Saturday, February 19, 2011

A Motto for Old School D&D

Stefan Poag, over at Aldeboran, offers up a motto for old school Dungeons & Dragons via Dragonsfoot poster Evreaux:
We don't explore characters; we explore dungeons.
Like all the best aphorisms it cuts quickly to the heart of the matter and is easily misunderstood, which is why I expect it to be a source of much contention. But that doesn't make it any less true.

38 comments:

  1. I fully endorse this motto and appreciate how concise it is. :)

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  2. Somebody should put that motto on a shirt.

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  3. Darn, bad time to release "Dungeoneer: The Crawling"

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  4. Or maybe we explore characters by exploring dungeons.

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  5. Or maybe we explore characters by exploring dungeons.

    Shhh! It's no fun if you explain what it means. :)

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  6. But dungeons are symbolic of the Freudian id, and by exploring them, do we not delve into ourselves?

    I'll get me coat ...

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  7. Why the prefix 'Old School?' Wouldn't the motto apply just as much for Pathfinder and especially 4th Edition D&D? Neither of those made the leap to effete, paederast vampires yet as far as I know.

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  8. I don't know about this. I prefer the old school games [1] over the newer free form ones [2], but it is still about character development for me. It's not as enjoyable for me if there is not a lot of dice rolling and combat, but the story is still what makes it fun.

    Also, excellent blog. Long time reader, first time commenter.

    [1] I have an especially love for RuneQuest 2nd Edition and Griffin Mountain. (Not to be confused with the new RuneQuest II.)

    [2] The newer games I've played are Dogs in the Vineyard, Burning Wheel, and Polaris. Never done the newer D&D.

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  9. Is that really what the quote is intended to mean by the original author, or is it what people are reading into it?

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  10. Also relevent is the EGG comment to the effect that 'the first 6 levels are the characters' back story'.

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  11. Nicely filed under humor, James. :)

    A personal choice of motto and one that can apply no less to 3e or 4e, IMHO.

    OD&D play was never intended to stay "underground" but that was the easiest option from the rules /as written/. Even those early adopters (1974-6 period) who tried wilderness adventuring in the manner suggested by the rules had a habit of ending up exploring those old familiar subterranean levels.
    Which is as much the "fault" of the name of the game, I suspect, as anything else - e.g. lack of support for city/wilderness adventuring (well, lack of support for /anything/ to begin with!) and the perception that the outdoors was "wargaming territory" (compare with the clearly stated relationship between WoM and OD&D vs. later "received knowledge" regarding the nature of the former). But I digress... :)

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  12. Maybe the Dungeons explore the Characters, By The Sword.

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  13. Why the prefix 'Old School?' Wouldn't the motto apply just as much for Pathfinder and especially 4th Edition D&D? Neither of those made the leap to effete, paederast vampires yet as far as I know.

    That OSR gamers see this comment and those that were made in reply as pithy and high five each other over how clever it is, and try to outdo each other in snarky replies like the one I'm specifically picking on here, is a great sample data point for why non-OSR gamers think the OSR is largely populated by curmudgeonly one-true-wayers who can't describe their preferred way of engaging in the hobby without passive aggressively insulting everyone with different tastes than themselves.

    Just sayin'. I'm not offended myself.

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  14. If people want to pretend D&D is their chance to win a Tony, great - but not at my table because you and your crappy accent and cliched five-page fanfic background suck.

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  15. Human Target said: "Is that really what the quote is intended to mean by the original author, or is it what people are reading into it?"
    As the guy who wrote the post about Evreaux's (sp?) quote on my blog, aldeboran, I have no idea what Evreaux (sp?) meant by it, why he said it and in what context. I don't even know if I got the quote 100% right. But, "We don't explore characters; we explore dungeons," is an interesting description of a style of play that I like, thus I felt it was worth repeating.
    I'm going to assume that my interpretation is as valid as any other, under the circumstances, and credit the original author only because, well, if I had thought up something half as succinct I would want others to credit me. If Evreaux (sp?), wherever he may be, feels I have misrepresented his philosophy, have him get in touch and I will issue a public apology and a retraction.

