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D&D General In defence of Grognardism

If someone objects to the semantic loading in a term, they're not required to accept it just because its convenient for the people using it.

We have to weigh what seems reasonable though. And we do need to account for the perspective it is coming from. It always seems to come from people who are hostile to the style itself. As demonstrated in your post where it isn't just about the term but also about a clear issue with the style (provided I am reading your negativity correctly). You can criticize a term. But outside a small circle of posters in this forum, I haven't encountered the negative reaction to skilled play you are describing. This is literally the only place I've seen it. At the table, with gamers from different styles, skilled play simply hasn't prompted this kind of reaction in my experience. And again, once a term has currency and is used within a style to communicate, it is very disruptive to start chaining the language. It is how people are communicating ideas. I am sure some people find adopting a whole new vocabulary easy. I personally don't at all.
 

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One could read the insistence on using the term the same way.

I don't really see it that way because the term was coined so the people playing the style could describe what they were doing. When you take that term away from them, it weakens their ability to explain their style. And if it were just one word that was poorly decided upon and massively failed to convey things, that might be fair. But it is pretty much something that arises in these discussions, usually from people who are hostile to the style or want to take the style in a different direction, and I think that is a little bit of a semantic trick to win the style debate. We can certainly have the style debate. That is a fair discussion to have. But I think it really clouds things when the style debate and the terminology debate get blended together.
 

I have to say, the discourse around "player skill" turned me off to the OSR initially. Especially when conversations around what that means call the players "stupid" for doing something that results in character death. It's a condescending and not particularly descriptive way of talking about a playstyle (because other play styles also involve "skill" of one kind or another). When I try to sell OSR style games to my players, I don't say things like "if you do something stupid your character will die."

Now that I've gotten into the OSR and learned more about different games and different playstyles more generally, the phrase bothers me less because I have a context. I might say that it is a style of play where the story is "emergent," or if that's too jargony (it is), just say that it revolves more around strategy than tactics, more around the conversation at the table than any set of rules.
 

I don't really see it that way because the term was coined so the people playing the style could describe what they were doing. When you take that term away from them, it weakens their ability to explain their style. And if it were just one word that was poorly decided upon and massively failed to convey things, that might be fair. But it is pretty much something that arises in these discussions, usually from people who are hostile to the style or want to take the style in a different direction, and I think that is a little bit of a semantic trick to win the style debate. We can certainly have the style debate. That is a fair discussion to have. But I think it really clouds things when the style debate and the terminology debate get blended together.

And its just as easy, as I said, to see clinging to the term as claiming a certain high ground (however much one thinks that's not what one's doing) in regard to the value of the style.

I mean, seriously, think about it "Skillful Play"; by simple parallelism, that means everyone else is doing, what? "Non-skillful Play"? Why should people respond positively to that?

As I've noted before there are other terms that aren't so fraught, and the fact OSR folks have gotten used to that one just really doesn't seem a good enough reason. If you want to write off the objection as only applying to people who are hostile to the style, that's your business, but, honestly, even if they are, that doesn't make the implication of the term any better, nor there be any reason they should respond to it better. Its just a term that can't help turn up any extent heat.
 

I mean, seriously, think about it "Skillful Play"; by simple parallelism, that means everyone else is doing, what? "Non-skillful Play"? Why should people respond positively to that?

But it doesn't mean anything about other styles at all. You are reading that into it. It is just saying skillful play is important, and if you dig into it, you see what is meant by skillful play. But it isn't a zero sum game. This is the same argument that comes up around both immersion and player agency (where agency is important in sandbox play and it becomes a kind of semantic football with people who are playing other styles but also value agency). At a certain point we have to stop taking these playstyle debates to the linguistic grounds because it really does make it hard for people to even have a conversation about their style.
 

But it doesn't mean anything about other styles at all. You are reading that into it.

When someone claims that their style is about "Skillful Play" I don't see that it takes much "reading something into it" to view it saying the opposite (or at least the negative) about other styles. Otherwise claiming that's one of the focal points of the style is meaningless, since that could be said about every style.
 

Eltab

Lord of the Hidden Layer
“Mr Gorbachev, cast Passwall on that Wall!”
After looking at some Xeroxes I think are from the 3e DMG 2...

