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D&D General On Grognardism...

Looking purely at mechanics and not the repercussions of the playstyle they cause, 5e is definitely the best edition. Looking at the implications of what the rules are doing in pre-WOTC editions and not the wonkiness of the mechanics themselves, 1e and/or Basic (depending on your crunch preference) is the best.
 

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Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
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.
OSR rules aren't uniformly the same as the old rules eh? Some of those rules sets are slick. Just saying...
 

Campbell

Legend
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.
I would argue that Moldvay was much more clear and provided consistent instructions. Still Old School Essentials and Worlds Without Number put both texts to shame.
 

Democratus

Adventurer
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.
Well said.

I think 5th edition is the second-best version of D&D made, after B/X (we currently use Old School Essentials, which is a simple re-formatting of B/X).

I've played every version since the white box and have managed to have fun with every one. But as far as rules goes, 5e is the cleanest rule set since B/X. And that's a good thing in my book.
 

jgsugden

Legend
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.
That was insulting and narrow minded. Equating homebrew to a DM power trip is ridiculous. Was George RR Martin on a power trip because Westeros is not Middle Earth? No - D&D is a role playing game. Characters play a role in a story. Stories are creative. If you're just rehashing the same thing everybody else is doing, you're missing out on most of the fun of the game.

I'm sorry you had bad experiences, but both as a player and a DM, your apocalyptic description of the 'old ways' is ridiculously off base.

Just think about it - a campaign setting that is homebrew with homebrew spells and homebrew monsters - that is Exandria of Critical Role fame. Do you think the people applauding the game Matt Mercer runs feel it is a DM power trip? Do his players feel forced to play in his world? Do his players seem to not have a voice?
 

Gorg

Explorer
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.
And thank Reorx for it! Those endless rules arguments, and the hard headed pedantry that was usually a big part of them were annoying af! (not just Enworld, I'm a long time D&D message board junkie, lol I've read more than enough of those threads...)

The "build" threads were mostly from after I'd more or less stopped playing (life happened...), and I'm grateful I never got the bellyfull of powergamers and optimizers so many others have! The threads WERE around during my 3E days, I just paid them little attention- I was always about PLAYING the game as the game. Building characters was just something you did so you could play- not the purpose of the game itself.

I think that, in a nutshell, is the source of my grognardism. Later editions of the game seemed to shift focus away from the fantasy mideval swords n sorcery/ epic adventure "thing" that's the heart of what draws me to the game, and more towards a rules heavy, persnickety tactical wargame simulator. Complete with drawn out combats, player turns that were so complicated and took so long, people's attention started to wander- and endless rules arguments.

And, of course, a more video gamey feel, and change just for the sake of it.

Don't get me wrong- I LOVED 3E! Precisely because it went with a YES, you CAN!! model, and a single, unified system-rather than the arbitrary restriction just because; with different mechanics for everything model. It was, more or less, our old homebrew rules- with cool new additions that came from 20+ years of playtesting. It did, however, have it's warts- like the constant rules arguments during combat. (attacks of opportunity seemed to be the worst offender, as in what triggered one)

We missed the vast majority of the things everyone kvetched about, because we played it just like we always did. Not having any players interested in creating uber-characters, or abusing the hell out of the rules helped, too. (I can't remember ANYONE ever using Haste, for example, much less abusing it)

We missed 3.5 and 4E entirely.

Which brings us to 5E. Frankly, I love this edition, too. It hearkens back to the rules lite feel of early D&D, heck it's nearly B/X like, lol. We're JUST getting into actually playing it, so threads discussing a possible 6E are like WHOA, Bubba- not so fast!!

I just want D&D to remain D&D. It's own specific game. Many of the proposed changes I've read people asking for over the years have been akin to wanting D&D to "Be more like XYZ Game" If I wanted that experience, I'd play THAT game. To that end, I believe that a certain amount of grognarding and gatekeeping are necessary to keep the train from jumping the tracks. That way new players can have that same sort of experience we did when first introduced.
 

