My understanding of old school D&D

One of the issues with the longer working day is spellcasters tend to end up bored - unable to use spells either because they already have used them all, or because they fear needing to in the future. Was this not still an issue in Basic D&D? Or when Eero says 1 spellcaster per 5 fighters, was the spellcaster also playing a fighter, and thus always guaranteed a slice of the action?

I think the question belies a fundamental misunderstanding of old school play.

Imagine you had a character that had no special abilities at all. Just a set of 3d6 x 6, 1d6 hit points, and normal equipment and weapons and armor.

Could that be fun?

You go into a dungeon, explore, avoid monsters as much as possible, fight when you have to, loot and steal, avoid and bypass traps, and so on. If you run into a problem that you need special skills to deal with--like picking a lock--you pay money for a hireling to come take care of it for you.

You'll probably die. Some of you won't, though. A few will level up and get 1d6 more hit points, increasing the chance that they'll survive more adventures.

Now add one special ability to that character: turning undead, better attack capability, more hit points, maybe one spell.

Modern players tend to look at a character in the opposite way. What explicit abilities are on my sheet? That's what I can do. If my character can only cast one spell a day, I'm a one-shot gun, and then I'm useless. No! You can do everything a normal person can do.
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  • edited January 2018
    Normal people sound like terrible choices for Dungeon Delving. :pensive:

    Additionally, you are sweeping the "normal equipment, weapons and armor" under the rug when stuff like "Yeah, you can't wear any armor and can only use a dagger" are in play. (That's from Moldvay, I'm too lazy to try to dig further back).

    While I'm sure this sort of thing can be fun, most of the examples I read of it irritate me, because they're full of this sort of ridiculous "Dungeon CSI as imagined by people with a terrible understanding of how these things work." situations. The ones that vex me particularly, that I see a lot, are "Lamp oil is basically the same thing as Greek fire!" and "I throw iron rations behind me to distract the wolves!"
  • I underwrite this same vision (without claiming that somebody who played the game in the '70s differently, or plays the old texts differently now, is somehow illegitimate - you do you, of course). That's the game that I find to be well-conceived.
  • Airk,

    I'd argue that a 1st level character in Basic D&D or OD&D is not much distinguishable from an ordinary person in terms of game statistics. Clerics don't get spells till level 2. A M-U gets one spell per day (albeit it is probably sleep, which is hella powerful), and a fighter just has more hit points and a +5% to hit. Heck, in OD&D, everyone gets the same hit points, I think, and all the weapons do the same damage.

    So you're pretty close to normal people in the dungeon, at least at first.
  • Adam_Dray said:

    Airk,

    I'd argue that a 1st level character in Basic D&D or OD&D is not much distinguishable from an ordinary person in terms of game statistics. Clerics don't get spells till level 2. A M-U gets one spell per day (albeit it is probably sleep, which is hella powerful), and a fighter just has more hit points and a +5% to hit. Heck, in OD&D, everyone gets the same hit points, I think, and all the weapons do the same damage.

    So you're pretty close to normal people in the dungeon, at least at first.

    Like I said. It sounds terrible. ;)

    I realize this is an informed decision, but it's one that I personally don't enjoy, so I wanted to call that out.

    And again, I think you are oversimplifying the differences, because equipment matters. Moldvay average characters start with 100gp. Which buys you the weapon of your choice and PLATE MAIL if you are a fighter. And still leaves a good sum on money left over for whatever the heck else you want unless your weapon of choice is a longbow, which is inexplicably 25gp more expensive than the nearest competition, the two handed sword. A level 1 fighter who rolls below average on his money and has no dexterity modifier should have an AC of 2. That is not interchangeable with a magic user who has zero spells left.

    Sure, the expectation is that you're going to be dodging combat by whatever dubious mechanisms your GM allows, and hoping for good results on those reaction roll tables (assuming your opponent isn't in one of the numerous categories that really shouldn't roll on that.) But let's be realistic here. Fighting happens.
  • edited January 2018
    We had a go at an OSR campaign similar to what you describe in 2016 - mid 2017. Using Lamentations of the Flame Princess as our go to rulebook, but aiming for "rulings not rules" and allowing things to evolve as they seemed interesting to us.

    The classes were all very similar, and our discussions mostly revolved around exploration, logistics, how to creatively use the equipment and opportunities the players had to solve problems in fiction. We focused mostly on a very long delve into Tomb of the Iron God.

    My comment in the other thread was motivated primarily by the fact that our biggest problem was that a player who played a spell-caster was miserable on and off for the around 8 - 10 sessions of play that their character survived, through various variations on the spellcasting rules that we tried. They had 2 spells a day. When those were done, because they had rolled a low Strength score, they had a hard time hitting anywhere near as often as the fighters. They also had less armour - I can't remember if that was because we had rules stopping spell casters from wearing armour, or whether the party was just too poor to prioritize good armour for that character.

    This left the player feeling like they were unable to contribute in combat. Now, of course, much time was spent not in combat - laying fiery traps for the undead, looting sarcophagi - still, more or less every foray into the Tomb resulted in a combat; it was a common part of play. I think combat, although massively over-emphasised in D&D 3+, is still a common feature of all forms of D&D.

    Hence my question. Perhaps the problem was that we had too swingy differences in to-hit bonuses, and if we were truer to OSR we would have had less differentiation between the characters, and thus the magic user would have been equally capable in combat without their spells?
  • Addendum: This is not a defence - our OSR campaign partially came to an end because of this problem, and I'd love to have a good fix for it! So please ask me questions.

    I've written up what I mean by OSR here.

    In the meantime, we started a new OSR sandbox at the beginning of this year, using D&D 5th rules. So far we are having great fun :)
  • Moldvay (B/X D&D) is super strict and procedural. There isn't really a lot dubious mechanisms if you are playing by the book.

    Magic Users are really neat in Moldvay, also one of my favorite classes to play. The class is essential the master problem solver.

    You get a single spell in your spell book. Each magic user has a unique set of spells in their books. So you want more spells you have to find a MU willing to teach them, sweet, sweet downtime activity.

    Scrolls and spell research!

    Since magic users don't wear armor or wield heavy weapons you can spend your fat stacks of cash on equipment to help solve problems in the dungeon.

    Magic users are never in the front ranks so your character is never in melee.

    Skip the damage dealing spells until 3rd and higher.
  • I personally think that the important and exciting bits about low-level combat in Basic D&D concern tactics. Player characters don't have many moving parts, and making an attack is just "I hit it". Frankly, I find the players who get all excited about rolling the attack dice to be a bit dim.

    I've never been bored in combat because I'm playing an ostensible non-combatant class, because my attention is all on the group tactical position. I'm worrying about whether we should be retreating, or is there anything in the location or the nature of the enemy to swing the fight. If I have good ideas that require a different class to apply, I can give those ideas to the player whose character can accomplish my idea. I can hurry the proceedings by keeping track of turns and demanding swift actions from the other players. My own character's supposed limitations in combat just aren't part of the enjoyment equation at all, I'd be as entertained if I had no character of my own in there at all and was just playing "the entire party" in some sort of generalized position.

    If you're playing in a really, really mechanically inflexible way, similar to an old CRPG, where everybody just chooses who they hit when their turn comes around, then this doesn't change anything - sure, the tactics are going to be simple, but you're still constantly judging whether it would be better to retreat than press the battle. The only thing the player playing the Fighter character has on the Magic-User is that his character succeeds in hitting more often. Is that really what you're there for? To hear the dice roll, and have the sweet, fulfilling feeling of seeing a number come up that indicates that it was your character, your very own character, who landed the hit? As I said, I think that's a bit dim - I relate better with a player who doesn't get a hard-on for playing what amounts to a random dice sub-game embedded within a strategy game.

    A theory on why players of magic-users get bored and disappointed more easily: they chose to play a magic-user because they wanted to have more complex boardgamey tactics to play with in the first place. The players playing fighting men often prefer them either because they're wargame-heads who are interested in the "real tactics" department of play, or because they're dim and like to have a simple character. The magic-user either just likes to have lot of stuff to play with, or they have difficulty relating to the "real tactics" idea, and want to have something real, concretely on their character sheet and the rule book - which the spells are in a way that "I throw a lantern at him!" is not. Either type of motivation, if it's very strong, will be disappointed with what the 1st level D&D magic-user is like. Sure, you've got one button to press, when everybody else has zero, but if you can only have fun while pressing the buttons, then that one button's going to run out soon.

