Thursday, April 01, 2010

A Theoretical Framework for the OSR

The Old School Renaissance has been getting some notice just lately (more on why I think that is later, no, really, I promise) and that means new readers to our little cluster of blogs.  Unfortunately, this means we find ourselves having to repeat ourselves; questions that we chewed on and answered to our satisfaction two years ago are coming back up as new readers and new ideas enter the discussion.  Which is awesome, but necessitates the writing of this post.

We haven’t needed this before because it wasn’t really a priority; we’re more about playing than theory in the OSR, so more practical tools like the primer, the retro-clones, the adventures, the houserules, and the magazines have been more useful and a bigger priority for us.  In many ways, the OSR is a play-now-and-figure-out-what-it-is-we’re-doing-later movement.

“Later” is apparently today.  Here’s a brief outline of what I see as the central theoretical principles that underlie the OSR.  (And I welcome comment and disagreement; it’s not like I’m the OSR pope or anything. ;) )

D&D is Always Right
And speaking of “damn it, I’m not the Pope of the OSR” this one comes from Mr. Maliszewski and started as a tool for analysis of the old games.  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:
The "D&D is always right" principle means that many times you're left wrestling with things that simply don't make sense or at least whose meaning is obscure. There are two ways to resolve the confusion. The simplest one is simply to assume that the original text must be "wrong," which is to say, that the author had no idea what he was talking about and that you can safely substitute your own preference in their place. The more difficult approach is to step back and assume the author actually intended something and that, simply because that something isn't immediately obvious, it isn't any less real.
And this has lead to all sorts of interesting discoveries.  Like if you actually inspect how EXP works in the pre-2e editions of D&D you realize that the original versions of the game were not about tactical combat (which was risky, dangerous, and offered piddly rewards) but about strategic exploration (which minimized risk while offering the greatest opportunity for finding the unguarded hoards which were the real key to leveling up, especially at lower levels).  And this leads to all sorts of fascinating discoveries, like the role of rust monsters in an adventure and how to maximize the strategic possibilities of your mega-dungeon.

(Addendum: This is not about saying that any version of D&D is the perfect game, or that Gygax, Arneson, etc. were infallible gods of gaming or anything like that.  Heck, it's not even really about D&D.  It's about leaving your assumptions at the door and investigating the rules on their own terms, to see what they actually do and how they perform at the table, without prejudice or prejudgement.  As Mr. Maliszewski adds in the comments here:

FWIW, my point was simply this: don't start pulling at loose strands in the tapestry until you've spent the time figuring out which ones really are loose and which ones only look that way and that, if pulled, will unravel the whole thing.

It's most emphatically not about treating D&D as a holy text or viewing Gygax or Arneson as infallible. Rather, it's about rejecting the notion that just because a rule looks "broken" to you, it really is. )
And all of this reinforces the point that…

System Matters
In spite of arguments to the contrary, 4e and 1e are very different games.  In many ways 3e and 4e were attempts to “fix” the fact that the original versions of D&D were not about the tactical combat (“killing things and taking their stuff”) that everyone has always assumed the game was about.  This isn’t to say that 3e and 4e can’t be fun, but it is to say that they favor very different experiences from BECMI or 1e.

The Old School Renaissance is a classic Reformation movement.  For most of us, RPGs stopped being as much fun as they’d been.  Wondering why, we jumped back to when they were fun in an attempt to find out what happened.  Some of us didn’t have to go back as far as others, but in almost every case, it’s been an exploration of how style and rules work together to create the experience of play.  We’ve gone back to the way things were to explore paths not taken, opportunities we passed on, to try other ways of doing things.  Once you understand how the games actually work (insight which comes from adopting the “D&D is always right” attitude) and you also understand what sorts of activities you actually enjoy, you can meld the two into a more perfect experience for you and your friends.  Which then leads to…

DIY
Because, really, we’re here to play games, not just think about them.  And once you know what you want, you can build a game and a campaign to make it happen.  Honestly, my love for Moldvay/Cook/Labyrinth Lord derives in large part from them being so easy to tinker with.

So if you hate XP for treasure, that’s easy to fix, and now you know what sort of effect that will have on your game (hint: you may want to take a good, long look at what 4e has done to tackle the challenges that creates).  Some of us want more saumurai and ninja in our games.  Others want rayguns.  Others want to really freak people out.  Yeah, there are a few around here looking for that “pure” Old School experience, but most of us are about the wahoo-fun of tossing in everything cool from our favorite Saturday-morning cartoons to musings about the historically significant cultural meanings behind the monsters we use in our games.

If you are new to the OSR, this is an easy place to jump in.  There are lots of projects underway even now to create new versions of these old games.  We’ve already beaten out a number of different OGL versions of those old games, whether your preference is for 0e or 1e or one of the many others now out of print.  The challenge now is to see just how far these games can be pushed.  Feel free to join in the fun; play some games and offer to test out some new tweaks to the rules.  Make your own rules or a dungeon and get it published in Fight On! or Knockspell.  Start your own project.  There’s more than enough room for your vision in our crazy little corner of the intrawebs.

UPDATE: Mr. Benedicto weighs in over at Eiglophian Press. And The Nine and Thirty Kingdoms drills a little deeper.

And tavisallison at "The Mule Abides" gets it, and demonstrates by an example of "D&D 4e is Always Right."

If you're still confused, you might see what Herb has to offer, which includes a very amusing baseball analogy.

UPDATE the SECOND: Greetings, visitors from the Lands of Ara! Yeah, I know, there's a lot of links in this post, but if you're new to the OSR, they'll make good compliments to Mr. Soles' lists.

99 comments:

Chris said...

Malformed links old son. They've all got a spare http://www.blogger.com/ obtruding itself into their usefulness.

That aside, excellent post. Shall be bookmarking this for evangelising purposes. ;)

trollsmyth said...

Gah! Yeah, working on that as we speak...

trollsmyth said...

Ok, think I got the links fixed. Grrrr...

Greg Christopher said...

The "D&D is always right" maxim reminds me of Catholicism. If something doesnt make sense, it is your fault for not understanding it.

trollsmyth said...

Greg Christopher: The difference would be that, in Catholicism, the goal isn't to remake the faith into a system that suits your own individual needs.

Before you can get to the DIY stage, you need to understand the tools and materials you're working with. Otherwise, you'll end up unable to understand why your efforts are less than satisfactory.

Oddysey said...

Excellent post!

And "D&D is always right" reminds me of modern literary theory. Used to be if there was something weird in a text, the old historicists, biographic critics, and even the formalists would assume that it was a mis-print or a mistake of some kind. And sometimes that is indeed the case, but as the structuralists and post-structuralists discovered, man, the cool things you can find out if you start from the assumption that it's there for a reason. ;)

Greg Christopher said...

The assuption of perfection is pretty much a universally bad thing to do.

With regards to Oddysey's literary theory, the question revolves around the author's intent. That is not the question here. I believe it was their intent to include XP for Gold, per our previous discussions. There is no question of intent here.

The question is quality, whether the choice that they made was a good one or not. The "D&D is always right" assumption is a question of faith. You are assuming that decisions are correct, prima facie.

There is evidence of Gxgaxian infallibility.

Greg Christopher said...

Rofl, I meant no evidence. But apparently Gygax has used his masterful omniscience to manipulate the interwebs against me.

Onos!

Stuart said...

Since it's April 1st I kept waiting for you to throw in a ridiculous punchline. :D

"D&D is Always Right"

Except that it's not a historical text where we don't have access to the author. He was part of our community until relatively recently and people had lots of opportunity to ask him and his collaborators questions about how he played the game, what his goals and inspirations were, and what he thought worked... and what didn't.

