Monday, September 21, 2009

The Mindset of Old School Play

I've seen it said many times that Dungeons and Dragons reflects the popular fantasy of its time, and so as public interest changes, so too changes D&D.

Is that so? And if it is, how do we deal with it?

The problem with equating D&D with literature is that at no point is it a direct translation. "You can be a character from your favorite novel!" has always been hogwash. D&D has never been generic fantasy, but instead a very specific amalgam of specific fantastic ideas. A patchwork quilt of peculiar elements.

And the entire hobby has struggled with the "... has hobbits... but this doesn't feel like Lord of the Rings at all!" disconnect ever since.

More recent D&D editions have made an effort to codify game play (everyone having powers to be roughly equivalent in combat, treasure parcels, gameboard movement - can we agree that's an accurate, and neutral, assessment?), and it undoubtedly projects a different atmosphere than early D&D. "Different influences," say supporters.

Yet earlier D&D was codified in its own way as well. Gaining followers and land holdings happened when you hit a certain level. AD&D certainly codified the how and when in 1978's Players Handbook, and Mentzer extensively codified play in the 1983 box sets. "Dungeons level 1-3, Wilderness level 4-14, Dominions at 15+!"

(When copying the Mentzer dominion rules into my personal campaign copy of BFRPG last year, I did my best to remove any references to levels...)

The media influence on D&D is perhaps overstated as well. Modern D&D certainly has influences to contend with. Gygax and company never had to deal with Harry Potter or ninja Legolas or MMORPGs advertising that you level up in "sixty seconds." Or Lord Foul's Bane, Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, or Stephen friggin King as cultural phenomenon (Carrie was only released in 1974) if we really want to put it into perspective.

But the Dungeons and Dragons of yore wasn't a product of contemporary fantasy. It was a product of myths and legends and adventure fiction from all time. Everything from Homer and the Bible through Poe and Burroughs HG Wells and Dunsany and Lovecraft and Howard and Tolkien and then on to Vance and Moorcock...

Are you really telling me that players of current-edition D&D are so poisoned by contemporary media that they are ignorant of, or resistant to, the same work that so inspired Gary and company?

I don't buy it. Not one bit.

The fact is that because D&D was never about being any specific extant fantasy thing, we really can't say that certain media belongs to certain edition. Look at the against-the-rules construction necessary to put Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser into D&D stats, for instance. D&D isn't a great fit for doing faithful Conan role-playing without restructuring the classes and magic system.

I came upon this line of thinking after seeing yet another repeat of the sentiment "My kid likes Harry Potter and World of Warcraft... and when I tried to play old school D&D with him, he couldn't do anything the kinds of characters he was familiar with can do!" It was a comment to a blog post in the past couple weeks, I forget whose blog. I immediately sat down and started writing an angry response, bringing up points that the kid probably just watched Harry Potter movies, not even read the books, and blah blah blah.

Luckily I stopped before finishing and posting it. Because it doesn't matter. There is no correct combination of reading or watching that will make old D&D magically make sense, because it's not about regurgitation of any specific thing.

It's the process of exploration and discovery that sets older D&D apart from newer. The old adage about D&D being about killing things and taking its stuff? 3rd and 4th editions seem to do that just fine, and are certainly more balanced to do so than early D&D. 2nd edition had the right idea of stimulating the exploration and mystery aspects of fantasy with its multiple settings, but completely dropped the ball by then describing them so fully that the exploration was all done before play began... and the adventures were largely execrable train rides where the PCs were tourists, not explorers.

In this context, a lot more makes sense than if one merely connects the dots between specific books and rules elements. While playing "Poul Anderson... trolls! oohh!" is good fun and all (and the quest for such trivia does lead one to excellent reading, so it's not exactly wasted time), the real value of reading tons of fantasy literature in gaming terms is simply the exposure to ideas and influences and genuinely creative minds.

If x is your imagination, then x = xy^z, where y is your reading intake and z is the breadth of that reading. One's imagination only goes so far, and the more raw material one has to process (and combine and twist and plunder), the more one's imagination can do.

So in old school play, the lack of character options and customization makes sense. There is no need for a detailed list of skills and feats and powers, because the character is merely the vehicle for exploring whatever environment is for this week's game. Character detail just gets in the way.

