Tuesday, October 6, 2009

A Game of One's Own

When I made an off-handed remark about "the deracinated hobby we have today" in a post yesterday, I didn't expect it to elicit much comment. One of the purposes of this blog has always been a discussion of the early history of the hobby of roleplaying, a history I feel too few gamers know nowadays and the ignorance of which has led to many trends I find infelicitous. When I call modern roleplaying "deracinated," that's part of what I mean: out of touch with its roots, both literary and mechanical.

I think I've covered the literary angle pretty well. I don't think at this stage that anyone can doubt that most early RPGs, D&D first and foremost, have very specific literary origins and that the form those early games took was, in many ways, a reflection of those literary origins, or at least a reflection of a particular understanding of those literary origins. I don't think I've dealt with the mechanical side of things as well, or at least in as focused a way, which is why I can understand why someone might see my continued liking for OD&D as primarily nostalgic in character. After all, roleplaying game design has "evolved" since the 1970s; what could those "broken" games of the past actually offer us more than 30 years later?

Perhaps "mechanical" isn't the best word to describe this other aspect of RPGs, as it's not solely about rules as such. Rather, it's about the content and presentation of early games, part of which includes rules but part of which is, for wont of a better word, esthetic. Early RPGs look, to modern eyes, to be incomplete. There are "holes" in their content, things either left unsaid on purpose or on the assumption that the reader would fill in the gaps for himself. And fill them in they did. If you look at the early history of the hobby and the explosion of fanzines that appeared discussing OD&D, you very quickly realize that, far from finding the little brown books "broken," many gamers found them spurs to their own creativity.

I wasn't part of the fanzine culture at all, but I remember well that the lacunae in the Holmes rulebook inspired me to create my own material. I don't believe that most of these lacunae were intentional. Back then, game design was still at a stage where most designers never even considered the inclusion of certain things that nowadays we take for granted. There simply was no perceived need for detailed social interaction rules, for example, so they were never created. Once gamers saw a need for such -- and there were gamers who did, even back in the day -- they made up their own, wrote them up in a fanzine, and distributed them via mail, at game clubs, or at conventions, where other gamers read them, used them, criticized, and modified them.

This culture of gaming still existed in late 1979 when I entered the hobby and it's what I strongly associate with it. Let me be clear: I know many contemporary gamers are just as keen on tinkering and kit bashing as those of old and, thanks to the wonders of modern technology, can do so more easily and more widely than was ever possible in my youth. That's not what I miss or what attracts me to games like OD&D. Rather, it's that, in those days, you had to do this. Playing OD&D out of the box was not really an option, because you very quickly discovered that the rules, as presented, didn't cover many situations that would come up in the course of even fairly simple, straightforward play. Consequently, early gaming was, by necessity as much as by design, an exercise in "co-designing." That is, to play an RPG meant that you were also designing an RPG of your own. You couldn't just pop open a book, read the rules, and play. No, you had to create a lot of new rules to cover situations the printed rules did not. If you didn't, you didn't play.

What this meant was each individual "D&D" campaign was highly individualistic and eccentric, a reflection of the decisions its referees and players came to when grappling with the holes in the original rules. Some had their own character classes, spells, initiative rules, and so on. If you went to another campaign, you had to learn how they did things; you couldn't just assume they did things the way you did. That's why, back then, we regularly talked about playing in "Bob's campaign" or "Joe's campaign" rather than some other nomenclature, because the fact that Bob rather than Joe was the referee made a big difference in how they game was played. Sure, there were standard interpretations and commonplace house rules, but none were so standard or so commonplace that one could assume that someone else's campaign ran just like yours. Take a look at the Perrin Conventions, for example, and you'll very quickly see how wildly interpretations of OD&D's combat system alone varied.

For myself, this individualism and lack of standardization is a feature rather than a bug of early games. I consider it an element lacking in many modern games, with their obsessions about "balance" and ensuring a unity of play experience regardless of who the referee or players are. It's the same reason why, for all my appreciation for certain canned campaign settings, such Greyhawk or the Wilderlands, I think the advent of prepackaged worlds (and, to a lesser extent, adventure modules) signaled a huge shift in the culture of gaming and one that wasn't entirely a positive one. Gaming as I was introduced to it was about making stuff up for yourself. If you had a question about the rules, you consulted your referee, not the "Sage Advice" column. Rulebooks were there to offer the raw materials from which to make your own RPG.

This state of affairs had nothing to do with the mythical "Viking hat GM" that everyone decries these days. Rather, it had to do with the simple reality that, to play many early RPGs, someone had to decide what those rules meant and that person was very often the referee. Of course, there were bad referees back then but there were also plenty of referees from which to choose. Jerks didn't keep their players very long, which is why, even as kids, my friends and I soon realized that you could be "harsh but fair" as a referee, but it was the fairness that was the more important of the two qualities, hence the name "referee," which I think makes things clearer than does Game Master.

The point of this over-long rambling is that I think games like OD&D still have relevance today because they demand a degree of active engagement that later designs often do not. OD&D shows us that game design is something that happens at the game table more than at the game company that produced the original rulebook. These games inculcate a do-it-yourself ethos that led to an explosion of different "D&Ds," each one a reflection of the people who played it. And while I am generally hostile to the notion that you need to play a game to judge it, I think OD&D tends to one of those rare examples of a game that is more than the sum of its written parts. Simply to read the little brown books is to see a broken, incomplete, amateurish thing rather than the lightning in a bottle whose electricity is still, 35 years later, energizing this hobby.

118 comments:

  1. I find it interesting that what most people would view as a flaw--that the rules are at times incoherent and have holes in them--is here seen as a virtue. I disagree--if a wargame or cardgame had incoherent rules, I'd think it was a crappy game. I don't see why RPGs should be different.

    Also, I think if the rules are coherent and have what you want in them, you can still be very creative--but your creativity comes in creating a fun and interesting character, or an fascinating world. Being a game designer is certainly not the only type of creativity that exists, and I prefer not being forced to be a game designer by incomplete/incoherent rules. Game design is great, and I've done my share of attempting it, but I just don't see the appeal of a game that *makes* you be a game designer.

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  2. Akiva misses the point: "incomplete" does not necessarily mean "incoherent." As Michael Mornard has pointed out a number of times, some of the "missing" rules in OD&D were actually places where Gary, Dave, et. al. expected that referees would add in their own material.

    While it is the case that the original D&D rules required a great deal of interpretation (and were, yes, incoherent in places), subsequent restatements of the rules worked to clarify what was meant. But that doesn't mean that the original rules were completely flawed - that invitation to co-design was explicit at the end of Volume III: The Underworld and Wilderness Adventures.

    FWIW, Akiva's comment reminds me of Arnold Hendrick's original review of D&D, which can be found here: http://www-personal.umich.edu/~beattie/timeline/1972-1979/dd.gif - and to which Gary took more than necessary umbrage. Suffice it to say that being invited to co-design a game is not to everyone's taste. De gustibus and all that...

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  3. [i]Victor said: Akiva misses the point: "incomplete" does not necessarily mean "incoherent." [/i]

    I don't think that's what I said; I said that the OD&D rules were both incomplete and incoherent, not that incomplete=incoherent. James himself noted that

    [i]Simply to read the little brown books is to see a broken, incomplete, amateurish thing [/i]

    which sounds like the game is incoherent. After all, "broken" means something in particular--it means that it doesn't work as written. My point is that I find it odd that something that James himself calls "broken" is seen as a virtue, not a flaw. And to repeat my other point--why is it that creativity in designing/interpreting rules is so valuable but creativity in making a great character or world is rarely mentioned?

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  4. I don't mind making up rules, really. However for me it is a means to an end- the end being world creation. I find it easier to tailor simpler/ less "complete" rule sets (by and large) to my game worlds. I have found that there are roughly 4 games that fit my needs. Two are old (Traveller and OD&D) and two are newish (Savage Worlds and True20). They all require quite a bit of effort on my part to make ready for play, and they require off the cuff rulings during play. In short I like lighter games that leave a good deal of the heavy lifting to me- all other considerations, such as vintage or the presence/ lack of unified mechanics are of no importance whatsoever.

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  5. OD&D as written is poorly done. At it's heart, it's an excellent game, but it was sorely in need of a strong editor that could cut and hack it into a workable text. The Holmes edited set presents the ideas of OD&D in a much better way as does the retro clone Swords & Wizardry.

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  6. To clarify: the first time I use the word "broken" with reference to OD&D, it is to dismiss the notion that the LBBs were in fact broken, noting that I found them to be spurs to creativity rather than as hindrances, as some people do. My use of the term after that point is meant to be ironic, not at all indicative of my actual feelings on the matter or indeed the actual truth of the matter.

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  7. Early RPGs didn't have rulebooks.

    They had handbooks.

    Our perception of either is how we approach the game.

    I believe this causes "new role players" to look at old games as incomplete, and causes "old role players" to look at new games and think of them as too focused on the rules.

    Both are wrong, but they probably don't see it.

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  8. James wrote:
    To clarify: the first time I use the word "broken" with reference to OD&D, it is to dismiss the notion that the LBBs were in fact broken, noting that I found them to be spurs to creativity rather than as hindrances, as some people do. My use of the term after that point is meant to be ironic, not at all indicative of my actual feelings on the matter or indeed the actual truth of the matter.

    Just out of curiosity:

    (1) If you bought a wargame/cardgame/boardgame today, and it had incomplete and/or incoherent rules, would you think that was a spur to creativity?

    (2) If you bought an RPG today that had incoherent and/or incomplete rules, would you think that was a problem?

    (3) Did you write your own RPGs to have gaps and lack of clarity to spur creativity (and I don't mean things that will be covered in detail in future supplements)?

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  9. I DO think the LBBs tend toward incoherence. I DON'T think that the rules are "broken". And that's the brilliance of Swords & Wizardry, it makes a good system readable, while preserving what makes it worthwhile.

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  10. Jason,

    That's a very interesting perspective. I'm not sure I agree with it, but it does offer food for thought. Thanks.

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  11. Just out of curiosity...

    You know, I think those are just good, and revealing questions to ask, so I'm just gonna answer them too for the sake of discussion:

    (1) If you bought a wargame/cardgame/boardgame today, and it had incomplete and/or incoherent rules, would you think that was a spur to creativity?

    No, I would likely be annoyed, but I might take a shot at addressing it.

    (2)If you bought an RPG today that had incoherent and/or incomplete rules, would you think that was a problem?

    If they are incoherent and difficult to understand that is a problem. Incomplete rules, on the other hand are wonderful. I think that the ability of the people at the table to add, tinker, or outright replace what's written in the text a defining characteristic of RPGs. If I see something that I want is left out, I love taking care of it myself.

    (3) Did you write your own RPGs to have gaps and lack of clarity to spur creativity (and I don't mean things that will be covered in detail in future supplements)?

