March 9, 2009

Old School vs. New School: Have we lost our way?

This post is in reference to this other (excellent) excellent post over at Jeff's Game Blog. So, please jump over their and read up on what I'm reacting to. My comment just got too long, and decided to house it here since it was somewhat off topic anyway... and for the record I am not singling out any one blog or blogger -- it just seems that something troll'ish has emerged from the depths of Forumland and is invading our blogs...


Regardless of what game system I've played, its the GM/DM that makes the biggest impact on whether I had fun playing. Sure, as a player I can decide my own characters actions, but without the support of a DM who works with you, things get boring / frustrating fast. And when I'm the DM, which is often in my circles, the game system we are playing doesn't matter -- call me static, tired, old, or stuck in my ways, but there is a certain way I like to run a game regardless if it is D&D, Shadowrun, or Teddy A. D'Ventures -- loose scripting with tons of room for player direction and development. It hasn't changed in any of the versions of D&D I've used.

The edition or the game we choose does not determine whether or not we can play how we want to play.

I'm increasing convinced that many people are choosing "sides" and picking a banner to follow because it is just easier that way.

"I'm Old School! Check out my badass tattoos!"

"I'm Pathfinder! Check out my arty style!"

"I'm 4E, Look at my Rinestones! Aren't they purty?"

It's really sort of funny.

I would argue that people might not judge a book by its cover. the book being the DM behind the screen. What DM's do off the clock, planning for the campaign/ adventure/ encounter is their business. What they do behind the screen during play is their business. Fudge a roll? Sure! Roll dice and just ignore the results all the time because they just want to? Sure! Use / Don't Use Random Encounter Tables? Sure! ... what do I care anyway?

As a player all I should be worried about is one thing:

Are we, as a group, having fun?

Sry if this comes off as sort of a rant -- its just beginning to be funny to me that so much time and wind (ink?) is spent arguing about the good ol'days and how people should / should not play the game. Are they having fun? Great!

So many excellent blogs are devoted to fighting the good fight against the armies of Paizo, WotC -- I would much rather be reading game content from those authors. Have we lost our way?


  1. I've been fairly proud of the fact that I've kept my own blog free of this nonsense. I started blogging right after starting playing 4e, I write about 4e, and I figure my readers either want to play 4e or are willing to adapt my 4e content to their other games. Whatever. Those looking for 3e or old school content can read the other bajillion blogs.

    I also read Jeff's blog religiously just because he's an amusing writer. When he slams on 4e I either grin at the accuracy of the slam and go back to 4e or smirk at the inaccuracy, think "whatever, Jeff" and go back to 4e. Not a big deal.

  2. I don't think you've been to forums, my son.

    I'm a retired flame warrior with about 10 years under my belt, from the dark times of AOL and all. The stuff going on in the blogs is kiddie stuff compared to the horror of an honest-to-god forum that allows its users freedom of speech.

    Don't even joke about that bro. This right here is a polite conversation between gentlemen compared to forums.

  3. I think the problem is definitely that of some people automatically associating a play style with a rules system. That's the root of it as far as I can see and it leads to people rallying round the flag to champion their way as superior towards another.

    While a rule system may have had a certain play style or styles in mind while being designed or marketed that doesn't mean it needs to be that way. Personal style dictates how the rules are used and I think most rpgs says that it's your game to play how you want it, and even if it doesn't say that anywhere in the rules well, that doesn't mean you have to play it that way.

    Hell, even the most hardcore of purists and the rawest of noobs inevitably include house rules in their game, so why not mix old school pulp with new school epicness? Mix it up, burn them flags, build on ideas, it's all fun and games.

  4. Hey all! Welcome back... I've been having serious feed issues of late, so I'm amazed anyone even saw this post!

    Yeah... I agree with all the comments here. It's about playstyle, first and foremost. And while I too enjoy reading the OD&D blogs like Jeffs, Bat in the Attic, LotFP, and Grognardia -- I think the forest is sometimes missed for the trees. For some reason, the comments section of Jeff's post made me blow a valve for some reason.

