[Yet more OSR] The Beauty of Sub-systems

edited February 2014 in Story Games
Sorry, contributing to the OSR flood - but if it isn't half interesting from a design/play-philosophy point of view! So I hope you'll bare with me.

I've been reading through my beloved B/X again and I want to draw your attention to some quirks of the OSR that're kinda fun: all of the sub-systems at play.
I think contemporary game design favours a more holistic approach for it's systems - everything flows, a graceful balancing act to support forward narrative/game momentum - but old D&D, as I see it, is filled with outrageous design cul-de-sacs and partially disconnected sub-systems. Personally, I love these. There's something a little magical about these obscure little procedures that really characterise the game as a whole but I can see how it's rubbed countless numbers of D&D graduates the wrong way and are continually getting drawn and re-drawn by the hacking/OSR community. I'd love to try assess the function of these sub-systems and their interplay and see what they really get up to when the grown-ups have left the room.

My analysis of sub-system in B/X D&D (at least) is that there are two main types - ones for players and ones for the DM. Player-involved sub-system are things like Retainer/Hireling acquirement and training, Thief skills, magic-user and cleric spells and magical research, stronghold building and so on. DM-involved sub-systems include random encounters, treasure tables, encumbrance, rumours etc. None of these are essential to play, really, and there's many a OSR title that alters, simplifies or hand-waves at least one of these. Encumbrace, fer instance, you can simply drop and the game continues largely unmolested. Why are these sub-systems so interesting then? I'd suggest that their charm (for me) lies in their divergence from the regular action of play, using different dice and methods to interact with the fiction on the same terms as the main game but with a finer granularity. They promote "my" part of the fiction expressed through mechanical terms - my number of retainers, my looted rubies, my ability to pick pockets - there's something incredibly satisfying in having my stakes in the game-world (as a player) reinforced through sub-systems I have ownership or control over. The mutability of sub-systems is also a plus: we can house-rule them in or out without much negative effect on the game overall. Don't like that the Thief Skills are a d% roll? Ok, lets make that a 2d6 table! So long as we can rule in a fair way to resolve this that doesn't impact the day-to-day resolution methods of the central system the possibilities are vast. What DM hasn't made their own encounter subsystem to represent a special area of interest? Promoting their interests as a dungeon master through the mechanics of a sub-system. Sublime.

Anyway, rant over. My tl;dr position is that
- Disjointed sub-systems define the OSR experience.
- They dramatically deepen play/investment despite their disposable nature.
- They Reinforce the "rulings, not rules" aspect of OSR.

It's a hard line to take but there we go; perhaps it's not as all internally "disjointed" as I assume? What do you think?

(edit: changed to correct category)

Comments

  • We almost never used Encumbrance as kids when we were playing.

    Turns out, encumbrance ( and more importantly, its effect on movement rate) is a really, really important subsystem when you're doing a classic dungeon crawl/exploration/looting scenario and not using it actually radically alters the game.
  • My own "theory of old school D&D" explains the various little subsystems differently: in my conception D&D actually has an elegant underlying system, it's just that the system is non-mechanical, yet it produces mechanical rulings that are then observed and mistakenly written down into rulebooks. The actual core system concerns things like how we negotiate rulings, and that is unified and elegant. This system by its nature tends to produce rulings that do not conform to a superficial universal mechanical aesthetic, but that's not a problem because they're not originally intended to be used devoid of the underlying context; disparate mechanics are not a problem if they're mechanics you've hand-picked and established yourself via practical play, to serve your specific goals.

    Thus all the various sub-systems that ambush you with arbitrary dice mechanics, disparate random distributions and different scales of action, those are just the detritus of underlying processes, and essentially arbitrary in nature; a mistake in the first place to elevate them into a central place in the writing of the rules texts. These disparate mechanical notions can be useful as inspiration for other groups and referees, but they shouldn't be considered as the core of the D&D game; in my mind you can discard almost every single mechanical conceit of the game and still be playing old school D&D, while religiously retaining those mechanical quirks and abandoning the creative agenda and underlying methodology makes the game radically different (and worse to my mind; there are good mechanical ideas in D&D as well, but taken as a whole I'm not convinced that it would be that good of a game if you apply the rules blindly as written).

