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Barbaric Psychedelic Cosmic Cataclysmic Fore Ee

I've given this some thought. I've played it, both badly and well. I've read a bunch. I've talked to its developers and knowledgeable business people. I've built a couple setups for play.

I can only describe the cultural discourse about it as mass hysteria. Almost no one seems to have played the game I'm looking at.

No off-the-cuff, "everyone knows" statement about its financial history is accurate.

Plus there's the whole, "It sucks," "Really?" "Well actually it's really good, it's just not D&D," dialogue, which is like talking with those allegedly wise cosmic aliens on Star Trek, when they eventually ask, "But ... but ... what is this 'love' you speak of?"

Some of you saw my initial stages and first gaming with this, in discussions at the Adept forum: [D&D 4E] Barbaric ectoplasmic psychedelic 4E and [D&D 4E] Barbaric psychedelic et cetera in action.

The idea is to ignore all sense of implied setting and merely cherry-pick what you want to play, flushing "D&D" as a category out of your mind.

I have two such templates built with some care. The first, called "Barbaric psychedelic psionic ectoplasmic 4E D&D," now looks a bit different from those earlier discussions - see attached. If you have the texts and time, try making up a character for what I've posted.  

Please note that not one rule is altered or even tweaked. Please note as well that my choices for what to use and not use, and which options to highlight for favored use, are very mild compared to the alterations and specificatons found in most OGL adaptations self-designated as OSR, relative to their starting texts.

Talking about this sensibly taps into other discussions from around that time, including my initial experiences as a 4E player which are linked back in the above discussions, Pink Slime and the various D&D-as-religion threads.

I'd like to pick up on those here but mainly through omission. Instead of what 4th edition is not, or allegedly not, and instead of what D&D is or is not, let's talk about this thing I'm presenting. Vincent? Your clouds-and-stuff diagram thing? Anyone else, your notions about what role-playing is and how it works? I'd like to compare my thoughts with yours.

Furthermore, look here! It’s my current game of the same idea, now more refined and built with a better understanding of the rules. Ross, James, and Gordon are the players, and I’ve attached the handout they used, and character sheets are forthcoming in a bit.

Actual Play


I think this barbaric psychedelia is off to a great start! As far as D&D 4e generally goes, my REAL experience is vey minimal. I played in a few near-playtest sessions to help a friend get ready to run the WotC Encounters at a store, and then built/discussed a hybrid character for a proposed campaign that never happened.

I did hear a fair amount about the Encounters sessions and some other 4e play, and it sounded like perfectly normal, often fun, sometimes difficult (for all the reasons D&D has ever been difficult) D&D RPG play.

The thing I find most interesting about Ron's approach here is ... it seems like there's always SOMETHING that needs to be added/managed to get RPG play to work well, especially D&D play. By that I don't mean something that's difficult - in fact, it often happens with NO effort - just something that's hard to explain/quantify. And I think Ron's "stripdown" gets attention focused just where it needs to be to manage that something ...

Ron Edwards's picture

My initial experiences with 4E were in 2013, described in [D&D 4E] My goth guy is much tougher than yours, [D&D 4E] Vryloka + Blackguard: would you let your daughter marry one?, and [D&D 4E] Good-bye to Baldur's Gaping Gate. What struck me at the time was how badly "D&D-ness," by which I mean the kind of storyboarding scripting, pretty much puppet theater at the table, that I associate with 2nd edition, interfered with what was obviously a good game. It's precisely the opposite of common rhetoric that special qualities of 4E ruined the D&D-ness, whereas I saw that as completely backwards ... and furthermore, that the alleged D&D-ness in that outlook was itself a repugnant artifact which was - contrary to rhetoric - decidedly not old-school.

My take about the stripdown is a little different. I'm really using textual rules strictly, particularly those about energy and time use, and not deviating from anything stated about encounters and other eventful moments of play. When you guys took down the "fighting your own thoughts" foes, that was run completely textually as a Skill Challenge. Aside from the ordinary sense of fun and engagement that I think are intrinsic to enjoying myself in this activity at all, I'm not bringing techniques beyond those in the text ... only selecting precisely which texts and which units of material are eligible.