When you have a game that attempts strict balance geared towards a certain amount of "encounters" with foes of just-so difficulty, and your playing piece is a finely detailed and customized object, I think that leads to a completely different play experience than a 3d6-in-order, if-you-open-the-wrong-door-it's-save-or-die game.

I don't think this is any new revelation or even stating something that was previously unspoken. Not so long ago, this post appeared, which I think makes a good point but doesn't address what qualities an adventure might have that would lend itself to being such a "Rosetta Stone" module.

But look at the more lauded creative works of the Old School Renaissance. Finch's Spire of Iron and Crystal. McKinney's Carcosa. (is it too presumptuous to mention Death Frost Doom?) What do these things provide? Thing about the classic modules of the glory days of TSR. What did they provide?

The common thread is that it was not so much about what the characters were supposed to be doing, it was the fact that they were doing them in an environment that set imaginations on fire. It's about the location, not the quest. Acererak's tomb doesn't get any more interesting because there is a reason to be there beyond "Loot the place!" If the Spire was all about killing the big bad guy, that might encourage people to tinker less with the environment, and how much fun would that be? What were people doing in the Barrier Peaks? Anything in particular? Nah. But it's a spaceship!

It's not about the perfect "boss" at the end of the level, it's not concentrating your "fun" into easily digested (and formed) bits to enable people-on-the-go.

It's imagination, whether flavored by whimsy or the macabre, that is the key to old school play. It's the mystery of an unknown location that can be unraveled just by going through the place. That fantasy is not bound by logic or even the pretense of reality is probably why fantasy gaming was the first and perpetually the most popular form of role-playing.

It's not an easily mass-produced experience (although modules do allow for this lightning to be put in a bottle, and using other people's work on occasion does fit into that x = xy^z formula described above), and not everyone can do it well. Quality dungeonmastering, or refereeing, or whatever we're calling it, isn't something that can be learned from a book. Quality adventure design can't be captured by a checklist.

So thinking about presenting an old school game to a prospective player, even (especially?) a child, it's not about their character, and no amount of reading the appropriate fiction will put them in the right frame of mind in that context. "It's like a movie or book, except you're the main character!" just leads to the disappointment of having a fighter that can die from a single sword blow, or the infamous one-spell wizard. "This game is just like Conan/Lord of the Rings/other media property," will quickly lead to the realization that the Dungeons and Dragons character doesn't measure up to the protagonist of a carefully plotted classic story. If you're looking at the game through the lens of "Who am I?" then yeah, the beginning PC looks dreadfully inadequate.

"Would you like to explore an unknown world of magic, mystery, and danger?"

That sounds astonishingly corny, but I believe it is the best angle to best represent our games and to push those games as a viable and fresh (not just older) alternative to the current edition and overall current gaming trends. Yes, 4th edition play allows you to explore weird locations and fantastic worlds... but you know what? Moldvay/Cook allows for some pretty crackin' combats with dozens of creatures and PCs of considerable power too.

"You are explorers of the unknown," doesn't put any real onus on the game to deliver a specific sort of character to live up to preconceived expectations. Adding a context for the exploration ("you are treasure seekers," or "you are the Duke's special chaos-investigation team" work well enough) provides a reasonable enough opening hook for the players to do something.

And then you're playing with the possibilities of gaming for a long, long time.


  1. * Ack, I forgot to follow up one point as I wash rushed at the end. Damn blogging. :P

    >>Yes, 4th edition play allows you to explore weird locations and fantastic worlds... but you know what? Moldvay/Cook allows for some pretty crackin' combats with dozens of creatures and PCs of considerable power too.

    My point was not equivalency, but that 4e's main point seems to be combat, whereas combat is more a byproduct of play in earlier editions. And if 4e players value that balance of combat readiness in PCs, then it doesn't matter how fast or well early edition games handle combat - they are going to be seen to be lacking in key areas that 4e codifies.

  2. I am all for the style of play you are advocating. But way you tie it to OD&D is baloney.

    RPGS are swiss army knives, literally capable of handling anything given enough creativity by the referee and players. This includes the latest games and editions.

    Now how they are presented by the main publisher can be completely different story. If your game is an swiss army knife but all your support products only use encounters then what is a person to think.

