Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Interview: Skip Williams

Anyone who reads this blog knows that I'm keenly interested in living connections between the early days of the hobby -- and the fan cultures out of which it grew -- and the present day. Sadly, those connections are becoming fewer and fewer as the years take their toll, which is why it's always a pleasure to speak with someone who was a young person in those days.

Skip Williams was still in school when D&D was released in 1974 and thereafter found himself playing in the legendary Greyhawk campaign, the second RPG campaign in history. He subsequently worked at TSR in a variety of capacities before moving on to Wizards of the Coast, where he was involved in the design of the third edition of Dungeons & Dungeons. Together these experiences give him a unique perspective on the history of the hobby and its most famous game.

Mr Williams agreed to answer a few questions I put to him and his answers are presented below. I'd like to ask that anyone who comments do so in a respectful fashion, whatever your disagreements might be with the responses here. While I recognize that some of what Mr Williams says might be at odds with the received wisdom of the old school community, that's no excuse for rudeness and I will not hesitate to delete comments that I feel step over the bounds of common courtesy, so please rein in your enthusiasms before I have to do it for you.

1. I usually begin by asking my interviewee how they entered the hobby of roleplaying. In your case, I suspect you became involved in the hobby because you went to school Gary Gygax's son, Ernie. Is that correct?


Mostly correct. I've told this story before, so I'll keep it short.

I first became aware of gaming one summer when I saw a picture of of some people playing a game with tanks. It turned out it was an article about Gen Con, which was held in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, my home town at the time. I soon discovered that several of my school classmates were playing various wargames (D&D had not been invented yet). When D&D hit the shelves, I was soon involved in a couple of campaigns, and my classmate, Ernie Gygax approached me about getting involved in an even newer game, Warriors of Mars. That, in turn, got me introduced to the Gygax household and to the fledgling TSR.

2. Were you a participant in the original Greyhawk campaign refereed by Gary and Rob Kuntz and, if so, which characters did you play?

Ah, you're giving me a chance to split hairs here.

Gary ran the very first Greyhawk campaign using the map from the Outdoor Survival game and his notes for the future D&D Game (the very first D&D suggests getting Outdoor Survival and using it for your campaign map). After TSR published D&D, Gary drew a campaign map of his own and that became the Greyhawk setting everyone knows. I was involved in that campaign pretty much from the start, having seen the map laid out on Gary's dining room table.

In "New Greyhawk," I had several characters. The most famous of these was Rufus of Hommlet (or Rufus of Skipperton as Gary named him in one of his novels). Rufus explored the Temple of Elemental Evil and eventually became a bigwig in Hommlet. He's mentioned in the modules Gary wrote about the Temple of Elemental Evil campaign.

I also had a halfling thief (these days D&D players would call him a rogue) called Phalangas, or "Fingers," who ran around the City of Greyhawk causing as much trouble as he could, and picking pockets on the way. I only ever played Phalangas when Rob Kuntz, Gary's co-DM decided to run a pickup game, so no one has heard of him until now.

My longest-running character in the Greyhawk campaign was a human fighter named Boaric. Boaric was no great shakes, but he rubbed elbows with the big boys in the campaign (Tenser, Erac's Cousin, and Robilar to name a few) and was involved on some famous adventures. He was involved in an aborted expedition into the Tomb of Horrors. His biggest accomplishment there was dragging various bits and pieces of his former comrades back out. He also hacked and slashed his way through Against the Giants until coming toe to toe with Snurre Ironbelly. That episode ended badly for all, and it took a wish to get us back on our feet. Boaric also made a few trips to The Land Beyond the Magic Mirror, and briefly owned the Invulnerable Coat of Arnd.

Boaric was the only character I played under both Greyhawk DMs, Gary and Rob Kuntz.

3. You're thanked by name in both the AD&D Players Handbook and Dungeon Masters Guide. Were there any specific contributions you made to the writing or development of either?