I'm very skeptical that a large % of people interested in older editions of D&D think everything written in those books is "always right". This sounds very orthodox OSR. ;-)

Will Mistretta said...

"The question is quality, whether the choice that they made was a good one or not."

Except that's explicitly not what he means. At all. In the least. Not even close.

Now put down the crack pipe and back away from the keyboard. Slowly.

trollsmyth said...

Ok, let me try this again...

The point of "D&D is Always Right" is not that older versions of D&D are the most perfectest game evar!!1!one!

There can be no such beast, because what's fun for me may not (probably even is not) fun for you. Different strokes and all that.

The point of "D&D is Always Right" is that older versions of the game do exactly what they were meant to do. The fact that this results in a game that isn't fun for some people is beside the point. That's like complaining about how hard it is to move furniture in a MINI Cooper.

Before you can know whether or not a game will suit your needs, you need to understand what a game actually does. So many (patently wrong) myths have grown up around how D&D was supposed to work that we've been forced to go back to the actual mechanics to analyse what the really do.

Only from a firm foundation of actually understanding what the mechanics are doing can you go on to build on that foundation to create what you want. If you start from a poor understanding of what the rules actually do at the table, you'll end up with a game that doesn't work, because the bits you add will be at odds with the bits you keep.

Stuart said...

The point of "D&D is Always Right" is that older versions of the game do exactly what they were meant to do.

I don't think this is true though. Weapons vs AC charts and Psionics in AD&D - these are not good examples of "D&D is Always Right". They're neat, and you might have fun with them, but I don't think they do exactly what they were meant to do. Gary didn't seem to think so either.

Will Mistretta said...

"I don't think they do exactly what they were meant to do."

Yes, but what *do* they do? And isn't that important to know before you decide whether to use them or not?

The whole point (I'm pretty sure...) is to be willing to do the analysis necessary to truly understand these sorts of things because that understanding can and will make your games better. That's all.

Stuart said...

Yes, but what *do* they do? And isn't that important to know before you decide whether to use them or not?

That's different from "D&D is always right" and/or "D&D is always right defines the OSR". That line of thinking is limited to a subset of people who like the out of print versions of the game.

In this specific case (Weapons vs AC + Psionics) you can dig through the Gygax interview threads on Dragonsfoot and ENWorld to find the answers.

Robert Fisher said...

Those “Johnny come latelies” can knuckle-down and search the Dragonfoot, K&K, blog, etc. archives to find the answers to their questions like the rest of us did!

^_^ OK. Curmudgeon mode off.

Really nice post.

About the “D&D is always right”: It is an article of faith but a limited one.

The fact is that Gygax didn’t create D&D by himself. While he had a key role, it was the work of many people. Nothing back then got published without at least a few people signing off on it.

Even if D&D had been just Gary, it is silly to assume that a rule didn’t make sense to him when he wrote it. In reality, it had to make enough sense to a number of people in order to make it through playtest, editing, etc.

The idea here is that we should take it on faith that these rules are not arbitrary. If one looks arbitrary to us, we should invest the time and effort to figure out why it didn’t to them. Only then do we have the understanding to decide that it isn’t right—for you.

(Ug. The changes in person above are really ugly. No time now to revise.)

Because—as a wise man once said—there is no wrong way to play. You may decide that the rule isn’t right for you, but that doesn’t make it wrong.

The comparison to Catholicism is interesting. Better, IMHO, to understand something before rejecting it. Whether a rule in a game or dogma in a religion.

James Maliszewski said...

FWIW, my point was simply this: don't start pulling at loose strands in the tapestry until you've spent the time figuring out which ones really are loose and which ones only look that way and that, if pulled, will unravel the whole thing.

It's most emphatically not about treating D&D as a holy text or viewing Gygax or Arneson as infallible. Rather, it's about rejecting the notion that just because a rule looks "broken" to you, it really is. Except that I said it and, as everyone knows, I'm a terrible dogmatist, I honestly don't see why this statement is at all controversial.

Badmike said...

"The whole point (I'm pretty sure...) is to be willing to do the analysis necessary to truly understand these sorts of things because that understanding can and will make your games better."

As Will and Troll stated, I don't think Gygaxian infallibility is being promoted. Instead, along the lines of creators of recent D&D products who state they haven't played or even read the earlier editions of the game (go ahead and look, plenty of those out there). Without understanding the foundations of the game the end result of a remake or redo will be imperfect in too many ways....it's really (at that point) just creating your own game and slapping the "D&D" label on it.

It would be like writing a Victorian-style sonnet with only having the faintest idea who Robert Browning was, or even what a sonnet was, since you have no direct experience yourself with the art form.

trollsmyth said...

Will's got it.

And honestly, the giant mess of throw-everything-in-including-the-kitchen-sink that is 1e is an excellent example. 1e was billed as a nailing-down of codified rules, the prefect vehicle for making sure everyone played the game the same way, so folks could host tournaments at venues like GenCon.

In actuality, nobody, including Gygax, played them as written. The insane, sprawling mess solidified a culture in which house-ruling was the norm and everyone adopted the bits they preferred and ignored the stuff they didn't like.

(This is also why most of the analysis is done on the much simpler and more coherent 0e, Holmes, Moldvay/Cook, and Mentzer rules. There's just less stuff there to wade through and all of us have day jobs. ;) )

The point isn't to prove that any version of D&D is the best thing ever. The point is to take these games (or any game) as they are, puzzle out what makes them tick, and "borrow" the bits that can make our own games more enjoyable.

Otherwise, there'd be no point to the DIY step.

Robert Fisher said...

It is an unfortunately phrase, IMHO, in that it doesn’t seem to reflect the open-mindedness that it represents. That open-mindedness is a key to the OSR. If people didn’t come back to the old games (or old styles) with an open-mind, there would be no “renaissance”. It’d just still be the same few grognards who had never left.

Greg Christopher said...

That is precisely what I am contesting, Trollsmyth. I understand your point, you are the one who is interpreting what Gygax "really designed". Thats why I used the actual Moldvay text to refute your assertions about what it meant in my recent blog post.

The text of the game doesnt say anything about strategic exploration and finding unguarded hoards. It talks about killing monsters. Now you can imagine that there is some magical unspoken maxim to explore that everyone just knows intuitively, but the fact remains that ultimately that is not what the text actually says. Anyone who can cite the actual text to refute this is welcome to it. I have read Moldvay and I dont see anything like what you claim the game is about.

Now the "D&D is always right" claim is all about how D&D serves its own design goals. That it functions how the designers intended it to. My point to you is that if you make the claim that the design goal is to support strategic exploration, the actual text doesnt support that. Gold for XP doesnt support that. All sorts of game mechanics dont support that.

As I showed on my blog, there are better ways of encouraging strategic exploration than the Gold for XP system. Nobody has taken a crack at refuting that post yet, so I dont know what the counter-arguments will be yet. I welcome a challenge.

My point remains that the rules as laid out in the original text do NOT support the design goals that you claim they do. Instead, I think they represent a good attempt at building the first RPG systems. That they made errors. That they could improve their own design to further their own goals BETTER.

This is without comparison to any other system. This is comparison to their own supposed goal. If the goal is exploration, they are not supporting it as well as they could. I am not judging it vs other games, I am judging it by its own standards.

Now we differ on what their goals in designing the system were. You say exploration. I say killing monsters. Regardless of which one of us is right on that point, I still maintain that their system could use significant improvement to achieve either goal.

"D&D is always right" is the direct opposite of that. It is an abdication of critical thinking.

Sean said...

Be sure to check out Fight On! #9 - the theoretical framework is well in place already!

Matthew W. Schmeer said...