    High-level magic-user play (either your character is high level, or you play at a high level, either sense works fine) over the long term actually provides a quite intricate button-pressing experience, exactly like such a player desires, but for that you need to play quite a while, or start at a higher level in the first place. A 10th level magic-user, for instance, will have many choices of what buttons to prepare, and what to press during an adventure. Then again, a player who can get a character to that point is probably highly facile with "playing the fiction" as well, so they could find lots of buttons to entertain them in there, too. When I think of the best old school D&D players I know, they're equally comfortable playing a warlord who grinds the commando game, or a wizard who has their own magical metaphysics thing going; either of those can provide you all sorts of things to do, but only if you can perceive them in the fiction as possibilities.
  • It seems that Eero has this well in hand! Here's his more concise quote from the other thread, just for completeness:


    [...] my personal experience is that magic-users don't get bored for the same reason everybody else doesn't get bored: the old game is simply not a combat game, you're not deriving your enjoyment from winding up a character build and looking it go, being better than everybody else's character builds.

    Being a magic-user does not prevent you from mapping, strategizing, optimizing logistics and so on. It makes you a protected asset, essentially: the party has these couple of spells, personalized in this one member of the party, who is not very good at fighting. He's basically part of the civilian contingent in the expedition, same as mules and servants, except when the captain calls for the artillery strike. (The magic-user can be, and often is, the captain himself; no reason why not.)

    If the old game was about combat 80% of the time, and its reward cycle was all about combat accomplishment, then magic-users would get bored just like in newer editions. There's nothing special preventing that.

    That has been my experience, as well. The game simply doesn't rely on you using your perfectly-balanced damaging power in order to be an active contributor. It's just as important to draw a demon face on a huge canvas sack in order to give your opponents a penalty on their Morale check, and you're almost as effective in combat as a fighter, anyway.

    (You mention that you were not playing by the RAW. Did any of that include giving bonuses or abilities to the "fighty" types, by any chance? That would definitely exacerbate the problem, in my experience. In standard old-school D&D, the various classes aren't that meaningfully different in combat, at least at low levels.)
  • Oh, I should probably provide a conclusion for that magic-user boringness theory, too. Assuming we entertain the notion that magic-users getting bored has to do with the players in question having an easier time relating to boardgamey rules than the fiction, then we can make a few predictions:
    * Such players would enjoy 4th edition D&D. They aren't bothered by the fake wider context in which the combats occur, or the arbitrary class powers and such. They will enjoy the clarity of how their tactical options are listed out, ready to be picked, and how this part of play never "runs out".
    * If you insist on doing old-school wargame D&D with them, then your central priority should be pedagogical: you need to get these players, just like everybody else who is having difficulties, on board the immersive wargame train. To succeed in that means being more clear about the fictional strategic and tactical issues, and more proactive about proffering them to the players: you need to be there to sweep aside the long grass and reveal the metaphorical button underneath, and you need to ask the player: do you want to push this button? Over time they'll remember where the buttons are and start to see the strategic and tactical issues that the fictional situation organically implies.

    I'll note that one of the most motivated players in our most recent old school campaign was this type of player: he did not play many magic-users through the 50 sessions we had, but he was always very interested in the "hard rules" aspects of the game engine; those aspects in my game are potentially complex and intricate, no less so than in e.g. 3rd edition D&D, but the challenge of gaining high levels and the oral nature of the "rulebook" means that there never was a truly big fat tome of feats and such for him to charop his way through. This is explicitly, in his own words, the one thing he disliked about the campaign which he otherwise liked very much. He dreams of playing Pathfinder or 4th edition or something like that.

    My creative engagement with him through the campaign was very much about the pedagogical conclusion I mentioned above: part of my task as the more experienced old school gamer, alongside other veterans in the campaign (really just one other veteran, plus maybe another half-veteran), was about shedding some clarity on where the buttons are in old school play. Things like asking his knight character explicitly in advance of a dungeon operation whether he'd like to give a speech to the dozen+ soldiers following the party in there, so as to bolster their morale and gain combat advantage that way. By showing him this "button" and others like it I increased his enjoyment by making the game more interactive and giving him a tactical choice to make, even if technically speaking all I did was to point out something that was always there, and could be accessed by any player who did the imaginary visualization legwork of figuring out that a causal relationship existed in the fiction and his character had the lever to trigger it, if he dared.

    I suppose that we got sort of half-way with habituating that particular player to playing in the "fiction wargame" style. He's not the most imaginative sort of fellow by nature, I've seen others take to the premise of "playing the fiction" much easier, but he's slowly learning, and by now he makes a fine player. I believe that if I get another 50 sessions with him at some point, he might even come to realize that it really, genuinely doesn't make the buttons any more real if they're printed on the page of a book rather than existing in the fiction only. As it is right now, he still visibly perks up when something is Real-Because-It's-Written-Down. Could be a rule, could be a spell, could be a character feat, could be an item in the backpack inventory, whatever - it's all always just a bit more officially real for him if it's written down. I even started writing down more of the rules during the campaign precisely because I could get more emotional commitment out of him (and to a lesser degree some other players; everybody is affected by this trick at least a bit) by doing that.

    (I'm planning to play a serious take on 4th edition with this particular player at some point, perhaps starting this year. He's precisely the sort with whom I want to try 4th. I'm secretly hoping that he'll discover a more balanced viewpoint on this "RPGs should be like video games, with clear and objective buttons" issue, too, by experiencing the ways in which 4th edition is less fulfilling and more limited than old school D&D.)
  • I don't *think* it was the kind of board-game rules written down vs imaginative levers issue with our group. The players generally engaged well with that kind of thinking - most of our combat with the lesser undead in that dungeon involved slow lines of retreat lined with burning oil, and the magic user had a great time researching a book they found in dungeon in the downtime, and from that extracted a ritual involving freshly plucked teeth for destroying lesser undead.

    From what I'm gathering from the responses I'm getting, the issues we had were two:

    Firstly, we had relatively large differences in combat capability between player characters. Fighters got +1/level to hit - so in practice +1, because we never got beyond first level. They also got d8 hitpoints, vs d6 for everyone else (rolled every time you sleep). More substantially, ability scores played a big role - could be a difference of +5 to hit between a well rolled ability score and a bad one. Most of these ideas were taken from various things Eero mentioned about a campaign he ran, but I guess I, being a newbie to all this, applied them naively/badly, and I maybe should have stuck with something more canonical.

    Secondly, it seems like combat maybe was taking up more of our time that in standard OSR? Definitely we had sessions in town / exploring the world / researching that contained no combat. And even one or two in the dungeons that didn't. And definitely the players tried to avoid combat, as it was swiftly established as highly lethal (albeit, the undead became less threatening once good procedures were developed for dealing with them). But it just seemed pretty inevitable that if you were looting the catacombs you were going to end up running into some undead that were hard to flee, and that could easily end up taking up a third or more of a session.
  • (As a side note, I've always liked the idea of keeping the fiction-first playstyle but still making options and rewards tangible and clear. For example, maybe a player like that wouldn't be as motivated by "here's a mysterious situation, what can you learn?", but he WOULD if you presented him with a list of questions/mysteries, nicely typed up - and maybe with illustrations! - and told him he gets 500 XPs each time he finds the answer to one. Eventually you can tell him he can write his own questions and add them to the sheet!

    Or perhaps you'd prepare a set of envelopes, marked with a numerical code, and have them sitting on the table all the time. As he achieves various goals in the fiction, he gets to open them... each provides some reward or further clue or a power up like a magical item...)
  • Those don't seem like huge mechanical differences in character effectiveness to me, although they are more dynamic than you get in more orthodox rules. I've played with similar dynamics (say +12 for your average fighter vs. +5 for the wizard to hit at 1st level, with the difference growing at higher levels) for quite a bit now, and it's probably a difference in attitudes, because the players have generally been happy with the idea that fighters really are mechanically more effective in combat in a way that is actually noticeable. In orthodox Basic D&D the only real advantage the Fighter has is the plate mail, while in my take it's more that everybody can get plate mail if they can afford it and want it, but you really are about as effective in combat as say 1.6 civilians before accounting for equipment - and that's just at first level, of course. In orthodox Basic it's more like you're as effective as 1.1 civilians, roughly.

