Thursday, July 30, 2009

Unwinnable Scenarios

One of the great ironies of discourse on the Internet is that, while I'm being lambasted here as an old school fundamentalist for having expressed agreement with Trent Foster's post at K&K, I am informed by others that elsewhere I am being excoriated by an inquisition of busybodies for the crime of having played, enjoyed, and written for games published in the 1990s! Quelle horreur! What a terrible straw man punching bag I am -- possessing human depth, complexity, and even contradictions rather than being a nice, simple automaton of villainy, said "villainy" being things many of my commenters here probably wouldn't believe. James played White Wolf games and liked them?! Impossible. Thank goodness I've hidden these dark truths from the world rather than talking about them openly. Why, if word got out I'd be kicked out of the clubhouse and sent off to the Gamescience dice mines to labor until my skin is flayed by precision-edged d4s!

Seriously, guys, I appreciate all the interest in little ol' me and my personality defects, but why focus on such things when there's still tons of really important stuff to quibble about? I mean, we've barely scratched the surface of the Great Armor Class Debate and there's still a lot of life left in the Crusade Against Skills. And of course there's my continuing drive to collect enough aluminum foil and duct tape in order to sculpt an effigy of St. Gary to worship in my basement. So, please, in future, let's keep things in perspective and remember why we're all here.


  1. If it makes you feel any better James, one of the very best campaigns I ever ran was using a mashup of the 1e versions of Vampire and Werewolf. I suppose that will get my name placed on the same list as yours, but that's ok. There are so many games out there one can have fun with. Sure, I wrote Labyrinth Lord but that's just one way to have fun gaming. Even to this day I love the old versions of the White Wolf games (more or less, my tastes have changed a bit). They weren't perfect, but for that time and place I had a blast.

  2. Man, I step away from the intertubes for a couple hours to cut weeds and there's a gamer pile up on the information super-highway.

  3. I would not worry about it; one of the quirks of the information superhighway...

  4. It is when people STOP talking about you that you should be worried, or so they say.

  5. I still own every book White Wolf ever published for Wraith: The Oblivion. But my love for that title makes me an oddball even to the White Wolf fans.

  6. Ha ha. Gamescience dice mines. Good one. I'm going to use that in the future.

  7. Now, the real question is, how many know of Thousand Suns?

    Even if you are an RPG Fundy (.soft smile.), your writing carries a tone of authority (whether intentional or not) that seems to precipitate people caring about either receiving your blessing, or wanting to trash you.
    --Personally, I almost always find your analyses thought-provoking, and often decide to comment, perhaps tangentially, on what has provoked a thought in my bitty li'l skull.

    I don't have any advice on how to shuffle off the RPG messianic mantle you've found yourself burdened with, but I do hope that we in bloggyland aren't deprived of your insights any time soon.

    Don't let 'us bastards' grind you down.


  8. I honestly think the OWoD version of Mage is one of the most evocative and interesting things ever attempted with RPG games. Take your Vampire, your Wraith, your Werewolf. Leave me Mage: The Ascension.

  9. Does this mean we're not going to GenCon as a chain wielding gang?

  10. I´ve been reading your blog in silence for quite some time James. I play 3.5e,and I freaking enjoy it. I´ve never played any other D&D version,but I think that I wont be changing my corebooks for those of 0e or Advanced D&D(however,for what I read in the rpg blogosphere,I can see that its virtues are great and many). Because of this,I kind of get a chance to watch everything from a very neutral position. I enjoy reading your blog,to kill time,for inspiration for my sessions,or for my own amusement(not being the english language my own,I find your "extreme english" pretty funny,especially when you criticize something). But to be fair,I´ve got to say,that you can be kind of fundamentalist from time to time,in an almost "religious" way;this is specially true when you speak of what you think of other systems or later versions of D&D "fails", it sounds like if you were attacking in a very childish way the aspects of those games that you dislike.
    All and all,your blog kicks some serious ass,and I spend an important ammount of time reading it,and enjoying it,of course,but just wanted to say that.Anyway,you shouldnt pay attention to everything that people say, sometimes its better just to pretend that ye didnt hear.
    Think yourself as a 20 lvl. character, you´re famous in these lands, and fame always comes at a cost.

    Just my two tin pieces.(Yeah,I play MERP too...)

  11. Two points for making me laugh out loud. :)

  12. Oh geez, I can't wait for the Crusade Against Skills! I've been saving up all my best zingers for when I lead the Order of Proficiencies against you unbelievers!

    Great post.

  13. I enjoy your blog, even if I skip most of the interviews. I think you're writing some pretty worthwhile stuff, and your passion for the hobby clearly shows.

    I wouldn't worry about what random folk of the internet think. I doubt you're losing much sleep over it, but I'm throwing that out there anyway.

    Keep on doing what you're doing.

  14. James,

    Don't equate people saying "this is a poor example of what to hold up as the best of the OSR" with "you're a fundamentalist". In fact, my complaint about the narrowness of that posting sprang in part because you've avoided being that narrow. If I thought that was how you saw the OSR I probably wouldn't have bothered to post.

