Thursday, March 4, 2010

OK, I had to get in on this action...

Reacting to this post:  (as many others have done, some more eloquently than others... I'm thinking of you, JimLotFP, oh ye of the sheer poetic Twattiness!  Yeah, yeah, and Zak too.  Very eloquent, but perhaps not the visceral impact of LotFP's prose stylings...)

The only thing in this post that I find disturbing (and this was really crystallized in the subsequent comments made by the author) is the supposition that anyone saying they like one style of gaming is simultaneously somehow denigrating any other style of play.  No one (or at least no one that I have read, and I read a lot of old school blogs and have for over a year now) in the old school renaissance is going around putting down other styles of play.  If anything, the OSR bloggers have been a wonderful example of people talking about what they like, creating material for what they like and giving examples of actual play of the style of gaming they like without all the negative flamewar bullshit that accompanies many other internet gaming communities.

I do find it a little bit sad that Faustusnotes has never had the opportunity or the pleasure to play in a good sandbox campaign.  I suspect that he/she (hereafter I will just use the female pronoun as is my wont whenever gender is in question - this implies absolutely nothing and I do this habitually because I hate how imprecise English is when it comes to talking about a person in gender neutral terms) must have experienced at least elements of the type of gameplay old schoolers love while playing her  "story" oriented games, because without the sort of player/DM interaction that old schoolers strive for any game feels flat no matter how wonderful the storyline that the DM came up with is.  If the players are not impacting the story meaningfully, a roleplaying game becomes a DM storytelling session.  Faustusnotes has had fun roleplaying - I posit that she must have had some impact on the story then.

The fact that she continues to cling to the idea that old school gamers are anti-story reveals that she understands absolutely nothing about the style of game that old schoolers in general like to run.  There are stories galore, ranging from the simple treasure hunt to the most intricate court intrigues possible, with high drama across multiple realities; the thing that the old school movement is trying to capture is that these stories do not have to be pre-scripted.  A DM can create a world that is dynamic and continues to run regardless of the PCs actions, and the way that they interact with this world creates the story.  The type of story that plays out is wholly dependent on the group of players and the DM, and even the DM (especially the DM) can be surprised with how it turns out.  In this manner, the DM gets to play the game as much as anyone else.  The DM gets to experience the joy of discovery along with the players.  It is a way of gaming that allows the entire group to take part in the creative process.

It is not the only way to game.  It is not the one true way.  It is a way that works, a way that is fun, and a way that NO published 4e adventures to date really leave room for without substantial DM work ripping the tracks off of the railroad.  The very idea of a published arc of adventures that goes from scene to scene with the assumption that the PCs will co-conspire with the DM to do exactly what the module author intended is the antithesis of the old school movement.  Writing such an arc of adventures would be a supreme waste of time in a sandbox - the PCs might decide they didn't even want to follow the plot hook into the adventure in the first place, and then all the effort of writing this grand unfolding plot would be for naught.  Do some people like these story-arc module series?  Sure.  Do they have fun?  Sure.  There are still plenty of opportunities even within the strictures of a railroad to impact the story.  The difference is that you only get a chance to impact the details of the story, not the overall plot itself.

The old school movement is not an effort to reclaim or cling to a juvenile and primitive way of gaming.  It is a reaction to the lack of a specific kind of gaming in the modern iteration of D&D - not that 4e cannot support this style of gaming, because it can, but that the modules published so far for 4e do not support it.  It is also an acknowledgement that if you like this style of gaming, the mechanical aspects of the system matter very little.  Things like skill checks and feats are totally unnecessary if the player is every bit as much of a story teller as the DM.  If anything, the style of play that proud grognards cling to could be described as much more story oriented than the "story-arc" style of adventure that Faustusnotes is a proponent of.  I say this because each member of the group gets to tell the story in old school play, while only the DM controls the broad outlines of the story in a true story-arc (A.K.A. railroad).

The old school movement can serve as an example that players can be just as creative in coming up with plots and things to do as a DM can - and there are more players than DMs and it is far less work for the DM.  So what's wrong with that?  Maybe some 4e players will read one of these blogs and the next time their DM tries to shepherd them into her carefully constructed plotline, they will rebel and go do what they actually want to do in the world.  And maybe the DM will realize that she doesn't have to undertake the entire burden of creating the story all by herself.  Providing examples of alternative styles of play can never be a bad thing, and should never be denigrated as Faustusnotes has done.  Many groups love railroads.  Some may not like them as much as the alternatives, but they might never know it if there weren't people out there in blogland talking about the styles of game that they play and like.