    The raw numbers get evened out in my homebrew by the degree of success rules, of course; the default combat situations are still ones where the non-combatants can expect to hit at least occasionally, and the higher hit rates of the fighters mainly translate into more and bigger stunts on their part. This dynamic could be quite different psychologically if the 5-point difference to-hit between the fighter and non-fighter means that the fighter whiffs 1/2 of the time, while the non-fighter whiffs 3/4. If you make sure the AC is conservative enough, then civilians still have a chance to hit in combat, but in that case it's also good to make sure the fighter gets something out of being a good hitter. That's how it goes in the midnight waltz of the D&D mechanical landscape

    Aside from that, maybe your group just doesn't like low-fantasy dungeon commando stuff that much? Or the magic-user player doesn't, anyway? The way I've experienced it, people come to wargamey D&D for the blood-curdling challenge and stay for the eternal dance of the swords, morale, surprise, lightning, corridors, doorways, and so on and so forth; if "solving" that wargame environment (and notionally winning through that stage of play into mid-level adventures with their own, new challenges) doesn't ultimately appeal, it doesn't matter how strong your presentation is: you're just gonna play for a while and then grow bored with yet another goblin encounter. Perfectly normal, creatively speaking.
  • My theory of pedagogy involves putting characters in really tough situations and letting the players figure it out or not. Dead characters are a great motivator for better play.

    When players cry, "But what could we do to avoid that?" after a slaughter in which they charged in and fought without any other tactic, I will happily volunteer ideas-- after.

    It has taken about 50 hours of play for my megadungeon group to really start to get it.

    Most amusing to me lately was the realization that the 100-foot-deep canyon with the broken bridge was far scarier to them than any monster they'd faced. They'd used a certain amount of creativity (and rope) to reduce their risk to a DC 10 Athletics check (with Advantage). That's a 25% chance of falling for most PCs, 20% with even a +1 in Strength, 16% with just skill proficiency, 12% with both. But failure meant a 100-foot fall, or 10d6 damage (average 35), which likely would kill many 4th or 5th level characters.

    Did they have enough rope to belay each other in case one lost grip on the rope bridge? No. Did they wait to get enough rope, or make a second trip back to the city for some? No. Did they ask the myconids they met -- who they saw rapel down the cliff with their own vine ropes and grapples -- for some help or rope? No, but they thought of it after they were gone. Did they have a flexible and portable bridge constructed and carry it into the dungeon and figure out how to attach it to the other side? No.

    Instead, they tore apart a wooden table and a weapons rack for lumber, popped nails out of some crates they found, and cobbled together a makeshift wooden plank that held long enough for two to get across, then tied ropes and made a rope bridge and a hand-over-hand swinging technique that I determined required an Athletics check at just 10, with advantage. (I think I said no advantage the first time, since it's a basic Athletics thing to swing like that, then later forgot and gave them advantage on the return.)

  • Eero and I are largely on the same page.

    Minus some of the scorn I'm reading in his posts. I don't feel that way.

    I make sure my players understand that I'm running a challenge-based game, and that they should try to think outside the box. After that, they live or die by their actions, and I strive to be as fair as I can -- the "neutral arbiter" of immortal Gygaxian legend.

    If they fail, they make new characters and try again, and we all laugh about it. I don't think anyone is "dim", though. I mean, sometimes people are dim, but my players aren't -- even when they're failing miserably.

    My feeling about players who don't grok, or don't enjoy, old school challenge-based play is a shrug. That's fine! So Airk doesn't see anything fun in finding the coolest parts of his character in the possibilities unrepresented by the character's encoded mechanical abilities. That's fine! Sometimes I feel the same way.

    After all, I do let players roll Persuasion and Sense Motive. I don't make them try to read my face or "convince the GM" to convince an NPC. But the rolls in my old school-style games are crutches to fall back on; by relying only on the skill check, you cheat yourself out of a huge field of possibilities towards success.

  • Martin, I get it. Sorry for using your post as an example of sorts.

    My experience with magic-users in B/X is that they often hold their spell for the right moment. Most of the time, they're way in the back, chucking daggers during the missile phase, doing d4 damage instead of d6 or d8, but still contributing to the combat meaningfully.

    As Eero said, they probably also have oil for throwing. They might be holding the torch to free up hands so other people can go sword and shield. They're keeping an eye on the whole battlefield for surprises.

    The magic-user is probably also freed up to think about crazy tactical ideas. They might have a bag of caltrops or marbles to help an escape.

    In a tournament AD&D game at GenCon '92, I played a magic-user who turned the tide of an encounter with the untie cantrip, unfastening the spearheads from the wooden shafts of some ogres that were getting the better of us. I used some other cantrip to cause other crazy effects. Our DM was happy to play along with them, luckily.

    In B/X, the mage is likely to blind an opponent with light, use sleep to drop a whole room full of low-level foes, or charm someone for months. Folks, charm! How to create an army of helpful people to do one's (only somewhat limited) bidding...
  • That's some good stuff with the rope bridge. Yeah, that's how the game is played. I know it's confusing as hell that this stuff isn't on the forefront in the rulebooks and such, but that's how it goes sometimes.

    Also, I definitely don't mean failure when I speak of dimness. Great and motivated players fail all the time. I literally mean that some people just don't come to the game table to be clever and exercise their brains (which is, well, the actual game in this sort of D&D). With the amount of chaos ("random chance") that the game involves, they'll even have a wide variety of success and failure by just feeding in their coins and turning the handle, no effort required. That's just how it is with D&D. In Helsinki we used to talk about this often, about how this challenge-based paradigm is ruining D&D for the guys who "just want to have some fun after a long day at work". They greatly prefer a game where the GM preps a nice little plot and some fights, and the player participation element is mostly to color in some fictional details, and turn some switches in the minis combat game - but only as much as you want to, no pressure.

    I do my best to phrase this in a way that doesn't make assumptions about how intelligent or literate or intellectually curious or life-experienced people are, although it's pretty obvious that all these things and more play a part in our creative encounters with others. The end-outcome of the complex craft that is building a human is just that sometimes you get a guy who gets really motivated about figuring out just the right way to do a hard entry into an unsuspecting goblin cave, while other times you get a guy who just sits there dumb until somebody prods them with a "it's your turn, what do you do?", and even then they'll just make that attack roll, because that's the extent of their intellectual involvement in the game. Could be that they're 12-year old and most of the game just outright flies right over their head, or they're in a stressful job during the day and can't really get into the mindset of enjoying a highly active and self-reliant playstyle.

    I'll note that old school D&D is still one of the finer rpgs when it comes to accomodating a wide variety of differently-abled players to have a good time together. Many drama games are much, much more fragile about having e.g. one player in four just be pretty dim. You end up with missed beats and ignored themes. D&D in comparison takes that in stride - you just give them their character, and the highest-performing players will naturally hash things out among themselves, leaving others to learn by watching, or to timidly join in when they feel like it, or to just sit there and roll the dice when they're told to. Not all players are happy with the range of participation options that D&D offers, but it's good to realize that even if it's not perfect, it's still very, very good in comparison to most alternatives.
  • Oh, I should probably provide a conclusion for that magic-user boringness theory, too. Assuming we entertain the notion that magic-users getting bored has to do with the players in question having an easier time relating to boardgamey rules than the fiction, then we can make a few predictions:
    * Such players would enjoy 4th edition D&D. They aren't bothered by the fake wider context in which the combats occur, or the arbitrary class powers and such. They will enjoy the clarity of how their tactical options are listed out, ready to be picked, and how this part of play never "runs out".

    Well, nailed that one for me.


    (I'm planning to play a serious take on 4th edition with this particular player at some point, perhaps starting this year. He's precisely the sort with whom I want to try 4th. I'm secretly hoping that he'll discover a more balanced viewpoint on this "RPGs should be like video games, with clear and objective buttons" issue, too, by experiencing the ways in which 4th edition is less fulfilling and more limited than old school D&D.)

