Friday, April 9, 2010

DungeonWorld

I got quite a few emails yesterday asking me my opinion of this blog post at Penny Arcade, where artist Mike Krahulik talks about introducing his group of D&D IV players to OD&D (or, more precisely, Swords & Wizardry) through the medium of in-game time travel:
You have been dragged back in time and placed in the bodies of new characters, each of them a key player in the story of the Eladrin in the Estwild. The world has been spun back hundreds of years. Your characters are in a much different time with much different rules. But they are not the only ones who will travel back in time for this adventure. Each of you has also been taken back to 1974 and Original Dungeons and Dragons.
Honestly, my opinion on the matter is a resounding shrug of disinterest. I simply can't get myself worked up about it, because, while I agree that Krahulik clearly doesn't understand the appeal of OD&D to those of us who play it, his lack of understanding arises out of ignorance rather than malice. The very fact that he's willing to give OD&D a look at all, even if it is a version he's purposefully de-fanged, speaks well of him and his curiosity about the past of the hobby. Likewise, his inclusion of a link to the S&W site is a very nice gesture and one that ought to give old school gaming a much wider exposure, even if I doubt that very many regular readers of Penny Arcade will be moved to throw off the yoke of modernity and embrace the Old Ways.

At the same time, I also think it's a bit silly to suggest that old schoolers need to "pretty themselves up" and start "behaving" for the benefit of the drive-by surfers who follow Krahulik's link into the wider world of the OSR. Grognards are, by definition, a cranky, disgruntled, and often irrational lot; this has always been so. The older guys who hung out at The Compleat Strategist in downtown Baltimore were a cantankerous bunch too, looking askance at snot-nosed kids like me who were violating the sanctity of their hidden fastnesses in the wake of roleplaying's faddish popularity. And while I thought many of them weird -- because, let's face it, they were weird -- I didn't expect them to change their grumpy ways on my account.

In time, we built up a rapport and I learned a lot from them and their experiences, but that rapport was achieved only by accepting and understanding them and their eccentricities, not by their catering to the tender sensibilities of tyros such as myself. This is as true in 2010 as it was in 1982. Anyone not currently plugged into the online old school scene who wants to see what it's all about is going to have to be prepared to wade through a lot of rancor, grouchiness, and occasionally vitriol; that's just the nature of the beast. Anyone who's so aggrieved by this that, upon first encountering it, flees for the hills probably ought to avoid the Internet in general, never mind its old school enclave.

I really don't think we do anyone any favors by being more "open" or "welcoming" -- in short being other than who and what we are. And what we are -- many of us anyway -- is a bunch of guys and gals who think old games are no less fun today than they were in the past. A lot of us get understandably miffed when it's implied, if not outright stated, that gaming has "evolved" since the games we play were first published and that somehow the fun we think we're having with these old games is either unreal or not as great as it could be, if we only cast aside the past and embraced Progress. The old school renaissance is, in part, a defiant rejection of that thesis and I for one make no bones about that. If that offends any newcomers, chances are good they were little more than tourists anyway and we lose nothing by simply being who we are, without apologies.

Does the old school community need new blood in order to prosper? You betcha. I love seeing new blogs and sites spring up, each one created by someone who somehow managed to see past all the "negativity" and "dogmatism" and has come to appreciate the Old Ways -- and old gamers -- on their own terms. Old school gaming will never prove popular with most people, but I don't see that as a bad thing. Consequently, there's little to gain by "putting on a good face" if that face isn't reflective of who we really are. We may not be pretty but we are sincere and it's that sincerity, however irritably it's often shown, that reveals our true face to those willing to take the time to look beneath the surface.

46 comments:

  1. Mirroring many or my own thoughts here. Likewise a similar stance from my brother Mr. Joel:
    http://fastermonkeycage.wordpress.com/2010/04/09/in-praise-of-penny-arcades-gabriel/

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  2. "I really don't think we do anyone any favors by being more "open" or "welcoming" -- in short being other than who and what we are. And what we are -- many of us anyway -- is a bunch of guys and gals who think old games are no less fun today than they were in the past."

