D&D 5E Grey beard culture question about critical role

Reynard

Legend
This is definitely a point of confusion for a lot of folks.

I'm among the folks who often point to Dragonlance as a transition/inflection point. From TSR focusing less on challenge/exploration-focused modules, to more on heroic adventure story-style modules, and novels alongside them. The so-called Hickman Revolution.

A lot of the hardcore AD&D partisans will exclude DL and 2nd ed AD&D from the old school, and so some extent they're right. But on the other hand, as The Elusive Shift and early fanzines document, some folks were doing very story and character-focused D&D in the 70s, nearly from the get-go.

While "story-focused" isn't the first phrase that I'd normally pair with "old school", I don't think it's incoherent either. Some old schoolers were story focused. I think this mode of play is often referred to as "Trad", as opposed to "Classic", which is ostensibly the Gygaxian challenge-focused style.
Sure, I wasn't trying to make a declaration of what is true, just stating my experience with the terms (which is why i refer to myself as a middle schooler, having come into the game with BECMI in 1985).
 

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Celebrim

Legend
It's like the language / cadence. Or maybe the things they "expect D&D to be". A few examples:
  1. the interchange with merchants is not not something I'm accustomed to - this seems to be a big part of the experience
  2. the depth-of-character is really impressive, but again, I'm simply not accustomed to it - the group is "really in character" at the table
  3. the killing move, "how do you want to do this" is something new to me
  4. the mechanics of the game seem to be less important than the story of the game
Again, my DM is really amazing (I introduced D&D to him many years ago), and I'm having a very fun time, but I'm just...not...quite...connecting.

I will tell you the truth as I see it, and hopefully I won't be too offensive. I have met tons of players of RPGs that have 20 or 30 years of experience and have never learned to play the game well. They stayed in a comfortable spot where they never had to develop skill as a role-player and they used minimal interaction over and over again.

The result is that I often find experienced players play the game less well than complete novices. I spend a lot of my time as a GM unlearning very experienced players of bad habits that limit the amount of fun they can have with the game, and prevent them from improving as players that are better able to increase everyone's fun.

The great thing about Critical Role is that it shows what really elevated and skillful play looks like so that younger players have a template for that. And it sounds like you've fallen into a group that has rolled with that and is playing at a very high skill level. And now you are out of your comfort zone and being challenged to stretch your wings and level up your game. And it's awkward at first. I was fortunate to have a really good DM take me under his wing at like age 13, and show me the real game and force me to play it. And it was hugely embarassing and awkward at first to be in character. And figuring out how to give RP hooks to other players and play a make believe game together takes practice.

Ultimately I can't tell you how to play at a particular table because every table has it's own procedures of play. I can tell to just lean into it and realize that somewhere you got stuck at the equivalent of 4th level fighting kobolds and rats and stayed there and that this is awesome, and you are 50 and you are leveling up and that is amazing. Because so many gamers I meet don't want to learn anything new.
 



overgeeked

B/X Known World
I will tell you the truth as I see it, and hopefully I won't be too offensive. I have met tons of players of RPGs that have 20 or 30 years of experience and have never learned to play the game well. They stayed in a comfortable spot where they never had to develop skill as a role-player and they used minimal interaction over and over again.

The result is that I often find experienced players play the game less well than complete novices. I spend a lot of my time as a GM unlearning very experienced players of bad habits that limit the amount of fun they can have with the game, and prevent them from improving as players that are better able to increase everyone's fun.

The great thing about Critical Role is that it shows what really elevated and skillful play looks like so that younger players have a template for that. And it sounds like you've fallen into a group that has rolled with that and is playing at a very high skill level. And now you are out of your comfort zone and being challenged to stretch your wings and level up your game. And it's awkward at first. I was fortunate to have a really good DM take me under his wing at like age 13, and show me the real game and force me to play it. And it was hugely embarassing and awkward at first to be in character. And figuring out how to give RP hooks to other players and play a make believe game together takes practice.

Ultimately I can't tell you how to play at a particular table because every table has it's own procedures of play. I can tell to just lean into it and realize that somewhere you got stuck at the equivalent of 4th level fighting kobolds and rats and stayed there and that this is awesome, and you are 50 and you are leveling up and that is amazing. Because so many gamers I meet don't want to learn anything new.
Weird. I wouldn’t call it skilled play. Skilled play is when the players solve the problems via thinking and interacting with the environment rather than engaging the mechanics. The opposite of how CR plays. They’re obviously quite skilled as actors and voice actors, but that’s not an essential part of play. Role-playing is, sure. But role-playing is more than pulling a voice.
 

UngainlyTitan

Legend
Supporter
This is the first time I have ever heard anyone refer to Dragonlance as "old school."