    I recognize that my stance on this philosophical question is beyond extreme: I'm basically saying that somebody playing say B/X D&D might not necessarily be playing in a manner that I consider "real D&D", despite them hewing very closely to the book technically, if they have lost the sense of challenging and goal-oriented, player-driven, neutrally refereed, "rulings not rules" play. Obviously they're playing D&D in a historical sense, no doubt of that; it's just that if they've discarded the ethos and retained the mechanics, their D&D is so different from mine that they might as well be different games. Which one is called "D&D" is ultimately arbitrary (I truly do not care as long as we understand what we are talking about), so I'm entirely fine with saying that D&D is a shitty game and my own retwisting of it is amazing :D
  • edited February 2014
    We almost never used Encumbrance as kids when we were playing.

    Turns out, encumbrance ( and more importantly, its effect on movement rate) is a really, really important subsystem when you're doing a classic dungeon crawl/exploration/looting scenario and not using it actually radically alters the game.
    I think you've hit the nail on the head there - the movement rate is more aligned with the central mechanism (the process by which PCs progress through adventurous environment) whereas encumbrance, for all its complexity as a self-contained sub-system, only serves to provide another adjustment for movement rate. So MR is really, really important - Encumbrance is only important to the degree that it alters MR. We can see this in even the most casual play e.g. once a PC picks up an item the table agrees is appropriately encumbering then the weight sub-system suddenly becomes very important, but before then the average group probably simplifies or ignores it outright. The DM can engage or dismiss Encumbrance at will as a tool of the system to protect the "reality" of the fiction i.e. that heavy objects are difficult to move.

    Am I making sense or is this all just hot-air?
  • Which one is called "D&D" is ultimately arbitrary (I truly do not care as long as we understand what we are talking about), so I'm entirely fine with saying that D&D is a shitty game and my own retwisting of it is amazing :D
    Eero, I'm a big admirer of your "primordial" conception of D&D. From what I hear it's a thing of beauty and I salute your efforts to communicate play to us. I don't think our philosophies are really too different, although you might hold a more extreme position - my main reply to the aboe would be my insistence on the physical qualities of play (and their benifts) including dice, character sheets and mechanics expressed as rules written in a "rule book" (whether than be an official TSR product, or your scrap-paper houserule musings, or explaining it on a popular gaming forum). I think the physical aspect of rolling dice and the accountability of things written down is a major contributor to the feel of play and points towards the platonic ideal of D&D that I think guides us and the OSR in general. The green light at the end of the dock.

    If I were a player in your game, what access would I have to physical play material? Character sheet and dice, right? Can I appeal to generally "the rules" in the event that I deem your judgement biased/flawed - or is your DM procedure so sanitary that we can resolve all healthy questioning of the outcomes of uncertain events through free negotiation? Is the later more "pure D&D" than the former?
  • edited February 2014
    Eero's post got me thinking about something I have suspected before: D&D, at its core, still exists even if you dump, well, almost everything mechanical.

    I mean, some stuff still needs to be in place, and Eero hit it here:'challenging and goal-oriented, player-driven, neutrally refereed, "rulings not rules" '

    All of that stuff needs to be in the formula.

    Beyond that however, really early D&D ( and essentialist D&D) is pretty much just a verbal game between the players and the GM. It's one of questions and answers.

    The mechanics, the sub systems we're talking about are more like, I dunno, a judge writing up a their reasoning in their ruling of a specific court case and then expanding upon it for other judges to use in deciding seemingly similar cases.

    For example, once upon a time, some clever player pointed out that big, blunt, heavy weapons are actually a weapon of choice when fighting hand to hand with an opponent in in heavy, plated armor. A DM agreed that this seemed true enough, given historical evidence, and gave that player some sort of bonus to a roll. Later, the DM realized that some weapons had specific uses where they were better or worse and a Weapons vs. Armor chart sprang into existence as a subsystem.

    Okay, I don't think any of that is terribly controversial on the whole.