    Thanks James.

    Almost more annoying than the total "I don't get it" take on the OSR scene in the PA article was the appeal for "Everyone to just get along, old school is anything you want it to be" mewling from the PA apologists who followed in wake of the criticism.

    If the newbies are offended they haven't yet made the crucial step to grasping the difference between their favorite game and old school.

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  3. Feel free to tell me if I'm reading something incorrectly here. From Gabe's post / emphasis mine:

    "The end result was much like what I described in my email to the party. A sort of OD&D roller-coaster with all the twists and turns of old school gaming but minus the freedom and danger"

    Wow, I was with him all the way up until that last bit. How can a game without healing surges, power balancing, and the need for constant skill checks be considered LESS dangerous or free? This makes me think he doesn't "get it" at all.

    I get that he tweaked the rules--but what did he do to make it more restrictive? Why bother going old-school at all?

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  4. Frankly, this is getting boring.

    I don't think PA's post is something worth getting angry over, or even worth defening.

    Is a post by a guy that likes to play in a different way.

    So what?

    Hmm.... donuts!

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  5. Yeh why talk about anything, it's all meaningless anyway.....choke on a donut, chubby.

    The PA article is important in that it shows the general misunderstanding and misinterpretation that the entire OSR fights against. Treating "old school" gaming either like a museum piece ("See there, kiddies, that's the 2 hp mage that could be killed by ONE BLOW!")or as a chore to fight through just to let your players know how bad-ass your new game is insults the rest of us that are STILL playing old school games.

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  6. It seems to me that there's a difference between "prettying oneself up" or "behaving" and expressing active derision for others. The OSR blogosphere carries, in my opinion, some interesting ideas about play-style and roleplaying (and history!) that are worth teaching to the 3e/4e crowd (or folks who may have come from some other game entirely) but at the same time, the elitism that comes across can be a bit noxious.

    I find this somewhat sad. To show my age, I remember back when the "cool" guys didn't play D&D at all, of any stripe, because "real" role-players played Stormbringer, or Call of Cthulhu, or Ars Magica, and not the "hack-and-slash", "combat oriented" D&D. There were also the folks who would only play Advanced D&D, because D&D was "for kids". At the time I found this confusing, because, as now, I'm "mechanics agnostic". As I see it, one uses mechanics appropriate for a given purpose and freely alters or abandons mechanics as needed. Ironically, nowadays the OSR movement is expressing essentially the same kind of elitism, which I find somewhat bizarre and surreal, and a sad comment on people's detachment from history.

    Regarding the OSR directly, "Old style" players don't spring fully formed from the maw of mighty Chaos, as it were, they develop, as they always have, by the willingness to try something outside the box. A real irony here is that Gabe has been doing exactly that with the D&D 4e campaign, of which this "incident" is but one example.

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  7. If the OSR makes no excuses for the excess zealotry of some of its representatives, one cannot expect anything different from players of modern games. Somewhere there must be a middle ground. If I wanted a newbie used to 4e to try out OD&D, I would do better than telling him the game he likes is "crap" or some other epithet.

    RE: the PA post...meh...it's clear the guy did not completely grasp the ideas behind the old games. So what? He gave it a try, which is probably more than can be said of many "grognards" who simply mark new games as crap, often without even playing them.

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  8. Sorry, but still I'm not getting insulted.
    Not by PA nor by the donut you are asking me to choke on.
    I still play the same games I played years ago.
    I almost never played the "new" games like Vampire, Heroquest etc...

    Many "new style" gamers tried their best to be offensive to D&D players, and with a much greater display of rethorics.

    I never felt offended by them, so why should I feel offended now?

    By an off-hand comment of someone that is not writing a tome on quantum theory but is just playing with friends?