In the early days of D&D, everybody did things his own way. I was involved in several campaigns in my high school days and I essentially found a different version of the game in each. I used to have talks with Gary about how the game ought to work (often during commercial breaks for televised football games). We talked about everything from how spells are cast and aimed to how much a DM ought to manipulate events in a campaign. It was those talks, I'm sure, that Gary was thinking of when he named me a contributor.

4. One of the many "lost" D&D supplements about which gamers still talk is Shadowland, a product that would have detailed the Plane of Shadow. According to Gary, this was to have been a collaboration between himself and you. Do you remember anything about this project or why it never came to pass?

I remember quite a bit abut the project, and I came very close to getting it rolling again a few years ago. It involved an expedition to the Plane of Shadow where the party would discover, shades, shadow dragons, and several of those enigmatic quasi-deities Gary was always pulling out of his hat. My notes on the plane eventually were co-opted for the Planescape setting.

What killed the project, mostly, was lack of time. Gary became interested in getting a D&D Movie off the ground, and I was interested in my college homework and eventually in running the Gen Con Game Fair. Somehow, the two of us never got back together to finish the thing.

5. Of the principal designers of Third Edition, you're the only one who had a direct connection to the earliest days of the hobby. Do you feel your longstanding, personal connection to those days informed your work on 3e and, if so, how?

Mostly what I brought to the design effort from those days was a sharp sense of how things can go wrong. Whenever we came to a place in the rules where I knew DMs and players were going to clash, I'd tell a "campaign from hell" story, in which a character (mine or someone else's) was in peril and the DM made the most illogical and completely off the wall ruling you could imagine. I tied to be very careful that all the loose boards in the system were well nailed down. Of course, people still found ways to pry them loose again.

6. For many years, you acted as "the Sage," providing official answers to questions about the rules of D&D in the pages of Dragon, a role you continue to assume for Kobold Quarterly. I remember Gary once complaining that, in the early days, fans of D&D would call him at his home to ask him rules questions and he was baffled as to why anyone needed him to come up with answers, a feeling many early TSR staffers apparently shared. Do you see any contradiction between the desire of many fans for official answers to their questions and the belief of many early designers that players should come up with their own answers?

It's a huge contradiction. The early designers were wrong. It comes down to this: If you want to be in control of your character, you have to have some idea how anything you might try is going to come out. and you can't know that unless you have some idea of how the rules are going to handle the situation. If the GM is making capricious decisions about what happens in the game, you're always shooting in the dark and you have no real control over your character at all. Think of how hard it would be to, say, learn to ride a bicycle if the laws of physics were constantly in flux. The game just works better if the DM and players have similar expectations about how the rules handle things.

7. I think most gamers are sympathetic to the concern about capriciousness by the referee, but some would nevertheless argue that having official answers can have the opposite problem of reducing the referee to being a less active participant in the adjudication of the rules than he might have been in the early days of the game. Given that, what do you see is the proper role for the referee as it relates to the adjudication of rules?

The referee is there to keep the game moving. As Patton once said, a good answer today is better than a perfect answer next week.

A well-written rules set is the best friend a DM can have. It helps manage the player's expectations and gives the DM a leg to stand on when things don't go the players' way.

8. What RPGs do you currently play?


D&D 3.5 and 4.0
Big Eyes, Small Mouth
High Adventure Role Playing

49 comments:

  1. Cool.

    If you get the chance to ask Skip more questions, please do so.

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  2. Interesting interview. These quotes in particular certainly reveal a lot about the mindset behind the design of 3e:

    Whenever we came to a place in the rules where I knew DMs and players were going to clash, I'd tell a "campaign from hell" story, in which a character (mine or someone else's) was in peril and the DM made the most illogical and completely off the wall ruling you could imagine. I tied to be very careful that all the loose boards in the system were well nailed down.

    The early designers were wrong. It comes down to this: If you want to be in control of your character who have to have some idea how anything you might try is going to come out. and you can't know that unless you have some idea of how the rules are going to handle the situation. If the GM is making capricious decisions about what happens in the game, you're always shooting in the dark and you have no real control over your character at all.

    The obsession with limiting the scope for a ‘capricious GM’ certainly describes an approach to playing RPGs that I find extremely unattractive. I’m glad that ‘the early designers were wrong’!

