Thursday, July 12, 2012

Self Revelations: D&D, the OSR, and Me

I started this blog to chronicle my return to roleplaying. I really had no idea what my attempt to return to the fold would entail, or how successful I would be. As far as success is concerned, I've got a steady group of fellow gamers that I play with on a fairly regular basis. So I consider that a success.

Note, of course, that I had no idea there was an OSR when I came back to gaming within the last few years. When I first made my concerted effort to return to the table-top, my first exposure was with Pathfinder (which I found to be interesting but too crunchy for my tastes...I had never played 3E either, for the same crunchy reason). It was this lack of fulfillment with an in-print game that caused me to wonder about the out-of-print games from my past. I decided to dig around online for those older editions, and the rest is history...

Since I've come back to roleplaying, I think I've learned some things about my current gaming self. The following is very subject to change, however, as I'm nothing if not mutable:

The Old Rules
At the moment, I don't really want to go back and use the old D&D rules as written, be they Basic or Advanced D&D. Sure, I have strong feelings of nostalgia for those old rule sets. Like so many of us, it was my first RPG. There's a certain lure to the thought of playing actual D&D instead of a retroclone, but again, that's probably just a bit of "bad" nostalgia. In re-reading the Rules Cyclopedia, Moldvay/Cook/ Marsh B/X, and AD&D, I find myself balking at the "clunkyness" (or what I personally perceive/define as clunkyness) of the rules. I've also run into that balking feeling while running some Labyrinth Lord recently. So I've reached a point where my issues with the rules have overcome the gravitas, the prestige, the tradition, the whatever-you-want-to-call-it of playing actual D&D or those retroclones that cleave close to it (i.e. the "first wave" of clones = OSRIC, Swords & Wizardry, Labyrinth Lord).

I say all the above with not a little sadness, because I blame my current state of life as being the culprit behind my inability to grok the old rules. I can't seem to retain the little idiosyncrasies of the old rules. I know this seems lame, but it's a sad truth for me. I've got some personal things in my life that are taking up a fair bit of brain power of late. Maybe this ineptitude on my part will abate someday, but for now...

I have to admit, though, that I've felt a recent urge to get the original AD&D books, in order to add them back to my collection. The books my teenage group shared years ago were destroyed by a friend who became a hardcore born-again Christian. After so many years of not having the hallowed words of Gary Gygax in my library, I feel the need to own them once more.

I'm not sure why, even though I know how old school games are about rulings and not rules, that I just can't feel totally at peace with playing D&D rules as written OR with house rules that make them more to my tastes. Maybe it's some disillusionment with the rules, or being tired of the same old D&D rules appearing over and over in the vast number of OSR publications, or a combination of the two. Don't get me wrong, I love the wondrous variety of the OSR and believe it is a positive aspect of the movement. 

I think familiarity does breed contempt, and I've been around the D&D rules for so long that I'm probably getting a bit tired of them. I probably need a break from them. I can't seem to help the urge to tinker. I know, the prevailing thought process is that older D&D rules were pretty much made to be just guidelines, and made to be tinkered with. But I just don't have the stomach for too many house rules of late. Maybe it's my current time crunch that makes me get upset if I have to craft too many house rules. Granted, I don't think I've played with too many house rules, but still...I feel the need to find a game that doesn't give me the overwhelming urge to tweak. This feeling alone probably strips away a good portion of my OSR cred (if I ever had any).

The Rules with D&D DNA
Again, I've no urge to use the original D&D/AD&D rules in a current game. For my AD&D needs, I have Castles & Crusades. It is the game that had Gary's blessings as the successor to D&D, after all (at least, according to the Troll Lords, who were close to Gary before he passed).

Yes, the only version of AD&D I really dig is Castles & Crusades. It's a wonderful amalgam of 1E (classes, races, overall aesthetic) and 3.5 (more modern unified mechanic), with some new ideas/twists thrown in (example: rangers don't cast spells...that's awesome...never could stand spellcasting rangers) and an old-school mentality surrounding it.

The other game that's made a big impression on me is DCC RPG. I really like this "second generation" clone! I am definitely liking it more than the original/first wave of clones, and I know that statement may raise some hackles. I know, DCC is not supposed to be a clone, but come on a clone a clone. I'm not ready to actually run DCC RPG at the moment, but I have the itch (and some of those Zocchi dice as well).

