D&D 4th Edition 4E and "Old School Gaming" (and why they aren't mutually exclusive"





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    4E and "Old School Gaming" (and why they aren't mutually exclusive"

    I have read a lot of views that 4E and "Old School", in particular OD&D, are two very different breeds. A good example is skills: As I understand it--and correct me if I'm wrong--the difference between skill use in OD&D and 4E is that in OD&D the player says what he or she wants to do and the DM resolves it with a simple die roll or judgment call. In 4E, the player describes what he or she wants to do and then the DM issues a Skill Challenge: a series of skill checks that correspond with each action that the player wants to take.

    Obviously there is a bit difference here. But what i'm wondering is, cannot a group play 4E "Old School style"? I mean, if DM Fiat is basically accepted, cannot 4E be Old School in that the DM can always supercede any rule with his or her own judgment? For example, in the example above the 4E DM might decide that a full Skill Challenge isn't necessary or desirable; perhaps, as with OD&D, a die roll is necessary, but it can be a gestalt roll, a combination or average of different skills. Or perhaps good roleplaying will bypass the need to roll dice at all.

    I'm starting up a 4E campaign but was raised on 1E, and therefore DM Fiat is just an accepted--and necessary--part of gaming. As the 4E DMG itself says, the DM's main job is to create an enjoyable experience; if this means bending or breaking the rules, then so be it.

    Actually, I'm going to go right out and say that the thing I really disliked about the style of D&D that, I think, started with 2E and continued with 3E--and is hopefully on the wane with 4E--is the so-called "empowerment" of players, as if D&D is a wargame of Players vs. DM, rather than the DM being a storyteller that creates a dynamic and responsive context in which the players act. If a DM wants to "beat" the players then he or she shouldn't be a DM; it is like putting a kitten into a headlock--why bother? If players feel like they need to be "empowered" and are always trying to manipulate the rules and argue with the DM, there are likely psychological issues at work that should probably be moved from a gaming session to a therapy session.

    But my point is that "Old School Gaming" is more of a style than an actual rules set. It is primarily identified with OD&D, and to a lesser degree with BECMI and AD&D, but it is more of a flavor than a specific recipe. One can employ an Old School style simply by exercising the Gygax-given power of the DM. In that sense I think the so-called "Edition Wars" are a waste of time, or rather a misplacement of energy--not because there aren't real issues at work, but because it is seeming about one thing when it is really about another, like a married couple arguing over a broken glass when what they are really upset about is their broken marriage. In other words, what I see the Edition Wars really being about is different styles of game play, especially the "Old School" ad hoc approach, where the rules are more guidelines rather than Law.

    OD&D was a simple rule set that allowed, no, required continual improvisation. AD&D complexified greatly, trying to put a rule to as many situations as Mr. Gygax could think of. 2E tried to streamline this a bit, or at least soften it with a lot of fluff; and 3E somehow complexified and stream-lined at the same time, by "correcting" the rules set with a core mechanic that allowed for infinite modifiers. It seems that 4E has tried to pull in the reins a bit, but still emphasizes rules-as-laws rather than rules-as-guidelines.

    So rather than drawing up the battle lines between the "classic" editions--OD&D, BECMI, and 1E, and possibly 2E--and the newer editions--3E and 4E--why not discuss different stylistic approaches to gaming? Some argue that the rules themselves largely dictate the style of play; I say, let the rules be guidelines, not Absolute Law. You can use as much or as little of the 4E books--from the core three to whatever ungodly supplements will be coming out five or six years from now--as you want.

    Which leads to the question: Is it possible to combine the innovations of the last 35 years with the free-form attitude of the original D&D? I personally think that D&D, as a rules system, has evolved; the core d20 mechanic, in my view, is better than THAC0, and much better than the combat charts; Defenses are better than Saving Throws, etc. But I also like to improvise and dislike when the rules get in the way of role-playing and creative thinking from the players. So, as I start my first campaign in years, I plan on taking a somewhat "old school style" to a 4E game: Or to put it another way, an improvisational and imaginative game style using a slick-running game engine.

    To me this is the best of both worlds.

 

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    This mouth-music...is something I have trouble grokking.

    I played my most improvisational and open-ended games in 3e. The robustness of the ruleset helped me do that, because I knew that wherever I would need a trampoline to spring me back up into the air again, 3e would have one.

    I'm generally not a tremendous fan of DM Fiat, either. In fact, it's one of the least satisfying ways for something to happen in D&D, as far as I am concerned. It's necessary, always, especially in the corner cases, but as a "core mechanic," so to speak, I have a lot of resentment for it.

    Sure, it's possible to play 4e and strip out the rules and just wing it, just like it's possible to play 3e that way, or any edition or game ever, anywhere. But I think the old school feel is more than just "make up the rules as you go along." I could be wrong.
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  • #3
    Quote Originally Posted by Mercurius View Post
    But what i'm wondering is, cannot a group play 4E "Old School style"?
    How exactly do you propose to give these "old school style" elements back to the game under 4th edition?