  5. Excellent post. I'm old and started with OD&D, but I couldn't care less about all this old school/new school bullshit. To me style and fun trump system and I could care less about editions of D&D etc...

    There is no old school Renaissance or new school takeover. There are just a bunch of people who enjoy role playing games and think their interpretation of what is "right" in terms of how to play a game is the best way... Kind of reminds me of another group that is similarly pigheaded about their interpretations of fictional books, but I digress.

  6. I read Jeff's blog a lot, as well, and I had the same reaction to the nonsense in the comments and Jeff's mini-rant in general. An unbridgeable gap, really? We're all playing the same game, here. I've played and loved every single edition of D&D. If a DM I know runs a great game and invites me to play, I don't ask "I'm sorry, what edition would that be". I say "yes". Old schoolers throwing around nonsense like "unrecogizable" and "unbridgeable gap" get's my goat, too. It's insulting, disrespectful bullshit. We're all D&D players.

  7. I'm with you when you say it's all about fun. I've had fun with every edition of D&D I've ever played. I happen to like the pacing of 4e and the edition fixed some complaints I had with 3.5.

    @Jack Crow you make a good point, some people enjoy playing the older editions of the game. I say more power to them. Whatever works, at its core we all share the same passion for gaming. The edition we play really shouldn't matter.

  8. @Wyatt: I hear you on that, my man. At their worst, this is still better than the Forum (Greater) species of Troll.

  9. 1. The quality of gaming depends on all participants (good players can fix a game with a fairly poor GM), rules and setting. That one is more important than others does not mean the others are irrelevant. The synergy between the different parts is what matters the most, not single elements.

    2. Games always support particular styles of play, are neutral towards others and actively are in the way of some. Working against the rules at best means making a house rule or two, at worst a constant, tiresome struggle.

    3. The difference between two consecutive editions of D&D are fairly small, but 4e and OD&D, say, are entirely different games that share a few stylistic elements and assumptions.

    4. Fudging kills my fun as a player or a GM. Hence, it is absolutely relevant as far as enjoying a game goes, at least for me. (I may be able to tolerate it as a player if the GM tells that he will be doing the fudging, though it'll still diminish my enjoyment.)

    5. The edition wars look even more amusing from outside the D&D sphere. The differences between any edition of D&D are pretty small when comparing either to, say, Nobilis or Universalis or Rune, to take some fairly extreme examples.

  10. @Wyatt. This is a civilised discussion involving tea and scones compared to the wild & wooly forum scene. Brr.

    Actually the current situation in the blogs is a bit like Rivendell in the Third Age just after teatime. Everyone's clamouring to bear the Ring of Authenticity - old schoolers from Gondor, 4E advocates from Lorien and 3.814/Pathfinder types from the Dwarves.

    When in fact it's the little guys who get the job (and get it done no less)! So let's stow this foolishness and get down to the srs business of having fun.

  11. I have to agree with you Jonathan. I'm a relatively new gamer, but I play a lot and I read even more. I love playing both 4e and the retro-clones, and I mix their playing styles all the time.

    Play styles shouldn't be confused with games. My play style changes depending on the desires and skill of my players. If the players have a lot of experience, they'll try things that make you invent new material off the top of your head. If the players don't, you'll still end up having to deal with something that's unforeseen.

    People need to get their heads out of the sand, both in the new-school and the old-school camps. Try other games! Bring your play style with you! (It'd be hard not to, come to think of it.) I guarantee you'll have fun, even if you're playing something as simple as the Land of Og.

  12. While I think it would be nice to have everyone agreed with other's preferences, that would be boring. People like to identify with things/labels, it helps to give a sense of belonging. "DC is better than Marvel.... 4e is better than 3.5" or vice versa, I think it is good to have that sense of belonging. Even gamers that stay kind of neutral about it are in a group. I think that having a passion for a specific system/game is good for the industry, as long as you recognize other gamer's right to disagree. Intelligent, friendly debates about the merits of your system(s) of preference are a good thing.

