[Pre-OS] Why D&D kicked ass as a wargame, and why those wierd early rules exist.

edited November 2013 in Story Games
So, I'm enjoying these OSR discussions. People are really digging into the hows and whys of early forms of D&D play.

Awesome, But there do seem to be some mysteries in a modern context about why some of the things exist the way they do, and what they imply.

I think it helps to understand the wargaming culture that existed as those rules/mechanics/approaches were being developed.

I'm still piecing it together myself. Some of it by discussions with older gamers, some by reading, some by looking at current wargaming approaches that are closer to those late '60s/early '70s situations.

Oddly, I'm not really talking about the nitty-gritty mechanics that are wargame-like and obvious. I'm not talking about movement rates and ranges in inches, or morale checks, or even hit points ( okay maybe a little on that one later). I'm talking about how those things fit into the context of play.

The most common, broad variety of miniatures wargame rules you'll run into today at the FLGS:
Typified by the very popular games Workshop Games, the miniatures rules are two player, referee-less, competitive, buy your own army, battle games.

Let's talk about those characteristics.
Two Player
The rules are set up to be played by two people, head to head. Any variants tend to be team on team ( still two sides), and multi-player, multi-sided fights are generally a bit fragile. But that's fine! Easier by far to find one person to play with at a time anyway.

Referee-less
The rules are written to have no need of a third, neutral party, provided both players know the rules thoroughly. Refs are still common, but unnecessary. Again, ease of play, since you don't need a third person present. The downside is that you can't try weird stuff and shoot the decision over to a ref to make a spot ruling.

Buy Your Own Army
Yup, it takes money and time to do so. OTOH, you only have to care about your stuff. And it is an army, not a single guy like in an RPG. And you play with it over and over, regardless of what happened in the last match up.

Competitive
It's clearly a game. Not much in the way of working together at all, unless in team on team play.

Battle Game:
The rules are designed for a single encounter. There's is little from one match to the next that carries over. Essentially, you restart from your army's initial status each following game. Campaign rules are limited and a bit fragile, and may well be built around encounters ( battles) between various opponents more like matches between teams in a sports season than an ongoing war narrative.

Are there variations? Sure, but that's the core of the experience.

It isn't the only way people have ever played minis wargames. People were doing lots of experiments with other styles of play in the '60s and '70s, and D&D was one off shoot from them.

That thing I describe above? Yeah, that too is another off-shoot, and in some ways has as much to do with successfully selling product as it has to do with wargaming experimentation.

I'll go into what is going on in '60s/'70s wargaming, and why the D&D family tree off-shoot ends up working in the next post.

Comments

  • So, a preliminary to Why D&D kicks ass as a war game:

    So there we are in the late 60s/early 70s. Minis wargaming is popular, and we do see stuff similar to modern era wargames of the type I discussed as typified by modern day GW minis games. There are some differences of course, so let's talk about those.

    War gaming is more popular and more clubby.
    Lots more historical stuff going on, experiments with different rules, and companies haven't quite gotten to the point of solidly pairing both their house produced rules with very distinctive miniatures lines.

    With an emphasis on historical periods, it's kinda hard to claim ownership of a given design anyway. Company A and Company B have equal right to make a Greek hoplite miniature after all. Similarly, multiple companies can make rules for the same period. No one company owns the American Civil War.

    Players will play one on one. Players will buy their own armies. OTOH, we see more multi-player rules, and it's just as likely that groups will be playing games as one on one. Sometimes, like GMs, people put on display games for their favorite obscure period and buy and build everything for the game. Maybe they make their own rules, in which case having a referee is important because, honestly, lots of them are half-baked. That's okay, they aren't charging for them for the most part anyway.

    All about campaigns:
    At the very most basic level, a campaign is nothing but a series of battles ( encounters in RPG lingo) that have an impact on later battles. Effectively, those early, classic D&D dungeon crawl modules are campaign modules, although we wouldn't tend to think of them that way today.

    Minis wargamers love campaigns. Or at least the idea of them. Heck, some wars can only be played satisfactorily as a campaign. Like the American War of Independence. Played as a battle game, that war sucks if you're playing the American rebels. Those darn Brits get all of the good stuff, and generally curb stomp the crap out of you if you play the rebels in a battle game. If you do, as the rebel player, get good stuff, it's because it's post-Saratoga and you've got French troops. FRENCH TROOOOPS!!!! (*Shakes fist at heavens*).

    If you want to play those rebellious Yanks with a chance of winning, you want campaign rules, especially ones that let you get new troops and troop upgrades ( leveling up through experience).

