Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Easy to Please

I get a lot of emails and comments where people ask me questions about how I handle X or Y in my games, with X or Y being some D&D mechanical distinctive like Armor Class or demihuman level limits. I sometimes feel bad for my correspondents, because I expect they were hoping I employed some clever and original house rules to "fix" this or that aspect of Dungeons & Dragons, when the reality is that, in 9 out of 10 cases, I generally use the rules as written. Certainly, I have my house rules and variant interpretations of ambiguities in the texts, but, as anyone who reads this blog ought to know, I actually run a fairly "orthodox" D&D game, most of my eccentricities manifesting in setting rather than rules design.

In thinking about this, I was reminded of experiences I had in my early days of gaming. Back then, there were basically two sorts of D&D players: those who played because they liked D&D, warts and all, and those who played because they felt as if they had to do so. I was -- and am -- firmly in the former camp. The latter group were the guys who were endlessly complaining about the absurdities of hit points, character classes, Vancian magic, and so on. They were always introducing "house rules" into their campaigns in order to correct what they perceived as D&D's flaws, often to the point of making the game unrecognizable.

Way back when, these guys used to bug the hell out of me. I simply couldn't figure out why they wanted to change D&D so radically. I realize now that the reason was quite simple: they didn't really want to play D&D at all. For whatever reason, the game simply didn't appeal to them, but, even though there were other games out there -- many of them, in fact -- it was often hard to find people who played Tunnels & Trolls or RuneQuest or The Fantasy Trip. I was pretty well connected to other gaming groups back in those days and I knew of the existence of all of these games and many more, but it was rare to find a group that was actually playing any of them. Then, as now, D&D was the proverbial 800-pound gorilla and, if you wanted to game and weren't willing to swim against the popular tide, you played D&D, even if you really didn't like it.

The funny thing is that I think this dynamic is still at work for a lot of people, even though there are now more RPGs available than ever before -- literally a game for every taste. In terms of what's available, there's simply no reason why anyone should feel forced to play D&D -- or any other game -- if their tastes, mechanically or thematically, aren't in synch with the game and its idiosyncrasies. Yet, if my emails are any indication, there still are a lot of folks who continue to "make do" with D&D, trying everything they can to twist it and bend and otherwise alter its basic form so that it's more agreeable to their own tastes.

Maybe that's why, when newer editions slaughter sacred cows long associated with the game, my reaction isn't "Finally!" but incomprehension. I've never really had trouble with most aspects of D&D. Even my much-discussed dislike of the thief and cleric classes is more philosophical than practical. In actual play, I've never had (much) difficulty with either class and wouldn't bat an eye if a new player came along and expressed a desire to play either (as Brother Candor of my Dwimmermount campaign shows). Armor class, hit points, Vancian magic, demihuman level limits, alignment -- none of these really bother me and never have. Sure, I nip around the edges of many of them, making little changes here and there to better suit the pulp fantasy style I prefer these days. But reject them outright? If I were going to do that, I'd play another game, since there are so many excellent ones available.

For whatever reason, I like Dungeons & Dragons pretty much as it was when I first entered the hobby. I guess I'm just easy to please.

56 comments:

  1. While I am a vigorous house-ruler, I understand your point. As I've been fiddling with a S&S style setting for Labyrinth Lord, I've found myself starting off with all manner of house-rules, drastically changing certain mechanics, calls, etc. But as I've worked on the setting more, I've found myself paring the house rules down. Moving closer to the Rules As Written. Not that I've eliminated ALL my house rules, but many of them are more clarifications of rules in the book than out & out changes.

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  2. "I simply couldn't figure out why they wanted to change D&D so radically. I realize now that the reason was quite simple: they didn't really want to play D&D at all."

    Holy smoke, did I get blasted on ENWorld when I said the same thing last year! (In conjunction with the observation that the D&D mark at WOTC had been taken over by such people.)

