Friday, February 26, 2010

I Hate Change

As I've probably mentioned far too many times, I entered the hobby with the 1978 edition of Dungeons & Dragons edited by Dr. J. Eric Holmes. It was through it that I first encountered D&D and it has forever colored my sense of what the game is and should be.

As I've also probably mentioned far too many times, my next D&D purchase -- my first actually, since the Holmes boxed set was actually a gift for my father that I appropriated when he showed no interest in it -- was the Monster Manual. Now, the Monster Manual is in fact an Advanced Dungeons & Dragons book and, while the precise meaning of "advanced" in this context did make me wonder at the time, it had zero impact on my ability to use it with Holmes. Indeed, it works better with Holmes than with AD&D proper, since it shares Holmes's fivefold alignment system and armor class system (which it also shares with OD&D) rather than their equivalents in AD&D.

My next purchase was the AD&D Players Handbook and it was the first D&D book that made me scratch my head. I had no problem with the addition of four more alignments; I rarely have problems with additions to the game. The same went for all the new classes, races, and spells. I actually welcomed the broadening of the game they brought, much in the same way that the Monster Manual gave me a greater variety of beasties to throw up against the PCs.

But there were also things that confused me. Why, for example, had most of the Hit Dice changed? Why did a magic missile only do 1d4+1 damage rather than 1d6+1? Why did clerics now get a spell at 1st level rather than having to wait till 2nd level to do so? Why was an unarmored opponent now AC 10 rather than AC9? There were lots of little confusions like this and it took me a long time to acclimate myself to them (some I never did learn).

Then, in 1981 came the Tom Moldvay-edited Basic Rulebook, which many of my friends, who'd never bought either Holmes or the PHB, picked up and used. Once more, I was confused. All the Hit Dice went back to the way they were in Holmes, as did Armor Class. Magic missile did the "right" amount of damage again and clerics once more needed to gain a level before acquiring spells. But alignment changed for the third time. Only three alignments? What's up with that? And demihumans now had their own classes with different XP requirements. How odd, I thought.

My friends and I weren't quite sure how to handle all these contradictions, so we muddled through, picking those things we liked the best or that made the most sense from our perspective. The result was a weird amalgam of Holmes, AD&D, and Moldvay, which grew ever more like AD&D-flavored Moldvay as the years dragged on.

This process repeated itself every time some new official D&D rulebook or boxed set was released: confusion followed acquiescent syncretism. It was frustrating, all these little niggling differences between Holmes and Gygax and Moldvay, but at least all the games were sufficiently similar to one another that it was possible to kludge it all together in a vaguely satisfactory fashion. Moreover, the basic terms and, more importantly, their meanings were consistent across the games, even if the minutiae differed. Everyone understood that the Fighter had the highest Hit Dice, whatever those Hit Dice were, just as everyone knew the Cleric was a "healing class," regardless of when he gained that ability. (Alignment, to be fair, never achieved any kind of equilibrium and remained a regular source of confusion).

From what I have gathered, most gaming groups behaved much as mine did. I know this firsthand from having occasionally played pick-up games at hobby shops and libraries and having visited schoolmates' home groups. Each one engaged in their own kind of acquiescent syncretism, often making choices different than the ones my group made. But -- and this is the crucial thing -- they still spoke the same gaming "language," so I could understand their choices, even if they weren't ones I would have made. This "language" was remarkably consistent, being steeped in D&D's rules. Thus, we could, regardless of whether our home games were based primarily on Holmes or Moldvay or Gygax, profitably talk about, say, a fireball spell and all know that it did xD6 damage, with x being the level of the caster. Likewise, when someone talked about AC 2, we knew they meant someone wearing plate mail and carrying a shield. In the midst of immense variety of campaign-specific rules kludges, there remained a remarkable consistency.

D&D III forever shattered that by changing the terms and meanings of many elements of the game, a process it inherited from the latter days of 2e and that D&D IV has taken to even more extreme levels. Whereas it really is possible for a player of LBB-only OD&D and a Realms-loving 2e'er to talk about game mechanics in an unequivocal fashion, the same is vastly harder once you throw players of the WotC editions into the mix. And that's why I hate change: it makes conversation between gamers harder.

Every change in terminology and meaning in an effort to make the game "better" is also inevitably cutting the game loose from the traditions and community into which it was born and out of which it grew. What is so amazing about the old school blogs and forums is that, even though we all play a mish-mash of early editions, retro-clones, and simulacra, we nevertheless share a common vocabulary. We speak the same language even if there are lots of regional "accents." This is why I dislike ascending AC, for example. Whatever its mechanical benefits may or may not be, it's a divergence from tradition that makes it harder to communicate with my fellow players of D&D without a "translator." A degree of immediacy is lost.

That's also why, for all my musings about changing this or that foundational element of D&D, I never actually do so. I care too much about keeping my game within the existing tradition and thus intelligible to outsiders without having to explain all its rules intricacies beforehand. I can simply say "fireball" or "cleric" or "orc" and everyone knows what I mean, more or less. There's no confusion about basic terms and thus anyone, regardless of when he entered the hobby or what house rules he uses in his home game, will know what I mean when I use these terms.

I realize not every gamer values this as much as I do and that's fine. I'm not suggesting it's the best approach in any absolute sense, but it's the one that suits me best and, from what I've seen these last few years, I'm not alone in feeling this way. I hate change, because it separates the present from the past and all but guarantees a similar separation from the future. Back in the day, I loved the fact that I, a know-nothing neophyte gamer, could talk to the old wargamers who still played White Box OD&D and they understood me even though I played a kit-bashed amalgam of later editions. And nowadays I love being able to talk to new gamers who discovered D&D through Labyrinth Lord or Swords & Wizardry.

This is only possible because we're all using the same language, a language some of us have preserved despite lots of pressure to adopt the latest slang or jargon and thereby reduce our preferred tongue to a dead one, to be studied and admired under glass rather than kept alive and passed on to the next generation. So, I plan on speaking the auld tongue. It's familiar and pleasant to the ear and, as many linguists will tell you, nothing can compare to approaching a work in its original language.

104 comments:

  1. "Short words are best and the old words, when short, are best of all."
    -- Winston Churchill

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  2. This is what I was getting at the other day in the comments to that post about Tegel Manor II; there is a shared language between the older editions, even if they vary slightly in terms of dialect. D&D4 may be saying the same thing as those games, but it's saying it in a completely different language, which makes conversion difficult, at least for me.

    (I do think D&D3, in my brief experience of it, is a different dialect rather than a different language, to continue the metaphor, but that's not really relevant to my point, and I agree with you everywhere else.)

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  3. "Whereas it really is possible for a player of LBB-only OD&D and a Realms-loving 2e'er to talk about game mechanics in an unequivocal fashion, the same is vastly harder once you throw players of the WotC editions into the mix. And that's why I hate change: it makes conversation between gamers harder."

    I agree.

    And this is why I wish so ardently that WotC would return to D&D's roots. Often fellow gamers will ask me, "Why do you care? You have all the books you need to play for the rest of your life, so who cares what WotC does?" I care because I want as many people as possible to be exposed to TSR-style D&D. I want to speak the same language as all other D&D players.

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  4. If what you're really addressing here is the cultural gap between players of 4E and players of pre-3E versions of the game, then I would surmise that terminology is the least of our problems when searching for common ground.

    I don't mean to pigeon-hole all players of 4E. I've played the game myself. But the main issue, as I see it, is that 4E is a total paradigm shift. And it's a new paradigm that appeals to a younger crowd. Old school preaches exploration and survival by the skin of your teeth. Neu D&D is more of a tabletop MMORPG emulator, where there's a very low chance of PC death, an emphasis on BIG numbers, and a focus on miniatures play and tactical combat.

    I would love nothing more than to run an old school style game, but it's difficult to find players who are actually interested in that sort of game anymore.

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  5. Those changes to me always seemed to be tightening up definitions to give WoTC more of a sense of ownership over the rules and take them away from the players or those more dispose to a DIY type play. The art changed too, becoming more standardized.

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  6. While there may have been a common vocabulary, imposed by the game itself, I have never believed that the players have all played the same game. I have played since the brown books, but I was one of those people never happy with the old system.

    Look, 3e did not come out of nowhere. You saw its roots in The Hero System and Gurps, and the other skill-based systems of the late 80s. When I was in college in the 80s, the people I played with (many of whom are now at WOTC or in computer gamess) were leaving D&D and gravitating towards those systems. We felt D&D was too combat oriented and trying to do anything else devolved into an argument if the action was contested between the player and the GM. This is why I the old game has always been heavily dependent on the GM. These rule systems where an attempt to give more structure to the non-combat aspects of the game, and this movement has been going on in the player community (not just the companies) forever.

    While I like many aspects of 3e, it took things too far. You had so many rules that gameplay came to a crushing halt. Sometimes you just want narrative combat instead of tactical placement-driven combat. And quality was still GM-dependent in the sense that you needed someone who could keep track of everything quickly and efficiently.