I agree that's a form of textual modification. But it's highly compartmentalized, meaning, no, we're not utilizing combat except for these paragraphs or with this subroutine of my devising inserted. It's taking things which already exist as menus and making the menus shorter - everything within each unit we're keeping is unchanged.

Allowing, that is, for my own old-school proclivity of seeing a D&D text as devoid of setting, so the details in the rules are necessarily twisted and tweaked because their setting-meaning is a table artifact.

Ron: I think I'm exactly with you - by added/managed I did not mean changes to rules/text, really just generating/sustaining (and amping up, as a totally achievable goal) that fun and engagement. Rules/text participate in that, obviously (preaching to the ... choir-leader?), but I certainly didn't mean to imply anything close to "Ron had to fix 4e to get it to work."

I'm fascinated by the implied setting issues, noting both how easy it was to avoid 'em and enjoyably twist rule details as desired/needed in some past D&D play, AND how often I've seen 'em emerge perniciously to confuse/impede (and VERY occasionally help) play. I think your stripdown helps here by starting a directed-but-shared creation that overwhelms any "implied" details, even when it incorporates 'em.

Ron Edwards's picture

Yeah, it's tricky to talk about.

I certainly didn't mean to imply anything close to "Ron had to fix 4e to get it to work."

Noted! I've become sensitive to that concept since I began playing this game, "What did you have to do," "How did you add stuff to keep it from being just World of Warcraft," that kind of thing.

I'm still working out how to articulare textual content vs. local setting for this application. After all, the concept of "minotaur race" we're using here is very much a role-playing artifact rooted in the early, pre-Monster Manual RPG texts, including the lead mini which apparently assigned them satyr-like lower halves, with nothing to do with classical mythology at all. Githzerai are an equally contingent artifact from the Fiend Folio, later given vastly more content via 2nd edition and Planescape, most of which we're ignoring except for its philosophical content local to them only - e.g., using this race doesn't imply the existence of Githyanki or mind flayers. And shardminds are entirely a 4th edition, PH3 artifact.

In other words, they are totally "D&D" without any other grounding. And yet, somehow, what I'm doing here organizationally divorces them from D&D as a fictional thing while embracing it as a systemic thing, using their fictional features (and as I fancy, the associated and unnamed SF/fantasy sources in each case) as fuel.

Ross's picture

I don't think anyone privy to our longrules discussion  email chains would doubt we are at least trying to play rules as written. There is a bit of a learning curve though. 

This is my first time playing D&D in any edition and a lot of the real cliche D&D fantasy elements are things I'm at best aware of 2nd hand. I'd never heard of Githzerai before reading Ron's original threads, I'm not entirely sure what a D&D kobold actually is etc. From that perspective I found the 4e books had a lot of fun details, I liked the Shardminds coming apart under stress for example, although thats balanced by some less thrilling content (nobody needs this many types of elves). I've very much dipped in and out, finding bits i liked, as Ron has suggested, and as I think at least some of the texts endorse.

We haven't played enough for it to really come out yet but, based on reading what strikes me is that the complexity of the rules then allows the fun bits to be mechanised in ways that give them different flavours, not everything is the same bonus or extra dice. I think my Ki focus, if I ever get close enough to something to use it, will feel quite different in play, and prompt quite different narrations and strategic choices compared to any particular ardent power. But at the same time when I first looked at the rulebooks I did run up hard against the many and varied pushes, pulls, slides etc in a how is this supposed to be fun way. I'm hoping further play will prove that it is.

Ron Edwards's picture

I'm having a fascinating time comparing the precise mechanics of combat among 4E, first-generation Champions (1981-85), and RuneQuest (1980-81). They are all really what-weapon, what-move, and who-goes-when games with considerable attention to range and movement. They all rely on abstract but carefully-counted movement units, and two of them out-and-out require battlemaps.

But they are really different in lots of other ways, and the more recent of the three shows one of the most serious: breaking up the "freeze-frame" effect of waiting for one's turn. In a lot of ways, the initiative results, for example, are there to be messed with, not there as concrete shoes. It's going to take a little bit more, but maybe less than one might think, for the three of you to realize just how free this system can be in combat, and how you might have, for example, worked through the saving rolls in the latest fight (in the other post) more advantageously and in such a way that the role-playing was enhanced too.

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