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  3. You are SO right. I stopped playing D&D and have been very lucky to find games with others playing RuneQuest and Traveller and Savage Worlds and so on ever since. But.. and this is odd, there is a draw that D&D still pulls on me, even though I can replicate the good bits and avoid the bad bits with a dozen other systems. I manage to avoid the pull most of the time.

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  4. I used to try to house rule around what I saw as the silliness of Vancian Magic. Then I moved on to adapting my setting material to fit the mechanics. When 4e came down the pike I instantly missed Vancian Magic. I still don't play spellcasters, but as a DM I intend to embrace it when I run again.

    But, I don't disagree with you. I am curious though, if you weren't running D&D, what would you run?

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  5. Here's another take on the people who extensively house-rule D&D...

    Maybe they're doing the RPG equivalent of fan-fic. That is, they don't really have the creativity to build something new, and they sorta like the themes and ideas expressed, so they take what's there and play around with it to suit their tastes.

    As a writer myself, I find fan-fic to be really tedious and silly, but there's no doubt that it fills some sort of "need" for people.

    And so too, perhaps, with extensively "re-imagined" D&D. They want to play a different game, they don't have the creativity to do it, so they just take somebody else's ideas and mash them up into something that is more to their liking.

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  6. I take minor issue: for at least this houseruler, it's not at all that I "don't like D&D," it's very much a matter of applying the "imagine the hell out of it" theme to the rules themselves. It's a lot like opening up the hood of an old car and tinkering around with it. Not a matter of not liking it, just a matter of seeing what can be done with it.

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  7. Some people just aren't as orthodox. I have no problem with the idea of swapping out the magic rules in D&D for a spell point system, swapping out the combat rules with a skirmish wargame, deleting most of the character classes, etc., and still calling it "Dungeons & Dragons". D&D is just THE game that defines fantasy role-playing for me, particularly B/X. However, I could just as easily play it by-the-book.

    While I know you're not explicitly saying anyone who makes major changes to D&D SHOULD be playing something else, that somehow D&D is sacred, at the same time there is a hint of that in what you write. I find that in a lot in discussions of old school D&D. Gygax and many of the old-timers frequently stated that it was YOUR game to do with as you please, and then turned around and dismissed people who did so as not really playing D&D. What gives?

    It's interesting to see how protective people become of things they care about.

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  8. When I got around to playing 1E AD&D back in the day, the DM I had used an unorthodox house rule for combat. It stuck out in my mind.

    Besides a player making an "attack roll" in combat, the target would immediately make a "defense roll" which involved rolling a d20 and adding 10-AC to the roll along with other adjustments (ie. dex bonus for ranged attacks, wisdom bonus for some magic attacks, etc ...). A hit occurred when the "attack roll" was greater than or equal to the "defense roll".

    At lower levels it did drag out the combat encounters to be longer, while at higher levels this made the combat move a lot quicker.

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  9. What Hamlet said.
    (No, not "To be or not to be"....)
    ;P

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  10. They want to play a different game, they don't have the creativity to do it, so they just take somebody else's ideas and mash them up into something that is more to their liking.

    Incorrect. That type of mash-up is very creative. I love B/X D&D. I love old early 80's microgames and minigames, particularly Heritage's Dwarfstar series. Therefore I love trying to mash them together into something new. Chocolate AND peanut butter!

    My intention is never to "improve" or "advance" anything. I'm not trying to get closer to GURPS or T&T or anything else. It's just messing around for its own sake.

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  11. I am curious though, if you weren't running D&D, what would you run?



    For fantasy? Depends on the kind of game I want to run. I'd love to play a game of Stormbringer sometime and Tunnels & Trolls would be great for a more light-hearted kind of game.

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  12. I was the latter player who despised D&D and returned to it 12 years later. I didn't like D&D for the unrealistic Vancian magic and I wanted the player's thinking to have a greater impact on the tactics and combat. I came back to it because the AD&D was the Standard Oil of the fatasy RPGs. Yeah, other systems had more realistic game mchanics here and there, but it was D&D with its Monsters, Treasure and Spell lists that had the FRAMEWORK. Ultimately I came back to AD&D becaus re-reading Gygax as an adult I was struck by his intellect and vision, which other game designers sorely lacked.

