03
Apr
10

D&D 4E Is Always Right

Trollsmyth has an excellent post about the theoretical underpinnings of the Old-School Revolution. It’s a great synthesis of lots of ideas, but the one that seems to be generating the most discussion is D&D is Always Right. First proposed by the pre-Grognardia James Maliszewski, here’s how Trollsmyth puts it:

By this, he meant to take the games in their own terms. Rather than come at them assuming he knew what they were about, he studied them under the assumption that the designers did, in fact, know what they were doing and succeeding in producing the games they meant to write.

Some folks have taken this as “a reframed conservative screed that tradition is always right“. To put this idea in its proper context as a useful analytical tool for thinking about why games are published the way they are, let me say without hesitation: the Fourth Edition of Dungeons and Dragons is always right. It is the game that its design team intended to create. And, as Trollsmyth says, once you adopt this point of view you can make all kinds of interesting discoveries that are impossible when you insist in only seeing 4E for what it’s not rather than what it is.

My claim to old-school doctrinal purity is, of course, tainted: I’ve taken my thirty pieces of silver from Wizards of the Coast and hope to do so again in the future (metaphorically, at least; otherwise that’d mean Judas was getting paid freelancer rates! Let’s assume he, too, was always right and held out for a deal that made sense in biblical currency).

So here’s the quote from Lord Blacksteel’s post at the awesomely-named Tower of Zenopus blog that got me started on this when I shoulda been working. Talking about his first experiences with 4E, he says:

I thought that I was going to get D&D Saga Edition and I didn’t and I hated it. So we continued with our 3.5 campaign and the 4th ed books gathered dust for the next year and a half or so. The 3.5 campaign ended and I thought about introducing my “apprentices” to D&D as they were now 13 & 10. I decided I should give 4th edition another chance and start them off with “their” version of the game, the “modern” one, letting them skip all the legacy material in my head from the past 4 versions that I had played. So I started reading the books and I actually got through all 3 of them this time and there was actually some good stuff in there. I can see a lot of what the designers were trying to do and a lot of it actually makes sense and could be a lot of fun.

“D&D is always right” is a starting point, an approach that helps you get past your preconceptions and better engage with what the material actually is. Taking this approach doesn’t mean you always have to agree with what the designers are trying to do or how it works out in your hands instead of theirs! (Read the rest of Lord Blacksteel’s post, for example). It’s not a mandate; it just means that when you decide whether it’s right for you, you’ll be doing so from a deeper understanding of what you’re accepting or rejecting and why.

It also doesn’t mean you have to subscribe to the “intentional fallacy.” (I’m assuming that this term has a meaning in literary criticism which is not nonsensical. For the moment can we agree that I did in fact intend to write for Fourth Edition D&D rather than being mind-controlled to do so, and that when I say that I’m happy with the way that this intention translated into published material I’m not lying to you out of the aforementioned desire to get paid to do so again?)

It’s not necessary to believe that D&D is perfect. There are certainly cases where external factors kept the 4E designers’ intent from producing the desired result. (I think the repeated errata on skill challenges point to one such example). And there are times when, in hindsight, one sees errors in one’s past work. (Fortunately, this often happens for my 4E work when I see how the development team fixed them before they went to print.) However, I don’t think this means that newer work is always better because of the benefit of hindsight; just like anyone else, the designers themselves may imagine non-existent flaws in older work that are really just its purposeful differences from the some-other-game they would come up with today.

And “knowing what they were doing” isn’t always the same as being able to explain it. Compared to the launch of the original D&D, we’ve heard a lot more about what the 4E design team thought their intent was. For me, the part of the analytical that Trollsmyth identifies as the imperative “to take the games in their own terms” means that you prioritize the product itself over what its designers say it is, as well as what you think it is. Doing this can have surprising results, which include deciding that the rules are well designed to do a different thing that’s at odds with the designers’ stated goals.

For me, “D&D is always right” is closely aligned with “D&D is a product of a particular bunch of people in a specific time and place.” I see them as complementary routes to understanding. Looking at what the rules themselves seem well-designed to do may or may not support my ideas about those folks were up to, but I think it’s fair to start with the assumption that it’s my ideas that are wrong rather than that the designers were incompetent.