    Probably the difference is I'm not on a crusade.
    So, enough of this for me, and tell me about your latest megadungeon.

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  9. I think exposure on Penny Arcade is nothing but good.

    Its popularity is huge. If a fraction of those folks pick up any edition of D&D thanks to Penny Arcade, this is all to the good.

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  10. Another thought: I think the Penny Arcade post shows that there's something magical to you about the first edition of D&D you play.

    These guys are 4e players and always WILL be, no matter what editions or different games they move to.

    Bitching at them about that seems about as productive as bitching about the color of the sky.

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  11. The game is the thing.

    If the game is good, like OD&D and it's clones are, then people will play it.

    Getting them exposed to it is the deal.

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  12. I think we can all agree that any publicity is good publicity, although we can be a bit more hermetic in our dealings. Instead of getting all up in arms about it, why should we really give a rats ass? Its someone elses game, someone elses deal, and really, this isn't even a person we deal with on any level of interaction. I say fuck it and lets talk more about sandboxes.

    Look; interesting! http://www.dragonsfoot.org/forums/viewtopic.php?f=15&t=41880&start=30

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  13. Well put, James. Sincerity is king.

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  14. I think that the comment on PA is ambiguous and perhaps just plain old badly worded.

    But, either way, PA is HUGE among today's generation of gamers (ie, computer gamers) and I would go so far as to say that they are the single biggest factor in the success of 4e so far. WotC certainly think it's worth showering PA and their attendant game conventions (that's right, folks - PA run more than one gaming convention per year and they are massive events) with freebies and goodies.

    We want roses here, not stones. Positive coverage of older games on PA could transform the OSR's reach. Shouting at the guys because you think they were being insulting (which they might have been, I'm really not sure) could be a wasted opportunity.

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  15. I agree to a large extent. It is important not to make a virtue out of being unpleasant, however.

    By all means be opinionated and grumpy about a game. That's a matter of taste.

    But keep the catankerousness about the rules. Treating others poorly because of a difference in taste isn't grognard-like; it is simply boorish.

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  16. The PA guys may not be into older editions, but they did put up a link to S&W, allowing people to see for themselves. That counts for something.

    Also, I don't see that post as being antagonistic to older editions at all - they didn't get into D&D till 4E came around, and they're simply amused by how it looked in the old days. It's a different perspective, and not necessarily a bad one.

    If you've read some of Tycho and Gabe's other postings regarding D&D, it's pretty obvious that they're a bunch of guys who like to sit around a table, shoot the shit, roll dice, and come up with fun tales to rationalize it all with. IOW, they play the game in pretty much the same way my buddies and I have played god only knows how many different versions of D&D. Editions be damned, it's about the fun.

    Perhaps someone should get a hold of them at one of their cons and run a kick-ass game for them and their friends. Or send them some copies of old-school games for their charity auctions?

    That would certainly be a positive outreach from the Old School Community, such as it is.

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  17. >>- they didn't get into D&D till 4E came around

    Gabe is new to D&D; Tycho is an old hat at roleplaying and has often discussed it (since well before 4e), which is why the character is often depicted holding a d20.

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  18. "I really don't think we do anyone any favors by being more "open" or "welcoming" -- in short being other than who and what we are."

    I have to say that I hope that you are not really saying what it seems like you are saying. Frankly, I don't want to interact with anyone who isn't open and welcoming. Why would I waste the time? I wouldn't do it in person, and I certainly wouldn't bother online. Do you really feel that the people who populate the OSR aren't those things? And, further, if they aren't, why would you defend them? Just as I wouldn't hang out with people who aren't those things in the real world, I certainly wouldn't defend them either. You go on to say:

    "And what we are -- many of us anyway -- is a bunch of guys and gals who think old games are no less fun today than they were in the past." By linking those two sentences, you imply that you believe that people who like old games are, by nature, NOT open and welcoming. Really? I don't see the connection at all.

