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D&D General In defence of Grognardism

You just described exactly why I consider the term problematic.

Mind you, I don't personally take issue with the term when used, although I'm able to comprehend why others do. It's why I use quotation marks when I refer to it (to denote that I am using terminology and distinguish it from the natural use of those words). I actually enjoy engaging in "skilled play", I just think that it's a bad, loaded term, and I would never refer to it that way outside of something like a D&D message board.

I don't know. I think it is just a handy term. Obviously you should use whatever terminology you are most comfortable with. I have never really encountered anyone taking issue with it outside a handful of discussions on this forum. To me it is just a positive descriptor. Lots of play styles use them because people are enthusiastic about their style and the terms they adopt early on usually reflect that. To me its only a problem if the people playing the style find it insulting. For example if people who like to optimize were adamant that power gaming was an insult and they didn't use it themselves I don't think I would use it to describe that style of play. However what I wouldn't do, is automatically a assume that a person who is describing their game as a 'power gaming style' in any way means my style must therefore be weak. I get that they are using the term to invoke a certain set of ideas and then they can explain specifically what they mean when they drill down. But power gaming, skilled play, optimization, people who play styles that place a premium on character agency, freedom to explore, etc, are just useful plain and simple English to describe a style. The advantage of them is they don't sound like overly academic or obtuse terms, which is why I prefer them. They just kind of cut to the heart of what the style is all about in a clear way (sometimes being playful with language----which I think there is nothing wrong with). I find what often happens when I enter these discussions is rather than even talk about the style we spend pages and pages dissecting the terms, and once those terms are dissected and taken away, I just personally feel it is a lot harder to even try to convey what I mean anymore.
 

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I think its easy to miss that there are absolutely people who use "Skilled Play" in the judgmental way some people are reading it. So to suggest that the reader should be able to distinguish them automatically from people using it as a term of art is, I think,a bit much. As I said, you can not like that words have a connotational meaning in addition to a denotational one, but if so you've at least partly asked for a communication breakdown.
 



I utterly reject, and have rejected since its use in the hobby, the term Grognard as it relates to myself. As a designer I promote and recognize OD&D-tenants (and by extension other games & systems espousing its implicit philosophies) as a crucible for creative design trajectories far outstripping the games that preceded its advent, and that also allows, through its hands-on application, for manifesting Mastery paths. Thus, in hindsight and after many years of not caring to type "what I was in relation to design," I have since settled upon "Classicism" as a moniker cum "school", but this is hardly a holistic summary and I fear, due to persisting evolution, must remain so.
 

Marc Radle

Adventurer
I don't know. I think it is just a handy term. Obviously you should use whatever terminology you are most comfortable with. I have never really encountered anyone taking issue with it outside a handful of discussions on this forum. To me it is just a positive descriptor. Lots of play styles use them because people are enthusiastic about their style and the terms they adopt early on usually reflect that. To me its only a problem if the people playing the style find it insulting. For example if people who like to optimize were adamant that power gaming was an insult and they didn't use it themselves I don't think I would use it to describe that style of play. However what I wouldn't do, is automatically a assume that a person who is describing their game as a 'power gaming style' in any way means my style must therefore be weak. I get that they are using the term to invoke a certain set of ideas and then they can explain specifically what they mean when they drill down. But power gaming, skilled play, optimization, people who play styles that place a premium on character agency, freedom to explore, etc, are just useful plain and simple English to describe a style. The advantage of them is they don't sound like overly academic or obtuse terms, which is why I prefer them. They just kind of cut to the heart of what the style is all about in a clear way (sometimes being playful with language----which I think there is nothing wrong with). I find what often happens when I enter these discussions is rather than even talk about the style we spend pages and pages dissecting the terms, and once those terms are dissected and taken away, I just personally feel it is a lot harder to even try to convey what I mean anymore.

Just a friendly reminder … the return key is there to split long walls of text into paragraphs :)
 

nedjer

Adventurer
Old school, thou shalt make rulings.
New school, thou shalt apply rules.
College, rulings within the spirit of the rules.
 