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  16. "That OSR gamers see this comment and those that were made in reply as pithy and high five each other over how clever it is, and try to outdo each other in snarky replies like the one I'm specifically picking on here, is a great sample data point for why non-OSR gamers think the OSR is largely populated by curmudgeonly one-true-wayers who can't describe their preferred way of engaging in the hobby without passive aggressively insulting everyone with different tastes than themselves.

    Just sayin'. I'm not offended myself."

    I think you are offended.

    In fact, I think that you're jealous of us who lived through the Golden Age of gaming.

    Because, quite frankly, what sort of legacy does anything past D&D 3.0 leave?

    Nothing but broken promises, failed dreams, and a quick buck.

    Wow. I guess we're supposed to be impressed by the big words you use like "curmudgeonly", "sample data point" and "passive aggressively".

    If you didn't expect stuff like this posted on James' blog, you're in the wrong frickin' place.

    If I hurt your feelings, too bad.

    I'm not "passive/aggressive". I'll tell ya like it is.

    Just sayin'. ;)

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  17. My brain must be paralyzed ... WoM means?

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  18. @JBM: Apologies, slight abbreviation familiarity issues vs. D&D for some reason!

    WoM = Warriors of Mars; entitled simply as "Barsoom" in some early sources - to go along with "Greyhawk" or "Blackmoor", for example? ;)

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  19. @irbyz - Thanks. I've heard of Warriors of Mars, even tried getting a copy some years back.

    So, the idea is that TSR originally saw WoM as the product or type of product that would handle the wilderness, politics and wargaming/warfare aspects of an OD&D campaign? I hadn't realized that; makes WoM sound more interesting.

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  20. Blackstone said: "Because, quite frankly, what sort of legacy does anything past D&D 3.0 leave?"

    I haven't played 4E yet; I was working on setting up a campaign for the students in my Games Club but I thought my brain might melt, there being so many powers etc.. Not so bad as a player with only one character to worry about, but as a DM - it looked a bit daunting.

    Then I got the idea - largely from reading these blogs - to try LL or LotFP. I remember that "back-in-the-day" you could roll up and outfit a character in about 5 minutes. Sounded good for a large group of newbie teenagers.

    I'm curious though about the above comment. I've played a bit of 3.0 - which seemed like AD&D 2E with a substantial overhaul. But is 3.5 or even Pathfinder a big change from 3.0. I'd been pretty much assuming that 3.5 and PF represented minor tweaks to 3.0. I'm curious to know what people who've had a chance to play/DM both/all three versions of 3E think. Thanks.

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  21. @JBM - The meshing between D&D and WoM /is/ intentional (witness the seepage of Barsoomian critters into OD&D) but actually works better with WoM taking the "lead" and any delving underground being run per D&D, as intended in the rules; http://www.dragonsfoot.org/forums/viewtopic.php?f=11&t=46465&p=995335#p995335
    *
    (n.b. As noted by Rob Kuntz, 3LBBs+"Greyhawk" = "how to play in Greyhawk" (campaign), 3LBBs+"Blackmoor" = "how to play in "Blackmoor" (campaign). And by modular extension 3LBBs+"Barsoom"...).

    In their fumbling around to try to define and develop gaming niches, TSR "missed a trick" in bridging more elegantly from dungeon to the overworld /in general/ and once D&D took off it inevitably stayed largely underground (due to even greater rules nebulosity in other contexts) until "rescued" from that dungeon-bashing cliche to a degree by Judges Guild (no coincidence that their home campaign had a strong overground aspect, aided by Tolkien).
    *
    Chainmail's relationship to OD&D was also rather inelegantly papered over. No surprise, then, that Prof. Barker (in August 1974) described D&D as "not strictly a "war" game - at least not in its early stages... but it can develop into a full-fledged battle campaign a-la-tolkien at a later stage when players begin to carve out baronies and empires for themselves". Phil always was a "big thinker" and had his own solution to gap bridging, of course. Most of the others (hybridised Midgards, etc.) sadly failed in the English-speaking world.