    There are players and referees of D&D 4e who want to explore wildernesses and go into dungeons just like the OD&D players.

    But putting down their rule system is not the way to go.

  3. but that 4e's main point seems to be combat

    (raising eyebrows) You really should look at table of content for OD&D and D&D 4e sometime. 4e is a throwback to the original edition in many ways. The difference is how the publishers choose to use their respective rulesets not the rules themselves.

  4. >>RPGS are swiss army knives, literally capable of handling anything given enough creativity by the referee and players. This includes the latest games and editions.

    All RPGs are not equal to all tasks.

    In the end, "Why play one version or game over another" is because somebody thinks one version or game is better than another. And highlighting the differences, deciding where to focus one's attention, is an effort of comparing and contrasting the features. If that's "putting down" a rule system, then it is absolutely unavoidable.

  5. Thanks, James. I find the attempts at trying to equate a style of play/ruleset of D&D to a genre or sub-genre of literature unhelpful, particularly when taken to extremes. Our current gaming group is made up of high schoolers, a college student, and some old farts like me. Our younger gamers have read different books than I have, play WoW, and have no idea who Jack Vance is. This has not impacted our gaming one bit. It's how you play at the table that counts. If our group has any shared literary experiences, it would be Jim Butcher's Dresden Files, which we have been passing around between gaming group members over the last few months. While understanding the literary influences to the early editions of D&D is interesting, it is in no way a prerequisite for great gaming.

  6. And highlighting the differences, deciding where to focus one's attention, is an effort of comparing and contrasting the features

    Your idea that lack of character detail is better for campaign that use exploration as them is not supported by experience in actual play. The presence or lack of character detail doesn't impact this this aspect of play. This style of play solely relies on the conduct of the referee.

    A rule system can support this by making it less work for a referee to run an exploration style campaign. The older editions of D&D does not do anything special in this regard in relation to 4e. However the B/X version of D&D does have considerably more support.

    However 4e present exploration differently than older edition. 4e has complete examples of a wilderness and a town and has a section devoted to discussing this. The older editions (except for B/X) opts more for random charts to help the referee populate the wilderness.

  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

  8. >>However the B/X version of D&D does have considerably more support.

    "Support" doesn't make it better - AD&D's Survival Guides gave plenty of support for exploration but using those rules makes exploration-based play far more tedious and undesirable.

    (and how much space in a rulebook is devoted to any one topic isn't relevant either, else OD&D might be seen as a game focused strongly on naval combat)

    But how a publisher chooses to support its game is very telling about how they intend it to be played, and certainly influences the player base. I've complained about this for the old stuff as well, with the published adventures often being at odds with the game as presented in the rules and how the designers themselves played.

    But if I'm way off base, you tell me, how are 4e and early-edition D&D different?

  9. When I introduced S&W to a crowd of people with RPG experience all over the spectrum "From none, to played a bit in 2e to playing in my 4e campaing" I decided to set the stage with just two paragraph:

    “You are all adventurers, not by trade for there’s no such thing. Rather you are adventurers by default because you have needs, pressing needs that can’t be met rapidly enough with a craft or trade. You like money and you don’t like to work or risk getting imprisoned for it. So exploring ruins for long lost treasure (and relieving your falling comrades of their un-needed worldly possessions) is your chosen path.”

    “You all made your way to the town of Akban. The town is not known for anything but rumours talk of treasures to be found in a recently uncovered entrance to the Underworld near the town. There may have been rumours of increased Goblin raids but you are uninterested in heroics, at least not unless there’s fame and fortune to become one.”

    And that lead to 4 of the best RPG hours I had in years...

    As you say, a different kind of fun than 4e because it emulates something else.

  10. But if I'm way off base, you tell me, how are 4e and early-edition D&D different?

    The primary difference is that 4e use a tactically rich combat system.

    In both Characters are built around combat. And the characters reflect the complexity of the underlying combat system.

    Outside of combat both 4e and older system are sparse in mechanics. This was not the case with 3.X or 2e.

    The trade off is that while the 4e players get more choices the combat takes longer. Hence a D&D Tournament circa 1977 is very different than a D&D 4e tournament module circa 2009.