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.
The term "skilled play" misses the mark because the alleged "player skill" relies almost entirely on the GM's subjective interpretation of the fictional world. Something that is "skillful" in the eyes of one GM might be considered foolhardy by another. As an example, let us say that a player wants to smoke out a goblin nest and drive the goblins out, so he purchases alchemist's fire, coal, and a hearty stash of logs. To one GM, this plan is brilliant; to another, the closed quarters of the cavern will quickly stifle the flames and could suffocate the players.

Rarely is "skilled play" discussed from the GM's perspective. "Skillful GMing" clarifies task/intent, telegraphs dangers and risks, and doesn't involve silly "gotcha!" traps that exist to instagib player characters. I recall reading one GM talking about a trap being a medusa's head in a chest and if the players were foolish enough to open the chest, they were instantly turned to stone without a save (as they could not avert their gaze in time). That's unskilled GMing and an example of badwrongfun OSR gaming, from my perspective. If the players are cool with it, fine, but I wouldn't play with a GM like that in the same way that I won't play with GMs who railroad or call for skill checks for every minor action the players take.
 

Mallus

Legend
The term "skilled play" misses the mark because the alleged "player skill" relies almost entirely on the GM's subjective interpretation of the fictional world. Something that is "skillful" in the eyes of one GM might be considered foolhardy by another.
"A bug to some. A feature to others!"

(say it out loud doing a Nicol Williamson impersonation)
 

GuyBoy

Adventurer
I utterly reject, and have rejected since its use in the hobby, the term Grognard as it relates to myself. As a designer I promote and recognize OD&D-tenants (and by extension other games & systems espousing its implicit philosophies) as a crucible for creative design trajectories far outstripping the games that preceded its advent, and that also allows, through its hands-on application, for manifesting Mastery paths. Thus, in hindsight and after many years of not caring to type "what I was in relation to design," I have since settled upon "Classicism" as a moniker cum "school", but this is hardly a holistic summary and I fear, due to persisting evolution, must remain so.
I’m not keen on the term either. Maybe I shouldn’t have used it in the original post, but I guess it carries recognition.
That said, I’m thinking back to 15 year old me, playing D&D in late 1970s and if someone had told me that 40 years on, I’d still be playing and communicating with Rob Kuntz in a discussion about that game, I’d be pretty enthralled.
Thanks for everything, Rob.
 

I’m not keen on the term either. Maybe I shouldn’t have used it in the original post, but I guess it carries recognition.
That said, I’m thinking back to 15 year old me, playing D&D in late 1970s and if someone had told me that 40 years on, I’d still be playing and communicating with Rob Kuntz in a discussion about that game, I’d be pretty enthralled.
Thanks for everything, Rob.
Well it was just my two coppers and the interjection was not meant as a condemnation of its use by you or others; I also oppose the OSR moniker. I am generally opposed to most labels and "groups" or "schools of thought", etc. I try to avoid calcification of thought that inevitably originates from such sectors; though I remain open to discourse on various creative subjects I am pretty assured of my views on the RPG industry, start to present. You are welcome. I'm just passin' through...
 

The term "skilled play" misses the mark because the alleged "player skill" relies almost entirely on the GM's subjective interpretation of the fictional world. Something that is "skillful" in the eyes of one GM might be considered foolhardy by another. As an example, let us say that a player wants to smoke out a goblin nest and drive the goblins out, so he purchases alchemist's fire, coal, and a hearty stash of logs. To one GM, this plan is brilliant; to another, the closed quarters of the cavern will quickly stifle the flames and could suffocate the players.

I thought a major component in skilled play was learning about/understanding/predicting the GM's interpretation of the fitional world? To figure out and use whatever method the GM thought was most effective? Or to convince them that your way works via fictional logic?
 

I thought a major component in skilled play was learning about/understanding/predicting the GM's interpretation of the fitional world? To figure out and use whatever method the GM thought was most effective? Or to convince them that your way works via fictional logic?
The majority of OSR gamers do not define it in that way, instead emphasizing "cleverness" and preparation. In practice the game becomes about as much as "playing the GM" as playing the game, which is an unfortunate byproduct as to this style of play.
 

Sacrosanct

Legend
Publisher
I thought a major component in skilled play was learning about/understanding/predicting the GM's interpretation of the fitional world? To figure out and use whatever method the GM thought was most effective? Or to convince them that your way works via fictional logic?