    Much of which leads to the almost inevitable modern-day perception of "D&D = dungeons" to the /exclusion/ of other settings. This, of course, is perhaps even more inevitable amongst those who started out "from the books" in that early 1974-6 period. Hence "OSR" = dungeons, in spades? (And similarly, in parallel with that cliche, "RPG" history as a whole).

    02c, as ever, anyhow. :)
    d.

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  22. Im not sure I really like this as a quote, as it applies to any edition of D&D (and Ive run or played virtually every core set except little brown book - which I wasnt born in time for). I personally prefer the Gygax quote about the first 6 levels, as Im quite happy taking players outside of the dungeon whenever they want. But as always, thats just me

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  23. Evreaux's thread "Megadungeon Mapping" on Dragonsfoot is one of the best threads found there.

    http://www.dragonsfoot.org/forums/viewtopic.php?f=15&t=18710&start=60

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  24. It's clever, but it seems to be comparing OD&D to White Wolf and the Forge.

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  25. Got to say that I disagree on the motto.

    If it really is true, I've apparently never played old school D&D.

    (I'm posting this before I read any comments by anyone else.)

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  26. I really don’t think that the word “dungeon” in the quote is meant to be literally taken as an “underground maze”. While the word is traditionally interpreted in this manner, I believe that it simply refers to the surroundings in which the characters find themselves, whether it be in a labyrinth, tower, town, forest, or outer space.

    I feel that the point of the quote, regardless of what game you assign it to, is to summarize a playing style where characters are simply playing pieces used to explore an imaginary world. In this style of gaming, characters will develop organically over time.

    The quote is simply a clever expression of the author’s preferred game style and I’m sure it is NOT meant as an attack on other styles of play.

    Of course, what the f#@k do I know.

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  27. I really don’t think that the word “dungeon” in the quote is meant to be literally taken as an “underground maze”. While the word is traditionally interpreted in this manner, I believe that it simply refers to the surroundings in which the characters find themselves, whether it be in a labyrinth, tower, town, forest, or outer space.

    Quiet, you! Keep saying stuff like this and the next thing you know people will start thinking we old schoolers are interested in more than megadungeons and there goes the neighborhood ;-)

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  28. "Chainsaw said...

    If people want to pretend D&D is their chance to win a Tony, great - but not at my table because you and your crappy accent and cliched five-page fanfic background suck."

    Hilarius. Now that's a motto I would support.

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  29. We don't explore characters; we explore dungeons.

    TL;DR. ;)

    Shut up and roll!

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  30. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  31. James, James, James, .....

    All it does is reenforce the myth that play in the original days was just about disposable characters in endless dungeons. It was, after all, called roleplaying, as distinct from miniature or war gaming, for a reason. trust me.....I was there.

    http://docgrognard.blogspot.com/2011/01/rant-about-stupid-ideas-of-how-we-gamed.html

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  32. All it does is reenforce the myth that play in the original days was just about disposable characters in endless dungeons. It was, after all, called roleplaying, as distinct from miniature or war gaming, for a reason. trust me.....I was there.

    I don't think this quote reinforces that myth at all, as others have noted. As I read it, the quote tweaks the nose of those who believe the myth, while at the same time making a very valid point.

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  33. Really ? While I know its more traditional to not back off one jot on the IntarwebZ, if that was your read, then accept my apologies for misunderstanding your post. I must have failed my sarcasm/irony roll....itself an ironic thing.

    Aooarently I'm getting to be quite annoyed (and thus a bit over sensitive) by forum and other blog comments that seem to place character and dungeon style play as opposite ends of the continuum. I think much of it stems from the lack of today's mechanical/explicit mechanisms for developing background, personality, etc. Some look at the older rules, note the lack of a background and motivation table, and assume that it was completely ignored.

    But, enough, and again, accept my oops.

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  34. @Roadkiller:
    Can you please tell me where I can find this: "Also relevent is the EGG comment to the effect that 'the first 6 levels are the characters' back story'."
    I find it a fascinating idea.

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