"Wanna play some d20 Star Wars?"
"Nah, I don't feel like it."
"How about Risus? Wanna play some Risus?"
"Nah."
"How about Warhammer? I love me some Warhammer."
"No, it's not crunchy enough."
"Well, about about Swashbucklers of the Seven Skies? Who doesn't love steampunky sky pirates?"
"Seriously? I mean, seriously?"
"Crap. Well, help me out here. How about Traveller?"
"Uh....no."
"Gamma World?
"No."
"Top Secret? Star Frontiers? RuneQuest? Dragon Age?"
"No. No. No. And no."
"Then how about some Dungeons & Dragons?"
"What edition?"
"Well, anything after 1990 just isn't D&D."
"Ahh....Dungeons and Dragons is always right....."

Cameron said...

As a very recent convert the "D&D is always right" maxim, I have to say that J. Mal's approach offers the most fun because it takes the least amount of time and work. Rule mods devour time - all that tinkering and theorizing and testing. Inventing a coherent, campaign-specific history to account for Rangers (or some other strange class) is easier than trying to fiddle around with making the Ranger class coherent itself outside of the context of any particular campaign universe.

My own view is that the history of D&D, at least up through 1e, is one of arbitrary accretion more than it is one of designing and building something, like it was a high-rise building or the latest Porsche model and that we are Literary Theorists from the English Lit. department, picks and brushes in hand, trying to be archaelogists in the field.

Again - because it's fun. And, really, because this is a game where one man's rock can be another man's priceless fossil and vice versa, the fun will never end.

So, as I read Trollsmyth, the notion that "D&D is always right" does not mean that D&D is a Swiss watch that tells perfect time, but that D&D is solid, functional sundial, open to fine-tuning by anyone with a flashlight.

Robert Fisher said...

Anyone who can cite the actual text to refute this is welcome to it.

People have. e.g. Jrients post not so long ago about the reaction table.

Didn’t somebody cover morale recently too.

When you catalog the mechanics in the Moldvay and Cook/Marsh booklets, you find more related to exploration (movement rates, encumberance, finding traps, triggering traps, removing traps, opening doors, hearing noise, finding secret doors, etc.—not to mention the wilderness and aquatic mechanics) than killing (initiative, to hit, damage). You may need to look at the books again.

Oddysey said...

I think it's important that the phrase is "D&D is always right," not "Gygax is always right" or "Moldvay is always right." Sometimes those guys were very bad at explaining why the rules are the way they are, in large part because they made a number of assumptions about what was "obvious" that not everyone who picked up the books later agreed with. Hence all those stories of people trying to play the Caves of Chaos as a board game or whatever.

G. Benedicto said...

My take:

http://eiglophian.blogspot.com/2010/04/d-is-always-right.html

Word Verification: "abracto" -- a magical nick nack.

trollsmyth said...

Sigh…

Alright, Greg, let’s look at the Moldvay rules for encounters. Assuming you have your book handy, turn to page B23. Check out the section labeled “Order of Events in One Game Turn”. Look at step 6: “The DM rolls 2d6 for Monster Reaction.” The Monster Reaction table is on page B27.

Now, I know you’re aware of how bell-curve probabilities fall out. Your mostly likely result on a 2d6 is, of course, 7. So what’s the most likely result on this table?
6-8: Uncertain, monsters confused.
Not, “Immediate Attack” which only results on double-ones. You are, in fact, as likely to get that as you are box-cars: “Enthusiastic friendship.” The rules for evasion and pursuit are also included on that page. These rules are expanded on in the Cook Expert book on pages X23 and X24, where it’s made quite clear that the PCs will often seek to evade or, failing that, flee encounters.

Now let’s take a look at the suggested rules for stocking a dungeon, page B52. You’ll notice that you roll separately for contents and treasure. If there is a monster in the room, they'll only have treasure 50% of the time. If they don't have treasure, the effort and expense of slaying said monsters will go largely unrewarded. However, 1 in 3 rooms rolled this way will be empty, and 1 in 6 empty rooms contain treasure. So yes, while rare, there are unguarded treasures in the Moldvay rulebook. In addition, page B20 points out that wandering monsters rarely carry treasure, that being safely stored in their homes, again another opportunity for PCs to expend valuable resources for little reward.

Your assertions that there are better rules for handling exploration or combat again misses the point. Nobody is saying that any version of D&D is the best possible game. We are only looking at what D&D does well. Since the point is, again, to move on to the DIY stage of house ruling, the important thing to understand is how the rules work and the sorts of actions they reward so that your own additions work in harmony with, rather than against, the rules you keep.

In any case, it’s quite clear that I’ve utterly failed to explain what I’m talking about to you, even after multiple attempts. That’s a shame, but sometimes that’s the way things go; our brains obviously work in such dissimilar ways that I’m clearly not the best person for the job in this case. I can only suggest you peruse the blogs I’ve linked to, in hopes that one will click with you.

Wickedmurph said...

"D&D is always right". Ha. Ahahah. Snerk.

I'm going to build on Oddysey's interesting literary analogy to explain why I think that is total BS.

In college, I was an english lit major. This meant reading a vast amount of stuff, much of it written by, well, dead white guys. I don't think I have to lay out the basic analogy much more.

I had to read a lot of stuff that I, personally, did not like. It did not interest or engage me, and some of it - despite the fact that it's a "classic", I felt was done poorly.

Measuring all this stuff by the "D&D is always right" yardstick - it would all be wonderful, and everything in there was there for a good reason that made sense at the time.

But it doesn't all make sense, stuff isn't all there for a reason. Writers fail to be internally consistent - they forget things, add things that make no sense or don't work the way they wanted them to. It happens ALL the TIME.

Plus, why should I assume that some wargamer in the '70's did the best possible job on the rules as they could have.

This whole OSR business has always smacked of a historical whitewash or RPG retcon of the largest possible scale. By all means - play whatever you want, but don't try to sell me on "all the rules from old versions did exactly what they were supposed to", cause that's - to quote a decidedly no-literary source, "a great big stinky garbage can full of poo."

Greg Christopher said...

Brian, I am not trying to frustrate you. Im sorry if that is happening.

You are being challenged to clarify things that you are assuming were common knowledge. That process forces you to examine exactly why you believe a certain way. For undefendable beliefs, this causes a lot of frustration in the target (try telling someone about how their religion is bunk). But if you can defend the idea then it is a process of self-discovery.

Your last response is the best yet. I will lay off for a bit and let you cool down.

Victor Raymond said...

Greg Christopher seems to be missing the point - really. Trollsmyth's point is simply that you really need to understand the rules before you assume the author was blowing smoke. That's not to say you can't conclude later that the author was blowing smoke. Case in point: unarmed combat rules in 1st Ed. AD&D. A clear example of an attempt to fix a problem, and quite possibly going overboard in the process.

But for an example of this where the rules do actually make sense, despite long assumption to the contrary, check out this discussion on the ODD74 board, about wilderness construction.

I guess I am both puzzled and alarmed by how easily people are misreading what Trollsmyth originally intended.

Matthew James Stanham said...

You are being challenged to clarify things that you are assuming were common knowledge. That process forces you to examine exactly why you believe a certain way. For undefendable beliefs, this causes a lot of frustration in the target (try telling someone about how their religion is bunk). But if you can defend the idea then it is a process of self-discovery.

Your last response is the best yet. I will lay off for a bit and let you cool down
.

Wow. Patronising much? Good luck with this, Trollsmyth!

nextautumn said...

I remember once, when I was in college (another English Lit. major - big surprise, I know), one of my professors asked the students to explain how they went about engaging with arguments or ideas in general.

About three quarters of the students said they began by looking for the holes in the argument or idea -- and, not surprisingly, they often found a lot of them.