Gorg

Explorer
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.
Wow- Panzer Leader!! I haven't heard about that game since the early 80's!
 

tetrasodium

Legend
Supporter
I might have played one brief game of d&d in the early 80s when I was barely out of diapers & may or may not have finished character creation then in the early 90s one of us got a job working with a relative & bought the redbox+ad&d stuff at waldenbooks or something as that was the closest thing to a game store in the area. We devoured them & played a few games before picking up 3.5 books. Both of those systems had areas they were objectively poor at (especially late in their cycle) but they also had areas they handled very well.

Having played in those older editions it's easy to see the parts 5e half pulled forward that left out the other half to complete it in the name of simplicity (ie mounts without armor speed penalties that made them very desirable)& the areas 5e just deemed badwrongfun by coding against as much as possible like the tactical components.
 

There is more and more reason to clash.

People know more precisely what that like for their games : optimizing, role play, sand box, gritty realism, low magic, high magic, and so on.

People have played many editions, 1, 2, 3.5, 4, 5 and many other games. The more you have play the more chance you got the know what you like and how to get it.

Does this make people more grognard? I don’t think so. People are more quick to dismantle any new edition, supplement or wonderful idea. The grognard effect may rise when poster don’t realize they talk about opposite aspects of the game when challenging a new topic.
 


Gorg

Explorer
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.
TOTALLY off topic here, but your post reminded me of something I experienced a year or two ago.

My friends and I were in Buffalo, NY touring the museum ships there. Among other things, this museum has a WWII Destroyer, a WW II Submarine, and a WW II Cruiser that commissioned too late to see any actual combat, and ended up being rebuilt from the main deck up as one of the first guided missile cruisers ever.

While going through the submarine- the USS Croaker- I happened upon a fairly young father and his 9-10 yr old son. They were in the Bridge area, looking at all the controls for driving the boat. The young boy simply did not understand what he was looking at- analog dials, levers, and wheels, lol. I got a kick out of listening to his dad try to explain their purpose, and how they were used. The utter lack of the digital computer technology he grew up with just boggled his mind!

That's when it struck me: These ships were designed in the late 1930's- using nothing more than paper, pencils, protractors, slide rules, and solid engineering knowlege. And they were built in the very early 1940s using methods and machinery far older than that! These vessels are incredible feats of engineering, and building- and we built them way back then, and used them to do incredibly epic things with crews as young as 16 or 17!!

If you have the opportunity, go on one of these tours of a Museum ship. Worth every penny!

Anyhow, yeah, I know what you mean about the tactile feel thing vs modern digital feel. They are two very different experiences.
 

I have been on that tour! I loved going on the Croaker. I loved the sample doorway in the waiting line with the sign (paraphrased) "If you cannot move through this, do not go on this tour."

And "Space was so tight, nobody could take a shower until the food stored in the shower itself was eaten."

I can be impressed with the genius and inventiveness of something built - literally or metaphorically - with outdated tools, without thinking that the outdated tools themselves are necessarily better.
 

Jack Daniel

Engines & Empires
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.

I've been pondering this question for years and I still don't know if I have a good answer for it.

For what it's worth: I started gaming in the 90s with Classic D&D and then AD&D 2nd edition, and of course my friends and I switched to 3rd and then 3.5 as soon as those came out. And the way we played was very story-driven, a bit railroady, lots of illusionism and making everything up on the fly, and very much all about play-acting a persona (with zero concern for player agency). As far as any of us knew or cared, that's what D&D was, and other ways of playing were for stuffy old grognards who didn't know any better. We were having a blast turning our LotR- and Final Fantasy-inspired unwritten fantasy novels into linear, tightly-plotted campaigns that (much like a Final Fantasy game) had a definite end-point where you saved the world from the BBEG once and for all, and then that setting was never revisited in a sequel campaign ever again. Because what would be the point? That world had already been saved by its Big Damn Heroes, so its story was over.

In college, I kept playing 3.5, but the complexity of the system eventually started to weigh on me. I never found a new group that naturally "gelled" into the same improv-heavy style as my high-school friends. All the new players I met seemed overly concerned with builds and char-op, and none of them cared about play-acting or in-character banter or even talking with an accent. So, I figured, the system must be getting in the way of the real role-playing. I sought simpler alternatives. I switched to Castles & Crusades, then went back to 2nd edition, and finally back to Classic D&D. (This was still a little bit before the OSR was gearing up to become a thing.) I stuck with Classic D&D because of a combination of nostalgia for the system that I'd started with and the sheer simplicity of the rules. They seemed to work for me. They got out of the way, which was good. Players couldn't "build" or "munchkin" anything, which was good. And on top of that, the OSR started happening, which meant that the rules I was using suddenly and conveniently had a lot of support again, which was straight-up awesome!