And that's my two coppers worth.

(incidentally, I play in a Labyrinth Lord campaign and run a Mutant Future campaign and a 4e campaign.  I run my 4e campaign in true old-school sandbox fashion and my players love it)


  1. Carl, again you have nailed it. I sort of read Faustusnotes' post, but life's too short to let that sort of stuff into my head.

    You, of all people, are qualified to opine on the marriage of 4e and sandbox and I respect you all the more for that.

    I wonder why FN saw fit to post as he/she did. What was the expected outcome? Does FN somehow expect that the scales will fall from the eyes of the OSR and suddenly we'll all think "Hey, Faustusnotes was right! Damn these story-less sandboxes!" It smacks of egotism for someone to post this sort of diatribe and EXPECT that others will concur. The alternative is that FN is some sort of agent provocateur and enjoys chucking s**t around for the fun of it.

    I can't remember who it was (possibly Gore Vidal but I'm sure that someone will correct me) who said "It's not enough that you succeed; everyone else must fail". Well, FN sums up the RPG corollary - it's not enough to believe that you are right, everyone else must be made to see that they are wrong. I wish that FN had enough self-esteem to realise that he/she can hold to their opinion without having to denigrate those of others.

  2. thanks for commenting at mine. I have to take issue with your fundamental premise:

    The only thing in this post that I find disturbing (and this was really crystallized in the subsequent comments made by the author) is the supposition that anyone saying they like one style of gaming is simultaneously somehow denigrating any other style of play. No one (or at least no one that I have read, and I read a lot of old school blogs and have for over a year now) in the old school renaissance is going around putting down other styles of play.

    Here are some examples:

    as many linguists will tell you, nothing can compare to approaching a work in its original language.

    more often than not it leads to something much more interesting and fun than any predetermined plot or story could be

    I support the continued alienation of non-OSR readers

    the uncreative DM is surely doomed and probably much better off playing a different game

    some have raised the specter of a "story" being introduced into the campaign.

    my own personal disdain for "story" is not a disdain for a coherent series of events that, in telling, follow logically from one another

    and lastly

    don't delude yourselves into thinking I'll be adopting latitudinarianism anytime soon

    those are just quotes from OSR blogs and commenters I have been made aware of over the last 2 or 3 days, and they aren't complete either - Zak's classic internet troll-spaz at his own blog is a fine example of the genre. This is without going into any depth of analysis of the buckets of scorn they've poured over 4e over the past year or 2. Apparently also I'm a twat as well, because engaging in actual argument would be to pander to my wishes.

    The thing that constantly surprises me about responses to my opinion is that they insist on constructing it as "my game is better than your game", while ignoring all that vituperation and vitriol. I'm a relative late-comer to rpg blogging, and although I'm supportive of the OSR project I'm not interested in OD&D or Gygax-worship. But it seems like an awful lot of vitriol being poured onto a single, quite well accepted aspect of post-90s gaming.

    The grognard/OSR blogosphere prides itself on being reactionary (it is not, apparently, a "broad church") and a significant aspect of reactionary movements everywhere is the exact scorn and vitriol I have identified here. Before you can dismiss these complaints you need to address that vitriol, and where it started.

  3. I'm a newb DM, and I'll be running published 4E material to start. I agree that I will probably have to railroad my players through the story somewhat. That's the nature of any published RPG storyline, I think.

    In my case, doing so - at first - is a good thing. I'm too new to really know what I'm doing as a DM. I've just never done it before and feel like I need some training wheels.

    My players are mostly completely new to RPGs. They know nothing of dice rolls, combat tactics, creative use of skills, and are completely unaware that there is an OSR movement. They probably need time to figure out how the basics work before they get dumped in a sandbox and asked "what do you want to do?"

    Will we eventually stop using published material? I have no idea. It all depends on what we, as a group, decide is fun. If they're happy being railroaded and I'm not bored doing it, we'll probably keep doing it. If they decide they have more fun in the "unscripted" bits, where they throw curveballs at me - and I don't get overwhelmed by it - we will probably go that way.

    Sandbox, railroad adventure, who cares? For me, the goal is that I and my players have fun. We'll do what works to that end, juvenile or not. (Juvenile can be fun. You'll never go broke selling "poop jokes".)

