Friday, November 23, 2012

Thanksgiving Holiday RPG Musings

As I’m sure most of us do, I’m thinking deeply about my life during the Thanksgiving holiday. In particular, I’m thinking about my relationship with RPGs. Perhaps my mind is dwelling on this subject because for several weeks now I have not been able to meet with my usual RPG group. So it may be that I’m suffering from withdrawal, and this is making me pine for all things roleplaying. So, here’s what’s on my mind:
I believe that I am prone to fits of RPG assumptions. I think since I returned to table-top RPGs in July 2010, I’ve been focusing on retroclones and other modern recreations of out-of-print versions of Dungeons & Dragons, rather than a re-exploration of the actual Dungeons & Dragons games.
I’ve been assuming that retroclones are the direction I MUST go with regard to my return to gaming. I’ve also been assuming, perhaps in a mostly unconscious way, that retroclones are “superior” to the original D&D versions. This applies in particular to Castles & Crusades, which I’ve allowed myself to believe is “better” than Advanced D&D.
I think I’m moving away from this superiority belief and moving toward deeper and deeper desire to engage in an in-depth study of the Basic/Advanced D&D editions. I’ve been assuming that I know those systems already. I’ve overestimated my understanding of those original rules. I may know the general concepts pretty well, but my knowledge of the finer aspects of D&D is sorely lacking.
I now think my focus on retroclones has been purely a matter of expediency. They are what’s in print and readily available, and they are often more streamlined that the original versions. This, as I’ve mentioned on this blog before, is no doubt due to my current life as a busy adult. When it comes to C&C, there’s also the fact that it makes some changes I like to the Advanced D&D classes, as well as a unified modern mechanic.
Of late, I’ve had a growing urge to study, of all things, Second Edition D&D. In the epilogue to my gamer testimonial, I professed a disdain for that edition. I have to say that this supposed disdain is probably based on a tendency to turn away from a pastime after inundating myself with said pastime. This is especially true when it comes to me and RPGs. I think I just immerse myself so deeply in an activity that I burn myself out.
But this rejection of 2nd Edition AD&D also comes from my weakness for novelty and perhaps a bit of attention deficit disorder. I’m not just talking about Gamer ADD, but just generalized ADD. I think my retroclone focus was based on a tendency I’ve always had to cling to a “newer is better” mentality/habit. I go through phases in life where I cannot focus well on things. But I also labored long under a tendency to assume that prior versions of D&D, or indeed D&D itself, is somehow “childish.” From reading other blogs, I don’t think I’m alone in this. There was a time when I left D&D behind and moved on to RPGs that I thought were more “adult,” such as Amber Diceless RPG and the White Wolf Storyteller games.
I know I’ve been rambling here, but this post is probably more for me to talk things out to myself rather than be a coherent read for others. However I would love to hear feedback from readers. To sum up: I’m going to stop assuming I have a deep understanding of the Basic and Advanced versions of D&D, and actually read up on them. I know I have limited time to do so, but I’m going to make the commitment. I’m also going to rethink my prejudice toward 2nd Edition AD&D and give that system another chance. It is, after all, the version of D&D I played the most besides 1st Edition AD&D.
Wish me luck as I delve into the depths of my RPG motivations!


  1. 2e definitely doesn't get enough love. It's backwards-compatible with 1e, so if were to go back to the auld rules again I'd consider merging the best of both systems. In fact, I seriously considered redevoting myself to 2e this year, but the lure of playing a currently-supported system proved too great, so I plunked for Pathfinder instead.

    I can definitely appreciate the urge to go back to the original systems, though. That's one of the reasons I drifted away from C&C--it was almost too similar to the old systems. Why not just study the originals? Clones like OSRIC are great for the table, though, since they organize things much better.

    Just some random thoughts on this holiday Friday. :)

    1. Thanks for chiming in. I guess I'm also hoping that this isn't just me experiencing some "bad" nostalgia as I call it: the sort of nostalgia that just leads to aimless re-reading of a game system with no real driving force or goal to actually play. The sort of nostalgia that just finds me flipping the pages and sighing, pining for what once was (the gaming of my youth) and what might be (potential gaming that I'm not actually putting good energy toward making a reality).