    I wish I wrote my own game whole cloth! Knowing myself as well as I do, I probably would. I love to improve or be extemporaneous.

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  13. Akiva,

    1. Leaving aside the fact that I don't consider RPGs much like wargames/boardgames/cardgames, my answer would depend on what you mean by "incomplete" or "incoherent." Diplomacy, for example, doesn't say much specifically about what you can and cannot do while negotiating with other players. Does that make it an incomplete game?

    2. Again, depends on what you mean by the terms. I have bought and enjoyed many games that "lack" certain rules and have played them profitably by filling in the gaps with my own ideas. I generally consider this a feature of RPGs as a type of entertainment.

    3. Yes, I have, actually. My SF RPG Thousand Suns is specifically vague on several topics for this very reason.

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  14. A correction, I love to improvise and be extemporaneous.

    Obivously I do not necessarily love typing.

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  15. I think the standardization and filling in of rules came about largely because of tournament play, and that was a big part of the drive toward 4e as well, since combat and winning combats is an important part of tournament play, as opposed to sandbox play. Similar thing with equalizing classes and balance, which is much more important in tournament play.

    I totally reject an equivalence between wargames/boardgames/cardgames and role-playing games. What is incomplete in one is by no means incomplete in another.

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  16. Excellent article! While I am not running nor playing OD&D, I can appreciate what you are saying about a ruleset that calls for making rulings and houserules.

    I have am currently running a sci-fi game called Corporation, and the rules are very light. It has a very strong central mechanic for task/combat resolution, but is very light in describing other situations. Thus, I have had the opportunity to create house rules and rulings using the core mechanic and the spirit of the rules as a guide.

    I have found the experience to be a great deal of fun. Having run a number of more structured games over the past few years, one of the things I have missed as a GM was the ability to create mechanics for the game I was running, in addition to creating stories.

    Going forward, I can see that I will be looking for games, that have that solid core mechanic, and the mechanical opportunities to create my own rules for the game.

    Thanks for putting into words what I have been feeling lately about my current campaign.

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  17. Vincent said: As there are essentially limitless combinations of players and desires, calling a game incomplete is merely stating something about you and your desires.

    I'd like to point out that I'm not the one who introduced the word incomplete here--James did. I'm just using the word he used.

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  18. James said: Diplomacy, for example, doesn't say much specifically about what you can and cannot do while negotiating with other players.

    Actually, Diplomacy says that basically anything is allowed during negotiations--so it does say what you can and can't do.

    About Thousand Suns: I own, and like this game. You know it better than I do, obviously, but it seems to me that most (if not all) of the lack of completeness is in the setting, not the rules. I've been talking about rules, not setting. But I may be missing something from the game.

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  19. Vincent said: Akiva, games of all types require only the rules that the players need to have the game experience that they desire.

    So if a game--like OD&D which stresses fighting monsters--has incomplete and/or incoherent rules for combat, then it doesn't have all the rules players need.

    Listen, I'm not trying to slam anyone's taste, and I certainly have a lot of nostalgia for AD&D (1st edition). But I find it incredibly odd and problematic that something that would be regarded as a flaw in other types of games, newer RPGs, and other genres (such as novels) is seen as a virtue in the case of OD&D. It makes me wonder how much of the love for the game is just nostalgia and/or adoration of Gygax/Arneson.

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  20. Drat, my huge ranting post was eaten up!

    My point in comparing wargames and roleplaying games was using the Warhammer Fantasy Battle game in comparing it to D&D. Changes originally suggested by consumer input have been replaced by lazy marketing people who pull the plug on one edition when sales start to dwindle to push another edition. If these companies actually served the customer the changes wouldn't be such obvious attempts at making all previous material obsolete and focusing on the Next Big Thing.

    Was there a NEED for 4E by us, the consumers? No. Was 3.5 soooo broken as to be unplayable without massive revisions? That depends on who you ask, the average consumer I feel would probably be able to survive with 0E-3.5, but no, WotC knew that the 3.5 game, shoddy beast that it was, needed to be shelved for the shiny new 4th edition, complete with rabid fanboys who declare it the Best Game Ever! (until 5th edition comes out, at least)

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  21. I have tried and tried over the years to understand the argument that a game with "mechanical gaps" is not worth playing since there are many more streamlined and concise alternatives. Why is that even an issue? I don't care if it is a boardgame, cardgame, rpg, throwing a tennis ball at a section of wall or whatever. The entire point of nearly all games is to enjoy yourself. If all the individuals present go home mostly happy, what is the relevance of this point?
    It's not a debatable topic. It's argumentative. Rhetoric. Which came first, the chicken or the egg?
    I don't care. I enjoy both, much like my fondness for both tea and coffee. Neither has a quantifiable "better" quality. It's a subjective opinion that can never be "proven" one way or another.
    The most confounding thing about the argument, from either side of the spectrum (because even though BRP is my favorite system, full of holes and inconsistency, I almost hate it more when a member of the "old school" jumps on someone from the "new school" for their perception of quality) is that it invariably starts with some snarky prick taking offense at something totally unrelated.
    Here's the punch line:
    WE ARE TALKING ABOUT A BUNCH OF ADULTS PLAYING PRETEND.
    I like playing pretend because I get a kick out of it, and my friends who play with me get a kick out of it. The rules are there as a general framework, they're not a schematic diagram, and that's just as true for a game such as Pathfinder (which I love) that has fairly clear, well scaled, uniformly presented and implemented rules for damn near anything that happens in the game world as it is for AD&D1e (which I also love), which is full of gaps, contradictions, vagaries and useless detritus. While they are two somewhat different game experiences, they share a lot more than they individually own. (Probably a poor example given I chose two fantasy games, one of which was a modern restatement of an older one, but I think I made my point).
    Please, everyone, talk about something debatable where we can share ideas about how much we enjoy playing pretend rather than spending the rest of our lives shouting at one another over an abstract, unverifiable talking point.

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  22. But I find it incredibly odd and problematic that something that would be regarded as a flaw in other types of games, newer RPGs, and other genres (such as novels) is seen as a virtue in the case of OD&D.

    I think the difference is in the point-of-view.

    I for one don't see games, RPGs, and novels as equal activities, even within their own categories. I don't expect every situation in a game of Tag to be in some handbook. Heck, such assertions were a tease when I was a kid.

    A: "Tag, you're it!"
    B: "No, you didn't tag me right."
    A: "Who died and gave you the rules to Tag?"

    As a game, there are few games that are as incoherent and incomplete as Tag, but I don't expect the same level of rigor for Tag than I would baseball. And I don't expect the expectations that I would have for a novel to carry over to D&D. Each activity is it's own thing, and in my mind, they have their own distinct expectations to be met for me to get it.

    For me, Monopoly is not The Hobbit, is not Dungeons and Dragons.

    Verification Word: Sunklif (n)- The holy written language of the Sun Worshippers.

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  23. "So if a game--like OD&D which stresses fighting monsters-"

    You lost me right there.

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  25. I think the open ended rules, with the thought that the players and GMs will tinker and come up with new rules, points to OD&D's roots in wargaming. Tinkering with the rules has always been a part of wargaming. I'm not sure about a lot of the newer games out there, but if I didn't like a rule in Battletech for instance, I would omit or make up a new rule.

    On a side note, about the literary roots of RPG's. Does anyone know if there was a reading list for Traveller. Like a list of specific books and authors that inspired it. I have my own ideas but it would be interesting to find out specific authors and books.

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  26. I should also point out that the RPG industry deserves new editions of all games. Books don't become outdated. Role playing games don't become unplayable after a few years. These aren't computer games, nor are they MMOs.

    So, D&D offers you a bunch of different flavors to use for your game. 4E just offers up a different style of game, and frankly, if 4E had been just 3.5 with a few edits and a few adjustments, I'd feel it was just a money grab. The fact that they changed the game up meant that if you liked the changes, then moving to 4E meant you got something new! If you don't like the new changes, you still have a LOT to choose from, just inside the D&D line.

    People put too much emphasis on new versions of role playing games, as if somehow they dictate what you can and cannot play.

    Maybe it's a bit off topic, but really, do todays role players need official publications to continue to play their edition of the game? Does official support really matter that much?

    I don't think so, but maybe I'm in the minority.

    Give me dice, paper, and a pencil, and I can give you a game you'll have a lot of fun playing.

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  27. I agree that the LBB are incomplete. But completeness in this case would have been impossible, and it would have needed several Large Brown Books instead. Completeness is what they were going for in the 1E DMG and they still didn't scratch the surface.

    Coherency would fix that flaw, and again I'll admit that D&D isn't very coherent. That only really started to come about in 3E and 4E, though in coherence they changed other features of the game that need to be captured.

    I think we're still trying to figure out where to go next.

    But as it relates to actually playing, you could use any system. They're all good and bad. It's just your taste. If you want something fast and heavily houseruled and DM-refereed, OD&D is pretty good. Like 1E-3E you just need to know what to ignore.

    And perhaps that is the issue. You can't expect someone to step into a car for the first time and know how to drive it. But if someone has driven a Metro all their life and steps into a Crown Victoria they shouldn't have a problem driving away.

    So the test of a system isn't so much whether new players can get into it and understand it, but whether experienced players of other games can pick it up. Accessibility to the newbies is important, but accessibility to veterans is perhaps a more standardized test since you know they already like and play games.

    In that regard, OD&D is penetrable with some effort.

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  28. I'm curious as to what you believe is lacking in the LBBs? The combat system certainly seems complete (roll to hit, roll for damage, that's it, that's all I need), as does the magic system... What else do you feel that you need for these systems, or, for that matter, the rest of the game to be "complete"?

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  29. OD&D is superior to other versions of D&D precisely because the rules are incomplete and wide open. That's the whole point.

    All OD&D gives you are some separate but related resolution frameworks. The rest of it is Do It Yourself.

    It's the difference between a guy who buys plastic minis pre-painted by Chinese slaves and a guy who buys garage-cast Triarii for which you have to make their hastati out of piano wire.

    The first guy says "Gimme Romuns I dont care ware they come from." He doesn't know a maniple from a lorica segmentata. The second guy is looking for Roman figures of a particular time period, and will read Polybius and do modelling work to make them look right for that time. The first guy wants a mass-market toy and the second guy is a hobbyist who wants to create something that is his own.

    Every edition of D&D since OD&D has progressively tried to turn the game into less of a hobbyist's toolkit and more of a toy. If you can't cut it as a hobbyist, play with the toy. Not every hobby is right for every person. But don't get high and mighty about your toy being better than my model because I had to assemble and paint the model. Assembling and painting it is part of why I got it in the first place.

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  30. What Korgoth said, only less agressive.

    Especially for RPGs, it's about the DIY. For me it's a hobby. I want to put the blood, sweat, and tears into something mostly my own.

