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D&D General On Grognardism...

Sabathius42

Bree-Yark
With the relative lack of 5e mechanics to discuss, there is (from my perspective) more of a trend this edition for Enworld discussions to be focused on more general D&D and RPG topics versus character build and rules parsing.

Among the majority of these general discussions are many threads involving the OSR, desire for things to not change from the past, and discussions on making your 5e game not feel like 5e.

I have been involved with D&D since the early 80s. I was the right demographic to watch the cartoon, I had the action figures , I had the choose-your-own-adventures, and I stole my brothers BECMI box sets out of his closet. I distinctly remember putting the 3 ring bound Basic book in my Trapper Keeper to try to read in 4th grade, although my knowledge of the rules was lacking, I absorbed that book like none other.

I didn't actually play RPGs properly until High School, the late 80s. There we had campaigns of every sort....2e D&D among others. This is when I learned how to actually play an RPG and then run them.

High School turned to young adulthood and 3e rolled in. I was super excited to see something NEW. I recruited some work friends and started a group to play it. Since then we have been gaming with the same core group up until today. During that time we have no ed from 3, to 4, to 5e. We have tried other systems. My favorite RPG of all time, Torg, has seen a complete reboot. We dip our toes into what's new and keep an eye out for what's next.

There are systems I like more than others. There are systems that everyone loved, and others that nobody really cared much for (DragonAge), and others in between. One thing that sta ds out to me however, is that we can find some nuggets of worth in most games and our game choice is as much a case of trying something new as it is mastering the old.

So this brings me to the grognards of Enworld. I am always baffled at the sheet amount of words in support of RPG gaming having peaked sometime in the late 70s, with no system since that time being in overall comparison sake "better" for them.

I don't really have a question, but more of an invitation for discussion. If you think RPG design peaked in the late 70s, what about that design speaks to you so strongly?

I do have a lot of nostalgia for that Basic rulebook I had in the early 80s, but having played the game compared to a modem design my admiration for that system is entirely based on the nostalgia it represents. Descending AC, wizards with one spell a day and 4hp, puzzles mixing real world knowledge with character problem solving and "beating the adventure" versus "telling a good story" all are things I avoid in 2021.
 

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Stormonu

Legend
I’ve been around D&D ever since the opening of the 80’s (and I forgot about keeping my 3-hole punched B/X books in my Trapper Keeper), but I haven’t stagnated on game design. To be truthful, my favorite system is probably Savage Worlds, with D&D a close second (though I own way more D&D stuff of various ages).

I’m constantly digging through my old books for ideas and stuff I want to bring forward, not the other way around. I wouldn’t mind going back and running a 2E game, but I’m actually happy with 5E.

If anything, there are times that I feel 5E stopped short, for the sake of player simplicity and I’d like to add some quasi-simulationist aspects back, or at least broaden opens or fill in gaps I perceive - for example, decoupling sorcerous heritages/sources and subclasses.

When I do look back at that old material, it’s with an eye of the memories of those days in the entirety. Not just what was going on in the game itself, but the movies, music and life experiences I underwent back in that time. For myself, I’m trying to capture some of that feeling that made me happy and excited to be playing D&D - something I know I’ll never be able to capture, but want it there like a cozy ol‘ teddy bear that’s proof against the storm of the world around me.
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
I've been playing since Red Box Basic, and while for me 5e is the version of D&D I want to play now, that doesn't mean that each edition didn't have it's own feels and strengths and catered to different gamers - or even the same gamer at different points in their life. For example now I play after work every other week, vs. the regular 10-14 hour marathons we'd put in weekly in high school. But when I had that much time to devote, I was into system mastery and crunchier systems. Other editions would have better scratched that itch. My most "formative" years were AD&D 2nd, where giant interlocking campaigns and heavy drama RP really shaped my desires in an RPG. But that belies the simpler pleasure of earlier editions where we'd run multiple characters each because we didn't know enough players (and the internet literally didn't exist yet) and we played the game like chess - a deadly game where you really needed to work out optimal strategies just to survive, much less thrive. I remember fondly dungeon and dungeon full of traps and encounters, and it wasn't until years later did we start to worry about the ecology of them and that it made sense and was sustainable. Instead we focused purely on the challenge and threat, and overcoming them. Strongly conflating player fun with character success at the time, something foreign to me now where failure is another fork in the narrative.