And, as Trollsmyth’s original post says pretty clearly, the point of all this isn’t to establish an old-school or new-school doctrinal purity. The reason to have this maxim is so you can be surprised by what’s between the covers that you weren’t even aware of. In the end you might or might not decide that you want to have a risk-based economy for exploration, or a transparent framework for consensus adjucation – but in order to see that those are features of OD&D or 4E, you have to get past saying “this game is poorly designed because it doesn’t do what I think it should”.


21 Responses to “D&D 4E Is Always Right”


  1. 1 oddysey
    April 3, 2010 at 9:40 pm

    The “intentional fallacy” is the New Criticism’s term for the habit that earlier (pre-1950s) criticism had of trying to figure out what the author “meant,” and assuming that was the most important aspect of the text. As you’ve pointed out, this is actually kind of the opposite of what “D&D is Always Right” means:

    For me, the part of the analytical that Trollsmyth identifies as the imperative “to take the games in their own terms” means that you prioritize the product itself over what its designers say it is, as well as what you think it is. Doing this can have surprising results, which include deciding that the rules are well designed to do a different thing that’s at odds with the designers’ stated goals.

  2. April 3, 2010 at 10:26 pm

    Thanks!

    So the fallacy part is overemphasizing what (you think) the author intended even when that’s in conflict with what they actually wrote?

    One thing I think is interesting about the exercise of applying this analytical tool to 4E instead of OD&D is that we have so much more information about what Wyatt, Collins, Mearls, et. al. wanted to do (in part because of the vastly expanded “extra-literary” communication online, in part because the 4E books themselves represent a gaming culture that’s more interested in explaining its guiding principles) than we do Arneson and Gygax’s intentions. In that way I think analysis of OD&D is more like literary criticism, where you have to do a lot more research and imaginative projection to understand where it’s coming from. I think this contributes to the perception that old-schoolers are involved in a cultish worship of its founders: good analysis about where OD&D is coming from takes devoted digging into occult historical sources, whereas there was a concerted marketing push to get that same information about 4E in front of as many eyeballs as possible.

    But yeah, if you rely on that alone without engagement with the text on its own merits, what you get is not “D&D is always right” but “your preconceptions are always right,” regardless of whether those come from your private daydream about the early ’70s or a targeted modern PR campaign.

  3. April 4, 2010 at 12:19 am

    Nice post, but I continue to raise the question…

    What if you look at the work in context with the designer’s intent in mind, and there is something that doesnt work the way it was envisioned?

    I dont think there is any contention that they published the game they wanted to publish with 1e. There are some games where I actually know that the designers were strong-armed into doing something, fortunately these are all video games and not RPGs, but in the case of a book it is highly unlikely that it says something they didnt intend (barring typos and such).

    Errata as a concept is about fixing flaws that they didnt realize existed when they went to print, particularly balance issues. So usually the presence of lots of errata suggests that a game is rushed, but errata usually addresses things that occur because of inadequate or poor quality playtesting; rarely actual serious design issues.

    My contention is that putting this “D&D is always right” principle out front is a giant sign to shut your mouth if you think anything could be done better, unless of course you are “proven” to be a reliable community member. It is a way to reinforcing a clique.

  4. April 4, 2010 at 12:39 am

    And, as Trollsmyth’s original post says pretty clearly, the point of all this isn’t to establish an old-school or new-school doctrinal purity. The reason to have this maxim is so you can be surprised by what’s between the covers that you weren’t even aware of. In the end you might or might not decide that you want to have a risk-based economy for exploration, or a transparent framework for consensus adjucation – but in order to see that those are features of OD&D or 4E, you have to get past saying “this game is poorly designed because it doesn’t do what I think it should”.

    The first part of this quote is lovely and I’m with you 100%, but the last sentence doesn’t sit right with me at all. OD&D initially did what its designers initially claimed – it retrofitted a set of miniatures wargames rules for use in tabletop dungeon-crawl pulp (battle) games. It wasn’t a particularly robust game but it wasn’t meant to be. e.g. In no meaningful sense was it a ‘roleplaying game’ as that term has come to be understood; OD&D characterization, for instance, was purely ad hoc.