    [I mention the AWI because bi-centennial celebrations of it's start in 1776 are just around the corner when D&D is being created. Historical minis gamers always rev up for anniversaries of famous conflicts. Right now, WW1, War of 1812, and ACW have been getting lots of attention in minis wargamer circles, for example].

    Diplomacy, Alt.History, Imagi-Nations, and everybody against everybody campaigns

    Diplomacy will ruin friendships. Seriously, I hate that game.

    It's wildly popular when it comes out. Wargamers ( minis or otherwise), are aware of it. They're aware of the concept of a campaign game where there are not obvious. required alignments of factions.

    Okay, now that part is pretty cool. With historical games, you really do have built-in factions, which is a bit limiting. A bunch of people playing where you can make you own alliances and they can change over time? That's some good stuff right there people!

    And that kind of goes along with Alt.History and Imagi-Nations. Those things are the historical minis gamers version of fantasy. Alt. History are the weird what-ifs that are kinda-sorta about playing out wars, or clones of wars, where you don't have a finished history to bog you down. Right now, 1938:A Very British Civil War is gaining popularity in minis gamer alt.history circles. Essentially, it's a way to kinda-sorta fight with the tactics and technology of the Spanish Civil War without the final results. And more bad accents. Imagi-Nations are a similar idea, but with more of a 1600s/1700s focus. Create your own imaginary nation, base it's capabilities on some nation from the time period or your own blend, buy and paint whatever miniatures you want, and have at it.

    People are experimenting with similar concepts in the '60s/'70s.

    But, there's a downside to all of these campaign wants, and that's that they're all kind of a pain in the ass to actually organize.

    Beyond that, we haven't even talked about how that plays out in Refereeing and single guy play and a big player pool context.

    Sigh. This getting lengthy, but let's plunge on anyway.
  • So, campaign wargaming is awesome, but a pain in the ass to organize. And kinda expensive if you're playing with miniatures.

    First, people are hard to organize. Those old wargaming clubs with regularly scheduled meetings make it a bit easier, but even Diplomacy games falter if players stop participating regularly. And if a lot of this is related to positions of armies on maps, that too is tricky.

    And of course, it costs money to buy those minis. Even if you have a collection of generic Team A and Team B minis to use for the battles ( and maybe Team C and D, just in case), you're talking about time, money, and effort. It's a whole lot of work on the person running it.

    Here's the thing: D&D actually combines a whole bunch of those desired things into one package and makes it easier to run a campaign. As what we think of as a modern RPG with developing storyline and characterization and stuff? Hell, no, just as a straight up wargame!

    [And let's keep something in mind: Before Gygax saw Arneson demo a dungeon crawl at a convention, Arneson's games were more than dungeon-crawl focused. That dungeon-crawl thing was a variant scenario, almost a side-quest, but one that people enjoyed. Also, it travelled easier.]

    The good stuff it brought together

    1) Multi-player
    2) Based roughly on a historical period's tactics and technology
    3) Campaign with changes due to player efforts
    4) improvements in troop type by experience
    5) Shifting alliances (up to the players themselves)
    6) Can support a vast number of casual players, as long as they aren't all trying to play at the exact same time in one group at one table.

    There are some other things it brought into play too...

    1) It doesn't matter on the GM end if everyone does not play consistently every session
    2) Because it is based on a player playing a single character ( or a small personal retinue plus a main character), it's easy to re-integrate a player that gets knocked out of play. Even if you're playing hard-core and making them start again at level 1 with a new character.
    3) Random, easy chargen. Actually, something like random chargen was already being experimented with in minis wargames. It tended to take the form of a range of rolls for what resources you had in a battle, based on some historical formation. This was considered a good thing, as it made play more challenging.

    And then there's the neutral ref, who brings...

    1) Fog of War
    Believe it or not, wargamers have an urge to some kind of fog of war rules, and that's just not easy to get in a two player rule set. There's a reason for this love: most any historical wargamer can name off about a zillion battles where one side won or lost based on their interpretation of limited information, and the actions they took because of it. That tension, and a weird sort of urge to one type of simulationism, is strong in wargamers. Who doesn't want to pull off some lopsided victory because of that stuff? And, going along with that...

    2) There's someone to make spot rulings when you want to try crazy stuff, and trying crazy stuff makes even more sense when you ( the player) are operating on a 1mini=1man ratio.