The other 25% or so (including me) said they began by "trying the argument on," so to speak - that is to say, attempting to step into the author's shoes and see things from his point of view, take him or her on his own terms and generally give him/her the benefit of the doubt where things were initially hazy.

Needless to say, my compatriots and I often found less to disagree with (although usually some).

Both approaches are valid, I think, but fewer people (in my experience anyway) adopt the latter - and, in approaching early D&D, the former seems IMO to have predominated.

So...long, boring story short: I grok you, Trollsmyth.

Stuart said...

I think the "always right" approach is a perfectly valid way for someone to enjoy their hobby. No argument there.

I just don't see it as one of "the central theoretical principles that underlie the OSR". Or if it *does* then OSR doesn't mean what I thought it did - which is entirely possible. :)

G. Benedicto said...

Think of *D&D Is Always Right* as the yin to DIY's yang. Two distinctly different modus operandi that work under the same umbrella.

faustusnotes said...

The "D&D is always right" argument is an example of the intentional fallacy in literary criticism. I see the OSR do this a lot, and I think it's driven by excessive admiration of the genre and its lead figures.

Is it not possible to imagine the possibility that, in feeling their way through a pretty ham-fisted and amateur work, the people who generated the first iteration of role-playing made a lot of mistakes and arbitrary decisions, which have been refined over subsequent years? If the rules as written don't work - and a lot of them don't - then it's entirely possible that it's because the authors were making it up as they went, and didn't get it right until much later (or ever).

Separately: Trollsmyth, the encounter table you describe is an example of gaming style. It's set up to ensure that when the PCs burst into the room and find a monster, they will in general have time to prepare their tactics, rather than having to fight immediately. It certainly doesn't contradict Greg's quote, which is a shtonking example of how the game is all about killing things and taking their stuff.

Also, Greg's quote applies to all those people (the majority of gamers, in my experience) who never use the table you point to.

Greg Christopher said...

@ Matthew James Stanham:
I have made plain to Trollsmyth that I actually admire that there is this style of play called the OSR that goes back to the roots and tries to see what can be improved or not. Our disagreements are about theory and approach. If my comment came across as patronizing, I didnt mean it as such.

I have literally observed his argument get better with each iteration because I question his assumptions. As he clarifies his assumptions, his argument gets better. This is an issue of logic, not emotion; thats why I apologized if I upset him. I actually see his position more clearly now than ever before. Thats because we are getting close to the truth.

Most beliefs are based on some logic, but often defended poorly. People often shorten their defense arguments based on unexamined assumptions. For example, you might believe in WWII, the Japanese/Germans are evil and the British/Americans are good. If someone asks you why you think that way, you will probably first offer a poor defense, because you are not accustomed to people questioning such "Obvious" things as Nazis being evil. Now ultimately you may have good or bad reasons for believing the way you do, deep underneath it all. You may simply have blunt faith based on the opinions of others (poor reason) or you might have a good philosophical argument about how the evil deeds of the Allies were justified for X, Y, and Z; but that the Axis lacked justification. You might find that you actually have poor reasons and that you need to think more on the subject.

But regardless of the "answer" to that moral question, the mere act of questioning the argument you put forward helps you refine your own thoughts.

This post was about building a good theoretical framework, was it not? Are we going to throw out advocating for the devil? Shoddy science......

Greg Christopher said...

@ Victor Raymond
You are genuinely puzzled and alarmed that people could disagree on the Internet? rofl.

nextautumn said...

"Is it not possible to imagine the possibility that, in feeling their way through a pretty ham-fisted and amateur work, the people who generated the first iteration of role-playing made a lot of mistakes and arbitrary decisions, which have been refined over subsequent years?"

Of course it's possible. It's possible to imagine anything. Have you ever entertained the notion that the opposite may be true - that a game that spawned the entire RPG hobby maybe did a lot of things right?

"If the rules as written don't work - and a lot of them don't - then it's entirely possible that it's because the authors were making it up as they went, and didn't get it right until much later (or ever)."

Who says the rules don't work? You? I play the game pretty much as written and it works for me. I assume you're aware that there are people who house-rule 4E because there are parts they don't feel work. This idea of evolution ("...didn't get it right till much later," etc.) is and always has been flawed.

RPGs are not a technology. Lady Gaga's music is not better than Elvis's because Elvis's is old. You're constantly making this mistake of believing that the way you see the history of the hobby is the way everyone else does. I don't see it as an evolution; I see it as a complication. Not good or bad, just a matter of personal preference.

Greg Christopher said...

I see Gygax more like Chubby Checker than Elvis.

nextautumn said...

"I see Gygax more like Chubby Checker than Elvis."

To each his own.

G. Benedicto said...

FNotes: "Is it not possible to imagine the possibility that, in feeling their way through a pretty ham-fisted and amateur work, the people who generated the first iteration of role-playing made a lot of mistakes and arbitrary decisions, which have been refined over subsequent years?"

That's exactly the scenario I envision. I think it's entirely reasonable to assume this. But the *D&D Is Always Right* -- as I see it -- is not a historical perspective but a creative exercise. A kind of reverse engineering. It's a 'what if' question -- as in 'What if Gygax and co. knew exactly what they were doing?' Then, according to this approach, the next question is 'Why did they do it this way?'

You're right -- it is a fallacy -- but it's a delicious fallacy that's fun to contemplate.

Nick Crayon said...

That was a beautiful, beautiful post, and I want you to know exactly how good it makes us all look and sound. Thank you :)

The Basic Fantasist said...

WAIT - NO, HOW CAN D&D ALWAYS BE TEH RIGHT, I THOUGHT THE DM WAS ALWAYS RIHGTS!!

ALSOS @ JAMESMAL: D&D IS NOT TAPESTRY WITH LOOSE THRADS, IT IZ BOWL OF SPAGHETTI OF LOOSE THREADS, I RESEARCHED THAT MYSELF

8D

I ADD PASGHETTI SAUCE AND LIKE THE WAY IT HANGS FROM MY FORK< ALSO, IT IS TEH DELICIOUS!!

:P

G. Benedicto said...

Joesky?

The Basic Fantasist said...

Clone (Necromantic)
Range: Line of Sight
Components: V (incesseant twaddle)
Duration: Tills R Bored
Area of Effect: Blogosphere
Saving Throw: Dream on

Description:
NO< I AM NOT JOE< WAIT I AM JOE> NO WAIT, AHA!!!< I AM AWARE OF JOE!! NOWZ ONE OF US MUST BE DESTROYED! WATCHOUTS CUZ 16th+ LEVEL WIZZARDS DEWSTROY LOTS OF BYSTANDERS< MAYBE BURN DOWN THE OSR UNLESS ARCHMAGE JRIENTS CAN CAPTCHA WITH POWER WORD:GAG!

:P

faustusnotes said...

nextautumn, I have considered that. But it's not true. The original game has a lot wrong with it.

But more importantly in the context of Trollsmyth's statement (which is not about D&D being the "best" game), a lot of the mistakes they made were just that, mistakes. Not wisdom we just need to work a little harder to understand.

Will Mistretta said...

"The text of the game doesnt say anything about strategic exploration and finding unguarded hoards."

Are you kidding? There was a whole essay on it at the end of the PHB.

Matthew James Stanham said...

I have made plain to Trollsmyth that I actually admire that there is this style of play called the OSR that goes back to the roots and tries to see what can be improved or not. Our disagreements are about theory and approach.

Yes, I gather that.

If my comment came across as patronizing, I didn't mean it as such.

If you wish to avoid being perceived as patronising, then I recommend that you tone down the condescending language and examples.

This post was about building a good theoretical framework, was it not? Are we going to throw out advocating for the devil? Shoddy science...

By all means contest this proposed framework, keeping in mind the above.

Big McStrongmuscle said...