    -remove the ability for everyone to heal themselves
    -remove the powers system and give the thief back the ability to be a thief
    -give the classes back some dignity of being something special and have a purpose to themselves outside of just positions in combat

    Can you do that with 4th and it keep its integrity to it? What would you need to do to the monsters to counterbalance these alterations to PCs?

    What if the fighter player doesn't want to have to take time to think about healing during a fight and just wants to let the party healer take of it after the fight so he can focus more on smashing heads?

    What if the cleric wants to be the doctor of the group and focus on keeping them healthy through healing and making them work together and not act in a foolish manor by just charging in?

    What if the wizard doesn't want to just lob magic missile or damaging spells, but wants to do things with magic besides just 3 direct damage with a lighting bolt, or X damage with a fireball?

    What if the party wants to collect money to make their own things rather than find exactly what they need to get through the game? Make their own weapons, fix their own armor, etc.

    What if they just want to hoard money and art objects rather than spend it on the latest magic items?

    There is a lot that is subjective about what "old school style" play is, and 4th edition will not easily accommodate all players that want an old school style.

    It touches on on aspect with a focus on combat, but loses in many other areas some of the flexibility of the system of 1st edition and back.

    2nd edition and 3rd are of course denied plausible under the systems of 4th edition because how tight knit it is.

    So it really depends on what you are looking for out of the "old school style".

  • #4
    IMHO, rules and playstyle aren't mutual exclusive. A game requires mastery over
    the rules has more tactics and management required, whereas a looser, lighter
    ruleset allows more freeform play and DM adjudication. The latter descibes old school
    play. Furthermore, streamlined games are considered modern. I love charts and
    different mechanics in a game. If you take 4th ed character sheet and compared it to
    a BECM char sheet, the latter has very little information on the character mechanically.
    This usually "forces" a player to subconciously develop the character through roleplaying
    and heavy DM fiat is involved. To me, thats what old school's about. FOr those
    who are able to run an old school style using modern gamerules ie 4th ed, well done to you,
    but I think you aren't actually playing the game RAW..

  • #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by justanobody View Post
    How exactly do you propose to give these "old school style" elements back to the game under 4th edition?

    -remove the ability for everyone to heal themselves
    There is no second wind, possibly increase the nuber of healings a leader can do during an encounter, and done.

    Alternatively, increase pc hitpoints by 25% and have healing surges only do 20% of your new total.

    Quote Originally Posted by justanobody View Post
    -remove the powers system and give the thief back the ability to be a thief
    Powers system is built into 4e, this can't be done so easily. What exactly is the 4e rogue missing in your opinion? His skills allow him to do anything a 1e or becm thief could do. He can also customise hiss skill selection to do different things.

    Quote Originally Posted by justanobody View Post
    -give the classes back some dignity of being something special and have a purpose to themselves outside of just positions in combat

    Can you do that with 4th and it keep its integrity to it? What would you need to do to the monsters to counterbalance these alterations to PCs?
    A class in 4e defines your combat abilities, as far as I have seen in previous editions (I have played BECM, 2nd Ed and 3.x) this has always been the case . Your out of combat abilities are defined by skills, some of the feats and how you play your character. Again, not wanting to be dismissive of your point, but explain what exactly your point is, how should the class define itself outside of combat?

    Quote Originally Posted by justanobody View Post
    What if the fighter player doesn't want to have to take time to think about healing during a fight and just wants to let the party healer take of it after the fight so he can focus more on smashing heads?
    I am not too sure how 1 healing surge during combat reads as the fighter thinking about healing. Usualy my fighters in previous editions are thinking about healing all the time, positioning close enough to the cleric, have potions accesable in bandoleers etc.

    Quote Originally Posted by justanobody View Post
    What if the cleric wants to be the doctor of the group and focus on keeping them healthy through healing and making them work together and not act in a foolish manor by just charging in?
    Once again, clerics in my experience, at least before 3.x, have generally always been in the thick of things. Good armour and needing to be close to the fighters mean't that you had to be mixing it up with the monsters in most cases. If you don't want to be up close and personal, concentrate on the ranged powers, and pack some throwing weapons.

    Quote Originally Posted by justanobody View Post
    What if the wizard doesn't want to just lob magic missile or damaging spells, but wants to do things with magic besides just 3 direct damage with a lighting bolt, or X damage with a fireball?
    I combat, direct damage is what the 4e wizard does, but a lot his spells also alter the battlefield with zones, ongoing effects etc. Be creative with your spell use. For out of combat, there is a growing list of rituals to use, the long casting time and cost means you wont arbitrarily be stepping in other character niches when it comes to skill use.

    Quote Originally Posted by justanobody View Post
    What if the party wants to collect money to make their own things rather than find exactly what they need to get through the game? Make their own weapons, fix their own armor, etc.
    Rituals, skill challenges and DM fiat. You want your fighter to be a smith, speak to your dm and agree on how to go about it. BEfore 2e there weren't rules for this either. As for crafting magical items, there is a ritual you can use, and if you really want to go old school on this, roleplay looking for rare ingrediants and formulas.

