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Return'd from the Sandwich Isles

I'm back from vacation, and everything around Seattle seems oddly grey and dark (including the citizenry).

Who painted the place gloomy while I was gone? Put it back the way it was, people.

I got a phone call on March 4th informing me that Mr. Gygax had passed away, which certainly made me think about his great creative endeavor, D&D. I never met the man (and now, sadly, never will), but he influenced my life hugely, even in the echoes and whispers that were all I knew about him in the TSR days, long after he had left the company. He was a presence and a True Name and (by all accounts) a character.

And yet time does its dirty work constantly and inexorably. Together with the loss of Dave Sutherland last year, I get the sense that the first generation of RPG greats is reaching a certain age. I feel this loss distinctly; the founder is gone: now what? I may need to send Dave Arneson a "thank you for inventing RPGs" while I still can.

In the chattering spaces, though, life goes on. John Wick made some very astute comments on what makes an RPG and tells the story of his own brush with Mr. Gygax. Chris Pramas gives his take on what 4E design really reminds him of (hint: MtG).

I'm particularly taken with Wick's assertion that 4E will be a boardgame rather than an RPG. It certainly continues the movement back toward wargaming that D&D took in some iterations of 3E, and the emphasis on using miniatures and so forth. Maybe it really IS time for me to run Ars Magica instead. Interestingly, Mr. Gygax disagreed with this view of games as storytelling, by the way, a point repeated in the excellent Wired magazine article about him.

Assume for sanity's sake that I haven't heard anything much from LJ or the media in the past couple weeks, if it didn't involve a phone call around dawn. What did I miss?


( 13 sutras — Your wisdom )
Mar. 11th, 2008 04:06 am (UTC)
That was pretty much the shot heard around the RPGinternet friend.

Other than that... you'll be returning to the Sandwhich Isles to retrieve my bag of 100% Kona Coffee you left in um... Kona, HI.
Mar. 11th, 2008 04:26 am (UTC)
Oh, I picked that bag up in Kona!

Unfortunately, I drank it. Who could resist!?
Mar. 11th, 2008 04:29 am (UTC)
*critical miss*
No blame on that. I was spoiled with 100% Kona for 6 1/2 years --- you'll never drink the grocery store kona (10-12% max) again!

Welcome back to the mainland.
Mar. 11th, 2008 06:43 am (UTC)
I'm particularly taken with Wick's assertion that 4E will be a boardgame rather than an RPG.

An assertion that I've heard uttered by many people who have only glanced at 4E, and that I've heard uttered by nobody who has played it for any length of time.

Just for the record. :-)
Mar. 11th, 2008 06:53 am (UTC)
You know what? I should expand on this.

I reject, utterly and categorically, the notion that tactical combat in an RPG somehow makes it less of an RPG.

Every version of D&D has at least allowed for the possibility of miniatures-use. Some editions require it more than others.

4E, IME, makes the use of minis more interesting than 3E did, via the use of additional movement-based and tactical options. But it in no way, shape, or form disallows or discourages role-play. In fact, I'd say it explicitly encourages RP more than 3E did. If tactical combat was all the game could handle, or all it was designed to handle, the "it's a boardgame" crowd might have a leg to stand on. It's not, and they don't.
Mar. 11th, 2008 07:42 pm (UTC)
For me he's missing that the RPG has three elements.

Role = Where you take on a particular role
Playing = We are just pretending
Game = We have set up a system of rules to challenge us

Different folks like to mix different ammounts of these elements. Wick (always good for a grand statement) doesn't like the game part so much. D&D players are a mixed bag. My wife for instance insists there be at least one combat per session or its just not D&D. I've known others who love a good talk session where hardly any dice are rolled.

I love em both. I love the game, I love the acting. But that is another distinction... acting vs role playing. I'm more of an actor and I've been praised for good D&D "performances" but I've also been in sessions where folks found all the emoting to be irritating and considered true RP more of a "My paladin gives away his gold." and letting the scene go at that.

Story telling happens no matter what end of the spectrum you are on. It can be the story of the role playing "Sir Bandilar refused to slay his helpless foe." or the story of the game "And then I rolled a critical hit on the ogre just before I lost my last hit point to blood loss!" There is a players story and a characters story and both are pretty cool.
Mar. 11th, 2008 11:46 pm (UTC)
Hi. Wick here.

No, it isn't that I "don't like the game." I love the game. I love roleplaying games. But, when I ask my buddy Matt C. "What's the difference between Descent and D&D4?" and he tells me, "Nothing," then I have to ask, "Then how is D&D4 anything other than a board game?"
Mar. 12th, 2008 12:41 am (UTC)
Matt actually said that?
Mar. 12th, 2008 12:46 am (UTC)
Rather than focus on what Matt said, I'll ask you the same question.

