Monday, January 16, 2017

Less Rules, More Fun, Now my Little Tale is Done

I am coming to the bottom of the downward slope of the parabola of interest in my hobby of D&D. I would have said "RPGs" three years ago, but I am not interested in RPGs anymore. I am only interested in D&D now. One set of rules is enough for me, personally. Also, I am interested in medieval fantasy wargames campaigns more than in "role playing" per se. Role playing is just a necessary part of conducting a wargames campaign. But it is not my main focus. The campaign is. Well, and even that is relative to the fun of playing a bunch of wargames and then stringing them together so that they build on each other and help to make sense of each other. Etc.

In other words, I've come along way in my research and playing since I returned to the hobby about three and a half years ago.

Over on the ODD74 forum, Falconer posted the following:
My House Rules document started big and proud. Over the years, it has shrunk. I have found that most of my rules were based on “theory and philosophy” or on my precious vision for “my world,” yet these didn’t add up to more fun for the players. While I definitely feel that, as DM, I should be master of the game, and I want to run a game that’s solidly about adventure and not about character building, I’d like to think I have become more sensitive to what my players care about and what makes the game fun for them. What’s more, the game is more fun for ME the more I allow the players’ creative input to shape the game. I’m trying to think of solid examples of what I’m talking about. Take classes. If my house rules document has a definitive list of sanctioned classes, even a permissive one, that’s that. If I don’t have such a definitive list, maybe someone will come up with a unique concept that actually ends up adding a lot of flavor and hilarity to the game. So my baseline is “mere” D&D. Somehow Gygax found (or founded) the center of peoples expectations, and it branches out from there in a million directions.
My house rules document was huge, about 50 pages. I wanted something both mechanical pure and balanced and also capturing a more "medieval Christendom" feel to it -- thinking I could use mechanics to affect the mood I was after. I have learned that all of this is baloney. I mean, it was fun to think about it as an abstraction in my brain. But it absolutely killed fun at the table. I was trying to solve through mechanics what can only be performed through role play. Mechanics do not necessarily encourage role play.

I have found that most of my rules were based on "theory and philosophy," or on my person vision for "my world," yet these didn't add up to more fun for the players. Although I love high and heroic fantasy, it is HARD AS $%&* to play as a game that is actually any fun. Sword and Sorcery, however, is a riot to play. D&D was invented to game that setting. I have not been able to improve on that formula and I see no need to reinvent the wheel.

I have become more sensitive to what my players care about and what makes the game fun for them -- as a game! I have seen it not only in myself but in others: amazing vision for a fabulous fantasy world that, in the end, has nothing to do with playing the game and, therefore, winds up being of no interest to the players. Was all that world-construction wasted time? Not necessarily, not if it was fun to the thinker. But why not turn it into a cool fantasy novel? Let the world the players play in be a "generic vanilla low-fantasy" setting and let their decisions give you ideas for what is going on in that crazy world. The game is not more fun for ME the more I allow the players' creative input to shape the game.

So, like Falconer above, my baseline is "mere" D&D. I don't want mechanics that "match" my legendaria. I want as few mechanics as possible so that they do not get in the way of the legendaria, yet still have a game that doesn't feel like playing cops and robbers in the back yard!

Because of this shift in my hobby and my energies, I am coming to the end of my desire to research RPG material and peruse rules. I am not interested in reading any more rules. Now, new monsters, treasures, and world and encounter building tables and charts -- I am interested in that. But, as Talysman always says, those aren't "rules" anyway, just resources.

But I am not reading anymore rule books. I mean, I am not even interested in reading AD&D -- too many rules -- so I certainly am no longer interested in reading attempts to reinvent the wheel again and again.

So, there I am. I am at the end of something. But every end is also a beginning.

I am writing this to let whoever is reading this know why I may not be posting here much anymore, or, at least for a while. And also why I may not be posting on some of my favorite fora, e.g., ODD74, Ruins of Mirkhill, K&KA.

But every ending is a beginning, so, who knows what might come next.


Sunday, January 8, 2017

D&D 5e as viewed by one 0e referee

I will keep this brief, as hundreds of others more important than I have written their own reviews. I will also keep it free from any polemic or really even criticism. I am only going to share my own first impressions of the 5e core rule books as an 0e referee.

I bought the core rule books from my FLGS and enjoyed perusing them.

First of all, it seems to me that what most folks have said is true, this feels much more "old school" than either 3e or 4e to me. There is an emphasis on dungeons, and rulings over rules-lawyering. That feels good to me. The magic items are great and they have brought to prominence ones I recognize from 0e itself. Double plus good to Mike Mearls and team for all that.

I could see myself playing 5e, under the right referee, and having a lot of fun.

That said, I will not referee 5e. And that for really only one reason: it is not rules light enough for me. Now, that is no deep criticism. I won't touch AD&D, 1e, for the exact same reason: too many *%$! rules. Rules light versus rules heavy has nothing to do with old or new school. Hence my post is about an 0e referee looking at 5e NOT an "old school" referee looking at "new school." Those categories don't help in this situation.

Although I think these rules could be used to play in a sandbox kind of way, the "fluff," or descriptive material in both the DMG and PH emphasize that the game is about making a story. The rules don't necessarily force a referee to railroad. But the emphasis on story together with what most of the supplements look like means that that particular trend seems to continue. If that characterizes the "vibe" of 5e, I will not prefer to join those tables.

Finally, they make it very clear that they are trying to make rules for, and present the rules (especially, for example, in their presentation and illustration) in such a way as to support heroic fantasy role play. They mention sword and sorcery and low fantasy as an option the rules support, but not the main focus of the rules. Now, double plus to WotC for making this clear and saying so. The art is crazily heroic fantasy. There is absolutely nothing pulp about it. It therefore does not have a "vibe" that attracts me. I love heroic fantasy. I could even play in a campaign of heroic fantasy. But D&D is sword and sorcery role play to me, forever, full stop.

So, to conclude, these books are sleek, beautiful, with amazing art work. The rules are written clearly and presented beautifully. I could play as a character in a campaign run in a sandbox, sword and sorcery way. But I will never referee these rules for three reasons:

  • Too many rules
  • Story-focused (vs. sandbox)
  • Heroic vs. low fantasy focused
So there are my two-coppers. Thanks for reading!