    Quote Originally Posted by justanobody View Post
    What if they just want to hoard money and art objects rather than spend it on the latest magic items?
    Awesome, then do it. Your character wants to build a keep? Speek to the dm about costs and start doing it. All those gems and art you find in your adventures? Don't sell them. If you want your character to invest in merchant cartels, do so. This is where the roleplaying comes into the game.

    Quote Originally Posted by justanobody View Post
    There is a lot that is subjective about what "old school style" play is, and 4th edition will not easily accommodate all players that want an old school style.

    It touches on on aspect with a focus on combat, but loses in many other areas some of the flexibility of the system of 1st edition and back.

    2nd edition and 3rd are of course denied plausible under the systems of 4th edition because how tight knit it is.

    So it really depends on what you are looking for out of the "old school style".
    At the end of the day, play the system you want to play, no-one is going to stop you from doing it. If you want to import something from a previous (or more current) system, discuss with the other people in your group and houserule. The rules in D&D are not fixed and governed by a world body with penalties imposed if you break them. Do what works for your group and for the campaign you are playing.

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  • #6
    Quote Originally Posted by Phaezen View Post
    I am not too sure how 1 healing surge during combat reads as the fighter thinking about healing. Usualy my fighters in previous editions are thinking about healing all the time, positioning close enough to the cleric, have potions accesable in bandoleers etc.
    Too much to read and respond to it all at this time. Remind me to come back to the rest, but to touch on here....

    The problem is the fighter should not even know, nay no one should; that they are in need of healing.

    There may be some perception that you are feeling a bit tired or weak, but when you go into dealing directly with the mechanics in the game such as the number of hit points one has being of conscious thought, it destroys part of the game and breaks the fourth wall too quickly.

    The characters should not have any access to anything that identifies them as pieces in a game.

    I also don't like wussy fighters that are worried about themselves getting hurt and needing to heal, rather than willing to lay his life on the line all or nothing for his cause. Leave the healing to the healers to nag the fighters about resting and healing when they think they can go on because they are some kind of...well....battle tank.

    I wouldn't worry at all about healing, just know that living it will be a concern if I do survive. Until that point in battle the idea is that any stray thoughts means certain death.

  • #7
    No. For me, 4E is not oldschool. But oldskool represents something particular in my opinion. Hackmaster comes closest to resembling the freewheeling silliness of the way my mates and I used to play AD&D 1E, in a rules form. Come 2E that style had changed to something more po-faced.

    4E, on the other hand, has a Rod of Might rammed so far up it's rear in an attempt to keep game balance that it couldn't come anywhere NEAR supporting the wild and wacky magic items and spells and their uses of that era. There's no in-jokes about Spears of Backstabbing and creative uses of Enlarge to be had here...move along...

    It doesn't want to, and isn't designed to. It is D&D wearing an accountant's visor, with greedy little squinty marketing eyes peering out from under it, not D&D wearing a jester's cap, grinning madly, and with eyes which swirl with oceans of possibility. And that's if you give WOTC's fantasy heartbreaker the title "D&D" in the first place, and I'm not so sure it deserves it.

    It's a pity that 1E has game balance roughly equivalent to that of Monopoly, and 4E has so little soul that it would make a figurative version of the late James Brown run away screaming. 3E is probably the nearest thing we have to a compromise. 1E or C&C supplemented by Hackmaster, perhaps, if you want to throw game balance and Serious Campaign Design Is Serious to the winds, and fall off the other end of the scale.
    Last edited by rounser; Monday, 3rd November, 2008 at 11:13 AM.
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  • #8
    Actually, why do people even want to emulate old school with the latest incarnation
    of D&D? Sounds liek denial or soemthign to me. Play old school games to get old school
    feel. Why try to emulate different playstyles with different rules approach?
    When C&C came out, nobody questioned the fact whether it has an old school feel
    or not, because it just does.

  • #9
    Quote Originally Posted by bagger245 View Post
    Actually, why do people even want to emulate old school with the latest incarnation
    of D&D? Sounds like denial or something to me. Play old school games to get old school
    feel. Why try to emulate different playstyles with different rules approach?
    When C&C came out, nobody questioned the fact whether it has an old school feel
    or not, because it just does.
    I think for some it may be a way to convince others or maybe even themselves, that it is still D&D. Or some way to try to end edition wars, that in turn starts them up even more.

  • #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by rounser View Post
    It's a pity that 1E has game balance roughly equivalent to that of Monopoly
    Hey, Monopoly was pretty well balanced (just really boring during the endgame stage). The car didn't get +1 to movement and the top hat didn't get a +$50 style bonus every time it passed "Go". If anything, Monopoly pieces are exactly the opposite: so balanced that they are just cookie cutters of each other with no mechanical differentiation between them whatsoever.

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