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  3. I love the evil GM straw man.

    But I don't think the gist of the Patton quote supports Mr. Williams' point about game design one bit, particularly in terms of the cumbersome design of 3x.

    Thanks to him and James for an interesting interview.

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  4. Hm. I never knew Skip had such old-school cred.

    In my experience, most people who say that the capriciousness of a DM is not a problem have never played with a seriously bad DM. I have. Hell, at age 12 I WAS that DM. Overall what I think Skip means to say is that there needs must be a sort of social contract between DMs and players, part of which is an agreement about situations on which the rules are Ambiguous, and Sage Advice is intended to provide Skip's own interpretation of the situation to provide a guideline. This, I think, is all to the good.

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  5. I agree with Akrasia's comment above. This interview gives useful insight inti the "anti-GM" feel I so often get from 3e, and the thinking behind it.

    Unfortunately, overall I'd have to say I think Skip's influence on the game has been baleful. I don't agree with some of Gygax's screw-the-players type pronouncements (in the 1e DMG to a degree, but much more so in his scenarios, later ones like Necropolis by far the worst), but one of the things 4e did right was to row back on the anti-GM/player-empowerment stance of 3e to a more neutral position.

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  6. The early designers were wrong. It comes down to this: If you want to be in control of your character who have to have some idea how anything you might try is going to come out. and you can't know that unless you have some idea of how the rules are going to handle the situation. If the GM is making capricious decisions about what happens in the game, you're always shooting in the dark and you have no real control over your character at all.

    This is interesting. Obviously the old school community has some consensus that the opposite is true.

    However, personally, I think the game is at its best when GM fiat and established mechanics are at the balancing point. -When there is friction between the two. I think Skip is right in the sense that players and GMs need a foundation for shared expectations. However, going too far beyond that can take the life out of the game. On the other hand, constantly making up rulings at the spur of the moment can be taxing for GMs and players, and can lead to mechanics creep in which the physics of the world are being shaped by the character's advancement.

    IMHO, that's where I somewhat disagree with the Gold, Silver and Bronze age analogy. As far as setting material progressed, I am apt to agree, but mechanically, I think the game experienced a rise and decline, with a peak in early 2E. -I think that's when we passed the tipping point from a Dave Arneson driven design philosophy to a Skip Williams one. I feel Gary was somewhere near the center, and I think his many contradictory statements on this subject support that notion.

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  7. Overall what I think Skip means to say is that there needs must be a sort of social contract between DMs and players...

    I think this is a point everyone can agree on. The problem with Sage Advice and with post-3e game design is the perception that the social contract can be codified somehow. The fallacy of the Skip Williams line of thinking is that there will always be jerky GMs out there, no matter how many rules one piles onto a design framework; personally, I'd rather not pay for a bloated 350-page hardback that's been designed to protect a bunch of 12-year-olds from their tyrannical GM.

    It's like Jimmy Swill said, there needs to be a balancing point between rulings and rules. It's harder to get to that point when you have a ton of rules to wade through.

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  8. And as Williams himself said, even with tons of rules, there are still people who will be able to pry the boards loose.

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  9. Robin Laws wrote that Rules Heavy systems give power to the players, while Rules Light systems give power to the DM. There isn't a perfect balancing point at which rules-light or rules-heavy is the "right" system. Each group, and probably each player, has their own ideas about what the "right" point is.

    Personally, I agree with S'mon's comment above that 4e did things right by giving the DM more power in the game. 3rd edition games often burdened the DM with so many specific rules and rulings that there wasn't anything he could do to be creative on the fly.

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  10. As one of the few people to have seen TSR through three of its most distinct incarnations, I'm a bit disappointed and surprised that you didn't ask him any questions about his perceptions of the company through its changes. Were questions of that nature considered off limits?

    Also, I wonder if you would consider compiling your reviews at some point into a single pdf file. For those of us with an interest in the history of the hobby, such a compilation would be invaluable.

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  11. Also, I wonder if you would consider compiling your reviews at some point into a single pdf file. For those of us with an interest in the history of the hobby, such a compilation would be invaluable.

