Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Essence Of DnD: Why 5E Will Fail The OSR

There's been much talk, by the developers of the "next" version of Dungeons and Dragons, about their intention to incorporate the "essence of DnD" into 5E.

Oddly, I don't think i've seen a single explication of what the DnD Next developers mean when they use that term. And that deafening silence leads me, inevitably, to the conclusion that they may not actually know what the essence of DnD is.

Without a re-introduction of the essence of DnD, i'm afraid that the development of 5E will fail in one of its stated objectives: to end the edition wars and bring all DnD players back into the fold.

And honestly, it's not all that hard to discover the essence of DnD. One has to look no further than the plethora of excellent OSR blogs, and read some of the pre-1980 fantasy literature (those tales often referred to, by OSR types, as comprising Appendix N) to inform your understanding.

If the DnD Next designers need some further direction on where to start, I would offer up the following two resources: one, Chevski's article on Picaro and the Story Of DnD, and two, Clark Ashton Smith's The Tale of Satampra Zeiros. Those should give the DnD Next designers a nice, basic introduction to the essence of DnD.

Perhaps if they read those two items, and do further research thereafter, the designers of 5E will not fail the OSR.

16 comments:

Wickedmurph said...

Aaron... I meant to start this by saying "no offense", but that might not be possible.

The problem with the entire effing "OSR" is that you've all had this attitude that you are the arbiters and caretakers of the essence of DnD.

Let me tell you this straight out. You are not. If anything, the OSR represents a fundamentalist right-wing of DnD - the tea party of the gaming world. Obsessively peering over the yellowed chronicles of the past, intent on using the holy words of the constitution, I mean the Gygax, to justify your attempts to "purify" DnD.

If people play 5e and enjoy it, it will be a success. Just as 4e was a success, and 3e, and 2e. I've played all of them, and enjoyed each in it's own way. And they were all DnD.

The edition wars exist because of attitudes and points like this. So F the OSR. I'll be gaming, thanks.

Bryce Lynch said...

I've played 5e. You're probably wrong.

Dante said...

I’d say that its damn hard to discover the essence of D&D.

Because every OSR blogger seems to have his/her (nah, who am I kidding: his) own definition.

kiltedyaksman said...

I think what they meant by "essence" was distilling down (in their minds only...shudder) what was core to each edition. They feel that they've done that, or are close to it, and Mearls' three pillars of D&D are also trying to work in the same direction. The problem will be which of the three is emphasized over the others and that will lend itself to favouring one or more editions over the others. Wickedmurph is engaging in revisionist history and the deathknell of 4E has barely sounded! Any way you meansure it 4e was a collossal failure for the expansion of the D&D brand. On the other hand, it was a complete success if you are referring to putting wind in the sails of the OSR and Paizo. Thanks for coming out though. Don't go away mad, just go away.

arcadian said...

I don't think Aaron's point is wrong. The OSR what ever that is doesn't hold itself to be the arbiters of the game. The OSR. Does however hold itself to the idea that The DIY ethos is still alive and well and that we don't need to be at the mercy of WOTC corporate whims and tinkerings.

If 5e is good then people will play it. But many folks ( myself included) no longer seem willing to buy the latest iteration of the new shiny to be happy. I have three ( or five depending on your count) versions of the game and my own imagination, thank you very much.

This isn't edition wars; play whatever you want; but I'm not gong to pretend 2 e is better than 1e, 3e is superior than Od&d, or that 4 e is ( until 5 e is released) the pinnacle of dungeon delving gamosity.

Will Mistretta said...

"If anything, the OSR represents a fundamentalist right-wing of DnD - the tea party of the gaming world."

Yeah, and I'm the Adolph Hitler of Trivial Pursuit.

Dumb analogy is dumb.

Brendan said...

@Wickedmurph

Note that Aaron didn't say that 5E would fail. He said that it would fail the OSR. I think you misunderstood the breadth of his statement. I don't personally have enough information yet to have an opinion one way or another yet. Mike Mearls is certainly quite knowledgeable about OD&D, but he's not the only one with input to the creative process. It could also miss the essence of D&D for the OSR, but succeed for Pathfinder players.

@Dante

There are quite a few notable female OSR bloggers, so I think your comment is not warranted. Just for a few examples, I would throw out:

http://thegrandtapestry.blogspot.com/

http://revolution21days.blogspot.com/

Incidentally, Natalie (proprietor of the second blog) has recently written one of the most insightful D&D posts I've read in a long time about why there are lots of rules for combat. Since you don't think women blog in the OSR, I'm guessing you haven't read it. Check it out.

http://revolution21days.blogspot.com/2012/01/why-d-has-lots-of-rules-for-combat.html

velaran said...