    That one might not make as much sense if you aren't a minis gamer. Here's the deal: in many minis wargames ( and wargames generally) one marker represents more than one guy. How many depends on the game and period and genre and all kinds of crap, really. As a result, all kinds of activities by that piece get smushed together and abstracted, and just plain wrapped up in what your result roll is for a given combat.

    I mean, really, even with a neutral ref in one of these types of games, the answer to "Can my guys try [cocked up scheme X]" is generally "Yeah...no. I mean, if you roll especially well then I guess we can assume your guys did that and it worked and that explains the result." And part of that is simply because you are working on a multiple men to marker ratio.

    When it gets down to a 1:1 ratio, however, it's just psychologically easier for both players and refs to re-consider letting your try tricky stuff. When you drill down to the point that not only is the ratio 1:1, but you ( the player) only have that one piece, that's almost entirely a natural direction to take.

    3) A neutral ref doesn't have to give a crap about your one character. Or which side wins. Or even about some bigger war going on, all Lord of the Rings style ( after all, that big pool of players should be taking care of that themselves in their own interactions).

    This also means that a ref can kind of be a dick with deadly dungeons, provided they're equally a dick to everyone.

    I guess I'll blab more.

    Next up: Alignment, XPs for gold, and level caps
  • Alignment, XPs for Gold, and Level caps

    Alignment:
    It's team t-shirts in a fantasy context, with a tiny bit of morality/behavior thrown on top of it. The team t-shirt part is more important.

    Things it does:
    1) Which monster is on which team? Yeah, a good bit of it starts with Chainmail and the army lists. With all kinds of characters and players running around in some big godawful campaign environment with characters being created and getting dead, it does help a bit with stuff like reactions and social mongering. At bare minimum, it tells you who you can recruit and who it's okay to kill while in the dungeon.

    2) Well okay, maybe it is a bit about behavior and morality.
    Look, monsters kick ass. Their alignment is essentially Baddy. Goodies can't recruit them ( easily and confidently anyway). OTOH, two Goodies can generally rely on the fact that since they are Goodies, the other fellow won't shank you for your boots. Goodies: less powerful individually, less likely to recruit powerful allies, much better team players. Baddies, the other way around. Neutrals- err, do you really trust those guys?(Which can be amazingly fun to play. And challenging in it's own way. And very independent minded).

    XPs for gold

    Okay, broadly speaking, the greater campaign, the thing that involves god only knows how many players and a rotating cast of soon-to-be dead characters, needs some kind of scoring. In fact, this thing is competitive, even when it doesn't directly involve PvP. It's competitive like going to the arcade and getting your initials on all the High Score spots on everyone's favorite game.

    Gold is good. It plays towards the end-game (warlordism and associated monetary costs), and it can point players (with their murderizing ways) at something other than each another. Heck, it might even encourage them to...gasp...work together.

    And it gives the GM something to do: make up a whole gob of murderous environments chock full of the stuff and watch as the players either succeed at getting rich or die trying.

    The down side to other sources of XPs in this specific context is that it easily becomes incredibly biased and creates added work for the GM.

    Level caps and differing advancement totals:

    In a big player pool environment with irregular participation, they do provide a kind of balance. Did you roll something cool this time? you got the paladin? Okay, that impacts how you play. or the guy with 18 in some stat. Or maybe you had to make a choice about whether to make that character you rolled an awesome elf ( and get good extra abilities relating to being an elf, but with the downsides of limited advancement and slower advancement) or a human ( either a smart fighter or a burly wizard) and potentially have higher advancement, but a lower chance of survival at the early levels. Decisions, decisions. OTOH, wargamers are used to that stuff, too. Which is better, a tank squadron or a platoon of infantry? ( The answer is: Yes)
  • I started gaming in 1976 and new the guys in my local area who were the first wave of D+D players. They were all wargamers. When thinking about them it is important to not think of miniatures so much as boardgames.

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    Gettysburg - Horrible game played using squares! But it was widely played and showed people how to play a battle wargame.

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    Panzer Leader and all the hex boardgames from SPI. People played the hell out of these things and rules from boardgames had a huge impact on miniatures rules - much more than the other way around.

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    We played the miniatures game version of this game - which laid the ground work for Star Fleet Battles and later Battle Tech.

    But these guys also knew about the earlier miniatures writers and their books.

    image

    image

    We did all these games and more. When I joined the Falls of the Ohio Wargamers (2nd and 4th Saturdays each month at the New Albany IN public library) they were just getting burned out on D+D but they ran it just like we do today. A written out dungeon, breaking down doors, killing monsters, stealing treasure. But always playing a diversity of games with the influences of them all flowing back and forth freely. Sure people had their favorites but I think gaming was a lot more open then (and I suspect it is still a lot more open than people who only play D+D at cons may think it is now.)