FNotes: "Is it not possible to imagine the possibility that, in feeling their way through a pretty ham-fisted and amateur work, the people who generated the first iteration of role-playing made a lot of mistakes and arbitrary decisions, which have been refined over subsequent years?"

Adapted more than refined, I think. The scope of the game has changed since the 70's, and the rules had change to accommodate the change in direction. But that's why it's important to carefully examine a rule in its own context before dismissing it out of hand.

Most of the Basic D&D rules work pretty well for a rules-light dungeon crawl with low level characters that doesn't necessarily involve all combat all the time. They don't necessary extrapolate well to other sorts of campaigns - say, ones centered around telling stories about epic quests, or scheming political intrigue, or small-scale tactical combat. You could use the rules to do these things, but it isn't what they were written to do. As the genre has changed over the years - in this particular example, largely by the explosion of content for AD&D and d20 - we have come to expect that D&D should be designed around doing these things, and our impressions of older works are going to be colored by that fact.

Now even in context, D&D is certainly not always right. But by temporarily making the assumption that it IS right, doing your best to disregard your modern assumptions, and trying out the game on its own terms, you can often find hidden value in "obviously stupid" things everyone overlooks. XP for gold rewards stealth and treachery over brute force. Rust Monsters are difficult logistical problems. Different experience tables for each class give you another way to balance them. Silly random charts feed creativity.

Now sure, you'll find that some things were genuinely awful ideas. Ear Seekers, say. Or the Weapons vs AC chart. And you throw those out, because you've tried them and they don't work in context. But you've tried them for their actual purpose, and you can say from experience they don't do the job they were meant to do. Better yet, you now understand WHY they don't work, and can write a better rule yourself.

Then you find some ideas work great in D&D, but would never fly in the kind of game you like. And you come to realize this, too, so you replace those with something that will work better in Star Wars or White Wolf: The Gamening.

And sometimes you find that some of that kludge is brilliant, overlooked stuff that you can use to make your game more fun. And that's the whole point, really.

Dave said...

My, my, what a lot of comments. And I just wanted to say one little thing. Oh well...

An excellent post, as far as it goes. But I agree with @Stuart here--- if this is a "central principle" of the OSR, then the OSR is a much smaller tent than I thought it was.

I feel you're ignoring the segment of the OSR (we do exist!) who don't play D&D or any of the retroclones, because OD&D *as written* doesn't do anything that we want an RPG to do. For us, D&D is not right. (Note I say "for us.") We have tried it and long since found it wanting.

There are those of us who think an RPG is not about combat nor treasure hunting, but it's not about "story now!" either. Personally, I play RuneQuest-- rules light, fast and adaptable, and the rules discourage combat and don't pull for looting.

What's that line about the OSR being all about "exploring directions the hobby didn't take"? I have found so much of value in the OSR, and none of it has been in the idea that OD&D defines RPGs.

Will Mistretta said...

"I have found so much of value in the OSR, and none of it has been in the idea that OD&D defines RPGs."

I'm fine with considering Gygax-era TSR D&D (not necessarily OD&D) what defines the OSR.

And what's wrong with that? Doesn't RuneQuest have its own online community?

This is not to say you can't pick-up an issue of Fight On!, for example, and adapt it for RuneQuest, just that the OSR does (and should, I believe) center on the assumption of classic D&D as "the game."

trollsmyth said...

The OSR clearly has a very D&Dcentric focus, but it's also clearly not just about D&D. There's no reason you can't apply the "game X is always right" principle to any game you pick up.

A lot of this grows, as Oddysey pointed out, from the lack of explanatory text in those older, shorter rulebooks. The trick is to overcome today's assumptions about how these games were supposed to be played and approach them with a fresh eye, whether the game is classic Traveller or Gama World, or Star Frontiers or Dragon Warriors or RuneQuest.

Stuart said...

Maybe "Game X is good!" would be better than "Game X is always right."

And what's wrong with that? Doesn't RuneQuest have its own online community?

Tunnels & Trolls, Traveller... not OSR?

Sounds like OSR Pope talk. ;-D

Robert Fisher said...

Wickedmurph: “don’t try to sell me on ‘all the rules from old versions did exactly what they were supposed to’

I don’t think that’s what anyone is saying. In fact, “what they were supposed to” isn’t really important. The question is: Why did multiple people feel this rule was worth including?

Level caps did what Gygax wanted them to do in his campaign. They didn’t do what he wanted them to do in my campaigns. I may not even what a rule that does what he wanted them to do. So, I may choose to ignore level-caps. But I don’t do it because the rule is wrong. I do it because I’ve taken the time to understand why the rule was written in the first place.

On the other hand, I may find that level caps do have an effect in my game that I like. So, I may choose to include them for entirely different reasons than the designer.

faustusnotes: “If the rules as written don't work - and a lot of them don't - then it's entirely possible that it's because the authors were making it up as they went, and didn't get it right until much later (or ever).

Interestingly, you seldom see an author making big changes to his own rules. The big changes seem to most often happen when a new author takes over.

Also, Greg's quote applies to all those people (the majority of gamers, in my experience) who never use the table you point to.

That’s the point of “D&D is always right”. It’s asking people to consider the game as is rather than how they’ve played it. It’s asking: What if you did use the reaction table? You may have played D&D as a tactical wargame. Killing monsters may have been the primary activity of your D&D sessions. That, however, doesn’t mean that D&D is primarily about those things.

Stuart: “‘Game X is always right’

Although, I may agree the phrase isn’t ideal... That’s exactly it. The idea is applicable to all games.

Michael said...

See, and all I wanted to ask was, what is the OGL and how can I get a copy of it? I would love to go back and tinker with OD&D stuff, but doesn't someone else own all those rights? I assume the OGL is the answer to this, but I have yet to find a link to it.

Thanks

Robert Fisher said...

Michael: The OGL is the “open game license”. Games and bits of games released under the OGL are “open game content” (OGC). The core bits of Wizards of the Coast’s version of D&D are OGC and available on their web site as the “system reference document” (SRD). I tend to prefer the Hypertext d20 SRD, which is the same content formatted for easy online reference.

The copyrights for older editions of D&D (and AD&D) are held by Wizards of the Coast. They have not released any of those editions under the OGL or a similar license. But...

While a particular expression of game mechanics may be protected by copyright, the mechanics themselves cannot. Clones, games that are as similar to the classic editions as legally possible, are now available. Swords and Wizardry, Labyrinth Lord, and OSRIC. (Incidentally, I believe all three have leveraged the d20 SRD.)

I hope that helps.

mxyzplk said...

I'm not sure I agree with the "D&D is always right" tenet. It seems to me to be a reactionary response to "those mean people that tell us older D&D isn't totally balanced." But it's the wrong way to go about addressing that problem.

Why? Because house-ruling, not for "balance" but for fun and personal taste (allegedly good) was and is super prevalent in old school gaming! That's one of the benefits of OSRing it, a smaller and thus more easily modulated, game.

In my opinion this tenet confuses an action (changing the rules) with the intent (theoretical rules perfection vs play experience).

Therefore it is with regret I must make a declaration of shenanigans upon it.

The Basic Fantasist said...

And Basic Fantasy toot! toot!
This was the first retro-clone based off the SRD AFAIK

http://www.basicfantasy.org/

faustusnotes said...

Robert Fisher, level caps are a good example of how D&D isn't always right, in the context that Trollsmyth means this.

Level caps patently fail to achieve what Gary Gygax sets out to do, because the level system and the multi-classing system are both bodgy and broken. They were poorly designed to achieve any of the aims as described by the original designers or anyone who has looked at the game since.

Quite simply, D&D3.5 fixed them to make them achieve the aims originally set out for level caps.