    I believe that the change that made 4e is very, very different than the change that made 3e. 4e was not player-driven. The game design choices in that game were brought over from Magic, not D&D. The game is player-versus-player balanced and not player-versus-environment balanced. Thus it is step backward in the quest for noncombat game mechanics. But it appears that it may have actually succeeded in removing the GM variability issue.

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  7. The flip side to this, of course, is that the d20 language created by WotC has its own generation of players for whom its terms are pervasive. Think of not only how many people have played 3e and 4e, but the sheer amount of d20 RPGs that have been produced. There's a whole generation of players who will get jokes about, e.g., "failing a Will save" and such.

    And thanks to the OGL, almost all of this terminology is now, and will forever be, public domain.

    Things are the same, just different. :)

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  9. I have to admit that over the years the two basic editions have merged in my mind, and not to the benefit of the Holmes version. Looking at Holme's take on an intro to D&D, it is pretty okay -but at the time, it seemed like a step backwards. That said, I played OD&D with a binder that had all the rules from the LBB and Supps xeroxed and cut and pasted into a a single no-reference-needed book; pretty extreme, I admit, but rubber cement was cheap..

    At the time we all had characters beyond ithe levels of BD&D and classes it skipped; plus, with all the haugtines that a 17 year old can muster, disdained it because it seemed like only the new weenies and kiddies (Blue boxers) had a copy -yes, you James.....;) -and in retrospect, I'm glad you did.

    If I have a substantive critique of the BD&D edition is that even at the time it seemed to be crippleware -ie intentionally producing and selling somthing incomplete to force further puchases if you wanted to keep playing. Which has become an mainstream industry standard, and a bit of a problem in my opinion -and it seemed to start tghere, with the Basic set (this spoken with all the haughtiness that a 48 year old grognard gamer can muster.....)

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  10. @Walker: "I believe that the change that made 4e is very, very different than the change that made 3e. 4e was not player-driven. The game design choices in that game were brought over from Magic, not D&D."

    Apparently you didn't play much 3rd edition, then. 4e addresses a lot of the issues that players (and especially DMs) had with 3rd edition, including:
    Less rules complexity, More Balance, Greater freedom for the DM, Easy to design on the fly.

    I think the main stylistic change over the years is the change in focus from exploration-driven adventure to plot-driven adventure, and I think this explains a lot of the rules changes that came out from late 2nd edition forward. In order for an adventure to be plot-driven, you need strong characters, people who can survive challenges and come out on top, people for whom victory is generally assured. The plot-driven paradigm generally assumes that the players will come through their adventures victorious, and it's a matter of how they accomplish this task and how the characters develop along the way that's the driver of entertainment in the game.

    I would say, from my limited OD&D experience, that it calls on an entirely different set of challenges. Exploration and survival are the two themes you hear most often discusses. In order to make a game in which survival is a challenge, characters have to be expendable. Death needs to be a real force in the game.

    What I don't understand is why so many players (and especially OD&D players it seems) are angry about the newer editions of the game. For me, if I want to play Explore&Survive theme games, I get out my copy of LL or OSRIC. If I want to play Grand Heroic Plot themed games, I pull out 4e. There's room on the bookshelf for both games.

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  11. I think this is apropos, James:

    "Those who speak most of progress measure it by quantity and not by quality." -- George Santayana

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  12. (I do think D&D3, in my brief experience of it, is a different dialect rather than a different language

    There's some truth to that. I once did an analysis of the fireball spell through all the editions of D&D and discovered, to my surprise, that 3e contained a lot more AD&D-derived verbiage than I'd expected. There are a lot of deviations too.

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  13. I think this is a big part of what upset so many old-school WFRP gamers recently with the release of WFRP 3rd edition. Sure, I have more than enough published and fan-made material from 1st and 2nd edition to play WFRP for the next 20 years, and my imagination can certainly fill in the gaps.

    Whereas the new material produced for 2nd edition may have had some timeline or fluff problems when meshed with the 1st edition materials, the underlying mechanics were similar enough that there was an easy exchange of ideas.

    But any visit to the 3rd edition subforums of Strike-To-Stun or the official FFG forums quickly shows that the 3rd edition players are speaking in a different jargon.
    Things like references to stances, recharges, the various wacky symbols on the dice in the dice pool, boons, banes, etc. all lead to a disconnect that players of 1st and 2nd edition did not have when talking about WFRP.

    And that is a sad thing...

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  14. I want to speak the same language as all other D&D players.

    Just so.

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  15. Great post, agree 100%. Changing the most basic vocabulary is both unneccessary and kind of inexcusable. It's one reason why having the game controlled by a single company is harmful to the art.

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  16. The flip side to this, of course, is that the d20 language created by WotC has its own generation of players for whom its terms are pervasive.

    And that's terrific. I certainly have no beef with anyone whose preferred gaming "language" is D20. My concern is more that speakers of that language frequently confuse with their speaking with the language I do, if that makes sense.

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  17. What I don't understand is why so many players (and especially OD&D players it seems) are angry about the newer editions of the game.

    I think you're mistaking frustration about how "D&D" and its concepts are now unnecessarily equivocal with anger. What bugs me most is not that there are new editions of D&D but that those new editions are effectively entirely new games that use new mechanics to support new premises. Much as I loathed much that was released under the auspices of 2e, for example, I didn't really take issue with the edition itself, as it still employed the same underlying mechanics and terminology as 1e and OD&D.

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  18. "What bugs me most is not that there are new editions of D&D but that those new editions are effectively entirely new games that use new mechanics to support new premises."

    OK, this I understand, as it has more to do with change then improvement.

    I drink Pepsi and I dislike Coke. Now recently I tried Pepsi's 'Throwback' which uses real sugar instead of the syrup sweetner used by all soda products today (actually Mexico and a few other countries still use real cane sugar at their production plants).

    I couldn't believe how different the taste was. It was still Pepsi...still the flavor I like...but so different. What it wasn't was Coke, RC or any other brand. It was Pepsi.

    Now OD&D, AD&D and even AD&D 2nd Ed. are still D&D to me. Even 3rd, 3.5 and 3.X are close enough to be first cousins of D&D in the classic sense but they do have strong, fundamental differences. Fourth is essentially a different species, distantly related but absolutely not the same game.

    Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing is each individual's personal preference. I don't like 4E myself but then I don't really like any form of D&D anymore. I like 4E the least though. Not because its different, as I have less of a problem with change in this venue than most gamers my age. I just don't think its works as well.

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  19. I regret that you feel this way. However, I don't think that edition changes mean that people can't communcate at all. "Fireball" and "Cleric" and "Orc" are all valid concepts in 3e and 4e. Fireball is an area blast of fire that a magic user can learn after adventuring for a while. Cleric is a PC class for a religious man who heals and can fight moderately well. Orc is a monster race that is generally faced by lower-level foes and often come in groups. Magic Missile is one of the first spells a magic user learns. Knowing the details of how they work in game isn't important to all stories - only those that concentrate on mechanics. It's like gaming fiction - few works actually seem to follow the rules-as-written (of any edition).

    If there's a communications gap, it's more that newer editions add new concepts to the mix. Which isn't a new trend either. Druids, paladins and assassins didn't exist at first and came in later. Some people will draw a line and not accept anything newer. I find it a shame that they choose to limit themselves. I also encourage players who started in newer editions to take a look at older editions to get a feel for where things came from.

    I started with the red box and wen't into AD&D quickly thereafter. I fell out of the game in 2e (or more accurately 1.5e) - it wasn't what I wanted. I came back with 3e and followed it to 4e. When I look back at the older editions I shake my head at how random some of the rules are. Roll high here, roll low there. No skills except for the thief. Saving throw categories that seem redundant and arbitrary. Different classes levelling at different rates and racial level caps. It's just not my taste. I prefer games where the rules are better defined and more consistent.

    And I find consistency helps communication. When I look back to conversations about older edition games, I find we often have to explain what sets of house rules we used. All the groups I was in used loads of them, either codified or simply understood. I find that newer editions seem to have smaller sets of house rules. A tweak here and there rather than lots of big changes. When people talk rules in 4e, there's not a lot of explaining needed.

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  20. Who knew that later editions would become the Tower of Babel for D&D gamers. ;)

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  21. G. Benedicto: "Neu D&D is more of a tabletop MMORPG emulator, where there's a very low chance of PC death, an emphasis on BIG numbers[.]"

    Changes in vocabulary I can handle; what turned me away from D&D was how in every new edition the character classes became more and more godlike, and at lower and lower levels. There are lots of things to blame this on - I sometimes the main culprit in the last 15 years of so has been the growth of computer games along with the tabletop versions. Computer games are BIG business, and why wouldn't the current owner of D&D want to emulate a computer game's conceits?

    Cool if you want it, but that's not very interesting to me personally.

