Wednesday, January 15, 2020

I Don't Want That

Normally, OSR blog posts lack any real divisiveness.  I mean, we all kind of agree on certain things, and where we disagree, we're mostly fine accepting those differences.

Well, I've stumbled onto something I'm really passionate about - a subject that my friend is equally passionate about.  Yay, an argument!

The following is a copy/paste from the comment section beneath his review of Old School Renaissance Like A Fucking Boss.  It might make more sense if I included Endzeitgeist's review of Crimson Dragon Slayer D20 for context, as well as, my own blog post response to it.

While it may seem obvious, let me mention it here - I like old school for the most part, I play old school for the most part, and I create old school content for the most part, but that doesn't mean I slavishly adhere to it at all costs.  If this renaissance doesn't grant us a modicum of freedom, then what the fuck are we doing here?


Care for a fun experiment / playtest?
Let’s do a 5-minute Roll20 or 10 email posts (for each of us) combat scene. You can play a cleric with 2 allies against 5 goblins. I’ll GM. Then we’ll see if the cleric is broken or not.
Also, thanks for the review and shout-out, hoss!


Your suggestions for the frame of the playtest make clear that you do not understand, or do not want to understand, the root of the issue.
The very foundation of the mathematic baselines and narrative tensions underlying any D&D-adjacent game are based on a degree of tactics and resource-attrition to some degree or another.
Particularly the OSR tradition uses this and considers it to be a virtue and one of the pillars of player skill. Same goes for 5e.
Your game professes to be based on both for branding, but purposefully flaunts the very central pillar on which this is based.
As a direct consequence, your infinite healing clerics and, as a consequence, infinite casting wizards are BROKEN because they invalidate the central baseline.
You *can* call that deliberate and skew encounter-difficulty to make (almost) every encounter hinge on nigh annihilation (see what Cha’alt’s Black Pyramid often does), only to have everyone miraculously regain all resources after the encounter.
However: Encounters are not tied to time in-game; they make no sense as a metric in-game.
Doing so invalidates any notion of survival struggle or danger…beyond excessive damage output and save-or-suck.
That might work for a small one-shot, sure. It wrecks any long-term appeal of your rules-lite games, though…because you don’t ever really are rewarded for doing anything but throwing your best damage at the enemy as fast as possible. Because you either are fine, or you’re dead.
You’re walking into a dead-end for design and tension, and have been for some time. And I really think that you’re better than that.
In the long run?
You can’t erect a system with any degree of longevity on it, because this relegates EVERY single challenge to being just a different coat of paint over the same metrics. Unless the players are super easy to please, this “oh, we almost died to damage/oh, some died to save or suck – oh well, we’re good now!” as the only type of danger to be encountered EVERY ENCOUNTER will turn stale very fast.
Infinite healing powering infinite spellcasting has, AUTOMATICALLY, this long-term effect.


Your contention that "I don't understand" or my game "flaunts the very central pillar" smacks of badwrongfun.  Rather than what I'd call macro-tension that might be better suited to the long haul of a extensive campaign, my focus is micro-tension; certainly better suited to one-shots and shorter campaigns.  You sacrifice one for the other.  That means in order to fulfill the one, you neglect the other.  Sure, some try to have it both ways, but we both know that's not easy to find, let alone maintain. 

Essentially, you're treating combat like some kind of gritty and desperate sport, but still a sport.  All things must be in alignment or balanced, uphill and against the current, so combat turns into a long-game of pick-your-poison suffering and resource management masturbation. 

Crimson Dragon Slayer D20 treats combat as war, but a potentially winnable war focused on the immediate, the here and now.  I have no interest in incentivizing the 5-minute workday or making certain classes suck because the rules treat them as one-hit wonders... but awesome after level 5.

I've allowed everyone to have a valuable role, a seat at the proverbial table, regarding combat.  That's one of my favorite things about the OSR.  It's not so rooted in old school play-styles from decades past that it can't innovate depending on the creator's design goals.

There are some things that just don't work for me regarding early D&D, that's why I came up with my own thing.  If I merely wanted to play the game as it was played back in 1980, I would just play B/X and call it a day.  Your acting like my personal revelation is nothing aside from the madness of delusion.

Falling into the same tired mistakes, the design dead-ends and cul-de-sacs of our predecessors doesn't help us pursue those strange new avenues necessary to birth RPGs catering to those looking for something different.  Not inherently better or worse... just different.

My "ultimate RPG" is going to be subjective, it has to be, or else RPG designers are chasing the "standard gamer audience" dragon of mainstream utilitarianism.  Other designers are welcome to it, but I don't want that.


Feel free to post your thoughts below...


  1. My feeling (admittedly without extensive play experience to back it up) is that having clerics with infinite healing and having wizards with spell casting limited only by available hit points makes for a less interesting game, because optimal player action is more pigeon-holed.

    As things stand, there would seem to be few cases when a wizard isn't best off casting the most powerful spell available them, and an allied cleric isn't best off healing the wizard back to full strength, allowing for that same sequence of events to be repeated the next round.

    Furthermore, unless the referee frequently introduces circumstances that break that combo (e.g., anti-magic fields, displeased deities, etc.), I feel like fighters and thieves are rendered 2nd rate characters. There's few ways for them to keep up with the damage output created by a continuous barrage of max level wizard spells.

    I suppose the referee could begin handing out hugely powerful magic swords and the like to compensate, but that only further pigeon-holes optimal character action.

    None of that is to say that that approach is "badwrongfun," and I'm sure it works better for one-shots. However, when I look at Liberation, Islands, and Cha'alt, I see an awful lot of depth that would be missed if they aren't played within the context of a campaign of some length, and it is in a longer campaign that I feel the current CDSd20 rules could use some tweaks.

    1. Did I go too far in the opposite direction? Perhaps. I still maintain there's a fair amount of nuance, depth, and in-the-moment resource management to make players happy.

      The fighters get better at hacking monsters every single level. And thieves can backstab as long as they're willing to put in the effort. Plus, his AC is always improving.

      If you're willing, play it RAW for a few sessions and see for yourself.

  2. Make spells have consequences. Time to cast, environmental factors, difficulty, fumble/failure. Make it just as much of a risk as swinging a sword at someone and having them swing back.

    1. Yes, I have been playtesting magical consequences, such as that d6 table for fireballs spells. It wiped almost the entire party out awhile back.

      The next thing coming out for Crimson Dragon Slayer D20 will be a spell list and magic guide for wizards/sorcerers.

      Thanks for the comment!