Can we say that the nature of the mechanics has pretty much generally improved over time? Sure. But that doesn't mean that each edition didn't have it's own feel and that different people will each have their own favored feels.
 

Sacrosanct

Legend
Publisher
As a described grognard myself (played AD&D as my go-to game from 1981 to 2012, skipping 3e and 4e), the things that appealed to me the most about early D&D were rulings over rules, easy to modify to your own preferences, speed of play, lethality (sense of danger) and the emphasis on creating your own gameworlds and adventures.

I don't think it "Peaked" in the late 70s, but that style of play has an appeal to me, and it's not just nostalgia. As I mention in the preface of the OSR project I'm working on:

"I firmly believe that just because an edition may be newer (even if it does a lot of great things), that it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to be a better experience for everyone, and thus I honestly feel like there is room in the modern gaming world to enjoy an old school style of game play and to give gamers that option."
 

HJFudge

Explorer
So this brings me to the grognards of Enworld. I am always baffled at the sheet amount of words in support of RPG gaming having peaked sometime in the late 70s, with no system since that time being in overall comparison sake "better" for them.

I don't really have a question, but more of an invitation for discussion. If you think RPG design peaked in the late 70s, what about that design speaks to you so strongly?

So if I may take a stab at this? Forgive me if I am out of line, since I am not a grognard by anyones definition or stretch of the imagination, but even for me there is a draw, a spark, a certain something that the old old old style of D&D and the old old old system produces that draws me to it.

Perhaps it is the openness of it, the roughness. The feeling one gets when viewing an unfinished map, looking at the edges and knowing that 'Here there be dragons'. The systems do not make for the most mechanically smart and snappy games, but this actually encourages in a weird way a focus on developing things that work for your table and also a focus more on the adventure aspect in a way that modern D&D does not.

3e, 4e, 5e...all to varying degrees have very mechanically 'modern' styles of combat and it increases the focus on combat in ways subtle and unsubtle. The unwieldy nature of much of the older system, how clunky it was in combat, how deadly, etc actually encourages a very different style of game at the actual table, drawing away from the focus on high adventure high adrenaline combat.

Don't get me wrong. If I have to choose, I pick the more modern way most days. However there is a certain style that the older system lends itself to and if you enjoy that style then...well, if it aint broke why fix it?
 

kenada

Legend
Supporter
I grew up in the ’80s, but my first D&D was 3e. I got into it when the the D&D college tour came through town. I still have the MGAOSU flyer from the event and tat they gave out at the tent. My group has changed over the years, but I still play with a couple of people I met from that time.

We played 3e for a few years then transitioned over to 3.5e. That first group used a mix of AD&D and 3e rules, which I didn’t know at the time because I only had passing experience with AD&D via Baldur’s Gate (which I did not understand very well). As we migrated, we got more “pure” in our approach to 3.5e. Eventually, my friends and I broke off into our own group from the main one.

We’ve tried and played other RPGs over the years. We gave 4e a try. I think I’m the only one in my group who was okay with it. One of my players considers 3e the “true D&D”, and everything since is “not D&D”. After we bounced off 4e (and shed some problematic players), we invited some new people and switched over to Pathfinder. In a sense, we’ve been playing some version of 3e for almost twenty years.

We gave 5e a try. It was okay, but people were lukewarm on it. We tried Pathfinder 2e, but I burnt out on it. I’d discovered Grognardia many years ago, and it was influential on my style even though I wasn’t willing to go “full old-school” at the time we were starting Pathfinder 1e. I liked the idea of having dungeons as interesting environments. I wanted to do more stuff like that. As I burnt out on PF2, I found myself just not wanting to deal with a lot of the “modern” mechanics.