    @ All/Offtopic: I had a real weird dream: I dreamt that some guy who has nothing to do with games was terrified as he was showing a kitten or a puppy at a lab. He was telling me that a D&D creature Beholder was an end-stage in an evolutionary-mutational process, in which a Mind-Flayer is one of the stages, then eyes develop at the end of tentacles and everything atrophies until the eye and stalks of the Beholder remain. Then I went back to sleep. I am guessing it was soe sort of a mutagenc virus or a parasitic infection. Thought you'd get a kick out of this...

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  13. It's a lot like opening up the hood of an old car and tinkering around with it. Not a matter of not liking it, just a matter of seeing what can be done with it.



    There are house rules and there are house rules, if you know what I mean. If you gut the class and level system, for example, that suggests to me a fundamental dissatisfaction with the game rather than merely wanting to tinker around and see what can be done with it.

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  14. What gives?



    The long answer is probably worth a post of its own, which I'll probably write in the nearish future. The short, I think, is that, all other motives aside, guys like Gary saw D&D as a specific game with specific rules, too much deviation from which resulted in one's playing something else entirely. I'm sympathetic to that view. There are in my opinion certain sine qua non elements that define D&D. I don't think that view necessarily is contrary to the idea that one should make the game one's own, but it does require a more limited understanding of what "one's own" means than some would like.

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  15. I'm also with Hamlet, but then I did actually move away from D&D fairly early. Regarding they don't have the creativity to design their own rulesets, well, an entire game is quite an investment in time and effort and testing. I've done it a couple of times, and it tends to become a big, complex task - much bigger than getting something you can mostly tolerate and modding it.

    I don't know if this is a Britain v US thing but all the gamers I knew were always excited to try new systems, settings and genres. We'd tend to play "a fantasy game" or "an SF game" with novel or extensively house-ruled systems, or low-concept campaigns too idiosyncratic to be easily summarized here, often based on some hybrid of Doctor Who, James Bond, Space Opera, Morrow Project, Chaosium and/or Traveller. If it took more than half of the first session to get everyone characters and a basic orientation to the core rules it was too complex, otherwise we were good. This open connectivity I experienced was mostly killed by GURPS, which shortened the time before active play, but was always a bit too complex.

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  16. There are house rules and there are house rules, if you know what I mean. If you gut the class and level system, for example, that suggests to me a fundamental dissatisfaction with the game rather than merely wanting to tinker around and see what can be done with it.

    Yes, certainly. There's a line between houserules and "might as well be playing something else," but for every person, that line is in a different spot.

    The most severe house rules I've ever played with came from a DM whom I currently game under and, to be honest, I find it difficult now to imagine D&D without them. Maybe it's just that they "rub me the right way" or simply that, for that type of game, they're really that good. But not one person in the game is under the impression that we're playing something other than AD&D.

    As I see it, you're a very orthodox kind of guy when it comes to gaming, so naturally you would see the line as being a little closer to the core. A gamer brought up in the 80's and 90's, on the other hand, on the heyday of TSR's box set of the week trend (and especially things like Dark Sun) would tend to think that changing the rules, sometimes drastically, to make the framework of D&D/AD&D conform to the desired effect is nothing that big and, in the end, you're still left with D&D at the core.

    Interestingly, I've noticed that there's a new trend among younger gamers. It's far less about house rules, and much more about deciding what the campaign will be in advance, and then determining which particular rule set best applies. Sometimes, this goes as far as saying that TSR original settings are best played under different game systems (most recently, for example, I saw it said that Ravenloft the module is best experienced under the All Flesh Must Be Eaten rules rather than AD&D). Not sure what the underlying factors in a shift like that would be, but I suspect it has a lot to do with Ryan Dancyism and the new definitions of what a campaign actually is.