    I second that. Thanks for this James.

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  12. I've often said that Skip Williams giving interpretations of AD&D rules was like an atheist giving interpretations on the Ten Commandments.

    No amount of perfect rules construction will ever protect a game from the 12 year old Dungeon Master. He can ruin 3e or 4e now just as well as he was able to ruin 1e back in the day.

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  13. No amount of perfect rules construction will ever protect a game from the 12 year old Dungeon Master. He can ruin 3e or 4e now just as well as he was able to ruin 1e back in the day.

    Yes, but I think Skip was trying to create a culture around the game in which players felt empowered to go up against a tyrannical DM, using the rules as their weapon. For example, he states that "The game just works better if the DM and players have similar expectations about how the rules handle things" and that the rules "help manage the player's expectations." That's not a bad idea, though I think it got out of control in 3rd edition. We didn't really need the thousands of "official house rules" that the Sage put out every month. As a DM, I used to have to sift through those rulings, trying to pull out which ones my players were going to latch onto, or who's build got broken by some seemingly arbitrary decision from the Sage.

    When you look at older editions, and I'm pretty much talking about my experience with 2nd edition here, you see that the rules were in many cases ambiguous or poorly worded. This led to everyone having houserules, and having to learn a new set of houserules everytime you played with a new group. I wonder how much of 3rd edition's rules-focus was a backlash against the flaws of the previous edition. It'd also be interesting to get some insight on whether this was the case with earlier editions, too.

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  14. This led to everyone having houserules, and having to learn a new set of houserules everytime you played with a new group. I wonder how much of 3rd edition's rules-focus was a backlash against the flaws of the previous edition.

    I guess a key point is that some people (myself included) don't see this as a flaw, but as an asset. Some ambiguity enables a group to fine tune the game to their tastes. Maybe it's because I never switched groups very frequently. It's all a matter of degrees, I suppose. I've never had much interest in a complete system, however. If you don't like an aspect of a complete system, it often becomes very hard to fix.

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  15. Thanks for another fantastic interview.

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  16. Writing RPG rules to counter bad DMs is like writing software to fix a broken computer.

    I'm sympathetic to the idea, but human society has existed for thousands of years and has yet to find a solution for jerks. I don't think RPG rules are going to solve that.

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  17. Swill, Sirlarkins, and Asmodean get exactly what I was trying to get across.

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  18. A good interview, in the sense that, as others have noted, it's a statement of what old school gaming is NOT.

    Those rules reduce everything to numbers, not descriptions.

    Seriously, what benefit in terms of tactical pre-planning is there to having the players know three rooms ahead that if they encounter a DL20 wall that the thief has a +3 on his d20 roll? How does that differ from asking the DM about how difficult you think the wall will be and hearing, "About a 1 in 6 chance you'll fall?"

    Does the game really benefit by the assumption that trying to trip an opponent has exactly the same chance of success regardless of other circumstances? If the answer is that the DM adjusts chances based on those circumstances, haven't we just come full circle but with a ton of rules that are ultimately irrelevant to the final probability numbers??

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  19. If the answer is that the DM adjusts chances based on those circumstances, haven't we just come full circle but with a ton of rules that are ultimately irrelevant to the final probability numbers??

    Well said.

    Some rules, some ambiguity. Mix to taste.

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  20. Thanks to Skip for his answers! Thanks to James for his questions! Well said, Mr. Mearls.

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  21. James,

    These interviews are a real treasure, as others have stated above. I haven't forgotten, though, that some time ago you stated that you might have an interview in the works that would be controversial. I don't think Skip Williams is it. Who do you have on the back burner? Brian Blume?

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  22. Does the game really benefit by the assumption that trying to trip an opponent has exactly the same chance of success regardless of other circumstances<

    Yeah, the "chaos theory" in life and games is always there. Nothing is the same every time you do it. Just ask a pro golfer on a windy day if he will have the same exact shot as he did the day before. I doubt he will.