(I have a post on my blog about this).

This isn't to say that the aim of level caps was wrong; it's just that the original rules didn't achieve what they set out to.

So, D&D isn't always right, even in the context of its time. Just like the first steam engines had a tendency to blow up. Design flaws are common in new designs.

trollsmyth said...

Faustusnotes: No, you're still not getting it. The moment you compare the game you're studying to other games, you've left "Game X is Always Right". Which is not to say that analysis between games isn't useful. Only that it has no place in picking apart a game at the level of "Game X is Always Right."

faustusnotes said...

Sorry Trollsmyth, the 3.5e reference was just additional info, and you're right it breaks the point of "D&D is always right." But in the context of "D&D is always right," they screwed up with level limits, which don't meet their intended purpose. ergo, D&D is not actually always right, when viewed only from within its own framework and under the fallacy of author intention.

trollsmyth said...

Oh, I'm not a big fan of level limits myself. Or of thieves or how Moldvay/Cook handles variable weapon damage.

But before you can move on to the DIY step, you have to understand what it is you're working with. In the same way cabinet makers don't just hurl themselves into a project until they've inspected the wood they have to work with, you need to understand the game you're tinkering on. And most of the old school games have veils of history and myth fashioned both by fans and haters throw up around them. You need to get your eyeballs on the actual text and, forgetting what you think you know, see what's actually there.

Can you just take the advancement tables from the 3.0 PHB and bolt them onto Moldvay/Cook? Obviously, no, you'll need to do at least a little tweaking because the games approach race and class in very different ways. That's a glaringly obvious example. There may be other issues in both games that will need to be addressed, but unless you want to discover them in play, you need to understand what they do right now, and how they interact with everything else.

Greg Christopher said...

This is precisely what I meant in my blog response about how it is just a tool of dismissal.

Here we have Faustus looking at D&D on its own terms, saying look these level limits dont accomplish what the authors actually stated were their intentions. In fact, we know of better ways of accomplishing the thing that they wanted.

The response is that no, no no, we need more careful examination, we need more study, we need to understand it better.

There is never a point where you can unequivically declare that yes, this aspect is broken. We have proof it is broken, even by it's OWN standard. That is heresy.

D&D is always right is an infinite dodge. To borrow from MLK, judgment deferred is judgment denied.

G. Benedicto said...

If you think that "D&D is always right" is a critical assessment, you're missing the point entirely. Use your imaginations. It's about entertaining the possibly wacky notion that D&D is flawless, that one only needs to reverse engineer the rules to understand the rationalization behind them. It's the opposite of DIY. Call it an intellectual exercise, if you like. Not everyone is going to find this sort of thing interesting, and that's fine, but no one is asking you to either. There are plenty of old schoolers (myself included) who are heavy on the DIY approach to the game. This is game theory here -- no one is evangelizing.

The Basic Fantasist said...

@FROSTYNOTES - WHAT DO YOU MEAN LEVEL LIMITS DON"T WORK? THEY WORK JUST FINE, THEY LEVEL THE LIMIT OF NON_HUMAN<IS WHAT SET OUT TO DO AND DO PERFECT (THEY DON"T?)

IT LOOK LIKE GARY THOUGHT IT NOT-GOOD-FUN PRETNED TO HAVE DRAGONS RUNNINGZ IN FEAR, RAINING PIGEON POOP ON THE COUNTRYSIDE AS IT FLEES HIM HOARD TO THE CLUTCHS OF TEH 20TH LEVEL HALFLING FIGHTER.

CAN YOU PROVIDE A DETAILED MATHEMATICAL PROOF AND FORMULA FOR URZ CLAIM? GRAPHS WOULD BE NICE TOO CUZ I R NOT SMART LIKE U'Z. OTHERWISE IS JUST OPINION K???

Oddysey said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Oddysey said...

There is never a point where you can unequivically declare that yes, this aspect is broken.

Somehow, the fact that a critical tool for evaluating texts doesn't spit out universal, objective aesthetic judgments doesn't strike me as a huge flaw. But maybe that's because I went mad when I read Derrida.

G. Benedicto said...

What Odyssey said. The most useful criticism steers away from attempting to make some kind of "objective" analysis of the text. I could give a rat's ass on whether or not Joe Critic loves or detests OD&D, but if he has something interesting to say about it, something that may illuminate the text for me in a way that hadn't occurred to me, then he's actually accomplished something of value.

The Basic Fantasist said...

I knew I knew not
And I didn’t know I knew
Now my brain implodes

trollsmyth said...

Greg: D&D is always right is an infinite dodge.

I suppose that would be true, if it wasn't the first step in a three-step process.

D&D is Always Right is just about taking the game as it is, seeing what it actually does in play and how it does it. It's about observing the game in its natural habit, on a table surrounded by friends and getting cheeto dust in the binding, leaving behind your preconceptions and seeing the game for what it actually is.

But that's just the first step. The second is System Matters; knowing that rules make some sorts of fun easier and other sorts more difficult to achieve, and armed with your knowledge of what the system actually, really does in play, you can then judge the utility of the rules for you and your group.

(Note that I do deny any sort of universal judgement of quality in a set of rules. What works for me may not work for thee, simply because we have different tastes and goals. My Table of Death & Dismemberment works great in my own games. Jeff Rients, however, would probably prefer something that is simultaneously wackier and more brutal. James Raggi, on the other hand, wouldn't want to use the table at all because frequent and omnipresent death is a feature of the sorts of games he runs, and not a bug.)

The final stage of Do it Yourself allows you to take the analysis of the D&D is Always Right stage with the diagnosis from the System Matters stage and make the game more perfect for your uses. One of the hallmarks of Old School play is the ubiquity of houserules. Seriously, do you think there'd be all this discussion of things like how thieves don't work or adding rayguns to the game or damage by class instead of weapon type if we all thought some particular version of D&D was perfect in every way?

faustusnotes said...

trollsmyth, I think you're getting confused about the purpose of your own theoretical framework here, you seem to be dodging from the original analytical perspective to a comparative perspective, contrasting D&D with other systems.

basic fantastist, your comments are really juvenile. If Gary Gygax wanted his dragons to not be running from halfling fighters, he should perhaps have considered designing them to be dangerous - D&D dragons were notoriously piss weak. I do have a mathematical proof, by the way, but if it suits you better to make snide comments about how smart I think I am, then feel free not to read it.

trollsmyth said...

::looks back just to be sure::

Um, nope. I've been consistent all along the line on that point. Where did you get that idea?

Stuart said...

the first step in a three-step process.

There's something very Catholic about all of this. :D

Victor Raymond said...

@Greg Christopher: I'm not at all surprised that people disagree on the internet.

I was surprised that a seemingly-intelligent person such as yourself would be unable to grasp a rhetorical position different from their own thinking. But that inability is more common on the internet, and you've just provided more proof. Pity.

faustusnotes said...

well Trollsmyth, you seem to be comparing early D&D to PHB 3.0 and drawing conclusions about suitability, which is outside the critical framework you're proposing here.

I think your critical framework needs a different name though, because in fact D&D is often wrong by its own lights, and claiming that this reverse-engineering-to-DIY process that you speak of is going to work if even the name of the process prevents a recognition of some simple basic facts (viz. that large areas of D&D in fact fail to achieve what the authors set out to do), seems a bit steep.

Sometimes, contra odyssey's comment, critical methods do spit out quite objective truths. If author A claims that they wrote their book with the intention of portraying green-skinned people as good, but the only green-skinned people in it are evil murderers, the objective fact is that they failed to do this. There are several objective facts about D&D's failings, and some questions hanging over other bits, which are revealed pretty easily by analysing only D&D. Examples include dragons are piss-weak, demi-human level limits don't achieve their stated aim, and the skill system is arbitrary and naff. (naff is, obviously, a technical term of literary criticism).