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  17. I love D&D, but one of the things that I love about it (at least 0e/Basic and, to some extent, 1e) is the ease with which one can introduce house rules in order to 'personalize' it, or 'customize' it to one's campaign setting.

    For me, tweaking the game is half the fun! Appreciating that the rules can be changed without 'breaking' the game was a major factor in helping me to return to old school D&D.

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  18. James--I'm curious about something. In your post, you said that you (and Gary) identify D&D as something fairly specific, and that to deviate from that means that you're not playing D&D.

    This seems to contradict the general pro-old school gaming idea that the great thing about the old games is there flexibility and that DMs were *expected* to houserule lots of things, yet still be playing D&D. Am I misunderstanding your post?

    This seems to fit with some other contradictions I've seen in describing old school gaming. Also, as someone who's been playing D&D since about 1979, I don't remember seeing most of the things that a lot of people describe as "old school" back in the day. This is not to say that I disagree with the old-school spirit as described in a lot of fora, but I'm not sure "old school" is the most accurate term to describe that style of play.

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  19. Am I misunderstanding your post?
    Somewhat. The real point of my post was that I was never very unhappy with D&D, warts and all, whereas I knew lots of people who were and I suspect much of their unhappiness stemmed from a dislike of the fundamental premises of the game's design.

    On the larger issue of house rules, as I noted above, there are house rules and their are house rules. Some are mere additions or clarifications of existing rules, while many others are more extensive and are effectively re-writing the rules into another game. Both types are very much in the old school spirit, so I'm not condemning the latter so much as saying that I think there is a line beyond which one can house rule a game into another one entirely, if you see what I mean.

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  20. I like D&D both ways:

    1. I like my Carcosa D&D book, which:
    a) restricts PCs to humans
    b) has only 2 classes (fighting-men and a new class called sorcerers)
    c) has a completely different magic system
    d) has an almost completely different line-up of monsters
    e) has a completely different list of "magic items" (mostly hi-tech items)

    2. I also like mainstream 1970s A/D&D. Perhaps my favorite is Holmes D&D expanded with the 1974 boxed set plus the Greyhawk supplement.

    Both of the above (quite different from one another, though a lot is the same: the class-and-level system, combat, saving throws, etc.) are old-school D&D to me.

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  21. James--that makes sense.

    I'm just starting to dip my feet into the old-school renaissance. I always preferred AD&D to D&D because conceptually the idea of races as character classes annoyed the crap out of me. But I like the stripped down rules of Labyrinth Lord and the like. I'm looking forward to the LL supplement "Advanced Classes" or some such title because it may deal with that easily. Of course I'm also thinking of how to houserule it . . but is that violating the spirit of the game? Do I secretly dislike D&D? :-)

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  22. I don't dislike Vancian Magic, I just find it completely and entirely disruptive to the versimilitude of the game. Hit Points, on the other hand, being abstract as they are, I like very much. In practice, my casters tend to use some sort of cobbled-together recharge mechanic, computer-game-style spell points, or a spontaneous-with-charges method, ala D&D 3e's sorceror.

    And to the guy who was talking about fanfic: Generally that need is to get the characters one thinks should be hooking up with each other (or with the author/a thinly veiled proxy thereof!) to go ahead and do it.

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  23. Both of the above (quite different from one another, though a lot is the same: the class-and-level system, combat, saving throws, etc.) are old-school D&D to me.

    This points to to the equivocal meaning of "D&D" in many discussions, which is a topic I plan to return to in the future as well.

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  24. versimilitude
    if I pick this up and just note that I think it's an unhappy word choice, can I prevent this entire thread being hijacked by it?

    I'm guessing you mean it feels wrong to you, or that it makes MUs weaker and less engaged than you would like them to be, especially at low levels. Is that about right?

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  25. There's a difference between the guy who plays around with the rules a bit for fun, and the guy who tortures himself contorting D&D into things it never was supposed to be when he'd most obviously be happier with another system.