    Like most old school DM's, you take away half my fun if you take away my ability to wing it. Shitty DM's tend to create their own downfall. The players go somewhere else. If you need rules rammed down your throat to control the DM, then you have created something I don't want to play with. Why I have used 1st ed. for my 30 year DM history.

    Great interview, and I would love to hear more detail from Skip.

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  23. Why I have used 1st ed. for my 30 year DM history<

    Uh, with the shit houseruled out of it, of course...

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  24. Just a comment directed to those who feel the only reason to have a more quantified rule set is to "protect the players from killer 12yo DMs."

    For my personal GMing style, having a solid framework of well defined rules for common cases makes it *easier* for me to rule on the corner cases, rather than harder. Easier because I can look to the logic of the rules to make ruling that feel more solid and consistent. And because players can get a grip on that same internal logic, they can sometimes figure out ways into, out of, and around obstacles that I myself would have never conceived of. And being surprised by players is part of what makes GMing fun for me.

    Now obviously codification can be taken too far, creating sprawling rule sets that neither the player nor the GM can master, resulting in play that either bogs down in endless rule lookups or spirals into Talmud-like rule arguments.

    But then, so can "rules light". I suspect most here would balk at a rule set that left purely to GM on the fly ruling if your character hits the monster or not, or how many times you can hit the monster before it falls down. Yet it's a perfectly valid way to play (free forming). Not one I prefer either.

    So I'll certainly allow that different people prefer different level of rules codification, but I did want to point out that codification serves other purposes than simply "protecting players from killer GMs".

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  25. I want to personally thank Skip for doing the interview esp seeing as his heretical views are getting rough treatment here in the OSR King's court. Ok, on to the rough treatment :)


    I also saw this statement as contradictory to rest of interview

    "The referee is there to keep the game moving. As Patton once said, a good answer today is better than a perfect answer next week."

    To me that means: DM should make rulings. It's ok if they aren't perfect, blessed by The Sage, or even if they're occasionally contradictory. Playing the game today is better than waiting for/arguing over perfect answer.
    Likewise rolling a d6 or d20 and making a judgment is better than looking up the answer in a bazillion books.

    Keep the game moving, indeed!


    "Tell me what you want to attempt. I'll judge difficulty and give you an x in 6 chance of success." is all the codification many people need.

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  27. Aswering rules questions for the player is not something bad per ser. The question is: WHO aswers them? Do we need to appeal to a superior official authority , or can each DM just have it it's own way?

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  28. 3e was designed by game designers for game designers. It works perfectly in theory, as long as the players and DM's are perfect as well.

    Still a great interview. I'd like to hear more from Skip.

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  29. I think that only PART of the considerations for the 3E game overhaul was to make the game more playable and less ambiguous. Just as TSR re-did the rule and the setting to exclude Gygax's authorship (and a claim on royalties) from the product which TSR marketed, so did WoTC rewrite the rules to factor out the TSR and any claim that IT may have. SAD.
    My biggest gripe is with how the skill system has been changed. When describing anything, the descriptors can be used either in a CARDINAL or the ORDINAL way. When describing a D&D character in a Cardinal way, you only describe those traits, which make the character unique or different. Sort of like the Character Class or the subsets developed in 2E supplements. When describing a charater in the Ordinal way, you describe the character in terms of traits which EVERYONE shares, but which can be rated statistically (like the ability scores).

    When Gygax introduced the Non-Weapon proficiencies, and I think that OD&D types do not use them, the skills were used in a Cardinal Way, as a way to further define player characters. The only time you did a skill check was as a "saving throw" in situations where a typical unskilled character would fail. WoTC version of D&D uses skills in an Ordinal way - you have a ton of common tasks to which points are allocated and which are used as "checks" when performing ordinary everyday actions, which ought to be role played in most cases (such as "Information Gathering" skill).

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  30. There's really no rule that says that a DM has to use any of the rules at all. All DMs change or ignore rules to suit their own style or campaign. The different between a good DM and a bad DM is the level of the player's enjoyment in spite of or because of this use, disuse, or even misuse of the rules.

    In my own personal campaigns, I pretty much throw out half the rules, even when running 3.X, and no one minds because they are too busy having a good time to notice or care.