There are some elements of newer editions I’ve come to dislike. I don’t like how DCs have been inflated, especially when they track with the PCs’ levels (more egregious in some editions than others). It negates progress and adds pointless work for the GM (not matter how trivial it may be). I don’t like that combat is presumed what happens when you get into an encounter. I found myself grafting procedures from OSE onto my PF2 game, and when I burnt out, I finally got up the courage to pitch a switch. I knew people had some bad experiences with AD&D (“I can’t wait to be a magic user with 1 hit point.”), so I’d hesitated before that.

It’s not that newer editions of D&D are bad per se. It just doesn’t support the kind of game I want to run out of the box (exploration-driven, typically sandboxy). I have to add procedures to make it do what I want, but I’m also still stuck with the other mechanics I don’t. It’s easier just to use the system that does what I want. If we want to explore what it’s like to survive together in a horrible world, we’ll play Apocalypse World. If we want to be part of a crew and try to make enough cred to retire before we die, we’ll play Scum and Villainy. If we want to go treasure hunting in dangerous environments and for player skill to matter more than what’s on our character sheets, we’ll play Old-School Essentials.

Update: But there are some things from newer editions I brought back into OSE. We’re using the separate race rules from the advanced fantasy genre rules, and we’re using ascending AC because that’s what we’re all used to using (though the character sheet I put together supports ascending AC together with the attack matrix). We also don’t roll 3d6 in order (using the card method in order with 334455677899 as the deck). PCs start with max hit points at 1st level, and players can choose between taking the average (rounded down) or rolling when they level up (a house rule I used in PF1).
 
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el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
I fall in the camp of gamer since the early 80s, who with each iteration of the game (skipping 4E), I have tried to hold on to some elements of previous editions because I liked them. This was esp. the case with 3E. With 5E, I feel like I need to do this less.

But it does not only work in that direction. Me and my friends may have not liked 4E but we did steal/adapt a version of Second Wind for our 3.xE game, for example.

I also think that the majority of "problems" pointed out on these boards, with current or even former editions, have a lot more to do with our obsession than the games themselves. Most of the people I have played D&D with don't really care about the nitty-gritty of the rules. In my current 'newbie' group, even the person playing a ranger does not care about what rangers can do or not do or how they work compared to other classes (the current topic du jour) because she is having fun immersed in the game they are engaging with as are the other players.
 

Sacrosanct

Legend
Publisher
Update: But there are some things from newer editions I brought back into OSE. We’re using the separate race rules from the advanced fantasy genre rules, and we’re using ascending AC because that’s what we’re all used to using (though the character sheet I put together supports ascending AC together with the attack matrix). We also don’t roll 3d6 in order (using the card method in order with 334455677899 as the deck). PCs start with max hit points at 1st level, and players can choose between taking the average (rounded down) or rolling when they level up (a house rule I used in PF1).

Oh, absolutely. That OSR project I just mentioned I'm working on? Just a few paragraphs down I mention:

"As an OSR clone, the mission statement of this game is to remain true to the feel and playstyle of the TSR era gaming when appropriate and doesn’t conflict with the goal of this project. Therefore, the changes herein are more than just flavor and presentation; there are some mechanical changes as well to reflect a more modern and inclusive game. Essentially, Chromatic Dungeons takes the old school rules and applies the past 40 years of play experience and lessons learned."

So yes, I firmly agree that you can go backwards or forwards to apply certain things while also retaining the experience and feel for the era you want.
 

jgsugden

Legend
It isn't the rules that most Grognard's remember with fondness - the 5E rules are almost universally superior to all prior editions. It was the environment.

There was no internet. There were no countless forums, tweets, etc... resolving rules issues. People did not spend 2 hours a day discussingt he game on the internet. They read the books. They occasionally referenced them, and they played. They interpreted vague rules. They made up new rules to path holes in the rules. The DM was the authority on the game. The players in the group and the DM formed the universe of the game, without concern that sage advice made a different recommendation on interpretation of the rules. It was intimate.