    Frankly, I think the D&D brand has been in the control of people in the latter camp since about 1988, which is why D&D now IS another system.

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  26. Do I secretly dislike D&D? :-)

    Sounds like just the opposite, in fact. :)

    Seriously, I hope no one will take away from this post the notion that I am imputing to anyone in particular a hatred of D&D or that house ruling = hating D&D, because that's pretty far from what I'm saying here (not that that's ever stopped anyone before).

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  27. >>And to the guy who was talking about fanfic: Generally that need is to get the characters one thinks should be hooking up with each other (or with the author/a thinly veiled proxy thereof!) to go ahead and do it.<<

    Hah! Indeed!

    I dare not even speculate what the D&D version of that concept would be!!!

    Elves and orcs, living together ... mass hysteria!!!

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  28. If by changing some core mechanic you end up playing something that isn't D&D, wouldn't you say that 3e and 4e are therefore not D&D? I'm no expert, but they seem to have changed quite a bit compared to classic 0e, 1e, and "Basic"e. Even 2e seems to have tread into "not-D&D" territory in some ways.

    And yet these later manifestations are still universally considered D&D.

    In the early days, people took D&D and bent it into all kinds of funny shapes. Gamma World anyone?

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  29. Then, as now, D&D was the proverbial 800-pound gorilla and, if you wanted to game and weren't willing to swim against the popular tide, you played D&D, even if you really didn't like it.

    At our gaming club, there are at least four ongoing games of D&D (3.5, Pathfinder, and a 4e campaign with two groups), and it is incredibly difficult to get other games up an running. I've managed to get a fairly regular Call of Cthulhu game going, and there's the occasional one-shot for something like Ghostbusters and Ninja Burger, but it seems that people mainly want to play D&D. That's fair enough, but it's never been my game of choice.

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  30. "If by changing some core mechanic you end up playing something that isn't D&D, wouldn't you say that 3e and 4e are therefore not D&D?"

    Definitely.

    "And yet these later manifestations are still universally considered D&D."

    Not.

    At this point there usually begins a metaphilosophical debate on the definitions of things, which I'll be skipping.

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  31. Hmm. This is one of those posts that causes my face to manifest strange expressions of consternation.

    I'd like to understand the underlying premisses better. To that end: is Barker's Empire of the Petal Throne (1975/TSR) "D&D" or "not D&D"?

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  32. And yet these later manifestations are still universally considered D&D.

    Not universally. I am certain there are quite a few people round these parts who do not in fact consider the WotC editions to be D&D.

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  33. To that end: is Barker's Empire of the Petal Throne (1975/TSR) "D&D" or "not D&D"?

    Seeing as it doesn't self-identify as D&D, I'd think it's pretty safe to say that it's not.

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  34. @ Richard:

    versimilitude
    if I pick this up and just note that I think it's an unhappy word choice, can I prevent this entire thread being hijacked by it?

    I'm guessing you mean it feels wrong to you, or that it makes MUs weaker and less engaged than you would like them to be, especially at low levels. Is that about right?


    I can't speak for Rach but I imagine she meant exactly what the word "verisimilitude (which, by the way, is how you spell it, note the second 'i' after the 'r'...)" means, namely that vancian magic ruins the "believability" of a magical world (if such a world can be believable!). I personally agree; if you can use magic in the first place, then the idea that you can only cast a spell once, that you have to spend hours memorizing it first, and that if you have not spent hours memorizing any spells that day then you cannot cast magic, always has seemed unbelievable to me. Obviously this is splitting hairs, because who is to say what is and isn't believable when it comes to magic, but I think that magic systems which allow flexibility in what spells a caster casts and how many times he can cast them (through some kind of power drain that may or may not occur when casting) always felt more right to me than the traditional D&D treatment of magic. To bring this back around to the original thread (and hopefully fulfil your wish of not hijacking the thread with your questioning of the word choice) - I have been tinkering with replacing the casting system in D&D with one that is sort of a hybrid of Ars Magica in terms of being able to make spells up on the spot and Call of Cthulhu/Stormbringer/Elric and other Chaosium games where each spell cast has a chance of draining power from the caster. If I want to cast fireball over and over until all the magic energy is drained from my body, then Dammit! As a wizard, that is my perogative!
    Of course, that kind of rules tinkering may indeed make what I am playing not D&D - but like many other posters, I like lots of aspects of D&D, and fixing the one that I view as broken does not mean (IMO) that I am no longer playing D&D.