    The trick comes when it is time to make a product out of D&D.

    Basically, as a product, they sold the expanded commentary on the rulings because it was easier to monetize than the rather simple core activity.

  • edited February 2014
    Bob, I'm keen to avoid confusing monetisation and the desire for the owners of the D&D name to make a saleable product with the viability and integrity of the physical side to play; compiling sub-systems that inform play isn't just for profit, it's a real part of the intimate D&D experience.
    While I agree with the description of essentialist D&D being a game of "questions and answers" I'd add that it's questions and answers with props/equipment/totems/rules-as-phenomena. The tools can only be dropped, or recede fully into the verbal, when system comprehension nears mastery (Eero, for example).
  • I'm torn.

    Knowing some of the history of how D&D develops and the culture it comes out of, I recognize there have always been mechanics. I recognize that the specific mechanics also influence how the game is played and the experience of it.

    OTOH, I also think about accounts by guys like Mike Mornard who talk about playing those early games without seeing anything like a rulebook for over a year and playing just fine. This also matches up with some of my own early player-side experiences, circa 1980.

    Weirdly, it also relates to my own would-be designer/GM experiences of taking a stab at writing and running my own games prior to actually ever owning or reading a rulebook, and later experiences creating on-the-fly games with friends when we didn't have game stuff ( like system books) available.

    On yet another hand, I really do feel like the actual rules procedure of D&D could be cut down to the level of rules text for something like Charades or 20 Questions. Those are hard ( not impossible) to make into a product.

    Anyway, that does tie back into your original question: those plug and play ( removable and replaceable) subsystems really are like a look at some earlier DM's rulings, expanded upon, for your consumption. Lots of them skip explanations of why the DM ever felt the need to make those rulings, the original situation for the ruling, or why they felt the need to expand on it. Readers encountering them are simply left to guess why they exist at all.

  • On yet another hand, I really do feel like the actual rules procedure of D&D could be cut down to the level of rules text for something like Charades or 20 Questions. Those are hard ( not impossible) to make into a product.

    Anyway, that does tie back into your original question: those plug and play ( removable and replaceable) subsystems really are like a look at some earlier DM's rulings, expanded upon, for your consumption. Lots of them skip explanations of why the DM ever felt the need to make those rulings, the original situation for the ruling, or why they felt the need to expand on it. Readers encountering them are simply left to guess why they exist at all.
    I reckon that conception of D&D as a very limited rules-set is observable in the old-school character sheet - all the rules essential to the Question-Answer play is printed out -codified- on the player-prop rather than in the "rulings"-filled DMG. The DM version of this the procedure of play (the turn-sequence structure jotted down in a few scant tables in the DMG) rather than the full rule-book itself. I think if you ignore either element you kinda void the essential D&D thing. Though this conversation is wheeling wildly into the the "What Makes OSR FEEL like OSR" thread.

    So lets get back to sub-systems, their nature and their role in D&D historically. I agree that sub-systems are codified rulings, that much is clear. I don't think it's guesswork though, the B/X is actually pretty open about discussing why a few things are the way they are and invites you to use, abuse or ignore them at your pleasure. What's more important for me is the effect they have on establishing and protecting the activities of the players in an often harsh/rapidly changing play environment. Character death, theft of wealth and loss of XP are very real, sudden and irrevocable traumas a player can suffer in the OSR and sub-systems are, I think, an integral part of assuring players of the fairness (and therefore fun) of playing in this way.

  • edited February 2014
    Huh, surprisingly little nay-saying to my stance - I'd have expected at least somebody to defend the concrete rules about clerics not being allowed bladed weapons as the real heart of D&D :D
    If I were a player in your game, what access would I have to physical play material? Character sheet and dice, right? Can I appeal to generally "the rules" in the event that I deem your judgement biased/flawed - or is your DM procedure so sanitary that we can resolve all healthy questioning of the outcomes of uncertain events through free negotiation? Is the later more "pure D&D" than the former?
    Depends on how the campaign has been shaping up, because different texts are being relied upon at different times. For example, right now I'm being a player in a stage of the campaign that relies heavily on the LotFP rules, so basically anybody can read that book if they want - we will override where the rules do not conform to their own simulative logic or whatever, though, so only the fools except to rules-lawyer they way to victory on the strength of tendencial readings of game texts alone. (To be actually compelling, a rules argument has to point out how the system as a whole is more logical when a given rule is implemented or disregarded, or you have to show how the rule as implemented or disregarded results in a more vivacious and desirable fictional world.)

