• The Infractions Forum is available for public view. Please note that if you have been suspended you will need to open a private/incognito browser window to view it.

Edition Peace Talks: Has D&D improved? Or has it merely changed?

Mercurius

formerly Shiva Nataraj
Validated User
This is a continuation from this thread and is based in my belief that we can discuss the differences between editions of D&D--and even make distinctions and, gasp, value judgements without being (overly) pejorative or pejoratively judgemental. So here goes...

As I was saying in that other thread in which I made some comments about people playing older editions of D&D largely out of nostalgia, there are two aspects I want to explore in relation to the development of D&D from its inception onwards: 1) as a positive development, an evolution even, from previous iterations of the game; and 2) as a reflection and embodiment of the relevant cultural milieu. The first I would call "game evolution", the second "cultural context."

Let's look at the development from 3.5ed to 4ed. The designers at WotC tried to improve the game system itself--they tried to streamline it where it needed streamlining, add and subtract elements, make it overall more cohesive and playable. Did they succeed? That is a secondary issue to the fact that they tried--that it was their intention to improve (evolve) the game, so I would say in their eyes they did in that they published what they published (unless we take the very pessimistic view that it was only a money-grab and 4ed was a rushed botch-job).

Furthermore, the designers at WotC also tried to incorporate recent elements of the fantasy genre and gaming in general that would appeal to a new generation of gamers and even inspire old gamers with new materials; they tried to make it culturally relevant, while not losing the Old Timers (like myself) who started playing Back In The Day. Did they succeed? Again, secondary to my point here, and I would say this is more debatable--in other words, the jury is still out--but the important point is that some of the changes cannot only be attributed to "game evolution" and linear, progressive, development, but also towards cultural changes, exploring new territory that isn't necessarily "better" but is definitely different.

So, to re-phrase, the designers of every edition of D&D have tried to improve the game. Some might want to leave out OD&D and BECMI as a "parallel stream" and just think of "advanced" D*D from 1ed, to 2ed, 3ed, 3.5ed, and 4ed; but I think we can still include "basic" D&D in these talks.

Now I don't think there were any designers around for more than two editions--at least in terms of the design and publishing of an edition--so we can't say that, for example, Gary Gygax was trying to evolve the game all the way through. But players of D&D--the designers at TSR and Wizards of the Coast--carried the baton and tried to improve the game with each edition. To say that every edition is "just different" is to lose sight of this, or at least to say that they failed.

Thus I don't think it is a stretch to say that people play older editions of D&D, for the most part, out of nostalgia and other factors (some related to cultural elements; e.g. the "video gameness" of 4e) that have little to do with how good the game system is itself. There are arguments that can be made for, say, OD&D as being a much simpler game; but 1ed over 2ed? 2ed over 3ed? Even if there are elements of older editions that are equal, even better, than a newer version, isn't the overall design development from each edition more positive than negative?

I'm not saying that it is "wrong" to like an older edition of D&D better than a newer one, but that the underlying reasons might be more affective and aesthetic than rational and design-oriented. Even when we look at the simplicity and open-endedness of OD&D, one could still take the elegant core mechanic of 3ed and pare down the secondary rules to a bare minimum and get a sleeker, better-running, game system and still play "OD&D style."--and lose nothing that OD&D has to offer, while gaining a more adaptable, internally consistent, and overall better-running system.

Or, in another instance, we can compare THAC0 vs. the d20 game mechanic, compared to which THAC0 looks unwieldy and anachronistic (just as the 1ed combat charts looked unwieldy and anachronistic compared to THAC0). There is nothing wrong with liking THAC0, or even the 1ed charts, but it is hard to deny that d20 is an evolutionary development from them, a "mechanical improvement."

Now where it gets tricky is when the cultural elements may offer a negative influence on the game system. For example, many have pointed out that the influence of video games and Chinese cinema on 4e has created a base power level that precludes the possibility of running an "off the farm" campaign. Or we can look at the lack of non-combat oriented spells, etc. The same could be said of 3ed, which was so structurally sound in its core mechanic that the secondary rules and customizations got thoroughly out of hand and overly complex (not to mention the reliance on magic items at higher levels, etc).

So I think there is an argument to made that not every new development D&D is a good development; as they say in developmental psychology, with each new developmental level, there are new capacities and depths of consciousness, but also new possible pathologies and types of suffering.

So there is really no easy answer to this inquiry I'm posing and I'm more interested in the inquiry and discussion itself then in finding a definitive answer or taking a firm position. And, of course, in the spirit of peace talks and not war.
 

noisms

Booze Hound
Validated User
I'm not saying that it is "wrong" to like an older edition of D&D better than a newer one, but that the underlying reasons might be more affective and aesthetic than rational and design-oriented.
Maybe so, but the implication seems to be that "affective and aesthetic" reasons are less valid than "rational and design-oriented" ones.

