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!

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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!

With a Humble Heart

Arrogance is not an attitude or a set of actions, as is defined in many a dictionary.  It is a place.  It is a place that Creators can often find themselves, if they are not careful.  We (those that write, design, sculpt, paint, and/or otherwise create) can, all too often, begin to believe our own hype and we move our way into arrogance.

I, once, heard Robert Jordan speak about “world creation as a writer” on a panel at large science fiction convention.  He was with another writer and they had drifted onto the topic of magic in fantasy worlds.  Jordan seemed to hold the belief that Clarke’s Third Law, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,” was the truth of all magic; Magic is just Super Advanced or Non-understood Science.  When the female author tried to offer the idea that was true in his books, but not hers, Jordan reinforced his belief that there was no such thing as magic and called her stupid for thinking anything else.  That left a sour taste in my mouth and I’ve not been interested in reading any more of the Wheel of Time series, since.

During my college days, I encountered two instances of, what I perceived as, arrogance.  One came from Gary Gygax on page 64 of Dragon #67.

The AD&D game system does not allow the injection of extraneous material.  That is clearly stated in the rule books. It is thus a simple matter: Either one plays the AD&D game, or one plays something else, just as one either plays poker according to Hoyle, or one plays (Western) chess by tournament rules, or one does not.  Since the game is the sole property of TSR and its designer, what is official and what is not has meaning if one plays the game. Serious players will only accept official material, for they play the game rather than playing at it, as do those who enjoy “house rules” poker, or who push pawns around the chess board.  No power on earth can dictate that gamers not add spurious rules and material to either the D&D or AD&D game systems, but likewise no claim to playing either game can then be made.  Such games are not D&D or AD&D games — they are something else, classifiable only under the generic “FRPG” catch-all.  To be succinct, whether you play either game or not is your business, but in order to state that you play either, it is obviously necessary to play them with the official rules, as written.  Thus, when you get information in these pages which bears the “official” stamp, that means it can immediately be used in game play.

The other came from a fellow Game Master on the University of Southern Mississippi campus.  Doc stated before a group of people that, if anybody wanted to play D&D, they had to play in his D&D world and his way, since his game “was the only game in town.”  Both of these cases struck a nerve with me.  My response to Doc’s claim was to pick up my D&D stuff form my parent’s house the following weekend and start up a game that ran for multiple years.  I really didn’t do anything in response to Mr. Gygax’s claim that those who didn’t play by the “official” rules weren’t really playing AD&D, but were playing at it; however that claim did make me less willing to read anything by Gary Gygax and more willing to look to third party producers of FRPG content for my D&D game.

Now, I’ve got to ask myself, “Gregory, have you ever gone to Arrogance?”  I have been told that I run good games and over the years, former players who have gone on to play in other person’s games, have told me that I have ruined them, because my games were more interesting and/or enjoyable than others.  I’m proud of my work.  If I was not proud of what I do and create, then why would I want to do it?

Now, I must look and see, if I have become haughty and disdainful.  Have I forgotten that others can create, as well?  Do I always strive to be a better game master?  Are there things that I can do to make my world better and more enjoyable?  Do I still as +DKlarations says “Keep the Channel Open?”

Until I post again, Game On!