D&D Next designers would do very well to take this blog post under advisement(especially the Grognardia post on picaresque), methinks.

And of course, currently, there are a plethora of other people across the Net, at conventions and at gaming stores, making great suggestions like these! Playtesting has already been going on around 9 months or so, however, so how much influence the fans will have is up in the air.

@wickedmurph:

'The problem with the entire effing "OSR" is that you've all had this attitude that you are the arbiters and caretakers of the essence of DnD.':(Wow. Effing?)

By no means have *all* 'OSR' people said this. To even make this statement is to be as close-minded as you seem to think this bugbear, the 'OSR' is.

And pray tell, who are the 'arbiters' and 'caretakers' of D&D?(some subset of the non-'OSR' people, no doubt.)

Face reality, people. The only ones who have *any* say over D&D are Hasbro.(WOTC is irrelevant.) Period.

'The edition wars exist because of attitudes and points like this.':

No. Edition Wars exist because there is more than one Edition!

And congrats for contributing to this 'problem'!


Most especially, thanks for dropping by telling this insignificant statistical blip on the RPG radar 'straight out' that they're not the boss of you.

'So F the OSR':

There goes all that 'tone' moderation WOTC was hoping for! :-)

'I'll be gaming, thanks.'

There is no law stating that everyone must like or hate any one of the D&D variants, that I'm aware of, so play what you like!

Norman Harman said...

1st; I totally disagree with your characterization of the OSR.

2nd; despite their claims I doubt very much they are interested in bringing the OSR into the fold.

Because they probably understand what OSR is really about. @arcadian said it, DIY. And DIY is the antithesis of wotc/hasbro extracting money from your wallet.

Dante said...

@Brendan: Thanks for the links, I’ll check them out.

Carter Soles said...

I think arcadian says it best:

"This isn't edition wars; play whatever you want; but I'm not gong to pretend 2e is better than 1e, 3e is superior than Od&d, or that 4e is (until 5e is released) the pinnacle of dungeon delving gamosity."

Me neither! But that said, and much as I utterly agree with Paladin here (I hope you don't mind I still call you by your net handle), I think Norman made the most significant observation:

"despite their claims I doubt very much they are interested in bringing the OSR into the fold."

Sad but true! I do not expect Hasbro to factor in my opinions about 5e any more than I expect Time Warner, who owns the BATMAN property, to factor in my opinions about the next BATMAN movie blockbuster. I am not the target audience for this product.

Aaron E. Steele said...

Norman Harman said...
1st; I totally disagree with your characterization of the OSR.

I didnt think I was characterizing the OSR, I was characterizing Original DnD as a pulp fantasy emulator.

arcadian said...

@carter- I would agree the OSR isn't the target of 5e. And if anything WOTCs failure to parlay 4e into a success is probably due to poor implementation and Pathfinders success.

But for 5e to succeed they're going to need some OSRs if only because we represent part of the market share. And given how much of a play Wizards is making for pan edition peace and compatibility, they really want to reassert control over the game. And if they screw up the clones and spinoffs aren't going to look back.

But it may be too late unless 5e poops rainbows and burps firecrackers.

Norman Harman said...

> Original DnD as a pulp fantasy emulator.

Ah, then I apologize for poor reading comprehension.

Yeah, I can understand that. Not expert enough in OD&D/Pulp Fantasy to "totally" agree. But, it certainly sounds right.

btw has wotc/hasbro explicitly stated OD&D or Basic has a separate style of play? The (very little) I've seen tends to indicate they consider AD&D 1ed the "old" edition. And at best lump OD&D and Basic play into the "AD&D style".

Aaron E. Steele said...

I'd have to go back and see which versions of DnD they played. I did see other 4E forumites providing play reports of ODnD, but I don't know that the 5E designers did. I'd be surprised if they didn't, as without some familiarity with ODnD, it's hard to understand where the game started, in what ways it morphed, and why.

velaran said...

An apposite post on OD&D's style, and the type of fiction that inspired it:

"One of Gary's and Rob Kuntz's favorite stories, says Mornard, was Clark Ashton Smith's The Seven Geases, in which (spoilers ahead) the hero survives a horrible death at the hands of seven different monsters only to die meaninglessly slipping from a ledge. That was one of the seminal texts of D&D, said Mornard, and one of the stories it was designed to model. "The story that D&D tells," said Mike, "is the story of the world. Heroes aren't invincible."

from Blog of Holding, playing D&D with Mike Mornard: it’s all about context,
January 27th, 2012