    I forget who originally wrote it, but I remember the concept of Character Class Inflation (power, not types) being the subject of an article several years ago. The author made a very good case for Supplement IV (Gods, Demi-gods & Heroes) being the root of the whole ghastly tree. Once Kuntz & Ward made the mistake of assigning hit points and other actual stats to gods they gave trophy-huntin' players a theoretically achievable goal: Kill the god.

    And thus the very-high-level concept was ushered in.

    And that concept, influenced by computer-game sinple-player-mechanics (think Neverwinter Nights, where a single-player gets the opportunities to singlehandedly kill dragons), has filtered down to lower and lower levels.

    Yawn.

    Off-topic, I know.

    Well, maybe not so off. It seems to me that D&D was far more like GURPS in 3e than the Holmes/1e AD&D I knew as a kid.

    Heh: With greater power comes greater corruption . . . of gaming language.

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  22. Miguel said: "And I find consistency helps communication. When I look back to conversations about older edition games, I find we often have to explain what sets of house rules we used. All the groups I was in used loads of them, either codified or simply understood. I find that newer editions seem to have smaller sets of house rules. A tweak here and there rather than lots of big changes. When people talk rules in 4e, there's not a lot of explaining needed."

    I agree with this sentiment. And it's why I was a bit surprised by James' original post. James (along with others) has repeatedly and strongly argued that the great thing about OD&D is its openness, so each group could make the game its own. The result was (at least in the very early days) many people playing very different games, but everyone calling it D&D. That diversity doesn't lend itself to easy communication--and it certainly isn't the consistency that the original post longed for.

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  23. Akiva, the important thing to note there is that the openness is to do with how you fill in the gaps; each group, each player even, would deal with what OD&D left unsaid in their own way. However, all of those groups would have concepts in common, that is the things which were in the books. Hit dice were still hit dice, armour class was still armour class, and so on. It's a consistency in terms of the common language, not the ruleset.

    Miguel's talk of house rules is part of that common language idea; these groups all had the same problems with the game and came up with different ways to deal with them, but the key is that they can discuss their house rules because the underlying system, including gaps, is the same. D&D4 players can talk to each other about our game and know what we're talking about (although I'd dispute Miguel's suggestion that it's less open to house-ruling, as it's very vague and open in much the same way that earlier editions were). However, those players will have less success applying those concepts to a discussion of earlier games. I can't say anything meaningful about hit dice from a D&D4 perspective, because it's not part of the vocabulary.

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  24. Or to put it in a far less waffly fashion, the diversity of OD&D does lend itself to easy communication, because all these house rulers are filling in the same gaps; even if their solutions are different, their problems are the same.

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  25. Kelvingreen wrote:
    >Akiva,the important thing to note >there is that the openness is to >do with how you fill in the gaps; >each group, each player even, >would deal with what OD&D left >unsaid in their own way. However, >all of those groups would have >concepts in common, that is the >things which were in the books. >Hit dice were still hit dice, >armour class was still armour >class, and so on. It's a >consistency in terms of the >common language, not the ruleset.

    That's not really accurate, though. Many of those really early houserules evolved into completely different games (like Runequest). And some of those early games used terms like "saving throw" to mean very different things.

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  26. That's not really accurate, though. Many of those really early houserules evolved into completely different games (like Runequest). And some of those early games used terms like "saving throw" to mean very different things.

    And that's part of my point. Once changes to the baseline are divergent enough, you're no longer talking about the same game anymore. No one who plays RuneQuest claims to be playing house-ruled OD&D, even if that's in fact (part of) the origin of the RQ rules system. What's problematic right now is that we have lots of competing versions of D&D, several of which are very mechanically divergent from one another, which makes communication about them difficult.

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  27. Excellent post. The interesting thing is that the majority of gamers entered the hobby during the period when everybody spoke the language of D&D, despite occasional differences in dialect. I've found that the underlying concepts of old-school D&D are intelligible to most gamers, even those who have consciously rejected them. I'm not convinced that 4e has attracted a huge number of new gamers into the hobby and suspect that the concepts it has introduced will have difficulty establishing the same degree of universality.

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  28. That's an interesting point @Ian. RPGs are kind of like comics in that it seems the demographic has grown up with them> I wonder who starts with 4Ed?

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  29. I also began with Holmes - a birthday or Christmas present back in '80 or '81 - and fell immediately in love. Thirty years later I'm still in love.

    I think the clones are starting to break down the barriers between players of old dusty OOP games and those who play shiny new WotC offerings, if the many younger players joining the clone forums is anything to go by. A nice rebuttal to those who say "Clones? Why bother?"

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  30. Strangely enough, I (a player dating back to 1980, two years after James) have no trouble talking to either OSR folk or 4E folk. Most of the people I've played 4E with, in fact, have been players with at least two decades' experience with D&D--if not more. I therefore question the assertion that cross-edition communication is as difficult as is claimed in James's post or in many of the comments to this thread.

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  31. "I therefore question the assertion that cross-edition communication is as difficult as is claimed"

    I think the communication difficulties arise from folks who have no experience with earlier versions of the game. From what I've seen, many of them aren't interested in those versions for a variety of reasons.

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  32. @G. Benedicto:

    I agree that, if difficulties exist, it's on the side of the newbies. Long-standing gamers have been negotiating the shifts in vocabulary and systems for years and years. The lingo of 4E is certainly no more difficult for longstanding Old Schoolers to pick up than any other system. Old Schoolers may not want to learn the lingo, but I believe they're certainly more than capable of doing so and establishing cross-edition creoles.

    The difficulty in, say, convincing a newbie who only knows 4E that Old School games merit his or her interest doesn't seem to lie in explaining things like descending AC or hit dice or Vancian magic--in explaining distinct system differences or vocabulary items. I suspect that if I plopped James and S&W down in front of my 7-9 year old 4E players that it wouldn't take them very long at all to grok the older rules. After all, there are fewer rules and terms to track, and many of them are still familiar to 4E players as Miguel points out above. (A 4E Fireball may differ in its implementation from an OD&D fireball, but it's still a big exploding ball of flame.)

    So the chokepoint for communication does not seem to lie in the game system but in the assumptions enabling said system. I.e., what "fiction" is an OD&D ruleset supposed to generate and/or emulate versus a 4E ruleset? A meta-discussion, if you will, and not a rules-discussion. I look at Matt Finch's Old School Primer in this light and recognize its true value (even if I feel that Matt is not playing fair with his "modern" examples). Many of the retroclones I've looked at tend to concentrate on presenting the rules at the expense of the paratext surrounding those rules and the community informing them. Is that because Matt Finch has already handled much of the meta-discussion? Because James and Raggi and many other Old Schoolers have such wonderful blogs doing the same? Perhaps. But I continue to believe that the communication situation is not as dire as James sets it out to be.

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  33. What I've noted with my own group of gamer friends -- most of whom have limited experience with older editions of D&D -- is that they are reluctant to play anything other than 4E because they actually enjoy the high-power, all-but-immortal PCs the can create. The gratification the game provides comes from assembling god-like characters who are like uber-awesome Schwarzenegger types who fart magic and slice through several orcs with a single swipe of their mystical blades. In short, 4E skips the middle-man and goes straight to the powercreep. And they love it.

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  34. 4E promotional materials were the first place that I saw this notion of, "the idea of your character is a separate thing from the mechanics of your character". That in and of itself is very neu-school story-tellery; as soon as that line is crossed (usually to contend that mechanical changes are unimportant), you've already created a philosophical rupture from OS games. For me, the medium is the message.

    The other thing that I'm just aghast at is: If new players want power creep, why not just start them at 5th level (or whatever) and maintain the same system? I could be entirely complimentary of that strategy. Why gut the whole system and redefine what 1st level means for that particular purpose?

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  35. Many of the retroclones I've looked at tend to concentrate on presenting the rules at the expense of the paratext surrounding those rules and the community informing them. Is that because Matt Finch has already handled much of the meta-discussion? Because James and Raggi and many other Old Schoolers have such wonderful blogs doing the same?

    I think it's simply because the old school crowd isn't interested in bloated and over-stuffed rule books. Besides, the clones were originally intended to be a publishing tool and thus not needing commentary. That they've become popular games to play is an unforseen bonus.

    And when you're talking the OSR audience, well, we've already had 35 years of "paratext" and "meta-discussion". We hardly need the clones to convince us. But yes Rob, I see your point if younger gamers are to be targeted.

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  36. @David - I agree with you about avoiding bloat. I continue to enjoy 4E as a player, and I don't mind GMing for the kids because they don't mind sticking to the rules in PHB I and PHB II--but I'm no longer interested in running the game for players who want to make use of the full range of 4E options. The exception-based rules make any individual piece of the puzzle easy to implement, the Character Builder allows for easy navigation of the options, but I've lost the holistic big picture in my mind. Hence my switching to Barbarians of Lemuria with its hybrid Old/New school makeup.