The majority of OSR gamers do not define it in that way, instead emphasizing "cleverness" and preparation. In practice the game becomes about as much as "playing the GM" as playing the game, which is an unfortunate byproduct as to this style of play.

I'm not saying that never happened of course, but IME, that's not how it was played out or what that term means. Maybe @Rob Kuntz can clarify the original intent, but in all of our games, we treated it differently. And how I publish my own OSR games, I defined it as thus:

Skilled play/player skill is utilizing the thinking of the player to come up with solutions to the various challenges they PC may encounter, rather than rely solely on a particular PC skill or die roll to determine the outcome. This manifests in ways that include but are not limited to:
  • Doing research into a particular area beforehand before setting off on the adventure. What kinds of monsters are there? Terrain? What kind of supplies do you need to gather. Resource management. E.g., if you are expecting undead, gather holy water. If lycanthropes, silver weapons and wolfsbane.
  • Proceeding with caution and searching with descriptive narration. This doesn't mean spending time between every encounter describing how you're searching for traps or secret doors, but describing how you'll proceed for the rest of the area up front one time. "Afarl will scout ahead 30 feet, moving half speed looking for traps and other hidden things, prodding head with his spear gently. If anything looks suspicious, he will toss a handful of pebbles in front of him first."
  • Analyzing encounters before engaging. Not every encounter needs to be fought, and not every encounter is going to be balanced to your party composition or level.
  • Describing how you approach that chest, which is not dependent on any particular class or skill your PC may have. Borgo the fighter can say, "I approach the chest from the side, and prod it with my spear and try to push it a little bit. if nothing happens, I'll tie a string to the latch and pull it up from behind, attempting to lift the lid from 15ft behind it." Or if it's locked after that, you describe how Borgo will use their crowbar to get leverage to pry the lock off. Again, this doesn't have be described every time, but just once going forward unless something about the scenario changes significantly.
  • Paying attention to and using the environment in the battle or challenge. Hallway that you see has dozens of holes along each side of the wall, signifying to you it's a trap? Fireball down there and stand clear. Overturn tables for cover. Light oil patches funneling monsters the way you want. Things like that.

IME, the DM isn't the opponent of the players. It's a social game where everyone is there to have fun; it's not a competition. As a DM, I enjoy it just as much as the players when they come up with a great and clever idea.
 

I'm not saying that never happened of course, but IME, that's not how it was played out or what that term means. Maybe @Rob Kuntz can clarify the original intent, but in all of our games, we treated it differently. And how I publish my own OSR games, I defined it as thus:

Skilled play/player skill is utilizing the thinking of the player to come up with solutions to the various challenges they PC may encounter, rather than rely solely on a particular PC skill or die roll to determine the outcome. This manifests in ways that include but are not limited to:
  • Doing research into a particular area beforehand before setting off on the adventure. What kinds of monsters are there? Terrain? What kind of supplies do you need to gather. Resource management. E.g., if you are expecting undead, gather holy water. If lycanthropes, silver weapons and wolfsbane.
  • Proceeding with caution and searching with descriptive narration. This doesn't mean spending time between every encounter describing how you're searching for traps or secret doors, but describing how you'll proceed for the rest of the area up front one time. "Afarl will scout ahead 30 feet, moving half speed looking for traps and other hidden things, prodding head with his spear gently. If anything looks suspicious, he will toss a handful of pebbles in front of him first."
  • Analyzing encounters before engaging. Not every encounter needs to be fought, and not every encounter is going to be balanced to your party composition or level.
  • Describing how you approach that chest, which is not dependent on any particular class or skill your PC may have. Borgo the fighter can say, "I approach the chest from the side, and prod it with my spear and try to push it a little bit. if nothing happens, I'll tie a string to the latch and pull it up from behind, attempting to lift the lid from 15ft behind it." Or if it's locked after that, you describe how Borgo will use their crowbar to get leverage to pry the lock off. Again, this doesn't have be described every time, but just once going forward unless something about the scenario changes significantly.
  • Paying attention to and using the environment in the battle or challenge. Hallway that you see has dozens of holes along each side of the wall, signifying to you it's a trap? Fireball down there and stand clear. Overturn tables for cover. Light oil patches funneling monsters the way you want. Things like that.