    So don't forget the boardgames. Without them there would not have been a built up audience for D+D to speak to. Avalon Hill and SPI did more to make the hobby than miniature wargames. IMO.

    Chris Engle

    Happy Thanksgiving all
  • Now, all of that stuff is awesome. It really, really is. Gadzooks, even I am jazzed up for all of that.

    But, it only really makes a great deal of sense in that early context, where there are big pools of players and there is some sense of competition, and that they're wargamers.

    Not that it makes no sense as the context changes, just less.

    And it is as that context changes in fits and starts in various places that the rules start to get hacked, either directly or through playstyle approaches.

    As much as I like OSR stuff, once you get out of that club player pool, casual, semi-competitive context, some things rapidly go from positive to suck quickly.

    Things like:
    Random chargen
    Easy death and low hit points
    Level caps
    Disposable characters
    Looting as sole means of advancement

    So, without that greater context, I guess some of this stuff is a bit like someone pointed out in another thread, this is, well, a partial recovery of a playstyle mostly in reaction to later games, like WotC D&D.

    I dunno, that's just a weird thought somehow.
  • So don't forget the boardgames. Without them there would not have been a built up audience for D+D to speak to. Avalon Hill and SPI did more to make the hobby than miniature wargames. IMO.
    Playing at the World is great in describing how minis wargames have a huge DIY aspect missing from board wargames.

    In some ways, to the detriment of minis gaming, really. Minis wargames tend to be a lot more fragile than board wargames in many ways.
  • edited November 2013
    This is all awesome.

    And the following is really important:
    Now, all of that stuff is awesome. It really, really is. Gadzooks, even I am jazzed up for all of that.

    But, it only really makes a great deal of sense in that early context, where there are big pools of players and there is some sense of competition, and that they're wargamers.

    Not that it makes no sense as the context changes, just less.

    And it is as that context changes in fits and starts in various places that the rules start to get hacked, either directly or through playstyle approaches.

    As much as I like OSR stuff, once you get out of that club player pool, casual, semi-competitive context, some things rapidly go from positive to suck quickly.

    Things like:
    • Random chargen
    • Easy death and low hit points
    • Level caps
    • Disposable characters
    • Looting as sole means of advancement

    So, without that greater context, I guess some of this stuff is a bit like someone pointed out in another thread, this is, well, a partial recovery of a playstyle mostly in reaction to later games, like WotC D&D.

    I dunno, that's just a weird thought somehow.
    Not that I haven't heard tales of dangerous games with a a small, consistent group of players (Raggi and Eero leap to mind). But, yeah, if you're just hanging out with your five buds after school -- since you're not competing with two dozen other guys in that big pool -- I can easily see the desire to shift the rules on the items you list above. Goodness knows I did! Attachment to their Characters was one of the features that kept my dozen or so AD&D Players coming back every week!

    I'm reading some GDW Traveller adventures right now. In the front of the booklets I notice some of them were ported directly from tournament modules from conventions. The elements you list are very much a part of these designs (you will never see your character again, so who cares) as opposed to meeting up regularly, to the same faces to play week after week. Who wouldn't want to make that continuity in players a continuity in the fiction as well?
  • edited November 2013
    Not that I haven't heard tales of dangerous games with a a small, consistent group of players (Raggi and Eero leap to mind). But, yeah, if you're just hanging out with your five buds after school -- since you're not competing with two dozen other guys in that big pool -- I can easily see the desire to shift the rules on the items you list above. Goodness knows I did! Attachment to their Characters was one of the features that kept my dozen or so AD&D Players coming back every week!

    I'm reading some GDW Traveller adventures right now. In the front of the booklets I notice some of them were ported directly from tournament modules from conventions. The elements you list are very much a part of these designs (you will never see your character again, so who cares) as opposed to meeting up regularly, to the same faces to play week after week. Who wouldn't want to make that continuity in players a continuity in the fiction as well?
    Is there some name for "Five Buds Playing Together Regularly" style OSR?

    I mean, it seems like it is part of the whole thing, in contrast to Raggi-Eero OSR approaches (pardon the jargon, folks).

    Certainly both Crypts and Things and Beyond the Wall seem to be heading in a more 5Buds style in their mechanics. Even Adventurer, Conqueror, King System has its roll to see what happens when you'd normally be dead at zero hit points chart.

