About Me

Monday, January 11, 2016


I don't care for labels or for the Old School Renaissance. I think that Wizards of the Coast made a big mistake and a historical disservice to the hobby, when they refused to publish indie role playing games, necessitating The Forge.

I think that it is unfortunate that today's layman associates role playing with D&D, and D&D sticks to the same archaic model of the game as in the early 1970's - i.e. a tactical wargame tied to toy soldiers (miniatures, or affectionately, Minis for hobby boys, just as the dolls for boys are called action figures, for marketing sake).

Still, there is no denying, that what makes D&D is it's game model. You can look at any game and say that it either feels like D&D, or it doesn't. Clearly, D&D framework is not appropriate to run every game, and at the same time, Indie games have developed new game mechanics, which never found their way into Dungeons and Dragons.

The big question is, what defines D&D as opposed to the other role playing games. One part that makes AD&D 1st Edition unique is its Gygaxian Naturalism. First coined by James Maliszewski, it describes Gygax's tendency to define everything in the fantasy world in game terms - i.e. give cats and mice, which will never be combatants in the game in any meaningful way, hit points.

I get this, there is a great big revolving fantasy universe, in which the adventure takes place, namely a dungeon labyrinth to be explored. Large portions of Gygax's DMG are dedicated to navigating that world on foot, in the air, by the sea and under water. There is a separate issue of the role of the story in AD&D, and the game's inability to model adventuring beyond the Dungeon Crawl, or as they are called now, site based adventures, but the bottom line, Crawl is the nature of D&D. This might sound tedious, if you stick to Dungeon and Hex Crawls, but it gets better if you adapt story telling modes to travel the fantasy world.

What makes D&D play D&D is this. I design and run complex adventures. What this means is that Dungeons are tied to (and controlled by) those who run the fantasy world of Midlands. Before they start adventuring, player characters do not run into the fantasy game equivalent of the general store, buy weapons and armor, then to Tavern for clues, and finally to the Mother Lode of a Dungeon as if they were the California 49'ers and the Dungeon is their staked claim. Instead, Midlands characters have to interact and react with Midlands, and when they go into a tactical adventure, they do so as part of the social forces in that world. In practical terms, in Season 1 of the campaign, they had support from the local baron and his men at arms, who guarded their base camp. They were a spear head in a siege and had the best weapons, armor and magical items, that the Barony could offer. This allowed me to have first level characters explore a mega dungeon that ranged in levels from 1 to 4 and featured 6th level monsters that fit the milieu.

I use all kinds of techniques to develop my adventures and my fantasy world. What makes my game D&D is Gygaxian Naturalism. This does not mean that I make detailed map of the huge tracts of wilderness. What this means, is that of the players have to go from Point A to Point B, to meet an NPC and try to find out some information, they ACTUALLY HAVE TO TRAVEL from Point A to Point B, and ENCOUNTER stuff along the way. This is what makes D&D a tactical game. You don't need miniatures or fancy sets to make the game tactical, the game takes place in the minds of the participants, and a good map can be drawn on a piece of scrap paper to help players visualize the situation.


  1. I think that the Old-School Renaissance was simply a reaction to those of us who didn't like where D&D had been taken, and felt abandoned. All of the resources are gone, they say that the game is finished and has gone as far as it could go but WE weren't finished, and we didn't like the restrictions of the newer editions. And what is more hurtful is that the newer generations made fun of us relentlessly, lumping us all together with incompetent DMs. They didn't understand that with an amazing DM this game is amazing! Dungeon Masters strove for better things, they weren't just guys who begrudgingly took over as DM this week because it was our turn, to us, DMing IS the game. In WOTCs bid to get incompetent DMs under control, they no longer allow a game keeper to MASTER the game and take it places where we can do some really special stuff with it. We started this as a response to 4e specifically, which had removed our specific skill set from the game entirely. 5e is, I feel, back on target however I can't afford the cost of admission; not that I'd really want to because in my bid to defend MY edition, which was getting knocked from both directions, I developed a deeper love and a stronger sense of mastery for the game.

    It was strange that our websites started popping up all at the same time, but it was just in response to grossly inaccurate statements being made by people who had no idea what they were even talking about. Idiots who'd go on and on for hours. It is still happening today, but at least now we are here to correct them, to set the record straight, and defend these rules, because contrary to what they believe, people are still enjoying all of the rulesets.