    Earlier, when I was running the game myself (and on occasion when I do now), the rules text was generally limited to the oral tradition and reference materials. For an example of the latter, we generally used the LotFP spell lists as the primary source for spell descriptions, and I think the d20 SRD as a secondary source for spells that aren't in the LotFP lists. So at that stage of the campaign (which I consider in many ways to be the same campaign we're still playing) the primary texts were all in the oral tradition.

    As for what it means for a "game text" to be "oral tradition", it's exactly the same way as in cultures that keep laws orally: we were there when the law was last utilized, or even when it was first established, and thus we can argue upon precedent. Only the important and useful laws are retained, as nobody brings up the laws that want to be quietly forgotten, or that are so specialized as to never come up a second time. It's not that different from arguing from a rulebook, except that I think it's much healthier socially and less likely to lead to a legalistic dictatorship of the sort that everybody ends up with when they try to play 3rd edition D&D.

    I suppose one could get a sense for the organic nature of the "oral tradition" way of arranging D&D rules by reading every thread I've written about our practices over the last few years. It'd be quite a bit of reading, but I guess one could participate in these discussions at that point, citing how Eero clearly thought earlier that this thing should be handled like this, or whatever :D

    As for an answer to your actual question, I'd say that most of the time we use rules just like anybody does; players know how they go, they do it as it's usually done. When somebody notices that something is not being done according to ordinary procedure, they can call the group on it, and either the mistake is fixed or a short rulings debate ensues. (Part of the skill-set is to not be a fucking bore about debating something when it's not interesting, and to graciously give way when something clearly is much more important to somebody else than it is to you.) In this rulings debate precedent has great compelling power, mostly because people who liked that precedent the last time around should logically like it this time as well. Sometimes a suitable precedent (or rule from a game text) doesn't exist, or a precedent is disliked, in which case a the law is overturned and a new approach is instituted.
  • My point in my first post was specifically this: my experience with this "common law" process has been that it produces solutions that are amazingly similar to old D&D rules texts, except they're completely different in the specific mechanical applications because we often have different mechanical preferences. The gist of it, however, the spirit of organically evolving rules applications that often follow implicit logic, that's exactly the same. I don't have any strong proof for it, but my feel is that when I compare the oldest D&D texts with my recent play, I get a compelling sense that this is probably very close to the process that caused those original groups and referees to develop the rulings we see in those game texts. Exactly as comrade Bob says above. And just like those texts, it's not my rulings that are the most interesting for outsiders (although obviously we do enjoy reading up on mechanical innovations others use): what the fuck do you care about whether I even have a Cleric class in my campaign, and why should you take that as a legalistic "rule"? Rulings are contextual in the campaign and among the people who choose to follow them.

    This is not to say that D&D texts are not important and influential. I just think that the proper model for applying the game is [read text]->[play]->[happen upon a need for a new ruling]->[get inspired by text, adopt or adapt something from it]. The model that most rpgs use is different in that they assume that the rules-text takes precedence over the legal process followed by the table; we agree to play according to a specific exhaustive set of rules at the start, and thus quoting those rules is a compelling argument, and in fact we all do our best to keep to those rules. Thus it is entirely fair to say that for me almost all D&D texts are only informative instead of authoritative: they give us ideas for how things could be done.