    For example, look at your recent post on Stormbringer. I'd argue by Trent's standard that isn't OSR because it's certainly designed for a different experience. Yet I consider going back to BRP and building on it just as OSR as S&W (Gore is out there for a reason).

  15. I'm sad that we as gamers are so divisive. We need a solution to bring us all together, to show that we're not all that different. A teaching moment, if you will.

    What this flap needs to cool down is a beer with the president.

  16. Someone mention thousand worlds? That's a great game, and a homage to Imperial Sci-Fi and the work of such authors as H. Beam Piper. Excellent stuff.

  17. "...sent off to the Gamescience dice mines to labor until my skin is flayed by precision-edged d4s!"

    Hell yes, when you absolutely positively need the best skin-flaying tool on the market.

    That last thread was pretty bewildering. Somehow people "offended" by TF spent more time and typing to be more offensive than he was originally. It's not even a full moon or anything in these parts.

  18. If memory serves, Trent is a RuneQuest fan -- which seems to me more likely to figure in appraisal of Stormbringer than any standard of what "isn't OSR".

    I am a HUGE fan of most of Chaosium's RPGs, and I like them just as they are. I don't mind there being a "D20 System" version of CoC, but it would bother me if that replaced the classic game.

    I also like old D&D for just what it is; I see no need to change it into an imitation of RuneQuest, or anything else.

    There, perhaps, is the Great Divide. There are a lot of people attached to the notion of playing "D&D" (in name) who really dislike what D&D was (in practice) for the first 15 (or even 25) years of its commercial existence. They want it to be something else. Some like what it has been for the past year or so, and some don't.

    Dogs in the Vineyard, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen and 3:16 Carnage Amongst the Stars are splendid games in my opinion. So are Aces & Eights, En Garde and 2300 AD. I enjoy a number of board games, computer games and miniatures rules sets.

    The temperament and philosophy, I think, is not fundamentalism but conservatism -- not as popularly used in politics today, but in the old sense of appreciating the "organic" nature of things in their diversity and being wary of radical, one-size-fits-all "improvements" based on the fancy that this week's fashion holds more wisdom than generations of experience.

    That position in its essence is quite amenable to coexistence with sundry One True Ways, so long as they are likewise content to "live and let live".

    Unfortunately, the New Order requires more than that. It demands that its redefinitions of terms be accepted, that it be acclaimed not merely a valid variation but the legitimate and sovereign heir to a title. It must deface all traces of the old dynasty as threats, as did the Pharaohs of old with hammer and chisel.

    That is simply not going to happen, at least to the extent of people surrendering their living memory. Biology bodes against folks so old learning to turn received usage so upside down and backwards as proper Newspeak requires.

    There is the bottom line that so incenses the "modernizers", a one-way street. We already have the totems of "legitimacy" they want to claim, and require nothing of them to continue as we have for so long. They have nothing to give us that we want so much as they want that. By historical analogy, the Wizborg has no opium to trade for our silk.

  19. Those who wish to attack others on the Internet -- a group of which there is no shortage -- will always find some "justification" to do so.

    For what it's worth, I've always believed people should enjoy whatever game they are able to; the notion of people having the "wrong kind of fun" with their games is anathema to me. And certainly people are able to evolve and change what they like.

    The fifth column I ever wrote for Pyramid -- "The Evil One Stole My Shatterzone!" -- was about how, no matter how much changes in the gaming world, "they" can't take away your old games. If folks still enjoy Ghostbusters, Torg, Wraith, or -- yes -- original Dungeons & Dragons, then great! More power to them. Life is too short to worry what "they" think.


  20. Ironically, I singled Stormbringer out by name in my post as a non-D&D game I like and think "got it right" in contrast to later games. I've been a fan of SB for over 20 years, and it was one of our "go to" games in the late 80s when we began growing disillusioned with the direction AD&D was moving in under post-Gygax TSR. The idea that "old school" = OD&D and the more like OD&D a game is the more old-school it is (and vice versa) is a fallacy I've never subscribed to, and have condemned in the past. To me, "old school" isn't about rejecting ALL change and ALL different approaches and sticking solely with one game, it's about rejecting a specific set of aesthetic, play-style, and marketing-oriented changes that occurred with Official D&D starting sometime around 1983, and with the rpg hobby as a whole sometime around 1990.

  21. Well, as a practical matter, I think that in the current context "old school" is very much bound up with D&D. Trying to dress it up as some sort of absolute standard by which to judge Stormbringer -- or any other game -- seems to me a straw man. There might be quite another "old school" among (e.g.) players of Champions or Rolemaster.

    I like both rock-and-roll and jazz, and several long-distinguished schools in each. I do not much care for Madonna's music -- but that has nothing to do with my view of the question as to whether it ought to be labeled as one or the other, much less both. (For the record, I consider it neither.) I dig Charlie Parker a lot, but that does not make me want to call him a rock-and-roller. There's a significant chance, I think, that he would have considered the rubric an insult.

