Brett throws some Advanced Dungeons & Dragons at his home group and realizes how it is turning his game into something different. This isn’t to talk about the rules of AD&D, but to offer insight into how the game provides a different experience for his game group and how Brett runs the fantasy rpg.
“I feel like I can’t. I feel like I’m ineffective.”
Is anyone running an OSR game (or, as in Sean’s belated case, a “down-toned” 5e) whose players are not saying this?
Edit: But, seriously, I’m glad things are going well with 1e and you, Brett. Old school is probably my favorite mode in which to play, but I’ve been pretty glum about my 0e lately, because my group has faced some issues similar to what Sean has dealt with recently in his 5e. Brett’s joy in and enthusiasm for 1e has reinvigorated me, however.
I’ve kinda been in the same groove as this and Brett. I also feel like AD&D is just… off for me at the moment, so for me Castles and Crusades is filling the niche for me.
Each their own, but that’s what’s working for me.
I have not played much this year - but I have to say my dissatisfaction with 5e and exhaustion at the mass of options for pathfinder/3e has also drawn me back to AD&D for when I do get back to the table (or finally get into Foundry or somesuch).
I reflect back on the decades of joy I had running AD&D - and like Brent I have a soft spot for Greyhawk and the Duchy of Geoff.
Going to start with modified B1/B2/Haunted hall of Eveningstar, mix in some homebrew, then gradually have orcs, bugbears. ogres and giants start organized raids out of the mountains - as well as isolated reports for weird, unknown monsters appearing in the high valleys of the Barrier Peaks…
Plus MAGIC ITEMS - lots of cool MAGIC ITEMS - as you said in the episode - finding really cool, weird, powerful magic items rather than having everything come from your class (5e/pathfinder I’m looking at you) givens them a reason to adventure.
(I still want to use speed factors and to hit modifications by armor type - but I’ll have to accept that I have an incurable mental deficiency in that particular area and that my victi…ahem…players will probably not enjoy such oddities).
I’m super glad you’re game is going so well Brent, like Gabe said - this episode’s enthusiasm was invigorating.
Oh - and the last time I tested AD&D a staunch pathfinder player (who was very tetchy about not having skills) mentioned he wanted to draw a picture of a villain who had escaped - so he could show it around town.
I said sure - go ahead - you would have studied calligraphy & likely some illustration back in your monastery - roll me a d20 to see how good your likeness is.
Dude rolled a natural 20 - so I said - “Your monk is a natural artist - he can draw incredibly life-like scenes and his picture of the villain is perfect”.
Watching the light go on in his eyes as he realized we could just make this shit up at the table and his character now had a cool new “skill” made a huge difference.
@Gabe, I think it takes players who aren’t afraid to fail, who enjoy challenge and exploration more than just kicking ass in battle after battle, and who just kind of get the ethos of old school play. As much as I love big chunks of the OSR (I actually like it more now than when I was running it in the early 80s!), there are loads of bits that leave me cold. Many of the original systems and retroclones are laden, I think, with antiquated ideas and mechanics – at least for my tables. But as soon as we move into post-modern / neo-OSR systems like The Black Hack, Mork Borg, Forbidden Lands, Troika, Mothership and the like, a whole gaggle of us get excited to play. We want the mood and the vibe without weapons that do different damage based on the size of the creature, per class to-hit tables and half of the other things that have Brett excited in his AD&D game.
Some of the modern systems slew pretty close to the original games, but directly address some of the things that bug players who are coming at the scene from a different headspace. Best example – The Black Hack, which I often espouse love for, is a mildly modified version of 3d6 roll down the line for chargen. That can result in some pretty awful stats, the kind that make some players think the PC is ‘unplayable.’ But TBH has a sweet leveling mechanism that punches that problem in the face: every level, you have a chance to increase every stat. It’s really fun watching people go through that process, and to watch the system give those bumbling PCs a leg up.
What’s up with your 0e game? Is it S&W White Box?
Oh, man, how I would love to run (and build) Swords & Wizardry from WhiteBox! Our base actually is Complete, and, all game theory aside and judging by how my players like to do things, I think this is for the best. Listeners have heard about our game before: it’s Swords & Wizardry Complete, so heavily modified that (referencing some in-game fiction) we now call it Bards & Battles.