  • edited November 2013
    Is there some name for "Five Buds Playing Together Regularly" style OSR?

    I mean, it seems like it is part of the whole thing, in contrast to Raggi-Eero OSR approaches (pardon the jargon, folks).
    I don't know what you mean by this. Both Raggi and Eero have a regular group of players (as far as I know) that they play a brutal OSR with. What am I missing or misunderstanding?
  • Sorry for the confusion. I'll try to explain.

    So Raggi and Eero have been singing the praises of straight up, just brutal no holds barred OSR style gaming.

    And geez, the sheer energy and joy those guys make their arguments with makes me go Hmm and really consider that approach.

    OTOH, it seems like there are other folks out there poking around with OSR style mechanical approaches ( and more important, publishing those approaches) that really seem to be at least starting to shy away from that sheer bloody minded brutality style of play.

    But they're still very much OSR mechanically, and they seem to be more supportive of the other situation you were talking about, where you're getting together with your 5 buds and since the players are consistent, why not keep the characters consistent as well?

    That's what I mean by 5Buds style mechanics paired with OSR.

    Clearer, or still pretty muddy?
  • edited November 2013
    Clear!

    But I'm honestly more intrigued with playing "PC Death is on the Table." I mean, I'm thinking about running some Classic Traveller by the book. And you know, Marc Miller knew guns can drop you and so... guns can drop you!

    I'm torn. Well, kind of torn. Well, not really. Because who wouldn't want the Players to keep their recently rolled up mercs for a long time. And yet... who wouldn't want a game where their Players are going to work their asses off to keep those Character alive?

    Part of it is fear: I know how to run lovely games of painting a canvass of cool colors and touring Players through mysteries and such. But part of me wonders what will happen when using the mechanics of Lamentation of the Flame Princess or Traveller straight up?* What do the Players do that I can't imagine them doing yet? How will they play? What sorts of strategies and schemes will they create that I can't envision yet because, well, I haven't been driven to think, "Dude, if we go out there's all Pulp-Gorrilla-Nazis-Action-Hour we're going to die!" And they come up with strategies and tactics and a way of Playing that is all about survival not because it's "the genre" but because if they don't they're going to die!

    I'm excited about the not knowing part. And making it clear that in this game we might rotate out characters. After death. During recovery. And so on. And it's okay. I actually don't know if it'll be okay. But I think it will be. But I'd like to find out.

    * I want to admit that one of the reasons I softened character death years ago was when I made my little brother all distraught after his Dwarf died failing a Saving Throw on a trap. I can look back now and say, "Dude, you handled that trap really arbitrarily." In other words, I'll be bringing a whole bunch of new wisdom, techniques, and procedures from other play and not play them the way I did when I was a confused teenager. The goal isn't to behave as if I'm playing OD&D like a confused teenager. The goal is, as Vernon suggests below, to use the rules to do the thing they're supposed to do, instead of expecting to use the rules to provide a result they can't provide. (In my household's case, a cool narrative in the form of Tolkien or Lloyd Alexander.)

  • I think losing the competitive nature of the club context may change some of the needs for those aspects of play but I dont think it necessarily turns them to suck. Many of those items are features rather than bugs from where I'm sitting and I think when you lighten up on those rules it starts the slippery slope that turns the competitive nature of play into the illusionist bog of what the players do no longer actually matters in terms of situation in play instead it's the personality quirks of their characters or the funny voices or the mix of powers and abilities that takes over. I think people coming from outside the wargaming hobby (and that included me at the time) didnt realize why elements were in the game or understand what affect they had on play and so when the AD&D DM guide gave you options for rolling up ability scores rather than 3d6 in order you jumped at it and even more so when Unearthed Arcana added an even more munchkiny options. Dragon magazine had the characters from works of fiction with ability scores in the 20's and later there were the GM pc's like Elminster that seemed to be made outside the rules. Changing the rules quickly seemed to become throw out power everywhere and dont worry about challenging the players anymore.
  • I think sometimes the key is that the players understand that they lost, not necessarily that the characters died. And more than that, that if they were luckier or smarter, they might have won.

    (Wow, I sound like an Ogre of a GM even in my own head as I write that out...)

    At least in a 5Buds context, anyway.