  11. Now before you say "The players have all kinds of choices with me being the referee". I will point out me guessing what in your head is not the same thing has having the rules in front of you.

    For example I have no way of knowing what you will say when I want to try to disarm the Orc Chief of his sword. Certainly you are not going to rule the same way as way Jeff Rients or James Mal.

    This as opposed to me trying to kill the Orc chief and relieve him of his sword. There the rules state we dice for initiative, hit if we roll high enough on a d20, and go down when get to zero hit points or below.

    Neither is bad or good. It is matter of preference. And none has any bearing on how much exploration goes on in a campaign.

  12. After participating in several monstrously long threads over at about the "is 4e more combat centric than earlier editions" topic (and attempting to argue that it was), I pretty much came around to the conclusion that I agree with what Rob Connely is saying above. Yes, 4e presents more combat options, but how you use those options and what percentage of your game time is devoted to combat vs. exploration is wholly dependent on the referee and the group. The advantage of OD&D that is often brought up is that the players can attempt anything and the referee makes a ruling; however, this is absolutely true of 4e as well.

    Your point about published 4e modules being basically a string of combat encounters is a valid point, but then again, published modules have rarely if ever reflected the way most gamers and even the game designers themselves actually played. After all, most of the first published modules were adaptations of tournement modules, and bore practically zero resemblence to the sort of mega-dungeon games that Gygax and Arneson ran by all accounts.

    I think the main point is that if you WANT to play a game of nothing but hack and slash, 4e supports that much better than any previous edition because the tactical elements of 4e combat mean that everyone in the party can participate equally in combat and the division of roles means that effectively working together dramatically increases the parties success.

    If you WANT to play an exploration game, on the other hand, 4e has absolutely no problem doing this either.

    If I were to pick out one thing that seperates 4e from OD&D it is simply the number of rules that you as a player have to familiarize yourself with. Only a spellcaster in OD&D (and a thief if using Supplement 1) have any rules at all to worry about beyond roll a d20 to attack and a d6 for anything else (damage, opening doors, listening, searching for secret doors... yay d6!).

    With 4e, every class is a spellcaster in essence, and you have to be familiar with the effects of your powers and the strategic elements of combat like shifting, attacks of opportunity, combat advantage, marking, pushing and pulling. 4e is still rules lite compared to the bloated monstrosity that 3e became, but if you want to game without referencing rules or having combats take a long time, OD&D or B/X is a much better choice.

  13. published modules have rarely if ever reflected the way most gamers and even the game designers themselves actually played.

    I agree with this but if you do look at the tournament modules published for AD&D vs those for 4e there are significant differences. AD&D tourney modules present sites to be explored and the 4e are often strings of encounters.

    What is means other than showing what the publisher and RPGA writers prefer? I don't know. Certainly it doesn't have anything to do which is the better system in regards to exploration style campaigns.

  14. Great post and comments. I'm always leery about trying to codify editions, because in the end there are always exceptions. When we learned to game back in 78-79, it was in a vacuum..we were self taught with one member that had played before but wasn't capable of DMing. We developed a style (very combat heavy with Conan and Harryhausen flicks being our main influences) and were often shocked when we finally met with and observed other groups, which ran the gamut of talky character exposition, strict wargaming-like battle and rules, and the "every adventure a TPK" types. I don't know how you can say any experience was more or less authentic than another, and that was a good thing (although at the time being typical teenagers we would sneer at how other group's played, thinking we were doing it the "right way").

    I always think of old school gaming as being a wide tent that can cover so many styles.
    An attempt to pin down an exact style of playing for any system leaves me cold, because what I hear is "Here is how I play the game, you should do the same". Rarely is a style of play presented without some judgement attached, good or bad.

  15. This is an amazing post. Not only do everyone have something useful to add to the topic, and I agree with something everyone say. But, I also note that few seem to be exactly on the same base here, and even disagreeing. That's just so cool.

  16. With 4e, the mere fact of the combats taking awfully long time and requiring tactical thinking make any game where they happen often (once a session, say) a combat-centric one. I would also say that any game where the combats are rare carries around a huge amount of extra package by having characters created for 4e, where most of the detail is on combat capability of characters.

    There is the middle ground where players enjoy the occasional tactical combat but still most play takes other form, I guess, for which 4e is also adequate, if one is willing to live with the modern conception of D&D fantasy or do work to turn it into something more interesting.