    But meanwhile I find myself wondering about this statement. As far as I am concerned, everything you can do in OSR D&D can be done in 4th edition. Probably with less DM Fiat involved in what it means. But that doesn't mean there is no room for DM Fiat. It frustrates me that people can say "OSR has rules for jack and ****, so the DM has to fiat everything and that's great!" without acknowledging that the DM can fiat whatever they please in 4th ed too. All the stuff about pouring water on the ground to find pit traps and listening at doors and trying to ambush your opponents, and setting fire to stuff, and running away because you're running from wolves that love Iron Rations more than anything? It all works in 4th ed. 4th ed doesn't have rules for it either. It seems to me to be the exact same DM fiat space. The only place I find a real difference is in the existence of Morale rules, which curiously restricts the DM Fiat space in OSR play. As Adam asserts - you don't have to rely only on the skill check. The game doesn't even really expect you to rely only on the skill check. I mean heck, great example right there with the cobbled together wooden "bridge". Works GREAT in 4th ed. Not sure what the problem is.

    While there are certainly differences in tone, I think those come down far more strongly on the expectations of play for Heroic vs Newbs in a Dungeon than finding 4th ed more "limited". They are different. BX is a terrible system for running heroes who plunge desperately into a dark temple and emerge victorious by the strength of their arms and the power of their spells. That doesn't make it more limited than 4th ed, and the fact that characters in 4th edition aren't sad fragile things who die from one good stab from a kobold doesn't make the reverse true either.
  • 4th edition D&D has morale rules: a successful Intimidate check against a Bloodied opponent results in them running away or surrendering. It's a rule I'm fond of, which is why I can quote if off the top of my head [grin].

    But anyway, if you find 4th edition to be your perfect mechanical chassis for organic wargamey D&D, then that's great, and really interesting, and I'd love to hear more about the ways in which the game is organic (fiction is relevant to play) and wargamey (challenge-oriented). I don't really think that the mechanical particulars are what makes old school D&D - the defining features are procedural.

    I'm not the right person to fight edition wars with, I guess [grin]. The fact that I don't want to use 4th edition for that sort of thing, but instead want to play some very carefully delineated miniatures skirmish wargaming with it is just what the game text inspires me to do. I don't need to convince anybody that the things they do with it are wrong.
  • The thing that always bothered me in "modern D&D" when it came to playing out fictional situations is the amount of time and effort spent defining specific character abilities.

    What this means, in effect, is that anyone who wants to do something clever *which falls under the scope of a character ability* CANNOT be given a good chance to do so, or they're invalidating another character's build. If you have a "Trip Monsters" feat in your game, for instance, you have to penalize players who want to trip a monster but didn't take the feat... or the player who DID wasted their time taking the Feat in the first place.

    As those abilities and Feats add up, the available space of "being clever in the fiction" shrinks rapidly. With something like 3rd or 4th Edition D&D, you're trying to dance on a thin wire when you try to play "fiction-first", because so little space is left for you to maneuver.

    This applies to all sorts of things. For instance, if there is a "backstab" ability the Rogue has, how do we handle a clever player who surprises an enemy from behind? We have to carefully consider the implications for game balance every time such a little thing happens.

    It especially applies to "roleplaying" skills, too, like History Knowledge or Persuasion.

    The bigger problems, though, come from other sources, like XP for combat (that does not motivate "cleverness" in any way), the slow pace of combats (eats up so much game time, that sometimes there's no time left for other concerns), and the high level of investment involved in creating a character and choosing their Powers.

    You think you can spend two hours lovingly crafting a Wizard with Fire Powers, after doing research on the internet about what Feats are best, and then be happy when the game you're playing turns out to be all about a contest of watercolours? And what if your character dies twenty minutes into the game?

    A variety of playstyles is *possible*, sure, but it sure isn't natural. You have a lot of things working against you.
  • 4e is a beautiful game. I love it.

    It also exhausts me. It's complicated and ornate. It has rules for everything. It takes serious effort to hack.
  • Paul,

    Right. 5e handles that better. An example from last night's game:

    They get to the iron gate around the Druid's Grove, which is where the entrance to the Fungal Caves dungeon is. The druids close the park at sunset and lock the gate, every night. So the party has to either climb the gate and risk injury, or pick the lock.

    They don't even have a rogue in the party most nights.

    Who picks the lock? Anyone.

    Omid the Bard bought some thieves' tools. Anyone can use them. If you are proficient with the tools, you get a bonus to your Dexterity (Sleight of Hand) check to pick locks, but you don't actually need proficiency to use them.

    Another example: crossing the bridge.

    Everyone can make a Strength (Athletics) check. If they aren't proficient in the skill, it's just an unmodified Strength check; if they are trained in Athletics, they get a +2.

  • (The thieves' tools example is slightly contentious, since the verdict is out whether you need proficiency in the tools to use them at all, but I tend to err on the side of the party not needing one particular rare ability to move forward.)
  • edited January 2018
    I became disappointed with 3.5 monk when I played it and went on to play a PF monk which was supposedly better built. And I still got frustrated, bored and felt my character didn't either made enough damage nor could withstand enough damage to be of any real use. I mean, damn, all his best attacks are melee, but once you got close to an opponent you either killed it on the spot or risked being killed on their next attack!

    I thought I had built the character wrong and obsessed about powerbuilding as I had done when the same thing happened to me when playing 3.5. But as I checked the forums I finally realized that what was wrong was the way I was playing the character.

    I changed my approach and started to list all the choices, all the invisible buttons that weren't on my character sheet. I was already proficient at thinking outside the box and avoiding combat, that wasn't the problem, but I was totally missing all the chances the game offered. To actually excel at combat I didn't needed a character with higher to hit bonus, damage dice, AC nor HP. Those weren't the monk weapons at all. The answer was in all those common items on the store list, in my character strengths, in the synergies I could bring from teamwork with the rest of the PCs, and thinking creatively how to work with that.

    It clicked a bit better in my mind when I tried to think that I was playing PF on hard difficulty mode

    So I started to use the character's speed, the acrobatics, play hide and seek when I could, lay traps on the battlefield, flank opponents already engaged with other PCs, stay on the look if there were spellcasters to subdue. Even when the campaign started to feature mostly enemies that I couldn't touch without getting damaged or rolling saves, I was at that point using less and less of my melee attacks.

    I even bypassed the AC problem when I got enough feats to be able to make melee attacks at 10 or 15 ft and immediately spring back into a safe position. By the end of the campaign I was able to cross the whole battlefield three times without teleporting, with my walking speed, and still do an action that saved the whole party.

    I could later bring this way of thinking back when playing 5e, specially at low levels. We even had more fun when I had the players put their character's aside and play level 0 humans involved in events where their characters weren't present. Like when a small group of guards had to defend their walled city from an attack of demon-possessed Goliaths. Whenever one of the unnamed guards got killed there was another ready to cover their post, also played by the same player, who had watched his friend die and was ready to make a desperate sacrifice for the sake of their city.

    On another session they played a handfull of peasants as we started to call them. Again, it was a whole town of humans trying to do the same thing adventurers did, except that they only had 1hp and no training even in coordination to make their numbers count. On those sessions more heroics were seen than in any of our ordinary sessions with the characters. Of course, some moments were totally laughable when players made suicide attacks or started to say things like "You know, I'll marry my girl when we get back, I really mean it" right before they faced a challenge they knew they had no chance to beat. This spirit was necessary to face the so common character death. But besides that, this exercise also helped players to think a bit more outside the box and value more their character features and options.

    It also helped to gave the players an actual "training session" where their characters meet an old veteran that gave them a course on dungeoneering. I'm all right with letting the players learn from their mistakes, but it won't do any damage to explain in-game what are the GM expectations from the players, and to explain them better than despite the game is called "Dungeons & Dragons" that doesn't mean they will get to face and kill a dragon on their first dungeon by kicking the door and rolling dice at it, unless they get reaaaaally creative about it.
  • Airk said:


    While I'm sure this sort of thing can be fun, most of the examples I read of it irritate me, because they're full of this sort of ridiculous "Dungeon CSI as imagined by people with a terrible understanding of how these things work." situations. The ones that vex me particularly, that I see a lot, are "Lamp oil is basically the same thing as Greek fire!" and "I throw iron rations behind me to distract the wolves!"

    It is one thing to read examples of play, another thing to play. This play style may or may not be for you. But I would definitely suggest trying it first to find out.

    But the specific point you are raising boils down to the dungeon master. If the issue is you want the game more realistic (or vice versa and want a more adventurous style of play, over something that is realistic), you achieve that by playing with a gamemaster who fits that style. I think most people are more flexible than that, but if you have a narrow range that is acceptable, you can easily find a GM who is on the same wavelength.
  • So, I started playing BD&D in 1982. I really wanted to play a wizard. Magic User was the closest.