  • I think losing the competitive nature of the club context may change some of the needs for those aspects of play but I dont think it necessarily turns them to suck. Many of those items are features rather than bugs from where I'm sitting and I think when you lighten up on those rules it starts the slippery slope that turns the competitive nature of play into the illusionist bog of what the players do no longer actually matters in terms of situation in play instead it's the personality quirks of their characters or the funny voices or the mix of powers and abilities that takes over. I think people coming from outside the wargaming hobby (and that included me at the time) didnt realize why elements were in the game or understand what affect they had on play and so when the AD&D DM guide gave you options for rolling up ability scores rather than 3d6 in order you jumped at it and even more so when Unearthed Arcana added an even more munchkiny options. Dragon magazine had the characters from works of fiction with ability scores in the 20's and later there were the GM pc's like Elminster that seemed to be made outside the rules. Changing the rules quickly seemed to become throw out power everywhere and dont worry about challenging the players anymore.
    I think after the first and second generations of D&Ders (former older waramers and their teen sidekicks from the early 70s) got eclipsed, the majority of those new players really wanted funny voices and quirks and a bit of silly powergaming, rather than any serious challenge in the way those older gamers understood it.

    And the games changed as a result.

  • I started playing with a large club of wargamers back when OD&D was first published, and we fairly quickly moved away from disposable characters and experience for gold, and not that long after, from dungeons. Because we found it more fun. Mind you, most sessions did end with a big battle, played out with miniatures. The nice thing of GMing in that environment was the chance of an accidental TPK was pretty small, as there was me vs 6-8 players, most of whom were as good of tacticians as I was, and several of which were better.
  • Peter, I would love for you to share a lot more about MITSGS gaming...

    I was part of the younger crowd, though I made a connection with Glenn Blacow so I also was connected to the older crowd. I did fairly quickly end up with a relatively consistent set of players (with some crossover with the other younger crowd gamers).

    And yes, board games were important part of the hobby, but I was as much or more interested in minis gaming. And the hobby store where I bought a lot of my early gaming stuff had tables in the basement for miniatures gaming (and 50% or more of it's space was devoted to miniatures, there were two or three book cases for board games and RPGs, the other half the store was scale model kits).

    In fact, the first time I saw D&D, I chose not to buy it, to instead buy a miniatures game (Tractics) instead of this pencil and paper game.

    Frank
  • Hmm, I should add that my experience of running in Glenn Blacows games was that while they were not in a "mega dungeon" or "campaign dungeon" the two or three times I played with him involved descending into a small dungeon or at least inside location.

    Frank
  • Thanks for this thread. It's given me a bunch of things to think about.
    One of those things is stealing a couple of pages from PENDRAGON and the historical elements described above and thinking of doing this:

    In the TRAVELLER setting I want to build (non-GDW Third Imperium) there will be noble houses, psyoinic-enhancing battle armor, armies marching across worlds and sailing across space, political intrigue, economic warfare with piracy, and more....

    And the thought I had is that all the PCs are from the same Noble House -- perhaps as nobles in the family, but certainly soldiers, spies, and soldiers within the House Military.

    Different characters can/will be parts of different units, as we play out missions during a large conflict. Thus, when characters die the Players remain part of something larger, with characters in the wings to continue the larger narrative.
  • edited November 2013
    God, that was 35 years ago -- many of those brain cells have gone south by now. Yeah, Glenn kept the dungeon stuff fairly late (and it was often tactically interesting). Mark Swanson's Gorree dumped it much sooner. My Gothic Isles game did have occasional limited dungeons, but only when I could justify them as part of the world building. I started with a dungeon/wilderness called the Seven Towers that was a valley that had belonged to a mage guild that had gotten essentially magically nuked during the cataclysmic war a couple of generations back. The seven mage towers were melted stubs, but most of the underground stuff survived, along with its magical guardians (mostly glowing, empty suites of plate armor). But this might be a topic better discussed elsewhere, since it doesn't particularly apply to this thread.

    One thing that was interesting was that there were fairly wide differences in what people wanted from the games. Some people (like my friend Neil Churchill) were only there for the tactical challenges, whereas other folk (like say, Larry Lenhoff) were much more interested in the roleplaying side of things. It occasionally led to a bit of friction, and some of the more interesting roleplaying stuff happened between expeditions in order not to bore the players only interested in the combat.