    I freely admit that I lean towards a more egalitarian social setup than the proper historical D&D group does; as we all know, the culture has a lot of GM-centralism going for it. I don't think that this is a centrally important difference, though, as long as those linchpins of challenge-based agenda, fiction-first problem-solving, goal-oriented play and rulings-based judicial framework are in place. The issue of degree of GM-centralism in old school D&D seems to me more like an incidental social issue that depends on the experience of the individuals playing, and the GM's need for self-aggrandizement. For example, our campaign is currently much more egalitarian than it was when I was GMing, because now we have more mature and experienced players, and perhaps a slightly less experienced GM. This increase in relative egalitarianism doesn't mean any changes to the fundamental procedures of play, though; whether more or less GM-centric, we still have precedent-based rules, rules reviews, and so on, even if in one case the group might actively veto the GM and insist on their preferred ruling, while in the other case the GM mostly chooses the rulings that will be followed, after hearing the concerns of the players.

    Then again, I think that ideas like "the GM has the final call on everything and you go home if you don't like it" are, when taken to their socially logical conclusion, a harmful watershed: once the GM genuinely internalizes the idea that they're the head honcho, they will also realize a crushing responsibility, for how otherwise is their superior authority truly justified? And this responsibility, when seriously committed to, is where GM-authored illusionistic roleplaying begins. The sort where the GM thinks that it's their task to provide amusement to the masses. Emphasizing GM authority, especially in an adversial sense ("You can make your game work, you just need to force the players to play correctly!"), is a direct road to infantilization of the players, which in turn kills the procedures of rules review and frank, even-handed negotiation of challenges.

    I'm absolutely certain that the above looks like a bunch of forgite justifications for liking to play an old-fashioned GM-authority rpg, but to me at least this theoretical construct makes sense in explaining why some seemingly GM-controlled games perform much better than some others :D

    Regarding that other interesting topic, the monetization of D&D: I do think that it has been unfortunate that D&D has never stabilized into a piece of proper game design art, the way some other games do. (I like to make a comparison to Diplomacy in this context, as it's from the same are, and certainly lasts as a legendary evergreen classic without being completely revised every five years.) I think that ultimately the reason for why D&D got wrangled like this, and ultimately killed off (in essentialist terms I think that 2nd ed. AD&D and the Basic '90s black box were basically the last legitimate editions of D&D, although one may derive mechanical details from 3rd edition as well), is that from the start the textual tradition was focused on the incidental rulings instead of the fundamental principles. Of course the game would end up in an infinite maelstrom of textual revision when the very basic nature of a ruling is contextual and non-absolute! When your fundamental game text fully consists of these rulings, how else could it go, except that each generation of designers shuffles the old rulings out and their own new rulings in, thus perpetuating a seeming progress in how the game develops.

    If I could do one thing with D&D (I say this in spirit of daydreaming - it's no skin off my nose what WotC actually does with D&D), it would be to attempt to write up a fundamental text that exposes the principles in an easily learned, non-arbitrary way. This text would be such that it would basically be mechanically agnostic, excepting perhaps some fundamentals about class and level and such. Rather, the book would provide some very basic rulings ideas, and teach how to develop more, all depending on what exactly you're doing with the game. It'd probably have about as much rules stuff as the first edition of D&D did.

    On top of that fundamental book, intended to be essentially permanent and unchanged (barring ordinary literary editing and clarification, not rpg-style edition rewrites), one could publish whatever amount of settings, splat books, adventures, whatever. All the weird bits like mages who can't use a sword or mind flayers or magic potions - really, everything that people think of as "D&D" - could still be present full force, to whatever extent one likes established D&D fantasy. It would, however, not be a defining roadblock and integral part of the method of the game. It would be obvious and clear that "clerics aren't allowed to shed blood" is a campaign conceit, not some absolute rule that you have to follow or otherwise the game's unbalanced and oh no the sky is falling the rpg cops are coming fuck you Jack we should've never tried to play god!
  • So lets get back to sub-systems, their nature and their role in D&D historically. I agree that sub-systems are codified rulings, that much is clear. I don't think it's guesswork though, the B/X is actually pretty open about discussing why a few things are the way they are and invites you to use, abuse or ignore them at your pleasure. What's more important for me is the effect they have on establishing and protecting the activities of the players in an often harsh/rapidly changing play environment. Character death, theft of wealth and loss of XP are very real, sudden and irrevocable traumas a player can suffer in the OSR and sub-systems are, I think, an integral part of assuring players of the fairness (and therefore fun) of playing in this way.
    I agree with Potemkin on the fundamental point, for what it's worth. Specifically, the bunch of subsystems we get in the texts are by and large useful, functional and possible to use to this day. We definitely want to access these texts and ideas even when playing essentialist D&D, at least as long as the campaign is focused on dungeon-crawling. Our own campaign, for example, is by and large using LotFP dungeoneering processes right now, which are essentially identical in spirit and logic to Basic D&D. However, it is good to realize that once you do something different "with D&D", all bets are off; at any given time it might be that a rule from the rulebook is keeping you back, because that particular rule might not have been developed with e.g. sandbox adventuring in mind.

