You are here

Conversation: the Abomination that Shall Indeed Be Named

I ran into a post at G+ which turned out to have been partly prompted by the Barbaric Psychedelic game, and then my comment got replies … well, social media was actually social for once, and the outcome was this conversation with the very kind Gregor Vuga about this-or-that about Dungeons & Dragons 4th edition.

Are we profound? Possibly. Are we organized? No. I’m more mortified by the points Gregor didn’t get to develop than I am proud of anything I say in it.

On the plus side, I enjoyed the freewheeling, genuinely conversational approach, acknowledging the slight sacrifice in clarity. With this and the earlier discussion with Jason D’Angelo about system diagrams in mind, I think these fun chats are a really good idea for the site. Let me know if you feel like doing any.

Gregor dug up the references for a couple of points he mentioned: 4E D&D is the oldest-school old-school game out there, and I've played WoW for four years... . I still haven’t recalled who said the thing about a culture rather than a game.

I’ve attached the Barbaric Psychedelic player-introduction sheet for those who haven’t been following the game in Actual Play. I’m almost ready to share the other, related prep that I talked about.


I've never had even the vaguest urge or interest in playing D&D 4th Edition, but I consumed the "Barbaric Psychedelic Stripdown" with total fascination.

If only every campaign came with such a detailed "guide", pointing out everything from the finer details of rule application to the game's larger goals, on strategic, creative, and interpersonal fronts.

Very interesting (and inspiring)! Thanks for sharing.

Ron Edwards's picture

I can't wait to see your reaction to "Heretic Eclesiastic Diabolic Evangelic Fanatic 4E D&D," which I mentioned in the video. [editing this in: and which I just made available to $2+ patrons]

I like this approach too, and a little while ago, I peeked at the OGL just to, you know, see what it said. Some content is completely proprietary, including things I'm currently using, like Githzerai or in the case of the other idea, Tieflings or Lolth. Skinning those into non-actionable versions wouldn't be hard, or conversely, maybe that's a matter of a quickly-negotiated email exchange if the relevant functionary were supportive of the project.

I'm also considering treating the whole thing as free material, merely "fan pages," which (pending legal advice) I think bypasses that problem.

I really enjoyed that. Sane, interesting talk about 4e. So very, very much of "D&D" play I've ever been part of or seen can so absolutely be done in 4e - and maybe be BETTER done in 4e - that it's hard for me to get too upset about the smaller number of styles that perhaps don't fit so well. But I do see how more play that CAN be done (and done well) in 4e maybe didn't FEEL welcome/well-supported there.

I remember talking to some folks about how 4e might have been better received if it was, instead, the "Magic:The Gathering tabletop RPG", so agreement that "it's-not-enough-like-what-we-think-of-when-we-think-D&D" is a big part of the problem.

Not REAL shared-GMing, but ... "Lords of Creation", an Avalon Hill publication (1984) written by Tom Moldvay (! - I remember/own LoC, but never registered that it was written by Moldvay) encouraged players who had advanced their PC to the titular "create my own pocket universe" status to then start GMing in that universe of their PC's creation ...

Ron Edwards's picture

There are two totally different variables here, don't you think?

1. Is it or is it not proper D&D?

2. How WotC/Hasbro should have presented and promoted it, specifically in regard to how it could have been more commercially successful.

You can probably guess that both questions seem to me to need nothing more than a bucket of ice water, applied swiftly. Even if it's not "proper," so the fuck what? Is there something dreadful about that? Especially since "it sucks!" is consistently followed by "but it's not a bad game at all, just not D&D."

Similarly, posing as a Hasbro executive or boardroom voting procedure is a sterile act. Never mind what they should or shouldn't have done ... they weren't you and they sure as hell weren't me. I try to restrict myself to saying what I wished they'd done, relative to my own and entirely selfish desires for play - even that's different from talking about corporate strategy and ROI, about which anyone sounding off on an internet social/RPG website is definitely not qualified to do. (I can think of one person, who does promo for Hasbro but not in games, and that person stays far away from any such public discussion)

There are other variables I'd be a lot more interested in.

1. What was the actual ROI, and how does it relate to 5th edition's in terms of initial investment? Did Hasbro have a clear idea of what RPG investment-and-profits looked like? Did they change their financial model after misapplying one to 4th? For that matter, did 4th edition really have bad sales? By what standard?

2. When did the "big hate" begin? I'm not talking about the initial bitching that characterizes any new edition (and especially for D&D); I'm talking about the rejection and sucks and book-burning ... the data I've seen indicate this came after the announcement to discontinue the edition and line,  not as an initial response or even a "played it for a while" response.

Finally, those two questions cloud the air to obscure some other very good questions, like what sort of D&D 4th edition did hark back to, and whether it really is some kind of CCG or MMORPG when you look at and use the rules in the pages.


Sure, two variables - the first, while silly, ("proper D&D"? Really?), seems to need saying, even if it is just to get that bucket of cold water. The second - speaking to "could have been more commercially successful if …" does seem speculative at best. I was trying to say something more like “might have been more acceptable to RPGers if …”, which MIGHT have financial benefits, but remains awfully speculative.

Your preferred variables: it’d be great to have good answers about all that stuff in 1, but ultimately, I wouldn’t be surprised if the fate of 4e was due to none of that, such that “fixing” any of that wouldn’t have mattered. On 2 … yeah, I can see that once the decision to stop the 4e path was made, MANY retroactively agreed it was a good idea. It was seen as a good decision “for D&D”, and what it meant for/about 4e maybe didn’t matter (got some more of that cold water?)

Of course, enjoying the psychedelic-barbaric game as much as I am, dismissing 4e doesn’t seem wise at all to me.

Ron Edwards's picture

In my ongoing hunt for the most helpful phrasing ... "We're having a great time playing D&D 4E as-or-almost-as written, in large part because we're not trying to play D&D."

With the stinger that I think that phrase serves very well, very functionally, and solves a lot of problems when it's applied to any of the games that were published under that title and logo, or explicitly related to them. Speaking here as someone who's played D&D 3/3.5, Holmes '77, Lamentations of the Flame Princess, and the original D&D version of Empire of the Petal Throne in recent memory. All of them were fun insofar as we did not care a whit about D&D-ness.

Ron Edwards's picture

With a phrase mod that's really important: "... even when play included full-on non-ironic tropes commonly tagged as D&D."

Add new comment