Thursday, April 8, 2010

Why Even Bother?

So somebody from something called Penny Arcade ran some Swords & Wizardry.

My players all started D&D with 4e like I did.

OK. But...

Each of you has also been taken back to 1974 and Original Dungeons and Dragons. Ancient mechanics for an ancient world. Before you quit D&D forever, let me tell you...

The goal is to play a game with the soul of Original D&D, but significantly more humane to the player.

A sort of OD&D roller-coaster with all the twists and turns of old school gaming but minus the freedom and danger.

He compares the experience to:

I remember when I was a kid my parents took me to Fort Clatsop in Oregon. It's a winter encampment built back in 1805. Today it's a tourist attraction populated with peopled dressed in period clothing. I watched re-enactors churn butter and load muskets.

And his purpose?

Maybe seeing for just a night what it was like back then, will give them a greater appreciation of the game they're playing now.

You know... I can understand edition warring on the internet. It's waving your arms and defining your tribe, so to speak. I get that, and depending on my mood, wholeheartedly approve.

But why actually sit down and play something that you think is crap? The last line almost makes it sound like his players aren't happy with the usual game, and this guy's response was, "Gee guys, if you think the game is shit now, you should have played it then! You won't complain anymore! Those poor fools of ancient history had no way of knowing how much their game sucked!"

Seriously though, what are the chances that a guy with this attitude and apparently no experience was capable of delivering anything other than a crap game for his players anyway? I'm betting even the ones who might like early edition play didn't get to experience it in a way the encourage that interest.

Wait.

Wait.

I hope that as my players picked up their dice and got in their cars to drive home...

These people are old enough to drive?

40 comments:

  1. Also, Tycho and Gabe mostly behave like trolls.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Wow, I never thought you were a putz until you wrote this. But you really proved it.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hmm, if this guy started with 4th edition, how can he know how OD&D was played?
    By reading though the LBBs?
    That is like reading a car manual and then rejecting the car because the manual is kind of diffuse on certain aspects. Never even driving the car.

    ReplyDelete
  4. To be fair, he also said "The experience was really powerful for me" about Fort Clatsop, so I'm not entirely sure he was knocking S&W with that comparison so much as trying to convey that 'things were tougher in the 'ol days', "People starting campaigns with characters that only had 2 hit points. Characters getting hit and losing levels. Magic items breaking and armor deteriorating.". It sounded to me like he enjoyed running it...

    ReplyDelete
  5. Penny Arcade seems to have a huge number of fans, but my reaction to their stuff has always been... Meh. Ah well, different strokes and such.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Eh - while I was disappointed that Gabe didn't give OD&D a proper chance, but ran the cut-down defanged version instead, he did something interesting which his players enjoyed. That's really what it boils down to.

    I dunno, I'd suggest checking out this guy's thoughts on a similar sort of matter. Not quiiiite the same thing, certainly, but the upshot is similar enough. :P

    @KristianH: As someone who started with 2e, and is working backwards, how would you say that I should pick up OD&D? Wouldn't it involve me reading the LBBs, figuring out what style of play works with the rules presented (and what baseline assumptions are present in the game) and working from there?

    ReplyDelete
  7. I think you're being unfair and a bit foolish condemning Gabe as you are here. If someone (particularly someone with a platform like Penny Arcade) expresses an interest in what you do (or rather something which in some way intersects it and can connect people to the OSR), regardless of whether you think he "gets" it, why would you attack him? You merely succeed in demonstrating puerile elitism, not conveying any of the (supposed) spirit of the OSR.

    I read his post as expressing a desire to convey a sense of history, which can have a powerful effect on people, apparently Gabe included. I didn't get the sense that he thought OD&D was "crap", just that he wanted to see how the game has evolved, how the mechanics effected the play experience. For example, in D&D 4th characters typically start with over 20 hit points, all of a sudden your Wizard is now a Magic-User and has 2. In addition, the character you thought of as a "wizard" can now only cast 1 spell a day. That's a pretty good way to get someone to think about the mechanics of a game and how they affect play style and mood.

    To me, connecting to history is one of the most important things the OSR can bring. One of my favorite things about your upcoming box is the 12(!) page recommended reading document. That's the Bee's Knees right there. I see this connection with inspiration to be the primary focus which has been lost over time as D&D has become its own fictional ecosystem. Which mechanics one decides to use are pretty much to taste in this regard. Howard, Lovecraft, Moorcock, Smith, Vance are the most important things D&D has lost.

    In any case, I thought the time travel trope was a clever way of juxtaposing both systems.