Other examples which can be tested by reference to players' behaviour rather than reference to other games, but which can't be tested within the framework of the text, include the official justification for HPs doesn't work and a shitload of the tables in D&D are impractical.

Finally, there are also examples of how the critical framework as pursued by the modern OSR is wishful thinking. For example, if D&D had an underlying principle of charts as a rules mechanism, how come ability scores are presented separately to their adjustments? An ability score is essentially a value on a chart, and the adjustment the result. The game would be more consistent if the 4d6 you rolled at the beginning were never written down on the character sheet. This is an example of how D&D is definitely not "always" right.

D&D is a haphazard pastiche made on the run by people producing a first draft of a powerful idea. A better critical framework would be "D&D is ugly but beautiful."

Greg Christopher said...

@ Victor
Maybe the lesson is that if your rhetorical position seems illogical or exclusionary to others, maybe the result should be some introspection, not berating others for not understanding the brilliance of the idea.


@Faustsus
Naff... NAFF? It is rare that I encounter words that I have no idea what they mean. Kudos for finding one. ;) Thank Gygax for Google.

trollsmyth said...

faustusnotes: well Trollsmyth, you seem to be comparing early D&D to PHB 3.0 and drawing conclusions about suitability, which is outside the critical framework you're proposing here.

Uh, you really, really need to re-read what I've written here. I have no idea what you're talking about now. Maybe you could share some examples?

Again, D&D is Always Right is the first step in a series of analytical tools for figuring out what you've got your hands on with an old (or even new) game. As such, you could apply it to any game you want.

While comparison to other games is necessary in the second stage, explaining how System Matters can often best be done with comparisons between games. But I don't see anywhere where I've mentioned 3.x in this post.

And finally, again, nobody here is arguing that any game, even old school versions of D&D are perfect. If they were (hell, if any game was) there'd be no reason for the houserules, tweaks, and new ideas of the DIY step. I'm taking part in the OSR specifically because these older games are easier to tweak to my needs than most of the newer ones.

If you still don't understand, than I can only suggest you look elsewhere in the OSR for your answers, because you and I are clearly failing to communicate.

trollsmyth said...

Blargh.

That should read, "While comparison to other games is not necessary in the second stage..."

Ragnorakk said...

Wow. Late to this one... very good post TS!

@Faustus: you seem to be really fixated on reading D&D is always right as an absolute assessment of the game, and that is not the point. It's an experiment. You raise a lot of 'issues' with the game as proof that D&D is not always right - but no-one is saying that it really is!

Besides which, in my experience your 'proofs' don't ring true - but the point of this is that the important thing is your own take on the game, not whether it is somehow objectivly better/worse/perfect/flawed/etc...

faustusnotes said...

I think what I'm trying to say, Trollsmyth, is that your theory is very poorly named and the framework is not very enlightening. I've given lots of examples of how, analysed within only it's own worldview, D&D is wrong. So that seems to suggest that the name for your theoretical framework is a tad ... wrong. So why name it that way? Is it, as Greg says, code for "shut up?" I don't think so. I just think it's... not an effective name.

Secondly, if the result of your analysis is that yes, by it's own lights, D&D can be wrong and then you tweak it, then all your theoretical framework is is analysis. It's nothing special at all. It doesn't need a new name. You talk about D&D and try to analyse it within the framework of what the authors set out to achieve. I think that's a pretty standard form of literary criticism ("New Criticism," maybe? Or maybe they were the critics of it?)

Also, I note that this analytical framework does seem, within the environment of the OSR, to very rarely ever produce a finding that "the designers failed," so it's more like hagiography(?) than critical analysis. Which is why, maybe, Greg and I are suspicious of the name in the context of the results of the theoretical framework as we see them in the OSR.

We aren't failing to communicate, I think I understand what you're saying. I just think it doesn't deserve a special name and the name you've given it hints at the essentially uncritical nature of much of what goes on in the OSR.

Greg: "naff" is British English, like "wanker" and "pants" (as in, "that's pants!" meaning "that's really bad.") I picked up this stuff when I had the misfortune of living in London...

Victor Raymond said...

@faustusnotes - I'm with Trollsmyth here; no, you don't understand what he's saying.

G. Benedicto said...

I think Trollsmyth has explained the concept quite well. "System X Is Always Right" is a perfectly valid way to look at an RPG. The only conceit here is the playful idea that a system could always be correct, and to treat all apparent flaws as intentional. This may or may not have any factual relationship to how the game was developed. It's like saying "LET'S PRETEND D&D is always right, and see where that takes us."

The Basic Fantasist said...

TITLE IS NEW COAT OF PAINT OF R.A.W. CROWD's TROJAN HORSE< DON"T LET THE BASTIDS TO SLIP IN THRU YOUR GAMEWURLD"S BACKDOOR!! UNLESS U ENJOYS DAT :P

@FAWCETTSPOKES - I GIVE U OPINYUN OF GG LVL LIMTS FIT THE GAME...4 HD HALFLING FIGHTERS IS PWNED BY DRAGONSES...NOTS "PISS POOR WEAK" (??)
U KLAIM BUT NO GIV MATHS YET OR EVEN ECZAMPUL...YOU STATING UR TASTE SAME AZ R I!!! ALSO"S ANUDDER ONE: BILBO R NOT CONAN!

faustusnotes said...

you know, basic fantasist, miswriting peoples' handles on the internet is generally considered very rude. Do you think people should engage with you when you're being deliberately rude? I have already given my examples and proof. Perhaps you can't read? Or maybe you're just really really rude?

G. Benedicto said...

If TBF seems rude it's because he's articulating a common frustration with you here. If you really understand what Trollsmyth means, then explain it in your own words *without misrepresenting* the original idea. THEN feel free to dissect it as you will.

Oddysey said...

you know, basic fantasist, miswriting peoples' handles on the internet is generally considered very rude.

Sometimes, contra odyssey's comment, critical methods do spit out quite objective truths.

::cough::

S'cool. Everyone does it.

G. Benedicto said...

I think it's usually unconscious in your case, Oddysey/Odyssey.

Wickedmurph said...

I get trollsmyth's basic idea here - I like approaching anything, be it a game, a work of fiction, a video game, based in it's own merits, and trying to understand the rationale behind each rule and design decision. It's an interesting and useful exercise.

But if the insights that you gain from it aren't then used to compare/contrast with other things in the same genre, it's just an exercise in navel-gazing that takes you nowhere.

What I haven't seen from trollsmyth, or anyone else on this thread, is an explanation of WHY a concept like "D&D is always right" should be used without context? What is the advantage of examining the design decisions of anything in a vacuum?

faustusnotes seems to think that it's to shield the OSR from criticism. I think that's probably not the case - but I haven't seen anything better proposed.

For myself, I don't consider ANY rules to be sacred cows. I've house-rules everything from Risk to 4e, and helped design games as well - I don't take any game RAW.

Also, at this stage of my life, I have played D&D in various incarnations for more than 20 years. I have played dozens of other RPG's, hundred of video games and many board games. I have been exposed to more rule sets and spent more time gaming than any of the creators of the early editions of D&D had when they put the rules together - why should I not evaluate their design decisions?

I'm also sorry to continue this vast and sprawling argument. I just think that trying to sell something like "D&D is always right" as "a theoretical framework for the OSR" is not well thought-out.

Rules don't exist in a vacuum, and although you should clearly understand a rule and the rationale for a rule before you change it, you should also use your other experiences to evaluate anything - otherwise you're just burying your head in the sand.

G. Benedicto said...

Q: "What is the advantage of examining the design decisions of anything in a vacuum?"