    I grew up in San Diego, a far long way removed from Lake Geneva and I couldn't afford any D&D-themed magazines. I found the game in a game store, convinced my mom to get it and poured over it with much zeal.

    The thing is, the game sort of assumed you "got it." There were rules for followers, but I didn't understand why. There were items like a 10' pole that I couldn't fathom why you would want it. The whole no real weapons, no armor, one spell per day thing really sucked. My DM didn't have any of the history of D&D in their back pocket either. And we couldn't afford to play with minis, so usually we just used the descriptions of what we did to determine character position, etc.

    So, basically, my character lived or died at the whim of the DM. If the DM decided to roll the dice to decide who the monsters would attack, I was screwed. If the DM decided to spread the attacks evenly between the PCs I was screwed. We tried saying the MU hid in the back of the group, but that was only as good as the DMs mercy.

    The one justification for having MUs start out so pitifully weak was that at higher levels, they were a powerhouse. The problem was, no one understood why the rules said GPs=XPs, so we didn't use that rule, Leveling up was a slow, arduous process. I never actually was able to level a PC past 3rd level. Later we would start games at higher level, but even then MUs sort of stank. 5d4+5 HPs didn't go very far in a 5th level campaign...

    And the trap/puzzle/logic problem/lateral thinking parts of any dungeon design were lost on me. I don't enjoy those kinds of puzzles and am not very good at it (I've tried off and on over the years and its just not fun for me). Even today, I shy away from those kinds of puzzles. Every time I try, I fail and end up leading the people who can solve them in the wrong direction.

    I never got to play a Wizard that was fun until maybe the TSR Conan RPG (in 1985).
  • Paul_T said:

    The thing that always bothered me in "modern D&D" when it came to playing out fictional situations is the amount of time and effort spent defining specific character abilities.

    What this means, in effect, is that anyone who wants to do something clever *which falls under the scope of a character ability* CANNOT be given a good chance to do so, or they're invalidating another character's build. If you have a "Trip Monsters" feat in your game, for instance, you have to penalize players who want to trip a monster but didn't take the feat...

    Exactly this. What I've just recently begun to get is that the joy of old-school challengeful play is that THE ANSWER IS NOT ON YOUR CHARACTER SHEET.

    Trying to run an osr game for my players after 3 years of pbta games had them staring dumbly at their character sheets for most of the session, hopelessly searching for some move or rule that would forcefully adjudicate the situation in their favor.

    One of the things that has been burning me about pbta games lately is the feeling that the the game is mostly just interacting with itself.
  • For @DInDenver: D&D is a game largely learned through oral tradition, the earliest editions especially so (in my experience). The rules exist, but they do not exist within a vacuum. They matter, but they matter far less so than the implementation of those rules in the play experience. One player GMs the game for new players, teaching them how to GM, and then the new player tries his hand at GMing, instructing others in the practice of GMing. Some of the first GM's habits are preserved while others are discarded, and the next player to learn the game repeats the process.

    How many games have you played in with critical success and critical fumble rules? The rules text is silent on such an issue. As my formative experience with RPGs was with D&D 3.5, imagine my surprise upon learning that skill checks were binary success/fail, that critical hits must be rolled to confirm, and that it was saving throws alone that dealt with both "natural 1s and 20s" as automatic success and failure.

    What's more, these lessons taught are preserved and codified in other rule sets! Consider the prevalence of fumbles/botches and critical successes in modern systems. Consider Burning Wheel's rules like Let It Ride: undoubtedly positive and negative GMing experiences shaped Luke Crane's vision of Burning Wheel. When Steve Perrin wrote Runequest, surely he had experienced that
    character[s] lived or died at the whim of the DM
    and so sought to preclude this by introducing procedural elements to handle things like searching for traps.
  • Dirk said:

    One of the things that has been burning me about pbta games lately is the feeling that the the game is mostly just interacting with itself.

    Well, this is a symptom of crutch play, where everyone is speaking the name of the move and not using fictional positioning properly. It's the same problem with 5e play where fictional color doesn't seem to matter mechanically. It's where OSR shines, because the crutches aren't there for players to lean on (but the GM has to do all the heavy lifting and carry the game).

    Ultimately, you want enough RAW procedure to keep the game consistent and fair, but not so much that the players forget that it's just make-believe at its heart. That's the OSR push, in my eyes.

    -----

    During my megadungeon sessions, a player's round of combat goes something like this:

    1. Me, clicking the initiative counter. "Bree, your turn."
    2. Leah, playing Bree: "I'm going to shoot it with my bow."
    3. Me, saying nothing, because she knows what to do.
    4. Leah, rolling: "15."
    5. Me, checking against its AC, which is 13. "Hit."
    6. Leah, rolling damage: "Oh, good! 8 piercing damage."
    7. Me: "Tell me what happens."
    8. Leah: "So I pull an arrow back, waiting for Oisin to get out of the way, then take my shot. The arrow nails it right in the face."
    9. Me: "Yeah, it rears back and lets out an angry cry, thrashing its arms in Oisin's general direction, but not connecting... yet."

    That's just color, right? But so many people stop at 6 in the name of expediency. Yeah, it makes a combat move quicker, but at the sacrifice of actually playing the game.

    Another kind of typical thing from my games:

    10. Me, clicking the initiative counter. "Omid, you're up. The thing looks like it's about to wallop you!"
    11. Daniel, playing Omid: "Thunder wave." A spell she uses a lot.
    12. Daniel clicks the spell so we can all see its description in the interface.
    13. Me, clicking the Constitution save button: "So a Con save... 11. Failure, right?"
    14. Daniel: "Yep. 13 damage and pushed back 10 feet."
    15. Me, moving the monster token back two squares into a giant mushroom there.
    16. Me: "There's an echoing BOOM in the cavern and the thing is blown back into that 10-foot-tall mushroom, toppling it. The mushroom breaks on the stem and sorta bounces a bit."

    So far, normal stuff. Now this.

    17. Me, clicking the initiative counter. "Ronald, your turn."
    18. Woody, playing Ronald: "So the mushroom is here?" Pointing on the map.
    19. Me: "Correct."
    20. Woody: "I want to use it for cover to sneak up behind it."
    21. Me: "Stealth check with Advantage."
    ...

    Basically, a bit of color of the mushroom being in the way of the monster's path when it gets blown back, and the toppling of the mushroom, turns into a change in the environment that Woody wants to exploit with his character.

    Sneaking in any case would get him a Stealth check, but because he's being smart about it, the mushroom grants him Advantage.

    He might then try to get a surprise attack on the monster, or might climb the mushroom to jump on the monster's back, or whatever. It's all good.

    -----

    Now to take things full circle, you can do all of those things in PbtA games. It's just a technique. Mostly, I'd use the "carry +1 forward" rule for advantages created through fictional positioning.
  • Adam_Dray said:

    Basically, a bit of color of the mushroom being in the way of the monster's path when it gets blown back, and the toppling of the mushroom, turns into a change in the environment that Woody wants to exploit with his character.

    This is core. The way I usually phrase it is that the resolution system of old D&D is "short-loop organic": the players are expected to generate fiction (in response to mechanical events and otherwise) in a strictly Color-oriented way, painting the scene with visceral detail. This detail in turn, just a bit later, may be utilized to justify further mechanical developments in a way that becomes a dialogue of a purposeful adventurer using the neutrally arbited environment to their advantage. The original fictional detail really was genuinely created without teleological instinct: the player who said it said it to paint the scene, not to set up an advantage for later.

    This is actually one of the traditional constraints that D&D gamers struggle with when it comes to all players narrating stuff: the concern is that players who are not the GM cannot switch to channeling genuine, unbiased fiction at the drop of the hat, so what they'll end up doing is clumsy set-ups for their own later advantage. "Oh, the guy, uh, blows back and hits the big mushroom, and the mushroom breaks and falls in just such a way that it blocks his view of this other part of the cave."