    The dungeoneering procedures in D&D, those are quite elegant by and large. Concepts like the exploration turn, mapping, encumbrance logistics... those are all parts of a very vivid, very specific tactical game limited to the dungeon. I am not at all surprised at the phenomenon where many people like to play dungeon-limited D&D, e.g. Mentzer Red Box only. It's sort of a subsection of the entire game, and for that the subsystems and rulings the game text provides are often very, very acceptable. D&D rulings start to only truly show their weakness in comparison to designer-bred universal logic systems when you try to go outside the dungeon, and instead of starting a massive churn for new rulings and adaptation, you try to hold onto those peculiar character classes and movement rates and disposition checks and tactical magic-use and all that dungeoneering jazz. (Or even worse, buy some TSR or d20 bullshit tomes with specific rulings for your current concern. D&D has a long and mostly sad history of entirely mediocre source-books that sort of attempt to parse together an e.g. thieves' guild campaign, all without having the grace of thorough playtesting and ruthless removal of dungeon-related stuff that's useless in an urban campaign.)

  • I suppose one could get a sense for the organic nature of the "oral tradition" way of arranging D&D rules by reading every thread I've written about our practices over the last few years.
    I have.

    In fact, my current OSR game draws strength largely on your notes about positioning and elaborates on many of your suggested "house-rules" (feats, for example). B/X is our reference material but is only consulted outside of play (or by me, during, owing to bouts of forgetfulness as to moster stats). I'd like I think you'd recognise our game, but I doubt it. Or at least only in the most superficial ways. That being said, I hope you prescribe to the "imitation in the greatest flattery" school of intellectual property. The conversation surrounding the description of your game was so compelling I had to try emulate.
    Emphasizing GM authority, especially in an adversial sense, ...is a direct road to infantilization of the players...
    Preach, brother.
    If I could do one thing with D&D (I say this in spirit of daydreaming - it's no skin off my nose what WotC actually does with D&D), it would be to attempt to write up a fundamental text that exposes the principles in an easily learned, non-arbitrary way. This text would be such that it would basically be mechanically agnostic, excepting perhaps some fundamentals about class and level and such. Rather, the book would provide some very basic rulings ideas, and teach how to develop more, all depending on what exactly you're doing with the game. It'd probably have about as much rules stuff as the first edition of D&D did.
    Would it be possible to convince you to write this book anyway? I'm being deadly serious. I believe the phrase is "shut up and take my money."
    D&D rulings start to only truly show their weakness in comparison to designer-bred universal logic systems when you try to go outside the dungeon
    Yes, I agree this is a weakness but I'm adamant (and justifiably so, even down to the semantics) that if you are no longer exploring dungeons or perparing at some point to enter a dungeon then you are NO LONGER PLAYING D&D. If you get to this point I'd insist all characters should retire, as they have left the scope of play, essentially retiring from the game and you should either roll new Level 1 PCs or stop playing the game (and invest in a game that is about what you're actually interested in e.g Thieves Guild urban adventure).
  • Would it be possible to convince you to write this book anyway? I'm being deadly serious. I believe the phrase is "shut up and take my money."
    Well, as I've on occasion said in these threads, it's been on my mind. Not going to happen until I have a fair amount of leisure to invest into it, though. We shall see if the inspiration survives until I have the time. Perhaps somebody else does it first.
  • edited February 2014
    I appreciate the time investment involved. I'd still like to encourage you to try make your writing more accessible to the public though: maybe just compiling of previous threads and disparate blog posts on the topic into a single (lengthy) read on a single webpage somewhere? I'd offer to undertake the research/composition myself but I think you grasp what you're trying to say better (naturally).
  • Oh, feel free to do stuff with that writing if you feel like it; that's what the Internet is for. It's a ways to go from random rambling to something more systemic and easily understandable, though.

