Edition Wars (or OH, NO! Here We Go Again)

I’ve seen various people post about the announcement of 5E – Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition release dates.  Some are jaded and feel that it has all been done before.  Others are offering a depressed, but optimistic, hope that it will be good.  Various forums have people shouting for their favorite edition or bemoaning the idea that Wizards of the Coast are trying to get more money out of them.  I was going to keep quiet about the whole deal and do my best to ignore it.  I can’t.

Having played D&D starting with the Holmesian Blue Book version of Basic Dungeons and Dragons and played through each and every version of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons to date, including the playtest version DnD Next, I have an opinion on this subject.  I’m tired of the fighting.  That’s my opinion.

Edition Wars did not begin with 3E.  They began with Basic and Advanced.  There was enough demand for Basic Dungeons and Dragons that TSR built an entire product line around the Known World (what would become known as Mystara).  This happened right alongside Advanced Dungeons and Dragons.  People would meet up in game stores, at conventions, and, later, on online bulletin board systems to deride and attack the other side for selling out or being poor gamers.  This is not new.

The wars did not end with one’s preferred version of D&D.  People would fight over Role Playing vs. Roll Playing.  (Sound familiar?)  Munchkins were vilified by True Role Players.  Monty Haul Games were ridiculed as low brow, beer and pretzel games by those who believed themselves more sophisticated.  Gary Gygax even took umbrage against those who didn’t play Real Dungeons and Dragons (I talk about that article in this post).  It is all the same story: “Do it my way or hit the highway.”

It gets even uglier, when one considers other games by other companies.  “How could you play Runequest; it’s a D&D rip off?”  “Call of Cthulhu is just superior to any other RPG because it uses percentile dice and has a literary foundation.”  “How can you play Rolemaster?  It’s all tables.”  Go ahead pick a game and I’d feel comfortable betting that I can find a website that has proponents that feel that all other games are stupid.  I may be wrong, but I doubt it.

Grognards have always existed.  They were even present at the release of 2E.  A long time ago, I was given a small, typewritten, piece of paper that humorously and ironically described the transition from 1E to 2E.  It talked about the shift from Greyhawk to the Forgotten Realms.  It joked about the sudden change of paladins to cavaliers.  There were other sly observations about how the “new” D&D universe worked, but it ended with the very unkind idea that only stupid people would want Gary Gygax back in charge of D&D and that good, smart people would kill anyone who tried.  When it dawned on me that that type of thinking was fanaticism and the same ignorance espoused by those who didn’t want to change from their beloved edition to whatever new was coming out, I got rid of it.  I do not want to be one of those that promotes hate, even in what is meant to be a joke.  There will always be those who fear or hate change.  It is sad, but true.

To those who bemoan the fact that WotC is trying to make more money, I’ve only this to say, “Of course, they are; Wizards of the Coast is a business and if they don’t make money, they have to quit being a business!”  This is no different than Pazio selling Pathfinder or Monte Cook selling Numenera.  It is their job to make stuff for gamers to buy.  If you don’t want to support the people whose jobs it is to design, write, and publish games, game modules, and gaming supplements, then don’t buy the stuff they put out and quit trying to make those people that do buy their products feel bad for buying what they want to buy.

I doubt it happen, but I do wish the gaming community at large would grow up.  A new edition does not diminish your personal games in any way.  People playing with different styles of game play are not better or lesser than you and you do not need to “convert them to the true path of gaming.”  Maybe the newest edition on the block isn’t all that new in its concepts or game play.  Maybe it is a ploy to get people to buy more stuff.  Maybe it is better than anything that has gone before it.  In the end, it doesn’t matter.  If you don’t want it, don’t get it.  If you don’t like it, don’t do it.  Unless gaming is a virus and one needs to be inoculated to prevent the spread of disease, let it go and enjoy what you have.

DMing with Charisma posted a response to this post and I really like it.

I found A Brief History of the Edition Wars by Admiral Ironbombs on his site Logic is my Virgin Sacrifice to Reality.  Please check it out.


Until we meet again, Game On!

DM’s Rant: A Response

This post is a direct response to my friend Matt’s request that I comment on his post DM’s Rant. I originally was going to post in his comment section, but my train of thought derailed and I was spilling verbage onto his site. I removed the debris and started over. Here’s the result after the cleanup effort.