    They chose to call this the edition wars, even though we weren't fighting, we were standing up for what we know to be true. You, Brooser, are also part of the Renaissance. I see 5e as a victory, the videogame fueled 4th edition was exposed for what it was, and it was all of us who talked about the glory days, that I feel got that ball rolling.

    1. Well, I guess I AM a part of the Old School Renaissance, simply because I DM from the Gygax's original core books and use a 1980's Avalon Hill version of RuneQuest.

      I think that WOTC is a corporation, that cares more for its bottom line, then for the gaming culture. They dumbed down the game from the level of essentially academic intellectuals to that of pre-teens from broken homes. Kudos on your observation of the pencil and paper Diablo nature of the 4th Edition. WOTC moved its publishing emphasis from the DM's onto players, and then introduced Planned Obsolescence for its editions of D&D simply to sell more books to hungry players.

      The Idiots, who knew not what they were talking about were simply corporate types talking to public. WOTC execs are gamers, they are smart, educated, and they are steely corporate types trying to maximize their profits in the shrinking market in a shrinking economy with a shrinking audience.

    2. I never understood why each edition has to make fun of the previous one, I know that 2e belittled everything that came before in the first paragraph. I remember asking the guys who taught me how to play what set AD&D apart from D&D, and they were convinced that D&D was for poor people or the mentally retarded, and AD&D was for the serious gamer. Now that I've got all of the facts in front of me, B/X D&D looks like a nice solid game, it wasn't just dungeon delving it had a world that looks very interesting. I had always seen those little Gazetteer books at D&D shops but never picked them up, now I wish that I had!

    3. You mentioned Gothic Earth setting, I never heard of it, looked it up on the internet, read about the Masque of the Read Death, and it dawned on me, just how much AD&D Second Edition differs from the Gygax's AD&D. The difference is very fundamental and conceptual. Gygax AD&D was solidly set in a Pseudo European vaguely occultish medieval setting, that mixed British and Western film influences. If you look at Medieval France and the Principalities of what later became Germany and Italy, you will find little in common with Greyhawk or Forgotten Realms. That is fine. A fantasy is a fantasy is a fantasy, and one is as good as any other in its premise, it's what you make of it that counts. Second Edition took the game out of that setting and put it in different world. You are probably aware, that they TSR made a bunch of green covered books to set D&D in historical settings of the Ancient Greece, Rome, Holy Roman Empire, Crusades, Vikings, Celts, and Oliver's Cromwell's England with muskets. Expand from these historic settings to the truly fantastic ones, like Planescape, Ravenloft, and the Dark Sun. From these, people took to writing AD&D 2nd based games set in Texas, 20th century, etc. That is the real difference between the Fist and Second Edition of AD&D. And with these differences also came the cultural variety. Basic and Expert was a rules lighter game that was free of the adult connotations of race, sex and occult that came with the OD&D and AD&D. Gygax AD&D was played primarily by white middle class college war-gamers with their inherent biases. Of course they tended to look down on those, who played the kiddie version of their game, which evolved into a solid product line of its own.

      Gygax Grizzled Gamers of the first edition were superseded by the hack writers of the second edition, who tried to bring the game into modern world, making it all things for all people. These guys were a little more socially aware, a little more theater oriented and artistically inclined than the Gygax set, and they looked down on them. These were in turn replaced by the Wizards of the Coast Crowd, which saw different AD&D settings competing against each other and taking away from the corporate bottom line, and thus decided to create a single Third Edition AD&D game tailored to the pre-teens and away from the adults. And these guys did not care as much about the adult players of the game.

      If you hadn't done so, get yourself a copy of D&D Rules Cyclopedia on e-bay. You can likely get it cheap and see the different track that it takes from AD&D.

    4. The D&D Rules Cyclopedia is a wonderful book! I kick myself in the rearend a lot because I turned down a copy in favor of a textbook on creative writing. I would had gotten more use out of the Cyclopedia, but the past is the past.

      I don't think that the 2e era designers were publishing with the intent to "Be all things to all people", they were saying, "Hey, look at what we did, you can do the same thing." Gothic Earth didn't do anything that you couldn't homebrew yourself, it just presented a book that became a template for exactly how far you can push the core rules without them breaking.

      When I was in high school, I had to write a report on medieval France, years later once I got into D&D a friend and myself created our own little setting based on the information that we had learned from that thesis, we had 0 magic, no monsters, it was just political intrigue and stuff that entertained us deeply. It wasn't something that we could market, but I think that us doing that was exactly what Gygax had set out to do. He marketed the rules and said, Have at it folks!