    But I look at what Matt Finch has accomplished in just 12 pages, and I'm not seeing how a similar set of reflections and meta-discussion would bloat up retro-clone rule-sets. I would be very interested in seeing what a set of OSR rules with "modern"-style art, "modern"-style layout, and a concise but thorough amount of meta-discussion (one that was truly generous to the virtues of both schools of D&D) could do on the market.

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  37. I'm not sure why folks consider the new system more story focused. I've tried playing with several different groups both 3.5 and 4e, and in all cases the story line always felt bolted on, it was like bad video-game cut scenes broken up by piles of charts, rolls, and calculations.

    With retro clones and simpler rule sets (like Fudge for instance) I've always felt that they helped with storytelling. If you want to grab a random object and bash in the orc, I don't have to pull out three source books and find a chart.

    Again in the older school you started out with a pisspoor character and actually developed him, character creation wasn't something you did huddled over rulebooks, it was something you did over the course of a few adventures. You didn't pick a class, and prestige classes, and feats, you'd spend time developing skills and write your accomplishments in game, you didn't need numbers, the gm would just adjust a roll here or there when you brought it up.

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  38. I'm with Capheind on this. Story takes a back seat (way back) to the intense tactical aspects of the typical 4E game.

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  39. "I would be very interested in seeing what a set of OSR rules with "modern"-style art, "modern"-style layout, and a concise but thorough amount of meta-discussion (one that was truly generous to the virtues of both schools of D&D) could do on the market."

    Rob - I think you're right about this. In some ways, I've wondered if the various retro-clones are an attempt to do something like this, to greater or lesser degrees of success. Part of the problem in writing that paratext is that "the translator is a traitor" to borrow an old Italian saying - put more simply, it's difficult to write that text without it getting questioned, possibly by both sides. I think this is part of what James is pointing out - as well as the simple fact that the OSR crowd need not feel badly for having a lingua franca (Common Tongue?) that already covers OD&D, AD&D and 2nd Edition.

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  40. Story is not in any book, old-school or new-school. Story is what the human beings bring to the table.

    As for me, I've found that older rules sets were the ones where you had to find a chart, because every mechanic was unique. When there was a mechanic for things.

    I will admit I have issues with GM trust. Over the years I've gamed with some bad DM's and it annoys me. I like my rules set consistent because it keeps the laws of physics from changing at the DM's whim.

    But once again, story ain't in any rulebook.

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  41. "Story is what the human beings bring to the table."

    And particular games don't have particular subcultures associated with them that influence this?

    Not that it really matters ultimately where these different focuses come from: They're still there.

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  42. This is, perhaps, heresy, but:

    3E might actually be my favorite "actual" version of the game. But.

    What that means is: I felt like very early 3E was an attempt to strip away all the accretion of 2E and I really liked that. I appreciate the formula-based rather than matrix-based success-or-failure calculations. I like rationalized saving throws and the idea that you always want to roll high on d20 (although this does break attribute checks, which is too bad...) I don't actually have a problem with ascending armor class, and my players--most of whom did NOT play much D&D prior to 3E--find that much easier than descending armor class in earlier editions. I also don't have much problem with the elimination of most save-or-die situations, although I like my Tomb of Horrors just fine. But a high enough save DC and enough damage can be effectively save-or-die if you want.

    However: I never really played with any of the splatbooks. D&D 3.0 was a pretty elegant system before they started crufting it up. 3.5 started with more cruft but fixed some stuff--like having all creatures be square, which if you're going to abstract away facing, is the only way to do it--and if you play 3.5E as a replacement for the three core books of 3E only, it's not half bad.

    Recently I've been playing Microlite74 plus house rules. It's d20 with only three stats (and therefore not really D&D by a lot of metrics), and a humongous amount of winging it and ad-hoc modifiers and target numbers. It moves fast. My players enjoy it. I like running it. The character sheet is one side of a page and that includes the crap you're carrying. I use the Microlite spell fatigue rules but am not entirely happy with them....but I never really loved Vancian fire-and-forget all that much either.

    Oh, yeah...and we use the Arms Law critical hit/fumble tables....although we may switch to Arduin soon for those. I have a Vancian system with push-your-luck recasting mechanics almost ready to test, which might be brutal enough that my players enjoy it.

    I felt like 3/3.5E/d20 were very recognizably D&D, at least in the core system. I do not feel the same way about 4E. I think in some way it says it all that Ioun has become the goddess of magic. With that step, D&D divorced itself from Appendix N entirely, and that really was the point at which I said "fuck it."

    Yeah, my group tried 4th ed., once. It moved slowly. It kinda sucked. We went back to 3E, and then we took the step of saying, "hey, let's play something that uses the rules system we're used to, but stripped down so we can play as fast and loose as we actually like"--hence Microlite20 and Microlite74. My aesthetic sensibilities are...well, I started out on Holmes Basic too, but basically AD&D v1 was my touchstone. I always played a stripped-down version of it, though, with a lot of the fiddly bits--weapon speeds, segments, weapon-vs-armor modifiers--left out. And basically that's what I'm still playing, but I think the core rules system I'm using is more coherent than AD&D Lite or Holmes/Moldavy Heavy.

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  43. As far as I can see, the increased durability (it’s not really power; a 9th level 1st ed spellcaster has much more powerful/gamechanging spells than a 4th ed one does) of 3rd ed, and then 4th ed characters is a direct response to player and DM desires. Delta asked earlier why not just start people at 5th level? Well, starting people at levels above 1st, so they had more durability and more power options to start with, was something people have been doing since the 70s. Heck, Gygax talks about it in the DMG, though he recommends only doing it with experienced players. Even in the OSR blogs, I often see old-school DMs talk about the house rules they use to allow PCs to have a better survival rate. Death being at -3 instead of 0, death at -10, death from HP loss avoided with a Save against Death Magic, bandaging rules to recover some HP after a fight despite the shortage of clerical healing, etc, etc. ad infinitum. Every time people talk about low-level adventuring on Dragonsfoot, they talk about how fragile the characters are, and some DMs talk about how they rush through 1st level as fast as possible.

    As regards the original topic, I think it’s a case of picking your poison. Back when I played 1st ed and 2nd ed all the time, EVERYONE had house rules to fix stuff they thought was broken, and to fill in the blanks of the system for smoother operations and consistency. Many, many of the new rules in 3rd edition were house rules I had been seeing for many years. I do get frustrated with the length and depth and “bloat” of the later editions sometimes, but then I remember how frustrating it was to deal with inconsistent DMs and incompatible expectations and house rules between different groups in 1E & 2E, and realize that each game has its issues.

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  44. I don't agree with this at all. I played through several editions of D&D and on the level of the trivial (changes in the use of AC and saving throws) to the more basic (what a cleric or an orc is) the changes have never been hard to accommodate, unless you have a real bee in your bonnet about a particular thing. Ascending AC is much easier to deal with than AD&D's silly tables, which were themselves trivial to deal with. If you can't adapt from subtracting AC from 20 to adding AC to 10, well... the problem is not in the language.

    This is an attempt to claim ownership over terms which extends beyond the basic level of common understanding all players have. We all know AC means "a measure of difficulty to hit, measured on a linear scale" but you want it to mean "an essential component of the THAC0 formula". Which it ain't.

    It's of a piece with the whole grognard project, which is an attempt to take ownership of D&D for a certain generation under a single developer. Too right you "hate change", it's the essence of the conservatism of the grognard project. D&D is not ours, we don't own any of it and we aren't special for having been there when it started.

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  45. How come every time you say "Grognard Project" I picture a bunch of bearded dudes in lab coats holding flasks of glowing green liquid?

    I can't speak for James, but I can certainly understand the desire for grognards to PRESERVE the old ways. But "control" D&D? Force the newbies to acclimate to old school ideals? Everybody who's not on the hash knows that's not going to happen.

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  46. @faustusnotes said:

    "This is an attempt to claim ownership over terms which extends beyond the basic level of common understanding all players have. We all know AC means "a measure of difficulty to hit, measured on a linear scale" but you want it to mean "an essential component of the THAC0 formula". Which it ain't.

    It's of a piece with the whole grognard project, which is an attempt to take ownership of D&D for a certain generation under a single developer. Too right you "hate change", it's the essence of the conservatism of the grognard project. D&D is not ours, we don't own any of it and we aren't special for having been there when it started."

    I don't think it has anything to do with anything so simple as thaco or related nonsense; neither do I think it's a conservative conspiracy to bring D&D "under a single developer." If anything, the OSR has embraced the concept of multiple developers.

    Hating change, in general, is pointless and stupid, I agree; but, unless I'm wrong, the title of James's post was tongue in cheek. And there's certainly nothing wrong with opposing what one considers bad changes - i.e. mistakes. (And let's all be honest here: we're all adults; we all realize these arguments are highly subjective - and that's FINE.)