    OTOH, while I think mini-wargaming is cool, it's a activity where I find myself lacking in the skill, patience, and money to give it its proper due. That's doesn't stop me from buying computer games that are inspired by those ideas. Sometimes I just want a shiny little toy ready to go out of the box.

    IMO, both have their place.

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  31. Atom Kid wrote: On a side note, about the literary roots of RPG's. Does anyone know if there was a reading list for Traveller. Like a list of specific books and authors that inspired it. I have my own ideas but it would be interesting to find out specific authors and books.

    James created a very good list like this for his SF game, Thousand Suns. It's especially geared toward the type of SF that inspired Traveller and similar games.

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  32. The first guy says "Gimme Romuns I dont care ware they come from." He doesn't know a maniple from a lorica segmentata. The second guy is looking for Roman figures of a particular time period, and will read Polybius and do modelling work to make them look right for that time. The first guy wants a mass-market toy and the second guy is a hobbyist who wants to create something that is his own.

    This kind of elitism is precisely the problem I have with some "old schoolers" (to be crystal clear, I am not accusing JM of being a member of said group).

    I've been playing AD&D since 1980, but I am neither a hobbyist nor a "lifestyle gamer". I have never, even when I was 10, had enough free time to spend hours and hours every week developing my own adventures, campaign worlds, etc. (or at least I haven't chosen to spend it that in those pursuits).

    You are absolutely correct; it takes a great amount of dedication to the game to "get it right" like that. I'm not that committed, and I don't apologize for it. We can't all be, and most of us don't want to be, game designers. A game like OD&D forces you to be, which is why AD&D was/is the game for me.

    I don't want to Do It Yourself. I like the open-endedness of AD&D, but for the most part the rules are coherent and complete. The standardization is a plus IMO. Modules and published campaign settings are a godsend for casual gamers like me. I want someone else to do most of the prep work!

    I'm not knocking OD&D, and I'm not saying there is anything wrong with people who enjoy and have the luxury of time to create their own worlds, adventures, new rules, etc. Go for it! But don't imply that those of us who can't/don't do so are somehow sloppy, lazy, or stupid. We're not--our priorities are just different.

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  33. I am on the fence here, at least as far as the interpretations go.

    I've forever been searching for the perfect game as I'm sure many if not all GMs have been at one time or another. What makes a game perfect? The combination of flexibilty and completeness that means I don't have to rewrite the rules, just generate material for my campaign.

    At the same time, as I mentioned in a recent post on my own blog, there isn't a game in existance that I've liked that I haven't messed around with, be it mechanically or story wise. I am a dyed in the wool kitbasher and I just love adding bits here, cutting off things there, repainting and modifying like nobody's business.

    Now if a game is perfectly balanced and complete, it needs less modification and often, although not always, inspires less modification (necessity is the mother of invention). I tend to enjoy games more that I have altered or homebrewed to the point where they do what I want them to do the way I want them to do it. While no game will ever be perfect, we the creative community can make games nearly perfect for us (if not the gang at the next table).

    I like the older, simpler games and modern indie rules lite games because they inspire me while at the same time letting me screw with them.

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  34. Korgoth wrote: OD&D is superior to other versions of D&D precisely because the rules are incomplete and wide open. That's the whole point.

    All OD&D gives you are some separate but related resolution frameworks. The rest of it is Do It Yourself.


    By the logic of that argument, the best RPG is nothing--once there's any kind of rule, then it's a limit on your imagination.

    As to the argument that a "complete" RPG would be huge--that's a straw man argument. Remember, I'm not the one who introduced the word "complete." And just because you can't cover everything doesn't mean it's okay to leave lots of stuff out and just say "make it up yourself." How would D&D (of any flavor) be if it mentioned that it was a magical world, but had no rules for magic? I think almost everyone would say that would be incomplete.

    Even though I didn't use the word "complete," there are any number of things in OD&D that could be seen as incomplete. As a number of people have argued, the "end game" of D&D was supposed to be esablishing a stronghold of some type (not that I agree with that view, but it's been presented): but where are the rules for that? For the most part, the LBBs say "at certain levels, you attract followers. Make up the rest yourself." If that's the endgame, why is there very little discussion of *how* to do it?

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  35. @Korgoth: But the opposite also applies. Just because someone buys prepainted minis doesn't mean the guy who paints his own is any better. Some people have fun with the former, other with the latter. Each product is different, and has different features.

    I could easily suggest that OD&D provided far too many rules, and that there are better systems today (such as the 1-page rules that I've seen) that allow you to do so much more.

    What does it matter? Why is 4th edition bad for you? How does it harm your game? How did 3rd edition hurt it? Why was 2nd so bad? Why was 1st wrong? What makes OD&D the one and true and only RPG?

    I don't mean to sound antagonistic. These are honest questions? How are new editions bad? How does lack of official support or new material harm your fun?

    Lack of people to play with? That is the only thing I can imagine. If most people prefer D&D, then someone who enjoys Castles and Crusades is going to have a hard time playing. But if you took away D&D, would those same people be playing C&C?

    Beyond having people to play with, how does new editions harm older editions? They don't become outdated. That's the glory of books, pen and paper games in general, and board games as a whole.

    Brevity: I know it not.

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  36. Korgoth wrote: But don't get high and mighty about your toy being better than my model because I had to assemble and paint the model. Assembling and painting it is part of why I got it in the first place.

    What I object to, and I think others do as well, is that some OSR-types are doing the exact same thing to new game afficianados that they don't want done to them--"don't bash my way of gaming, because it's what I like, but your way of gaming sucks." I can point to *lots* of posts on K&K and other blogs to offer evidence of this.

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  37. Just a couple weeks ago James posted a link to Europa, an old European wargaming fanzine from about 1975. In it, in addition to the Gary Gygax article, was a write up on the "new" boardgame, Kingmaker. (Which is one of my all-time favorite Avalon Hill game.)

    One of the things in the write up was a bunch of alternate rules. It wasn't that the author thought the game was "broken." It was just what wargamers did when confronted with a new set of rules back in the 70's.

    That's the atmosphere D&D was written in. It was written under the assumption, as has been pointed out again and again, that the gamers would fill in the gaps. That's a very different standpoint than most commercial rpgs and their 300 to 900 pages of core rules are written from in these days.

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  38. "I find it interesting that what most people would view as a flaw--that the rules are at times incoherent and have holes in them--is here seen as a virtue"

    I don't think that anyone is seriously suggesting that the poor quality editing in OD&D and, to a slightly lesser extent, AD&D is a good thing. Where the books are literally incoherent they are certainly open to justified criticism.

    Completeness, on the other hand, is a pointless goal in an RPG of any sort and at the end of the day it's a subjective decision as to how much incompleteness is good, or how much striving for completeness is bad.

    What 30 odd years of RPG development has taught me is that smaller systems with blank spots frequently do a MUCH better job than self-consistent systems that attempt to shoehorn every character action into a "coherent" mechanical system.

    The real world is too complex for such simple-minded idealism, let alone a world where magic works. The greatest resource any RPG has is the human being running the game. Each attempt to constrain the DM risks losing the whole point of role-playing, and the more often a rule-set tries the more likely it is that the end result will be broken in the sense that the DM is not able to run the game s/he wishes to.

    AD&D is a better game for not having rules about social interactions, and it a better game for not having a detailed skill system. In many ways, OD&D is better still for having even more "gaps" than AD&D, but he flavour of AD&D suits me better overall.

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  39. "People put too much emphasis on new versions of role playing games, as if somehow they dictate what you can and cannot play."

    Yes, due to network effects.

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  40. Dear Akiva, yuo stated:
    "As a number of people have argued, the "end game" of D&D was supposed to be establishing a stronghold of some type (not that I agree with that view, but it's been presented): but where are the rules for that?"

    And the answer in the 35 year old LBBs is:
    pages 6,7,12,13 of Men and Magic
    pages 20-24 of Underworld and Wilderness Adventures.

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  41. "I just don't see the appeal of a game that *makes* you be a game designer."

    That, Akiva, is why you fail. Back in these days, the Do-It-Yourself approach of the game's design was a godsend for many kids, including myself. We were looking at this weird game and suddenly realized 'Hey, I can make stuff up with this game, and get to play make-believe with it! And if the rules aren't there, I can make them up!'

    That was a HUGE selling point of RPGs to me and many others of my age at the time. This meant RPGs weren't like any other board game out there. It was OUR game, through and through, and this is getting progressively lost today, in a world of premade McDonalds fantasy, Pokemon, World of Warcraft and Fourth Edition D&D.

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  42. So, the proof of OD&D's "incompleteness" is that the rules for building a stronghold are a bit weak? I mean, they are there, with costs given for various aspects of construction even. But they might be weak, I honestly don't know, never having tried to use them before. What do you find lacking about them exactly?

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  43. Wow. Uhmmm... Thank you for the clarification, James M.

    I think the roots of the hobby are important. I think the literary roots are less important given the branches since. I mean, Conan is not all that useful in Traveler (though, Conan Traveler sounds like an awesome campaign idea to me, but I digress). If you're playing pulp fantasy, read Howard, Lieber, Moorcock. Sure. But if you play, oh... SpyCraft, Top Secret, or VG's James Bond? Not so much.

    I also feel that given the development and adaptation since, that too much emphasis is being placed on OD&D. Because I am contrarian in nature all this talk about OD&D makes me want to try Traveler.

    But, I love the conversation.

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  44. JD Jarvis wrote: Dear Akiva, yuo stated:
    "As a number of people have argued, the "end game" of D&D was supposed to be establishing a stronghold of some type (not that I agree with that view, but it's been presented): but where are the rules for that?"

    And the answer in the 35 year old LBBs is:
    pages 6,7,12,13 of Men and Magic
    pages 20-24 of Underworld and Wilderness Adventures.


    Let's see--pages 6 and 7 say "certain types of characters can build strongholds; see book #3." I see no rules on p. 12, and p. 13 is about how to measure NPC loyalty--and which mentions strongholds not at all (it's about retainers).

    In book #3--most of the pages you cite are lists of expert hirelings, only some of which are actually hirelings a PC would hire for a stronghold (and would be more likely to hire for a dungeon expedition). There is a short paragraph and some illustrations of castle parts. The only section that to me is actually about strongholds is on p. 24, 2 paragraphs on "Baronies." But that's mostly a description of things a Baron might do, not *how* he'd do it.

    So I stand by my statement--there are very few rules or discussion of strongholds, other than to say that "some characters might want to do this."

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  45. Chris wrote: That's the atmosphere D&D was written in. It was written under the assumption, as has been pointed out again and again, that the gamers would fill in the gaps.

    To be fair, Kingmaker was a *very* unusual wargame for the time. Check out most wargames from that time (Russian Campaign, Third Reich, Luftwaffe, etc) and they most definitely do *not* advocate making your own rules. Clearly, many gamers at that time were not looking for "do-it-yourself" rule design.

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  46. Fitzerman asked: What do you find lacking about them exactly?