    I do think that old editions have more tools for making strategic play viable and interesting, when compared to 4e, which has plenty of tools for making tactical play interesting and viable. Strategic play is something that often is connected to exploration-focused play.

  17. Well. Let me chip in my two cents. How about the gp=xp rule? I usually claim it does affect style of play, and intentionally so.


  18. By far my favorite part of D&D is exploring unknown, magical realms. Characters for the most part bore me. If it takes longer than 15 (and preferably 5) minutes to make a character, I'm already bored. Hell, just give me a fighter with a 10 in each ability score, armor, sword, and a standard equipment pack, and I'm ready to go!

    As for 4th edition D&D, I thumbed through the books for about 10 minutes and disliked the experience. I'll stick with perennial (i. e., pre-3rd edition) D&D.

  19. Unquestionably 4th edition is combat-centric when you have character classes like the Warlord whose only role is to add bonuses to the party's combat modifiers. As a DM who runs both 4e and Old School games I would add that I find the combat of the old editions much more satisfying and, in my opinion, more strategic because it is not hamstrung by the powers listed on the back of the player's character sheet. I've run the same simple hack and slash dungeon with two different groups using 4th edition and Swords and Wizardry. They played out very differently to say the least. It weren't me. It was the rules.

  20. I don't really want to be a 4e apologist here; I play and enjoy 4e, but I also play and enjoy OD&D and B/X D&D and run and love Mutant Future.

    I do want to poke a hole or two in some of the more common misconceptions about 4e (and in both cases I think it is the reputation of 3e that is to blame; many people never really gave 4e enough of a chance to see how it differed in actual play from 3e to understand these issues).

    Character Generation: The character builder allows you to easily make a PC in 15 minutes or less, and very few if any 4e players that I know will build a character any other way. Not only is it quick and easy, it is customizable and gives you a nice print out with all the info you need for play. It is free for generating characters of up to 3rd level and if you are "old school" what do you need to be generating 4th level or higher characters for?

    Combat time. I have heard this complaint from some 4e groups but have not really experienced it in person. 3e combats took FOREVER and by the time my campaign reached mid to high levels it was easy to just set it aside and start up my Mutant Future campaign. 4e on the other hand, especially in the scenario presented by Thanuir above where you only have around 1 combat a session, can be very quick. If everyone in the party uses their dailies they can blow through an encounter in minutes. And 4e designers seem to be learning as they go; the creatures in MM2 seem to have less hit points but more interesting/damaging abilities, both things that will speed up combat one way or another.

    @manofthesigns -
    I am not sure if pointing to a class like the 4e Warlord as an example that an edition is combat-centric is very good logic. Tell me again what function an OD&D fighting man has outside of combat?

  21. Well. Let me chip in my two cents. How about the gp=xp rule? I usually claim it does affect style of play, and intentionally so.

    Yes, the old 1 gp = 1 xp rule (IMHO), and low xp for killing monsters, facilitates a different style of play, as does the appearance of wandering monsters. As long as the players understand clearly that they get more xp for treasure than killing monsters, and that their characters are very fragile, it should change the way they play.

    I heard tell from those IN THE KNOW that the 4e DMG2 "puts to bed" any criticism that 4e is combat-centric and discourages role-playing.

    While i'm not terribly motivated to play 4e, I have no qualms about stealing the power cards system for my 0e game. Could add flavor to the combats.

  22. The character builder allows you to easily make a PC in 15 minutes or less

    If everyone in the party uses their dailies they can blow through an encounter in minutes.
    You do see that both of these highlight flaws in the game, yes? In the first, you're using an external tool and in the second, you're twisting the intent of the game.

    This isn't a 4e-bashing post, by the way, I just found those two particular defences rather odd.

  23. @Carl-
    The logic is faulty but to my way of thinking an OD&D fighting man can come up with an actual strategy on how to get out of a sticky situation whereas a 4th edition warlord is so danged intelligent or charismatic that he inspires his allies to fight better by his mere presence. Which is not to say that the Warlord can't come up with an actual strategy as well. But when a player has several pages of powers all leaning toward combat bonuses for allies attached to the back of his character sheet he probably won't. The weight of the rules is almost inevitably going to tip towards, "Let's gut these MF'ers." The game is weighted that way. That's all I meant.