EDIT to add: in fact i would go so far as to say, in my experience, Dragonlance IS the break from Old School.
In response to your edit. I bought the basic set around eighty three/four I really cannot remember but dragonlance came out in eighty four I did not get into a regular ttrpg playing until about eighty seven or so. That is a long time ago, (36 to 39 years ago) ancient history to the vast majority of CR's audience. Old, to most people that started in the 3e era. OSR is rapidly becoming A(ncient)SR though they could get away with O(riginal)SR though I prefer "High Gygaxian" :D
 


South by Southwest

Incorrigible Daydreamer
Hi, Bill in Warsaw,

I can't really give advice on this; I can only say what helped me. I was in a situation similar to yours in 2018 when I jumped back into the game: I was the only person there over 21, so it was a 49-year-old guy and a bunch of college students with cell phones.

What helped me was watching a bunch of Critical Role until I got a proper feel for how the whole table interacted. I especially watched for those moments when I could tell the actors were pretending to be excited/emotional for the benefit of the cameras versus those moments when they really were excited/emotional. After watching about a dozen episodes, I had a decent feel for how they do things at their table.

Good luck!
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
I especially watched for those moments when I could tell the actors were pretending to be excited/emotional for the benefit of the cameras versus those moments when they really were excited/emotional.
I’m extremely skeptical of this, tbh.

No no no. Please no. I don't care how many snazzy voices they're doing, I'd jump out of a window directly onto my computer to avoid watching that.
I don’t understand. It’s a show. They sometimes spend an episode in downtime. I can’t even fathom what is unusual about it, much less deserving of this reaction.
 

Voadam

Legend
It's like the language / cadence. Or maybe the things they "expect D&D to be". A few examples:
  1. the interchange with merchants is not not something I'm accustomed to - this seems to be a big part of the experience
  2. the depth-of-character is really impressive, but again, I'm simply not accustomed to it - the group is "really in character" at the table
  3. the killing move, "how do you want to do this" is something new to me
  4. the mechanics of the game seem to be less important than the story of the game
Again, my DM is really amazing (I introduced D&D to him many years ago), and I'm having a very fun time, but I'm just...not...quite...connecting.
From the beginning in the 70s D&D has been open to hugely divergent approaches to gaming that focuses on different aspects of the game. From the beginning there have been groups doing D&D in very different ways. Roleplaying in first person in depth as the character. Trying to roleplay the stats on the sheet as the character. Roleplaying your own narrative character concept. Playing third person focusing on the adventure. Focusing on doing well at the dungeon delving. Focusing on doing well with resource management. Focusing on the story. Focusing on combat as the fun. Focusing on character build and mechanics. Focusing on being a hero in the story.

When you play with a group that focuses on different things you can either try to focus on those as well and experience the different play experience, or focus on the things you like and maybe communicate some preferences to the DM/group so the play experience can include the types of things you want.
 


This is the first time I have ever heard anyone refer to Dragonlance as "old school."

EDIT to add: in fact i would go so far as to say, in my experience, Dragonlance IS the break from Old School.

It's 2022. D&D 3e is old school now. Dragonlance is nearly 40 years old. It's positively archaic.

It's not hex-crawling, mega-dungeon, OSR, OSE, OD&D, morale-movement-missile-magic-melee, B/X retro-clone, Principia Apocrypha Old School™. But it's definitely old school in the plain meaning of the term.
 

The end of the Old School and the dawn of Story-Focused play:

While it might seem highly unlikely to those who have not been involved in fantasy adventure gaming for an extended period of time, after the flush of excitement wears off - perhaps a few months or a year, depending on the intensity of play - some participants will become bored and move to other gaming forms, returning to your campaign only occasionally. Shortly thereafter even your most dedicated players will occasionally find that dungeon levels and wilderness castles grow stale, regardless of subtle differences and unusual challenges. It is possible, however, for you to devise a campaign which will have a very minimal amount of participant attrition and enthusiast ennui, and it is not particularly difficult to do so.

As has been mentioned already, the game must be neither too difficult to survive nor so easy as to offer little excitement or challenge. There must always be something desirable to gain, something important to lose, and the chance of having either happen. Furthermore, there must be some purpose to it all. There must be some backdrop against which adventures are carried out, and no matter how tenuous the strands, some web which connects the evil and good, the opposing powers, the rival states and various peoples. This need not be evident at first, but as play continues, hints should be given to players, and their characters should become involved in the interaction and struggle between these vaster entities. Thus, characters begin as less than pawns, but as they progress in expertise, each eventually realizes that he or she is a meaningful, if lowly, piece in the cosmic game being conducted. When this occurs, players then have a dual purpose to their play, for not only will their player characters and henchmen gain levels of experience, but their actions have meaning above and beyond that of personal aggrandizement.