    The miniatures gaming was a big influence. I remember a lot of naval miniatures (modified Fletcher Pratt rules) and armored miniatures (mostly Tractics, of course). The thing about these was you generally clubbed together to get a set of vehicles, and people lent them fairly freely. Then someone would decide to referee, and would put together a scenario, and recruit players. This was different from the guys who did ancients or Napoleonics, because it wasn't a case of playing just your army usually. It was also important in that it habituated people to the idea of neutral referees, and a lot of that carried over to GMing style. You'd prepare a situation, and then run it fairly as possible.
  • All of this about the club context makes a great deal of sense, and accords with my own understanding. However, I would not draw the lines quite as sharply as Bob here seems to suggest. In two ways, specifically:

    First, I don't think that the distinction between the club way of play and the isolated group way of play is too drastic in the final consideration. In my first-hand experiences I can say that the types of social dynamics that Bob (correctly) pinpoints start to appear very early in a group's evolution from isolation into a club. For example, when we started our 100-session campaign in Upper Savo a couple years back, it was technically "just a group". However, after a couple successful sessions with players predominantly from the town of Iisalmi, we also took in a bunch of teenagers from Sonkajärvi, and that became our basic player base, about 6-8 semi-regular players all told, in two towns next to each other. This was already enough of a base for everything Bob listed, as individual sessions swung in emphasis between the two sets of players, there were a couple of other people in the group who could GM, and we regularly got visiting players from more distant places like Oulu, Jyväskylä, Helsinki, who came to see this miracle of a functioning long-term old school sandbox.

    Second, As Christopher notes, many, many of these things are very useful, very functional in smaller groups as well. It would be simply wrong to imply that having deathly stakes, random chargen, character stables and xp for gold is only a throwback to the club environment; I agree that is a significant part of it, but in practice it proves that this style of game is just brilliant with a limited group of players, too, as long as the players like this shit. For example, I currently play here in Helsinki with a long-established circle of gamers we started when I was in Helsinki the last time a decade back; however, the specific "Wednesday game" that is full-blown OSR currently has a pretty constant team of like two core players and four others who might or might not come play in any given session, while the majority of the circle seems to focus on playing 3rd edition Planescape on Mondays. So while the campaign is definitely rooted in a larger circle (instead of just being five people who've played together since Reagan), practically we're currently operating as an isolated group, and the game goes swimmingly anyway.

    If I had to pinpoint the real key to modern hardcore OSR of the sort e.g. Jim Raggi advocates, with cheap death and all those other touchstones, I'd have to say that the treatment of character identity and death is the key: none of the other points on that list of cornerstone elements (death, random chargen, stables, xp for gold, tactical gameplay) have led to players leaving the game quite so clearly as the combo dynamics of random chargen, character stables and easy death does (the disagreements are all polite, I want to emphasize; some people just decide that this style of play is not for them, it's not like a tantrum where they throw the GM out of the window); neither are any of them as clearly and unilaterally defended by the circles I play these games in as this is. It's simply a key ingredient for the sort of spicy, tense, high-stakes gambling we want to do. After grokking these stakes I have to say that the suggestion of playing a challenge-based adventure game without character death pales in terms of reaching compelling heights of true-to-life fiction - I acknowledge that it is technically possible, and clearly, so very clearly many games attempt to strike that balance, but for me it's kindergarten hour at that point. I mean, I'm willing to try in good faith, but I expect that you'll get no sweat off my brow if the chargen took two hours and we're all sort of implicitly aware that the GM won't let anything too awful happen to our characters. (I know, that's just one way to set it up - I said it like that because I just participated in chargen for Only War yesterday, and it's totally a trad game that flirts with being challenge-based while realistically it's just GM's railroad all the way to Gettysburg.)

  • One thing that was interesting was that there were fairly wide differences in what people wanted from the games. Some people (like my friend Neil Churchill) were only there for the tactical challenges, whereas other folk (like say, Larry Lenhoff) were much more interested in the rollplaying side of things. It occasionally led to a bit of friction, and some of the more interesting rollplaying stuff happened between expeditions in order not to bore the players only interested in the combat.
    And this tension was what drove Glenn to write the Role-Playing Styles: Aspects of Adventure Gaming article, originally for his zine in The Wild Hunt but soon published in Different Worlds.

    Frank

  • edited November 2013
    The way some players would not engage with the story kind of bugged Glenn, but he wasn't actually a wargamer.

