Why I have been flogging the dead horse…

Recently, I’ve been reading a lot of comments on WotC’s site and Google+ from gamers and I’ve been figuring out some things about what I’ve got against Old School gaming. What you’ll see below is basically a cut-and-paste of a conversation on Google+ that sums things up.

Me: Just removed a couple of people from my RPG circle, folks who made me realize what I don’t like about “Old School” gamers: they’re too hung up on the “game” and care nothing for the “role.” When character development is only that your character can kill enemies more efficiently, you’ve lost me. That’s high school crap I don’t need any more.
Response: that sounds more like the current D&D games then the old school games. The new games all I hear is balance and options and how the fighter should have as many as the Wizard.

Me: I don’t consider that a flaw, but a feature. I’ve played too many games in which I sat around doing nothing because I played a fighter, and my options were “I hit it with my sword, again.” That every character really has an opportunity to shine in a battle, rather than repeat the same boring actions every single round (as past editions have always forced onto the fighter), makes 4e a much more fun game for me and the “grognards” I play with. Most of my players have been playing as long as I have, 30 years, and started with AD&D, so we’re not a bunch of kids that don’t get it.

Since this is the direction I’ve seen your statement head, I’ll put forward what I’ve experienced now. I’ve been running 4e since PHB II came out (we had a 3.5 game we didn’t want to convert so near the end of our story). I’ve had nights when I run and we don’t have a single combat, and very few dice are rolled. So the old “you can’t RP with 4e” argument is complete and total bullshit. I’ve also listened to Major Spoilers’ “Critical Hit” podcast, as well as a couple of The Tome Show episodes, and I know my game is not the exception.

These “4e isn’t Old School” arguments don’t carry much weight with me. No, 4e is not “Old School.” For my group, it’s better. Old School has a competitive bent to it I don’t like. Old School encourages the players and the DM to compete against each other, when my experience has shown me that such competitiveness is why groups break up. Our high school games were like that, and I haven’t gamed with those guys since my first year of college, and I have no desire to any time soon. The conflicts between players and DM end up becoming personal, players develop pecking orders, and people end up angry with one another. I don’t want that. I’m older, and I don’t have the time to keep looking for new groups to game with. I game with people I love, who have become family to me, and I’d rather have that and a stable game group than the quest for new players or games the conflict inevitably brings.

That kind of brings me to some other concepts that I was going to cover later, and I may yet get deeper into later, and what I think gaming should be about. It’s about everyone getting a chance to shine, and I think older gaming styles avoid that. With the fighter dominating the game until about 5th to 7th level, then fading as the wizard becomes the real power in the party, one character (and thus player) or another shines and another fades. Someone is left not doing the Cool Stuff. And let’s not even get into how the rogue/thief becomes useless as the wizards’ spells start taking over the rogue’s job.

It was something I realized about the World of Darkness games that I don’t see elsewhere (although, I see it more with the non-Vampire games than that one). By giving every character access to the same powers, albeit with different flavoring and pacing, every player will have the opportunity to do Cool Stuff. The WoD has a certain play balance because every player has the same access to all the Cool Stuff. All this assumes that the PCs aren’t in conflict with one another. I saw the downside of PvP (to borrow from MMOs) a lot in LARPs, and in some of the crazier table top games I played. When the game allows (or encourages) PvP, players take the bait and attack one another, and often those attacks become personal, even if they didn’t start that way. When that happened, the games lost their fun, and revenge became the primary player motivation. I stopped playing with my high school group (and a couple in college and even after) when the player conflicts became to tremendous to overcome. When being at the game stopped being fun.

Everyone at the table being able to do Cool Stuff and not being encouraged to compete against the DM or each other creates a more fun environment. When they aren’t competing to survive the TPK the DM is trying to achieve, or with each other, the cooperative story has more room to grow, and the players are more creative in pushing it forward. The story becomes more focal, and the characters develop more personality, which in turn gives the group more to play with. Sudden death due to a “save or die” mechanic doesn’t sink the plotline anyone is developing, DM or player.

This is what I play for.

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About docryder

I'm an experienced table top gamer with an open mind to new game systems. I'm looking to explore ideas I've got. Some are pretty meta, some are pretty mundane. Welcome to my world.

Posted on March 27, 2012, in D&D 4e, Metagaming. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. I admit that I usually prefer “modern” systems; thinking things out and learning from the first 15-30 years of RPG history to ensure that everyone has a chance to contribute meaningfully is a good thing.

    That said, there isn’t a game around that can’t be devolved down to numbers without roleplaying–even first edition could be “power-gamed”–though sometimes that was an accidental side effect of better rolls before play began.

    • I agree with you, Scott. I played lots of “power-gamed” AD&D in High School. And even some in college.

      Your remark about good rolls just confirms my beliefs that the game design of the past is grossly flawed. I know a lot of folks I’ve spoken to like random stats. However, the player that rolls well versus the player that rolls poorly gets an advantage in the game in many realms that is free of charge. I’ve had my share of that, too, on both sides. But I’d still rather go with a point-buy system to give everyone a fair chance of being cool at something.

  2. I think, w/r/t/ combat, it *has* to be about numbers, and to some extent, powergaming. By the nature of combat, you’re trying to find the most efficient way to drop your opponent. That said, I think the balance in how 4e scales kindof nerfs the runaway stacking craziness that 3 & 3.5 has, and I think that’s a good thing.

    On the flip side, with the roleplay side, I like when the game system gets out of the way, or provides just enough when there’s a contested “social challenge”. Honestly, do you really need a “power” to interact with NPC’s? Maybe when I need to get him to do what I want (diplomacy, bluff, intimidate), but that’s a contested (skill) challenge. I don’t need to sift through my list of powers and rituals just to order an ale at the tavern-of-the-week (extremes, I know, but you get the idea).

    On the other hand, I’m not liking skill challenges as much as I’d like, but maybe that’s because we’re using them in different circumstances than for what they were intended (the mass-encounter scenario), and we reach to pidgeonhole a skill into a particular circumstance.

    So, as it relates to DnD Next, unless they can find a way to bridge that gap of powergaming and dick waving with providing just enough game system to not get in the way of roleplay (iow, scale and balance), then it’ll just be Yet Another Edition. And if they’re designing by the loudest voice, then it’ll reinforce that Yet Another Edition.

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