• 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.

Armchair Gamer

New member
Flavors of D&D

Well, I’ve been using this as shorthand for a while now, and some folks have noticed, so I thought I’d put it out there for public consideration/critique/destruction. It’s an attempt to provide a shorthand way of referring to the various major ‘flavors’ of D&D, in a way that’s less divisive and dualistic than ‘old school vs. new school’ and more focused on theme, flavor and playstyle than simply referring to the editions. As will be noted, many editions have a foot in two or more camps, and I expect many players will as well. (For a comedic example, Knights of the Dinner Table is about a group of gamers mixing Knaves & Kobolds/Dungeoncrawling & Demons, for example, with one player who’s more suited to Paladins & Princesses and a DM who straddles the DC&Dm/P&P line.)

Bear in mind that this is largely an academic, armchair gamer’s work looking at most of these camps from outside. I’ve tried to be as fair and impartial as possible, but my own biases undoubtedly inform it. (First one to guess which playstyle I really don’t care for here gets a no-prize.) The time frames given are not for the origins of the playstyles, or when they were ‘official’, although some of both is involved—rather, it’s a best guess of when they were at their peak. It's decidedly not meant to determine what's 'real D&D' or 'not D&D', but to help us better identify where we and others are coming from, and perhaps eventually what material and mechanics best support our goals.

Please note that all the titles are meant to be both alliterative and somewhat tongue-in-cheek. It’s about pretending to be knaves/godslayers/dungeoncrawlers/paladins/spellcasters/warlords and warlocks/other fantasy characters, after all; let’s not take it too seriously.

Knaves & Kobolds (1972-1977, 2005+): This encompasses the kind of game discussed by Old Geezer, run by Gygax and Arneson, and celebrated by much of the Old School Renaissance crowd. It’s also referred to as “Fantasy F#&@*!ing Vietnam.” The protagonists tend to be scoundrels and ne’er-do-wells (hence the “Knaves” portion of the title), treasure is the main goal, life is cheap and the game seems to be at a lower, somewhat grimier scale than later iterations (“Kobolds”). Campaigns tend to involve rivalry and fragile alliances as much as cooperation, with a stronger emphasis on high-level soloing and the political endgame than is typically seen elsewhere.

Galactic Dragons & Godwars (1974-1982?): This one was brought to my attention by Lizard; apparently it’s represented by the Arduin Grimoire and similar publications. It’s sort of the mirror image of K&K, with lots of wild, wahoo, over-the-top fantasy, informed by the pulpier and more hallucinogenic sides of sword & sorcery and 70s fantasy. It informs even some material in the official line—Erol Otus’ art fits in here as well as with K&K, I believe, and Deities & Demigods wound up being used as a Monster Manual for this sort of game. It’s not necessarily Monty Haul or crude powergaming, although it can degenerate into that—just as all other flavors of D&D have their dark sides. (Nasty player vs. player rivalries, mindless hack-and-slash, railroading, CoDzilla, and tedious combat encounters, for examples.) Dark Sun is arguably an outcropping of this, crossed with some elements of K&K, emerging at the height of the P&P era.

Dungeoncrawling & Demons (1977-1986, 1998+): The ‘default’ flavor of the second generation of the game, after it grew beyond the wargaming crowd. It’s the flavor suggested by the original AD&D manuals, as they were received by the community: adventuring parties become smaller and more cohesive, combat begins to be more emphasized, and the political endgame starts to fade into the background. This style isn’t solely about dungeoncrawling, but that’s one of the ‘distinctives’ of the game; likewise, while demons aren’t the only opponents, they tend to be very popular ones and held up as one of the key elements that makes this style different from several others (P&P). It’s also the ‘back to D&D’ flavor that 3rd Edition tried to recapture, and that was strongly supported for most of that line’s official run. Pathfinder, I believe, still carries strong elements of this, especially the ‘demons’ side. :)

Paladins & Princesses (1983-1998): Ah, this one is going to be tricky. This is my style and era, the kind that I’ve always wanted to get back to—so it’s why I have to be careful to ensure it’s a real thing and not just my own preferences and nostalgia projected backwards. To that end, I’m going to quote another fan, Piestrio:

The thing I liked about 2e is the flavor.

I know, I know they "ripped all the flavor from AD&D" and "Watered it down" and "Made it too PC" etc... etc...

I contend that they didn't actually remove flavoring, or tone, or themes or anything.