    Nevertheless, it's useful to get the other players to participate in caring for and developing the combat choreography, which is one of the main reasons for why I think stunting works so well in D&D: if you allow players who roll particularly well a greater say on combat choreography, then that unifies the player's need for advantage with the GM's need to maintain a joint imagination about the combat space. It's simply useful to have another player join in describing the combat choreography, even if you need to set clear limits on how useful exactly this given narration gets to be in combat advantage terms.
  • @DInDenver Yeah! There is a whole thread of color first stuff then sort out the mechanics which is unstated in the original White Books but assumed knowledge. D&D was derived from a narrative war game where the ref was trained in judging odds based on fictional positioning (see Charles Totten’s Strategos, 1880).

    Even in Moldvay this stuff is buried (page B60) under the Dungeon Mastering as a Fine Art, subsection That's not in the rules. Which is still kinda hand wavey and assumes your DM can judge the fiction well.

    An actually play example with call outs to the rules like @Adam_Dray posted would help.
  • edited February 2018
    Or when Eero says 1 spellcaster per 5 fighters, was the spellcaster also playing a fighter, and thus always guaranteed a slice of the action?
    As a historical note, I have heard from some older D&D players that in some of the grand old campaigns with dozens of players, it was common practice for a small number of present players to manage a larger number of PCs.

    I gather the practice was that absent players would leave behind rules or flowcharts for their PC, e.g., "My fighter will join any expedition to dungeon level 3 or lower. He will not open doors or test magic items. He retreats if he falls below 10 hp."

    So, if you were playing a wizard who ran out of spells, you could still help manage the "rest of the party" in combat encounters (which would thus play a bit more like wargames).
  • I gather the practice was that absent players would leave behind rules or flowcharts for their PC, e.g., "My fighter will join any expedition to dungeon level 3 or lower. He will not open doors or test magic items. He retreats if he falls below 10 hp."

    That's actually a pretty interesting idea. I've historically been strictly of the position that the characters whose players aren't there are not "in play" (neither endangered nor useful, even if they might diegetically be "in the dungeon" for some reason). That sort of flowchart, if voluntary, would be something I'd find both interesting and worthwhile to try.

    In fact, I'd probably just give everybody some flowchart sheets and tell them that if they want me to do some solo gaming in between sessions, I can do that myself or get somebody to help - send the whole party to do some "downtime adventuring" as flowchart bots [grin]. Could be amusing, and a way to potentially gamble some advancement for a character you're willing to risk like this.

    "Hey, apparently my character now has a dragon egg in his inventory. The log says that he went adventuring with some weird chaos monks last week."

    (In case somebody's wondering, I would allow a flowcharted character to gain XP for adventuring. The player of the character is the one who has to write the flowchart, and the risks are real for the character. If you can write an artificial intelligence that actually clears dungeons for you, then you should get the points for that, too. I've never docked anybody XP for simply being a quiet and passive player who only tags along and lets others decide what the party does next.)
  • GMs play more than one character at a time. Why can't players?
  • Fun thread. I know "OSR" means different things to different people, but I'll just chime in that my experience in this general realm of play has been this:

    Rolling to hit is an enjoyable failure state.

    It's not that combat shouldn't be fun, it's that most of your energy should be directed toward solving problems in a way that doesn't require the risks of melee.

    My ultimate OSR triumph when facing monsters has always been hearing the GM say, "Yeah, you don't need to roll for that, they're toast."

    As has been said already, the mechanics are in some sense a crutch. If you need 'em, cool, they're there, but if you don't, even better.

    Not trying to speak for all OSR play, just for the kind I find most fun.
  • The more complex combat rules of 3.x and the character building were definitely a pinnacle of a play style that led to protectionism of PCs, sense of danger without too much actual risk of loss. And when a combat takes an hour to run, and the game text encourages setting up 4 encounter adventures and 4 adventures to level, well, all the play that doesn't flow into a combat is pushed aside.

    And then I caught the OSR wind. Now I might go back and play some of those more complex combat games at some point, for one thing, it is actually fun building your character and then trying out the feats and such in play. But the less spelled out rule systems with faster combat resolution allow space for other kinds of activity.

    Most of my play has been play by post, not face to face (I have been playing Traveller on Roll20 for about a year) so we haven't necessarily explored all the possibilities.

    As to multiple PCs, yea, that's workable, especially with the simpler systems, and I actually encourage it to some degree for Traveller.

    I do remember somewhat about the instructions for PCs when the player wasn't able to make it, though I never saw a PC of a non-present player be recruited for an adventure. NPCing a PC mostly happened as part of the structure as we moved to a move structured party that didn't end the session in home base. Sometimes a non-present PC would be out of the action and safe (Fred is off in the woods relieving himself when the orcs attack your camp...), and sometimes they would be present, the choice often being dependent on how much the fiction had to be broken to have them not present. One thing we did is I held peoples character sheets so the current sheet was always available.

    Some additional thoughts: In 1974 D&D (OD&D), Fighters have one more hit point than Magic Users and Clerics. Everyone does 1d6 damage. Everyone needs a 17 to hit AC 2. The only combat mods are Dexterity 13+ gives +1 to hit. There is no damage bonus for strength. Constitution 15+ gives +1 hit point (no later non-fighters get at most +2 from high Constitution). So yea, that Magic User is a BIT more fragile because he's AC 9, but his dagger is just as effective as the Fighter's sword. And when a combat takes 5-10 minutes or so to run, and many combats are avoided, most of the play time is spent exploring, and other than Elves and Dwarves, there are no specific character advantages in exploration, and the Magic User can still be the one who has the good idea of WHERE to search for secret doors.

    Frank
  • Fair enough, Eero! :) Sorry if I got defensive there. I agree that the most straightforward read of the rules is "miniatures wargame" but there's a TON of "empty space" surrounding that that can easily be filled in much the same way that you fill the empty space in OSR rules.
    Paul_T said:

    The thing that always bothered me in "modern D&D" when it came to playing out fictional situations is the amount of time and effort spent defining specific character abilities.

    I agree with you in general, but I feel like 4th ed is SO regimented that this becomes LESS of an issue. In 3rd edition, it's very specific about mapping each of the feats and nonsense that you buy to fictional stuff your character is doing. In 4th ed, most of the time, there isn't anywhere near as much of that. While it MIGHT present you with a specific situation in which you can do a specific fictional thing, mostly it gives you a specific GAME situation in which you can do a specific GAME thing. Which is not the same thing.

    Also, I feel like this is overplayed a little bit. How often do people actually trip opponents or do the sorts of very specific combat maneuvers you describe in OSR games? I understand that they involve lots of "using the environment" but that's not the same thing as tripping/bull rushing/whatever type stuff in my mind.

    Yes, the answer to stuff is supposed to "not be on your character sheet". But since 4e basically gives you tools for fighting and not much else, the answer to any problem that happens before "roll for intiative" is not on your character sheet.

    This applies to all sorts of things. For instance, if there is a "backstab" ability the Rogue has, how do we handle a clever player who surprises an enemy from behind? We have to carefully consider the implications for game balance every time such a little thing happens.
    I'm pretty sure there are rules for that already. Those characters are less good at knowing exactly where to place their knife, relative to a rogue, but they definitely still get a bonus.
    Paul_T said:


    It especially applies to "roleplaying" skills, too, like History Knowledge or Persuasion.

    Respectfully, I feel that "roleplaying skills" have nothing to do with this discussion, and are very much their own animal.
    Paul_T said:


    You think you can spend two hours lovingly crafting a Wizard with Fire Powers, after doing research on the internet about what Feats are best, and then be happy when the game you're playing turns out to be all about a contest of watercolours? And what if your character dies twenty minutes into the game?

    C'mon. OSR games about watercolor contests? I feel like you are moving the goalposts on me pretty hard here. Also, the likelihood of a 4e character dying 20 minutes into the game is low. That is one of the REALLY meaningful differences between it and OSR systems, and one that really does change the TONE of the game. But it doesn't have to change the STYLE, if you understand me.
    Paul_T said:


    A variety of playstyles is *possible*, sure, but it sure isn't natural. You have a lot of things working against you.

    I'm not sure I feel like this case has been made.
  • Adding my own two cents about 4e:

    Skill challenges and the rules for improvised actions in combat were an attempt to widen the variety of tools available to GMs for implementing different game styles. Simplifying the skill system and ensuring baseline competency for all characters worked toward this goal also. I do say attempted here, because with the introduction of combat powers, explicit combat roles, a greater emphasis on grid-based combat, and a Monster Manual that failed to inspire the imagination, the communicated style of play was one scripted, XP-budgeted combat encounter after another.

