. Yes, I can defend it. Yes, I can say it is. But the truth is that my heart knows it isnt D&D anymore. I cant ignore that. I want D&D. To me the soul of D&D was AD&D. Somehow that got lost in making 4E.

I'm going to do 4E right.

Sure, some people might roll eyes and say not another version. To those I say, then dont buy it. I'm doing this for me. And I'm inviting you along. Come along if you want. If you dont, that is up to you.
Peterson clarified in a follow-up post that "this is not a product announcement. It isnt anything yet ... There is no GSL. I am bored. I wanted something to work on. So I decided to do this. It is just me screwing around. "

My dislike for 4e is well known, as is my belief that it abandons too many aspects of the Gygaxo-Arneson heritage of the game, both mechanical and conceptual, to be reworked into something I'd enjoy. Consequently, I see Mr. Peterson's intentions as likely Quixotic. That said, I also know that he's a huge D&D fan whose love of the old school is genuine. I have no doubt that he and his collaborators will do their best to try to inject some old school soul into the body of 4e's mechanics. I'm skeptical that they'll succeed, but I wish them the best in their efforts. I'll certainly applaud them if they somehow overcome this Sisyphean task. I'll be even more impressed if they not only succeed but if the revised GSL -- should it ever appear -- allow them to a variant of this magnitude.

28 comments:

  1. Interesting. I have never been all that enamoured of Necromancer Games, but this is pretty much the last move I would have expected on their part, even as a side project. I feel as though we are going to increasingly see this sort of thing in the wake of D20/4e.

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  2. I'm surprised myself, but it's still just an amusing side project at this stage rather than anything definite, so I guess we'll have to wait and see. I know Clark Peterson's stated preference has always been to support 4e through the GSL, because he's committed to whatever the latest edition of the game is. Unfortunately, the GSL as it exists today is a suicide pact and 4e itself actively works against old school feel. For Necromancer to pull this off -- assuming they even go through with it -- will require quite a few hurdles to be overcome.

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  3. ... Necromancer Games isn't publishing with OSRIC for what reason? Remind me, somebody?

    "1st Edition Rules, 1st Edition Feel" sounds like it would make a great slogan for them.

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  4. Well well well, looks like the new game smell is fading. :)

    Unfortunately, I do not believe the GSL will be satisfactorily revised now or ever, but best of luck to Necro if they get the opportunity.

    --Melan

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  5. ... Necromancer Games isn't publishing with OSRIC for what reason? Remind me, somebody?

    For one, Clark Peterson has some serious -- and long-standing -- legal/ethical objections to it, so you'll never seen him go that route.

    Secondly, from what I've seen, Clark isn't actually interested in playing or publishing AD&D again. He's bought into the (in my opinion mistaken) view that games can "evolve" and that later iterations of D&D, particularly 3e and 4e, have introduced mechanical/conceptual innovations that he thinks make for better games. As I said, I think he's deeply mistaken on this score, but Clark is on the side of the angels, ultimately, so I'll cut him some slack on this. He's not the only old school gamer out there who believes this.

    In any case, my feeling is that his attempt to turn 4e into something more mechanically amenable to the old school will be an invaluable exercise that just might cure him of some of these notions. Moreso than 3e -- which was bad enough -- I don't think 4e can be salvaged as the chassis for anything that could be remotely called "old school."

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  6. Unfortunately, I do not believe the GSL will be satisfactorily revised now or ever, but best of luck to Necro if they get the opportunity.

    That's my feeling. Even if the revised GSL -- should we ever see such a thing -- be less stringent than the current one, I'd be amazed if WotC would countenance the existence of "alternate Players Handbooks," since that was one of the few things they specifically admitted to not wanting this time around. I'm hard pressed to see how Necromancer will be able to publish something like this unless they go the Kenzer route, for example, and Clark has always struck me as the kind of guy who wouldn't be interested in that approach.

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  7. With all due respect for his company's great work, I think Clark Peterson needs to make up his mind what the hell he wants to do with his company. Waiting for Godot to change the GSL isn't my idea of a winning strategy.

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  8. Because of the exception based design of the system it is possible to tweak the rules to produce whatever feel you want. Reproducing your favorite sub-genre.

    I been playing trying to come up with a low fantasy gritty variant. Warriors instead of Fighter, Mages instead of Wizards, Priests instead of Clerics, and yes Thieves instead of Rouges.

    However it will still be a lot crunchier than OD&D and still not the D&D Game.