First things First, Matt, I agree with your premise that the Game Master should not be bound to the book. The Game Master should of course use the rule to run a fair and honest campaign, but there are so many more things to a good game than adherence to the rules.

Now, onto the part of my post where I point out (not always with the best of tact, but with the best of intentions) the errors I see in your self-admitted passionate rant.

To begin, Matt you appear to be contradicting yourself in the middle of your argument. In your fourth paragraph you hold forth with this:

I’m reading this thing and I’m scratching my head, thinking, why is this guy awarding XP based solely on how much treasure the players find or how much of a body count they rack up? Because the book told him to? Is this the kind of gamer we have now? Slaves to the Almighty Rule Book? In the seminal guide to D&D, the 1st Edition Dungeon Master’s Guide, Mr. Gygax says over and over again, “All of this is optional. Do what you want.” He says it in many different ways, usually with some much prettier language – some would say overly obscure, and I tend to agree in most places, but this is clear as blue skies.
All. Of. This. Is. Optional. Do. What. You. Want. When it says “all”, it means all

Then in your seventeenth paragraph you say:

This notion that this rule and that rule doesn’t work and this and that doesn’t fit is so much lazy bullshit.

If I have taken this out of context, please forgive me and correct me, I think you are off on this. If everything is optional, then any rules one finds cumbersome or annoying can be tossed as needed or desired. I believe that anything that doesn’t work for your personal Table should be dropped. If a rule is too cumbersome, trim it down or cut it out. I did this with weapon speed, wandering monsters, one minute combat rounds, etc. Also, Gary Gygax may have changed his mind later in life, but early in TSR’s run, he held a play my way or you are not playing D&D attitude. I’ve quoted part of an essay from Dragon 63, here, which makes this very clear. Also, I went back and reread the preface to the First Edition Dungeon Masters Guide and Mr. Gygax seems to be very intense on uniformity of rules across the board. If you are not playing with the rules as written, then your game will collapse or be so esoteric that no one outside of your limited community will want to play it. I feel that he was a rules guy and he would expect the GMs and the Players to use the Rules at their Table.

Now, let’s get to the meat of your rant, Matt. You are frustrated by GMs who can’t go Outside the Box of Rules. I’m with you on this. You focus on the idea of how Experience Points (XP) are awarded in your rant. Here is my take on it.

Every game has rules. Be they, pretend games from our childhood: “House” or “Cowboys and Indians” or complex games from our board games heyday: “Axis and Allies” or “Diplomacy,” games have rules. We are taught to play by the rules. When we don’t play by the rules, we are called cheaters.

1E D&D told us that the rules said Experience comes from Killing Monsters, Collecting Gold, and Having Magic Items. So, we played that way. Gygax even used a jeweled man as a lure to get PCs into a dungeon, because of all the XP that automaton offered. The progression tables in 1E expected PCs to get gold and count it toward their XP advancement. There was no XP for overcoming traps or parleying with NPCs. 1E was a game about Slaying and Looting; a dragon was the best target for any group of PCs…It offered Monster XP, Gold XP, and Magic Item XP. Players looked at every encounter as a potential combat.

By the time 3E hit the scene, we had Call of Cthulhu, Vampire, and other games focused on story and player options beyond the standard D&D formula. While the rules for awarding XP changed to shift away from Gold XP and Magic Item XP, not everyone wanted to let go of the way they learned to play years before. It is similar to growing up playing Original Rock/Paper/Scissors and learning that in 2nd Ed. R/P/S Rock beats Paper, Paper beats Scissors, and Scissors beats Rock. It is in the rules and it is perfectly legal, but it is not what you grew up with and it flies in the face of what you believe is core to YOUR game. This, I believe, is what is at the heart of the Edition Wars and nearly every Grognard Complaint.

Matt, it appears that you want a game wherein the PCs are rewarded for experiences that they have. Thus to you XPs mean “real experience;” RPGs are not really about the “real” (The Games Librarian has a good post on this), they are about the “simulation of the real.” The rule set of a game really doesn’t define the laws of that particular universe. The rule set gives Players and GMs the tools to simulate those laws.