Both of the games mentioned above use a much more unified mechanic than the old versions of D&D/AD&D. And these days, I'm loving me some unified mechanic. This is due to being busy with adult life, which leaves me with minimal brain space to use for storage of various mechanics. I know, lame, right? Oh well, it's my truth. And to thine own self be true.

The less I feel the need to house rule, the more I like the RPG. I do like to play with some minimal house rules for C&C (one sheet of paper front and back is my limit!), and DCC seems like a game I wouldn't want to house rule much at all.

But C&C and DCC have that D&D DNA, and of late that's bothered me. So I have to conclude that I'm having an issue with D&D, deep down.

Other Rules and New Rules
Lord knows that, over the years, I've played a bunch of other games that weren't D&D-based. I played a lot of Palladium (TMNT, Rifts, Heroes Unlimited, Ninjas & Superspies) and also Amber Diceless RPG. Most recently I've been playing Savage Worlds. So my experience with the other RPG possibilities out there is probably part of my current urge to look elsewhere. Look, I learned a lot about rulings not rules and other concepts favored by the OSR through my experience with a non-D&D game like Amber Diceless Roleplaying. With no dice and just four attributes, the ADRPG GM has to make a lot of rulings.

Bottom line: I'm really curious about newer, non-D&D based systems like Savage Worlds and Dragon Age. I feel the urge to break away from the D&D "hegemony" least for a while. These games also have unified mechanics (with Dragon Age going so far as only using the d6, rather than Savage World's use of the other polyhedrals we all know and love...I have to admit I'm going to miss all those other dice while we play Dragon Age).

I know there are a lot of OSR folks who clamor about player vs. character skill, and a system like Dragon Age can lend itself quite easily to players depending on the character stats and associated skill rolls. But I'm here to tell you that my thoughts towards character stats and skill rolls are also tied to my current gaming status. I'm a busy adult playing with busy adults. We don't have all the time we used to have in order to lean mostly on player skill and searching every cranny of a dungeon.

I guess you could say we don't have time to be incredibly clever. We have time to be somewhat clever. My players are very creative and come up with really inventive solutions to things, be they battles or negotiations with NPCs or solving puzzles. But if they sometimes want to lean on the dice mechanic, I'm not going to stop them. Because in our limited time we want the adventure to press forward, and not worry about exploring all the minutia that "pure" old school D&D play demands.

I do encourage a combination of player and character skill, a compromise if you will. These two roleplaying concepts don't need to be mutually exclusive. Player ideas improve dice roll success or eliminate the need for dice. I guess I am not purely of the OSR when it comes to mechanics, but I am when it comes to the style, the spirit. Not that labels matter, though. The gaming is what really matters.

Conclusion...For Now...
I'm not sure if I'm getting across all my feelings as clearly as I wanted, but I made an effort here. Mostly for my benefit, but I'm also wondering what others think. You may think I'm a cop out when it comes to the OSR, but again, I'm thinking that I'm more of an omnivorous gamer rather than just a consumer of the old ways. Maybe I'm not really an OSR gamer at heart. I don't know. Not that there's a strict membership guideline for the movement, right? ;-)

I'm not knocking those who want the pure OSR feeling/gameplay. I'm just realizing that I'm least for the moment. Someday, I'm sure, I'll want to play C&C or DCC or maybe even Labyrinth Lord again. I think I just need some time away from the same rules I've been using for so many years. Hell, I might want to try my hand at original AD&D again. Who the heck knows, right? I'm nothing if not a sufferer of chronic Gamer ADD!

But for the time being, I talked to my group and they seem interested in me running some Dragon Age RPG. And I'm having a blast with my friend Bill's Savage World of Solomon Kane game. Both games may owe their existence to D&D (like all other RPGs), but they don't owe much in the way of mechanics. And I'm really, really liking that fact.

Wish me luck on this latest phase of my gaming life. Until we meet again, happy gaming!


  1. Have you taken a look at HackMaster 5th edition? To me it feels like the AD&D 1st edition I always wanted.

  2. That blows my mind that your Christian friend destroyed those AD&D books. I myself am a Christian of the Mennonite denomination, and I find it appalling that someone would have that big of a problem with a game of "pretend." To those Christians who have a problem with RPGs - I would use the argument that Dee Snider gave to Congress and the PMRC: it speaks a lot more about what their mental state is when they see immorality under every rock and behind every bush that they can find. Some folks at my church raise their eyebrows at me when I tell them I play in a metal band and have hobbies that conservative Christians would consider "un-Christian." Then I teach them in Sunday School and they see that yes, someone can indeed do these things and maintain a Christian perspective. I could give you a million theological reasons for this, but I shall digress. Your post sparked an urge to vent!