  13. Remember our hard core american values

    Old = inferior
    Old = classic

    new and improved?
    Old and inferior?

    No two people are EVER going to agree on them.
    Arguing a subjective should become the new FAIL meme :)

    In a lot of "discussions" it still hasn't gotten much farther than My (insert school here) geek cred is still as valuable as my (insert school here) geek cred.

    IMO, it's more a function of how old we are all getting, to tell the truth...That brings up a curious question, what IS the average blogger/gamer age here on RPGBloggers? I would bet money it is higher than we all would like :)

  14. I'm an 8 year old fish boy from atlantis

  15. I'm over 501 years old and was locked in a basement by my sister for 496 years due to being a murderous nutcase with the power to disintegrate any object I come into contact with if I want to. I've kinda mellowed out about the whole deal though. *twitch*

  16. OMG... we have _soo_ much in common!

  17. Darn you kids, get off of my lawn!

  18. I honestly hadn't played D&D in nearly 25 years. My gaming days with D&D fell victim to the "Devil Game" scare of the early 80s.

    I'm currently playing 2e on Sunday afternoons. I haven't played 4e yet. So I can't comment which is "better".

    I see a lot of sniping amongst a group of people who should be standing up and proudly telling the world. "I'm an RPGer, deal with it!"

  19. We're all playing the same game, here.

    What started this whole fiasco was the realization that I no longer feel that way. What's bothering me is not that I'm right and the 4e guys are wrong and nobody understands it. Just cause I run a ruleset written in 1980 doesn't make me a better gamer than anyone. Anybody who wants to do whatever they want at their own table has my blessing, not that they need it.

    The thing that's crawled into my skull is a sort of quiet horror that I could bump into someone at the gamestore who says "I play D&D" and I would have no idea what that means. That's always been the case to some extent, as everybody deviated from the established baselines of the published rules. But by putting out such a vastly new edition that overthrows so many of the ancient landmarks, the very concept of a baseline we can meet upon as neutral ground has been completely undermined.

  20. But that's just it. It's not a different game. Nothing major has changed. The mechanics are a bit different and a bit not, but that's true from game to game. If I ran up to you in a game store and said "my 1st lvl warden has a +9 to hit" you'd wonder what the hell I was talking about. But those are just the numbers that facilitate play. The same kind of play we've always undertaken. If I instead came up to you and described my character, a champion of nature, and how in our last game we found ourselves falling victim to a hidden pit trap and surrounded by deadly oozes you'd know exactly what I was talking about. You might respond with "what are oozes like in 4e" and I might ask, "refresh my memory, how'd they work in 1e?" But we'd be on the same page.

    In my opinion, and I think its a rather informed one considering I've clocked many hours playing every edition of the game, focusing on the minutia of the mechanics is what is leaving you lost. It's the same game, and a game you would instantly recognize and understand at the table, even if you thought "them new fangled mechanics you kids like today shore is strange". :)

    "What it means" to play D&D is not contained in how you handle healing, or if there magic shops in your game world, or if AC counts up or down, those are just tools to facilitate that same type of gameplay that it's been about since the beginning. You sit in a 4e game you will still find gamers sitting around a table, rolling dice, playing characters, killing things/taking stuff, toppling evil barons, going after dragon hoards, talking a bunch of shit, and experiencing the same kind of game world that you understand. You'd just need someone to show you the numbers, but even there, it's not difficult. You still roll a d20, add modifiers, you still swing swords, cast spells, heal...

  21. Thasmodius; there are relevant differences in game play between different editions of D&D. Otherwise, why would people argue for or against the changes in rules?

    As an example: The older editions were much better at gameplay where risk management is central. Easy PC mortality, instant death, wandering monsters, Vancian magic, bizarre (magical) locations, gold as experience, encumbrance, all of that makes risk management easy to make a central feature of the game.

    Another example: 4e makes (super)heroic fights and engaging fights much easier; every character is fairly competent at fighting, there's no trade-off between preparing utility spells and combat spells, characters get hit points and fancy powers back between encounters (healing surges play the same role hit points did before, roughly), there's no save-or-die effects, characters tend to survive. It is much easier to run games where heroic battles are central.