    AD&D 1e, on the other hand, manifestly does not do what its designer claims (e.g. it’s full of gestures toward simulationism despite Gygax’s insistence to the contrary, it features a baroque wargames-descended combat system despite his claim that D&D isn’t about combat, etc.). Moreover, discussions of its design integrity/quality are complicated by the fact that Gygax’s 1e writing is all over the map in terms of quality and apparent intent. In short, he gave the impression in his early writing that even he wasn’t clear on what he was doing.

    ‘Game design’ was very different then.

    The 4e design team was working in a post-‘Magic: The Gathering’ world, so their design process is easy to understand and easy to judge on the merits. Gygax didn’t have a coherent or programmatic design process for D&D, and AD&D is less a rethink than a complex expansion/variation. Obviously AD&D 1e is playable; equally obviously it’s a less coherent work than 4e (in straightforward terms), and you must compromise with the game in order to have fun with it. (Near as I can tell, no one ever plays the game as written. Ever. The game is its ruleset, at a certain level; it’s reasonable, on that level, to judge the game a failure.)

    I guess I’m saying that Gygax’s early intentions are hard to figure out to the extent that Gygax was an incoherent, self-contradictory, willfully opaque writer, but he wrote enough (and enough has been written) that we can in fact piece together the vibe of early D&D from extant documents. Near as I can tell, to the extent that he able to articulate his D&D vision at all, no Gygaxian version of the game ever manifested that vision. Whatever its flaws, 4e clearly manifests a specific design vision. It has no aesthetic value or depth but its design has integrity and even ‘personality.’

    It’s reasonable, I think, to say Gygax was a visionary but not a particularly good game designer, while the 4e team are very fine game designers but no visionaries.

  5. April 4, 2010 at 12:55 am

    @ Greg – Last paragraph.. Hear, hear! This clique-i-iness is becoming more and more apparent to me as I explore the blogo-sphere. Every time I post on DF some screw-job points out some nit-picky detail assuming I am unaware of it. Why? FWIS I had B/X memorized backwards and forwards 20 years ago. I had the majority of these discussion and ‘revelations’ in my teens with my gaming group. Seriously, you would think D&D was Shakespeare for the amount of commentary & critique that goes on. Makes me wonder if comic-book nerds have the same complex in regards to Marvel vs. DC. Is it a nerd neuroses? Now I’m dragged into commentating about the commentating :(.

    The game is only the designer’s opinions about what D&D “should” be. You can take it as is (BTB), change it (DIY) or leave it (grab an edition that you like better). You sure as F*CK don’t need a Masters in comparative literature or PhD in archeology to do any of that.

    People can philosophomize day in and day out about the ‘intents’,’flaws’, ‘revelations’ or ‘artistic merit’ of a given rule-set and it still doesn’t change these fundamental facts:

    1) The game designer’s don’t sit at YOUR table and

    2) it’s all green-eggs-and-ham.

  6. April 4, 2010 at 1:05 am

    Do you like green-eggs-and-ham?

    Would you, could you, in a dungeon?
    Would you, could you, with a truncheon?

    Would you eat them with an orc?
    Would you eat them with a torch?

    Would you eat them with fried okra?
    Would you eat them with an Aarakocra?

    Would you, could you, with a trap?
    Would you, could you, with a map?

    I will not eat them in a dungeon,
    I will not eat them with a truncheon
    Or with an orc
    Or with a torch
    I will not eat them with fried okra
    I will not eat them with an Aarakocra
    or with a trap
    or with a map
    I do not like green-eggs-and-ham
    I do not like them, OSR I am.

  7. April 4, 2010 at 1:38 am

    @Greg: “What if you look at the work in context with the designer’s intent in mind, and there is something that doesnt work the way it was envisioned?”

    The answers to this seem to me so obvious that I suspect you’re only asking for rhetorical purposes. That said:
    – you could decide that even if it doesn’t work the way it seems to be envisioned, you embrace what it actually does
    – you could houserule it to do what you want it to (or, I suppose, what you think the designer intended even if it’s not what you want)
    – you could decide that it’s better to play a different game altogether

    In either case, I think your subsequent experience of RPGs might be enriched by the effort to understand a different way of doing things, especially if the reason you were interested in putting in that effort is that the game you’ve been studying relates to your particular passion within RPGs. For me I’m very into the roots of D&D and the flowering branches by which other people express how they’d want to fix it, which help me decide what I do and don’t want in my own gaming.