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  35. I think many people house-rule D&D because the rules impose upon their campaign.

    As an example, class and race restrictions or the Vancian magic system may not fit into their campaign world, hence the house rules.

    I don't think this makes the resulting game any less D&D than one that uses a single saving throw vs. 6.

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  36. I don't think this makes the resulting game any less D&D than one that uses a single saving throw vs. 6.

    No, it doesn't -- at least not necessarily. It's not the removal of a single element that tips the balance so much as the piling up of many such removals, like the proverbial ship whose planks are replaced bit by bit until it no longer has any of its original materials.

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  37. the proverbial ship whose planks are replaced bit by bit

    ...which is one reason they were sometimes referred to as "keels," and named at the moment of laying the keel - in the days of wooden shipbuilding you're not replacing that bit. I'd differ with you, I think D&D does have a keel... but I don't know that we could get universal agreement on any specific element that it is indispensible. Classes? Levels? Treasure?

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  38. I think D&D does have a keel...

    I do too. Finding it will take some thought, but I don't think that means it doesn't exist.

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  39. I dunno. Half the reason I like S&W and Basic D&D is that they are so light I can tweak the rules to my desire.

    I've always liked the concepts of D&D, but usually the execution leaves MUCH to be desired.

    And as mentioned, lots of people won't play any RPG unless it says Dungeons and Dragons on the cover, and can be bought new in your store of choice.

    (Yes. It has to be active, in print D&D. Older versions will not suffice, and woe be anyone who would wish to play anything else!)

    Frankly I have always considered D&D's continued stranglehold over the hobby to be one of the reasons the hobby is so niche. And its damned criminal.

    With games like Call of Cthulhu and D6 Star Wars around, gamers really can't look past D Ampersand D?

    Even worse are the people who only like 1 certain version. Usually the modern players. Try running S&W, Basic, or my personal favorite D&D variant Castles & Crusades for a D20 player.

    WAAAH I CAN'T CUSTOMIZE MY CHARACTER WAAAH.

    I am not joking. I have been given this complaint whenever I try to run a non WOTC D&D game.

    Of course some of these complainers also do not like Transformers Beast Wars and are thus suspect as arbiters of anything involving good taste...

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  40. Sounds like another open question asked but left unexplored. James, you sometimes frustrate me when you ponder about ineffables.

    Anyone who doesn’t consider 3rd edition D&D anymore needs to try a few non-D&D games, or learn to cut down on the hyperbole. The system is so clearly and obviously an extrapolation and cleanup of the original principles that it can be nothing else.

    I can understand that perspective a lot more in regards to 4th ed, though.

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  41. Anyone who doesn’t consider 3rd edition D&D anymore needs to try a few non-D&D games, or learn to cut down on the hyperbole.

    I agree that 3e is clearly a descendant of AD&D. I once did a textual analysis of certain spells and I found it fascinating how much of Gygaxian verbiage had actually been preserved.

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  42. Yeah, my general opinion was that 3rd was still D&D.

    But 4th? Yeah, you can see it as a continuation of the trends that were evident throughout the 3rd/3.5 product cycle. But, though a corpse can be seen as the final result of the trend of the aging of a person, a corpse isn't that person anymore, even though the 20-year-old and 60-year-old versions of the person were.