IME, the DM isn't the opponent of the players. It's a social game where everyone is there to have fun; it's not a competition. As a DM, I enjoy it just as much as the players when they come up with a great and clever idea.
Pretty much; and there's still a lot of latitude to be considered with it all and what could be added. I have no clue what the op meant by "playing the DM". DMs are neutral, and humans being humans they will always be seeking advantage, even in today's 5E RPG. Being clever and resourceful were encouraged in our games and we even gave extra experience points to promote such trends when they occurred; and even though players were attempting to discern (again, being human) and penetrate DM cloaking devices (with Gary and me, mostly poker faces and dead pan looks), that's just part of the social game scene. Of course we as DMs played the PC's opponents to their hilt as was possible/probable for any one of them under differing/ranged circumstances, but there was no antagonism between DM<>Players, unless, of course. they started drinking all the beer...
 

I'm not saying that never happened of course, but IME, that's not how it was played out or what that term means. Maybe @Rob Kuntz can clarify the original intent, but in all of our games, we treated it differently. And how I publish my own OSR games, I defined it as thus:

Skilled play/player skill is utilizing the thinking of the player to come up with solutions to the various challenges they PC may encounter, rather than rely solely on a particular PC skill or die roll to determine the outcome.

Well skilled play means lot of different things apparently. Sadly, some people are bound to get it wrong...
 
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Pretty much; and there's still a lot of latitude to be considered with it all and what could be added. I have no clue what the op meant by "playing the DM". DMs are neutral, and humans being humans they will always be seeking advantage, even in today's 5E RPG.

The problem is true neutrality is a fiction. Every GM is going to carry around his own set of biases, perceptions and other individual expectations, and when you don't have mechanics to base your decisions on, its all too easy for it to become about basing decisions on your understanding of those biases, perceptions and expectations rather than what you actually think should work in-world. Because in practice, the first will get things done and the second, well, won't.

With some GMs these two may be congruent enough that its not a big deal, but to assume they will seems, well, a stretch.
 

I agree with all of this, and I believe this is the intent behind the conception of player skill. This is also how I treat things in my games. The theory and practice of systems are different. There's the ideal, and then there's the real-world application, and the latter is naturally flawed (spherical cows and all that). In the same way that GMs handing out "awesome points" (or any other metacurrency for roleplaying) usually results in them being "make the GM laugh" points.

Player skill shouldn't be invalidated or eschewed from the hobby; instead, GMs should be mindful of the potential errors in execution.
 

The problem is true neutrality is a fiction. Every GM is going to carry around his own set of biases, perceptions and other individual expectations, and when you don't have mechanics to base your decisions on, its all too easy for it to become about basing decisions on your understanding of those biases, perceptions and expectations rather than what you actually think should work in-world. Because in practice, the first will get things done and the second, well, won't.

With some GMs these two may be congruent enough that its not a big deal, but to assume they will seems, well, a stretch.
Not mine, Arneson's nor Gary's experience, in games preceding RPGs nor during the play-tests or afterwards. The solemn and sacred rule of impartial adjudication goes back centuries in games and I will stand with that history and mode rather than theorizing upon the intricacies of bias, which in turn would dismiss that history along with the entire worldwide playground movement as well. YMMV.
 

Not mine, Arneson's nor Gary's experience, in games preceding RPGs nor during the play-tests or afterwards. The solemn and sacred rule of impartial adjudication goes back centuries in games and I will stand with that history and mode rather than theorizing upon the intricacies of bias, which in turn would dismiss that history along with the entire worldwide playground movement as well. YMMV.

Rob, I mean no offense when I say this, but people are really good at seeing what they want to see. I've seen people make exactly the same claims who, when observed from outside, had understanding of elements of reality that were counterfactual. Sometimes they got challenged on this (because they had people in their games that understood the reality of, say, swimming, better than they did) sometimes they didn't. Sometimes they accepted the challenge, sometimes they rejected it.

The fact someone assures me that they're neutral and did their best here does not really tell me a thing about how true that is (and it can absolutely be they believe its so and still have it not be so).
 

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