... now with 35% more arrogance!

Friday, May 10, 2013

Point of Dissension

I said in yesterday's post that the writer of the Boing Boing article makes one major mistake when he writes "Dungeons & Dragons has become a game preferring combat to role-playing." That is not, in my opinion, what the fundamental debate between the OSR and its detractors is about. You can role-play in 3e or 4e. You can even skip the combat in either. Do people actually do so? Is it common? Don't know. But players of those games have said it's possible to do so, and I believe them.

Claims like "new school is about combat" or "old school is about playing weak characters", usually gets the other side to say "that's wrong" or "that's not necessarily true." The heated arguments that we actually see on the forums tend instead to be about "rulings versus rules", "rules are meant for the GM, not the player", "players don't need to know the rules to play", and things like that. Or their inverse, for the new school side: "rules need to be complete", "rules reign in abusive GMs", "rules need to be balanced and create tactical opportunities." This is where each side says "I want to play this way" and the other side says "but I don't want to play that way," and where the extremists say "that way is objectively wrong".

Partly, it revolves around something I've brought up before: there are two parts to role-playing games, the game system and the fictional world, and one side wants you to focus on and make decisions based on one part, while the other wants you to focus on and make decisions based on the other part. You cannot reconcile these two extremes; you have to have separate solutions for each side, and let each group and each player pick what they want.

It also partly deals with something the Boing Boing article touches on, a bit: the independent hobbiest aesthetic versus the slick corporate aesthetic. What the article doesn't make clear is that System over Fiction is better from the corporate perspective, since it encourages customers to buy the company's product. What WotC did was emphasize System over Fiction, to sell more product. Some people are OK with that, because System over Fiction is their preference. But the OSR didn't want that, so they turned anti-corporate. They started doing their own stuff -- had to, really, because the game under WotC was more complicated to allow system mastery to be a factor, and that is completely antithetical to what the OSR wanted.

What WotC seems to be doing, or at least says it is doing, is trying to make a core system that will support old school play with options that provide system mastery opportunities necessary for new school play. The extremes of both sides claim the new D&D is going too far in the "wrong" direction, but we really don't know yet. This is what the Boing Boing article sees as WotC caving in to the OSR.

But really, we don't know yet if it's the designers who have caved, or just the marketing team.


  1. I agree with ravencrowking; you've distilled it to its essence.