    I don't find them lacking. I was adressing something else. Several people had said that the incompleteness of the rules was a virtue. In response to me, someone asked for an example of missing rules from OD&D that are a problem. I responded by saying that barely existent rules for strongholds would be a major weakness in a game which (some claim) had stronghold building as its endgame. After all, if the game lacked combat rules beyond saying "here are some things that you might want to consider," it'd be a big problem given that the PCs are supposed to repeatedly fight and defeat monsters.

    If you say that the stronghold rules are enough as they are, then aren't the combat rules too much, and they unnecessarily restrict player creativity? And aren't the Vancian magic rules unfairly limiting the creativity of players who want very different kinds of magic? To repeat a point I made earlier, by this logic, why did anyone need D&D in the first place? They should have just made up their own rules after reading Tolkien or Vance or Moorcock.

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  47. Nagora wrote: Completeness, on the other hand, is a pointless goal in an RPG of any sort and at the end of the day it's a subjective decision as to how much incompleteness is good, or how much striving for completeness is bad.

    I don't think anyone in this thread is suggesting that completeness is the goal--I know I'm not. Just because I think OD&D had some gaping holes (e.g. a game that's supposed to have lots of focus on stronghold building, but includes virtually no discussion of how to do that) doesn't mean I think or want a game to be complete.

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  48. Benoist wrote: That, Akiva, is why you fail.

    I think it's great that you found so much in the game. But that's a rather obnoxious way of putting it. On the one hand, you're saying that people get different things out of games. But then you criticize me for not getting out of the game what you did.

    Let me repeat a point I made several times already, but no one else has taken up: why is it that the only legitimate form of creativity being discussed is creating your own rules? I, along with many other gamers, prefer to have set of rules already created and put my energy into making great characters and worlds. You like making rules; good for you. I'm glad you enjoy that so much. And yet many OSR-types, rather than saying "hey, that's great, go for it," about the type of game I like instead belittle and put down me and the games I like. I'm really starting to understand why some people think that many OSR-types are just elitists who hate all new-fangled things.

    And I speak from experience. I started playing D&D in 1978 or 1979--so I'm not just someone who started gaming a few years ago and doesn't understand older versions of D&D. I have no problem with people of any age enjoying old-school gaming; just stop insulting me for my game choices.

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  49. Can someone be kind enough to describe what a "Viking hat GM" is? Curious.

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  50. When you actually think about the early role-playing games (OD&D, Boot Hill, etc) were purposefully incomplete. And that's because of their heritage as a set of wargame campaign rules. As with all such wargame rules, the expectation was on the umpire to create the campaign in which the various players moved.

    To the audience that these rules were actually written for (the wargaming crowd), this was the standard procedure at the time. It was only later, as D&D moved away from it's wargaming roots, that there was a need for the game to be complete in and of itself if it was to spread outside the realm of wargamers.

    Remember that the duties of a campaign gamemaster were familiar to people doing this sort of thing well before the advent of D&D. Setting up a campaign (Say WW2 Russian Front), providing a map (Swan Reach, South Australia, was a favourite at my club), adjusting forces (either historically or to provide a game balance), coordinating and ajudicating player moves, interpreting rules and adding house rules, and improvising decisions when players do crazy stuff that no sane commander would do and which wouldn't even occur to writers of the rules. And how does that all differ from a role-playing game?

    In fact I know many people that role-played their units whenever they played a wargame. I know I did. And I still do.

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  51. Akiva, your responses to my comment are most certainly in error.

    over 1200 words dealing with Strongholds, Baronies and those that may be employed to work on them in a set of rules with about 41,000 words isn't too shabby. That's almost 3% of the rules.

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  52. Dang it! I always miss these comment threads. Everybody has said everything before I get here.

    I posted this on incompleteness back in may though, so here's my contribution.
    http://oldguardgamingaccoutrements.blogspot.com/2009/05/incompleteness-is-strength-of-old.html

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  53. This is like trying to explain to someone who likes the new Star Wars films why they're garbage - pointless.

    But, hey, I love reading it.

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  54. "why is it that the only legitimate form of creativity being discussed is creating your own rules?"

    Because the discussion is largely about the tools given to the DM. The players' interface with the world of characters and so forth is the DM (or should be) and the burning question for any RPG rule set is "at what point does 'supporting structure', in the form of rules, become 'cage'?"

    Given that incompleteness is unavoidable in an RPG, what happens when the DM faces a situation not covered by the rules? Perhaps more importantly, what happens when the DM faces a situation that the rules cover badly?

    In wargames, even Third Reich, Russian Campaign etc., it was assumed that the players would hammer out a decision when such things happened and likewise for early RPGs. The reason for this is simple: even fairly basic wargames like TR could never be playtested to such a degree that all possibilities could be covered and the same is true of RPGs. This is where the referee is supposed to step in and it's an integral part of the game form.

    A game that makes the claim that it is a "set of rules already created" and all you will need to "put [your] energy into making great characters and worlds" is either indulging in false marketing or is not an RPG.

    A large part of the OSR, IMO, is the realisation that more and more "elegant" rulesets have *not* delivered the possibility to just get started on making great characters and worlds.

    A gameworld is defined by the rules which are applied to its inhabitants. As such, gaps in the rules are absolutely needed in order to allow creativity in the play of those inhabitants.

    Two examples from both sides of this fence: Vancian casting is a very characteristic aspect of D&D worlds and is distinctive because it is included in the rules. The lack of a skill system, on the other hand, leaves action resolution in the hands of the DM. This too is distinctive of D&D and makes play very flexible, leaving the players free to develop characters instead of spreadsheets as in so many other games. While Vancian casting is a flavoursome baseline for many, it could be swapped and make the game-system more flexible at the cost of much more work for the DM. A detailed skill system on the other hand is a lose-lose situation, giving less flexibility to the system while increasing the paperwork-load on player and DM alike.

    The OSR is a chance to step back and look at what worked and what didn't work in the decades of RPG design that was largely a response to the design of D&D. For me, it seems clear that one of the biggest mistakes has been the desire for "elegant" systems that attempt to use a tiny number of - or even a single - mechanics to run the entire world. I don't think that's payed off in terms of creativity. Quite the opposite.

    "You like making rules; good for you. I'm glad you enjoy that so much."

    Making up rules is not the object - the object is to facilitate customisation of the playing environment in order to make each campaign different; the space to make new rules is in fact the DM's space to be creative.

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  55. JD Jarvis wrote: Akiva, your responses to my comment are most certainly in error.

    over 1200 words dealing with Strongholds, Baronies and those that may be employed to work on them in a set of rules with about 41,000 words isn't too shabby. That's almost 3% of the rules.


    Well, I'm glad I spent time going over my copy of the LBBs--so nice to know that apparently I don't know how to read. I went over the pages you cited in the LBBs and I reported exactly what's there. I have no idea where the 1200 words you're talking about are--they're not in the places you mentioned, nor did I see them anywhere else.

    Rather than simply saying I'm wrong, how about addressing my specific response to your page listing?

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  56. This is like trying to explain to someone who likes the new Star Wars films why they're garbage - pointless.

    I must be somewhere in the middle, then... I love "old school" (I'm now really beginning to hate this term) games, with all their quirks and idiosyncrasies, and the rules lacunae that make them so flexible. But at the same time, as someone who is imaginative but sorely lacking in creativity and artistic acumen of any kind, I like a lot of the work done for me.

    I guess what I'm saying is that I only like the old Star Wars movies (um, even they're not that great, eh?), but I'm not about to write a bunch of fan fiction filling in the gaps in their plotlines...

    Why can't we all just coexist?

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  57. Nagora wrote: A game that makes the claim that it is a "set of rules already created" and all you will need to "put [your] energy into making great characters and worlds" is either indulging in false marketing or is not an RPG.

    I disagree. I'm certainly not claiming that rule exist to cover everything--it's impossible, and I wouldn't want such a ruleset even if it existed. As I've pointed out several times, I'm not advocating a rulese that is "complete." I could point to several rules systems that meet the criteria I outlined. You may not like them--that's fine--but for me, they allow me to do exactly what I stated.

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  58. Nagora wrote: The reason for this is simple: even fairly basic wargames like TR could never be playtested to such a degree that all possibilities could be covered and the same is true of RPGs.

    Have you played TR? It's by no means a "fairly basic" wargame--it's got like 35-40 pages of detailed rules, maybe more. And it's true that no wargame rules could cover all eventualities--which is why wargamers are much less bothered about new editions of rules, because they incorporate those factors.

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  59. I'm certainly not claiming that rule exist to cover everything--it's impossible, and I wouldn't want such a ruleset even if it existed.

    We know exactly what such a game looks like... All so-called computer roleplaying games (CRPGs) have rules that are complete. The are capable of doing this by sharply curtailing the number of things you can do in the game... To cover everything you must define "everything" to mean "only what the rules allow". The other end of the spectrum is the free role play of kids in their backyards, in which case the "rules" are negotiated and continually renegotiated between the participants.

    ALL of the RPGs (old and new) that we're discussing fall somewhere in between these extremes. We're just debating where along that range is optimum, aren't we?

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  60. "As I've pointed out several times, I'm not advocating a rules that is "complete.""

    You have said that but then immediately complained about incompleteness again, so I'm not really following you.

    "I could point to several rules systems that meet the criteria I outlined."

    That might be helpful.

    "Have you played TR? It's by no means a "fairly basic" wargame"

    I have played it and I think it is fairly basic *in play*; compared to many tabletop games or monsters like Campaign for North Africa.

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  61. The trick, dear "old schoolers", with complex rules systems -as is D&D 3rd edition- you can

    LEAVE OUT RULES IF YOU DON'T WANT THEM!

    Up to 3rd edition most of the rules are modular enough that you use them, or leave them out.

    So instead of coming up with houserules for many situations, I can just use tried and tested rules if I want to.
    And I can focus my creativity where it is of the most use to my players: on the adventure/campaign/world.
    In short "The Fluff" if I may use this newfangled word.

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  62. "So instead of coming up with houserules for many situations, I can just use tried and tested rules if I want to."

    This assumes, of course, that the rules have been tried and tested. It seems that this was not the case in 3e and that, in fact, some of the rules were deliberate traps for the players. That sort of crap should never have been printed.

    "In short "The Fluff" if I may use this newfangled word."

    For me, the setting and characters are the important part - the crunch, if you will - of a game, and not in any way something so unimportant that it can be dismissed as "fluff".

    This disagreement in terminology is symbolic of the whole old-school/new school debate: in the OS, rules are largely unimportant and regarded as mutable fluff to be changed or added to as needed to support the DM's goals. In the NS outlook, it is the setting which is treated as a type of interchangable fluff that settles over and around the Holy Rules and the GM who disregards those Holy Rules is seen as some sort of pantomime villain, out to screw over the players.

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  63. Aw, Howarth and Akiva came along and made all the points I wanted to make.