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  9. With all due respect for his company's great work, I think Clark Peterson needs to make up his mind what the hell he wants to do with his company. Waiting for Godot to change the GSL isn't my idea of a winning strategy.

    Considering he slams OSRIC with the fire of a thousand burning suns and has doubts about Castle and Crusades. He has boxed himself into only supporting d20 or whatever other system Wizards chooses to open up.

    Not trying to be an pyschologist here he may have "Been there done that" syndrome. He stated that he is not interested in publishing for the sake of publishing.

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  10. Waiting for Godot to change the GSL isn't my idea of a winning strategy.

    I generally agree. The thing is that Necromancer Games isn't Clark Peterson's day job and he doesn't depend on its sales for his livelihood. It's a fun side venture for him, as I understand it, so he can afford to take his time, to some extent, in making a final decision. And he's stated again and again that he's an uber-geek who just wants to support D&D, regardless of its edition.

    At the same time, I do think he places far too much trust in WotC's good intentions. I also think that the value of Necromancer's "brand" -- I can't believe I'm saying this -- is weakened the longer the company dithers and doesn't commit to one strategy or another. NG built its past success on being out of the gate early with "old school feel" modules during the 3e/D20 era. Now, though, they're left on the sidelines and could be there for months more. By the time they do get going, will anyone care anymore?

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  11. However it will still be a lot crunchier than OD&D and still not the D&D Game.

    That's the central issue for me. If 4e isn't capable of reproducing, when I squint my eyes, the feel of D&D of old, as even 3e could sometimes do, then I'm not interested.

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  12. He stated that he is not interested in publishing for the sake of publishing.

    Honestly, I respect that. I wish more companies took that attitude. I do wish, though, that Clark would see that "old school" isn't just about the "soul" of the game, but its "body" too. You can't just slap a new paint job on it and expect that it'll be the same as the older model, if what's under the hood is so completely different.

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  13. Ho boy, not to stir it up too much, but RPGNet's on the roll tonight:

    "Because somehow yeah they know dnd better than wizards and all those people who have converted and are the true spirtual successors of Dnd. Honestly go play 3 or Adnd or Odnd or C&C, or Labrynth Lord, or True 20 , or Hack 4 colours for Dnd, or runequest, or whatever the goddamn you want if it will get you off of the carccus of 3rd edition and prevent it from rising like some goddamn zombie of epic shitty porportions saying "PLAAAAAAYYYYY ME" despite the smell of zombie juice." -- Logos7

    "Eh, that first post of Clark's came off as very condescending. Grognard screed. Honestly, I'm not sure what in 4E is "Anime." It's a bullshit talking point that doesn't actually mean anything.

    If I want to play "AD&D," with all of its cherished faults and flaws and rustic merits, I'll play Castles and Crusades, Labyrinth Lord, etc, ETC." -- Omegatron

    "*yawn*

    Oh, another grognard who thinks he has the authority to declare what "4E done right" is. Must be something in the tapwater these days.
    ...
    And this guy is supposed to be a professional?" -- Belphanior

    "None of what he's talking about sounds very good to me. Couple that with the fact that he's acting like a total wenis. Even if they accidently make one of the greatest products ever I most certainly will never buy it." -- VictorC

    "You have lost a potential customer in me. You used to sound pretty reasonable, but this is frankly complete madness. It sounds like you want a return to the bad old "wizard rules everything/everyone else carries the bag" dynamic, and your subsequent posts in the same thread have done little to dissuade this impression. You cannot simultaneously power down all the other classes and power back up the wizard without automatically making the wizard overshadow the rest of the game. I know you're doodling on ideas but just... step away from the pencil for a moment. Wizards got powered down for a reason: They broke the game and overshadowed every other class." -- Iceberg3k

    Yowch. Clark, meet the buying public. The buying public, meet Clark Peterson.

    Is there any doubt left? :O

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  14. Interestingly, the reason Clark Peterson slams OSRIC's legal status is because we did what he's proposing to do ... only we had the OGL to authorize it and he doesn't.

    He did a better job with 3e than anyone else did with 3e, but as a lawyer he seems to tack with the winds of self interest. When OSRIC threatened to pull old school 3e players (Necromancer customers) back to 1e, he excoriated it as legally untouchable. Now that he can't play in the WotC sandbox, he suddenly wants to duplicate the OSRIC process, only without any open game authorization whatsoever.