    I also think that the attitude that DMs and players are somehow in opposition, that the DM is the player's enemy and vice versa is very immature. A role playing game if anything, is a cooperative affair between GM and player. If it isn't and either the GM or the players are trying to 'beat' the other then someone is doing something wrong and the players should find a better GM or the GM should find better players. I have certainly found myself on both sides of that equation and have made my exit as a result.

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  31. There's really no rule that says that a DM has to use any of the rules at all.

    No, but... when players come into a game with the expectation that rules are going to work a certain way, they often become upset when a DM tells them the rules work a different way. The particular 3rd edition situations I'm thinking about is where a player maps out his character build from level 1-20, picks all his feats, spells, what items he's going to have built, and so on. Then he gets into the game, only to find out that the DM has disallowed a feat or spell he's relying on for his build, or that for story reasons, he can't play an elf, and he's pissed. Those particular situations plagued me throughout the third edition cycle. The increased codification of the rules and the expectation that was created in players that "everything in every book is open to you" were big problems.

    4e has some of the same problems. New books come out and they're quickly mined by players looking to flesh out their build. There is a general expectation that people can use any race/class/feat from any book. And, in time, I expect that the 4e power creep and book glut will be about as bad as the 3rd edition was, although at the moment, it seems like they're doing a much better job keeping power creep under control in the new edition.

    I suppose the problem is that it's harder to get players to buy in to your house rules than it is to get them to buy in to the accepted rules that are in print and which are commonly discussed on message boards.

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  32. Brooze the Bear: “so did WoTC rewrite the rules to factor out the TSR and any claim that IT may have. SAD.

    O_o There was no TSR left to have any claim. They didn’t buy D&D, they bought TSR. No matter how much I might criticize the choices they made, I haven’t seen anything to led me to believe the people involved with 3e were doing anything but trying to make the best version—in their opinion—of D&D they could. They had only admiration, not animosity, towards Gygax, Arneson, Zeb, etc.

    asmodean66: “No, but... when players come into a game with the expectation that rules are going to work a certain way, they often become upset when a DM tells them the rules work a different way.

    Yeah, though for me it’s not exactly about player expectations, because I try to be clear about what I’ll be doing as DM up-front.

    (Although, it is disheartening when I’m doing that explaining and I see a player realize something they were looking forward to won’t be an option...but that’s another discussion.)

    When my group was discussing me running a B/X campaign, one of the guys said that—the way I was describing running B/X—I could use it as DM and they could use 3e as players just fine.

    To which I replied: Yes, but if the players have invested time in choosing to put points into one skill vs. others, I’m going to want to make that choice meaningful.

    Whether the players are OK with me ignoring rules, I’m much happier—and find things go much smoother—if we just start with a smaller set of rules and add rather than subtract from a big set of rules.

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  33. Matthew,

    No, this was not the controversial interview I am working on, although it does seem to have turned into something controversial nevertheless. I have a few more upcoming ones that might be similar to this one in terms of their reception by the old school community. As for the one I originally referenced, it's still ongoing and I don't want to say much about it till it's actually happened, because it very well might not.

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  34. Brooze the Bear: "When Gygax introduced the Non-Weapon proficiencies..."

    That wasn't Gygax, it was Zeb Cook. Gary's name was on the cover of the book (Oriental Adventures) but it's openly acknowledged by all sides that Cook actually wrote it and Gary had little-if-anything to do with it (and in fact denounced it in later years, claiming that if TSR had been in more stable financial shape and he'd been less preoccupied with the business side that he'd have rejected the manuscript and started over). Not that it materially impacts the rest of your point, just being nitpicky...

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  35. way, they often become upset when a DM tells them the rules work a different way<

    I get the feeling you are mostly experienced with convention or some other pick-up play.

    I never play with complete strangers, and have a regular group. I use AD&D 1st ed. only and after 30 years I have houserules (basically leaving stuff out) the heck out of it. Although my h. rules usually are to benefit characters and speed of play, I try to explain what I can. I also tell a new player he will have to take a lot on faith. They are usually not dissapointed, and usually get the character they want.