  4. Well, it certainly didn't start with me. I'm really sorry if encounters with certain members of the OSR have caused you to think that we are all like that. Look around and try to get a more representative sample before drawing conclusions. I for one have issues with James Maliszewski's attitude towards non OSR gamers and newcomers generally, but I still recognise that his views are worth reading (though not giving them the status of ex cathedra pronouncements).

    I'm also sorry that you seem to have had some very bad experiences with 'old school' gamers on your arrival in the UK. I'm not sure what you mean by 'classic example of a violent British idiot'. Perhaps you could elaborate, rather than resort to soundbites. I note that you also refer to Barrowcliffe's Elfish Gene, which is, if I am correctly informed, more about Barrowcliffe and his psychosocial problems than it is about D&D.

    You say that you have played in very few sandbox campaigns, preferring mostly story-based adventures. In that case, you are no better qualified to pronounce on them than I am to judge 4e. I fell into the trap early on of assuming that 4e must be bad because that was the prevailing consensus on the OS blogs. I was wrong on both counts, as I have said on Carl's blog before.

    It would be a mistake not to differentiate between 'story' and 'the story'. As far as I can see, the notion of story merely reflects the constructive perception that we place on events within any campaign and within the OSR, it's the term we give to the developing narrative, retrospectively viewed, that emerges from the interplay between DM and players. The Story on th other hand is something imposed from outside before the campaign starts and (in certain cases, though not all, I should add) dictates the direction of the campaign. In this latter case, measures need to be taken if players decide that they want to depart from The Story, even unto Deus ex Machina interventions and miraculous saves from certain death.

    I should stress that not all story-based campaigns are like this, although there is sufficient truth in it for parodies like DM of the Rings to raise a good few knowing laughs amongst the RPG community.

    I wonder what it was that got you so fired up that you felt the need to respond in quite so strong a fashion. I agree that if we are to engage in argument, we should do so in a civilised and gentlemanly fashion. But why do we need to engage in argument? What is to be argued about, and what would be acheived by it?

    The OSR is, despite your assertions to the contrary a broad church. Certain members might display parochial and conservative attitudes at times, but then a blog is a personal space and no-one should be allowed to dictate what someone does in their personal space.

    Best regards and, as Pat Condell says....



  5. or this from LOTFP, who also called me a twat and thinks arguing with me on my own terms would be giving in:

    I'd want to simply use half the occasion as a promotional vehicle, which would be rather rude, and I'd want to use the other half to just bait the diehard White Wolfers and LARPers who wouldn't be attending the talk anyway so it would be pointless

    The thing is, these people are random. I just have to click on a link on a site, and I'll get the following:

    a) I hate 4e
    b) I hate "story"
    c) I know everything
    d) I hate change
    e) I haven't changed my game since 1984
    f) Anyone who doesn't do this OSR stuff is stupid and ignorant

    but somehow, my post is all about how my game is better than your game...

    as for "stupid violent British idiot", it's just a thing. In 18 months in England I saw more violence and threats of violence than in my entire life before. I will forever associate England with violence and rudeness, on account of having lived there.The player was one of those many moments that is the spectacle of British pub life.

    eabod, your DMing style will develop from your players. Just do whatever everyone enjoys, and it won't matter if your system is a tin can with a dried conker in it.

  6. Thank you, faustusnotes. I hereby rescind anything bad I may have said about you. You are back to "even" in my regard. ;)

    I have seen the kinds of attitudes that FN is talking about (mostly on WotC's forums, actually). And I don't go back to those blogs. I go to blogs that talk about how fun gaming is, regardless of version played. Strangely, I read mostly OS blogs, though 4E is my system. So why 4E? I'll have to write up a post on that at my own blog at some point in the future (too many things I want to post about...).

  7. @faustusnotes - I will readily admit that JimLotFP is highly opinonated, inflamitory and sometimes downright rude. The "twat" response was a classic example (in case you missed the sarcasm in my opening lines). That does not change the fact that the old school blogging community, as a whole, is one of the most positive internet communities that I have ever seen. Every day I read dozens of posts, nearly every single one positive examples of gameplay or friendly discussions of theory. it is a shame that you have formed such a negative opinion - I for one will certainly not be calling anyone a "twat". I am sure the negative responses you have received to your post will do nothing but strengthen this opinion that you have formed, but perhaps you could look at your post and especially your agreement with the commenter who stated that old school gamers are essentially perpetual adolescents and try to see what could possibly have promted such vitriolic responses. I do wish you all the best in your future gaming and blogging activities.