I have sat here on the couch now for about an hour composing multiple drafts trying to explain our situation. I think our current game environment is so atypical and puzzling that I’ll try instead to address it through a series of bullets.
My players’ previous experiences with D&D are 2e only. In the case of one player, this is solely through video games.
My players have experienced no other tabletop rpgs, with the exception of one player (if I remember right) playing a session or two of FFG Star Wars.
My players want to play no other game than Bards & Battles.
This group began as a casual home group, in which I actually discontinued my original S&W game and migrated my players into a friend’s 1e game so that I could run Conan 2d20 for others.
As a result of the pandemic, one of these former players asked me to run (at-that-point-“casual”) D&D online, to which I consented.
Session 0 concerns. There was no Session 0. We began Bards & Battles as a casual, “beer and pretzels” game.
We started fresh with an utterly original, homebrew world (my favorite mode of play), which might have led to some Session 0 (or lack thereof) concerns…
I told my players that they may detail (and thereby “own,” in part) any area in our emerging world. The players later told me that they interpreted this to mean that their PCs, who originated from these areas, were “important” to the emerging narrative (and hence entitled to a degree of “plot armor?”).
In my view, as the game developed, the players grew quite attached to their characters, so much so that they exhibited signs of “turtling,” as well as negotiating for “character shields” that now threatens to upend the inherent tone of old school play.
I began to feel like the Referee’s (my) gaming culture was at odds with the players’. In an attempt to reach a place of shared understanding, I reread S&W to highlight core assumptions of old school play and reinforced these principles to my players.
I admit that my professorial demeanor can be argumentative and aggressive, bordering on intellectual bullying…
Which probably resulted in a player “walk away from the (virtual) table” moment, much like the recent incident that has occurred between Sean and Jeff.
My group has “made up,” but I remain as uncertain as ever. I don’t feel like I can get a read on my players’ expectations. I feel like we have a fundamental gaming culture disparity; theirs seems very informed by video games and, consequently, argues that tabletop gaming likewise should be a “walkthrough” (which can be true for modern rpgs but is not at all how I want to run old school). In their culture, I still feel, encounters should be balanced and “beatable.” All dungeon features should have a “purpose.” All “side quests” should be explored. The game world waits on player actions. PC death (if there is any at all) should be heroic and meaningful. This is not how I want to run the old school mode of play. For this style, I would use a different system, because Swords & Wizardry provides all the wrong tools. But my players don’t want other tools.
At the beginning of the year I “gave up” Swords & Wizardry and (what I’m beginning to think of as “casual” or “passive” gaming) to run Conan 2d20 for specific people. I’m wondering if I will do so again, self-selecting, in the pandemic age, among all other gamers on the Internet. I’m not sure if I should do this, if this might be considered “elitist” and insular and not at all beneficial to the gaming community at large.
Hence I’m pretty “glum” about it all.
Thanks again for your care and interest, @Harrigan, and for this opportunity to organize my thoughts and feelings on this subject!
I really liked this week’s podcast. I really hope to hear regular updates on Brett’s game like you normally do at the beginning of future episodes. Same thing for Sean’s gaming. It’s a highlight of your podcast.
Lots of interesting comments above.
@Gabe a quick hunch… Maybe your players would prefer 5e (it’s very video-gamey when you think about it). Or maybe they’ve been listening to lots of the 5e podcast.
Also, since both the DM and players seem quite invested in this campaign, could you meet each other half-way in the New-School vs. Old-School gaming spectrum? (1e + 5e / 2 = 3e ) And since you didn’t have a session 0, why not do a mid-campaign review? Anyways, it’s just suggestions for brainstorming purposes.
Finally, I think in some cases it’s normal to invite different people to different games and for various reasons. Some games are more complex, others easier. Some games are “serious” while others are beer and pretzel (ex: CoC vs. DCC). Some games require lots of role-play while others are perfect for Power gamers/Max-Min. Not everybody fits in all these categories, especially for a full campaign!
Also, it depends on how you want to invest into each game. I would much rather run a less serious series of one-shot games for people I don’t really know on the internet vs. a multi-month campaign where you expect players to invest into their characters.
Gabe. I feel for you. I’m going to piggy back on Mathieu. I think a lot of gamers have had those moments, doubly so when we’re already friends. I recall Brett having a blow up with his friends, and I had a pretty big one with a friend of mine of 20+ years. I can say the issue in my case was both of us misunderstanding each other. It sounds cliche, but communication is key. I would recommend letting the dust settle and talking it out. And some of that is discussing game issues. I think “mid campaign review” is a solid idea to see what everyone is thinking and where they’re coming from.