    However, I would like to make a quick point about wargames and wargaming. The last 30 years have seen a big shift in that field, from people playing mostly at home or in their local clubs, to a very tournament-driven scene. People generally no longer come up with house rules, or play scenarios of their own design. Instead, they place focused battles intended to refine their lists and tactics for the next tourney. This has led to a big push for very complete, coherent rulesets in most of the "big" wargames. (Warhammer, Warmachine, etc.) I remember about 10 years ago seeing similar arguements to this one play out on Warhammer forums, when the 6th edition of that game was released. I don't think you're ever going to see a resolution of the arguement, it's different play styles for different folks.

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  64. @NAGORA

    I think your example with the Vancian Magic system vs. a Skill System is not a good one (no offense).

    The Vancian Magic mechanic is just one way of simulating how Magic Works. You can, without much work, create a Spell Point system or a system that uses "Magic Skills".

    Likewise having a Skill System as in AD&D 2nd or D&D 3rd are only two ways to handle "skills".

    But there is one Big Difference between the mechanics for magic and skills. We all know, at least in concept, how to climb a wall, try to decipher a script or to intimidate another person. To use a skill in the game, we can find examples from the real world and transfer them via description to a mechanic (even if it is only: roll 1d6, on a 1 you succeed). So for a "skills" mechanic we can use our intuition and real world knowledge.

    But there is no magic in the real world. There are no examples. Therefore we can not use intuition to describe how magic works.

    Just imagine there is neither an explicit skill nor magic system.
    Now your PC wants to climb the wall of an old crumbling tower, ranked with loads of ivy.
    From real world knowledge/intuition you can tell that the "skill" use this should be a relative easy task as there will be many handholds and you can use the ivy.
    But how will you get an idea how a spell like "spider climb" will work? How will you know if you succeed with the spell and with the task? How long will the spell be? How will the spell fit in with other spells? Is this spell a scarce resource or can you use it more often?

    This is why I think, that you can not equal a skill and a magic mechanic/system/rule.

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  65. One point that I think is worth making--I think people are using the term "wargaming" to mean two different things--(1) Miniature wargaming, and (2) Hex-and-counter board wargaming. I know much more about the latter, and those types of wargames have always tried as much as possible to have complete and authoritative rules. From what I can tell, Gygax et al were much more influenced by miniature wargaming, but I don't know for sure.

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  66. why is it that the only legitimate form of creativity being discussed is creating your own rules?

    Because that is one of the aspects of the hobby this blog is about? Don't overthink this. This blog is not just about discussing The literary inspirations and history of the hobby. Mr. M is a gamer of the DIY type, so you will see posts here about that.

    As I said earlier, you have a different point of view in regard to this, and while I can't speak for others, that's cool by me! The problem is that you have this disconnect from the rest of us in this conversation because of your different point of view.

    You don't see why OD&D couldn't have just been made to at least 80%of its own expectations (so to speak). What you seem to be missing is that while OD&D may be incomplete by your sights, it is exactly what the rules tinker is looking for, and as it has been pointed out, this was a design decision.

    So what if there aren't explicit rules for creating and running a barony? I'm gonna use my inspirations, whatever they are to make my own rules. Maybe I'll have tables and matrices, carefully researched from historical resources, to guide the events of a barony. Maybe I'll use the character sheet as an inspiration and run PC domains like one more character in the party. Maybe I'll just ask the players what happened and if it sounds reasonable, let it happen! What matters is all in the title of the post; making this D&D your D&D; the best version possible for your group.

    I think this blog discusses gaming creativity in a larger context. Check out his Dwimmermount session recaps for example. This thread however, is simply focused on something else.

    And to address one more question:
    To repeat a point I made earlier, by this logic, why did anyone need D&D in the first place? They should have just made up their own rules after reading Tolkien or Vance or Moorcock.

    D&D is essential to the hobby because it was first, it provided the first published example of a new type of game. After that the hobby and industry was born because folks were inspired to do exactly what you said above.

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  67. @Nagora - It seems that this was not the case in 3e and that, in fact, some of the rules were deliberate traps for the players.

    What in the world could you possibly mean by that? Please clarify.

    This disagreement in terminology is symbolic of the whole old-school/new school debate: in the OS, rules are largely unimportant and regarded as mutable fluff to be changed or added to as needed to support the DM's goals. In the NS outlook, it is the setting which is treated as a type of interchangable fluff that settles over and around the Holy Rules and the GM who disregards those Holy Rules is seen as some sort of pantomime villain, out to screw over the players.

    Nicely put. I think this states the distinction between "OS" and "NS" about as succinctly as possible. This is why I find myself in the "OS" boat, despite serious misgivings about some of my shipmates.

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  68. [quote=NAGORA] This assumes, of course, that the rules have been tried and tested. It seems that this was not the case in 3e and that, in fact, some of the rules were deliberate traps for the players. That sort of crap should never have been printed.[/QUOTE]

    Huh?
    Isn't it in the best "Old School" tradition that you so fervantly defend. To leave rules open to interpretation and tinkering?
    Also, i think that statements without any sort of example are not good style in a discusiion.

    [quote=NAGORA]For me, the setting and characters are the important part - the crunch, if you will - of a game, and not in any way something so unimportant that it can be dismissed as "fluff". This disagreement in terminology is symbolic of the whole old-school/new school debate:[/QUOTE]

    Sorry, I will try to polish my "old school speak" to avoid misunderstandings in the future.

    To clarify this: In the non old school schools "Fluff" is the word for everything that has nothing to do with rules/mechanics (called "crunch").

    [quote=NAGORA]in the OS, rules are largely unimportant and regarded as mutable fluff to be changed or added to as needed to support the DM's goals. In the NS outlook, it is the setting which is treated as a type of interchangable fluff that settles over and around the Holy Rules and the GM who disregards those Holy Rules is seen as some sort of pantomime villain, out to screw over the players.[/QUOTE]

    Agian you make accusations without any examples. This seems more like an anti X edition (where X is all non OD&D edition) rage than a discussion.

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  69. This disagreement in terminology is symbolic of the whole old-school/new school debate: in the OS, rules are largely unimportant and regarded as mutable fluff to be changed or added to as needed to support the DM's goals. In the NS outlook, it is the setting which is treated as a type of interchangable fluff that settles over and around the Holy Rules and the GM who disregards those Holy Rules is seen as some sort of pantomime villain, out to screw over the players.

    I think this is a fair assessment of the OS vs. NS debate, although, it could do without some of the trollish rhetoric. Just say that Old-Schoolers like and expect to tinker with the rules, while New-Schoolers (like me) prefer complete, coherent rule systems. Really, I'm not even sure that the terms OS and NS even make sense in this context, since this exact debate has been going on since the inception of the hobby. Right from the start, there were people who felt that the rules weren't complete enough, and they attempted to put out their own, 'complete' games (of which our host has reviewed several.)

    In the end, though, it comes down to where you want to spend your creative energies. OS games allow you more flexibility in altering the fundamental structure of the game, while NS games provide you with a foundation from which you can build a setting.

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  70. Nagora said: In the NS outlook, it is the setting which is treated as a type of interchangable fluff that settles over and around the Holy Rules and the GM who disregards those Holy Rules is seen as some sort of pantomime villain, out to screw over the players.

    I have played a lot of NS games, ande I've *never* seen this. And many of these NS games explicitly say, often right at the beginning of the book, "if you don't like something, change it."

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  71. James V wrote: What you seem to be missing is that while OD&D may be incomplete by your sights, it is exactly what the rules tinker is looking for, and as it has been pointed out, this was a design decision.

    I'm not missing that at all. What I'm trying to say, and either people aren't getting or I'm not saying it clearly, is that some old school gamers operate with a double standard: they defend their choice by saying that it's what they like, but then turn around insult new school games and gamers. Just within this thread, for instance, Korgoth described NS gamers as being incapable of living up to the creative demands of OS gaming, so they need "toys" to play with. And another poster (don't remember who) told me I failed because I disagreed with something he wrote.

    I have no problem with old school gaming; I've done a lot of it, and I enjoy it sometimes. And if others prefer it, more power to 'em. But I can't stand it when OSers insult and demean me and the games I prefer.

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  72. "But I can't stand it when OSers insult and demean me and the games I prefer."

    And when you characterised the games being discussed here as "crappy" in the first paragraph of your first post, what exactly did you expect the response to be?

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  73. Nagora wrote: And when you characterised the games being discussed here as "crappy" in the first paragraph of your first post, what exactly did you expect the response to be?

    You need to read more carefully. I did not say that the game under discussion (OD&D) was crappy. I said (and this is a direct quote)"if a wargame or cardgame had incoherent rules, I'd think it was a crappy game." Maybe you should stop accusing me of things I didn't do.

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  74. Ah, I see. So your actual point all along has been that OD&D is neither incomplete nor incoherent and that James' blog post was entirely wrong about there being holes or gaps in the rules?

    How foolish of me to think otherwise!

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  75. Nagora--Thanks for intentionally misrepresenting what I've said. You can't be bothered to acknowledge that you were wrong about what I said in the first post, so you resort to insults and misstatements.

    My initial post said, basically, that some of the things that James cited as virtues of OD&D would be seen as big problems in other games. I wanted to discuss that because I find it interesting. I've talked about other things since then because other people have brought them up. If you'd actually read what I said--not what you think or wish I said--you'd see that.

    I guess that's just more the celebrated old school gamer open-mindedness at work.

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  76. But I can't stand it when OSers insult and demean me and the games I prefer.

    Yeah, I wish it were different, but it comes with the territory. When comes to matters of taste, misunderstandings happen fast. There's some ill will out there on both sides of this fence, and if you don't post carefully, no end of trouble can ensue.

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  77. James V wrote: Yeah, I wish it were different, but it comes with the territory. When comes to matters of taste, misunderstandings happen fast. There's some ill will out there on both sides of this fence, and if you don't post carefully, no end of trouble can ensue.

    That's certainly true. And it's not just about posting carefully--no matter how carefully you post, someone will find a way to attack you. :-)

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  78. "The trick, dear "old schoolers", with complex rules systems -as is D&D 3rd edition- you can... LEAVE OUT RULES IF YOU DON'T WANT THEM!"

    I used to think that myself. But I found that the 3E rules were so tightly wound together ("high coupling", in computer science lingo) that I couldn't take out one rule without leaving gaps or after-tremors that affected other stuff.

    For example, a year ago I had a project called "Dan's Diminutive d20" where I made an OGL 3E game about the size of the OD&D LBB. One example: Just take out Skill points (even using the WOTC-published variant in UA) -- now multiclassing becomes partly nonsensical, and you've got to rewrite the entire list of monsters to introduce some system for perception/hiding/surprise, etc.

    http://www.superdan.net/dimd20/

    There's lots more examples from my year-long attempt to do just this ("LEAVE OUT RULES IF YOU DON'T WANT THEM!"). Turns out that in high-coupling, complicated rules sets the project is very hard, and the results not very satisfying in play. Thus I gave it up and returned to OD&D itself for my games.