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  15. I'm nearly a single-issue voter in this respect. A game with an integral (that's the important word) square-counting combat system cannot be old school D&D. I could play such a game and love it (like the Fantasy Trip, or a more modern analogue, Battlestations) but that's not the point.

    The failure of 3E was to swell up the combat part of the experience to huge proportions. 4E just repeated that mistake. No 4E makeover could remove the focus on the detailed tactical battle system. Ergo, no 4E makeover will succeed.

    I think the community of Dissatisfied D&Ders should forget about 4E and go back in time and thinking about what 3E edition should have been.

    Imagine you were heading the design team for 3E, with complete control, with all the wisdom of what 3E and 4E had done and what had happened to the hobby, and without necessarily any pressure to think about sales of various product lines. Now please do so without replacing most exciting part of the game with a clunky, unwieldy, imagination-slaying miniatures boardgame that ruptures the experience.

    Oh yeah, and please don't merely clone OD&D. I don't want a step back, I want what 3E should have been.

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  16. Is there any doubt left? :O

    To be fair, I doubt RPGnet is very representative of the overall tenor of the hobby. Mind you, I expect lots of complaints from various quarters if this project ever comes to pass. Like 3e fans before them, 4e fans tend not to be open to the notion that the game might not be to everyone's liking.

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  17. Now that he can't play in the WotC sandbox, he suddenly wants to duplicate the OSRIC process, only without any open game authorization whatsoever.

    At this stage, I'm not sure it's clear what, if anything, Clark wants to do beyond try to see if he can tweak 4e in various ways to make it a game he likes rather than one that just doesn't "feel right" to him. Whether it'll ever be published in any form is still very much up in the air. He's thinking out loud rather than committing to a course of action; I'm not prepared to fault him for that, even if I do often disagree with him about various things.

    I'm frankly intrigued to watch how this unfolds, if only because Necromancer was originally four square behind WotC, 4e, and the GSL (in principle). That the company is now rethinking its strategy is proof to my mind that WotC drop several balls they need not have.

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  18. Oh yeah, and please don't merely clone OD&D. I don't want a step back, I want what 3E should have been.

    For me, the very idea of a "step back" (or indeed a "step forward") is alien. Games change certainly, but they don't move "forward" or "back" except in reference to whether people like them or don't. One of my big beefs with Clark's plan is that he buys into the analogy of game mechanics as a technology that improves with time, whereas I simply don't accept that. OD&D is more "primitive" than AD&D any more than I accept that 4e is more "advanced" than 3e. They're different approaches and appeal to different sensibilities; I think there's more to be gained from discussions where we acknowledge this than in ones where we still talk as if games "evolve."

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  19. Discussing a game system's evolution is much like discussing the evolution of a sandwich. As you keep piling on the toppings, before long - you can no longer taste the meat.

    Myself, I like a just enough toppings to complement the meat and no more.

    Some folks can't stand mustard, though ...
    no matter how much of it there is.

    JM.

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  20. Whether you can say that roleplaying games evolve and make cumulative technical progress over time depends on whether you consider D&D as having invented a genre or an art form.

    D&D certainly did invent a genre, and I can buy that genres mostly undergo devolution. Leiber and Howard invented swords and sorcery, and it's hard to say that the intervening decades of toil in that fields has produced any substantial improvement over the original works.

    But D&D also invented an art form, and if you look at the historical emergence of new forms, like the novel or the pop song, it seems obvious that there's an initial period of tremendous technical innovation, which typically lasts well beyond the 30+ years that RPGs have been around. I agree that this innovation isn't necessarily progress in the sense that it's not always moving towards some ultimate monolithic gooderness. "What individuals like" is always the only goal, but technical innovations allow for many more kinds of likes to be satisfied than the originator of the form could offer. Because it represents diversification to meet the needs of a widening range of niches, I think the process of development in RPGs as an art form is very aptly described as evolution.

    I'm into OD&D because I love its genre and want to experience it in its pure form before it becomes de-evolved. From this standpoint, I'm interested in using its rules so I can learn about how they reinforce the genre.

    But I'm also interested in using the OD&D rules because they encourage customization and house-ruling. As I do that, I'm definitely conscious of & grateful for a wealth of previous RPG design that gives me a much more extensive toolkit than Gygax, Arneson, and their players had -- just as they benefited from many years of wargame rules design innovation in turn.