What is the difference between Descent and D&D? (We'll use 3rd edition because it is a known factor.)
Mar. 12th, 2008 12:55 am (UTC)
I've never even heard of Descent until recently, let alone playing it, so I can't answer that question.
Mar. 12th, 2008 01:07 am (UTC)
The intent of how it is played and how it is marketed.

(I havn't played Descent so this is mostly conjecture.)
Descent is not meant to have a dynamic narative story surrounding the action (although I have to assume it does have some back story in the rules book). The action itself is the story if there is any. Also you are not encouraged to make your own characters or have any story surrounding who they are.

Just like every edition of D&D the rule books are bound to include text suggestion you make up cool imaginary worlds and characters who progress through ongoing stories as that is how D&D is generaly played.

So the essense of the difference is intent. D&D is not intended to be a board game although it could make a decent one if you wished to use it as the basis of one.

Mar. 12th, 2008 12:58 am (UTC)
Ahh, I should know better than to talk of folks like that. I offer my apologies for putting words in your mouth. It would have been better to say "It seems to me like Wick doesn't like the game part"

I'm glad you could correct my impression. But on to the subject.

I got a chance to play 4E. Anything I could say about whether 4E is a board game or not I could say about any edition of D&D with one exception. 3E and 4E perhaps more so have a fair number of rules dealing with the relative position of characters and if you use them it helps to have miniatures out. 1st & 2nd edition D&D didn’t have as much impetus for miniatures in “day to day” combat situations. The adventure we did didn’t have much story but it was meant to show folks the rules since that is the part that is different. Acting out our characters doesn’t exactly change from one edition of D&D to the next.

As you point out in the blog post, you can take any game and add role playing to it to some extent. It’s hard to make narrative of the play unless you really work at it because the rules are so abstracted. I haven't played descent, but looking at pictures of it I get the idea. I have an SSG classic called “death maze” that is about the same idea. I wouldn’t call them RPGs because they weren’t meant to be played as narrative stories. You could play them like that, but it’s not what they are selling them as.

I’ve never been one to buy source books or modules. I have a few because I like the writing or ideas but I almost never use them in my own D&D games other than as a source of ideas. I prefer to make up my own worlds and stories for players to interact with. For me D&D (or any rpg) is a rule book to “fairly” adjudicate conflict and provide a fun strategy/game element to a night of role playing. Just because D&D is a good “game” without needing to role play doesn’t mean it isn’t a “Role Playing Game”.

You made good points about D&D rewarding combat over story, but you just can’t codify role playing goals in a book without pigeon-holing people. For me the game in D&D and the story in a D&D game are two parallel tracks. I’m excited both to have my character gain fighting power, but also to progress his story arc. (Just last weekend I had a character die and be reincarnated as a new race (human to elf). I’m excited both by the changes to his abilities (not all good for me but still interesting) and the change to his character. The implications of man who hated himself and his childhood finding out he is physically someone else is quite intriguing!) So two different kinds of interest in the same event. The board game rules (a random table in a druid spell) gave rise to all kinds of amazing story possibilities. Rules in D&D are written with story telling in mind.

Having comprehensive (but ideally simple) rules makes it easier for first time game masters to adjudicate conflict without the player feel like they are being railroaded. Indeed one of the reasons I like rules as a GM is they are a starting point and a random factor that sparks my imagination. Rules add a kind of spontaneity to a game when well written and well used. It can go the other way (and often does) where the rules prevent some narrative path or break the 4th wall. As a GM I don’t like rules I can’t effectively translate into a “realistic” explanation.

Mar. 12th, 2008 12:58 am (UTC)

In 4E one narrative problem I have is with “Martial powers” that can only be used once per day or encounter. Why can the fighter only do one “crushing blow” per day? The best I can think of is fate only provides one opportunity for the proper attack angle or some such… On the other hand I really like that casters have powers they can use whenever they like. No one (that I have read) writes fantasy wizards that simply “run out of magic” as if they had a daily allotment.

But there comes game “balance”. If you could do “crushing blow” at any time you would be a one trick pony. It’s more fun to have a narrative where you do “the big move” only in dire situations or the like. Anime fight shows have that great narrative where people only fight their best against the strongest opponents or when they are most badly beaten. Not realistic but its great drama, so sometimes the rules can actually enforce better story telling than a “realistic” system that allows total freedom. So game balance can actually help with story if done well.

Ok.. I type too much. Thanks for listening and sparking these ideas. When I said you are always good for a grand statement I mean it as a compliment in general. Strong ideas often provoke my most pleasurable thoughts even if I’m a very middle ground kind of person.
( 13 sutras — Your wisdom )

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