    ReplyDelete
  8. >>why would you attack him?

    Because wasn't approaching it as an actual game but as a museum piece.

    You want a friendly welcome or an "atta boy," come in good faith.

    >>You merely succeed in demonstrating puerile elitism, not conveying any of the (supposed) spirit of the OSR.

    To me, the spirit of the OSR is "The old games are fine." Smiles and good will optional.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Well, seeing as the few times I have looked at "Penny Arcade" it's been jokes all about swanky apps for the ipodderators and texting your peeps and whatnot, it's obviously aimed at the younger gadget obsessed geek --- which just isn't my demographic.
    I hate cell phones and only use one because I must.
    I'm trying not to read too much into the author's motives... but when he says that he wants his players to see how much they should appreciate 4e by making them play 'old D&D' without all the special feats and doodads, it does sound to me like he does not 'get' what I get from older versions of the game.
    Good exposure for 'Swords & Wizardry,' though.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Defensive, much? If there is any negative pre-supposition about older versions of the game being 'museum pieces' it is purely out of ignorance and not malice. Why not educate instead of attack?

    ReplyDelete
  11. He may have been approaching it as a "museum piece" but that's how history gets conveyed sometimes. In fact, it must be this way when there isn't anyone to directly convey the history (or when those who can simply act derisive instead of helpful to the ignorant).

    To paraphrase you, "the old music is fine". Would you give the same reaction to someone trying to introduce other listeners to Miles Davis, John Coltrane, The Beatles, The Yardbirds, or Black Sabbath in effort to get them to understand where modern music came from? Is that not "coming in good faith"? Someone who had no exposure to any of this music, came across some of it and said, "hey guys, this is where our music came from" trying to pass it along? Is that not "coming in good faith" to the music? As I see it, the old music is more than fine and I hold no contempt to the ignorant for not realizing it.

    ReplyDelete
  12. @Allandoras: You are right. You have to read the books, figure out the style and the play. There you see what works in game and what not. Then you leave or amend things that do not work and keep things that work. rinse, Repeat.

    But the guy made comments like this:
    "A sort of OD&D roller-coaster with all the twists and turns of old school gaming but minus the freedom and danger."

    Which I think he won't be able to discern from simply reading LBB and S&W rules.

    So either he has played some older version beforehand or he repeats some opinions about LBB vs. S&W he found somewhere in the web.

    For the former he gives no evidence.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Gabe from Penny Arcade was being an asshat, and you gave him both barrels.

    Good shooting!

    ReplyDelete
  14. People right now play Swords & Wizardry. It is in print and the game of choice of a number of people, right now. There are people who never stopped playing OD&D.

    The whole "museum" approach is insulting all by itself.

    >>Why not educate instead of attack?

    Dude's welcome to sit in on my games anytime he's in Helsinki. Anyone is. "Dear Sir, here's where you err..." emails are lame.

    Look, if I set up a 4e game with the whole idea to explore how badly they fucked up the whole game, people would (continue to) think I was an asshole for it. And they'd be right. I don't see a real difference except one looks forward and the other backward.

    As to why I'm being defensive... as I understand it, Penny Arcade is a fairly popular site. Lots of people read it. Propagating the "playing this game is primitive like churning your own butter" attitude, whether because of inexperience or malice, is directly harmful to what I do and pisses on what many other people do.

    ReplyDelete
  15. OD&D "...minus the freedom and danger"?

    Sounds like great fun! Where do I sign up?

    ReplyDelete
  16. It sounds like the intent of the game may have actually been sincere, although not couched in language people who self-identify as part of the OSR would use.

    The paragraph about seeing re-enactors at Fort Clatsop makes me think that this might have been intended as an honest, unprejudiced 'toe dip' in an unfamiliar (from a 4E player's perspective) play environment.

    This game was really about taking a look back and appreciating the roots of Dungeons and Dragons.

    Note "appreciating", not "taking the piss out of" or "mocking as obsolete". That's the vocab of a guy who talking about meeting the old ways halfway and exchanging views; not one who things OD&D has _nothing_ to offer him and his.

    I didn't get a sense of snark from any of what was said. What I *did* get a little hint of tossing baby out with the bathwater:

    A sort of OD&D roller-coaster with all the twists and turns of old school gaming but minus the freedom and danger.

    Freedom and danger are the whole point!

    *So* close.

    ReplyDelete
  17. I've got both Penny Arcade and this site on my regular RSS feed, and I think you're being unfair.