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  79. Given that incompleteness is unavoidable in an RPG, what happens when the DM faces a situation not covered by the rules? Perhaps more importantly, what happens when the DM faces a situation that the rules cover badly?

    From the LBB:

    SCOPE: With the various equippage listed in the following section DUNGEONS and DRAGONS will provide a basically complete, nearly endless campaign of all levels of fantastic-medieval wargame play.

    Hmm.

    One characteristic of well-designed RPG systems, it seems, is that they handle exceptional/customizable resolution (i.e. they make room for improvisation) and provide a basis for rationalizing or evaluating that resolution (i.e. they provide a system or systems for improvising coherently - they provide a logic of extensibility). Even in a game like 4e, most RPG play is improv; a good RPG helps good improv happen. Its rules support good play. Barebones chess-rules aren't enough - due to the nature of roleplaying, RPG rulesets have to accomplish something unusual, and the good ones go about that task consciously and carefully.

    Does that seem like a reasonable standard?

    Does OD&D meet that standard? Does AD&D? D&D 4e?

    [Polemical aside: I'll note here that 4e does in fact contain extensive material on incorporating improvisation into the game (even the rules), fairly adjudicating tasks not covered elsewhere in the rules, and handling 'social interaction' (what a thing for an adult gamer to bracket away) in multiple ways. That sounds generous rather than over-specific, and sounds like a good version of (or attempt at) 'complete' if you ask me.]

    Seems to me OD&D fulfills the first requirement and falls down somewhat on the second. Am I missing something in the rules?

    OD&D was written as a ('deliberately incomplete') miniatures wargame, but as near as I can tell it's never really been played that way. Not after the first couple years anyhow, not after a general audience began to learn of it. Other impulses have always asserted themselves (starting with storytelling and drama). The majority of roleplayers seem to be interested in RPGs for those reasons. That form of 'incompleteness' is arguably a problem with the older games.

    And that's part of why a fellow like Ken Hite can name Call of Cthulhu the greatest RPG ever, and not count D&D (in any incarnation!) as a top-25 game despite its obvious historical importance. The D&D system and its play object - story-gaming - have always been a little mismatched, but CoC's design is meant to promote a certain kind of collective storytelling. Intention and execution more closely linked.

    It's no wonder that the people who advocate most strongly for the Ancient Ways often have the strongest 'anti-narrativist' feelings. And it's no wonder they're (y'all are) quick to forgive the 'lacunae' of the old-school games. You're mostly DMs, you mostly think 'storytelling' as such should not be a first-order subject for RPG rules, and you're mostly interested in a kind of creativity that most roleplayers, in turn, have no real taste for. I'd say with less confidence that you're, in turn, mostly uninterested in certain forms of creativity that are highly valued among today's gamers. I imagine that sucks.

    BTW: coming up with subsystems to fill holes in OD&D doesn't make anyone a 'game designer.' Let's not utterly devalue that job title, eh?

    (Captcha: BOLOTCH. Awesome.)

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  80. "The trick, dear "old schoolers", with complex rules systems -as is D&D 3rd edition- you can... LEAVE OUT RULES IF YOU DON'T WANT THEM!"

    I used to think that myself. But I found that the 3E rules were so tightly wound together ("high coupling", in computer science lingo) that I couldn't take out one rule without leaving gaps or after-tremors that affected other stuff.


    So out of curiosity, why start from 3e? Why not build up from a simpler system (not OD&D in this case), incorporating (say) a unified task-resolution mechanic, NADs, and a basic grid-based combat system to work toward 3e?

    And how would you compare your D20 variant to other stripped-down OGL systems?

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  81. James V wrote: "What you seem to be missing is that while OD&D may be incomplete by your sights, it is exactly what the rules tinker is looking for, and as it has been pointed out, this was a design decision."

    Thanks for that.

    I think that might be part of the disparity. People who enjoy the new editions don't want to tinker with the rules. They just want to play.

    How does this make the game less of a role playing game? Role playing games aren't role playing games because they allow you to tinker with the rules. They are role playing games because they allow you to play a role.

    I just don't understand the division in the role playing world.

    But I can't stand it when OSers insult and demean me and the games I prefer.

    And all too often, I find that it is the OSR crowd that sling the shots first. Meh, whatever. Us RP'ers are doing just fine.

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  82. @Delta

    Interesting Post.
    I concede that I just theoretically dabbled with leaving skills out and have not really play-tested it.

    One query to you: It seems to me, that you used a 3rd edition rather than a OD&D approach. Did you try just to go with "the flow" and adjust rulings if you needed them? For example using the "hide" and/or "move silently" skill as an indikator if it can surprise the party? High skill = surprise on 1-3 on d6?

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  83. Akiva said: "My initial post said, basically, that some of the things that James cited as virtues of OD&D would be seen as big problems in other games."

    Actually, what your post really said (eg:"I'd think it was a crappy game. I don't see why RPGs should be different.") is still on the board for all to see, so there seems little point in you pretending it said anything else.

    Wally said: "One characteristic of well-designed RPG systems, it seems, is that they handle exceptional/customizable resolution (i.e. they make room for improvisation) and provide a basis for rationalizing or evaluating that resolution (i.e. they provide a system or systems for improvising coherently - they provide a logic of extensibility)."

    I don't agree with that second point. In fact I'd say that was the key trap many later designs fell into. There often is no reason in real life to believe that the rules pertaining to something well understood will form a good basis for guessing what will happen in some other, less understood, situation. The same applies to the "simulated reality" of a gameworld.

    This desire to over-generalise - to rely too much on the "logic of extensibility" - is something I particularly see in Robin Laws work, which is often beautifully crafted and very clever but totally worthless as a mechanism for role-play in an immersive world. It's a habit of all designers, I believe, and I see it in computer programmers too (including myself). Humans love to make elaborate models and often lose sight of what it is they are trying to model; the beauty of the design becomes a goal in itself.

    As long as you have a human DM, an absence of rules is superior to bad rules, no matter how cleverly they fit together with rules that do work.

    "you mostly think 'storytelling' as such should not be a first-order subject for RPG rules"

    Speaking for myself, I feel that storytelling is the opposite of roleplaying and in the context of an RPG is a stifling and constricting influence on my creativity as a player. In fact it is specifically the growth in storytelling as a goal in game design which has driven be back to basics (ie, D&D) to ask the question "where did it all go wrong?"

    Obviously, if you don't think that it did all go wrong, you might feel that that is a criticism of the games you like, and you'd be right. So what? Are we all to live in a world where expressing one's preferences and tastes is illegal for fear that someone else might not agree?

    Jason said: "They are role playing games because they allow you to play a role."

    Exactly, and I've grown tired of systems which require my playing of roles to be curtailed by rules that don't actually achieve anything except the stroking of the game designer's ego.

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  84. Nagora wrote: Actually, what your post really said (eg:"I'd think it was a crappy game. I don't see why RPGs should be different.") is still on the board for all to see, so there seems little point in you pretending it said anything else.

    Wrong again. Look just before the parts you quoted--it says
    "I disagree," and then I state the reasons why. I don't say "this is the way it is, and if you disagree you're wrong."

    Nagora, stop trying to misinterpret what I said. And especially stop trying to tell me what I meant--I know it, and apparently you don't.

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  85. You're mostly DMs, you mostly think 'storytelling' as such should not be a first-order subject for RPG rules, and you're mostly interested in a kind of creativity that most roleplayers, in turn, have no real taste for. I'd say with less confidence that you're, in turn, mostly uninterested in certain forms of creativity that are highly valued among today's gamers. I imagine that sucks.

    Did you just imply there's a difference between GMing and roleplaying?

    I mean as a player I'm getting into a character and enjoying the ride.

    As a GM, I am the whole darn world. The wind, the rain, the guy down the street.

    Whether one is a player or referee, roleplaying is done by both.

    Also, let me assure you of something:
    Old-Scoolers are not disinterested in "story". Yes, the definition of what "story" is and how it occurs in an RPG has changed, and there is a definite gap there. At the same time, I feel safe in saying that if you ask any old-schooler, GM or PC, about their games, you will most definitely get a story!

    In a way you sized the gap accurately.

    OS - Story doesn't need guidance to happen.
    NS - Story needs guidance to make sure it happens "right".

    Old-schoolers get cranky if a game or its rules suggest there's a right way to tell a story, and if you ask me, quite a few games today do try just that.

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  86. Let me see if I can boil down Akvira's argument-

    1. OD&D is incomplete.

    2. Gamers would not accept an incomplete game that was released today as being worthwhile, and therefore the appreciation of OD&D is mainly nostalgia.

    So, starting with 1. Like I said before, I don't really think OD&D IS incomplete. It doesn't have a bunch of the rule stuff that came in later D&D editions (skill systems, monster creation schemes, character builds, task resolution systems), true, but I don't think most of those things were ever necessary. On the other hand, some of the suggested aspects of the OD&D rules are not fully fleshed out (stronghold building, henchman attracting), but the one (strongholds) has never come up for me, and the other (henchmen) doesn't seem to be so complicated that it *needs* any ruleset at all (you attract henchmen at a certain level, the DM decides who and how).

    So, I guess I'd argue that it isn't incomplete at all. There are a few areas where one might expect to find rules and yet one doesn't, but are they really necessary?

    As to point #2- Well, I've got a game that I enjoy called Last Night on Earth, about zombies and humans duking it out in a B-movie type scenario. One weird thing about the game is that it comes with many counters that represent objects and people that aren't in the rules AT ALL. Barrels of toxic waste, a tractor, black magic implements, etc, and there's literally no mention of them in the ruleset whatsoever. Those things are included with the game so that you may, if you wish, create your own scenarios and rules for using them, with no hint from the designers as to how those rules and scenarios might look. And you know what? It's a pretty great game despite this "incompleteness", and it's kind of nice to see a designer honor the long-standing board gaming traditions of house rules and homebrew scenario making.

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  87. Fitzerman--It seems we disagree about whether or not OD&D is complete. That's fine. We each have a right to our views.

    As to "Last Night on Earth," I don't know that game, but I probably would find what you describe as a problem. Again, that's fine. I think, however, that most players and reviewers *would* see that as a problem--which doesn't make it a problem for everyone. I think, however, that my view about RPGs is fairly commonly held--if someone put out a SF game with no rules/discussion of different atmospheres and gravities, for example, would probably be seen as flawed by most people.

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  88. "But I can't stand it when OSers insult and demean me and the games I prefer."

    I'd recommend not visiting their online discussion areas then.

    You wouldn't catch me dead on the Forge, nevermind the clogged sewer that is the RPG.Net forums.

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  89. Will Mistretta wrote: "But I can't stand it when OSers insult and demean me and the games I prefer."