All information flowed downhill. The books (and Dragon Magazine) gave us the rules, the DM interpreted them, and the players accepted them (sometimes with feedback, but it was all being determined within the group).

I think it is similar to the difference between owning your own small business and working for a massive corporation. It is either all about your little world, or it is part of something massive - but that something massive leaves you far less control and ownership.

I think those of us that thrived in that early era still carry more of that individuality into our games with Homebrew monsters, homebrew spells variant rules, and deeper storytelling. We had 10 to 20 years training at it before the internet trained us away from it.
 

billd91

Hobbit on Quest (he/him)
I've been playing for 40 years (and have also played war games like Panzer Leader and Panzer Blitz (the first one I actually bought) as well as Advanced Squad Leader and Advanced Third Reich). I even grumble about some newer stuff as an old geezer. So I feel grognard is a label that can, in some ways, fit.
And I really enjoy 5e. In fact, I think it effing fixes some of the ways D&D spun off its track in the 3e/4e days by squelching some of the bloated math, expected wealth/gear, and capping stats while still delivering a fun and better designed set of mechanics than the early (A)D&D days.
That said, there are definitely some aspects of the game that I consider important to the core experience (sacred cows, if you wish) and where I think replacing them would undermine the shared experience of playing D&D too much. Some of them may be proud nails and I'm OK with that. Removing too many of them just leads me to ask "Do you really want to play D&D, or just a tangentially-related fantasy RPG?" I recognize that everyone has different criteria for this and some of the OSR people just have a longer list than I do - and my list is longer than a 4e fans' would be. But for me, 5e is hitting a pretty sweet spot between the list of divine bovines and innovations and I'm not turning in my grognard card.
 

Also a gamer that started in the 80s here, though I don't call myself a grognard. One thing I will say about my observations of D&D from the late 70s (and to an extent, into the early 80s), is that it was much less codified. While there will always be a gonzo element to D&D, I think back then there were fewer defined ideas as to what fantasy was, and what gaming was. You would see adventures where androids would show up from another planet, or a laser gun could be found in the lich's tomb. There would be a tavern in the middle of a dungeon, or a surface tavern might have a minotaur for a bartender. You could just as easily run across some treacherous hobb...err, halflings as a band of goblins.

Would I say it's better? No, just different.
 

Sacrosanct

Legend
Publisher
It isn't the rules that most Grognard's remember with fondness - the 5E rules are almost universally superior to all prior editions. It was the environment.

There was no internet. There were no countless forums, tweets, etc... resolving rules issues. People did not spend 2 hours a day discussingt he game on the internet. They read the books. They occasionally referenced them, and they played. They interpreted vague rules. They made up new rules to path holes in the rules. The DM was the authority on the game. The players in the group and the DM formed the universe of the game, without concern that sage advice made a different recommendation on interpretation of the rules. It was intimate.

All information flowed downhill. The books (and Dragon Magazine) gave us the rules, the DM interpreted them, and the players accepted them (sometimes with feedback, but it was all being determined within the group).

I think it is similar to the difference between owning your own small business and working for a massive corporation. It is either all about your little world, or it is part of something massive - but that something massive leaves you far less control and ownership.

I think those of us that thrived in that early era still carry more of that individuality into our games with Homebrew monsters, homebrew spells variant rules, and deeper storytelling. We had 10 to 20 years training at it before the internet trained us away from it.
If you wanted to yell at Skip Williams or Kim Mohan for how they clarified a rule in DRAGON, you couldn't do it via Tweet instantly. You had to wait 2 months to mail a letter, them to get it, them to respond it, and the next issue to come out ;)

Yeah, we're the generation of 6-8 week delivery, none of this "2 day PRIME shipping" stuff :p .
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
So this brings me to the grognards of Enworld. I am always baffled at the sheet amount of words in support of RPG gaming having peaked sometime in the late 70s, with no system since that time being in overall comparison sake "better" for them.

For some folks, that original way of doing things really does work spectacularly. And it is awesome that they found a thing they love that much.