    First of all, the PA guys are not kids. While younger than the older generation of OD&D players, they're 33 and both have wives and kids of their own. Mike/Gabe is new to D&D, but Jerry/Tycho has been playing for 20 years or more, knows the various editions well, and has mentored Mike in his DMing. So Mike's not just talking smack about something he doesn't understand.

    And so he wants to take a stab at an old-school style game, while making it fun and accessible for people used to 4th edition. That should be celebrated among the old school, not criticized. The fact that he's not taking Swords & Wizardry as designed but deliberately mixing in OD&D elements is pure old-school spirit, too.

    Also, like it or not, Mike has probably done more to bring new blood into D&D than anyone in years. He's got hundreds of thousands of readers--maybe more--who read his site every day, and who are primarily video game fans. And he talks about his love of D&D in great detail. If the old school is going to survive beyond the original generation, it needs new players, and most of them are going to come from people who first try the current version of D&D, and then start tinkering and changing their play style by adding in elements from other games, including OD&D and its modern-day clones. That's exactly what Mike is doing.

    ReplyDelete
  18. (NB: I had some posting issues; that's why there's reiteration of Chris' point above, but it's one worth making).

    >>People right now play Swords & Wizardry. It is in print and the game of choice of a number of people, right now. There are people who never stopped playing OD&D.

    Just like people never stopped listening to Miles or Sabbath. ::: raises hand :::

    >>Look, if I set up a 4e game with the whole idea to explore how badly they...

    I don't see this as being the case at all. He didn't set out (as far as I can tell) to discover the "flaws" in the game. His stated purpose according to his post was: "This game was really about taking a look back and appreciating the roots of Dungeons and Dragons."

    Note the word "appreciating". You are reading a negative viewpoint into this.

    As you yourself argue, why would he even bother running the game if he thought it was going to be a negative experience? You might also look through Gabe's past D&D posts and see what you think of his DIY approach and whether and how it blends with the OSR.

    You are right that Penny Arcade is a popular site; lots of those gadget-oriented young-ins read it and lots of those have clicked through that link to discover Swords and Wizardry and have been given a spark to uncover those "old" games that they might not have discovered otherwise and they do so along with Gabe's implicit suggestion that this is a *positive* thing. Some of them will undoubtedly discover the OSR blogosphere and become "converts", as it were. (Unless, of course, they're told they aren't welcome.) Why is this a bad?

    ReplyDelete
  19. Yes, he doesn't do a good job of explaining things, but then he's the artist of the strip, not the writer. That said, I think it's possible to look beyond the garbled language and see that here's a D&D4 GM who went out and researched the OSR enough to pick out the best fit for his group, ran it, and apparently had a good time with it.

    If he doesn't go back to S&W, that's fine, but at least he had a go. I know players who started with the original editions who play D&D4 now and wouldn't go back to playing an earlier version, even if you paid them.

    He came to the OSR of his own accord, and gave one of the key products an honest try. I don't see a problem with that. I mean, my gosh, isn't that what we want?

    ReplyDelete
  20. I was actually introduced to the OSR community through Penny Arcade, so while you may not like what they have to say about OD&D, I wouldn't have found all these blogs without seeing their article on West Marches.

    Though I am not planning on playing OD&D or any of the retro clones, I am a convert to the style of game which many of it's proponents have spent so much time blogging about. I'm right in the same generation as Gabe and Mike. I never played OD&D, I cut my D&D teeth on 2nd edition AD&D. I've been playing pen and paper rpgs almost non stop since then and I'm just not interested in the old school systems. Just like I am sure a lot of the gamers who played the earliest rpgs aren't interested in the games I like. There's just some generational differences that are pretty obvious to me. But we're all enjoying the same hobby, and fighting over our cherished and favorite games is kind of silly. And at least in Gabe's case, he took up a very Old School approach to running his game and it's really phenomenal. I'd encourage anyone to go over to Penny Arcade and look over his other posts about his sandbox game. He's doing some really interesting stuff and it sounds like his players are having a really great time.

    ReplyDelete
  21. The one thing that people in the OSR agree on is that older editions are just as much fun to play today as they were back in the day.

    The one thing that will set off most of the OSR when this is challenged. Most of the challenges have been extremely derogatory most of the "Oh you play that old thing" variety.

    Now some of this attitude was in Gabe piece on Penny Arcade mostly as treating OD&D as a museum piece.

    However I think that the negative reaction to this is overkill. The other attitude in the article, as commented before, was one of respect toward OD&D as being a tougher game. The implication is that 4e gamers have it easy and should shut up about the difficulty of the game.