  24. @kelvingreen

    "You do see that both of these highlight flaws in the game, yes? In the first, you're using an external tool and in the second, you're twisting the intent of the game.

    This isn't a 4e-bashing post, by the way, I just found those two particular defences rather odd."

    I didn't take it as a 4e bashing post; actually, this has been a very civil discussion that has steered clear from most of the inflamatory rhetoric that normaly accompanies the "4e is nothing but killing things" arguments. For what its worth, even as a 4e player who enjoyed the game my initial impression was that it was more combat-centric because of all the combat emphasis in the powers, but I have gradually come to realize that having more combat options really doesn't mean that you have to have more combat. 4e also has more non-combat options codified in the rules than OD&D; I think the more fair generalization is just to say that 4e is more "rules centric" than OD&D.

    As to your points; the character builder really isn't an external tool, at least not in the sense that I think you mean. It is and is meant to be an integral part of the game. Creating your character using pen and paper and all of the ever expanding "core" books is far more the outlier than using the character builder. As an example, all the new classes, powers, skill optins, etc., hit the character builder months and in some cases close to a full year before the actual releases of the book. One of the more common arguments old schoolers use against 4e is that it takes forever to make a character. If you can do it in 15 minutes or (much) less using the character builder, and that is actually the way that the designers INTEND you to make your character, then I fail to see how this is a flaw of the game.

    As far as using all your dailies to get through an encounter fast, this is by no means "twisting the intent of the game". Combat moves pretty fast anyways, at least in my experience, but if you want to get through a combat even faster using your daily powers is a perfectly acceptable thing to do; there is a reason you have them, and that is to use them. When you do use them, the combat will end faster one way or the other. I mostly mentioned that because the poster I was responding to was talking about how a 4e game with one combat a session would have little time for anything else, which really doesn't match up well with my experience with 4e.

    @manofthesigns - I am perfectly willing to accept that a player might be persuaded by all the combat skills on his or her sheet to spend more time in combat, but I really do think that is more a function of player and DM than the system.

    And I think I am done defending 4e for now. I certainly don't think it is any better than OD&D or B/X D&D, I just feel that many of the criticisms it takes from old schoolers are a little bit off the mark and could well be based on more than just a little bit of ignorance - as in the case of the gentleman above who spent 10 minutes thumbing through the books and didn't like what he saw!

    Again, the main difference I see is just the abundance of powers and rules that the player must be familiar with. OD&D offers a gamut of complexity from the extremely simple (fighting man) to the relatively complex (magic user) - 4e only offers a uniformly complex play experience regardless of the class you choose. Even so, I know from first hand experience that you can play an exploratory, combat-light 4e game.

  25. Even so, I know from first hand experience that you can play an exploratory, combat-light 4e game.

    I suppose you "can." But 4e is what it is. The game 'plays' the way it is designed, just like 0e plays the way it is designed (or not designed, to be more accurate).

    To use the toolset analogy ... I 'can' use a hammer to put a screw into the wall. That doesn't make a hammer a screwdriver. Or a screw a nail.

    Why design a game with a bizzilian combat abilities (and very few non-combat abilities) if the game is not about combat?

    How many pages of the Adventurer's Vault and the "powers" books are devoted to combat items and abilities?

    I'm not dissing 4e, I like the idea of powers. 4e is a good ruleset. The game has its charms, as do the 'obsolete' games (ie, they are NOT rules-centric). But we should call a hammer a hammer, and a nail a nail.

    All my opinion, of course.

  26. OK, I got sucked back in. @ A Paladin In Citadel - I guarantee you that OD&D has a FAR greater percentage of its rules and player abilities devoted to combat than 4e does. Just because OD&D has very few rules in general does not change this fact. Nobody here is calling OD&D combat-centric, so the proportion of rules devoted to combat must not be the defining factor. If anything, OD&D proves that you don't need a ton of non-combat rules to be able to play a successful game that does not focus on combat. Likewise it would be a mistake to think that just because 4e has many powers that are only usable in combat (which is't even true, actually, as almost all powers are also usable outside of combat as well) that this means that a 4e game is going to be combat centric, or even that it is more likely to be combat centric.