    I tried to like 3rd ed. I played it for 3 years but it just didn't fit. I gave 4 a chance. I didn't like that either. I happen to feel that the game has drifted away from its roots, to its detriment.

    The truth is, language is important. Now, maybe you don't agree with James's assertions. Fine. Making sweeping statements about grognards in general and "the whole grognard project" - as if we all agree on everything - is just as narrow minded as genuinely hating all change.

    Calm down.

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  47. @Paul said:

    What I don't understand is why so many players (and especially OD&D players it seems) are angry about the newer editions of the game. For me, if I want to play Explore&Survive theme games, I get out my copy of LL or OSRIC. If I want to play Grand Heroic Plot themed games, I pull out 4e. There's room on the bookshelf for both games.

    Did someone actually write this?

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  48. One of the curious things is that the D&D boxed sets never really took hold over here (Adelaide, Australia). I don't know whether it was availability or price, or merely the perception that they were a "beginner's game," but they never became popular and were almost never seen on the shelves of the gaming shops. Brief expeditions around the rest of Oz also seemed to indicate this fact was fairly common around the country.

    AD&D really was the accepted standard because of it's universal availability. Those of us who were lucky enough to have started with OD&D (which was also very difficult to get*) eventually moved across because of the ease of use (ie information was collected at a single point in the books), although some campaigns still hewed to the old rules. And I can't recall anyone ever using those later powers, skills and options amendments either.

    Third edition then became standard on the convention circuit and was picked up by a lot of the kids that colonised game shops at the time, because it was all that was available. Some established games rebooted to 3rd ed. Others didn't.

    I think the reason that the major schism in the D&D community that occurred at 4th ed is because it is no longer D&D. It is the D&D setting but not the D&D rules. So the people that played the setting thought that this was a cool new way to play in that setting, while those of us who had our own campaigns (myself included) went on with their own D&D rules (kept speaking the same game language, as James has suggested).

    YMMV.

    [* I just rediscovered an old (1976) letter from TSR saying that they couldn't sell me anything directly and that I had to go through their (at the time, very incompetent) Australian distributor.]

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  49. So what about those of us who started playing with 3e? Or even, say, LUGtrek?

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  50. g benedicto, I never said "control". I said "claim ownership of", which is a metaphorical or literary process, not some kind of business plan such as nextautumn implies.

    "taking ownership" means laying claim to a prior, strong cultural association with these words, this system, the origins of the game, and so on. That is the grognard project - and it's silly to pretend that it's not a coherent ideology when it's so well-reflected in a bunch of mutually back-slapping blogs, the owners of which are happy to talk about as a project when things are going well for them.

    I played D&D, AD&D 1st and 2nd ed, then dropped them for a variety of other systems until 3rd ed was well advanced. The idea that a cleric is not a cleric, or an orc is unrecognisable, or any of these broad language "changes" is just silly. All that remains is disputes about whether AC should go up or down, and whether hit dice are d8 or d10.

    This kind of language is not "important", as nextautumn says. It's trivial nit-picking for the sake of it.

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  51. faustus notes, if you see the same game across several editions because an orc is an orc and a cleric is a cleric, where does that place other fantasy RPGs? Is MERP the same as D&D?

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  52. jeff, I'm responding to the comments in the post, which highlighted these "changes". All through 3rd edition the system had the same basic properties - hit dice, vancian magic, race and class distinctions, etc. The only thing they bolted on that was new was the skill system. The OP seems to be fussing about when clerics get spells and how many hit dice an orc gets.

    I suppose I think of these things in terms of classes, methods and properties, and until 4e at least the system was in essence the same - the same classes of things, the same methods and properties of those classes, just a few subtle differences in the detail. Even 4e - which is widely accepted to be a radical change, and was billed as such - has broadly similar methods in such things as saves, attack rolls, AC etc. Even class powers are as much incremental change as radical.

    MERP and RM have completely different magic, character creation, combat and skill resolution system. The classes are different, as are the methods and properties by which they're used.

    It's phenomenology, man - D&D has been changing incrementally and gradually over 3 editions and everyone got on board with the changes. When forced to pinpoint why they didn't, the people left behind have to resort to muttering about clerics getting spells at level 1 instead of level 2. Not, in essence, a huge gripe for most people, who welcomed the improvements in 3e (if they hadn't already jumped ship for other systems) as a long time coming.

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  53. "For me, if I want to play Explore&Survive theme games, I get out my copy of LL or OSRIC. If I want to play Grand Heroic Plot themed games, I pull out 4e. There's room on the bookshelf for both games."

    Sure, if someone has alot of money at his disposal. You can get both styles of gameplay out of any FRPG. To say one game system is one style of play is shortsighted IMO. The game mechanics don't determine the style of play, though they can influence it at times. It's the DM and the players that determine the style of play for the game. IF a group wants a Grand Heroic Plot using AD&D, it can be done (and has been BTW: GDQ series of modules or ToEE). IF a group wants Explore & Survive, I'm sure you can do it with 4E D&D.

    SO the idea of game system determines game play is bogus. It can influence a bit, but it up to the will of the DM how the style will be.

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  54. Faustusnotes:

    I neither said nor implied anything about any business plan; when I referred to your language I quoted your language.

    For you to pretend it's "silly" to pretend all grognards don't have the same "coherent ideology" is asinine - a cursory look around the blogs shows otherwise.

    Personally, I think it's your language use that's shoddy and trivial. "...everyone got on board..." -- "...when they didn't..." -- "muttering about clerics..." -- "...most people..."

    Generalizations. Nonsense. Self-serving B.S.

    To imply that people who play older versions of the game because they see them as superior are somehow wrong, simply because YOU feel that newer versions are an "improvement" is downright ignorant.

    As I said before, disagreeing with the OP's original argument is fine. But, please, try to remember that your prejudices and your opinions are nothing more than that, and do not amount to any kind of proof.

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  55. To be honest I don't think that (for the most part) the terminology has changed. What I see has changed is the math.

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  56. I have the same exact origin -- Holmes, going into MM and then PHB and on -- and almost the exact opposite view.

    In fact, it's this sort of post, which you seem to come up with about once a week, that so ganks against the rim after so many swishes and makes me wish you'd just stop trying to get this point across in your otherwise superb blog.

    Of course, as a sports fan, I'm hoping you didn't have difficulty with that basketball reference, even if it is terms like "first down," "go long," and "nickel defense" that you grew up with and wish everyone could use to communicate with.

    I know it's more difficult to deal with alternate sets of rules and different frames of reference. Imagine if videogamers had to deal with all sorts of multiple systems and editions (XBOX, PS3, PS2, Wii)...Oh, I guess they do. Funny that they don't seem to have much trouble with it.

    This is the worst kind of sophistry, James, and I wish you would knock it off. So much of the time, in your explorations of the literature that inspired game designers, in your thoughtful essays on game nostalgia, and your terrific ideas for how to make our game worlds richer and more surprising, you are without peer in the rpg blogging world.

    But then, like clockwork, this kind of post appears, and you reinforce the most annoying aspects of the "old-school renaissance." Yes, we get it. You're middle-aged guys who, a generation earlier, would have been restoring the cherry hot-rod you drove as a teenager (and everything built since then is crap).

    We get that OSR bloggers hate everything since the Hickmans, or Ed Greenwood, or Monte Cook, or 3rd Edition, or -- heaven forbid -- the horror of 4th Edition.

    Yes, we get it, we get it, we get it.

    You really don't need to make such a ridiculous point -- that somehow I can't carry on a conversation with a fellow gamer if he's talking about AC improving downwards when I've been playing in a game where it improves upwards -- in order to get across the same old OSR cranky rant that everything since 1985 or 1989 or 2000 or 2005 is crap.

    Please, spare us that impulse, and get back to the stuff that really sings.

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  57. "To be honest I don't think that (for the most part) the terminology has changed. What I see has changed is the math."

    You should see the WOTC official Conversion Manual for 2E->3E (by Skip Williams, 2000). By my count there's about 5 pages devoted solely to two-column lists of how things have been renamed (including core concepts, proficiencies, spells, and magic items).

    http://www.superdan.net/download/ConversionBook.pdf

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  58. Upon reviewing my last comment, I see that my own language got a little out of hand. Faustusnotes, I apologize for that.

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  59. Tony: "Of course, as a sports fan, I'm hoping you didn't have difficulty with that basketball reference..."

    It's so simple. Basketball uses the same terminology that it always has. It still calls the goal a "basket" as it did in 1891 (in spite of the physical mechanism being switched from peach basket to something else), etc. Thus, people in different generations can share in a reasonable discussion of the game and its strategies, even among the most casual watchers or players.

    In contrast, as TSR/WOTC rapidly changes the language in our game, it makes cross-generational talk so much harder. It takes a similar level of dedication as an expert following scientific journals to keep up. Ultimately, this hurts the game (re: its community, ecosystem, network effects).