    My general understanding is that most of the people interested in the OSR aren't that thrilled about my experiments in the field, however. They have their own sources for high-faluting theory writing, and my approach probably isn't that relevant to most :D
  • edited February 2014
    I think most subsystems in most versions of D&D are good for something, but I've never seen a text that was particularly good about laying them out for optimal use. I started with AD&D2, and what my group got from the book led half of us in an OSR direction and the other half somewhere else entirely. An ethos for making fair rulings is great, but you also need an ethos for "what sort of stuff you do in this game", and I've seen some subsystems (like making stuff or acquiring followers or holdings) lead one or more players away from the thing the group does together for fun. I think it's legitimately counter-intuitive to look at a chunk of concrete rules and interpret them as "for use only if we all decide it's fun to go there, which we probably won't". In most games, the topics covered by the mechanics indicate where the game should go.

    Eero, even if you don't actually write that book, I'd be down to chat about what it might look like. I've been pondering how to efficiently communicate this stuff myself for a long while. Any interest?

  • Eero, even if you don't actually write that book, I'd be down to chat about what it might look like. I've been pondering how to efficiently communicate this stuff myself for a long while. Any interest?
    David, I'll respond to your stuff on subsystems in a sec. In a nutshell though, I approve and have further questions. ;)

    Could you start a new thread ("Writing up Eero's Primordial D&D" or something)? I think I want to discuss that at length but also want to keep on about subsystems. :D
  • edited February 2014
    I'm happy to start it if Eero's interested. I don't have much interest in doing it without him. Eero?
  • edited February 2014
    Oh, we can talk about it, of course. Not today, though, I've got deadlines I should be attending to. Feel free to start a thread if you're interested in some creative speculation, and I'll come in with my thoughts when I have the time.
  • Sure, sure. Maybe I'll knock something together in my lunch break tomorrow and leave it lying around here for your inspection. I guess the onus is on me to try explain to the community-at-large why I think this is an essential conversation.
    It's a ways to go from random rambling to something more systemic and easily understandable, though.
    Pssh, it's intelligible sure enough. Just needs a good ole edit, a few nice subheadings and a title. Sure, easier to say than do but I think you gotta give yourself some credit on actually producing a vast quality of written material on a really specific theme.
    My general understanding is that most of the people interested in the OSR aren't that thrilled about my experiments in the field, however. They have their own sources for high-faluting theory writing, and my approach probably isn't that relevant to most :D
    Like this. What's this? I'll have you know that I am a member of Most People Interested In OSR and I wholeheartedly approve of your experiments. Maybe not universally appealing (maybe even heretical) but I'd certainly put your writings up there with the gospel that is the Old School Primer.

    ***
    ...if you are no longer exploring dungeons or perparing at some point to enter a dungeon then you are NO LONGER PLAYING D&D.
    I thought I'd get a rise out of someone here, surely? Instead I'm getting the impression that this hard-line definition of D&D actually passes muster with a few of you. ??




  • I think most subsystems in most versions of D&D are good for something, but I've never seen a text that was particularly good about laying them out for optimal use. I started with AD&D2, and what my group got from the book led half of us in an OSR direction and the other half somewhere else entirely. An ethos for making fair rulings is great, but you also need an ethos for "what sort of stuff you do in this game", and I've seen some subsystems (like making stuff or acquiring followers or holdings) lead one or more players away from the thing the group does together for fun. I think it's legitimately counter-intuitive to look at a chunk of concrete rules and interpret them as "for use only if we all decide it's fun to go there, which we probably won't". In most games, the topics covered by the mechanics indicate where the game should go.
    Told you I'd get back to ya.

