Saturday, July 11, 2009

Comments on Mike Mearls' RPGnet Post

Some of you may have seen or will see a post by Mike Mearls in response to a thread started by James Raggi here. I'm reproducing parts of it here with some of my thoughts.

I don't believe that all of that those things are possible only in older versions of D&D. The truth of the matter is that a lot of that stuff is still in the game. 4e is no more or less deadly than any edition of D&D, because at the end of the day the DM determines how deadly the game is.

And I think that's the root of it. All too often I see "problems" with 4e placed on the players and DMs. Players are precious snowflakes who want everything handed to them on a silver platter. DMs are wimps who feed players a steady stream of disposable enemies. Real, bad ass men flip a coin to see if their character is dead or alive.

I think the OSR catches so much flack because, for those of us who have been in the hobby for a few decades, we saw this all before when White Wolf launched Vampire. It's the same thing, just with the added attempt to co-opt the "true" nature of D&D. Back then, it was role vs. roll. Today, it's new vs. old, and it's just as tiresome, time wasting, and banal as ever.

I can't agree with this, even though I do agree that the OSR as it is right now is a reaction to current versions of D&D. Vampire, or at least some people who played it, definitely were reacting to D&D, to make a game experience much more like acting or a play, rather than a game. The difference here is that we (meaning many of us involved in publishing or playing "retro" games) are not trying to create a "new" experience, but get back to the experience D&D used to be before the advent of 3rd edition and 4th edition. I beg to differ that "the game remains the same." Many of us fee that the people co-opting D&D are the current publishers, making D&D into a very different game that has lost all resemblance to what it was. If we're guilty of anything it's of having greater loyalty to the game instead of the brand.

There are many, many fine qualities to older versions of D&D. They're more freeform. It's faster and easier to crank out a character. Combat zips by. When you pull away a lot of the rules, it can be liberating.

However, the Puritanical drive some OSRers have to bemoan what other, lesser games dare do at their tables is counter to everything that RPGs are about. Quoting Gygax chapter and verse to figure out the right way to play, stuff like that, is the antithesis to the creativity, freedom, and intellectual curiosity RPGs, at their best, can and should encourage.

So yeah, old games are cool. The gaming Taliban? Not so cool. Let's enjoy retro games without getting all bitchy about new ones.

I actually do agree with a lot of those, though I think the last bit is harsher than it needed to be. There are really two issues here. Definitely it is the case that there are probably half a dozen or a dozen jerks out there who may or may not worship the old AD&D manuals like a saint-kissed bible. Those few people are sometimes very vocal. The other issue, though, is that people are just going to have to understand, especially people responsible for creating games, that many people don't approve of the design direction. Sometimes people are unkind in their criticism, and make it personal, and that's unfortunate. On the other hand, I don't think we should err by being too polite to point out that we don't like the design of a game, it's aesthetics, or its cultural and corporate origin. I don't think anyone can in honesty disagree with the idea that recently the primary reason for a new edition is to earn new revenue from the brand. In so doing, many fans who prefer the old game will bitch about it. That's life.

I'm editing this to add that at the same time, I think it's great that some people enjoy 3rd edition and 4th edition. It would be sad indeed for those people not to have some game that appeals to them. Personally, even though I don't like D&D post 2nd edition, I do not in any way wish failure on the current version. I don't like it, but I don't wish ruin on those who designed it!


Rob Barrett said...

It's worth noting that later on in the thread Mike apologizes for the negative aspects of the post.

Dan of Earth said...

I did see that. The discussion I bring up, though, isn't really about whether Mike was rude. My sense just from what little I know of him based on his various posts is that he's a really nice guy.

Syrsuro said...

Personally, I'm kinda tired of the pointless assertion that "the primary reason for a new edition is to earn new revenue from the brand."

News Flash: WoTC EXISTS to make money. If they aren't earning new revenue from the brand they cease to exist.

It doesn't matter what they are publishing, they are publishing it to earn new revenue.

And personally, I encourage the companies I do business with to earn revenue so that I can continue to do business with them.

The question is: Do I like the products they are producing, not whether their goal is to make money.

In this particular case, my own opinion is that 4E is a perfectly acceptable fantasy role playing game. It, unfortunately, is not really D&D, merely another FRPG given that title (unless you redefine the term D&D to include any and all fantasy role playing games as there are dozens of ventures in the field that are more akin to D&D than is 4E).