  22. Don't even consider the issue, James. The modern technology gives voice to everyone. And those who just speak and speak and speak (or, rather, write and write and write) deffending their "truth" with hostility are, no surprise, exactly the wannabes that wouldn't expend that effort working for their hobby or their "side of the issue". What they do, in the end, will be gone with the wind. Instead, those who will use their time and effort to do something real, like hobby designers, will use their analytic minds to respectfully consider the contrary oppinion and contrast with their own to work out to further refining their hobby. What they'll do, will stay. People like you, I mean. So, James, don't sweat. Don't waste one nanosecond of your precious time hearing the empty chit-chat of those wannabes, and get on with your superb work.

    By the way, I now consider myself a junkie of your blog; first and only blog ever to do so. Congrats. :)

  23. Hey James,

    You sort of put yourself in the firing line with posts directly about the d&d tribalism as it is on going. Perhaps the trick would be to wait a while for the flames to die down, or not cover that aspect at all. After all, it's just a bunch of players behaving like school kids 'my game style is better than yours' when the spirit of d&d to make the game your own. Ironic, or just sad, I'm not sure. Perhaps its both.

  24. There are a lot of people attached to the notion of playing "D&D" (in name) who really dislike what D&D was (in practice) for the first 15 (or even 25) years of its commercial existence.
    There are plenty of us out there who weren't even around for the first 15 years of D&D's existence. I was born in 1980, which means I didn't start D&D until about 1990. There are a lot of people out there who are much younger than me who are playing D&D. It is unfair to expect those people to have the same visions and priority for the game that the 'old-schoolers' do.

    One of the things that attracted me to this blog, though, was the willingness to teach and explain old-school style to the younger generation of players. Posters here. have given me a lot of suggestions on how to add old-school style to my 4e games.

  25. I'm with asmodean66, and I'll take it a step further:

    Everything Trent Foster attempted to convey in his K&K post, you've said better on this blog.

  26. James, your candor and wit are two of the things that I enjoy most about Grognardia. Please don't let the bastards drag you down. ;)


  27. Cannot comments since I didnt see the thread on which you were excoriated... but as far as I can read here they seem very poor criticisms... I'm really not interested in editions war or game systems proselytism, but I've changed my mind many times about games I've found interesting in 20 years without any problem. By the way I dont think there's something wrong in enjoying both old d&d editions and white wolf games. Personally in the past I really enjoyed V:DA (expecially "Bitter Crusade) and old D&D editions as well as many other games.

  28. collect enough aluminum foil and duct tape in order to sculpt an effigy of St. Gary to worship in my basement<

    I believe it, James. I just don't think you would use such shit materials. I think you are going to melt down all your old Ral Parthas that have parts broken off, and make the idol out of that.

    Dude, when I joked about you being "batshit crazy" for proudly declaring that you are going to dilute your Gygax naturalism with David Hargrave material, I have a guy practically stalk me for daring to say anything, joke or otherwise. You have far more defenders than attackers.

    You are the Stephen King of gaming blogs. He get's two million for writing "boo" on a piece of paper. You don't get paid, but at least you get them talking. The strength of your work is that you get people, like me and everyone else here, thinking about the philosophy of gaming in addition our games themselves.

    As far as the 90's, I was heavily running my AD&D, Champions, and Call of Cthulhu, so I really missed the 90's new game boat. I played a couple of GURPS games, didn't like it, so retreated to my little personal gaming hole with my three old games.

    I don't hate White Wolf or anything, but I never got the desire to play a vampire or werewolf.

  29. Asmodean 66, the "generation gap" has been around forever, and I do not think it is the only thing that is not really new. Believe it or not, different people liked different games back in the 1970s, too!

    The problem is the same as if WotC's latest game had been billed as Chess or Contract Bridge (except that in this case the name is a trademark).

    It was not your decision, and it was not mine; we are simply stuck with the consequence.

    Unfortunately, some people respond to it with stereotypically "geek" social strategies. All my friends must also be friends of my new friend, or else they're not really my friends; maybe they're my enemies. Saying that the new thing is not the same as the old thing is a dire threat because all that lets us relate to one another is being fans of the same thing.

    New D&D is different from old D&D, and "better" is in the eye of the beholder.

    Had it been titled instead ADAM Heroes -- or anything but "D&D" -- then the geek-pressures would have been a lot less.

    Changing the game while keeping the name is likewise a sort of slap in the face to folks who now must be distinguished with a label such as "old school". The people who made the change could hardly have thought, "Hey, this game is too good; let's replace it with something that sucks." The decision very clearly indicates a valuation that the new is somehow "better" than the old -- and of course the marketing must be on that basis.

    The corporate brain trust may be right in reckoning that the trademark counts for so much more than what it's slapped on. That makes for a pretty divisive mess, though.

  30. What the hell did I miss? I've not read the message boards for weeks because my creative energies are diverted to other projects.

    What's going on?

  31. For those who missed it, just look at the immediately prior posting and the enormous number of comments there.