-- Dungeon Master's Guide, Gary Gygax, 1979
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
It's like the language / cadence. Or maybe the things they "expect D&D to be". A few examples:
  1. the interchange with merchants is not not something I'm accustomed to - this seems to be a big part of the experience
  2. the depth-of-character is really impressive, but again, I'm simply not accustomed to it - the group is "really in character" at the table
  3. the killing move, "how do you want to do this" is something new to me
  4. the mechanics of the game seem to be less important than the story of the game
Again, my DM is really amazing (I introduced D&D to him many years ago), and I'm having a very fun time, but I'm just...not...quite...connecting.
A lot of this is table variation, with CR being a table that the others have shared in.

Back in AD&D / AD&D 2nd ed we did a lot of really deep in-character. (You're #2.) It was half soap opera, and where I really first got my RP chops. Love triangles, rivalries, etc. But I know plenty of people whom that isn't their primary focus. Newer gamers, even though who haven't watched CR, have been more exposed to that style of play, enough that it's common.

Interchange with merchants and other NPCs - I've seen this when importnat (buy a magic item), or as a technicque when a group just starts to showcase each other's characters personalities. Doing it more frequent than that must be a CR-specific issue.

"Posing" - describing result of the die rolls in the fiction - was a technique we used heavily starting back in the 90s for a number of systems. The "how do you kill it" is a pull-back from that without removing completely. Since it is one of the most memorable parts, that seems like a nice compromise to keep things moving but still bring it up. Gives a bit of spotlight for what you did.

The last has been around as well, codified as Rule 0 in D&D 3.0 but around before that as needed. When you have a group of people who are entertaining the audience, I can picture that comes upa lot more often to be satisfying and free.
 


It's like the language / cadence. Or maybe the things they "expect D&D to be". A few examples:
That's just generational. As a teacher I find I'm constantly having to relearn the language of the young.
  1. the interchange with merchants is not not something I'm accustomed to - this seems to be a big part of the experience
  2. the depth-of-character is really impressive, but again, I'm simply not accustomed to it - the group is "really in character" at the table
  3. the killing move, "how do you want to do this" is something new to me
  4. the mechanics of the game seem to be less important than the story of the game
Story and character driven games have always been around. CR didn't invent that mode of play, they just publicised it.
Again, my DM is really amazing (I introduced D&D to him many years ago), and I'm having a very fun time, but I'm just...not...quite...connecting.
Every DM is different. Learn to enjoy the different experiences.
 

Celebrim

Legend
Weird. I wouldn’t call it skilled play. Skilled play is when the players solve the problems via thinking and interacting with the environment rather than engaging the mechanics. The opposite of how CR plays. They’re obviously quite skilled as actors and voice actors, but that’s not an essential part of play. Role-playing is, sure. But role-playing is more than pulling a voice.

It's not the voices I'm talking about. Voices are great, and as a GM I could really use to work on my voices more. But that's not the sum of skilled play any more than "solve the problems via thinking and interacting with the environment rather than engaging the mechanics" is the sum of skilled play. Just being a GM involves lots of hats and lots of opportunities to do something well - whether world building, refereeing, story telling, memorable NPCs, humor, great dungeon designs, pacing, etc. - so does being a player involve lots of different skills that you can cultivate that enhance you own enjoyment of the game and critically also the enjoyment of everyone else at the table.

I'm not really a CR fan because I'd rather play games than watch other people do it, but one thing I see them doing is leaning into to each other's stories and giving each other dramatic spotlight. It's not just that they are good with the voices, but they also have that story-telling improv that probably comes from theater game training that is often really underdeveloped in players that just came at RPGs as wargames and rarely got out of processes of play that solely interact with the rules or rarely treat the fun as anything more than using tactics to kill things and then taking their stuff.

They are a really good group. Yes, they have a lot of the flaws I see in a lot of players which makes me feel better about the groups I play with, but they are also good players. Matt Mercer gets a lot of the credit, but he couldn't do what he does if he didn't have players that were open to creating story.
 

wedgeski

Adventurer
Story and character driven games have always been around. CR didn't invent that mode of play, they just publicised it.

My first exposure to character driven narrative D&D was on this site via the Story Hour forum. Headliners over there, like Sagiro and PirateCat, opened my eyes to what those kinds of games might look like. It changed my style of campaign almost overnight.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
Eh? What do you mean?
The idea that you can reliably point out when they're "pretending" to be excited "for the camera".

I think at best you spotted some differences in how they react to different things and misdiagnosed the source of the difference. Even more likely is that you were looking for such a difference so you "found it", but it's literally just a result of people not doing the exact same thing every time they experience a given reaction or feeling, not always having the same energy level, not liking everyone at the table equally, etc.

IME, 99.9% of all the examples I've ever seen where someone claimed the CR cast was playing to the camera but pretending not to, was just them being really in the moment and playing to eachother.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
This is the first time I have ever heard anyone refer to Dragonlance as "old school."

EDIT to add: in fact i would go so far as to say, in my experience, Dragonlance IS the break from Old School.
IME, only people in the OSR movement think of the words "old school" as exclusively referring to a specific playstyle. Everyone else just uses it to refer to old fashioned ways of doing things, and/or things that came out a long time ago.
 

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