Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Some of my cantankerous old-fart views on RPGing

This may be a bit rambly, since I'm trying to organize my thoughts here (and trying to get it done on my lunch break...), so bear with me.

D&D 4th edition is about to be released.

The fact that this has people up in arms puzzles me a bit.

Sure, there are things I don't like about 3.x; there are always things I don't like. There will undoubtedly be things I don't like about 4.0, too. You wanna know a secret? There are things I don't like about AD&D, also.

I don't run AD&D.

I have the boxed set of Castles & Crusades (the "collector's edition" -- a typo-ridden mess that harks back to OD&D, but not in a good way), and it looks entirely playable. I may run that some day.

But I won't run the full C&C.

Nor will I run 4.0.

All of this is for the same reason: I don't wanna get bogged down in extra stuff.

I'm clairvoyant, you see; I can see the future. Here's how it would go:

I sit down and write up an AD&D (or C&C) adventure for 4-6 players, expecting the four basic classes to be well represented.

I sit down to run said adventure, and find myself looking at two Illusionists, a Ranger, and Assassin, and a Druid.

And, probably, a Monk.

And I don't want that. I don't want any of that.

* Illusionists, in my opinion, are the bad guys. They mess with Conan's head, until he kills them (or precipitates someone else killing them).

* The Ranger is a loner/archer sort, we've all seen them. Refuses to get into melee whatsoever, and prefers to go off on his own. Will not speak to the others in the party.

* Assassin: Again, the bad guy. And not to speak ill of the dead, but Gygax gives two completely different readings of the Assassination Table in the DMG. One, my preferred reading, is this: If you don't want to role-play sending an NPC assassin off on a job, you can use this table to see if he'd successful or not. The other, which all the PC Assassins lean toward, is "Hey, I can use this table instead of the whole combat system and get automatic kills in the dungeon!" Either way, I don't want it.

* The Druid would probably be okay, but Druids these days are a lot like militant Vegans (not all Vegans, mind you; I'm specifically referring to the militant ones...). Go ahead and kill a fellow human, or elf, or goblin or whatever; that's fine. But if you needlessly step on a blade of grass and crush it, I'll roast you over a slow and entirely magical fire (because fallen logs should be just left to rot and not burned at all in any way...) Sorry, Druids, but I don't buy that.

* The Monk gets a pass in OD&D, but not in AD&D. Gygax was specific that these were different games, and it shows. AD&D has a specifically quasi-Medieval Europe tone to it. Monks don't belong in this environment (except the cloistered version that breeds peas and copies manuscripts). In OD&D, particularly Blackmoor, Monks were some of the least of the oddities involved, and the game was better because of it.

So, I looked at running 3.x. Then I looked at running AD&D. (I skipped over 2E entirely). I went so far as to decide to only run S. John Ross's wonderful rpg-lite Risus. But there's something about D&D that keeps me coming back.

I picked up copies of Moldvay/Cook Basic/Expert rules in my friendly local used book store (and for less than I paid for the originals, back in 1981). But even that had things I didn't like.

Bottom line, America: The more I pared away, the closer I came to OD&D. And that's part of why I'm an old-school-game gamer. I like a bunch of really old games, like OD&D, Top Secret, Traveller, Tunnels & Trolls, and the early editions of Champions. Partly because of their simplicity (as ranted about above), but also because of their attitude.

"Take me," they say, "you and I can have lots of fun together!"

Whereas a lot of the new games these days are different:

"Study me!" they bellow. "I'm friggin' homework!" (Remind me sometime to tell you how and why a setting like the original folio of Greyhawk was perfect but how today's settings are evil...)

I'm also an Old School gamer. I believe the game belongs to the GM, and the players had better realize it. He who quotes and/or argues rules at me had better learn to duck. Dave Arneson had the right of it: "If I change a rule that makes it official." I'm not here to pander to their basest tastes, to their predilection for weird subclasses.

I'm here to test them in the fires of the dungeon, and see what comes out: True forged steel, or mere wisps of smoke.

And no matter what rule set you're using, that's the old school way.

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