A: "...approaching anything, be it a game, a work of fiction, a video game, based in it's own merits, and trying to understand the rationale behind each rule and design decision. It's an interesting and useful exercise."

Dave said...

I agree with you, Trollsmyth, about playing the game that does what you want. No argument about that.

Sad, though, that when I tried to respond to the part of your post that insisted the OSR was centrally about playing only the kinds of game OD&D allowed, I was basically told to get the hell out and go find a RuneQuest online community.

So I guess I will. Have fun watching your segment of the hobby dry up and die, with this attitude.

G. Benedicto said...

@Dave: Don't shut the door so quickly! I love RuneQuest and have used it in various ways throughout my RPG experience. It's a great game. Thanks for making your blog public.

trollsmyth said...

Wickedmurph:

What I haven't seen from trollsmyth, or anyone else on this thread, is an explanation of WHY a concept like "D&D is always right" should be used without context? What is the advantage of examining the design decisions of anything in a vacuum?

Ah, ok, excellent question. And if I may, I'm going to expand on G. Benedicto's answer.

Looking at D&D specifically, most of us have played it, and most of us have gone through a phase where we despised it. We didn't like hit points, we didn’t like levels, we didn’t like Vancian magic and so on. Heck, if you’d asked me a few years ago if I’d ever play a game like Moldvay/Cook that had race-as-class, I’d have replied with an emphatic no.

The point of Game X is Always Right is to put aside the knee-jerk assumptions, the preconceptions, and see what it is you’ve actually got your hands on. Race-as-class does have a few positive effects on the game (easier for new players build a character, makes demi-humans play a bit less like humans in Spock ears), but if you approach the game with the assumption that race-as-class is always wrong, you’ll never see that.

Armed with the knowledge of what’s actually happening in the mechanics, you can then decide which parts do accomplish goals that are worthwhile to you, and which are actually hindrances. You can then excise the parts that don’t work for you without breaking other things (as I’ve removed thieves from the games I’m currently running).

You can also play with the bits you do like, and make them point more to the things you do enjoy. Mr. Maliszewski described this as a process of not just saying “yes” to the tropes and mechanics of older versions of D&D, but “yes and…” So I can take the abstract nature of hit points and add to them a Table of Death & Dismemberment that acts as a sort of critical hits list. I can embrace the fire-and-forget nature of Vancian magic and enhance it with side effects that result from the spells trying to escape a sorcerer’s mind. I can state, “no, actually, there isn’t such a thing as an elven cleric” and then extrapolate out what that means for the setting.

You can also graft on mechanics from other games, more confident that you’re aware of the unintended consequences than you might be otherwise. That’s why DIY is a separate stage of things; you do that after you’ve got a fairly good handle on the game your modding.

The Basic Fantasist said...

@ FASCISTSMOKES > NO I REIDS JUST FINE..YOU WROTE "There are several objective facts about D&D's failings, and some questions hanging over other bits, which are revealed pretty easily by analysing only D&D. Examples include dragons are piss-weak, demi-human level limits don't achieve their stated aim, and the skill system is arbitrary and naff. (naff is, obviously, a technical term of literary criticism). "

DOES YOUR POSTING YOUR OPINIONS MAKE THEM "OBJECTIVE" PROOF TO YOU? PLEASE WHERE BE THIS "OBJECTIVE" FACT...IF IT IS TRULY OBJECTIVE IT CAN MATHEMAGICIZED INTO NUMBERS. THE BURDEN OF PROOF IS ON THE ACCUSER SIR!!!YOU MAKE TEHSE CLAIMS BUT GIVES NO ZAMPLES OR PROOFS TO CONVINCE IN A RATIONAL MANNER. THAT IS CALLED OPINIONS SIR (AND NOT EVEN ENLIGHTENED ONES AT THAT)

ALSOS, IF YOU EVER DECIDE TO DEIGN US WITH SOME, WE CAN ASSURE YOU WE CAN PROVIDE EQUALLY VALID CONTRA-EXAMPLES. DAT IS ALSO WHY IS CALLED OPINION.

ALSOS, i LOOK FORWARD TO YOUR UPCOMING BOOK "HOW I ARE D&D AND YOU CAN BE TOO!" WHERE YOU CAN "PROVE" TO US THAT YOUR GROWN-UP VERSION OF "LET'S PLAY PRETEND" TOTALLY INVALIDATES ALL OTHERS!


PS- DICK

Wickedmurph said...

Basic, up your meds and take off the caps lock key. The grown-ups are trying to talk.

G. Quoting somebody is not clever if you don't read the entire post. An "interesting and useful exercise" does not a theoretical framework make, and if you don't take the results of your exercise and apply them to a broader framework, you're just Gygax-wanking to no good effect.

trollsmyth - I take your point, and appreciate you taking the time to address my question. I disagree, ultimately - I never really took the time to grasp the encumbrance rules in 2e before booting them out the door, for example.

Sometimes, I don't really need to grasp the underpinnings of a rule before I kick it to the curb. If it seems like too much of a hassle or doesn't appear to me, I don't try to grok it before I croak it, but that's just me.

But I do grasp the idea here. What I don't grasp is why the ardent defenders of "D&D is always right" seem unwilling to apply it to a larger context. It's always right unless it has ascending AC, or uses powers, right?

trollsmyth said...

Wickedmurph: What I don't grasp is why the ardent defenders of "D&D is always right" seem unwilling to apply it to a larger context. It's always right unless it has ascending AC, or uses powers, right?

With all due respect, Wickedmurph, where the hell did you get a stupid idea like that? If you wish to dislike the OSR, you're free to do so, but at least do us the courtesy of disliking us for sins we actually commit.

G. Benedicto said...

"An 'interesting and useful exercise' does not a theoretical framework make"

Eh, to each his own.

Wickedmurph said...

you did read the comments on that post right? Seems at least an even split on the whole descending/ascending AC business. I bet everyone agrees on powers, though..

I do dislike the OSR - no question there. The only people associated with it that I can stand are Raggi (how can you dislike a person that mad?) and Chgowiz. Wonder how long it will take the OSR to piss off Raggi so much he folds his tent and leaves?

trollsmyth said...

Wickedmurph: you did read the comments on that post right? Seems at least an even split on the whole descending/ascending AC business. I bet everyone agrees on powers, though.

Sure I did. Some folks in the OSR prefer ascending AC, and others prefer descending. Some think race-as-class is great and others see it as unbearable. Some think old-school extends all the way through the 2e era and others say it stops with the little brown books. Some are even pretty emotional about their preferences and how they express them.

It's all the OSR. I know, bonkers, but that's the way it is. It's why we have a handful of different retro-clones, with more still in the works.

As for powers, that entirely depends on what you mean by the term. Are the ranger's tracking abilities or the paladin's ability to summon a holy steed from 1e "powers?" I'd say so; they're certainly the precursors to 3e's feats and 4e's powers.

Now, if you want to really see the OSR move in lock-step, start talking about 4e's treasure parcel system. Though I suspect you might find a few who see benefits to the idea and only want to tweak it. Hell, EXP for gold could actually be seen as something similar, only turned on its head.

All that aside, though, I hope there's not much on my blog that appeals to you. Don't feel you need to linger, it's a huge internet out there and I'd hate to keep you from it.

faustusnotes said...

basic wanker, this reading which you claim to be able to do obviously doesn't extend to comprehending my comments or bothering to pay attention to what I'm saying. I told you the objective facts I claimed are defended on my own blog, and you're welcome to go there and try your sterling writing style there.

wickedmurph is right, what you have here isn't a theoretical framework. The conclusion is inherent in the process, so it's not telling you anything new. It's just a fancy name for what you're doing, and the name itself contains a statement about the purpose of what you're doing.