    (And spelling roleplaying as rollplaying above was completely unintentional -- I dove into ICU/Unicode hard this morning (porting code from ICU 2.2 up to 4.4.2) and my brain hasn't surfaced entirely yet.)
  • Also, regarding the actual topic, an observation: I totally think that the current OSR movement is a true renaissance, just like was it Christopher who said it that OSR is not the original article, it's later age looking back and reappropriating the old stuff. So keeping this in mind I should find it no surprise at all that the hardcore treatment (I hesitate to call it either "OSR style" or "Jim-Eero style", both are awkward) of the game proves more socially robust today that it might have done in the '70s outside the club context: we might not have quite as active clubs as they did then (although I genuinely think that the difference is not as much as as one might imagine if they hadn't participated in the practical social dynamics of our circles), but we have infinitely clearer creative agenda. I mean, this talk about character death and challenge-based creative focus and everything else we're talking about here, it's not Forge-style external analysis of a naturally occurring gaming group, it's the things we talk about at the table. We totally will call the GM on a move that goes against the theoretical model of play, and that's a massively elevated social conscious regarding creative agenda compared to 99% of roleplaying games. It's like playing Sorcerer and explicitly playing a Bang instead of just doing what feels right in the social moment. When your game crystallizes to this level of dogma or creative clarity or simply game design (as a Forge alumnus I ultimately find that the bar of modern game design is here: can you crystallize it so that it becomes a paradigm of activity instead of merely a bunch of wishful thinking + dice mechanics), it becomes entirely possible to maintain the game at its best form even without a powerful social engine like a wargaming club pushing it forward.

    The above so as to explain why the OSR might find it much, much easier to retain the creative agenda in face of the pressures of other interests. It was difficult in the '70s when everybody was coming into roleplaying and "D&D" had to answer the call of all creative interests, while the wargaming culture was withering and failing to provide definition and direction to the game. Today, on the other hand, it should be easy: nobody except the most clueless or stubborn comes into My Life with Master thinking that it's a strategy game, and there is no reason whatsoever why a game like LotFP or my own (unwritten, oral, yet nevertheless a full roleplaying game) couldn't have that same sharp, unflinching clarity of creative agenda. (Not that Jim wants that clarity, I think as a publisher he might be enamoured by the idea that people should be able to use his big tent rulebook even if they play with different interests. Then again, he's sure failed to achieve the sort of entirely non-committal ambivalence about playstyle that e.g. AD&D 2nd edition has...)
  • edited November 2013
    Other things to consider: minis vs. board wargames (SPI/AH) was definitely a thing, a culture mesh/clash, both productive and problematic. It seems too neat to say the "look to the referee" approach of minis vs. the "look to case 4.6.12.1" of hexgames has parallels in RPG "GM Rule 0" vs. "Rules Expansion/Bloat", but - maybe. Also, tournament vs. campaign had MANY implications. There was a decent variety of styles represented in tournament PLAY, as I recall, although a lot that were published were serious-challenge-driven. Still, the actual play could be quite varied. In Escape from Rastigar's Lair, for e.g., the challenge was to roleplay "right", which often - the 4 or more times I ran it (it's for 2 PCs, and so took multiple runs to let everyone interested give it a try) - meant the challenge took second place to the roleplaying. In short-term play, I remember the 70's/very early 80s as pretty diverse, actually. Almost always clumsy, sometimes quite frustrating, and driven more by enthusiasm than polish, for sure - but varied, in some senses.

    But getting the campaign play to work - that was tricky. I was recently reminded of an interesting semi-useful practice whereby you could decide, on a per-adventure basis, if you were "really" taking your character into that dungeon (didn't matter if it was entirely set in a forest, it was a dungeon). If you were, and you died, the character was out of the campaign (raise/resurrection happened some, but not reliably, and always at a cost). But if you weren't, you wouldn't get to carry the experience/treasure* from that dungeon back into the campaign. You'd get to play your character through the adventure, but it wasn't really part of his or her campaign history unless you were willing to run the risk of death. Getting an understanding of what kind of dungeon was going to be run obviously mattered a lot ...

    *Eventually, my high school groups (79-81) mostly abandoned XP in leveling. Leveling up happened as felt right/was needed to run a particular dungeon, and leveling DOWN was in some cases totally OK. But treasure - especially unique-ish magic items - mattered, always, and you only got to keep what you "really" earned.


  • The above so as to explain why the OSR might find it much, much easier to retain the creative agenda in face of the pressures of other interests. It was difficult in the '70s when everybody was coming into roleplaying and "D&D" had to answer the call of all creative interests...
    I think this is very much true, Eero. The diversification and move away from the stuff that D&D was designed for seems to happen because of three major changes:

    1) The withering of the wargamer influence ( mostly natural attrition from changes in work/life circumstances of the wargamers as they age)
    2) The move from club play to group play
    3) The influx of non-wargamers into the culture

    Of course the three all interact and overlap.

    And yes, I think that you're absolutely right that it's easier to maintain a clarity of style today, provided that you've at least a little, run into the concept that not every game has to be all things to all people.

    (I'm not entirely sure that concept has spread as far as we might think, however.)

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