      But 2E might have the race and class characteristics that appeal to me, as well as the presentation of the rules. I know it's probably the most maligned version of D&D on the gaming blogosphere, but why is that? Because the monk and assassin were removed, as well as references to demons and devils? Big deal! No one ever played those classes in my teenaged group anyway, so those were no real loss to me. And who cares what you call demonic beings, because no matter how you referred to them they killed you just the same!

      Ack, at this point ALL the old D&D editions, basic and advanced, have things that appeal to me!!! I just can't seem to settle on a version! Gamer ADD, you bastard!!

    2. Yeah, I don't quite get the hate either. I think it's partly the changes that were made and that old canard that 2e attempted to "kiddify" D&D; I think there's also the memory of the 2e era being the time when TSR failed, as opposed to its glory days in the 1e era. Oh, and lots of gamers out there seem to have an irrational hatred of THAC0, which I also don't understand.

      But there are several interesting improvements 2e introduced, most notably the cleric and bard classes. And, used judiciously, kits can add an extra layer of fun to world-building and character creation. Plus, like you point out, much better organization.

      It's funny how 20-year-old prejudices can still linger.

      Ack, at this point ALL the old D&D editions, basic and advanced, have things that appeal to me!!!

      Considering that all the pre-d20 editions of D&D are largely compatible, why not just mix and match? Take 1e as your base system and just fold in elements from other editions that you like. If it was me, I'd bring in stuff like priest spheres and the 2e bard, Moldvay's reaction rolls, etc. Build your own D&D flesh golem!

  2. Well, I'm a 2e fan and always have been. So "THAT" to those "other" guys.

    And I think the nostalgia is more for the gaming experience of out youth as opposed to "simply" a "wish" for the "old" system.

    Those were some high times; the "newness" of the game, coupled with our first discovery of it. We can only look upon that wistfully, because we can never get it back.

    After all, back "then" we knew nothing. Today? We've developed opinions on and of the various/numerous systems out there.

    Our view is now distorted by that, no more "wide eyed wonder."

    And that's the tragedy. :(

  3. I left D&D in all its forms around the transition of 1st to 2nd. I returned to it about five years ago with Moldvay Basic. I'm still not a fan of 2nd, not for anything mechanically at its core; as mentioned, all editions from 2nd on back are largely compatible. To me, it is the expectations of the rules to provide story, which, IMO, they are largely ill-suited for.

    This was the age of their campaign settings and meta-plots. Overall it is good work, but I simply prefer my D&D in the dungeon or wilderness, not in the courts. Also, to me, kits work against the elegance of classes. I am one of those who prefer race as class. All that is just purely preference and expectations of the rules; as such, it is subject to taste.

    All that said, going back to the originals is not merely nostalgia. The PHB wording is different than, say, OSRIC. Those differences color play. I'm glad for OSRIC and what the OSR has done, but I still play with the originals for those subtle shifts in tone and atmosphere. They're minor, but noticeable. So if I'm going to play 1st ed AD&D, I want it to be the game as I know it. For example, I like that the original PHB Identify spell says: The material components of this spell are a pearl (of at least 100 g.p. value) and an owl feather steeped in wine, with the infusion drunk and a live miniature carp swallowed whole prior to spell casting. If a luckstone is powdered and added to the infusion, probability increases 25% and all saving throws are made at +4. OSRICs text lacks the color: The material component for the spell is a pearl worth 100 gp. Those two descriptions will certainly affect what happens at the table.

  4. I agree for the most part with what's been said here. Certainly AD&D 2e doesn't deserve the contempt it seems to get from some of the OSR crowd. To my mind, David Cook did to AD&D exactly what he and Moldvay did to OD&D when they made B/X; i.e., edited it firmly but sensitively, making it more streamlined, better organised, and more accessible than it had been. (The endless splatbooks and settings are a distraction. AD&D 2e is effectively just the PHB.) In both cases, it's true, some of the wild and idiosyncratic flavour of the original was lost in the process. But, also in both cases, the actual game that resulted was an improvement overall. In my opinion, of course. But then I always hated monks.