    Basketball is one of my prime, favorite examples I use to illustrate the difference.

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  60. @ Delta:

    I think we understood this post to mean the same thing. Hooray!

    Continuing Tony's metaphor, someone who is only familiar with basketball might not be able to join a conversation about football without learning a lot of terminology. As far as i can tell this loss of immediacy was the subject of the post. I agree with James in thinking this is a shame.

    If it truly is a different game, perhaps a new name might remove the expectation cross-"edition" discussion. Might also lose brand recognition and a number of customers though.

    Feel free to ignore the last 2 sentences, my real point is everything before that.

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  61. Delta, maybe you didn't notice that huge concession I was making (at least the way OSR folks see it). Yes, I'm acknowledging, as football and basketball are completely different games, so I will admit that 4e and 1e (or whatever old school version you play) are very different games.

    See? I'm giving James that point. Yes, 4e really doesn't look like, sound like, or for the most part, play like the Holmes game or 1e.

    So what? Who cares?

    There are old farts like me who cut our teeth on Holmes, who obsessed on everythingn 1e, and yet have had amazingly wonderful 3rd edition campaigns, and now, even more wonderful 4e campaigns (with guys all more than 35 years old, none of whom didn't play 1e or 2e back in the day).

    And even though my guys and I are wallowing in all the new edition, we still have enormous love and admiration for everything done by Gygax, Arneson, and all the original ur-texts of our hobby.

    Which is why I read this blog every single day without fail. Along with Jeff Rients, Greyhawk Grognard and a dozen other OSR blogs.

    I love the work being done to resurrect the old texts, to expand on and honor the origins of hobby we all love.

    But every time an OSR blogger craps all over 4e, or, in James' case, tries to make the case that somehow all of us enjoying the hell out of the new game CAN'T EVEN TALK THE LANGUAGE of the old game...well, it's simply inane.

    Come on. These are games of imagination, which call on the greatest parts of our intellect. Of COURSE we can hold in our brains all of the miracles of the 1970s emergence as well as the incredible diaspora of ideas that followed -- whether you're into the weirdness of Arduin, the reality movement of RQ or Harn, the massive worldbuilding of Forgotten Realms, or WHATEVER.

    So we come here to see James uncover more richness in the origins of the game, and it's the best damn thing in the rpg blog universe.

    But why, WHY, must it slam those of us who think maybe there's actually been some clever evolution of gaming rules since 1986? Why, WHY must we feel guilty or wrong or somehow like sellouts because we find that the new edition -- which yes, I will concede once again, is a very different game -- has figured out some really cool things about keeping everyone involved and having fun? How could that possibly be a bad thing?

    James, I think you'll do even better in this incredible endeavor of yours if you made a concession of your own -- that there really are a lot of us who love all of the current work being done to reveal and explain and amplify the origins of our obsessive hobby while still enjoying the messy, wonderful modern manifestations of it.

    Again, I'm a huge fan. Please don't think I'm not.

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  62. Then again, it's James' blog and he can do whatever he wants.

    Everyone is entitled to their opinion.

    And that's what it is: opinion.

    It's neither right or wrong. It is what it is.

    The last thing I think James should do is censor himself.

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  63. There's self-censorship, and then there's James abusing the deceased equine with a 2x4--which is what I think the critiques of modern gaming on Grognardia have become. I'm with Tony here--there's so much of value on this blog. Why waste energy that could go to the good posts on curmudgeonly critiques that do little more than (a) preach to the choir and (b) alienate non-OSR readers?

    Word Verification: Essymp. Stat it up!

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  64. nextautumn, I'm not implying people are wrong for enjoying old versions of the game. I'm stating openly that they're wrong for claiming (as James does in this post) that there is no common language, that all change since the original systems is wrong, with the implication that the modern game is not any longer the game they played.

    There's a lot of holier-than-thou posturing in this line of thinking, but at its heart it comes down to disagreements over mathematics and finicky game mechanics. This is a very shoddy foundation on which to lay the edifice of OSR claims to specialness.

    And I'm sorry, I have no sympathy for claims that the OSR doesn't have a common view of modern gaming. I've just read 50 or so comments agreeing with James about change. Not hard to figure out...

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  65. "But why, WHY, must it slam those of us who think maybe there's actually been some clever evolution of gaming rules since 1986? Why, WHY must we feel guilty or wrong or somehow like sellouts because we find that the new edition -- which yes, I will concede once again, is a very different game -- has figured out some really cool things about keeping everyone involved and having fun? How could that possibly be a bad thing?"

    You're basically asking how somebody can both think you have bad taste in games and say so.

    I would answer: It's remarkably easy. It doesn't even have to be offensive. I'll vocally question the musical taste of people who enjoy Kid Rock. I don't think it's out-of-line at all to do so and it's entirely those peoples' decisions whether want to take it personally or not. Having one's tastes subject to criticism is just part of life, and I would sure hate for Mr. Maliszewski to feel he has to tiptoe around his opinions on his own blog.

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  66. "But why, WHY, must it slam those of us who think maybe there's actually been some clever evolution of gaming rules since 1986?"

    Oh, and I agree. It's just that none of these clever games were published under the D&D byline. :)

    Word verification: "Riced." Yummy!

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  67. I agree with James' post, and tradition has had alot to do with this. In my system, I definately did not want to deviate from the 'basic concepts.' But ultimately, the ascending Armor Class won me over. And yet, I don't think it is too different , the basic concept is still there.

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  68. "I agree with James' post, and tradition has had alot to do with this. In my system, I definately did not want to deviate from the 'basic concepts.' But ultimately, the ascending Armor Class won me over. And yet, I don't think it is too different , the basic concept is still there."

    Well, admittedly it's a huge complicating factor that rules tinkering *is* within the tradition. Hell, my first bit of published gaming material (in Fight On!) was a variation on the thief skill rules.

    I guess you could say I prefer a happy medium: Let's have the rulebooks stick to the Old Ways (decending AC, the classic saves, etc) so that all players have a common text and language, while the individual referees continue to tinker and share rules variants amongst themselves (it's not as if you could stop them anyway). Works for me.

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  69. Grognardia's not a broad church and was never intended to be. I don't expect that to change nor should anyone reading it.

    Fortunately, it's not (by far!) the only old school-oriented blog or forum out there. If my "curmudgeonly," "holier-than-thou," and sophistical ways are offensive, you don't have to deal with them unless you choose to do so.

    This blog is more or less what it's been in the nearly-two years since I first wrote it, right down to my clockwork beatings of the dead horse. That's unlikely to change and, if it does, it'll be the result of my continued thinking about the various things I post here, which I've regularly described as a "rough draft" of my thoughts.

    Feel free to continue arguing about this amongst yourselves about this if you like, but don't delude yourselves into thinking I'll be adopting latitudinarianism anytime soon. I ask only that you refrain from crossing certain bounds of politeness and decorum that a couple of comments here have been tiptoeing towards.

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  70. I had a real-life instance of this barrier to communications about 2 1/2 years ago. I was in a consignment shop looking through some used gaming materials. The clerk came over and asked if I needed help finding anything. I told her I was always on the look out for old D&D stuff. She helpfully brought over a stack of 3e hard backs.

    I thanked her and, though I wasn't really interested, thumbed through a couple of them to be polite. She then starts talking about her game going on and her character that was of a class I had never heard of, and she asked whether I thought one class I'd never heard of was better than another class I'd never heard of.

    I had to tell her that I played a very different version of the game, and didn't have any idea what she was talking about. For an example, I tried to explain that "Wizard" and "Sorcerer" used to be two different levels of the magic-user class. It quickly became apparent that neither of us were really interested in talking to the other about a game the other didn't really know anything about.

    There were no put-downs, rudeness, or chest-thumping. Really, it was more like going over to someone and asking, "Hey, didn't you go to Central High? I'm Class of '86." "Nope, Western High, Class of '93." "Oh. O.K. Have a nice day." For a brief moment, there may have been a shared interest, but after that, nothing.

    I told this story to a buddy of mine, and he said the more likely explanation was that she noticed my wedding ring and staged a hasty strategic withdrawal. Of course, being an OD&D player, I got no attack of opportunity.

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  71. Chris, you're blaming a failure to communicate on the system. When bards were introduced, people would explain them with reference to existing classes. This happened to me recently when friends started playing D&D3.5 from a rulebook I didn't have - they explained new classes with reference to old ones. If you can't do something that simple, the problem is with the moment of communication, not with the game. You could have asked that woman "what hit dice does it have? What armour is it allowed?" and she would have been able to get the point across perfectly adequately. Trying to tell her that really wizard and sorcerer are level titles is a little mendacious.

    James, the language of your comment says so much about the straitened thinking of the grognard world. The issue is not that you or they only like OD&D (or ponies, or whatever). The issue is this claim to a special cultural standpoint, as if the canonical nature of the original rulebooks makes them better and the people who play them better. Your use of the word "latitudinarianism" is dripping with this meaning - implicit in the term is your positioning of your own tastes at the centre, and everyone else's at the periphery, of some objective scale of worth.