    Right, hm. I agree with you but I think I'd like to parse my position towards subsystems as being key elements that shape the ethos for "what sort of stuff you do in this game" that is essential to Eero-esque primordial play, a game-style that certainly hasn't been created "ex nihilo." I can see how they can distract play out and away from dungeon-exploration but that's essentially what they are: mechanical short-hand for resolving events outside of the purview of either dungeons or dragons...

    ...excepting the gem-like subsystem for encountering dragons itself, which is beautiful and bizarre. For example, to subdue a dragon you must beat it with the "flats of your swords." It is the only enemy able to be subdued in the text and this cannot be done any other way, only swordflats. This example is so clearly an early houserule-made-text you can almost sense the exact day and time it got minted to address an in-game situation, penned hastily in the top of a ledger by a prehistoric DM. It's beautiful and ugly, quaint and authoritative.

    Like, like, the Bible! Or something.

  • (Sorry to jump on the derailing here, but I would also looooove an Eero D&D book. Looking forward to that eventual other thread. :)
  • edited February 2014
    (Sorry to jump on the derailing here, but I would also looooove an Eero D&D book. Looking forward to that eventual other thread. :)
    (Oh gosh, it's John Harper! Lady Blackbird! <3 *starstruck*)

    Ahem. Nah, it's cool. I'm really excited about talking it over, too. I'll start that up tomorrow lunchtime (GMT). To get these two topics to touch for a moment: I'd love to try float the idea of a hypothetical companion piece to a hypothetical Eero-tome (the "PHB" to its "DMG," if you will) that's basically a compilation of all the house-rule subsystems along with an explanation of their origins and effects on play - essentially a player's guide of "rulings" whose viability in play can be tested by being passed through Eero's system-agnostic procedures to create the OSR effect. I think AW/DW with all of its community-generated content is like this already - I'd want that for the OSR community. A third book could be generated to compile Travellers (Sci-fi's D&D) subsystems to create a sci-fi version, just to prove that the Eero stuff isn't tied only to fantasy. But, ah, wild pipedreams. Maybe I'll flesh this out in the PRIMORDIAL D&D BOOK(!) thread if it goes that way.
  • edited February 2014
    I'm mad that Eero is stealing my use of the word primordial!

    Darn it Eero, I wanted to save that word for pre-D&D roleplaying!!!

    *Sigh*

    ( Looking forward to the new thread also!)
  • I assure you it was Potemkin who dunnit, I'm just going with the flow :D
  • edited February 2014
    Worth noting, some of those disjointed subsystems in early forms of D&D are a result of the dice availability crisis TSR went through early on when D&D was becoming popular.

    Basically, TSR ran into a situation where they couldn't buy just d20s. If they wanted D20s, they had to buy all the other classic polyhedrals as a set. So they did. But now they had to use those other polyhedrals, so...

    Actually, it's one of a few different weird, random real world events that led to evolutions in old D&D.
  • Ha! Amazing!

    I always wondered about the dice, you know. Like, why? Having the smaller polyhedrals forced on them by the market makes so much sense. Why they didn't say "screw that" and covert wholesale to a Xd6 system is beyond me though - seems like the more sensible option in the face of trying to shoehorn D's 4-through-12 into your product.

    That said, they're certainly characterful. Definitely defines the product. Yet, they don't actually get any real use in the central systems of the game. It's mostly d20 or d6-based, at least in B/X.
  • Part of it, I suspect, was that a d20 was so very much an in-group identification totem for wargamers.

    It's also really super easy to use with modifiers in a way that a bell curve multi-dice system isn't.

    In any case, all those really weird, non d6 polyhedrals were friggin' magical to me as a kid when I first saw them.
  • edited February 2014

    In any case, all those really weird, non d6 polyhedrals were friggin' magical to me as a kid when I first saw them.
    Yes, this! This is what makes the OSR so compelling, the physicality! I just spent fifty of my finest British pennies on a d30 today just to marvel at the thing a while longer.

    (Edit: "Would you just freekin' look at my user image? I mean, Jeez!")
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