I'm one of those people, apparently rare on rpg.net, who doesn't give a flying fuck about design and rpg mechanics. I really couldn't care less whether I'm using THAC0 or d20 + bonus to hit, from a mechanical standpoint. I don't give the most microscopic of turds about unified mechanics or how much sense the system makes as a cohesive whole (within reason, obviously). Listen; I played Cyberpunk 2020 for years and enjoyed it: this is a man who has no problem with unwieldy systems.

What I care about is style, atmosphere, presentation, mood. On all those counts, 2e and 1e (since we're talking about AD&D) win hands down over the later editions - in my opinion only, note. Absolutely no question in my mind. And that's why I like them. Nostalgia doesn't come into it - I like those editions better for what they are, system be damned. Of course those reasons are subjective, and some people (poor unfortunate misguided souls that they are ;)) might genuinely prefer 3/4e in terms of style, atmosphere, mood etc. More power to them, but they absolutely are not for me.
 
Last edited:

SpringsBoundlessThorns

marriage equality 4 all
Validated User
I think you are hoping for people to provide a logical explanation for their personal preferences. This is why this conversation can not work out well. What I like and why I like it are not easily quantifiable or defendable to others, especially when you through in a compare and contrast feature to the discussion.
 

SpringsBoundlessThorns

marriage equality 4 all
Validated User
Maybe so, but the implication seems to be that "affective and aesthetic" reasons are less valid than "rational and design-oriented" ones.

I'm one of those people, apparently rare on rpg.net, who doesn't give a flying fuck about design and rpg mechanics. I really couldn't care less whether I'm using THAC0 or d20 + bonus to hit, from a mechanical standpoint. I don't give the most microscopic of turds about unified mechanics or how much sense the system makes as a cohesive whole (within reason, obviously). Listen; I played Cyberpunk 2020 for years and enjoyed it: this is a man who has no problem with unwieldy systems.

What I care about is style, atmosphere, presentation, mood. On all those counts, 2e and 1e (since we're talking about AD&D) win hands down over the later editions. Absolutely no question in my mind. And that's why I like them. Nostalgia doesn't come into it - I like those editions better for what they are, system be damned. Of course those reasons are subjective, and some people (poor unfortunate misguided souls that they are ;)) might genuinely prefer 3/4e in terms of style, atmosphere, mood etc. More power to them, but they absolutely are not for me.
I've seen you post twice now that you don't play games for nostalgia's sake but the only games you refer to playing are nostalgia games. Unwieldy systems and different systems for different types of actions are a defining feature of nostalgia games. There is nothing wrong with this, I just don't see why you don't want to be labeled a nostalgia gamer when it seems like you probably are.
 

noisms

Booze Hound
Validated User
I've seen you post twice now that you don't play games for nostalgia's sake but the only games you refer to playing are nostalgia games. Unwieldy systems and different systems for different types of actions are a defining feature of nostalgia games. There is nothing wrong with this, I just don't see why you don't want to be labeled a nostalgia gamer when it seems like you probably are.
I like 2e and 1e because of the way they are presented and because of aesthetic and philosophical reasons; why is it so hard to understand the difference between that and nostalgia? I happen to like the film Casablanca; does that make me a "nostalgia movie viewer" (even though I wasn't born in the 1940s)? Don Quixote is one of my favourite books - it must be because I'm nostalgic for 16th century Spain! I'm such a fucking nostalgia reader!!1 ;)

For the record I like plenty of 'modern' games. Burning Wheel, Unknown Armies, Mutants & Masterminds. I just don't like much of the way 3e and 4e D&D are presented and marketed and I don't like the mood and atmosphere they engender. Maybe mechanically they are superior to 2e, but that's like comparing knitting to cross-stitching - I have zero interest in it.
 

Mercurius

formerly Shiva Nataraj
Validated User
Maybe so, but the implication seems to be that "affective and aesthetic" reasons are less valid than "rational and design-oriented" ones.

I'm one of those people, apparently rare on rpg.net, who doesn't give a flying fuck about design and rpg mechanics. I really couldn't care less whether I'm using THAC0 or d20 + bonus to hit, from a mechanical standpoint. I don't give the most microscopic of turds about unified mechanics or how much sense the system makes as a cohesive whole (within reason, obviously). Listen; I played Cyberpunk 2020 for years and enjoyed it: this is a man who has no problem with unwieldy systems.

What I care about is style, atmosphere, presentation, mood. On all those counts, 2e and 1e (since we're talking about AD&D) win hands down over the later editions - in my opinion only, note. Absolutely no question in my mind. And that's why I like them. Nostalgia doesn't come into it - I like those editions better for what they are, system be damned. Of course those reasons are subjective, and some people (poor unfortunate misguided souls that they are ;)) might genuinely prefer 3/4e in terms of style, atmosphere, mood etc. More power to them, but they absolutely are not for me.
You know what? I agree very much in essence with what you are saying, but I just don't think the edition matters that much in terms of "style, atmosphere, presentation, mood"--that is entirely up to the DM and, to a lesser degree, the players. I mean, it does matter if one is playing a published setting and "letter of the law" D&D X-edition. But the DM can make the game entirely his or her own...for the most part, which is why I mentioned the "cultural context" elements, e.g. the inability of 4e to accomodate "off the farm" type campaigns. So in that sense, I would amend my statement above and say that STYLE is more difficult to extricate from the game rules.