    Further, you then defend some guys who you imply were less than pleasant to you in your youth. Does that mean that we can and should be less than pleasant with newcomers today?

    Now I fully agree that we can be a "wierd" bunch in lots of ways, but wierd shouldn't equal rude, condescending, or exclusionary.

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  19. I don't think I'm cranky...

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  20. I think James is just saying we don't need to be what we aren't. Look at me, I'm as prickly as a cactus and twice as ugly. Even so I'm a sweetheart when it comes to promoting the game both online and in real life (through NTRPG Con). Just don't mix your Cheerios (4E) in my cornflakes (AD&D) and we'll all get along fine.

    Now, does that mean if I was to run a game a the FLGS and the owner told me to make sure "no one dies" during a game of S&W I'd be totally accomodating? Or if I was recruiting players for a new campaign and a guy said he'd come aboard if I allowed him to "dress up" in character while gaming? Hell no. I admit there is a smidgen of "our way or the highway" approach to a LOT of OSR games, and I'm ok with that.

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  21. I've got to tell you, though, there's way too many "that fucking moron is playing our game wrong" posts out there for my tastes. But what do I know? I'm probably playing it wrong, too.

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  22. I think you can be honest about your dislike for something without being a big jerk about it. I wouldn't ever tell anybody they shouldn't just call it like they see it and be honest about their opinion, but being hostile just drives people away. I'm as passionate as any grognard about the games or hobbies that I like, but I'm not interested in shutting down conversation completely by being scornful. There is a point at which a bad attitude only discourages discussion, it doesn't attract people to it or continue it. If all you're ever doing is preaching to the choir, what's the point?

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  23. "The older guys who hung out at The Compleat Strategist in downtown Baltimore were a cantankerous bunch too, looking askance at snot-snosed kids like me who were violating the sanctity of their hidden fastnesses in the wake of roleplaying's faddish popularity."

    and maybe this is why it was just a Fad. How many would be gammers moved on because they just didn't feel welcome forever religating RPGs to the fringe.

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  24. Why bother going old-school at all?

    Presumably because he's curious about it. If, as people say, he's new to tabletop RPGs, this stuff is all new to him and, if all he's ever played is 4e, then he might find full-bore OD&D to be "too much" for him and his players.

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  25. It seems to me that there's a difference between "prettying oneself up" or "behaving" and expressing active derision for others.

    I agree, but there are people who do think grognards need to become more warm and fuzzy and less critical of the things they dislike.

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  26. Positive coverage of older games on PA could transform the OSR's reach. Shouting at the guys because you think they were being insulting (which they might have been, I'm really not sure) could be a wasted opportunity.

    I agree and, as someone who's regularly misread by others, I have a lot of sympathy for Krahulik right now. I don't believe he meant to come across as condescending, let alone insulting, about OD&D and I think he ought to be applauded rather criticized dipping his toes even a little bit into the old school pond.

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  27. Treating others poorly because of a difference in taste isn't grognard-like; it is simply boorish.

    Indeed. I'm not sure, though, that asking "Why bother playing OD&D if you're going to de-fang it?" is boorish behavior. To me, it's a legitimate question and one I'd honestly love to see answered.

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  28. Frankly, I don't want to interact with anyone who isn't open and welcoming.

    The scare quotes around those words were put there because I was expressing disdain for the way they're often used by critics of the OSR, that is, as code for "don't dare ever say anything bad about modern fantasy or modern gaming."

    I actually think that, on the whole, the OSR is a very open and welcoming community. I mean, any group that includes me, Jeff Rients, and Zak Smith without spawning a singularity that consumes the entire universe has to be rather expansive, doesn't it?

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  29. I think James is just saying we don't need to be what we aren't.

    Correct. That's really all there is to it.

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  30. I've got to tell you, though, there's way too many "that fucking moron is playing our game wrong" posts out there for my tastes.