    Heck, you could make a pretty good argument that transforming the majority of spells from something that you could cast in combat to something that you have to take the time to perform the ritual outside of combat means that 4e is less combat centric than any other edition! What other edition gives every class access to dozens (possibly hundreds at this point?) of interesting spells that they can cast in a non-combat setting?

  27. Note - I am not really seriously arguing that 4e is any less combat focused than any other edition - I still believe that the players and the DM determine how much or little combat is going to occur. I guess I have been feeling the urge to play devil's advocate a little bit today.

  28. @Carl: hey, i'm probably wrong on several points.

    As I said, 4e is a good game, with a good ruleset. Awesome art. Fantastic production values.

    Trust me, i'll be mining 4e for all the good stuff it can provide me.

    Good gaming to you.

  29. @ A Paladin In Citadel

    Sorry if I came across a little strong there. I honestly don't know what made me play the role of 4e apologist here today. Good gaming to you as well!

  30. from something that you could cast in combat to something that you have to take the time to perform the ritual outside of combat

    I even adapted this to OD&D with the following rule.

    Any spell in the caster's spellbook may be casted as a ritual. The casting time is 1 turn (10 minutes) or ten times the casting time whichever is longer. In addition any spell cast this way requires ritual components worth the spell level squared times 10 gp. This is in addition to any other material components the spell may require.

    In addition the caster must be have the ability to memorize the spell in order to cast it as ritual. For example a 6th level magic user can only cast up to 3rd level spells as rituals even if there is a 4th level spell inscribed in the spellbook

  31. This is an astonishingly civil debate on this subject. It's usually one of those topics where everybody's right... and wants to explain why you aren't.

    For myself, I have run a biweekly 4e game since it was launched, along with a rather fun Castles and Crusades campaign for pick-up play. Yes, you can do a totally-exploratory game with it. But *as a ruleset* 4e is more focused on combat than just about any old-school game. And that's really nothing to be ashamed of. Sometimes it's just what you want out of a game. Let me back that up:

    * Because in 4e, when a combat comes up, you can be fairly sure you are going to be there for at least an hour. Which *is* better than high-level 3.5 generally was (the source of much boasting from 4e proponents), but not better than most old-school games (the source of much boasting from OSR guys). Labyrinth Lord, to pick a popular example, can finish a routine combat encounter up in ten minutes or less and move on to what it regards as more important things. To 4e, the combat encounter *is* an important thing, so the game lingers there longer.

    * Because 4e often exacts greater penalties, in terms of resources and actions, for using many non-combat abilities. Most obviously: the ten-minute ritual casting time. This makes most magic outside the combat system difficult to use to circumvent impending battles.

    * Because 4e devotes an enormous proportion of the PHB's pagecount to lists of abilities that (in *most* cases) only matter in combat. The utility powers (About 25% of the power list) are pretty much the only ones that aren't expressly written as attacks.

    * Because after thinking "that doesn't really matter", "that always annoyed us", or "no one cared about that anyway", the writers introduced several rules that completely rewrite the book on the resource management of exploration. (Infinite light spells for wizards, neglecting to mention how much ammo ranged powers use, removal of unusual spells and magic items, etc.) You can read the early Design and Development column at the Dragon Magazine site. It's all there, straight from the wizard's mouth, and I am pretty sure the older articles are still free.

    Of course, anyone who's actually played the game will tell you that 4E has its own strengths that old-school games don't match. For example:

    * Your characters are more customizable and less fragile, which is good for players who are really into character-building and backstory.

    * Outcomes are more predictable and controllable, which makes it very well-suited for narrative games.

    * The combat system has lots of extra detail, intricate rules, and plenty of crunch, which makes a lot of tactical players happy.

    * They tried to balance it on a character-to-character level, which (once past the cries of "Nerf class X!" "Buff class Y!") makes it better for tournaments and competitive play.

    * It has some of the the most transparent, useful, and sensible encounter and monster design guidelines for any D&D to date, from which DMs and homebrewers of ANY school could steal a brainstorm or two (if some of them would get over the self-righteous indignation, anyway).

    Both game systems are perfectly valid choices for a game. They are just tools for different kinds of games that happen to overlap a little in purpose.