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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.

Department: 
Seminar

Comments

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.

Gordon C's picture

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.

Gordon C's picture

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.

 

Gordon C's picture

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."

The "It should have just been called 'D&D Tactics' or something" I take as a low-key form of saying "There's no roleplaying in 4th Edition." Which there obviously is.

Yeah, the concept of "proper" D&D is ludicrous. I have yet to find two people who play D&D the same way, for the same reasons. I always played it as a game that I expected to simply work, and 4th Edition was the first edition (and, from my understanding of 5th Edition still the only edition that), no matter how far one digs into it, simply works. So, to me, 4th Edition was the first "proper" D&D, because it did what I always wanted D&D to do.

I'm typing this as I watch the video. I just came across this from the 4eR discord.

I've always seen D&D as a product, but I do see how it (meaning one's particular upbringing in the game) is a religion/cult for many. But I don't see much benefit in ignoring the commercial aspects of it. Indeed that seems like the lesson of 4th Edition: people don't necessarily want a well-made product, they want a particular feel. That calls for appeal to the customer, rather than just quality work.

I saw instantly what skill challenges are for and how they would work. They're part of what I always wanted from D&D: rules, or at least guidelines, for running non-combat things in a more structured way. Just giving me that concept was huge for me, and opened a lot of possibilities that I didn't feel I had in past editions.

I have heard the "WoW came from D&D" concept before. Quite true, but I haven't ever seen it make headway in any discussion.

I started in the late 80s with the Mentzer Red Box. I think that was close to the beginning of where the move away from the "WoW" approach began. Dragonlance had just come out or was shortly to come out and the idea of playing as though one were in a novel was just about to take off. I definitely thought of it that way myself for a while. Character death was never a prominent or interesting part of my games, either as a player of a DM. Frankly, neither was much character development, though that was partly because my games never lasted very long.

I can't agree that there isn't a lot of variation between the different type of each role. A cleric and a warlord are very different from each other and from a shaman. I agree though that race-class optimization is not important.

I like the idea of a specialized game. I once ran an all warforged game.

I don't think more people would have liked or played 4th Edition if it were non D&D. I probably never would have looked at it, even though it's perfect for me.

I'm not angry that 4th Edition was axed. It's sort of like with Firefly: even if it hadn't been canceled it would be gone now, and it might very well have been beaten into the ground. It was starting to weaken there at the end with the PHB3, and there's not much I feel like wasn't provided.

I did feel like 5th Edition was simply a retreat from 4th Edition, aiming entirely for "feel," rather than function. Yes, there are aspects of 4th Edition in it, but they're hidden out of desperation.

Re: time. I agree with the gross undervaluement of rituals. I never saw a way to integrate them with combat, though, because the caster PC can't participate.

Another kind of "time" that needs to be considered, though, is "skill challenge time." That can be minutes, hours, or even days.

Yes, yes, yes to making the time framework of the game significant. I've been harping on that for years, though I haven't yet made good use of it.

Re: Improvisation, I /only/ improvise in 4th Edition. It's extremely easy, though I have to admit that it can run out of steam.

Re: 10 encounters to level. Look at the adventure at the end of the DMG. It's five encounters and levels up the PCs. A chunk of that comes from quests, and there isn't a single skill challenge, so adding skill challenges could allow that to shrink even further.

Anyway, good video, thanks for making it. Like I said, I started with the Mentzer Red Box and 4th Edition was the edition that made me feel like I could really be that person in the Larry Elmore painting, going up against a dragon with a sword, a shield (finally useful against breath weapons in 4th Edition!) and moxie. I'll be sticking with it until the design comes back around to the philosophy it espoused. Partly because I'm a cultist, sure, but also because it's fun concept and, as a game, simply works.

Ron Edwards's picture

Hello and welcome! Many thanks for watching this and commenting. It's been three years (!) since we did it, and since then, I've played more, including the applied version of Gamma World, and talked with more people about it. The game definitely continues to live in play, under the radar of promotion-centered gaming media. I hope your efforts in the UK to foster some appreciation and outreach can find some traction here.

For anyone reading this, one of those efforts is an online convention July 10-11 called Con4eR, pronounced "confer," which you may click to investigate, obviously; it's supported at a Discord server linked at the page. Ross Hunter (veteran of the Barbaric Psychedelic game and DM for our Gamma World game) will run a session of Dark Sun, which is filled up, and I'm doing a Barbaric Psychedelic session, which is almost filled up. There are other sessions to play in as well, which I encourage anyone to do, and if you want, you can sign on to lead a session yourself. Money doesn't seem to be involved even a little, no sign-up fee or anything.

 

Thanks. I myself am in the US, but I got wind of Graham's efforts via the 4th Edition D&D Support Group on Facebook and The Piazza forum.

Ron Edwards's picture

I was guessing you were Graham! Oh well - noted.

I'm really looking forward to the con.

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