    Plus, of course, these trivial quibbles over what is in and out of the canon, and what language defines it. When you start worrying about the fundamental changes implied by a shift from descending to ascending AC, you're showing a breathtaking lack of intellectual flexibility, which this blog is really capable of rising above.

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  72. Faustusnotes:

    "Mendacious," a big, polite word, meaning "liar." Nice.

    Do you think, perhaps, that I may have abbreviated the re-telling of the conversation in my previous post a bit, and that it may have had a bit more depth to it? Forgive me for being pithy. I was trying to relate a somewhat wistful instance of two people failing to connect.

    Now, you on the other hand, rather than failing to communicate, have chosen to forgo communication. I will choose the same tact at the risk of descending into using smaller, much less polite words.

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  73. sorry Chris, maybe "egregious" is a better word. Going into someone's place of business and telling them how things should be done in their hobby based on a 20 year old model doesn't seem very polite.

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  74. WOW,
    This was a unfortunate exchange
    (I am not taking sides, I see merits to most comments);
    however, the use of terms such as
    ‘muttering’, ‘asinine’, ‘ignorant’, ‘sophistry’, etc..
    is unfortunate.

    Why would the younger generation want to hang out with
    OLDer gamers
    (about half of whom are obese)
    who are ALSO discourteous to each other?

    "I took more hell for being fat
    than I did for being an absolute raging drug addict.
    I will never understand that,"
    Kelly Osbourne.

    James, is correct, we ALL need to try harder to play nice . . .
    Sadly, this renaissance may already be doomed.
    We need not fear Hasbro or WOTC

    “I have seen the enemy, it is us”
    POGO

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  75. D&D language bein hard to understant? heh. that's acutally quite funny that people complain about that.

    i'm acadian. for those who never heard of us, i'm not surprised. we're descendants a small bunch of french settlers that were sent to canada centuries ago. isolated from the rest of france we kept the old language while it evolved across the atlantic. some of the settlers broke off and joined other colonies a bit west created what is now quebec, who evolved their own dialect of the language while we kept of the old tongue. we did create our own words to help ground us in the new world.

    the louisiana cajuns are mostly descended from acadians who were deported to the states in the mid 1700's when we refused to swear fealty to england or france. they created their own dialed based off the acadian dialect of the time & the language of the southern states

    but even we evolved. the acadian lands switched between the english & the french often and we integrated many english words in out day-to-day speak.

    currently? the acadian dialect i grew up with (the PEI dialect, which is different from the NB chiac dialect) is a horrible mish-mash of new french, old french, acadian slang words, common english & some english slang with ample amounts of nonsensical gibberish and hand gestures used to communicate and a few rare native american words. it's a very crude and contracted dialect that's quickly spoken and blunt. to an outsider it's incomprehensible even though they will catch 2-3 words they might understand. wikipedia has a small list of french acadian words but it's far from comprehensive.

    now i ask... is it french? are we still speaking french? i know people who would say "no" since it's so alien to metropolitan french...

    really, if the worst problem facing's terminology D&D is adding new words or redefining them to fit with the current environment(not that language ever does that.snerk), i would say it's in good hands.

    people who were introduced to 4th ed might not fully understand what a will save is, but they know the concept of the Will defense and can make the conjecture. they might think that a ThAC0 is bought at the mexican restaurant, but they know what AC is.

    languages, terminology & dialects WILL change over time to accomodate the world around us. to think otherwise is, and i apologise if i offend people, flat out ignorant. to keep the "auld tongue" as means of discussing older editions is fine, but expecting it to be the standard is forgetting that the world around you is changing & the lingo will change to fit with the world.

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  76. Wow, this particular topic on the blog has sparked off some emotions.

    James, you keep on doing what you're doing.

    'nuff said.

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  77. I support the continued alienation of non-OSR readers.

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  78. Wow, this is hostile. I'm not sure i agree with anybody anymore and i wonder if i misunderstood the post. Anyway, i just know that when i first started reading accounts 4E sessions i was lost (I dont remember if i had a similar reaction to accounts of 3.5 or not). They were just talking about mechanics i had never heard of that's all, it wasnt anything like ascending armor class and i think that is relatively minor, though i guess it could be confusing to someone who was somehow totally unaware of the switch. This is not a critique, i just didnt understand what they were talking about (I never was introduced to feats, i didnt know what "marking" is, didn't understand what abilities (is that what theyre called?) are). When i finally read the rules i put them aside because i didnt like the some fundamental aspects of the game (that is, players can expect to be able to play as dragon-men with breath weapons, the abilities system), not because of any lack of familiarity.

    Maybe i'm blinded to the differences in the TSR versions because i started with 1e/2e and had very little trouble picking up OD&D. Perhaps if i had started with OD&D and tried to read about 2e, I'd be all "THAC0? Pshht."

    If im wrong about anything, please correct me, i'm always curious at least.

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  79. Oh, by the way, i think i remember having similar problems (though not nearly to the same degree) with 2e. I know its probably minor, but i had no idea what a kit was and i still dont exactly know

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  80. Damn. I hate to post again especially since its not quite on topic, but i forgot to mention that it was because the term was not in any of the core books. That such widely used terminology would come from a supplement mystified me

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  81. I didn't read the entire comments, so I apologize if someone already mentioned this.

    I played both 2E as a youth and 3E in college. At no time in my playing was I sure that I understood the rules. It all seemed intentionally confusing, needlessly complex, and seemed to change depending on who was present at the table. Eventually, I got tired of the endless confusion, squabbling, and calculations - too much like homework - and gave up on what I thought could be a really interesting hobby.

    I've recently started playing 4E, and will soon begin my first campaign as DM. It seems to me that 4E is an incredible change from the systems of the past - for the better. It feels to me like WotC attempted to simplify and balance the game. This is probably intended to draw more players to the hobby. More players equals more sales equals good (they are a business, after all). It won me back to the hobby and I'm introducing it to several people who have never played a RPG before in the next couple of weeks.

    The recent changes are indeed drastic. But ultimately, the point is to have fun. Since many felt the old way wasn't terribly fun - self included - maybe the new way will bring more total humans to the gaming tables. Which can only be a good thing.

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  83. This is why I dislike Cars, for example. Whatever its mechanical benefits may or may not be, it's a divergence from tradition that makes it harder to communicate with my fellow drivers of Chariots without a "translator." A degree of immediacy is lost.

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  84. "Whatever its mechanical benefits may or may not be, it's a divergence from tradition..."

    Amidst all the snarkiness there's something to this. Take a look at old school blogs and observe just how many gamers are actually adding things to the game and modifying various elements. 4E attempts to quash this very aspect of the hobby. Hence its emphasis on "iconic" characters with specifically delineated roles and its self-admittedly crippled take on magic. Creating a new class within such a system is a major undertaking. In OS D&D a new class is a matter of a few paragraphs and (maybe) an XP chart.

    Frankly, I'm not interested in any RPG that is actively narrowing the room for players' imaginations in favor of selling more product. And I challenge any advocate of 4E to prove that their game allows as much (or more) room for tweaking than the earliest versions of D&D. The designers at WotC know what I'm talking about -- either fans of 4E have managed to gloss over this aspect, or they don't care for the seat-of-your-pants, free-wheeling style that characterized/s campaigns using the original game.

    If the OSR is about maintaining tradition, it's because that tradition is still fertile and has more to offer than current products that bear the same name.

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  85. The discussion here makes me sad. When I started following James' Blog a year or so ago, I perceived the "Old School" as a way of playing the game. I was happy because I thought that I could use my preferred version of the game, the 3.5 edition and use the inspiration from this and other blogs to run an Old School style campaign.
    Nowadays it seems that the OSR is closing ranks. It is not only about how to play the game, but also what game to play. Old School, as I get it from this blog entry and many comments is defined by D&D from 74' to 81'. AD&D and all editions after 81' are not suitable for the "pure" old school tradition it seems. C&C gets sneered at (because there is still to much 3rd edtion present).
    In my perception, the OSR moves from an open, welcoming group sharing the same gaming philosphy to a closed elitist circle that has set in stone rules how the game should be played and what games can be played.

    I hope that I am wrong and OSR is still open and welcoming.

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  86. "In my perception, the OSR moves from an open, welcoming group sharing the same gaming philosphy to a closed elitist circle that has set in stone rules how the game should be played and what games can be played."

    Hardly. While there's common ground, no one plays the game exactly the same way. No two gamers share an identical "philosophy" about the game. And no one is going to prevent you or anyone else from "joining the ranks" or whatever. Do with the game what you will.

    And labeling folks who have divergent opinions about D&D "elitists" is just laughable. I don't like Star Trek -- does this make me a Star Wars elitist?