    To me that is a lot easier than sticking with strick rules, which almost never work for everybody (unless is is Call of Cthulhu - those rules are just too perfect!)

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  36. Robert Fisher:
    "When my group was discussing me running a B/X campaign, one of the guys said that—the way I was describing running B/X—I could use it as DM and they could use 3e as players just fine."

    My current "3e" campaign runs exactly this way! I use B/X 'behind the curtain', while the players use 3e. Monsters get 3e stats where necessary for stuff that interacts directly with the PCs (Fort/Ref/Will saves and an ascending AC, basically). Works great and saves me a ton of hassle. I ran "Rahasia" and "Horror on the Hill" as the first 2 major adventures, followed by a couple C&C-statted Dungeon Crawl Classics.

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  37. "My current "3e" campaign runs exactly this way! I use B/X 'behind the curtain', while the players use 3e."

    S'mon, this is somewhat puzzling to me. Which combat rules do you use, 3e or B/X? If the former, then you have to deal with all of the 3e stuff that makes the game such a chore to DM, at least for me. If the B/X rules, then many of the feats that players choose for their characters are useless. Similarly, which spell descriptions do you use?

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  38. "The early designers were wrong."

    This is one of those things that...well, I'm not going to say that you *can't* say it, but I'm going to day that if you *do* say it, you'd better be able to back your assertion up.

    It's fine to say "That Michaelangeo puke couldn't sculpt worst s***!" or "Man, I could give Shakespeare a run for his money, no sweat."

    It's yet another thing to actually do it. What, I ask you, has Skip Williams ever done other than a whole lot of navel-graving filler "Sage" columns that everybody skipped over reading anyway and maybe a minor contribution to the widely-loathed 3E?

    Nothing.

    It's not that nobody could make the claim he did with credibility, it's that he, specifically, cannot.

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  39. Will - Sage has done a bunch of stuff, albeit often stuff I don't like much, such as the 2e High Level Campaigns book. He was the lead designer on the 3e Monster Manual, and seems to have been responsible for 3e's page-long monster stat blocks. Great for playing them as PCs, not so great for the poor GM.

    Akrasia:
    "S'mon, this is somewhat puzzling to me. Which combat rules do you use, 3e or B/X? If the former, then you have to deal with all of the 3e stuff that makes the game such a chore to DM, at least for me. If the B/X rules, then many of the feats that players choose for their characters are useless. Similarly, which spell descriptions do you use?"

    As far as the players are concerned, we use the 3e combat rules & spell descriptions for their PCs - Attacks of Opportunity can be a chore, but B/X monsters aren't loaded down with special powers so in general it seems to run pretty fast. NPCs normally use B/X stats, so eg an NPC Cleric-3 has 2 1st level spells, which he must choose in advance, so probably 2 cure light wounds, but they'll heal 1d8+3 hp as per 3e, not 1d6+1.

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  40. Of course B/X monsters need appropriate 3e Challenge Ratings for XP purposes. Generally speaking my rule is CR = 0.5 x hit dice (or level), so a 10th level B/X Fighter or 10 hd monster would be CR 5. Special abilities - *s in B/X - add a CR, so eg an M-U 10 might be CR 7.

    People at Dragonsfoot with knowledge of both systems thought my game would be too easy, but in fact I rapidly gained a rep as a killer GM at the club and had to bring in a house rule (death at - 10+CON instead of - 10) to reduce the bodycount.

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  41. S'mon:

    That definitely falls under "maybe a minor contribution to the widely-loathed 3E."

    I still maintain that the man has done absolutely nothing of lasting worth to the game. Being in the right place at the right time (one of EGG's son's classmates) is the extent of it.

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  42. Will, I think that's an overly harsh and uninformed assessment of Skip. Have a look at his writing credits sometime - he's got a long pedigree with products throughout 2nd and 3rd edition. Not to mention that he's one of the three primary designers of the d20 system - not a minor contributer. I realize that d20 probably isn't considered high priority on a site that is focused on old-school gaming, but his contribution to the roleplaying hobby shouldn't be understated.