    This is how the 4e games I've played in have gone. This is also how many 3e games have played out, and this is exactly how every Pathfinder AP and PFS game I've played in have gone. This absolutely traces back pretty far in D&D's history, but only modern D&D has designed the game around this style of gameplay. In earlier editions, the game existed as-is, the adventures existed as-is, and the two intersected; in modern editions, the game is designed in parallel with this mode of gameplay as the default.

    This is all based on anecdotal experience, of course. Your gameplay may vary.
  • Airk,

    I must admit that I have never played D&D4E, so, if it's entirely different from what I'm describing, I have to take your word for it. You make a good point about how "limiting the mechanical bits" to the combat sequences can open up the roleplaying and adventure which happens *outside* of combat.

    However, this is where I'm coming from:

    1. Every person I've spoken to about 4th Edition play has basically said something along the lines of, "We had a great time; solid design. But we just cut out the roleplaying entirely by the third session or so."

    (Including ValyrianSteelKatana, who seems to be saying something quite similar, just above:)

    [...] the communicated style of play was one scripted, XP-budgeted combat encounter after another.

    This is how the 4e games I've played in have gone.

    2. In my experience, if I put this in front of the average player...

    "You're a clever adventurer, and you've got a length of rope, a bear trap, and a live mule"...

    ...they approach the game in a *completely* different way than if I put this in front of them:

    "You are an Ultimate Mega Angel Warrior, with the ability to call down the fires of heaven for 3d6+10 damage as a bonus action, fire a Lightning Nova which can deal up to 50 damage, and [several more follow]..."

    Further, that difference in reaction is amplified when the player has designed those things herself, after careful study of the rulebooks, and is looking forward to adding feat X at level 5 and feat Y at level 11, when their character finally earn the Synergy of Combat Mastery they put together this build to achieve in the first place.

    That's been my experience. Those design elements really matter in terms of how people approach the game.
  • edited February 2018
    I put down some of my thoughts on what 4th edition D&D is like in a new thread. My chosen discussion modality there is "let me tell you about my campaign", on the premise that I'd rather not argue about what a game is good for when I can just put my heart where my mouth is and show what I'm willing to do with it. I personally think that my 4th edition micro-campaign is nothing whatsoever like OSR D&D, and I think that it's the best contextually comparative way to use 4th edition rules. That is, given that we have other rules systems for other purposes, the question becomes not "can I do this with 4th?" but rather "what is it that it's worthwhile to try to do with 4th?" You can read my answer to that question in the other thread.
  • 1. Every person I've spoken to about 4th Edition play has basically said something along the lines of, "We had a great time; solid design. But we just cut out the roleplaying entirely by the third session or so."

    (Including ValyrianSteelKatana, who seems to be saying something quite similar, just above:)
    I should clarify: it is not that we did not roleplay in 4e. It is that the game relied on heavily scripted encounters, and our actions did not make any difference in the encounters themselves. No amount of sneakery or cunning could bypass an encounter. Every combat began within a short distance with little forewarning. This is partially due to novice GMing, but I believe it is the rule set working as intended. (Why are you playing 4e if you aren't going to utilize the rules in a tactical setpiece battle? Because it has the name "D&D"?)
    Those design elements really matter in terms of how people approach the game.
    Presentation matters. Give a man a button (a color-coded power card) and he'll push it.

    Some 4e players on a website I visit lament how 5e walked back the innovations in their preferred edition. The reversion from succinct power formatting into plain language descriptors as a method of appeasing those who grumbled that 4e's classes all played the same. "All classes play the same" is inaccurate. "All classes look the same" is not. Abolishing the class skeletons of yore and replacing them with a standardized power and advancement schedule had a profound impact on the game.

    For those unfamiliar with the powers system, the formatting left nothing to the imagination. There existed a blurb of descriptive text within a color-coded frame alongside with a handful of Magic: the Gathering-style keywords. The flavor text had zero impact on the power itself, and the majority of powers (especially early in the publishing cycle) involved rolling an attack vs. a defense and inflicting damage and a status effect and/or forced movement effect.

    The presentation of powers was concise, precise, and sterile. Brevity, clarity, and sterility are to be lauded in a technical manual. Rules density creates a similarity to a technical manual, but that presentation is ill-suited to an RPG. Many players desire a vicarious experience of the game through the text. A wizard casting from his fingers an orange bead that blossoms into a roaring explosion stokes the imagination. A wizard that does 3d6 + Intelligence damage in an area, Int vs. Reflex for half and prone does not.

    The 4e presentation of powers focused the game into what mattered most to the developers: tactical combat encounters in which players would be moving miniatures around the battlemat like chess pieces (the natural evolution of 3e's grid-based combat). Readers are not morons. When the text says "you slide the target three squares," readers understand what's important.
  • Paul_T said:


    2. In my experience, if I put this in front of the average player...

    "You're a clever adventurer, and you've got a length of rope, a bear trap, and a live mule"...

    ...they approach the game in a *completely* different way than if I put this in front of them:

    "You are an Ultimate Mega Angel Warrior, with the ability to call down the fires of heaven for 3d6+10 damage as a bonus action, fire a Lightning Nova which can deal up to 50 damage, and [several more follow]..."

    It depends. If the ellipses are followed by "And there's a room full of goblins in front of you" the reactions are going to be pretty different. If they are followed by "And you need to get across this chasm" the answers are not.

    That's been my experience. Those design elements really matter in terms of how people approach the game.
    But they are basically only relevant when they are relevant. If you give a wizard a Sleep spell, you have not helped him cross a chasm. Even the most OSR of OSR games have certain locked in mechanical fixities. Not everyone is "just" a clever adventurer. But as everyone has been firmly asserting for the past few days, the wizard with his sleep spell isn't crippled when facing the non-fighting challenges of the game. Neither is anyone else with a list of powers that only apply in a fight.
  • edited February 2018
    Indeed; it depends on what proportion of those powers/abilities/feats apply in certain contexts. If they all *only apply in fights*, then playing out non-combat situations will be quite open-ended (which could be good or bad, depending on what kind of game you're playing).

    However, the part you may be missing is that those things don't only impact in-the-moment character choices. They also affect:

    * What kind of character I might envision in the first place,
    * What kinds of adventures and challenges the GM will prep,
    * Which adventures, situations, or dilemmas we will gravitate towards, as a group.

    I submit that, in a framework like "modern D&D", groups will tend to move towards scripted combat encounters far more often, for all these reasons.
  • Paul_T said:

    Indeed; it depends on what proportion of those powers/abilities/feats apply in certain contexts. If they all *only apply in fights*, then playing out non-combat situations will be quite open-ended (which could be good or bad, depending on what kind of game you're playing).

    It seems like we are both losing track of context; In the original post, I believe the assertion was that "modern D&D" (Which, I suppose I should now assert, is not a very good term since it implies more similarity than there is) does not allow for open ended problem solving, instead telling people to only look at their character sheets for answers.

    I think I have successfully contested this point, at least in context of exploration.
    Paul_T said:


    I submit that, in a framework like "modern D&D", groups will tend to move towards scripted combat encounters far more often, for all these reasons.

    This makes sense and doesn't. To me, I'm more inclined to pick what kinds of challenges etc I might want to place in front of a group before I give my system a lot of consideration. That said, of the three things you mention:

    * Well, honestly, compared to most "OSR" systems, which don't tend to even offer you the chance to "envision a character in the first place" I find it hard to find this one as anything more than neutral.
    * This one goes back to what I said a moment ago - I don't tend to design challenges with the game system in mind, overall.
    * Could you unpack this one? It isn't really part of my mental picture that the PCs have a lot of choice of what they "gravitate" towards in OSR play; My understanding is that it's rather more "Here is the dungeon, I have done as bidden and written down upon the holy GM's Pad what is contained within. Now you must deal with it in the manner of your choosing."?
  • Paul_T said:

    Indeed; it depends on what proportion of those powers/abilities/feats apply in certain contexts. If they all *only apply in fights*, then playing out non-combat situations will be quite open-ended (which could be good or bad, depending on what kind of game you're playing).