    I'd recommend not visiting their online discussion areas then.


    So I shouldn't visit these fora even though I enjoy reading them, simply because I disagree? That's ridiculous. You're just saying it's okay to be an asshole and I shouldn't complain. It's not okay to be an asshole here, at the Forge, or at rpg.net.

    I read James' blog (and a few others) as well as sometimes reading K&K because I'm interested in old school gaming. Apparently though only the true believers are allowed to read and post in such places.

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  90. "I'd recommend not visiting their online discussion areas then."

    Apparently, visiting OS discussion areas and engaging in conversation with OS-gamers is an invitation to be insulted.

    "You wouldn't catch me dead on the Forge, nevermind the clogged sewer that is the RPG.Net forums."
    My guess is that has more to do with your evident intolerance of others rather than their (potential) intolerance of you.

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  91. "You're just saying it's okay to be an asshole and I shouldn't complain."

    Not if you truly "can't stand" people who dislike certain types of games and usually aren't afraid to say so.

    On the other hand, if you can tolerate that and still find enough things that are worthwhile for you, then it makes sense to frequent these places.

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  92. "Apparently, visiting OS discussion areas and engaging in conversation with OS-gamers is an invitation to be insulted."

    For the participant individually to be insulted? Not necessarily.

    But can you expect to encounter some pretty strident negative opinions on certain games in places like OSR blogs, Dragonsfoot, Knights and Knaves, etc. It's the nature of the beast.

    If you're prone to interpret those as insults, that's up to you.

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  93. Will Mistreta wrote: Not if you truly "can't stand" people who dislike certain types of games and usually aren't afraid to say so.

    That's not what I said--I said that I hated being insulted for the games I like. And not being afraid to say you like a game is definitely not the same thing as being called a lesser gamer because of what I like.

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  94. Will Mistreta wrote: But can you expect to encounter some pretty strident negative opinions on certain games in places like OSR blogs, Dragonsfoot, Knights and Knaves, etc. It's the nature of the beast.

    If you're prone to interpret those as insults, that's up to you.


    Being called an inferior gamer is an insult; it's not just that some of us take it as such. Saying that you like or dislike a certain game is fine; implying that I'm a moron because I disagree with your taste is very insulting.

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  95. "That's not what I said--I said that I hated being insulted for the games I like."

    Is that really that common, though?

    I often see a lot of sentiment to the effect that "Jesus, ElfDwarfDragonBash Revised Edition is a worthless piece of ****."

    I rarely, if ever, see individual posters told things like "Jesus, you're a worthless piece of **** for playing ElfDwarfDragonBash Revised Edition."

    Then again, I do see a lot of people who conflate their selves with their hobbies to an unusual and arguably unhealthy degree and treat these two sorts of statements as one in the same.

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  96. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  97. I cannot resist quoting Sayre's law, though I am sure everyone knows it:

    "In any dispute, the intensity of feeling is inversely proportional to the value of the stakes at issue."

    I mean this as an insult to no one, it merely seemed apropos.

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  98. "Apparently, visiting OS discussion areas and engaging in conversation with OS-gamers is an invitation to be insulted."

    No, that would be the Internet.

    As far as I can see Akiva was never actually insulted for his choice of game. Korgoth did draw an analogy with pre-made toys and kit toys/models which was a bit harsh, but not especially so, IMO, and on reflection it is actually quite a good illustration.

    In a vague attempt to steer the conversation away from who stabbed who, I'd like to draw everyone's attention to Bob Alberti's Tekumel rules:

    http://www.tekumel.com/gaming_advHTPT.html

    These rules are, IMO, the greatest set ever devised for role-playing provided that the GM has Barker's sourcebooks which describe the world in question. Using my PoV: this is the absolute maximum cruch to fluff ratio possible. The campaign world is deeply detailed in well-written prose while the rules (the fluff) are reduced to a few paragraphs covering character generation and task resolution.

    The rule-system is about as incomplete as it's possible to be, but that's fine because the GM has all the information needed to fill in the gaps as needed.

    The role of a rule-set is, IMO, to fill in gaps where source material of this quality is not available. I could certainly sit down tomorrow and play a Lord of the Rings game with Bob's rules and be sure of doing a better job than any published LotR game.

    One could devise a set of rules which would allow a GM who had never read LotR to run a game in Middle Earth but surely we would all agree that such a rule set would be second-best to having a GM who simply knows how the world works and can smoothly and fairly run a game in it without reference to rule books?

    Such an ideal is very rare and, as I said earlier, the question is when does "support" turn into "cage"? It's different for everyone, but for me early D&D came closer to the right balance than any professionally published set of rules I've ever seen.

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  99. As to "Last Night on Earth," I don't know that game, but I probably would find what you describe as a problem. Again, that's fine. I think, however, that most players and reviewers *would* see that as a problem--which doesn't make it a problem for everyone. I think, however, that my view about RPGs is fairly commonly held--if someone put out a SF game with no rules/discussion of different atmospheres and gravities, for example, would probably be seen as flawed by most people.

    Speaking of Last Night on Earth- I can't say for sure whether "most gamers" find the pieces without rules to be a problem or not, but I will point out that it seems pretty popular and highly rated on Board Game Geek, fwiw.

    Back to OD&D- Just a quick point about my own gaming style- nostalgia might bring me back to a game for a single session or so, but if the game itself didn't work in any major way, I wouldn't stick with it beyond that. I've been playing OD&D for about five months now, and having a blast with it.

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  100. Akiva,
    I think I see why people think you said OD&D is crappy. Here's the first paragraph of your first post:
    "I find it interesting that what most people would view as a flaw--that the rules are at times incoherent and have holes in them--is here seen as a virtue. I disagree--if a wargame or cardgame had incoherent rules, I'd think it was a crappy game. I don't see why RPGs should be different."

    In the first sentence, you say that OD&D's rules are "at times incoherent"; you then go on to say that you would consider a wargame or cardgame with incoherent rules "crappy," and that RPGs should be held to the same standard. Since you said that OD&D's rules are incoherent, it follows that you would consider it crappy. You may not in fact consider OD&D crappy, but the inference is sound.

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  101. ""So if a game--like OD&D which stresses fighting monsters-"

    You lost me right there"

    It's easier to dismiss thoughts you disagree with then actually consider why people think that way. You might disagree, but that doesn't mean they are wrong.

    Maybe you should take a look at some of the adventures OD&D offered. The massive dungeons of rooms upon rooms of monsters. Keep on the Borderlands is an excellent adventure that focused around killing monsters.

    Consider the first three big books for AD&D, 1/3 of the coverage was monsters.

    This isn't to say that monster killing isn't the only things OD&D was about. Hardly. But monster killing was a big part of the game. Fighting monsters was one thing it stressed. Again, with a portion of each book dedicated to fighting those monsters, with an entire book about those monsters to fight, and a large number of adventures where there was room after room of monsters to fight, I don't understand how you could think that OD&D's original intent was in part to provide a way to fight monsters.

    But be dismissive instead. It's easier.

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  102. RPG's are a bit like a schoolyard game. The adults demonstrate it, but there's little formal instruction. When the children are left alone, they play using whatever rules the group agrees to.

    Most RPG's, not just OD&D, imply, if not demand, involvement in the creation of the game's rules. Perhaps 4e is an exception. I haven't played it. That's fine, since not everybody wants to be an game designer.

    What an RPG should do is provide a set of core mechanics (character creation, resolving challenges and conflict) and options and ideas for play, which may be expanded or contracted to the group's desires.

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  103. "I don't understand how you could think that OD&D's original intent was in part to provide a way to fight monsters."

    There's a big difference between fighting monsters and encountering monsters.

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  104. KristianH said: "One query to you: It seems to me, that you used a 3rd edition rather than a OD&D approach. Did you try just to go with "the flow" and adjust rulings if you needed them? For example using the "hide" and/or "move silently" skill as an indikator if it can surprise the party? High skill = surprise on 1-3 on d6?"

    Answers are generally "no". I wanted to scrupulously use a base that was cut out from 3E, and thus solidly legal for publication under the OGL. I wanted to iron out obvious problems if they occured to me before play. I wanted to get the Hide/Move, etc. skill modifiers out of the notes entirely so as to have stat blocks of OD&D size (specifically, about 7 items long).

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  105. Did you just imply there's a difference between GMing and roleplaying?

    Oh no - I'm asserting a difference between the kind of interest this (self-selecting demographically-narrow affinity group) commenter crowd has in RPGs, on the one hand, and what I take to be the draw of RPGs for most players. I stand by that, though on rereading my comment I think I'm projecting my own narrative focus onto players who probably just want to roll dice and shit around with their friends. In any case I doubt that the average RPer has been particularly interested in ruleset tinkering since the early 80's. That's like starting a rock band because you're really interested in how microphones work.

    Old-Scoolers are not disinterested in "story". Yes, the definition of what "story" is and how it occurs in an RPG has changed, and there is a definite gap there. At the same time, I feel safe in saying that if you ask any old-schooler, GM or PC, about their games, you will most definitely get a story!

    In a way you sized the gap accurately.

    OS - Story doesn't need guidance to happen.
    NS - Story needs guidance to make sure it happens "right".

    Old-schoolers get cranky if a game or its rules suggest there's a right way to tell a story, and if you ask me, quite a few games today do try just that.


    This claim is wrong and unfair on a few levels: you're employing a dodge, a false equivalence, and a misrepresentation.

    Dodge: D&D has indeed given detailed instructions on how to play from the Basic days onward - and of course AD&D is a very opinionated ruleset, storywise. But my point here is that OD&D was a story-game that treated storytelling as a second-class activity in terms of the rules, even though shared collaborative storytelling is the basic activity of even primitive roleplaying games like OD&D! See what I'm saying? 'Old-school' folks insist that storytelling guidance is unwanted even though (1) plenty of gamers obviously want it and (2) the last 35 years have shown the value of constraint and evocation in ruleset treatments of storytelling.

    False equivalence: Systems as various as WoD, My Life with Master, GURPS Goblins (ingenious), and Call of Cthulhu are interested in very specific kinds of storytelling - so they present rules that guide players toward those stories, forms, and styles. Why would any RPer gravitate toward such a thing? Because she WANTS to tell those stories. Because she's not interested in a boys' adventure wargame that happens to involve narration, but in a game in which narration, dramatic-conflict resolution, and story control are first-class subjects in the rules' eyes. You may not like it, but those kinds of rules represent a big step forward for RPGs in the eyes of most players (and, incidentally, most designers by the looks of it).

    Misrepresentation: Nah, 'new school' rulesets don't want you to tell your story 'right.' Rather, they tend to offer suggestions for noticing that your storytelling is improving. Getting richer, more complex, streamlined, dynamic; less egocentric, plot-obsessed, generically hidebound...we can agree that these are worthwhile goals for a storytelling game, right? If a game states up front that more complex storytelling is one of its play goals, then its rules should foster more complex storytelling. That doesn't involve having an 'ideal' story in mind any more than the goal of a creative writing class it to produce a word-for-word copy of Don Quixote.