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  43. The D&D Keel was the subject of some posts on one of the other grognard blogs. Wheel of Samsara maybe? It's been a while. I mostly remember that what I'm playing failed that person's acid test.

    It was something like:
    six attributes, class-and-level, saving throws, armor-makes-you-harder-to-hit, hit points

    (I currently play a houseruled Microlite74 with only 3 stats, so there you go.)

    There's something else going on here, though: I think James is right that people played and play D&D because D&D is what you play.

    I spent a few happy years in college playing GURPS (which can get pretty elephantine, I'll grant). But when I tried to get a game together in grad school, well, we played D&D. Why? Because everybody already knew how to play it. GURPS or BRP-based games, yeah, there were some people familiar with the rules, but everyone knows D&D.

    And sure, there are definite phases of tinkering you see people go through. I think most people start out with a "more realistic" critical hits table for D&D (that way lies Arms Law and Rolemaster!) or a variant magic system. This eventually gives you Hackmaster 4th Edition. Another place you end up is GURPS: Bookshelf.

    After that wears off, there's a backlash, and that's when you design your really-really-rules-light system. For me that was 3-point FUDGE:

    http://www.scribd.com/doc/16273299/3ptfudge

    That's the character sheet and, pretty much, the rules (it does assume a little familiarity with FUDGE, but not much).

    For me, after that, I decided that I really did want to play D&D after all, but all existing editions were overly cumbersome. Hence I ended up in Microlite74-land.

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  44. - question to James Maliszewski

    Is there a formal definition of "Gygaxian", besides loosely defining it as the D&D and AD&D stuff that Gygax wrote for TSR before he was ousted by management in 1985?

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  45. Gee whiz, I like D&D too :). I wonder if that's what we're all doing here... Love ya.

    Word Verification: Vasteo... I am vast. I am wasted.

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  46. Carl: Yes, exactly what I meant. The Vancian process of forgetting a spell completely after a single use when you've spent so much time perfectly memorizing it just doesn't seem to make sense to me (though Magic doesn't necessarily have to make sense, I prefer it to be relatively logical, at least magic that's been studied. Spontaneous magic I can understand following rules that don't make so much sense).

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  47. We tweaked rules from the get go. In fact, Gary encouraged us to do it. I always felt that homebrewability is what made D&D D&D.

    Actually, the fact that 4E seems to assume all will use the RAW, is part of what makes it feel not like D&D to me.

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  48. Not to say the opposite... -If you play D&D by the RAW, it's most definitely D&D. However, I've always seen the game's malleability as genuine asset.

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  49. I sort of had mixed feelings about Vancian magic.

    To make magic using classes less "boring", I allowed unlimited use for most cantrips (from the 1E Unearthed Arcana), spells like detect magic, read magic, etc ... and certain combat spells such as magic missile. Though in the specific case of magic missile, I required a d20 roll of less than or equal to the magic user's intelligence score for a hit. So even with an intelligence of 18, there is still a 10% of a magic missile failing. (In contrast, an unlimited use magic missile which always hit seemed too overpowered).

    For many of the other spells which were not particularly "combat"-like, I ran them more or less in a Vancian manner (ie. tenser's floating disk, etc ...).

    I suppose back in the day, I changed the magic system into something partially resembling 4E D&D's system of at-will, dailies, and rituals.

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  50. @James:

    I've been running an EPT campaign for 8+ months now. I'm convinced that it's D&D.

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  51. Is there a formal definition of "Gygaxian", besides loosely defining it as the D&D and AD&D stuff that Gygax wrote for TSR before he was ousted by management in 1985?

    Roughly. I think individual gamers may exclude certain bits of late Gygax material from their own personal understandings of "Gygaxian." That's about as formal as it gets in terms of definitions.

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  52. I've been running an EPT campaign for 8+ months now. I'm convinced that it's D&D.

    You obviously have a much more expansive definition of "D&D" than I do. I certainly understand your point of view on this and I'm sympathetic to it to some extent. I simply think that once something as different, both mechanically and content-wise, as EPT is considered "D&D," the term ceases to have much meaning.