Great advice from both Mathieu and Laramie, but it does sound like Gabe’s already had detailed discussions with his group over what they all want out of the game, and there might be some foundational (and deep-seated) disparities. Certainly a Session X (0 in the middle of the game) could work and get some things on-track, but it really sounds like he wants to run a different game than they want to play.
Maybe take a break, maybe let someone else run for a while, maybe reset – or just get your OSR on with people who get it. Session 0 is indeed where some of those expectations could have been set, but it might just be that old school isn’t the type of game you can play with that group.
@Gabe, some concrete examples of what bugs you about their play, and what bugs them about your GMing might help us understand the dynamics a little better… and be able to offer more in terms of angles to look at. If that’s even of value – maybe the thing of worth here is simply forcing yourself to take a step back and look at the whole situation… then figure out the way forward.
Keep us posted!
Thinking about this a little more. If I cross-reference Gabe’s story with Sean’s recent group experiences and also the fact that I’m seeing a lot of GMs post to a large Discord I’m on about “how do I get my 5e players to play in the OSR style?”… makes me think there’s something underlying here. The bones beneath the rotten meat, as it were.
I think it might be that the common element of disgruntlement with the status quo is a GM who is evolving, who is moving forward in the hobby, who wants new experiences and to try new things. I’ll probably state this inelegantly, but I think there’s a significant difference between the gamers who run games, listen to podcasts, make podcasts and blog content, keep up with industry trends, pay attention to the Ennies, steal the best from other systems for their home games… and those who invest way less time and energy but still want to sit down once a week or month to play their characters and have a good time.
Basically, some of us thirst for more. Some are happy with what we have. Neither is better, but boy are they different. And it might be why I’m enjoying the live group I’m playing with at the moment – it’s all GMs, all people who take the hobby very seriously. We adjust our play styles depending on the game we’re playing, we lean into the themes, we try and hit the notes that the game designers are asking for. It’s not all roses – there are people I won’t play with, games I won’t play… but when you advertise to the group that you want to run Vaesen, Mork Borg, Judge Dredd, Iron Edda – you get people signing up who are all in for that specific experience, not the same one they’ve been having with D&D and PF for years on end.
I don’t know what this means or if it’s of any real relevance, but I do think GMs who want to stretch and grow might need to look to others doing the same.
(No judgement here on anyone, btw. People enjoy these games in different ways.)
This describes my current Conan 2d20 group exactly! We’re all GMs. In fact, we’re taking turns GMing Conan. Though Conan will remain our ongoing, “standard” game, we have begun to plan one-shots of Alien and something using Genesys. We all are in the “discourse,” so to say, and I’m enjoying the experience so much that this is why I’m considering just walking away from my Swords & Wizardry campaign… And reflecting on what, exactly, that might mean or be saying in regards to an essential subset (as @Harrigan points to) of the larger gaming community.
Thank you, everyone, for your advice about and attention to this matter. A lot of this counsel certainly will receive and has received application. One of my players currently is Refereeing for his first time, and I’m having a great time. When—or if—I get back into the Ref seat, I intend to share a revised “rules document,” talk about it with the intent of reaching an understanding, then “rebooting”—giving everyone a level up and hand waving/resolving the latest, lingering events—before “starting fresh.”
If I can keep running it and start having a good time again, I’ll report back. I have thought of this game as my “best work,” and it is my favorite mode. I don’t believe that these kinds of stories, this rich world building, these narrative surprises that emerge from old school sandbox play really can happen in quite the same way as they do in other, “adventure-based” modes.
Brett spent a bunch of time talking about how with AD&D his DMing style has shifted away from “Miss/Hit” or “Succeed/Fail” to a narrative “What do you want to do?” focus. It seems he attributes it to there being no skills in AD&D. I appreciate that the lack of skills lead him to moving trying to compensate in this manner. Oh, right - he also started describing non-skill checks, such as combat misses…
But, please let me repeat a question that Sean asked (and wasn’t answered in the podcast): Why is narrative description any different for AD&D or 5e? I have always run my games that way, even including 4e!