      Dark Sun is another example of doing something differently, the core rules are still there but they are heavily modified into an awesome place to play in. Did they look down on those who came before? No! Not the designers of these sets, they were able to spend months dedicated to sculpting these worlds and still drawing a paycheck by doing it, so their opportunities were unique, and they made the most of it.

    5. Don't kick yourself too hard, Ripper, you likely got more mileage from the creative writing book towards your DM'ing anyhow.

      I am not sure that with your game based on historic France setting you were doing what Gygax has set out to do. Ever notice, that Gygax wrote AD&D and his subsequent work just FIZZLED? I mean, he wrote two new games, Castles and Crusades, and Lejendery Adventure, and those did not break any new ground. His final writings, the Living Fantasy series, is just a pale re-hash of his lists from the Dungeon Master's Guide. I am lost for words trying to review his World Builder Book. I thought that it was going to be a book on building fantasy worlds. Instead it is a list of medieval equipment and other lists and no writing as such! I mean, how can someone, who authored the Dungeon Master's Guide be unable to author anything else, literally?

      Also, in an interview somewhere, Gygax had an idea that his game was meant to be played in a certain way. He said that unless you play D&D by the book, you can play a game, but it will not be Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, like you could be playing a game, but you could not call it Chess, unless you are actually playing Chess. So, Gygax may have cringed at the Dark Sun setting.

      BTW, old game rules are a penny a dozen! If you haa a penchant for a role playing game set in Medieval France, you might want to read through the Chivalry and Sorcery, for a very different take on fantasy role playing.

  2. This piece is wonderful, it inspires lots of commenting in many different topics, but the other one that I'm going to hit upon is miniatures. Back in the days when I should had been going to college and focusing on some kind of career, I instead played D&D and hung out with my fellow bohemians full time to garner an unofficial and unsanctioned education in coffee shops, used bookstores, and smoke filled livingrooms. I don't regret that! But money and me have always been brief companions,thus miniatures back in the day were out of the question. We wrote around such trappings, or if we couldn't visualize a scene well enough we'd just use whatever we had sitting around the place. Today it is much easier to make your own figures, it would be nice to have a fancy war with painted guys, but not only is that not in the budget, but it is also a tremendous waste of my meager resources. We did inherited my Father-in-law's collection, as he was a gamer back in the day himself, and I do enjoy picking up a figure from time to time because they are a lot of fun to paint. Now that we have the resources to make great looking markers, we can create bigger scenes that we couldn't before, which is another thing that keeps our games fresh! We don't do it often, because it does slow the play down considerably, but it is nice to be able to do that from time to time.

    Currently, I am trying to get deeper into our old-school roots, by hosting a mass combat war, just to see what happens. I couldn't do that back in the day! My players are excited as hell, and I enjoy thinking about ways to get it done on our meager budget. Inventiveness is definitely part of what we do, and I am all about the Do-It-Yourself mentality.

    Anyways, sorry about the rant, but I know that I'm in good company. I may be back to comment further on some other ideas that you hit upon that really moved me. Rest assured that I will always be back, to me this place is the equivalent of the old Game Stores we used to have in the area, and it is really nice that it is here.

    1. Ripper, if you gonna host a mass combat battle, you have several options as to which system you can use to administer the game. Everyone knows Chainmail, precursor to D&D, but there was also Swords and Spells, the last Supplement of the White Box series, which creates mass combat specifically for D&D. Of course, there is also the Battle System, the AD&D 2nd edition set of rules for mass combat, you probably are familiar with, and also, Greyhawk Wars, a 1991 board game to be used in conjunction with D&D.

      In 1983-1985 I played D&D miniatures battles, but I used a different rule set. It was called Perilous Encounters, it was a free pamphlet written by the makers of the Runequest at the same time (I think) asd the Swords and Spells were released. I remember it as rules light and elegant, most similar to how we used to play with toy soldiers and cowboys and Indians as kids, where we rolled a die to see if the shot from one toy soldier conmnected with the enemy or not.