    @Greg: “My contention is that putting this “D&D is always right” principle out front is a giant sign to shut your mouth if you think anything could be done better, unless of course you are “proven” to be a reliable community member. It is a way to reinforcing a clique.”

    Going to this level of analysis seems like a lot of work just to tell people to shut up. I see people tell other people they’re wrong about what games they like all the time based on preconceptions alone; they don’t seem to want or need any analytical tools to help overcome their preconceptions.

    Reinforcing a clique is useful insofar as it helps the people who care about its territory understand what they have in common. If you don’t have enough in common with them to want to share that territory, what does it matter? Sure, some people are insular or use their in-group status to look down on others; those people are asshats. Show me on this doll where they touched you?

    @Wax: “the last sentence doesn’t sit right with me at all. OD&D initially did what its designers initially claimed – it retrofitted a set of miniatures wargames rules for use in tabletop dungeon-crawl pulp (battle) games. It wasn’t a particularly robust game but it wasn’t meant to be. e.g. In no meaningful sense was it a ‘roleplaying game’ as that term has come to be understood; OD&D characterization, for instance, was purely ad hoc.”

    OK, so we’ll agree to disagree on this. I find OD&D remarkably robust in actual play; after spending a roughly equal amount of time trying to figure out how OD&D handles things that aren’t combat based on the principles evident in what it presents, and how 4E does the same with skill challenges, I’m a lot less confident that I can reliably make a skill challenge do what I want it to if I follow the rules and not rely on the ad hoc methods I learned from engagement with OD&D and the community that’s interested in it.

    Your sentence about how ‘roleplaying game’ has come to be understood suggest to me that we’re talking past each other. First, I think the proto-D&D Braunstein games exemplify a lot of what most people still understand to be roleplaying; second, the whole point here is to re-examine how RPGs have come to be understood; and third, it sounds like either I should start grubbing for freelance assignments on the 4E April Fools’ joke “Roll-Playing for Roleplaying” or you should start hanging out in communities where people share enough of your views about what kinds of characterization mechanics a game needs to be a RPG to have a meaningful discussion.

    That said (in a rather prickly way, for which I apologize), I agree with you that AD&D is an incoherent example of a different kind of game design process and that it’s impossible to reconcile the actual text with any number of contradictory Gygaxian statements about its intent. I’m good with that, although personally I prefer OD&D because there’s less verbiage to deal with and it’s more clearly a synthesis of Arneson’s roots-up, do what works actual play experience with Gygax’s impulse to build grandiose systematic cathedrals (for which I’m grateful; it’s nice to have such a roof overhead). I also agree that 4E has a much tighter design focus and reinforces a specific idea of what gameplay should be. I see that as a disadvantage whenever I don’t want to play that particular game; the fact that it’s so much harder to pin down one thing OD&D is trying to do makes it much easier to find a group willing to do lots of things with it.

    @Wax: “It’s reasonable, I think, to say Gygax was a visionary but not a particularly good game designer, while the 4e team are very fine game designers but no visionaries.”

    To get that statement to the point where I’d even call it well-informed enough to be unreasonable, you’d need to account for the fact that Gygax learned to roleplay from Arneson, who in turn was inspired by his and Perren’s Chainmail design. I know you think we’re all fixated on Gygax, but you could start by not falling into the same trap.

  8. April 4, 2010 at 1:55 am

    @BasicFantasist, on cliquisheness and nitpicking:

    You’re commenting on a blog to which four or five people post, all of whom enjoy intellectual analysis of RPGs. We’re a nitpicking minority outgrowth of the NY Red Box actual play community, which has 35 people who care enough about TSR D&D to make forum accounts so they can schedule games and talk about what’s happening in the ongoing campaigns; we’ve probably had as many more players who joined a session and decided it wasn’t for them. NYRB is an old-school minority outgrowth of the nerdNYC community, which has probably a thousand members registered on its forums and runs the Recess gamedays and the Gotham Gaming Guild mini-campaign series in which hundreds of people play every year. I have a great time with the nerdNYCers in the areas where our interests overlap (actually playing RPGs old and new; nitpicking about RPG history and theory) even though there are lots of other things some of them enjoy that I don’t (nitpicking about comics or anime).