  3. SirKerry: Yes, I've looked at Hackmaster and it just doesn't appeal to me. Not sure why. It seems fairly crunchy. I get intimidated by all the character options. The book seems packed with dense text blocks! And the character sheet looked equally crammed with stuff. Maybe I'm missing something...

  4. Fumblefail: Yes indeed, that's whay happened to those old books. He became a Baptist. Now, not every Baptist will destroy a D&D book, but many will. I myself was raised Baptist, and my church was also very vehement about D&D leading kids to Hell! They certainly advocated destruction of D&D books, as depicted in the infamous Jack Chick tract (which I was given as a kid). Luckily for me, I saw the stupidity of the Satanic Panic. And please, feel free to vent!

  5. Yes, the Satanic Panic thing was out of control. I opened a store just when it hit and what happened afterwards has forever tainted my views in gaming. I had people inside and out telling parents with their kids they were going to Hell and burning crap in my yard at night.

    And Drance, the whole burnout thing is mutual (in my case for other reasons on some topics).

    I have just seen to much hypocrisy this year and decided it was time to pack it in. I'm going 'old school'...ya know...hex and counter wargames, mash-ups, board games. It's just so much more fun than arguing over ascending vs descending armor class or edition war BS...again and again and again...

    And I have taken the same approach to design that you have taken to gaming. It's time for a change. The SRD/OGL is what brought me back into all this and there is so much more to the SRD/OGL than just clones. I'm actually enjoying the new material I'm reading.

    I will probably shape up the material I have worked on up to this point and make it available for fantasy rpgs currently being played, but that will be the extent of it. I have stopped writing anything new.

    But that's the best part about gaming-a new adventure lies just around the corner :)

    1. @ADD Grognard: yeah man, I just keep reminding myself that this is a hobby and hobbies are supposed to be FUN! Any kind of gaming is good gaming! I have no real inclination to create/publish any materials beyond perhaps the random "create a magic item and win a prize" contest on blogs. But I support anyone who might want to do so, whether they want to sell or give it away.

      I am just speaking for myself, that's all I can do. I would never presume to tell others what they should be playing, creating, etc. I love the variety of the RPG world, but I know myself. That variety can often plunge me into Gamer ADD, but that's my own failing/crutch. I'm not going to blame publishers/creators for my own lack of attention span. I think my ADD comes from lack of free time in my current life. I want to play everything now! I guess I also have an issue with instant gratification on top of the ADD ;-)

      Hey man, thanks for stopping by and I wish you happy gaming no matter what you do! If you do put out those materials I look forward to seeing them.

  6. I've trimmed everything down to 2 journals and the X project.

    The Classic Realms of Adventure (yes, same as the blog and soon to be website) will cover rpg, wargaming, video games that appeal to tabletop gamers (this will be focused on old school titles starting with the Koei series for Nintendo NES and end with the original Xbox), movies, books...basically anything that might appeal to gamers and I will either release the material I have created through this or do a setting supplement. I'm tweaking it for S&W but it should fit into about any fantasy based system.

    The other is Darkness over Dunwich, a journal devoted to all things Lovecraft with a focus on gaming (Arkham Horror, Elder Sign, etc) but also include movies, fiction,etc.

    Project X...hmmm... :)

  7. Drance, do what makes you happy. Labels are convenient to help us better understand each other, but they aren't necessary. Anyone who might criticise you for changing preferences isn't worth losing sleep over. Having fun trumps all other considerations. :-)

    1. Hey Dave, thanks for checking in, and for the pep talk. Indeed, I came back to the hobby seeking a creative outlet and to have fun, and so far it's still giving me lots of both!

      I saw the developments at your blog, and I wanted to wish you well and hope things keep getting better. I also hope to see you blogging once more someday! Thanks for being a great all-around person and cool part of our little community.

  8. Thanks for this, it's good to hear. I have been going through the same in a way, and deciding I just don't care about the Edition Wars, the Rules splits or the general Elitist feel I get from some in the wider community of gamers. I am and more than likely will be a OSR fan boy, and I am happy with that, But in all truth the line of 2nd generation OSR games appearing really gets me excited, it feels like the 80's to me all over again. And that is a good thing IMHO.