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  87. you're missing the point, Benedicto. The elitism is in the scornful view of all things new and the implication or open statement that anything except the original game is somehow inferior. If it were just claims to a preference, that would be okay - but there's a lot of implied and open judgement being passed.

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  88. "The elitism is in the scornful view..."

    Then it's not elitism is it?

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  89. "scornful view of all things new"

    James has discussed many new products on this very blog and given many of them favorable reviews. Your argument is with a straw man.

    "the implication or open statement that anything except the original game is somehow inferior."

    This is an opinion I've seen as well, usually backed by a coherent argument. An opinion. If everyone who has an opinion about RPGs is an elitist, well look out.

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  90. @G.Benedicto: "And I challenge any advocate of 4E to prove that their game allows as much (or more) room for tweaking than the earliest versions of D&D."

    No, you're right. There aren't a whole lot of games out there that allow for as much tweaking as OD&D. FATE does, some of the really stripped down versions of d20 do, too. There's probably a few others out there. 4e definitely does not. However, I disagree with your statement that 4e is "actively narrowing the room for players' imaginations." I've seen plenty of creative, great characters develop in 4e games. It's certainly quite possible to take the core classes and tweak them into new builds without too much work. WotC seems to put out a few new builds for existing classes in every book they put out. Minor changes to class mechanics used to put a whole new spin on a class - something akin to 2ed's "kits"

    And, while player characters are quite rigidly structured in 4e, monsters, traps and supporting elements are very open in terms of what's allowed and how it's implemented. Designing monsters in 4e comes closer to the open style of OD&D than any other edition of D&D. Certainly it's a refreshing pleasure compared to 3rd edition's number-laden system or 2nd edition's 'shot-in-the-dark' monster design.

    I think advocates of 4e shouldn't claim that the game is as open as OD&D - it isn't. My claim is: by closing some areas of the system, 4e achieves a very balanced, fun game which nears OD&D in it's design simplicity, while improving the tactical combat elements of the game.

    I think most of us can get behind that.

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  91. @Paul: I generally agree with your assessment of 4E.

    "while improving the tactical combat elements of the game."

    That's a matter of taste, I think. I'm really not a fan of miniatures play, and this is clearly the emphasis of 4E. I know lots of guys who are into that though, so I can understand why a game like 4E would appeal to them.

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  92. I don't think OD&D is particularly amenable to the creation of new classes. In order to create a new class in OD&D you have to invent a whole new series of spells. Even the makers of D&D3.5 didn't really want to do this - they reused a lot of spells for the bard and sorcerer.

    4e on the other hand liberates DMs from this challenge, since they can just create a smaller range of powers (daily, at will, etc), or combine existing ones in new arrays.

    OD&D is flexible only when it comes to making subtle variants of existing character classes. Lacking a proper skill system or power system, it doesn't have a coherent framework for making skill-based characters (like thieves, tumblers, assassins, technomages, etc.), and the magic system inherently restricts attempts to make new magic-using classes that are anything but minor revisions of the existing ones.

    Simplicity doesn't necessarily mean flexibility.

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  93. "In order to create a new class in OD&D you have to invent a whole new series of spells."

    ?

    All new classes are essentially magic-users?

    I have to emphatically disagree with your characterization of OD&D. In this case, simplicity does make the game very flexible and leaves worlds of room for DM ingenuity.

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  94. Why would you have to create a whole new list of spells? I mean you could if you wanted to. I'm sure some people might be denigrating (am i using/spelling that right) later editions, but that's not what i'm trying to do. If i did i failed to communicate or was just wrong, since this is a matter of personal preference. Looking back, the examples i cited corresponded to rules changes. I guess i was thinking you could support different (more modern i guess) play styles while using plain english terms instead of adding entries to the lexicon, but now i'm not so sure they did a bad job, considering the circumstances. Can anybody tell me what "marking" is specifically? I tried to look it up but i dont have any 4E material so it was an unsophisticated google search and wasnt very fruitful. Thanks for sharing your opinions, everybody, and i apologize if i was a jerk at any point.

    P.S.

    My word verification is "Cytorat". I'm thinking thats a MU name.

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  95. @faustnotes

    Its totally possible to pick and choose spells from the lists for a new class the way you described being done with powers in 4E. I think what D&D lacks is not flexibility but consistency from group to group. Having no rules for something doesnt mean you cant do it. Some people will argue that you cant have rules for everything and that having rules for everything possible in the game excludes other actions. This could be addressed by creating powers as needed/desired. Is this possible in 4E? I'm genuinely curious, i don't know all of the possibilities within the rules. Anyway, the idea is that you get locked in to a certain set of possible actions like a video game. This is why some people see the Supplement I thief class as a mistake. Obviously OD&D is not for everybody and has many flaws, but i don't see it as inflexible. Actually, thats not my opinion, it's a fact. It says so on the last page of rules in Underworld & Wilderness Adventures. FIGHT ON! (so to speak (: )

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  96. yeah you could do that, jasonalexanderscanlon, but it's still a right royal pain in the arse. And given there is no skill system, non-spell-using characters don't ultimately have much variability. Didn't they have to invent a whole set of rules for the thief?

    This is the problem of simplicity. In making the new things - new monsters, new classes, new spells - you just have to, well, make shit up. Which is fine and dandy if a) you're interested in all that effort and b) not too concerned about balance. Making stuff up from existing spell lists won't stuff up the balance; but making new rules because they aren't covered in a fundamental skill system certainly can.

    So yeah, if you want to go to the effort OD&D can be flexible. But more flexible than 4e? I'm not sure about that.

    I'm not a big fan of 4e btw, played it a few times and found it dissatisfying. But I think some of the claims here are a bit one-sided, is all.

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  97. "make shit up"

    PREACH IT, BROTHER.

    But seriously, that's the beauty and challenge of OD&D. Lack of creativity is a handicap, and the uncreative DM is surely doomed and probably much better off playing a different game or allowing someone with more experience to ref.

    Using a term like "game balance" is something of an anachronism when applied to OD&D. We're talking about a system that relies on RULINGS, NOT RULES. So the game flies or fails by the virtues of the guy in the Dungeon Master chair.

    It's this DIY/self-reliant aspect that many folks find appealing. What you perceive as a flaw, others view as a strength.

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  98. I love how every time this type of issue is raised with the OSR mob, the response is "uncreative DMs can't handle it". I'm a creative DM and I just happen to not have the time to pore over 77000 pages of spells constructing a character class that probably won't be balanced when I could just haul 3 versions of it from a supplement.

    This kind of language - "the uncreative DM is surely doomed" and "find a more experienced ref" is another example of preaching from a position of superiority. Sure, your game is so special that only the superior people can play it - the creative, the experienced and the bearded. Everyone else has to do white wolf, right? Or d20, the game for the masses.

    When I hear "rulings, not rules" I immediately think "bullying DM". And I'm amused that arbitrary dm rulings are somehow fair for the players, but fudging dice is not?

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  99. What would you like me to say, Faustus? Because you don't like OD&D, then no one should?

    You don't have time to do it? Then don't.

    This last comment reeks of a severe inferiority complex. Play whatever game you like, my friend. No one is going to stop you. If you're capable of writing these diatribes, you should be capable of running ANY game you like.

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  100. @jasonalexanderscanlon:
    Marking is (unfortunately) not a clearly defined term. The mechanical benefit it provides is very straightforward: the marked creature suffers a -2 penalty on attacks that don't include the marking creature. How that happens is a bit of a mystery. In the case of a fighter, you might assume that he shouts out a challenge to a foe as he strikes, or that he knows some weapon techniques which force the enemies attention on him. However, there are plenty of monsters who have the ability to mark people, with barely any description given on how they do that. I think the marking mechanic is one of the concessions that 4e players need to make, because it contributes in a great way towards fun combat, but detracts from realism.

    @G.Benedicto:
    I don't really think Game Balance is an anachronism for OD&D. For example, as a DM, you wouldn't throw 1st level characters into a dungeon filled with giants. That would be a recipe for a very short game. That's one kind of game balance. The kind that is more prominent in 4e, however, is the balance across characters in the same party. In 4e, all the characters are more or less balanced in relation to characters of the same level. This is a new concept for D&D, and it's a direct reaction to 3rd edition's terribly unbalanced system, in which it was easily possible for one character to overbalance the entire party, making the game less fun for everyone else. Having seen this situation unfold in numerous 3rd edition campaigns, I'm frankly glad that they put effort into fixing it in 4e.

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  101. well benedicto, I'm not the one posturing about how 4e lacks flexibility, how only creative DMs can handle D&D, or how the world's gone to hell since AC started going backwards. I don't even play 4e, I'm not a fan, but this all seems a bit silly to me.

    In short, I'm not the one with the "my game is better than yours" attitude. I'm responding to it, and getting some pretty petulant comments by way of reply.

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  102. Whatever game you play, I'm sure it's great, Faustus. Cheers!

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