Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Another couple of mash-ups

I spotted the first of these from Nick Mizer's G+ commentary, and the second one has been on my radar ever since the good people at Gamegrene cast a jaundiced eye towards D&D 4th Edition back in 2009.  The contrast between the two is noticeable.

From Dungeon of Signs:
"D&D is not heroic fantasy, it's low fantasy, and it's not a game of power fantasies for each player, but a a game of collective world-building between players and GM.  By "power fantasy" I'm not trying to be dismissive to other games or genres that are about individual advancement of an avatar, I'm attempting to draw a distinction between a fantasy narrative that is of individual success (empowerment) and one that is the narrative of a world (like a history)."
Gamegrene's 2009 "review" of D&D 5th Edition:
"This Dungeon Scenario is custom-tailored to your specific group, and perfectly balanced so no one ever has a chance of dying. It's like being in your very own novel as the heroes! Each Scenario includes a brief introductory scene (you can role play if you want to but why bother, you can skip this) and then a Dungeon Delve to enter, with a monster encounter and some treasure, all pre-designed in the book and well-balanced. Kill the monster and move on. Just run through 5 two-page encounters and you get a level. 10 pages per level, 500 pages total, lots of content, and all of it is predictable, fun and fast!"
Not that this bears any resemblance to games currently being played, right?  But if someone wanted to object to Gamegrene's rather pointed critique, then perhaps they might first look at some of the things said about the OSR by gamers with a "New School" perspective....



  1. Dogmatic universals make my teeth hurt ("D&D is not heroic fantasy, it's low fantasy...."), and I'm not sure I've ever seen a good definition of low fantasy that didn't founder on a vast shoal of corner cases. Nevertheless, I think the point is well taken that the design philosophy behind OD&D (not the way it was actually played, mind you) supported a play style in which the conflict was between the *player* and the DM, mediated through the character(s) being played. IIRC, the concept of bounds on in-character knowledge was largely unknown, Back In The Day; PCs were the players' pieces, and if you lost one you made another.

    Once the game got out in the real world for a reasonable length of time, of course, people got attached to their characters, and the concept of role-playing became something a little more immersive than talking in a funny accent and throwing invocations to fictitious deities into one's speech, by Crom. Lather/rinse/repeat over several decades (?!), and you get something that bears enough of a resemblance to Gamegrene's "review" to make it ironically funny.

    But that's not a bad thing. People can pick an approximate point on the spectrum from PC-as-disposable-piece to PC-as-lovingly-crafted-personality and play with other people who live in the same general area, and everyone has fun. Which is, as cannot be repeated often enough, the point of the exercise.

    1. "Which is, as cannot be repeated often enough, the point of the exercise."

      Some of the D&D Next crowd need to be reminded of this simple fact.

    2. As the author of the post on Dungeon of Signs I want to point out that I am more interested in contrasting B/X with ODD rather than anything related to newer stuff. There's no malice in that, newer editions seem fun, but time and budget are not permitting. My characterizations of OD&D are about what I've found fun, and how I want to run my own games - not an effort to edition war.

      I've heard complaints (even among older edition players) about the arbitrary nature of lethality in whitebox D&D - which occurs because the rules prevent a dramatic increase in HP and more important, a limit AC to 2.

      I recently attempted to transform my B/X Flailsnails G+ game along ODD lines because I've enjoyed playing these games, and because the world I wanted to build had a survival horror element missing from the way it was working. My player demurrered. That's where my thoughts were coming from.

      I'm also not suggesting a return to the wargame style of D&D - I think it's great that people want to invest in their characters and have fun with voices and character worldviews (I try it myself) - but I think that a recognition that there's a huge acting element and that the adventurer's fate is ultimately an ignominious death more often than not is part of the fun. It's like playing Hamlet as an actor - great part, but he dies at the end...

    3. That certainly makes sense, but from my vantage point, I see much more similarity between B/X and OD&D than I do between either of them and 3rd Edition/Pathfinder or 4th Edition. To me (and this is just me), the difference between B/X and OD&D is about the same as between 3.0 and 3.5 (or perhaps Pathfinder). For certain kinds of play, there are distinctions which can be drawn, but ultimately they are more similar than different, compared to other editions.

    4. Maybe I'm riding the philosophical difference thing harder than it should be, but there seems to be a distinct contrast between OD&D (retirement encouraged between L9 & L12) and BECMI (the idea of that last part). OD&D and 1e are closer in that regard; look at all the spells that carried aging penalties in 1e, e.g., and it's hard to escape the idea that EGG thought of characters as fundamentally disposable.

      I guess I also don't see that individual power fantasies are necessarily incompatible with collaborative worldbuilding, although there's the potential for tension between them.

    5. I think it's a matter of emphasis and control.

  2. Victor Raymond - I used to think that as well, B/X just seemed like a less opaque better LBB - but I swear with the conviction of a new convert that the ODD system is actually a lot different and very streamlines. The game I've been playing is heavily house-ruled by Brendan of Necropraxis (formerly Untimately) who is very into thinking about system and rules streamlining. I touched on it in the OP, but basically when you decrease player and monster survivability it retains the "combat as last resort" ethos of low level play into the mid level game - which is normally a bit of an ugly void before the "saving throw dice off" of high level combat.

    This gets to what tandw is saying. His distinction there is quite real as well. I want to touch on the comment about "individual power fantasy" as well - it's not that LBB can't play that way, but when one has individual PC's as the focus of the player's enjoyment of the game it becomes frustrating I think with the lethality of the system. Viewing the party as the player's collective "piece" and fiction maker makes for more fun. Heck, if ODD players wanted to swap characters around every game or so after agreeing to basic personalities that might work real well.

    1. Having started playing D&D with the Original D&D set, I hear you. I guess I never played that much B/X as it seemed to be a retread of OD&D with some editing. I'll take your word for the difference between the two, but please don't assume that's because I am unfamiliar with what you describe - it's actually what I was (and am) used to.