So for me, I generally prefer the 4e rules to older editions (with my main beef being the necessity of minis). But I don't much like Dragonborn or Tieflings, or most of the art in the books. So I won't use them (or at least change them), and I won't base my campaign setting on the art.
 

Mercurius

formerly Shiva Nataraj
Validated User
I think you are hoping for people to provide a logical explanation for their personal preferences. This is why this conversation can not work out well. What I like and why I like it are not easily quantifiable or defendable to others, especially when you through in a compare and contrast feature to the discussion.
Good point, although I'm not really hoping for anything other than an interesting (and civil) conversation...which your points adds to, if I may say so.
 

Mercurius

formerly Shiva Nataraj
Validated User
I like 2e and 1e because of the way they are presented and because of aesthetic and philosophical reasons; why is it so hard to understand the difference between that and nostalgia? I happen to like the film Casablanca; does that make me a "nostalgia movie viewer" (even though I wasn't born in the 1940s)? Don Quixote is one of my favourite books - it must be because I'm nostalgic for 16th century Spain! I'm such a fucking nostalgia reader!!1 ;)
Actually, you sound like you have a touch of the Romantic.

p.s. I just saw your signature, Noisms: boy is that a nostalgia project if I've ever seen one! Again, nothing wrong with that. I think Old-timer D&D players (say, those that began pre-3ed) are generally a nostalgiac lot (myself included) in that they (we) look to recapture a sense of wonderment from their/our childhood...or at least have a similar experience, or even a greater experience. I've never walked into a game store in my adulthood with the same sense of awe and excitement that I had when I, say, picked up the 1st edition of Manual of the Planes, or the first Forgotten Realms box set. Buying game books hasn't been the same since, although I would say that my imagination is more richly generative then it was as a child (although it is a capacity that I have nourished and developed in various ways). So, my point being, that I think adulthood gaming isn't quite as magical as it was when we were kids, that it has its own more muted pleasures to it, but with the potential--and perhaps moments of--an even greater experience that our youthfulness couldn't quite grasp. In the same way that, as I think Tolkien said, the people that truly appreciate the natural world are not the country folk that have always lived in the country, but the city folk who have the experience of contrast, of the "urban wasteland." So too can we, as adults, find a greater depth of experience from gaming than we had as children, but it takes more work, more cultivation.
 
Last edited:

SpringsBoundlessThorns

marriage equality 4 all
Validated User
I like 2e and 1e because of the way they are presented and because of aesthetic and philosophical reasons; why is it so hard to understand the difference between that and nostalgia? I happen to like the film Casablanca; does that make me a "nostalgia movie viewer" (even though I wasn't born in the 1940s)? Don Quixote is one of my favourite books - it must be because I'm nostalgic for 16th century Spain! I'm such a fucking nostalgia reader!!1 ;)

For the record I like plenty of 'modern' games. Burning Wheel, Unknown Armies, Mutants & Masterminds. I just don't like much of the way 3e and 4e D&D are presented and marketed and I don't like the mood and atmosphere they engender. Maybe mechanically they are superior to 2e, but that's like comparing knitting to cross-stitching - I have zero interest in it.
Nostalgia gamer has a different definition on these boards. It means a gamer who makes an informed decision to mostly play retro games even when newer editions are available. This person plays because they like the aesthetic, mood, theme or rule set better than later editions or variations of older games. Not someone who plays older games because the dream of the golden age of gaming and yearn to be there again. Perhaps this difference in definition is causing some of your trouble.
 

noisms

Booze Hound
Validated User
You know what? I agree very much in essence with what you are saying, but I just don't think the edition matters that much in terms of "style, atmosphere, presentation, mood"--that is entirely up to the DM and, to a lesser degree, the players. I mean, it does matter if one is playing a published setting and "letter of the law" D&D X-edition. But the DM can make the game entirely his or her own...for the most part, which is why I mentioned the "cultural context" elements, e.g. the inability of 4e to accomodate "off the farm" type campaigns. So in that sense, I would amend my statement above and say that STYLE is more difficult to extricate from the game rules.

So for me, I generally prefer the 4e rules to older editions (with my main beef being the necessity of minis). But I don't much like Dragonborn or Tieflings, or most of the art in the books. So I won't use them (or at least change them), and I won't base my campaign setting on the art.
It isn't just decided by the DM, though. For example, I like how older editions of D&D assume the starting PC is a rookie schlub who might die at any second. I like that starting wizards have to rely entirely on wits and cowardice to survive. I like silly tables of random encounters and treasure. I like it when I have to make a dice roll and know that failure means death. Those things are intrinsically fun and cool to me. But they just aren't supported by 3.x or 4e D&D.

It's not a mechanical thing - it's about the fundamental assumptions of the designers.

That's on top of the aesthetic appeal of the art, style, mood etc., which I think does have a subconscious effect on players and DMs even if they are rationally aware that it shouldn't.
 
Top Bottom