    Having an objectively bigger toolkit doesn't mean that my OD&D houserules will be better than the original, or even better at meeting the needs of my group; tools don't make the artist. But if you don't believe that evolution is possible even in the sense of better suiting your particular needs, you should play by the book; while trying to introduce your own house rules without taking advantage of innovations introduced after 1974 would be Quixotic indeed.

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  21. What individuals like" is always the only goal, but technical innovations allow for many more kinds of likes to be satisfied than the originator of the form could offer. Because it represents diversification to meet the needs of a widening range of niches, I think the process of development in RPGs as an art form is very aptly described as evolution.

    If this is what you mean by "evolution," I can accept it, but most people -- Clark Peterson included, I suspect -- don't use the word in this way. The use it to mean some kind of objective technical improvement over earlier iterations of the rules. I simply do not believe such things exist except in the realm of individual preference. There's nothing "better" about, say, using a Base Attack Bonus rather than an attack matrix to resolve combat. They're just two different mechanical approaches to the same end, one of which some people may prefer over others.

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  22. Well, I didn't use the term "step forward". I was dismissing the idea of the retro-clone movement (with emphasis on 'clone') as the best answer especially in the hypothetical scenario of "3E done right". I didn't meant to imply an evolutionary context, and was not aware of one with Clark Peterson.

    I'll phrase it another way: what sensibilities would you hold paramount? In an earlier post you floated the idea of a "new Basic D&D" and I think you had a lot of things right in a lot of ways -- it was very inspirational. But I assume you were never contemplating building it on top of a booklet of complex rules about action types and 5' steps and attacks of opportunity.

    The players, as much as possible, should be manipulating something within the imaginary world, not manipulating the game's rules systems. Where the rules systems intrude they should be light, and still completely in the hands of the DM. That, to me, is at or near the center of the old school sensibility. But it's is the exact opposite of what D&D has become.

    To use a cliche, I would say that someone hoping to tweak 4E to something more old-school is merely the last living frog to ask "is it getting a little hot in here?"

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  23. Where the rules systems intrude they should be light, and still completely in the hands of the DM. That, to me, is at or near the center of the old school sensibility. But it's is the exact opposite of what D&D has become.

    Very well said.

    To use a cliche, I would say that someone hoping to tweak 4E to something more old-school is merely the last living frog to ask "is it getting a little hot in here?"

    Again, I agree. I look forward to seeing what Clark comes up with, but I think that, ultimately, he'll either have to admit that "old school" is, for him, primarily a veneer, albeit one done in a "classic" style, or that it's impossible to inject old school soul into 4e's body. I'm very curious as to which way he'll go.

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  24. Kelly,
    I'm not even sure how a retro-clone issue would even arise if Clark wants to change 4e to his liking. Mainly a retro-clone is about (1) creating a shared brand name that's open-licensed so everyone can use it under the OGL instead of the original trademarked name, (2) restating the rules for publishers to use as the SRD for that open content, and (3) re-organizing original rules into a more streamlined format.

    I take it what you're saying is that trying to change 4e with minor (rather than structural) fixes is a hopeless project? Not sure I understood.

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  25. My point was: screw "4E done right", I still want to see "3E done right". Which was really supposed to be "2E done right", right? (And I do not consider retro clones to be candidates for any of these, just in case anyone was going to suggest them). IMHO doing 3E right would require gutting the combat system which is, what, 75% of the focus of 3E? 95% of the focus of 4E? So, I don't think recapturing the awesomeness of early D&D can begin by accepting 4E as a base, and really not even 3E.

    So they must mean something different when they talk about the soul of 1E. Regardless, 4E pretty much sucks even on its own terms, so all they can do is good. More power to them.

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  26. Ah I see he wrote he was thinking a bout, "Getting away from the grid and returning to feet. Changing a miniature game back into a roleplaying game..." Now I'm more interested :)

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  27. To use a cliche, I would say that someone hoping to tweak 4E to something more old-school is merely the last living frog to ask "is it getting a little hot in here?"

    This seems to be the most accurate description of the idea.

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  28. So, I don't think recapturing the awesomeness of early D&D can begin by accepting 4E as a base, and really not even 3E.

    I generally agree. My only quibble would be that, for all the faults of 3e -- and there are many -- it's still very clearly a descendant of OD&D. I've examined many spells, monsters, and magic items through the editions and it's remarkable how often 3e reproduces very specific details going all the way back to OD&D: monster Hit Dice, spell levels, even specific turns of phrase. It's frankly amazing how much of three LBBs still survived into 3e.

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