    If you don’t want nitpicking, why post at Dragonsfoot? If you like just playing and not talking, why talk about it? Where does the assumption that no one could like both playing games and talking about them come from, if not a cliquish belief that everyone who doesn’t share your preferences must be doing something wrong?

  9. April 4, 2010 at 2:16 am

    Apologies for the nuke. Feel free to delete it or broadcast it on CNN, I care not. I had assumed (incorrectly apparently) that the ‘Red Box’ moniker was and adoptive form of tribute to the B/X game and would hold forth on the practical utility of said box; namely:

    – dungeon-crafting and wilderness exploration
    – maps
    – play-aids
    – detailing the crafting of said items so as to be of assistance to other DM’s

    Now that I’ve introduced myself to you in my usual sublime style I will limit my patrol of the OSR blogo-sphere to those sites that produce such items or advice on “how-to” rather than game “theory”.

    P.S. – I miss Chgowiz.

  10. April 4, 2010 at 2:39 am

    PPS –
    “Where does the assumption that no one could like both playing games and talking about them come from. if not a cliquish belief that everyone who doesn’t share your preferences must be doing something wrong?”

    What assumption? The one you so clumsily put in my mouth? My last post I believe answered your insinuated straw-man questions as to exactly why I post at Dragonsfoot and have a blog. Not that I need your approval for either. Good-day sir.

  11. April 4, 2010 at 2:39 am

    I also apologize for the nuclear escalation (a big part of my play experiences BITD, along with Gamma World; ah, the lovely ’80s!).

    The Mule is interested in utilities for the Red Box as well as playing it as well as waxing philosophical about it. There are other sites that do the utility-making better (or at least more focusedly, which is not necessarily the same thing), among them the lamented oldguyrpg – among other reasons, I miss about it being down is I can’t point to the specific examples where my gassing on about random events and how OSR-theory of dice relates to storygames-theory of improv directly inspired Michael’s refereeing style and was reflected in his actual play and eventually his recaps on the site.

    Another thing I’m sad about beyond missing reading chgowiz’s blog is that he won’t be at Gen Con, where last year he ran a really great S&W game for me and a bunch of other folks (chattyDM, DavetheGame, etc) who’d have a hard time passing a doctrinal purity piss test but were a lot of fun to game with.

    The positive spin on my cranky reply is this: if you’re ever in NYC, I’ll be glad to sit down at a table and see what you make out of the Red Box raw materials and visa versa in actual play, for which talking is (we can both agree) a poor substitute.

    EDIT: Oops, we went back to DEFCON 4 while crossposting. It is certainly not my intention to give or withhold approval for anything you want to do, and I regret reacting defensively to the idea that you were disapproving of my nerd neurosis.

  12. April 4, 2010 at 2:49 am

    @Tavis

    Nobody has been touching me ;) I just notice how they react in general. There are several posts on Grognardia basically saying “I dont care what people think”, you have Raggi’s response to the “D&D is Always Right” argument is a post called “D&D is Always Right or GTFO”, etc etc

    As someone who is actively designing new content, critically examining old systems, etc; this kind of hyper-conservatism is slightly grating. I have a hard time reconciling a group of people who produce large quantites of ideas on a regular basis (which is why I am tapped into their blogs) as being the same group that is hyper-conservative about certain things.

    Just look at the reactions on Trollsmyth’s comments to my statements, you can see what I mean. There are 3-4 on there that basically say “WTF is this guy retarded or something?” That kind of sentiment is quite closed minded.

  13. April 4, 2010 at 3:41 am

    I think it’s worth noting that the New York Red Box group started out as a new-school gaming tabletop group, playing things like Sorcerer, With Great Power… and Capes. Many of our members, including at least 3/4 of the authors of this blog, continue to play a variety of games other than old-school D&D. Doctrinaire we are not!