  8. @eabod

    In my experience it is actually MORE work to try to run a published adventure than the old school style sandbox campaign. The beauty if a sandbox is that once it is set in motion, the players do a lot of the work themselves. Basically what you try to do is to set up a number of location based plot hooks and a number of interesting individuals or factions that exist in those locations. When the players encounter these individuals or factions, all you have to do is know what motivates your NPCs and you can have them react appropriately to the party's actions. The prep work is a little bit front loaded- it does take a few hours to come up with locations and NPCs. But you don't have to fully flesh out anywhere until the PCs start actually exploring it - when they first get there, if you have one or two notes about it that will be enough to get through the first session and you can then base your prep work on what the party is actually doing. In my Mutant Future campaign, for instance, I have done a grand total of five hours of DM prep work over the last 15 (!) game sessions, all 4-5 hour sessions filled with action and great stories. Most of the prep work was all done a long time ago when I compiled some maps of the area and made notes about residents of various areas.

    It is a little scary going into a session where you will have to improv a lot of what happens, but you are not truly making it up on the spot. If you know what motivates an NPC, you can have the NPC react appropriately to the PCs actions. Then the PCs will react to the NPC. Gaming happens and stories are told and the campaign will go in directions you could never have dreamed of.

    I guess what I am saying is that while I understand your trepidations, not attempting a sandbox campaign because it is too much work is sort of a misunderstanding of the sandbox campaign. It is probably the least intensive form of gaming in terms of DM prep work. A sentence or two about each location; a table of random encounters; a few NPC factions and notable villains with a few notes on their motivations; and you have YEARS of gaming material!

    Published modules require at the bare minimum a few hours reading through the module, and you will still find yourself having to make tweaks and spending prep time to make it fit into your campaign.

    Regardless of what you choose to do, I wish you the best of luck in your DMing endeavors.

  9. Carl, actually the comments at my blog have been really refreshing and interesting and mostly not at all disappointing. Flame Princess is an extreme example because he's ill-mannered, but a lot of the other blogs I read do have an inherent scorn and a belittling tone in discussion of the newer aspects of the hobby.

    I see the OSR blogosphere as essentially conservative (in the strict definition of the word). Sometimes this shits me but I hold my nose and bear it, because as you say there's a lot of interesting stuff there; however, with this conservatism there is a strong streak of elitism which I really find unpleasant. It's the latter I was reacting to in this post, and if I were to kick against the former you would probably find me doing so a lot more politely.

  10. I certainly agree that many of the comments have been very interesting, on both sides of the fence. So in a sense I suppose I owe you a thanks for stirring up this hornets nest! I always find it regrettable when people resort to ad hominem responses to posts that they do not agree with. Anyway, thumbs up for maintaining a decent amount of decorum through some pretty good bashing on you, and thumbs up for the thought provoking discussions. I may not agree with many words you say, but I will fight to 0 HP to defend your right to blog them!

  11. Thanks Carl

    eabod, I don't know if I would agree with carl that sandbox is less work than modules, but they are a lot of work, unless you are lucky to find one that fits you perfectly. I remember during the early 00s there were a lot of very small modules (pamphlet-sized) released for D&D 3.5 that were easy to modify for your needs and could be dropped well into any campaign - I dropped an Oriental samurai adventure into the Dunland in Middle Earth with about 3 minutes preparation, for example. Some of those might be available at the old WoTC site, but in general I think they've disappeared into the aether.

    I generally start campaigns with a few one-off adventures to find out what people want, and go from there. Drop lots of hints you don't intend to follow up, have a bad guy get away, and before you know it you'll have either a) a sandbox game you can run with or b) a plot hook for a larger campaign story that both you and the players want to pursue or c) a world everyone likes, that you can adapt modules to easily.

  12. Carl, a great post, I really agree with your assessment about what the OSR IS about, i.e., an improvisational, collaborative-storytelling style of play, often (but not necessarily) accompanied by a rules-lite system. And so many provocative (yet ultimately civilized) comments! Bravo everyone, thanks for the thought-provoking reading.

  13. My wizard has a magic wand. He zaps things with it.


  14. Daddy Grognard
    You have been misinformed. The Elfish Gene is about my psycho-social problems and D&D. It's about a 30/70 split in favour of the latter.
    Mark Barrowcliffe


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