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  43. I think it's more than a little unfair to claim that Mr Williams hasn't contributed anything to the hobby, given that his design resume is long, particularly during the 2e era. Certainly many of his projects aren't ones that are held in high regard among old schoolers, but that's not the same thing as saying he's made no contributions.

    Besides being untrue, I think it's simply rude and disrespectful to subject any of the my interviewees to that kind of invective. In the coming weeks, I'm going to be posting interviews with a number of people whose contributions will be even more controversial and I certainly hope they won't be treated as punching bags. If I have to, I'll just close off comments entirely, but I'd rather not do that if I can avoid it.

    So, please, everyone: keep it civil and turn down the rhetoric, even when it's someone you disagree with.

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  44. @S'mon

    Mixing BX or other "simple" system for NPC/Monster and all the feats/powers from 3.5 or the like for players sounds like a great method to run a heroic campaign. Were the characters are literally / mechanically larger than life.

    Is that what you have found / intended?



    @the other person

    "Being in the right place at the right time"

    That can be said of Gary, Dave and most others. There's a difference between "doing nothing" and "doing nothing you like". Further evidence of your disconnection from reality is the claim that one of the best selling, most published, widest played RPG is "widely-loathed". I'm not much of a fan either, but many many people are and it's ridiculously egotistic to ignore their opinion for your own.

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  45. "Further evidence of your disconnection from reality is the claim that one of the best selling, most published, widest played RPG is 'widely-loathed'."

    An RPG blog called "Grognardia" implies a certain context, no? One where affection for WotC's D&D designs is bound to be pretty scarce?

    "I think it's more than a little unfair to claim that Mr Williams hasn't contributed anything to the hobby"

    That is definitely unfair, yes. What I said, though, is that I don't believe he's contributed anything "of lasting worth." That's something that I could say for a lot of writers' work. I did say it about his *works*, however. There's no personal insult intended. For all I know, he's a wonderful person. I certainly wish him no ill.

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  46. Norman H:
    "@S'mon

    Mixing BX or other "simple" system for NPC/Monster and all the feats/powers from 3.5 or the like for players sounds like a great method to run a heroic campaign. Were the characters are literally / mechanically larger than life.

    Is that what you have found / intended?"

    That's right - my intention with the Willow Vale campaign was very much a heroic, larger than life campaign without the stress and tedium of the high level 3e rules, and a pretty low-magic setting reminiscent of King Arthur, Dragonslayer and the Song of Roland, one where a Fire Ball is the ultimate destructive force.

    After a year's play the PCs (a Cleric, a Rogue, a Paladin, plus various guest PCs) have gone from 1st to 6th/7th 3e PCs, fighting B/X or C&C-statted (if running C&C mod) Villain of up to 9th/10th level, but no regular Vale NPC exceeds 6th level B/X, the aged King Thongar is a Noble - a 3rd level B/X Fighter. :)

    One thing I wanted to get away from was the 3e 'CR grind' where PCs need optimal 'builds' and tactics to survive. I also wanted a game suited to novice & less-skilled players at the London D&D Meetup, and one where caster PCs did not dominate (because weaker foes = more fights, and less need to 'nova'). I feel I have succeeded on all counts.

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  47. Skip Williams is second only to Dale 'Slade' Henson among TSR authors in my dislike of his work, but I still think you're way out of line, Will.

    "An RPG blog called "Grognardia" implies a certain context, no? One where affection for WotC's D&D designs is bound to be pretty scarce?"

    Which would be why Mike Mearls is a regular commenter here? No, we like the Old School, but many of us have played and run 3e and/or 4e and seen plenty of value there. If anything the OSR has contributed greatly to my enjoyment of newer systems, by informing me in new ways of what works, and what can be ignored - see my comments on my BX/3e mash-up campaign above. I run Labyrinth Lord, Castles & Crusades, Mutant Future, and 3e D&D, and I enjoy them all. I'm about to start running 4e D&D, likewise. They all have their advantages and limitations, none is the One True Game. They do different things.

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