  14. 14 James
    April 4, 2010 at 1:16 pm

    The “controversy” here is basically over the slogan, which is kind of stupid, but the idea behind it is pretty unobjectionable.

    If the slogan had been, “Understand what the rule actually does before you change it around” it would have been a slightly schoolmarm-ish truism which had zero content, because everyone assumes they understand what the rules actually do. That it’s become a controversy is probably unfortunate in terms of the politics of the hobby. (That an edition of D&D that’s been out of print for ~30 years has politics associated it is also unfortunate.)

  15. April 4, 2010 at 2:19 pm

    @James: Over at the Eiglophian Press”>Eiglophian Press, James M. said “The principle could have been phrased as broadly as “Try to Understand Old School Games on Their Own Terms” and I can guarantee that the usual suspects would have found some way to criticize it regardless.”

    I wonder if the incendiary name for the principle isn’t useful because if it were neutrally phrased it wouldn’t challenge people’s assumptions that they know how the rules work. I’m not interested in controversy or site hits for its own sake, but it is interesting to see that the discussion has caused people to try to re-state the idea many different ways, perhaps giving it more of a chance to be paid attention to and reducing the likelihood that people will shrug it off: “yeah, I do that already”.

    I also think it’s worth thinking more about how you’d get people to understand what the rules actually do, and whether that’s desirable. Wasn’t there a post by the designer of a storygame (Primetime Adventures?) where he saw that almost everyone was doing something different with part of the system than the rules said, and wondering about whether to try to re-assert his original intention in the revised edition?

    Personally I like a game where you frequently engage with the question of how to make the rules work. (This is why I’m heading inexorably towards Rifts!) I especially like OD&D because it’s so rich in perplexingness, but even with the much more clearly explicated Red Box it seems like once a month we discover something (like the statement that the DM should roll damage) that forces a “huh?” and eventually a re-appraisal of “why might we want to do it that way instead of the one we’re using?” I never have this experience with 4E. It succeeds in getting everyone to collectively grasp and agree on what the rules actually say (a stated intention of Gygax’s for AD&D, obviously honored only in the breach), which I find has disadvantages for the way I want to do things these days.

  16. April 4, 2010 at 9:55 pm

    @Wax: “It’s reasonable, I think, to say Gygax was a visionary but not a particularly good game designer, while the 4e team are very fine game designers but no visionaries.”

    To get that statement to the point where I’d even call it well-informed enough to be unreasonable, you’d need to account for the fact that Gygax learned to roleplay from Arneson, who in turn was inspired by his and Perren’s Chainmail design. I know you think we’re all fixated on Gygax, but you could start by not falling into the same trap.

    OK then,

    s/Gygax/the early RPG sages, Gygax the copycat among them/

    I was quite drunk when I wrote the last comment, else I’d have been more scrupulous in several places, though I’ll note in passing that most people who talk about D&D’s early days are, in fact, fixated on Gygax, whether or not the same can be said of you and your colleagues.

    It’s a beautiful day outside, too nice to talk about this stuff at length. Instead I’ll just quickly restate my point, minus single-author emphasis: (1) Yep, playing OD&D necessarily means embracing or at least understanding the assumed and historical playstyles of the 70’s, and in that regard it’s useful to say ‘D&D is always right,’ even just provisionally. (1.5) It’s particularly nice to be generous and friendly to doddering old nerds! (1.6) HATE. (2) But the claim that OD&D and especially AD&D were partial/mixed successes at best – relative to both their designers’ apparent intentions and their explicit design goals, indicated both in-text and in articles/discussions of the time – well, this claim need not emerge from parochialism or ahistorical thinking. It’s possible, I think, to try to read the stuff generously and still conclude that D&D is not, in fact, always right (in the sense you said earlier). That’s not so bad.

    Does that make sense? Except for 1.5 and 1.6 I mean.

  17. April 4, 2010 at 10:33 pm

    Alas, I am stuck inside working on a grant deadline; somehow despite the time pressure it’s easier to justify commenting instead of going out into the beautiful weather.