    An aside: Anima Prime does that in a way that I do find satisfactory. It occurred to me that I could - and perhaps would - run a game using AP non-combat parts on top of D&D4 fights.
    That would require only minimal rule-tweaks - basically, a list of character-scene benefits (such as "recover HPs", "regain healing surge", "regain daily-power use", etc.) which would replace Rests. I think I could even retain AP Traits (the main mechanic which has "role-play" feed back into combat effectiveness) by adapting D&D5 into the mix (un-check character Trait to roll with an advantage)!
    The main challenge would be for the GM to have to design encounters on the fly, instead of preparing them in advance. Perhaps, I could have a set of half-prepared encounters to fill in as required?
  • Airk,

    I'm getting the impression that I'm not likely to convince you, so I'm tempted to quit while I'm ahead, so to speak. It may simply be that your experience is different from mine - after all, every group plays a little differently, and I've seen people do remarkable things with games (e.g. D&D groups who praise themselves because they "didn't roll dice at all for two sessions"!).

    I can do my best to answer your questions, though, since those are quite relevant to the topic (understanding old-school D&D). I'm no expert on the topic - I've just played a little, and had a lot of interesting conversations with people who are far more passionate about it than I am.
    Airk said:


    * Well, honestly, compared to most "OSR" systems, which don't tend to even offer you the chance to "envision a character in the first place" I find it hard to find this one as anything more than neutral.

    Again, this is speaking purely from my own experience, and those of others I've spoken to. I am discussing natural tendencies in players; not some kind of rigid structure which actively prohibits anyone from defying it.

    Eero's recent Chronicles of Prydain in D&D4 thread is a perfect example - it's a fascinating project, and a great way to "do" D&D, but not representative of typical D&D play. Compare that to a Forgotten Realms sourcebook and a typical "D&D adventure", and you'll find quite a rift in terms of creative focus.

    That out of the way:

    In OSR play, as you say, you don't often get to "envision" a character at all. I see two things happen on a regular basis:

    1. Some random rolls establish a very simple baseline for who your character is. Maybe he knows how to fight, has chain mail, and isn't very smart, for instance.

    Instead of "envisioning" a character from the start, you accept this relatively blank slate and the character's actual direction and provenance gets explored in play.

    For instance, maybe in session 3 a random encounter tells us that we encounter a group of Whitehorse Knights. We roll for Reaction, and find that they are exceptionally friendly to our stupid fighter. Why? It seems evident, from other things we've established, that this can only mean they've met before. (Perhaps Whitehorse Knights are notoriously nasty to commoners on the road, for example.) So we decide that - of course! - our fighter here was once a squire for a well-known Whitehorse Knight, and that Knight has vouched for him amongst his companions. Interesting!

    In short, the details evolve in play instead of being "front-loaded".

    2. However, sometimes such details appear immediately. The technical detail of character creation in most OSR systems is so low that it's not difficult to envision a variety of character types. You rolled up a charismatic woman with lots of starting gold and the ability of a seamstress? Great, you decide that she's a textile merchant. That leads into various other developments later.

    In comparison, a late-edition D&D character comes with a host of powers, descriptions, abilities, and a tremendous amount of fictional Colour.

    Instead of being a dumb fighter or a clever seamstress, characters tend to be a Dragonborn Wild Mage Sorcerer, with all the attendant powers and advantages (like breathing fire or whatever).

    When I last played D&D5, I was quite surprised to find out that my sorcerer had to be either a Wild Mage or half-dragon! I just wanted to play a guy who does Sorcery, right? But now I have to choose between unpredictable, wild magic, or I'm buying into a character who has armored scales, breathes fire, and is on a set path to further other character details, like growing wings at level 10 (or whatever; I'm going by memory).

    It's a very different relationship to the character. It's dense with detail and a gonzo mishmash of D&D fantasy tropes. It also turned out that my character had all kinds of innate magic, horns, and other abilities and details which were all inked in the description of the class and race combination I chose.

    The reason I say all this affects the way you approach character creation and the general conception of the campaign is that, in the OSR approach, it's fairly easy to say, "Hey, my character's a little girl," or perhaps, "looks like we're a bunch of traveling merchants, right?" In later editions, there's so much fictional colour and Kewl Powerz being thrown at you that the relationship to the character is very different: like a video game, you're buying into the idea of an extremely unique and colourful Hero, and it's almost inescapable.

    Conceiving of my Dragonborn Wild Mage as a merchant woman is not *completely* impossible, perhaps, but it certainly doesn't come naturally.
    Airk said:


    * This one goes back to what I said a moment ago - I don't tend to design challenges with the game system in mind, overall.

    I find this quite unusual. Most games I know - and players I know - definitely DO take into account the system used and its implications when coming up with adventures and challenges.

    As a perfect example, even Eero's Prydain game has a) scripted encounters which b) all contain combat.

    I'd find any D&D4E game which did not contain set-piece combats rather... odd. I would be extremely surprised if that was at all common.
    Airk said:


    * Could you unpack this one? It isn't really part of my mental picture that the PCs have a lot of choice of what they "gravitate" towards in OSR play; My understanding is that it's rather more "Here is the dungeon, I have done as bidden and written down upon the holy GM's Pad what is contained within. Now you must deal with it in the manner of your choosing."?

    This has just as much to do with the GM's prep as it does with the design of the system itself, and then feeds into player choices.

    For instance, in modern D&D, combat encounters are the source of XP. Since we want the players to gain XP as we play, we *need* to include regular combats for them to engage in. Similarly, because the players know that they stand to gain XP from combats, they will tend to choose fighting over a solution which allows them to bypass the fight (since that would be robbing themselves of the XP reward, effectively).

    Can you see how just one piece of the puzzle - the XP rules - are affecting the behaviour of all the players (GM included) to gravitate towards certain types of adventures and certain types of outcomes?

    It can be more subtle, too. How much time and emotional investment do the players have in the materials they are required by the game to prep?

    A player who spends two hours choosign a selection of combat feats for his character develops a strong investment in seeing that pay off in play. Modern D&D demands that kind of investment.

    A GM who puts together a balanced and well-crafted combat encounter develops an emotional investment in seeing that prep pay off in play. (If nothing else, she's curious to see how her planned encounter pans out - did she set it up right? Will the players enjoy the twist she threw in? How will the players deal with that interesting tactical challenge she came up with? Etc.)

    Again, modern D&D (especially 4E, as I understand it) demands that kind of investment.
  • (continued)

    Similarly, the amount of effort and detail involved in creating a character means that players (including the GM) will make all kinds of choices to make sure the characters don't die too easily. Likewise, the amount of effort put into designing a cool monster or battle location influences the GM to bring that into play.

    The OSR approach similarly affects how people approach the game - instead of a focus on combat set-pieces, for instance, the XP rules will drive the players to constantly be on the lookout for potential treasure. It's not a better or worse thing; it's just a different playstyle.

    My argument here is essentially that System Matters: all these pieces of the puzzle affect how we're most likely to play the game, on both sides of the screen.

  • Paul_T said:

    When I last played D&D5, I was quite surprised to find out that my sorcerer had to be either a Wild Mage or half-dragon! I just wanted to play a guy who does Sorcery, right?

    And you laughed at me when I made my warlock a locomotive golem. Not so easy to make any literary sense of modern D&D, eh...
  • Eero,

    I had to physically restrain myself while I was typing... I barely managed to refrain from posting a link to Thomas the Steam Engine. :)
  • How many OSR games get created that don't contain the potential for some combat though? You can use exactly the same sorts of dungeons in a 4e game that you do with an OSR game. If the PCs are more inclined to fight, that's probably more a result of not being hilariously fragile than anything else.

    You don't need to create massive setpieces in D&D4. There is, in fact, very little in the system to encourage it. There's nothing "odd" about it. I'd even go so far as to say the game doesn't work super well for big flashy throwdowns because it's designed with a series of smaller battles in mind. It's true that you wouldn't want to choose D&D4 for a game that wasn't going to involve any combat, but I also wouldn't pick B/X for that.

    You're right that the XP system is relevant, and does shape play, but it's also trivial to change, since 4e doesn't have any of the "spend XP to do stuff" mechanics that were present in 3X, so the ripples of changing "XP for killing stuff" to "XP for stealing stuff" are minimal.

    I think agreeing to disagree is probably wise here. System matters. Yes. Which is part of why you shouldn't lump 4e in to some sort of "modern D&D" category. Especially if you haven't played it. There's a reason so many people quit in a huff saying it wasn't "D&D enough."
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