Jason Holmgren (Designer of Ironclaw) told me that rule sets determine the style of play for a game. I think he’s right. In 1E, the rules lead to a game with wild, unexplained magic and every encounter was expected to turn into a combat encounter. In 3E, magic was a regulated, understandable force with crafting classes taught at the Co-Op. Gone were the days, when Players had to take the Great Weapons of Power from their fallen foes; they could now craft the uber-weapon they wanted from their “Experience” and components bought at the local mage shop. The style of play had changed and some liked the change and others did not, but they played the game anyway. This is not to say that people didn’t Play Outside the Rule Box. Rule sets determine the style of play, but they can’t chain players or GMs to that style.

Monte Cook (my Go-To Guy when it comes to game design) has written about simulation in role playing game design and about how rule set can affect game play. I think both of these posts reflect on the topic of your rant and offer better explanations than I can devise. It is the application of these two ideas that I believe embodies your rant.

Matt, we agree on the most important piece of your rant. This a game and it should be fun. Thanks for asking my opinion.

Game On!

Game Masters Part 2

Last post, I talked about many of the Game Masters that I have interacted with over the years.  James Burkett reminded me that I forgot a few GMs from my past.  I’d like to correct that oversight.

  • Charles Chen – Another friend from Emory days, Charles ran an amazing Shadowrun game.  It was full of magic, angst, and betrayal.  The characters James and I played always seemed to be at odds with each other in Charles games.  I recall many sessions that ended in lots of explosions, usually set by runners against other members of our own crew.
  • Brandon Mokofisi – Brandon and I met when were both working at DragonScroll.com (He is now doing lead vocals in Urban Tattoo; Check them Out.).  Brandon runs the best tactical game of anyone I know.  He can optimize any class to its maximum usefulness.  His games require quick thinking, strong combat skills, and a strategic mind set.
  • Heather Miller – Heather comes from the same gaming group, as Derek Johnson, Ray Boone, and Ronnie Cooley.  She liked to run Call of Cuthuhu games with lots of puzzles.  For her the game seemed to be a vehicle to introduce new and more involved puzzles.  Heather’s games required an analytical mind and willingness to think outside the box.
  • Ronnie Cooley – Ronnie, Heather, Ray, Derek, Sam, Kris, Marilyn, and I played several different games together, but I remember Ronnie running Cyberpunk.  Ronnie’s Cyberpunk game was a mix of combat and role playing, with an emphasis on combat.  It was fun, but in the end, I was killed by my own party for reasons still unknown.
  • Michael McMillan – Michael is Davy McMillian’s cousin and he ran many AD&D games for me and his brother Barry.  He had a wild imagination.  I remember encountering an iron golem with the mind of an ancient wizard trapped within.  I had to deal with magical shrines that would improve one abilities and grant wishes, if I did the right things and would bestow curses, if I did the wrong things.  It was in Michael’s game that Gregor O’Dragon gained his friend and companion, the dragon Zuth.

Thank you all for many great games,

Game on!

Game Masters (or Those People Who Changed my View of GMing)

Since I first began playing Dungeons and Dragons in March of 1979 AD, I’ve ran more games than I’ve played, but I’ve had a fair number of game masters over the decades.  I tend to get more enjoyment from running games than I do playing them, but I have enjoyed many of the games I played.  Here are some of the notable GMs, I’ve encountered in my days of gaming.