They just changed them. If you went into 2e looking for the tone and flavor of 1e you would not find it and, alas, far too many people stopped there and assumed that this meant they had removed it.

2e is a game about "Romantic" fantasy (not the sub genre "Romantic Fantasy" but fantasy through a romantic lens). It s about being a hero and doing the right thing by people who depend on you. It's about striving to overcome challenges of the spirt. It a "clean" fantasy, with shining castles and good kings, friendly innkeepers and helpful travelers.

That's what I like about 2e.
However, it’s not strictly limited to 2nd Edition—I’d start it with Tracy Hickman’s adventures, such as Ravenloft and especially the Dragonlance saga, and it also informs later BECMI work as well. It was part of TSR policy for a while; see Jim Ward’s article “Angry Mothers from Heck” in DRAGON #154, where he talks about a focus on ‘saving the princess’ adventures where heroes accomplish some sort of positive goals. (In considering this, I looked back over my formative influences and realized that between Leia, Lucy the Valiant, Adora, Eilonwy, Laurana and even some versions of Princess Zelda, a lot of the ‘princesses’ that inform this generation and their take on the game are pretty darn good at saving and helping out as well as being saved.)

Simulation & Spellcasters (2002+): What 3rd Edition became ‘in the wild’, although one can find roots of it in some earlier approaches to the game. The comprehensive, cohesive and well-defined nature of the rules led to a rise in ‘rules as physics’ and further development of earlier attempts to work out how a D&D world would naturally function. Given the high power of magic, spellcasters become a dominant element in both the world and in gameplay. Eberron has strong roots in this school, and I believe Pathfinder deals with it some as well, if only by virtue of its 3E roots. Here on the rpg.net forum, it’s often disparaged, but we have some strong and eloquent voices in support of it.

Warlords & Warlocks (2008+): This is the one flavor so far that’s largely identified with an edition—namely, 4th Edition. This is largely due to the strong mechanical definition and the shakeups in flavor text that edition brought; no other edition seems to be so successful at carrying and maintaining its decided style. It’s a mixture and evolution of DC&Dm and P&P, albeit more high-action than the former and grittier than the latter, and focused on set-piece encounters, tactical combat, and often a sense of growing scope and power, with an endgame strongly informed by G&G.


Comments, criticism and corrections are welcomed. Many of these could use expansion and refinement, and I’m open to the possibility that there may be one or two flavors I’ve overlooked. I don’t want to divide things too finely, though, and I don’t know that one could really collapse any of the already-identified styles without losing something.
 
Last edited:

Silvercat Moonpaw

Quadruped Transhuman
Validated User
Dungeoncrawling & Demons (1997-1986, 1998+)
Typo.
Paladins & Princesses (1983-1998): Ah, this one is going to be tricky. This is my style and era, the kind that I’ve always wanted to get back to—so it’s why I have to be careful to ensure it’s a real thing and not just my own preferences and nostalgia projected backwards. To that end, I’m going to quote another fan, Piestrio:
.............
However, it’s not strictly limited to 2nd Edition—I’d start it with Tracy Hickman’s adventures, such as Ravenloft and especially the Dragonlance saga, and it also informs later BECMI work as well. It was part of TSR policy for a while; see Jim Ward’s article “Angry Mothers from Heck” in DRAGON #154, where he talks about a focus on ‘saving the princess’ adventures where heroes accomplish some sort of positive goals. (In considering this, I looked back over my formative influences and realized that between Leia, Lucy the Valiant, Adora, Eilonwy, Laurana and even some versions of Princess Zelda, a lot of the ‘princesses’ that inform this generation and their take on the game are pretty darn good at saving and helping out as well as being saved.)
This one really feels like it makes sense to me: when I hear about 2e settings and read about them on the TSR Archive site they certainly make me more intrigued by 2e than any other version of D&D. I'm definitely a "clean fantasy" person.
 
I like your descriptions. I don't have anything to disparage or refine, so I'll simply applaud your efforts. It's a HELL of a lot more delineated than "old/new school" and actually accomplishes your stated goals. If we can get the community to adopt these sorts of terms, maybe discussions can be more productive when identifying and discussing topics.