-President Reagan begins casting a verbal-only incantation / ritual, with a time-delay factor built in-

"Mr Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall !"

-Five years later, Concrete to Mud and Knock take effect-
 

When someone claims that their style is about "Skillful Play" I don't see that it takes much "reading something into it" to view it saying the opposite (or at least the negative) about other styles. Otherwise claiming that's one of the focal points of the style is meaningless, since that could be said about every style.
Imagine you start a style that is really transparent on the GM side. The gm tells the players what all the monster stats are, doesn’t use a screen, rolls out in the open, shared his notes on plot after the game to show all was above board, and begin calling your style honest play. People adopt your style and the honest play label.

I don’t see how you using that word in any way suggests other styles are dishonest, or implied there aren’t other styles that place emphasis on different forms of honesty. It is just a positive descriptor of the style, it resonates, gains traction, and conveys what you mean. Obviously it means a particular kind of honesty and that needs to be conveyed in the explanation. But it seems a useful term, I wouldn’t object to it just because my osr style of play also values being honest (in the form of being sn honest ref)
 

Sacrosanct

Legend
Publisher
I gotta say, as someone who is pretty big onto the older games and OSR, I've never really heard "skillful play" as an association or description of OSR games. I HAVE heard "player skill", and often. Those are two different things.

Every game requires a certain skill, but "player skill" is used because it's compared to "character skill" in that context. I.e., since many OSR games don't have defined skills or not nearly as robust as modern games, it's telling you that player skill--being able to come up with solutions to challenges that don't depend on a character skill or power, will be needed.

I get how some people don't like that playstyle, but I don't think it's nearly as condescending as some are making it out to be because it's being taken out of context. It's simply letting you know how it's played vs other systems.
 

I gotta say, as someone who is pretty big onto the older games and OSR, I've never really heard "skillful play" as an association or description of OSR games. I HAVE heard "player skill", and often. Those are two different things.

Every game requires a certain skill, but "player skill" is used because it's compared to "character skill" in that context. I.e., since many OSR games don't have defined skills or not nearly as robust as modern games, it's telling you that player skill--being able to come up with solutions to challenges that don't depend on a character skill or power, will be needed.

I get how some people don't like that playstyle, but I don't think it's nearly as condescending as some are making it out to be because it's being taken out of context. It's simply letting you know how it's played vs other systems.
I don't think I would phrase it that way to players new to osr games. It has a "git gud" vibe to it (and I would say there are definetly osr products that lean into this try-hard ethos (LotFP comes to mind). I think instead I would say, the rules are very simple, but what you can do is only limited by your imagination and the conversation we have at the table. The key to osr games is trust that the dm will be a fair referee, and I think the whole, "you played stupid you die" mentality erodes that trust.
 

Imagine you start a style that is really transparent on the GM side. The gm tells the players what all the monster stats are, doesn’t use a screen, rolls out in the open, shared his notes on plot after the game to show all was above board, and begin calling your style honest play. People adopt your style and the honest play label.

I don’t see how you using that word in any way suggests other styles are dishonest, or implied there aren’t other styles that place emphasis on different forms of honesty. It is just a positive descriptor of the style, it resonates, gains traction, and conveys what you mean. Obviously it means a particular kind of honesty and that needs to be conveyed in the explanation. But it seems a useful term, I wouldn’t object to it just because my osr style of play also values being honest (in the form of being sn honest ref)

Actually, I'd have exactly the same reaction to that. It privileges the style in a way that isn't warranted just by the terminology.
 

I gotta say, as someone who is pretty big onto the older games and OSR, I've never really heard "skillful play" as an association or description of OSR games. I HAVE heard "player skill", and often. Those are two different things.

While I have some issues with that, too, at least in context its a bit more descriptive and actually can be read as a not unmixed-description (i.e. making things about player skill over character skill is something that can be argued as not-a-virtue from the right perspective).

I get how some people don't like that playstyle, but I don't think it's nearly as condescending as some are making it out to be because it's being taken out of context. It's simply letting you know how it's played vs other systems.

Well, keep in mind some people see it as condescending because they've seen people use it that way. Everyone carries water for people who are in a group they're in that misbehave, that's just a practical reality.
 