    Maybe, but, speaking for myself, rather than dismiss such posts as simply being rude and imbecilic, it's sometimes useful to figure out what the person means when they say that. They may simply be expressing themselves badly rather than raining genuine contempt on anyone's head.

    That's not to say there aren't many genuine jerks out there, but my experience is that, with few exceptions, most of the "venom" online comes from the Net being a very coarsely grained medium for discussion rather than from actual hate.

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  31. If all you're ever doing is preaching to the choir, what's the point?

    I think that depends on what one's goal is. A lot of in these parts aren't particularly evangelical. We're not keen on trying to make old school gaming the next "thing." Mostly, we want to connect with others who already share our interests and outlook and with any outsiders who happen to stumble upon us.

    Others of us do want to spread the Old School Gospel and convert as many heathens to our cause possible and are willing to go to great lengths to do so. There's at present a real schism between the two halves of the online old school community and I think it's important to be aware of this.

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  32. How many would be gammers moved on because they just didn't feel welcome forever religating RPGs to the fringe.

    I'd be amazed if it had much impact at all. The RPG fad, in my opinion, ceased to be a fad because this hobby demands a lot more time and effort of its participants than do many others. I won't say it's hard to be a roleplayer, but it's certainly a more demanding hobby than many and its brief popularity was merely a perfect storm rather than something big nipped in the bud by narrow-minded elitists.

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  33. If you're directing a 3/4e gamer to the Old School, the best place to send them is Matt Finch's Quick Primer. If they play OD&D relying on even a 1e mentality, let alone 4e, they are not going to get it. I think this is what may have happened with Penny Arcade. Don't pretend that the urges to tone down lethality, increase rule density and simulation, and plan out plots weren't present from the first day a copy of the rules fell into the hands of someone outside Lake Geneva. It's just history repeating, in the absence of knowing any better.

    What is the advance that makes the Old School a Renaissance and not a Regression? Not choosing whatever reconstituted rules system you choose - but the rediscovery and promotion of a way to play that brings out the advantages of those rules.

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  34. Hope you're not serious. I dont understand the relationship between the linked post and this "yet another academic explanation of the so called "old school""...
    More games and less blames. I prefer this philosophy (maybe because I'm Italian, I don't speak english very well, and my temples, 25 years ago, were my basement and the public library)

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  35. I think that people didn't like the de-fanging of the game in the original post on PA, but I don't believe Gabe was trying to run a straight up old school game anyway. Based on what I know about the campaign that he's running (which has a strong non linear old school flavor) he just wanted to do something different. An experiment. Which he does a lot with his game, trying new weird homebrew approaches to give his players a fun experience.

    While I think some of the Old School systems might not appeal to my generation and after (I'm like the middle kid of the gaming community) the OSR has a lot to offer in terms of style and approach. I know it really does for me. And anyway I appreciate even the more prickly guys as they're often pretty thought provoking.

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  36. Oh, and I agree the Quick Primer is a great read for anyone interested in the whole approach and style thing. It's one of the first things I came across when I was first reading all these OSR blogs and sites and it helped inspire me to want to run a completely different style of game than any of my group's players (with the exception of my husband probably) have ever seen before.

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  37. I think we're also seeing a bit of cultural disconnect and lack of knowledge going *both* ways.

    Mike Krahulik (Gabe) has hardly been in the tabletop hobby two years, and started with 4e.

    Jerry Holkins (Tycho) has been a tabletop RPG gamer for a while (AD&D, Palladium, WoD, etc.).

    Tycho's persona is representative of the more cerebral tabletop/PC gamer, while Gabe is supposed to be the console only "everyman."

    So I think it's important to note that Gabe's personal exploits don't necessarily represent a blanket judgment, or viewpoint towards old-school stuff of Penny-Arcade.

    The two may collaborate on a comic, but their tastes and ideas about things can be very divergent.

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  38. > being more "open" or "welcoming" -- in short being other than who and what we are.