    Drunk posting is an important way in which the restricted bandwith of Internet communication creates rancor! Normally other cues give you this information (e.g. the fact that you’ve been standing there having a pitcher of beer with the person you’re talking to) and you can modulate your replies accordingly.

    Yes, I agree that D&D (and AD&D especially) frequently gets in the way of what it’s trying to do. Note the absence of lightning from the sky or the OSR thought police rappeling in.

    I’m not speaking here of authorial intent, but just the thrust of its own design – e.g. weapon vs. armor charts are at odds with abstract combat. However, I think doing further “D&D-is-always-right” analysis on the roots of D&D helps with this – for example, instead of just saying “weapon vs. AC is a mess,” you can say “ah, it’s the AD&D introduction of multiple ways to get to the same AC with different kinds of armor that makes it a conceptual mess.” Even going this far doesn’t mean D&D is in fact perfect – if there is a sense to even the much simpler OD&D weapon vs. AC charts, it eludes me – but it does mean that you have a sound foundation to say why you reject the “D&D is always right” assumption, and from which you can build other design (e.g. this was part of the thinking behind my armor save houserules).

    Expecting people to be able to show that they’ve gone through this kind of analysis before reaching the conclusions that yes, here is a case where D&D isn’t right isn’t cliquish IMO. It’s not a blanket “shut up if your opinion differs,” it’s a more selective filter: “opinions will be listened to if they’re backed up by more than preconceptions.” (What might look like a clique is the we’re-both-in-a-bar phenomenon; I don’t require some people to go through this level of showing their work because I was having a pitcher with them while they ran through a similar analysis.)

    Re: D&D was a great game design, quibbling about whether the role of visionary vs. great designer better applies to Gygax or Arneson is a lesser point. The thing I see as incontrovertible proof that their work was a great piece of design is how deeply its core innovations (e.g. quantifying your avatar’s abilities and allowing them to increase with experience) have transformed the modern world. I think it’s easy for people who are working on the stained-glass windows in the church Gygax and Arneson built to forget that the essential D&D ideas (and thus those of all subsequent RPGs) count as a piece of staggeringly influential game design instead of just being part of the air we breathe nowadays.

  18. 18 maldoor
    April 5, 2010 at 2:49 pm

    So, so late to the party. Oh well.

    @ Greg Christopher – thank you for your version of Green Eggs & Ham. I have a three year old, and know the real version by heart, so it was especially funny for me. A tip of the hat to you sir.

    To contribute to the discussion at large: an analogy. I do a lot of cooking, but am not a natural cook – not good at throwing a bunch of things together to make something new. To make a good dish I have to learn it first by following the recipe to the letter. Once I understand the importance of each step and what it contributes to the finished dish, I can play around with things and try to make something different. Substitute one ingredient for another, skip a step, whatever, and soon I find the recipe for my version of the perfect scone (less butter, more currants, if you care).

    This is what I see a lot of the so-called OSR folk doing where there are actual games being played and reported on. Most of them are evolving, too. If the OSR was half as doctrinal and clique-ish as they are often seen, that would be the opposite of what would happen. But look at the changes our White Box has undergone, and the changes I read about in the Dwimmermount campaign and others.

    [The evolution is interesting, and I suspect in the next few weeks there will be various posts about where these games are going, and what the common emergent elements are, or are not. Is everyone fated to end up with AD&D, Runequest, Rifts or some version of things that have come before?]

    Maybe I am starry-eyed and idealistic, but what I see here is reproduction of the original, and then experimentation with the receipe to add preferred local flavor.

  19. April 5, 2010 at 8:09 pm

    My kid is turning 2 this month. I also know it by heart.

    I dont deny that there is virtue in actually playing something you comment on. That was never in dispute. The question as far as I am concerned is that making it a central tenet of a philosophy appears to be unnecessarily exclusionary.

  20. April 5, 2010 at 8:28 pm

    Greg, I agree with trollsmyth that the OSR community is defined in part by a philosophy that you should actually engage with (through play or reading without preconceptions) the things this community is interested in talking about. If you don’t share that view that’s fine, but I don’t see how it’s any more exclusionary or representative of a “conservative screed” than a scrapbooking community saying that they want to have a conversation between people who scrapbook.


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Past Adventures of the Mule

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