Edit to add: I've been playing long enough to know that originally "grognard" referred to those that came to D&D through the wargame roots, but not long enough to actually be a grognard by that definition.
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
I think the operative term here might be skilled play. There's something different about stripping away a lot of layers of rules and letting player creativity and sheer bloody mindedness take the lead. IMO, current OSR games donthis better than the original did anyway, so that's cool. For me it's just one kind of gaming I enjoy amongst many.
 
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I think the number of people who genuinely think old (or OSR rules) are written better than 5E rules is very small. Because ...welll... they aren't.

But they do support a very different play process/experience. And some people enjoy that.

A typewriter will never be as efficient and versatile a writing tool as a laptop. But it will have an unmistakable tactility to it and produce hardcopy at the end. Is that better?

It depends on what you value.
 

D1Tremere

Adventurer
It isn't the rules that most Grognard's remember with fondness - the 5E rules are almost universally superior to all prior editions. It was the environment.

There was no internet. There were no countless forums, tweets, etc... resolving rules issues. People did not spend 2 hours a day discussingt he game on the internet. They read the books. They occasionally referenced them, and they played. They interpreted vague rules. They made up new rules to path holes in the rules. The DM was the authority on the game. The players in the group and the DM formed the universe of the game, without concern that sage advice made a different recommendation on interpretation of the rules. It was intimate.

All information flowed downhill. The books (and Dragon Magazine) gave us the rules, the DM interpreted them, and the players accepted them (sometimes with feedback, but it was all being determined within the group).

I think it is similar to the difference between owning your own small business and working for a massive corporation. It is either all about your little world, or it is part of something massive - but that something massive leaves you far less control and ownership.

I think those of us that thrived in that early era still carry more of that individuality into our games with Homebrew monsters, homebrew spells variant rules, and deeper storytelling. We had 10 to 20 years training at it before the internet trained us away from it.
I think this post is really what I see when people discuss old vs. new D&D (or perhaps RPGs in general). It isn't that the game has changed. All of the things this poster describes can still be electively engaged in. The difference is that now people need to choose this course, where previously it was mandatory. Many people who played in the old days grew older, and grew tired of DM power trips, forced home-brew worlds, one group being the only game in town, and other aspects that come along with being in a niche hobby at that particular time in history.
Now people have options, voices, and many paths to their own desired play. That removes the necessity to put up with a lot of the childish narcissism that I remember from my early days. That is not to say that there is anything wrong with games that place the DM as an antagonist, emphasize home-brew worlds/rules, or restrict authority to the DM alone. It is just that one should see this type of game as an option, not as a prison. Modern games are more about a shift in audience and norms than rules.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
So this brings me to the grognards of Enworld. I am always baffled at the sheet amount of words in support of RPG gaming having peaked sometime in the late 70s, with no system since that time being in overall comparison sake "better" for them.

I don't really have a question, but more of an invitation for discussion. If you think RPG design peaked in the late 70s, what about that design speaks to you so strongly?
In very broad-brush terms, I'd say it's that in early design much more of the mechanical side was - or seemed to be - handled by the DM where in later design (with 3e being the tipping point) they've been more and more shifted on to the players. This takes away from a certain sense of mystery which, when I first started playing, I really liked.

Add in an increasing amount and complexity in said mechanics*, and it stops being fun at some point.

As a player, I don't want this. As a DM, I'm happy to deal with the mechanics side of things and thus take that off my players' plates.

* - simple example: the length of time and amount of decision-making it takes to roll up a character in each edition.
 

Campbell

Legend
Can we say that the nature of the mechanics has pretty much generally improved over time?

I'm the last person anyone would accuse of being a grognard, but I do not think that's really true. I do not see a general trend of D&D design improving over time. I think 5e is a decent game and definitely a huge improvement over 3e and basically a side grade vis a vis 4e. I basically consider 3e and 2e downgrades over their predecessor. I think the B/X branch is probably the best designed iteration from either TSR or Wizards.
 

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