      We didn't have money either when I was in junior high. It took me a while to save the $13.00 to buy the Moldway D&D Basic set. The first Gygax core books, the DMG, PH, and MM, I borrowed from a high school, friend, my dad looked at the price tag (about $15-$20 a piece) and said that it was like college text books, but bullshit, instead of engineering, and would not buy them for me, decrying the waste of time. The first core books I got from a high school friend, who stopped playing D&D. I heard that Dungeon Dwellers set of miniatures came with its own rulebook, but did not have the dough, and when I had, the Dungeon dwellers were no longer sold. I caught the tail end of the TSR's AD&D miniatures on sale at Toys R Us and painted them to perfection with toothpicks.

      I use miniatures to reoresent the party members and marching orders for the players to better visualize the situation, using coins and pawns for the other figures and drawing the maps on the blank sheets of paper. The combat takes place in the mind of the player. I don't know how to make my own miniatures, except maybe, by the use of the 3D Printer. I wish someone would make custom miniatures. I was looking for some figures representative of some of my NPC's and players, but I haven't been able to find anyone with the figures that I am looking for or being able to make custom figures based on my description.

      My idea for the mass combat, is for the players to experience it from the point of view of their individual character, the grunt's eye view PHENOMENOLOGICAL approach, read up on that, Rip, it has some useful concepts for DMing. In the end, when it comes to individual combat and confrontation, players don't have the convenience of projecting the scene on the mini, but experience being in the shoes of their player characters.

      I never got to be a Bohemian, though. I drove a truck and worked as a security guard to pay as I went through college, and later joined National Guard, got my degree, and the whole thing was well worth it. Soldiering has its own bohemians, intellectuals, and gamers, and there were unforgettable discussions in the barracks at night, between the bunk beds with rum and cokes and cigarettes, the gamers were older than me and were largely fans of Steve Jackson.

      I am always glad to hear from you, Ripper, and your rants are welcome here!

  3. People have always gotten pretty crazy with miniatures, it is almost a second hobby. Folks would buy a figure and modify it, you can still find bits and pieces for sell which you can use to modify a metal mini with.

    The prices for Warhammer are crazy! And it is just plastic stuff. I can't make the minis, but I can make chits. As far as war gaming goes, I am sticking with the Battlesystem put out by TSR for 2e, its very good! And while there is only a small following of people that vocally use it, I was able to make some contacts. There are a ton of options for wargaming out there! While many of the vocal people are on the high dollar end of the hobby, there is the DIY crowd who just don't feel comfortable sharing pictures of playdoh and construction paper, BUT THEY SHOULD! That, I believe, is how the game was meant to be played, by digging through the garbage and playing with your kids toys! "You can have Mr. Toothy back as soon as the battle is over, I swear that we won't really kill him, we're just pretending."

    1. Miniatures, or toy soldiers, is a very ancient and expensive hobby, that predates model railroads! Ancient Greeks had sand tables and miniatures representing the troops. Initially tools of the generals, it also became an expensive collectible of the king and the aristocrat. Modern wargaming started during the Napoleonic Era, when the sand tables and miniatures the generals used in battle field planning were first used in analysis and staff exercises, and became the playthings of the rich. From these childrens toy soldiers devolved and the plastic army men, and then the mighty marketing forces of the corporate run role playing game industry took cheap plastic figures, overpriced them, branded them Minis and started reaping huge profits, behold Warhammer!

      Funny, you should mention Playdoh, when I was a kid, we had a substancxe called Plastiline, that was like modeling clay, and you can really do fine modeling with it - toy soldiers in full color, Plastiline came in colors of various rarity, like Crayola things, in sets of 6, 12, 24, and 32! We used to make our own toy soldiers out of that as kids, when the toy soldiers we had did not suffice. Some guys did good work, others just made a whole bunch of gumby like 2 inch figures of mixed colors holding matchsticks like spears or rifles. We would sit and make them like ravioli. We would also make clay fortresses. Some older kids actually made bricks from Plastiline, froze it in the fridge and built towers and walls from them on wooden boards, and then would use them in miniature set ups. It was a time consuming labor of love for them, we didn't have the patience and did armies of gumbies. One day the older kids made plastiline racing boats for their characters to race (there was an evolution similar to Chainmail, where the figure of the leader became the player's character in the game). So, they raced the Plastiline motor boats, and then looked under the hoods and whoever build the bigger engine won the race. We were out first, since we built simple boats, whiole the others actually had 3D boats with a hold, the pilot house, the deck, and of course the engine compartment in the rear. It came down to three or four older kids loudly arguing as to who had more hprses under the hood!