But I was still trying to use those rules in service of stories and plots, and I continued to be baffled by (A) a lot of what I still considered to be useless old-school "cruft," like descending AC or racial level limits or awarding XP for treasure, and (B) the fact that most players still did not naturally slide into a pattern of in-character role-play where they would engage with each other, riff, banter, improvise dialog, and so forth. I kept up with all the OSR blogs, but I resisted implementing OSR ideas because I was still thoroughly immersed in a "trad gaming" culture and mindset. At the same time, I grew increasingly disheartened by the fact that the players around me appeared to have no real inclination to do any in-character improv unprompted. They'd talk in character to interact with NPCs, but that was the extent of it; otherwise, they would only engage with the game mechanically, mainly through combat. I started to feel that without having exactly the right group of players, all of whom were on board with the same style, RPGs were an exercise in pointless futility.

And then things changed.

Due to a confluence of circumstances, I wound up living in the same city as my younger brother, and out of the blue, he asked me to run a campaign for him and his college buddies. The only gaming book I had in my possession at the time was my D&D Rules Cyclopedia, so I used that. And I decided, what the hell, let's play it straight, by the book, RAW. Stock the dungeon according to the algorithms and monster tables and treasure tables, award XP for treasure, just make the game be about exploring the dungeon. I didn't want to put too much effort into the prep, so I just used to the tools in the book, you know?

And when we started playing, well, it was like a damn lightning-bolt of epiphany. I started to get it for the first time. The sandbox concept clicked. It was just one piece of the puzzle, but it was a key first step. In the years that followed, more and more bits and pieces slid into place and just made sense: thinks like "dead at 0 hp" and level drain make sense in context. The restrictive and random character creation rules of old D&D make sense in context. The TSR old guard being skeptical (or even outright dismissive) of characters with too much backstory, or players detracting from the game by indulging in "amateur thespianism" even started to make sense. The point was the adventure, not a story or an ensemble of characters. And when you grok a game like that, a lot of other stuff (player agency, not fudging the dice, having a fully prepared sandbox setting as a foundation for open-world play) naturally follows. (It also probably helps that around this time I grew terribly bored with the linearity of Final Fantasy but also discovered The Elder Scrolls.)

Hell, even descending AC is pretty damn slick and convenient most of the time. I'm never going back to ascending AC, because it's silly to make players add double-digit numbers all night long when they can add single-digit numbers instead.

These days, I don't have much to do with the OSR (though I am grateful to the movement as a whole for helping to snap me out of my formerly benighted condition). I just play TSR D&D, so I have zero interest in the stuff the modern OSR churns out (like rules-light indie games, art books, and shock schlock). And I remain skeptical of the OSR's romantic and dogmatic ideas about how old D&D "really worked." I don't care about "rulings-not-rules" or pixel-bitching the dungeon instead of just rolling a search check. But I am very keenly interested in how the designers of D&D set up their early campaigns: I think that system matters; D&D is at its level best—it sings—when it accords with its original design intent; and a vital piece of that intent is the way early campaigns were structured (namely open tables with lots of players running lots of characters, something a bit like what's today called West Marches, but not really). Basically, I've discovered for myself through personal experience that:

• It's okay to let D&D be D&D. The TSR rules run RAW are really, really fun—and I had more fun running a pure dungeon-crawl than I'd ever had before running a plot-heavy campaign.
• In fact, it would be fair to say that I "grew out of" the narrative play-style.
• Dungeon-crawls (and open-world sandboxes) are very easy to prep and run using the old D&D rules, because the old D&D rules have tools that make these things easy. TSR D&D is inherently geared toward this play-style in a way that none of the WotC editions are.
• Stressing myself out over "real" role-playing was just a manifestation of what's now called the "tyranny of fun," and letting go of the desire to have thespianism at my table was the best thing that ever happened to my gaming. I now consider it perfectly cromulent to define role-playing as whatever we do when we play an RPG, including the dice-chuckin' and number-crunchin' and pokin' at squares with a 10' pole. If I hold myself to that broad and all-inclusive definition of role-playing, then it means players who just want to treat their character as a pawn or avatar or vehicle for self-insert are doing nothing wrong, and in some cases are even better able to experience the feeling of "having an adventure" (as opposed to being partial collaborator in authoring a story, which is quite a different feeling). Plus, this has the salubrious side-effect of discouraging players from taking thespianism too far (as anyone who has ever become annoyed with That Guy's bad Scottish accent based dwarf voice will readily comprehend).
• Which all leads to this: if the "point" if play isn't for the players to inhabit characters and for the group as a whole to collaboratively spin a grand story, it must be about something else. For me—for old-school D&D—the point is better expressed as the players experiencing the thrill of adventure, and the group as a whole building a persistent milieu (comprised of the DM's worldbuilding + the ambitious projects of the players' higher-level characters). The "fun" comes from the moment-to-moment tension and excitement of the "dangerous" parts of play (dungeon-crawl, hex-crawl, and combat), but also from the big-picture satisfaction of having built the fictional world into what it is. TSR D&D is, once again, well-equipped for this sort of play in a way that WotC D&D simply isn't.

Hopefully that wall of text goes at least some way to explaining where I'm coming from. It's not that game design "peaked" in the 70s. It's that the designers of 70s D&D knew what they wanted, built a game that did that, and if you want the same thing, 70s D&D will serve you well. If you want something else, a later edition was probably written precisely to cater to what you want, because early D&D lacked it.

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.

And "munchkin" originally meant anyone who didn't come to D&D through wargaming, so technically speaking, we're all just a buncha munchkins!
 
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Retreater

Legend
I started in the late 80s with AD&D 2e, and I've played every edition since. I went "back" to B/X only this year (by way of Old School Essentials). It's definitely different compared to being thrown into the deep end with AD&D to try to learn a system without a boxed set, basic rules for levels 1-3, decent starter adventures, etc. Had I started with BECMI, I'd likely have had an easier time learning the game, but likely one that was less focused on simulation, expanded character options, and wild campaign settings while I was writing my own adventures.
Going back to B/X, without the same nostalgia as many others on this board, I just don't find that it does what I want it to do. I'm leaning much more to OSRIC or For Gold and Glory.
 

Raith5

Adventurer
I started playing D&D in 1982 but given that 4e is favorite of mine I cant say that I am a grognard. I liked the new ideas of 4e -even though it was far from perfect - and some of the these ideas have come through into 5e which I also enjoy.

While I fell the pull of nostalgia in D&D I dont think the past should determine its future. I think D&D is game that should continue to evolve and change with new ideas.
 


Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
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.
You are talking design, but you quoted me talking about mechanics. There is literally no room to say that mechanics have not improved over time. The ur-example would be moving from disparagate subsystems that did not agree on even if high or low was good with different modifers and dice ranges to a unified mechanic of d20+modifiers >= DC are clear improvements in terms of speed and understanding.

You can bring up something separate about design, but that is not what I was talking about.
 

kenada

Legend
Earlier editions of D&D may have had too many resolution mechanics, but DCs aren’t a clear improvement. DC-based checks take longer to adjudicate (even when played with open DCs). Players can make informed decisions about what they want to do when they know the chance of success (which admittedly is possible with open DCs provided that the DM reveals them before the PC attempts the action). Homebrew content requires more work when you have to make sure all the numbers are tuned appropriately. Other modern games (e.g., anything Powered by the Apocalypse or Forged in the Dark) don’t use them. D&D ought to do the same (but that doesn’t mean returning to disparate resolution mechanics).
 

Ogre Mage

Adventurer
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.

I never played the original Torg, but I played Torg Eternity for the first time in November 2020 and I love it! It is the finest attempt I've seen at a cross-genre RPG. I always wanted to play a superhero/anti-hero character but never got the chance because none of the groups I played with were interested in that sort of game. Now I finally have a chance. Our party consists of my (relatively low power) superhero, a gun and bible toting cowboy with faith magic, a fighter pilot and a psionic samurai. And it works thematically because of the lore of the setting.
 
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