But as games go, it a reasonably well designed game. And, to be honest, it's a heck of a lot better of a game than ever was 3rd edition. Sure, I'd rather be playing AD&D (1st). But its not really the rules that matters to me - its getting together with my friends to have fun.

Sure - I would love to see them dust off the old AD&D franchise and start publishing them (for the sole purpose of making some new revenue off of the brand). But I'm sure if they did that the webs would erupt in a firestorm as well, asking how they dare to charge us again for an old retread. So I'm not sure there is a win for them here.

But to return to the real point: Stop whinging about businesses trying to make money and try to stay focused on those issues that are somewhat relevant; on HOW they designed the game, not that they had the effrontery to actually want to charge money for their work.


Dan of Earth said...


I do agree with you about 4e not being the same game. Also, I can't blame a business for trying to make money. That's what they do. I can't speak for anyone else, but when I bring up that idea that a new edition comes at least in part for the purpose of making money, it is only to counter the myth that a new edition comes because it is time for a game to "evolve" into something "better." It's irrelevant that some people may like 4e better than 3e, or 3e better than anything earlier. This discussion is worth having, IMHO, especially when a company creates an ad specifically to try to communicate that the game has evolved, as it "naturally" should, into something better. That is an argument worth countering. It's rhetoric that should be answered to. IMHO, of course.

Akrasia said...

Good post! I very much agree.

Mike Mearls said...

I think criticism is important. It's what pushes things forward, and it helps keep us (WotC) on our toes.

I also think the OSR is important because it shows that there's more to OD&D, BD&D, and AD&D than simply nostalgia. There's a style of game there that's worth preserving, playing, and studying.

The Taliban comment, a little over the top as it is, really applies to a vocal minority of every gaming style. It's by no means confined to the old school, but I think the old school is a new thing and likely to be painted more in terms of stereotype that actuality.

In some ways, it reminds me of the Forge. Whether you like the Forge or hate it, it's had an effect on gaming. Heck, Mouseguard has its roots in the Forge, and it beat 4e for the Origins award! I'd love to see the OSR follow a similar track. It'd be exciting to watch, and a fitting tribute to EGG, Arneson, and the other fathers of the hobby.

Robert Fisher said...

So far, I haven’t been crazy about 4e, but I can’t help but like Mike. (Hi, Mike!) I think his idea of the hobby is closer to mine own than some of my fellow neo-grognards. Heck, it says a lot that he is out there reading what people are saying and engaging. And he doesn’t come across to me as a know-it-all like some other Wizards employees have.

As for the “pointless assertion”. Yes, we all know that businesses are in business to make money. The point is that for companies who make the best products, it is about more than just money. Even if I don’t agree with the point in a specific case, I can see that it isn’t pointless.

Matthew Slepin said...

In general, Mike has been pretty fair about the whole thing even if I disagree with his thoughts in this case. But that Taliban comment was way off base.

Are there dogmatic arse-holes who identify with the OSR? Sure. But that is true with absolutely every movement or group in existance.

Does James have a tendency to write in rather polarizing language? No doubt. But he was actually trying to be less so in the original post. He can't help it if he's a metal-head (I kid! I kid becuase I love).

S'mon said...

There may be 'gaming Taleban' over at the K&K Alehouse or in the 1e forum on Dragonsfoot, but from what I see they don't seem to have much to do with the actual wellsprings of the OSR. They're not doing new stuff, they're playing 1e AD&D with the original books.

Olman Feelyus said...

It's really weird. Where is this meme coming from that the OSR is some kind of group of angry, dogmatic gaming terrorists? I'm seeing it on a few other forums as well. I'm not a big D&D player of any stripe, but I love the diversity going on in the hobby right now. I don't hang out at the OSR forums, but I read many of the blogs and I have seen very little of this kind of fascistic rhetoric the entire movement is getting accused of doing. Everyone in the OSR seems really reasonable. What's going on?

Robert Fisher said...

When I was more involved in various fora, I saw some pretty strong rhetoric. The thing is, though, that it seemed like exactly that to me: rhetoric. Guys who either just never learned to or have given up on all the stupid extra adjectives and disclaimers of “civil” online discourse. (Which all just gets ignored anyway.) They just speak plainly without worrying that someone might read it the wrong way.

Maybe I just assume the best too much, but I’d rather do that then read someone wrong the other way. I do that too much as it is.

I can only think of one guy who really left no doubt that he was a jerk. He openly admitted to going to other fora and picking fights just for fun. (9_9)