    So on one hand you have a negative view of OD&D and other other a positive view. But then doesn't Gabe always do this. ;)

    ReplyDelete
  22. "A sort of OD&D roller-coaster with all the twists and turns of old school gaming but minus the freedom and danger."

    In the words the hip young PA kiddies can understand...TOTAL FAIL.

    Minus the freedom and danger is precisely what old school gaming is NOT.

    Mike B.

    ReplyDelete
  23. I don't really appreciate being referred to as a 'kiddie'. Mike and Gabe aren't kids either and their comic attracts gamers from several different age groups. I realize that everyone has their own game that they cherish and don't like to see it mis-characterized and everything but that kind of disrespect is just unnecessary. If pen and paper gaming as a hobby is going to thrive amidst computer and console gaming, it's going to have to attract and keep a different audience than the one that OD&D attracted. Insulting people because they don't play the game the same way you do then lamenting about how computer gaming and MMO's are stealing gamers away from the table (which I see all the time in online discussion about gaming)is a good example about how you can't have it both ways. There is no ONE TRUE WAY of pen and paper gaming.

    ReplyDelete
  24. I understand this is Raggi's blog so I'll keep it short:

    There is no indication that this dude's game did anything to stoke the OSR fires in his players...the link to S&W probably did far, far more. It's like me saying I'm putting on a classic rock concert, and our headliners are Kelly Clarkson and the Jonas Bros, and when you complain about them not being classic rock I get all in your face with "What? You don't like promoting classic rock? You hate music? What's your problem?"

    This is no more a "promotion" of classic gaming than the concert I mentioned would be promoting classic rock. Or as James puts it, going to a museum to gawk and point at the "crazy way they did it in the old school days, glad we don't have to game like that now, let's get back to the cool new stuff instead of that old crap!" Either have the balls to game a REAL old school game or stay the hell out.

    In case I haven't made my point, PA is crap, the boys are hacks, and I'd rather them just post a link to S&W than spew crap like "We are giving you original D&D without all the freedom and danger and fun and stuff." Poseur douchebags.

    ReplyDelete
  25. >It's like me saying I'm putting on a classic rock concert, and our headliners are Kelly Clarkson and the Jonas Bros . . .

    The correct analogy is a band like Opeth doing a couple of Sabbath covers during an otherwise normal Opeth gig. Everyone comes for Opeth, and leaves with a little old school metal from the days when the style was being constructed thrown in. Again, what's wrong with this?

    Also, Gabe and Tycho have their faults, but those "poseur douchebags" and "hacks" are responsible for Child's Play.

    ReplyDelete
  26. Too much venom. Who cares?

    Win the battle for hearts with salesmanship, showmanship, and a "killer product". Let them underestimate.


    Besides, the "real" competition is with 3.5 versions - anyone who is anyone knows just how bad the edition that already has A FRIGGIN PLAYERS HANDBOOK 3 is... and plans in perpetuity in addition to other splat books to have more players handbooks than Friday the Thirteenthes....
    Grrrrr.
    Ok, maybe not enough venom.

    ReplyDelete
  27. "The correct analogy is a band like Opeth doing a couple of Sabbath covers during an otherwise normal Opeth gig. Everyone comes for Opeth, and leaves with a little old school metal from the days when the style was being constructed thrown in."

    Actually, that's a terrible analogy, unless Opeth stops down, trades their instruments for ukeleles and tamborines, and does the Sabbath songs in high falsetto. That's a much better analogy.

    "Also, Gabe and Tycho have their faults, but those "poseur douchebags" and "hacks" are responsible for Child's Play."

    ..and they are still poseur douchebags and hacks...that give to charity. So?

    ReplyDelete
  28. The Opeth analogy doesn't work because Åkerfeldt would tell you that Opeth isn't a pimple on Sabbath's ass. (he'd be wrong, but that's what he'd tell you) The cover would be done from a perspective of reverence and humility.

    I think a more apt comparison would be Dwell Records paying $200 to largely 5th-rate bands to butcher metal classics and then release it as a "tribute" album. Remember those? Holy shit!

    ReplyDelete
  29. >>I think a more apt comparison would be Dwell Records paying $200 to largely 5th-rate bands to butcher metal classics and then release it as a "tribute" album. Remember those? Holy shit!

    Hah! Beware the tribute album. Touche, sir! :)

    I can see why you're offended. You want the older games to get respect as current games, as they deserve. The place we differ is that it seems to me that Gabe (to the best of his ability to communicate this) did intend to celebrate the older game, not trash it. Perhaps I'm being too generous, but that's how I see it. Mayhap his naivete regarding the "old ways" meant the opportunity wasn't what it could have been for he and his players, but I see that as an opportunity for the OSR, not an insult. At least, not an intentional one.