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  53. I think individual gamers may exclude certain bits of late Gygax material from their own personal understandings of "Gygaxian." That's about as formal as it gets in terms of definitions.

    One of my old friends who still plays a lot of 1E AD&D is one of those hardcore "grognard" types. His definition of "Gygaxian" only encompasses the D&D and AD&D stuff which was produced before TSR gave the core rulebooks a cover artwork facelift in 1983. This narrow definition roughly corresponds to the books and modules which were listed in TSR's 1981 catalog.

    Pulling out my old copy of the TSR 1981 catalog, the listings for D&D consists of:

    - Moldvay basic and expert D&D sets
    - modules B1, B2, B3, X1

    while the AD&D listings consists of:

    - PH, DMG, MM, Deities and Demigods in their original cover artwork
    - Fiend Folio
    - the Rogues Gallery
    - modules T1, G1-2-3, D1-2, D3, Q1, C1, C2, S1, S2, S3, S4, A1, A2, A3, A4
    - World of Greyhawk campaign setting

    In the 1E AD&D games my friend DMs, he won't allow any other rulebooks such as Unearthed Arcana, Dungeoneer's Survival Guide, Wilderness Survival Guide, etc ... His DM'ing style is very much RAW from the PH and DMG solely. This is also the main reason why he has a hard time finding new players whenever one of his players quits. Whenever a player character dies (even if it was a high level character), he forces them to start again at level 1.

    Many younger gamers don't see 1E AD&D played strictly RAW as a very enticing game to play.

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  54. You make a great point, James. I'm usually a 'by the book' sort person myself - mostly because I'd rather have someone else do the hard work of dreaming up and playtesting rules.

    On the other hand, I do think it's odd that some folks seem so vehement about choosing a particular point in time - 1974, 1979, 1983, or whatever - and say "this is the one true set of rules."

    Isn't it pretty obvious that from the beginning Gary and Metzger and the rest were all experimenters, each trying to find rules that simulated their own sense of fantasy/s&s? And isn't it possible that in the 35 years since the hobby began, some new folks might have come along with new ideas about how to attain that original idea - simulating a great sword & sorcery experience?

    So for that reason I guess I'm more willing to look at new rules than you are, even at the risk of moving away from whatever you consider D&D. All of this crazy experimentation, from the original three little books to the latest indie rpg, to me is all work toward the same goal - putting me in an immersive, believable and unpredictable world of adventure.

    Vancian or point system? Armor soak or armor class? Hey, whatever produces the most realistic, most fun experience is what I'm after. So increasingly, I'm interested in trying out new rules, or combinations of new and old rules.

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  55. I’ve never been afraid of a house-rule, and I’m still not. What I’ve discovered, however, is that I have more fun when I let D&D be D&D. (Which I think is similar to James’ “D&D is always right” idea.)

    It’s not that D&D is sacred, it is just that when I play a game I find I have more fun when I try to embrace what it is. That doesn’t preclude some house-rules, but... I don’t know. I guess it means trying to make house-rules that fit with the spirit of the game.

    Which—for me—requires understanding why the designer and other people involved didn’t think a rule was silly or arbitrary before I change it. (Not that I always really understand it, but I make an effort.)

    Or to put it another way, I try to find a game that most closely fits what I want to do and then tweak it from there.

    One thing about my experience: I’ve seen a lot of gamers who have been very vocal about criticizing system X or claiming they never play system Y. Yet, when a friend offers to run a system X or system Y game, these guys are the first one’s with paper and dice out making a PC for the verboten system. Our bark is worse than our bite. I think more people are willing to play more systems than many of us think.

    Or maybe I’ve just been incredibly lucky.

    And if someone is really that attached to D&D, I doubt they’re going to enjoy a heavily house-ruled D&D more than a different system. Wouldn’t it just annoy them further as seeming like a bait-and-switch.

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