  • Davy McMillan – He was my 1st DM.  He ran me through B1 – In Search of the Unknown.  If Davy had not introduced me to D&D, I’d never been involved in such a wonderful hobby and there would not be a blog for me to write.
  • Clyde Smith – Clyde and Davy were classmates at Vancleave High School.  He was the first DM I knew who would “break” the rules.  He had a predilection for variant classes.  I will always remember the flying-steed riding rangers.  “I live for love.  I love for danger.  I live to be an Airborne Ranger!”  Clyde showed me it was okay to invent things that the rules didn’t cover.
  • Denson Smith – Denson was Clyde’s older brother.  He was known as a “tough DM.”  He played fast and loose with combat and we fought some very tough fights.  We never had a TPK, but we ran awfully close.  I don’t know if I learned anything from Denson, but I felt a rivalry with him and worked hard to make my games talked about as much as others talked about his.
  • Ned Harvey – Ned was a friend of mine since my days at Ocean Springs Junior High.  I introduced him to D&D.  Ned was a good GM in many ways: he had strong ideas, he could devise good combats, and he was well read enough to catch most of the references his players used to create their characters.  His one flaw was that he let it get personal.  Sometimes, it became a GM vs. Player game.  If the Players wanted to go left and his game plan said they had to go straight, then it could become a game wherein Ned tried to force the Players to go back to the story.  I learned from Ned and a few horrid missteps of my own to go with the flow.  If the Players want to spend a game shopping, then they get to spend it shopping.  I just need to keep notes on who sells what and where it is sold.
  • Mike White – Mike and I met in 10th grade.  We played in other GMs’ games and Mike hit the occasional one-shot games that I ran, but I never played in any of his games.  Mike and I were GMs that went to each other, when we at a loss as what to do next in our own games.  We shared D&D modules and ideas.  Mike taught me that GMing could be a collaborative effort.
  • Todd Jordan – Todd joined my D&D game,   after watching me teach his mother, aunt, and cousins about D&D.  He was a fixture in my gaming sessions for a number of years.  Later, he took his characters and his girlfriend’s characters and moved them to his world of Plangenus.  I played a few games in his world.  He had a lot of incredible ideas, but his world was bland and he never followed his ideas to their ends.  His world was a moon of a Jovian planet.  Plangenus revolved around its primary at the same speed as Plangenus rotated, thus one side always faced the primary planet.  The planet bound side of Plangenus got light reflected from the surface of the planet.  It seemed to me that such a world should have special magic effects on the “dark” side.  No direct sunlight, no starlight…wouldn’t there be more drow and other dark loving beings casting special spells that would be ruined by the light of day?  When I asked about such things Todd said that it didn’t matter and my interest in his world waned.  So, I learned from Todd to have weird or special effects in your world, just make sure you follow them all the way to the end.
  • Mike Magee – Mike and I met in college and his second long running character in Rilmorn was Gareth Eybender.  His creation of the Kingdom of Elethar and the extensive family tree of the Eybenders have given me years’ worth of material for my games.  Mike ran two games in which I played: Isle of the Ape and Lichlords.  Both of those modules are high-level games.  Mike ran them with aplomb.  It was from him that I learned to give the high level villains their rightful due.  I often fail to do so, but I always intend to play my powerful NPCs as intelligent, strong people.  You don’t get to be high level, if you are incompetent.
  • Ray Boone – Ray is another college friend that gave me distinct characters and societies that still carry weight in Rilmorn; Levi Dyskor is the exemplar cavalier that all other cavaliers aspire to be.  Ray ran the creepiest Beyond the Supernatural game, I have ever played.  It was a one shot game.  It wasn’t creepy because of all the gore.  It wasn’t creepy because of the monsters.  It was creepy because of the little details.  Ray just, seeming at random, dropped simple observations of what our characters saw.  The descriptions didn’t carry any hideous descriptors.  We were in an Antarctic science station investigating the disappearance of the scientists.  There was no blood.  There were no bodies.  Everything was normal and clean…and every time Ray pointed that out to us, we freaked out a little more.  Ray taught me that the ordinary can be terrifying, if one is expecting something horrifying.
  • Derek Johnson – Derek and I have never played a game of D&D together in our lives.  I have been with groups for which he ran Castle Faulkenstien, Call of Cthulhu, Vampire: The Masquerade, and Bureau 13.  Derek showed me, what I long suspected, that you can make any game system tell whatever story you want to tell.  He plays every system like a musical instrument and delightfully mixes tone and leitmotif to turn Call of Cthulhu into an adventure game or Castle Faulkenstien into a mystery game with a hint of horror tinting the corners of the world.  I try to do the same with each edition of  DnD and Rilmorn.
  • Matt Wagner – Matt is one of my D&D players from Emory.  His game of choice is Call of Cthulhu.  He likes to play in a dimly lit room by candlelight when possible.  Matt showed me how much the table environment affects players’ actions.  He can still evoke terror in a game set at table in the middle of cafeteria by his storytelling alone, but at table of his preference, Matt rules the world where Knowledge Shall Make You Flee.  Now, when possible, I try to set the environment of the game table to set the mood I want in my game.

Thank you all for inspiring me to try and be a better Game Master.

Game On!