    But I am open and welcoming! I like bringing people together, introducing games to people, being bridge between groups, gaming in public (smiling, introducing myself, and explaining game to curious passer bys).

    But, that's who and what I am.

    I can't believe anyone took that post in PA as anything but good. Cranky, Ranty, Whiney, Complainy, Donothing talking heads aren't exclusive to the OSR. And they're only worth ignoring wherever they are found. [James, you're not in that group.]

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  39. I've got to tell you, though, there's way too many "that fucking moron is playing our game wrong" posts out there for my tastes.
    I agree with this comment and I can't reconcile it with my perceived notion that a large part of the OSR is "make the game your own".

    He tried an "old school" game (and I understand that downloads of S&W are up since Wednesday) as a one shot for his 4E group - good on him.

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  40. Penny Arcade has done some pretty funny D&D gags over the years. (Tiamat doing customer support for example.) It's also encouraging that they're mentioning OD&D and S&W and want to give it a shot. Who knows, this might backfire and his players might end up prefering the old game.

    That said, even with some of my own problems with OD&D rules, that PA post was one backhanded slap after another. From dealing the highly tribalized society of video game players, I'd think they'd know better than to stir up the nest like that.

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  41. Penny Arcade has done some pretty funny D&D gags over the years. (Tiamat doing customer support for example.) It's also encouraging that they're mentioning OD&D and S&W and want to give it a shot. Who knows, this might backfire and his players might end up prefering the old game.

    That said, even with some of my own problems with OD&D rules, that PA post was one backhanded slap after another. From dealing the highly tribalized society of video game players, I'd think they'd know better than to stir up the nest like that.

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  42. I posted this on 20 Feb 2010
    (I think on Joe the lawyers site)

    One of the goals of the OSR is to GROW this hobby.
    That will require appealing to the youth
    (not just our own children).

    There are few things more repugnant to a teenager
    (I know, I game with them)
    then to see ‘old’ gamers
    (anybody over 30 in their eyes)
    maligning each other.

    It is one thing to critique another’s gaming philosophy or opinion, but it is destructive to our hobby to insult or name-call from the safety
    (distance and anonymity) of the internet.

    “They fight so hard, because the rewards are so small.”
    Nietzsche

    There is a big emotional disconnect in humans between being told

    ‘I don’t agree with you’ versus
    ‘You are a XXXX’

    The previous tact is especially acceptable if you site facts or examples.
    The latter approach is either an act of cowardice or an involuntary outburst of self-revulsion, although some might call it slander.

    The recruitment potential of ten good posts can be cancelled out by a single childish or petty rant.
    If we lose the youth, it will not be because of lack of intellect, insight or quality products,
    but incivility.

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

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  43. Any opinion on Gabe's earlier posts on running sandbox locale-based style adventures for his players?

    Here's the post in case you missed it. http://www.penny-arcade.com/2010/1/20/sandbox-dd/

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  44. @Z

    Looks groovy, he seems a bit soft on his players having solution for their problem show up. But, I'm probably like that too.

    He's found the key to sandboxes though -- "I sit down at the table with no idea what they will do or where they will go that night. The adventure ends up being just as much a surprise to me as it is to them."

    And this is an interesting point that probably is true for many and worth noting to those fans of this playstyle who wish to grow the hobby -- "I honestly think that I could not have started out running this type of game. I think having a year of running more structured adventures under my belt gave me the skills I needed to open the world up like this. I think the same could be said for my players as well."

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  45. A very vivid memory from the first game con I attended is of a real grognard--a man in his 50's-- who grumbled at me about how all of us kids were "ruining the hobby" with our "trivial" games, pushing out all the "real" tabletop gamers.

    That was in 1977...

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  46. Any opinion on Gabe's earlier posts on running sandbox locale-based style adventures for his players?

    Not especially. If he and his players are enjoying such a campaign, that's a good thing, as it's the first step into a wider world. If they enjoy it, who knows? One day, they might take an interest in one of the earlier editions.

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