In that sense, I'd just mildly suggest maybe going for more descriptive and less alliterative/fun titles for the different styles you've identified. Again, only a mild suggestion - I like the titles, but can see where they could be thought of as too "not-serious" and therefore invite criticism for the sake of the title and NOT for the sake of the substance of what the title represents or describes. Mind you, *I* have no ideas for anything better either. :D

I fully appreciate the efforts regardless. Throw me down as a card-carrying "Paladins & Princesses" member. Born again, even. :p
 

Ratman_tf

W.A.R.P.
Validated User
I think Paladins and Princesses was so heavily influenced by Hickman/Weiss, that you could call it Dragonloft. :D

I find your categories pretty sound. I do think they'd be a ton more constructive to rpg conversations than the nebulous old school/new school tags, but I don't think they're going anywhere. The OSR especially seems to have built their identity around the name.

I've played a bit from each category, but can identify my main phases as-
Dungeoncrawling & Demons -> Galactic Dragons & Godwars -> Paladins & Princesses (Long damn break) Warlords & Warlocks -> Knaves & Kobolds (Haven't actually played K&K yet, but after 4th edition, that's where my interests lay.)
 
Last edited:

Outsider

Registered User
Validated User
Paladins & Princesses (1983-1998): Ah, this one is going to be tricky. This is my style and era, the kind that I’ve always wanted to get back to—so it’s why I have to be careful to ensure it’s a real thing and not just my own preferences and nostalgia projected backwards.
You aren't imagining it. 2e was my entry point, and it really felt like this. In my experience though, there is a split in 2nd edition: players that came from 1e tended to play it like Dungeon Crawling and Demons, with a few new rules. The reason for this is they already knew how to roleplay, and tended to ignore the advice 2e gave them on that front. The 2e newbies tended to play it as the books said they should(ie Paladins and Princesses).

For what it's worth, I grew to -despise- Paladins and Princesses. If my hateful memories match up with your loving memories, then it's probably really a thing. :)
 

Halloween Jack

Equipped with Bubble Lead
Validated User
I don't think that Dark Sun was in any way "Galactic Dragons & Godwars," people just made that assumption about it because the characters were more powerful (to cope with a very dangerous world and no access to useful equipment such as "a longsword").

It bears mentioning that whenever someone raises the hue and cry to go back to Old School D&D and Old School Fantasy, they're ignoring that the two don't have much in common. If you really examine the works listed in Appendix N, you'll find they're largely full of "Galactic Dragons & Godwars" protagonists and struggles, and not at all the kind of "bandit chiefs going on a tomb-robbing expedition" playstyle that OD&D implies.
 

Kaloo

Registered User
Validated User
This seems interesting. Can you further expand on what makes up the Warlords & Warlocks Flavor?
 

Old Geezer

Active member
Banned
Interesting. I like it, and I like the flippant titles.

I like "clean fantasy" myself... that's one reason I like playing "Knaves and Kobolds" style. I want be like Arthur and help change things for the better. Of course, this assumes a referee who allows it. It doesn't have to be world wide, either; if MY Barony is a nicer place for my presence, I'm happy.

"I'm GOOD. I never said I was NICE."
 

Tequila Sunrise

Registered User
Validated User
A few comments:

1. Yes, I think Paladins & Princesses is a real thing. 2e AD&D was my intro to the hobby, and for a long time I just assumed that that's what D&D was all about. To this day, my default assumption when I start or join a D&D group is heroic PCs. (I've experienced anti-heroic and even villainous PCs though, and that can be fun.) The Dragonlance novels especially reinforced my perceptions, but so did pretty much every other D&D novel I ever read. (Mostly FR.)

2. I think "Galactic Dragons & Godwars" may be a poor title, because I can't wrap my head around it. Maybe it's the 'Galactic' part, which brings to mind science fiction and Marvel comics. Can you cite an example besides Dark Sun?

3. Is Simulation & Spellcasters not largely confined to 3.x? 4e did inherit a couple 'rules as physics' things from 3.5, like falling damage, but with 4e adopting a more "Say yes often, and use the Rule of Cool" attitude I'd think that S&S lives on primarily via 3.PF.

Oh, and my guess about your least favorite style...S&S! Do I get the no-prize? (I've really got to start paying closer attention to what individual posters say.)
 

simontmn

Registered User
Validated User
Good breakdown. I was running 'Galactic Dragons & Godwars' 1988-1991 then intermittently through to 1999, with deity level 1e AD&D PCs taking on the contents of Legends & Lore, fighting Arasaka Corporation in Cyberpunk Earth: 2020, and other wahoo fun. My current 4e D&D game is Forgotten Realms 'Paladins & Princesses', with a bit of W&W.
 
Top Bottom