    BONUS sidestep: I know that I'll get stories from OSR types about their games. I also know that improvising a structured story in the moment is totally different from sharing an anecdote about a great day around the table ten years ago. I don't play games to generate anecdotes. Neither do you! Let's not confuse these activities, eh?

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  106. "...we can agree that these are worthwhile goals for a storytelling game, right?... I don't play games to generate anecdotes. Neither do you!"

    Man, you are just completely off the deep end.

    We do not like storytelling games.

    I do play games to generate anecdotes.

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  107. You may not like it, but those kinds of rules represent a big step forward for RPGs in the eyes of most players (and, incidentally, most designers by the looks of it).

    Wrong. "Most players" stopped playing tabletop RPGs c. 1985, moved on to computer games, and are now playing World of Warcraft, which has nothing whatsoever to do with the sort of "storytelling" you're talking about. Furthermore, most players who are still involved in tabletop RPGs are playing 4E D&D, which also has pretty much nothing to do with the sort of storytelling you're talking about. So even in the small picture of current RPG players you're wrong; and in the big picture of all historical RPG players you're really, really wrong.

    I know that I'll get stories from OSR types about their games. I also know that improvising a structured story in the moment is totally different from sharing an anecdote about a great day around the table ten years ago. I don't play games to generate anecdotes. Neither do you! Let's not confuse these activities, eh?

    I suppose in a very narrow sense this is correct in that I don't play games to generate anecdotes -- they're something that arise naturally (or don't -- there are plenty of satisfying sessions I've played in that I haven't felt any need to talk about afterwords). BUT I don't play games to generate stories either. It's not just that this isn't my number 1 priority, it's honest-to-goodness NOT A PRIORITY AT ALL. I don't want to play in a game where the priority is to generate a story (especially when, as has been pointed out repeatedly in other venues, the types of stories being generated are by and large at the soap opera/"Grey's Anatomy" level of storytelling -- not exactly sophisticated and intellectually challenging stuff even if those who champion it like to pretend otherwise). I play games for the challenge, for the fellowship of the other players, and for the immersion in the created worlds and characters. None of those, not even the last, have anything to do with telling stories.

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  108. It would take a ton of space to copy each point in its entirety, so I'll just put up the headings to mark each category:

    Disclaimer: Each response is according to my experience, of course.

    Dodge
    Storytelling guidance is unwanted, because it is unneeded. A story is naturally created through the events in the game. IMO, rules come in handy to adjudicate player activities, the aggregate of which creates a story. In all of the games I played, you might see them (and I would relate them) as a collection of those anecdotes you're not so fond of. Parse that chatter, however and you get a narrative, you get a plot, you get a story. All of this without any guidance from the rules. I'm not saying that I can stick them bewteen covers and sell them at the local B&N, but we enjoyed it, and that's all that matters.

    About your last two points there? Try not to equivocate the internet with the RPG community at large. Sure, there are tons of people dickering over this stuff on blogs and webfora, but proving they represent real demand for rules for story? Tougher to prove. The best we got is a study from WoTC* that tries to categorize the player base distinct from any consideration of rules.

    To address point 1)The best we can say is that plenty of gamers like it when their game adds up to some kind of entertaining narrative. Which IMO, is little surprise to anyone. But demand for rules to shape it? Harder to tell.

    Though to address point 2)The most popular game in the market (D&D) has remained so and will likely remain so, apparently despite lacking rules that explicitly guide or shape the creation of story. As a matter of fact, it may prove that what gamers have really wanted over the past 35 years is a set of rules that are consistent across a wide variety of situations, to reduce the GM's need to adjudicate.

    False equivalence
    I will make a consession here. Perhaps "right" is the wrong word for what I was describing. How about "optimal"?

    Beyond that all you can prove is that a niche of people seeking games with story "optimizing" rules exists. I completely agree. The rest is speculation on your part. Even if I take the risk of using internet buzz as an example, D&D 4 and Pathfinder, which have a lot of internet eyeballs on it, are still very traditional games in regard to its rules. And with the examples you gave, WoD is the only game that I think people could agree has serious market presence (Though CoC is pretty cool).

    Misrepresentation
    Again, "right" was a poor choice of words. But even then, the story-type games that have been showing up do more than present suggestions. The whole point of this discussion is that they are also making rules in regard to story: shaping the way the game plays to encourage certain behaviors.
    It's fine that they exist and there are folks out there that are tickled pink by them. However, it does mean that someone is giving me their opinion of what makes a great story. For that to actually work with a storygame, the player has to agree with not only the opinion on story, but how that opinion affects the way the game works! Because if the player doesn't it can actually affect their character's ability to function.

    I'd rather have a game that lets me make those kinds of decisions for myself.

    BONUS
    Every RPG is a series of anecdotes, just because you have to parse them to create the story does not make it poorer. You are right, an improvised story is not the same thing as what an RPG does. If what you are doing is the former, you are not playing the latter.

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  109. "OD&D shows us that game design is something that happens at the game table more than at the game company that produced the original rulebook."

    This is a good thing. Thanks, James!

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  110. The touchstone for an RPG is this: if you as a player can freely define what constitutes "winning" for you (including "nothing"), then it's a role-playing game. If the game, or the GM, defines it for you, then it's not. It might still be fun, of course.

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  111. James V:
    However, it does mean that someone is giving me their opinion of what makes a great story.

    And what I think is a good story is one which confounds my expectations, bucks the general literary forms etc (Elric is an example that springs to mind). This is why we play with other people: because of the different, unexpected elements we each bring to the table.

    (I am correct in assuming that a sub-game of RPGs is for the players to confound the DM's expectations of the scenario? And this is a good thing, right?)

    Rules telling me how to create what the rules writer thinks makes a good story are therefore unwelcome.

    And yes, anecdote generation is a byproduct of all gaming and sports, however boring they might be to people who weren't there (eg. "golf stories").

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  112. Nagora said:
    The touchstone for an RPG is this: if you as a player can freely define what constitutes "winning" for you (including "nothing"), then it's a role-playing game. If the game, or the GM, defines it for you, then it's not. It might still be fun, of course.

    So CoC is not a rolepalying game then?
    I mean, the game rules pretty much define that my PC will go mad sooner or later or die horribly in an adventure.
    So "winning" in CoC is defined as surviving another adventure more or less sane.
    An that, after your definition, is no roleplaying game.

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  113. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  114. T.Foster wrote
    "Wrong. "Most players" stopped playing tabletop RPGs c. 1985,"

    Let me assure you that there are a few players who started RPGs after 85'.

    T.Foster wrote:
    "...moved on to computer games, and are now playing World of Warcraft, which has nothing whatsoever to do with the sort of "storytelling" you're talking about. Furthermore, most players who are still involved in tabletop RPGs are playing 4E D&D, which also has pretty much nothing to do with the sort of storytelling you're talking about."

    Your arrogance with which you demean those players who play either different editions or different gaming styles -where they like to tell stories- is astounding.
    Furthermore you do not deliever any examples to you statements. Show me some evidence of migration from RPGs to Computer games within the age group of gamers that already played RPGs 85' and I conce that you are right. At the moment you just state your opinion.
    Mind you, I do not deny that RPGs are in decline since the 80ties!
    And lastly, neither you nor any non WoC employee knows the real numbers of how many copies of 4th edition were sold. For all that we know, there might still be more people playing 3rd edition than 4th.

    T.Foster wrote:
    "So even in the small picture of current RPG players you're wrong; and in the big picture of all historical RPG players you're really, really wrong."

    Again, your arrogance is astounding. You do not speak for all players! You do not even speak for the majority of players! Using your own argumentation from above: if the majority of players is playing 4th edition and New School you as "hardcore" OS gamer can hardly be their voice, can you?

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  115. "Your arrogance with which you demean those players who play either different editions or different gaming styles -where they like to tell stories- is astounding."

    It's not demeaning to point out the obvious: That this segment of RPG gaming is, and always has been, so small as to be statistically insignificant.

    If even 1% OF 1% of gamers are into "Forgey" story games, I would be quite surprised.

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  116. We do not like storytelling games.

    Yes, I know. And as I've suggested and even said a few times, your absolutism on this point likely places you in a small minority.

    Storytelling =/= Forge

    If even 1% OF 1% of gamers are into "Forgey" story games, I would be quite surprised.

    The #2 RPG publisher has been White Wolf for a long time now, correct? And they have a pretty sizable player base - three years ago they held 26% of the RPG market. Are White Wolf games good storytelling tools? Well, who knows. But they do represent an attempt to bring dramatic/narrative specification into adventure-gaming rules.

    And Those Darn Kids just gobble 'em up.

    To address point 1)The best we can say is that plenty of gamers like it when their game adds up to some kind of entertaining narrative. Which IMO, is little surprise to anyone. But demand for rules to shape it? Harder to tell.

    Out of curiosity, have you read the new 4e DMG2? I've mentioned it a couple of times in these threads. The first few dozen pages are by Robin Laws, and are explicit advice for integrating 'indie'-type storytelling techniques and dramatic structure(s) into D&D games. Maybe there wasn't demand for these rules, I don't know.

    I don't want to play in a game where the priority is to generate a story (especially when, as has been pointed out repeatedly in other venues, the types of stories being generated are by and large at the soap opera/"Grey's Anatomy" level of storytelling -- not exactly sophisticated and intellectually challenging stuff even if those who champion it like to pretend otherwise).

    I'll bite my tongue here and just point out the glass house you're living in, with the words 'Appendix N' on the mailbox. D&D players don't actually get to criticize anyone else's chosen subject matter on the grounds of puerility and simplicity. :)

    Wrong. "Most players" stopped playing tabletop RPGs c. 1985, moved on to computer games, and are now playing World of Warcraft, which has nothing whatsoever to do with the sort of "storytelling" you're talking about.

    I would guess that WoW doesn't attract tabletop gamers in particular. You're right to emphasize its importance. But the tabletop hobby still retains a few million players, and I'm contrasting them with those who think Dragonlance represents a BAD THING in RPG history. i.e. With your almost nonexistent 'old-school' affinity group.

    In my ideal world this thread would be like 4e - everybody wins! Nobody ever ever hurts! Skills have random outcomes rather than narrated ones! Hey wait...

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  117. Wally,

    Why are you even here? From what I can tell, you have no affinity with the preferred way most of my readers play roleplaying games nor much interest in the early history of the hobby beyond using as a debate point to show how gaming has "evolved" since then. Your comments, though lengthy, border on the troll-ish. Your primary purpose here seems to be in rattling the dinosaur cages and that's something I simply won't abide.

    My recommendation would be to leave us befuddled old fools alone to wallow in our ignorance of the Truth. I think we'll all be happier that way.

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