    This all is not to say that one can't run a 4e game where risk management is the focus or use the old editions in a way where heroic battles are the focus. It is just that doing so would be fighting the system, or at the very least using it in a suboptimal way. The rules don't determine gameplay, but they certainly facilitate some ways of playing more than others.

  22. great discussion here everyone -- thanks for stopping in.

    @thanuir - it seems that you area proposing that risk management is a big ticket difference between OD&D up through 4E. And I would agree -- PCs are harder to kill the later the edition you are playing. While I would say that 4E combat is tons of action packed fun - it is a bit of a grind. The low-level show stopper (read: broken) spell / powers have been removed from the game (Entangle, Hold Person, True Strike, etc). It is possible that, by removing these elements, the game has become less deadly to the players. I would argue however that the game designers - through years of RPG evolution and trial and error - have realized that from a game _design_ point of view balance is a good thing. Frankly, as a DM -- I'm glad that my player's druids can't throw Entangle spells down all over the place, or clerics cant just freeze multiple targets with a flick of the wrist.

    that being said, I would say that the mechanics of the game are indeed different. The game, however, is fundamentally the same: what I mean is that it all comes down to (regardless of edition) who is at the table and what the house rules are.

    @Jeff - if you and I ran into each other at a game store and I said "I play D&D", it wouldn't matter what edition I was talking about. The point is what it means: "I like to sit at a table with friendly people, roll dice, develop fantasy characters who kill dragons, etc. I like to develop these characters back story, imagine their difficulties, flesh out their goals and purpose in their lives. I am a gamer, are you?" And you would no doubt say you liked to do the same thing - we would be on the same page at that point. If then you asked if I played 4E and I said yes, would you turn your back and walk away in disgust?

    The intra-tribal debates in the D&D community are akin to the extra-tribal debates between game systems. Is OD&D that much different from, say... Castles & Crusaders? Is 4E that different from Mutants & Masterminds? What about d20 Modern vs. Chtuhlu 2000? Sure sure, the game mechanics are all different, and debating the minutia is great and all that, but the games are all the same game. Social interaction mediated by roleplaying.

    once again.. thanks for coming.

  23. Jonathan;

    Maybe our disagreement lies in what we consider to qualify as "different".

    From my perspective, since (1) the rules are clearly different in meaningful ways, that is, in ways that affect gameplay significantly, and (2) there are people who enjoy playing the older editions and dislike playing 4e and the other way around, it is reasonable to assume that the difference in preferences is at least to significant part due to (1).

    That all said, both of the activities are similar in many fundamental aspects; they are clearly identifiable as roleplaying, there are common D&D-isms and D&D fantasy themes and, further, the rules of the games share very similar structure.

    All in all, I'd say that (a) there are minor differences in rules and what gameplay looks like, but (b) there subtle, but still important, differences in what people fundamentally play for and find enjoyable.

    One of the subtle differences is that risk management/tactical combat thing. Old and new editions provide at least a measure of support for both activities, but to very different extent. And this matters.

    (Sorry for being so long-winded and unclear; I am working through this issue while writing.)

  24. @thanuir : it's all good. You see, for me.. I'm an old school gamer who could easily be considered a grognard if age and depth of experience were the only factors in that label. I enjoy OD&D just as much as any other version of any RPG. You comments raised some very good questions, though -- which I decided to post separately to keep from derailing these.

    And, I can see your point about #1 above.

  25. we would be on the same page at that point. If then you asked if I played 4E and I said yes, would you turn your back and walk away in disgust?

    Not at all. I'm just not sure how much we'd actually have in common to talk about. Like if we were two football fans and you were talking about goalies and red cards while I was talking about the statue of liberty play.

  26. @ Jeff : LOLz... I like that analogy a bit more than the Chess vs. Checkers one.

  27. You kids still on my lawn!?


    Also, crumpets are gay. That is all.


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