Here’s what I see; Later editions put more mechanical options in front of the players, and DMs sometimes then feel compelled to relent to players who roll-first-and-ask-questions-later.
I don’t allow that. I’m the only one that completely understands the full context of the player’s actions. I’m not about to let any of that ‘leak’ by being forced into an interpretation of a 20+bonus role by a player.
I still always ask “What do you want to do?” and then I tell the player and table what might be required to accomplish that task. Sometimes it’s a roll, sometimes it’s a group check, sometime it just happens, sometimes no roll can make it happen. Think about that “I rolled 30 to seduce Orcus” nonsense.
This is a D&D moderation style, not a version number. Playing an unfamiliar variant gave Brett room to regain narrative control of his table.
As Brett has found, once you start role-playing actions with this question, the entire table can engage - always a good thing.
Quotes from the Introduction in the 5E PHB:
How to Play
The play of the Dungeons & Dragons game unfolds according to this basic pattern.
1. The DM describes the environment.
2. The players describe what they want to do.
Sometimes one player speaks for the whole party, saying, “We’ll take the east door,” for example. Other times, different adventurers do different things: one adventurer might search a treasure chest while a second examines an esoteric symbol engraved on a wall and a third keeps watch for monsters. The players don’t need to take turns, but the DM listens to every player and decides how to resolve those actions.
Sometimes, resolving a task is easy. If an adventurer wants to walk across a room and open a door, the DM might just say that the door opens and describe what lies beyond. But the door might be locked, the floor might hide a deadly trap, or some other circumstance might make it challenging for an adventurer to complete a task. In those cases, the DM decides what happens, often relying on the roll of a die to determine the results of an action.
3. The DM narrates the results of the adventurers’ actions."
I find that once players gain “system mastery” they start looking at only the options that maximize their chance of success “by the book”.
NEW players will try anything & everything without worrying about the mechanics.
New player: “I try to disarm the bad guy!”
Veteran player " ehhh - do you have the “super disarm” & the “bonus attack after disarming” feats? If not then it;s a wasted action…"
You are absolutely right Old School, we can Dm this way - but getting veterans to adopt a new paradigm that goes against their system mastery - my experience was nothing but endless whining.
This also goes to trust - I feel like when we try to DM the way we grew up DMing the players think we’re cheating them of a bonus & want to look up the “rule”.
I hate edition war speak - but I see this coming out of 3e’s attempt to quantify every possibility within the rules - which encouraged the level of mastery where the player figures out in his head that his best bet is to maximize damage every round rather than to try something cool with a lower chance of success. It’s like having a rule for everything right there in the PHB implies the DM can;t be trusted to make a call.
Just my 2 cents.
Well said, @Rweston,
I guess there’s a reason I have a preference to play with a mix of new players, or a friends-and-family game - where fun trumps system mastery.
If there’s always at least one casual/newer player at my table, I can calibrate my game for them.
It’s nice that removing system mastery (in this case, playing AD&D) allowed Brett and his veteran players to re-discover that side of our hobby.
Yep - I view this as sort of a “cold water bath” on the crew. Take away something they got used to and now they have to figure out a way to still get stuff done. I’m 100% certain that when I return to 5e or PF or any other system with skills they’ll carry the description approach over.
Kind of a Reboot/Reset of the group’s approach which is resulting in some great roleplaying
For whatever reason, the desire to use a skill list to short cut through narration and get to the result has crept into my group. I didn’t have this at all with the actual play of Avalon, or when I ran games at Cons or for BSers, but my home group seems to have drifted into this desire to “get to the end” as fast as they could.
This could well be my fault. Did I allow them to do this a few times too many? Did I fail in some other way? Most likely
I should also note that you, @OldSchoolDM, are 100% correct - It should run that way with 5e, 4e, or whatever ‘e’ of the game.
This sums up some a culmination of theeengs for me. Which is driving at some of the problems I’ve run into lately. THanks Rwroree.
You are heartily welcome.
I feel that’s what the core of your podcast is about - finding new perspectives on gaming and making it more fun.
Oh - and I heartily enjoy how you pronounce my name.
Love this post.
I (to my understanding) never shit on an edition/ ruleset beyond “glad people like it, wasn’t my jam.” And I LOVE crunchy games (HACKMASTER!!!) I’ve been REALLY getting into my C&C game as of last. Quick, clean, and I don’t have the time to prep I used to.