    ReplyDelete
  30. Either have the balls to game a REAL old school game or stay the hell out.

    Bullshit. To hell with the idea of gaming police and badwrongfun. "Oh noooo! Gabe isn't using S&W the way it's meant to be played! He's a loser and smells gross!"

    Seriously?

    You tailor the game you run for the group you play with. For example, if you're running a game of S&W for your kids, you might be a bit more forgiving on killing off Wizard-O the Wizard. Similarly, if you're running a S&W game for people who generally have fun playing 4e, like Gabe's group does, then I can understand tweaking the game.

    To continue with the music analogies - I only have the vaguest idea who the Jonas Brothers are, and would never voluntarily listen to them...but if they said at a concert, "Hey, this is a shoutout to Iron Maiden, they're an awesome band," and played their version of "2 Minutes To Midnight," I'd say "Huh! Cool, good for them." Yeah, their cover might suck compared to Maiden's version. Yeah, I wouldn't likely listen to it either. But they went ahead and mentioned Iron Maiden to a bunch of their fans, and who knows? Some of them might like it.

    I'm seriously having trouble distinguishing this case from Zak S's blog, as I mentioned above. "It's not old school enough! It uses 3.5 elements! Heretic!" Bullshit.

    Hell, rules-wise, Gabe's game might be more old-school than Zak's is. As to the flavor of the game...Might not be how you run your games. Ain't how I run mine. But it's having fun with OSR stuff and introducing it to new players.

    ReplyDelete
  31. Allandaros:

    I'll go on record saying I have no idea what Gabe smells like;

    Don't play Candyland and call it "old school D&D"; either man up or get the hell out;

    If the Jonas Bros did a shout out to Iron Maiden I'd...Ok, that one freaked me out;

    To be perfectly honest and consistent, I don't think Zak's game is old school either but that's just my opinion, probably not James'

    ReplyDelete
  32. If the Jonas Bros did a shout out to Iron Maiden I'd...Ok, that one freaked me out;

    Hell, it freaked *me* out, and I'm the one who came up with the example :P

    ReplyDelete
  33. It was a historical experience: "a recreation"-- call it so. If they enjoyed their experience, it's good. They ended that night knowing something more about OD&D, and I think that is good.

    ReplyDelete
  34. Between this and the reaction to Zak S's blog, I have basically seen the worst the old school community has to bother. I think my response to this article is : " why even bother with the OSR, if these are the people I have to play with? "

    ReplyDelete
  35. Throughout your entire post, I couldn't tell if you were serious or being satirical.

    Gabe is an unlikely convert, someone who for a good *decade* was the iconic non-tabletop, non-hobby gamer (while Tycho, by contrast, was the one who loved all things tabletop, loved dense prose and complex strategy mechanics, etc).

    Then he and Tycho joined a few other online geek icons to do several D&D 4E sessions that were released as podcasts. Since then, he's become a DM, and turned out to be a great one at that- someone who consistently goes the extra mile and figures out new ways to enhance the game experience for the player.

    This time, he had a really neat idea- do a session that explored their game's heritage, that gave them all (himself included) a taste of something different- the type of game experience that their experience was based on.

    I don't normally say this kind of thing (because I don't normally see any reasons to *think* this kind of thing), but: You're being an oversensitive ass. He's made an earnest effort to develop a better appreciation for old school games, and not only did you manage to interpret that as some personal attack on the OSR- you then react by blowing him off as some snot-nosed kid who surely runs a crap game.

    I'd expect this kind of behavior from a 13-year old fanboy, but I thought much better of you.

    ReplyDelete
  36. >>He's made an earnest effort

    My entire point is that "The model here is really Disney Land" (his words, not mine) is not an earnest effort.

    >>"why even bother with the OSR, if these are the people I have to play with?"

    "Oh shit, better stay away from this activity, there are opinionated people associated with it on the internet! The scandal of it all!"

    Sorry. I have to deal with a scene full of racists and homophobes just to go to metal gigs. I have to deal with Vikernes' face all over the press because everyone's falling over themselves to promote the latest work of a murderer. You get no sympathy from me.

    ReplyDelete
  37. Homebrewing a hybrid system for the purpose of a one-shot session sounds like a pretty damn earnest effort to me.

    Also, your response to Eric- "Well, at least I'm not as bad as *these* guys"- is more weak rationalization than any real counterpoint.

    ReplyDelete