GuyBoy

Adventurer
Hah. Man I played since the 80s, went to cons in the 80's and 90's and it was ALL I saw. A bunch of finger wagging neckbeards all playing the exact same character, over and over: the professional adventure solver. They had a strong tendency to engage with the world in the same boring manner, because they'd been trained through Pavlovian response to poke, prod and pixelbitch (so much for fast play huh?). They were just playing themselves with a thin veneer of spellcasting or items spackled over, regardless of what the mental/social stats on their sheet said. Sometimes the character was Axebeard MacAleHammer and the Scottish dial was cranked up 15%, or they were 10% more haughty as "Elfy le Elfbow", but the goal was always "win the adventure". If the rules were in their favor, they use them. If not, they "get creative" and avoid engaging with the rules of the game. Power Metagaming if you will.

I've never seen a grognard knowingly spring a trap or make the wrong decision because that's what their character would do. They don't play interestingly flawed characters. You know the scene in Pan's Labyrinth where the little girl eats the grape from the monsters table and all hell breaks loose? I've never seen an old skooler who would voluntarily make that choice. For all the pontificating about roleplaying, the characters they choose to portray are from a really narrow spectrum.
Ehren37, I’d eat the grape!
I’ve see plenty of interesting, deep and engaging characters played by players of all ages.
I’ve seen less interesting ones, also from players of all ages.

I’m sorry your experience has been otherwise, but I think terms like “a bunch of finger-wagging neckbeards” is verging on the offensive.
 

Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
Hah. Man I played since the 80s, went to cons in the 80's and 90's and it was ALL I saw. A bunch of finger wagging neckbeards all playing the exact same character, over and over: the professional adventure solver.
You’ve made your disdain for this particular subculture of gamers abundantly clear. I’m sure your preferred playstyle rubs some people the wrong way as well.

Perhaps, in the future, if you feel the need to share your viewpoint, you can do so in a less detailed & inflammatory manner? Just a suggestion.
 

Nefermandias

Adventurer
Rob Kuntz knew Gygax well, and could likely predict whether he was going to respond to a particular tactic Kuntz chose in any fashion that Kuntz would expect. So is that playing to the fiction or to the GM?
Is there really any difference in the end? Is there a real separation between DM and fiction? Between PC and player?

I think it's a fuzzy and interesting subject. Angry GM has a wonderful article on this, but I'm not sure if I can post links here.
 


Fanaelialae

Legend
Is there really any difference in the end? Is there a real separation between DM and fiction? Between PC and player?

I think it's a fuzzy and interesting subject. Angry GM has a wonderful article on this, but I'm not sure if I can post links here.
There certainly is.

Imagine if you and I were co-DMing a campaign together. Two players are given identical pre-gen PCs and assigned to one of us. We each go into a sealed room with our assigned play and run the same adventure for that player.

The PC and the initial fiction are the same, but do you have any realistic expectation that the emergent fiction will be the same? The emergent fiction will almost certainly differ, because you and I will probably make different calls, and the players will each make different choices for their (same) character.
 

Nefermandias

Adventurer
There certainly is.

Imagine if you and I were co-DMing a campaign together. Two players are given identical pre-gen PCs and assigned to one of us. We each go into a sealed room with our assigned play and run the same adventure for that player.

The PC and the initial fiction are the same, but do you have any realistic expectation that the emergent fiction will be the same? The emergent fiction will almost certainly differ, because you and I will probably make different calls, and the players will each make different choices for their (same) character.
Precisely!
That's because it's really impossible for you to completely remove yourself from the character you are playing. It's your human brain making the calls at the end of the day.
 

Fanaelialae

Legend
Precisely!
That's because it's really impossible for you to completely remove yourself from the character you are playing. It's your human brain making the calls at the end of the day.
Sure, I would agree with that. Although it's entirely possible for a player to make a choice for a character that they, themselves, would not have made (and would not have made if they were playing a different character).
 

Nefermandias

Adventurer
Sure, I would agree with that. Although it's entirely possible for a player to make a choice for a character that they, themselves, would not have made (and would not have made if they were playing a different character).
Yes, you are correct. That's why we see so much advice online on how making suboptimal choices on purpose can lead to "interesting" situations in game.

I might be on the minority when I straight up tell my players not to do it unless they are okay with the prospect of quick, gruesome death. I believe the story is more interesting when players try their beast to overcome the challenges laid in front of them. I also don't care about what people call "metagaming".
 
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