Saturday 21 January 2012

4E D&D Is The Oldest-School Old-School Game Out There

If you recognize that roleplaying games started when wargamers started personalizing rigid sets of wargame rules, refereeing acts of guile and subterfuge as preludes to Napoleonic battles ...

If you also open your eyes a little and notice that some players are not just using the tightly regimented episodic skirmish combat rules of D&D 4th Edition out of the book, but doing roleplaying "cut scenes" to shape the direction of the campaign around them ...

Then "let's drop some roleplaying around this set of wargame rules" is the oldest school play mode around.


  1. Interesting take, but I'm not sure I agree (Not that anyone need care about my agreement).

    From what I've read* early D&D, although growing out of Chainmail a system for adding fantasy elements to medieval battles (not skirmishes), didn't play combats out with minis on a grid (or battle table/diorama).

    They did however bring their wargaming sensibilities to the fight; utilizing wargame tactics, such as flanking and reach weapons attacking over the front row's shields, in abstract combat. The mini's usually only being used for marching order.

    Having said that; adverts for fantasy minis were plastered all over the early gaming mags, so there must have been a market for more than just mini's used for marching order.

    Besides D&D can't have come full circle it's about to take the 'Next' step.

    * My sources on this are mostly Mike Monard/Old Geezer's posts about playing in Gary's game, Q&A's at Dragonfoot, and Grognardia RPG archeology. I don't have data, just anecdote so ya know.

  2. I'm not sure if this was supposed to be humorous or thoughtful but, while I get your point, I disagree.

    While Lee makes some valid points I'm thinking more in the sense of the formality of all it. Miniatures gaming, except for the grand WRG Ancients 4th/5th tournaments (and to a lesser degree their DBA/DBM successors) and now branded games such as WarHammer were never as formalized about rules and such as 4th Edition is.

    Nor was the Braunstein that unique if some other materials are considered. If you read WRG's Setting up a wargames campaign by Tony Bath similar "get in the role of one general" was an idea that was out there in the broader minis community. It was also present in the PBM Diplomacy community at the time as well.

    So while the D&D 4 community is developing parallels to what happened circa 1970 I think we're over estimating to say it's the same as that period. The larger community of gaming had a lot of proto-RPGs in play and in some ways I think the RPG was inevitable. What wasn't inevitable was that it would be D&D.

    However, to the degree that 4th edition has prompted parallel solutions to develop to issues that arouse in adding personality to minis games circa 1970 I think it's more having taken one too many steps back and isn't old school but pre-old school.

  3. Hmmm. I did not consider this might not have been a serious post. I obviously have a low WIS (or INT).

  4. Roger the GS, just passing the time:

  5. I'm not entirely joking ... and not entirely serious.

    Mainly pointing out the irony that some misunderstandings of 4E line up with some misunderstandings of OE - namely "Oh, you only have rules for combat, so your game is forced to be a stupid hack fiesta."

    Of course, the complex-simple rules distinction is important and is behind my choice of old school rather than 4E or 3E systems for play.

    But hey, man bites dog, Superman is evil, etc.

  6. Just saying... the original D&D was breaking out of the mold, not diving back in. So whereas breaking out is commendable in a sense, going back in is the opposite of commendable, in that same sense.

    This is the least of the flaws that make 4th edition D&D the worst I've ever seen... and I started with Red Box D&D (I don't have a favorite edition).

    I would even go so far as to say it's the worst commercial RPG I have ever seen.

  7. Lee, you are correct - When playing the original D&D (box set) we never used miniatures to resolve combat, only marching order and sometimes for determining AOE or splash. The combat was more of an abstract story-telling kind of thing which, even though I have spent tousands on Warhammer and DBA figs over the years, I actually enjoy far more.

  8. D&D4e's rules are a LOT more complicated and all-encompassing than Chainmail or any other edition of D&D were. Perhaps the key difference between old and new is rulings vs rules. Older games tend to be slimmer books because the GM is meant to just decide things, rather than having a rule for everything.

    Physicists are reassessing Einsteinian relativity because the 28 billion light year across universe isn't big enough to show just how fucking far D&D4e is from old school.

  9. Kyle, not so sure you're recalling the same game. 4E uses a simple attack (and save, and skill) resolution system compared to 1E AD&D. Attack (and save) in AD&D 1E was pretty much random. Also, you're glossing over weapon speed factors and [Weapon] vs Armor Class, which pretty much made each weapon behave differently through arbitrary mathematical variance, rather than through a simpler approach to standardized design. Having played every edition of D&D, as well as several dozen other game systems, I'd have to say 4E's exception-based design is simpler than any other edition of D&D, and most other RPGs I've played. Sure, there are a lot of decisions to make as a player *when creating a character,* and as a DM each player is coming up with 3-6 different attacks in as many rounds, so it seems complex, but the truth is it's easier and faster than having to look up every spell, every time (except for Fireball, Lightning Bolt, Magic Missile, and a few standbys) or rules about how my armor interacts with the henchman subsystem, the weapon subsystem, and the swimming subsystem, all of which are completely different.

    I shudder when I think of the only variance between characters of a given class/race coming from hit point and stat rolls. Now, sure one can *say* the different races and classes mattered, but, really, unless you wanted to cap out when everyone else was still rolling you chose the class that allowed you to progress to the highest level in your chosen class. Hey, another shudder.

    And more about skills, but I am lazy.