Sunday, November 17, 2019

Thinking About an Unpopular "Old School" Opinion

Earlier this week the above tweet was posted to Twitter. I respect her opinion, but here is mine:

Death represents failure and TTRPGs used it before video games co-opted it. If there is not chance of failure or risk or death then why not just read a novel or watch a TV show? 

One of the things I've begun to notice when I run a game is that if there is no chance of failure or loss then what was the point of the encounter? In my opinion newer editions of DnD need encounters to deplete player resources, but not necessarily kill them. I'm not saying DnD 3.5-5 doesn't allow for PC deaths, but I don't think that real danger is as much of a threat than it is in earlier editions. 

For instance, the 5E CR system is broken. First, it borrowed a name from an earlier edition, but doesn't mean the same thing. Second, if you have highly skilled Players then you better not use a solo on those characters, the game expects you to use minions to drain resources so the solo can live more than 2 rounds. Sadly, I learned this in a Tarrasque battle. Mike Mearls has even said he wished they had chosen a different name than "Challenge Rating" for 5E and so do I.

I think DnD 4E is probably the most balanced edition created thus far and partly because of that it failed. Not everyone wants to play a Wizard, but in 4E everyone was some kind of Wizard. Essentials (4.5E) tried to fix it but it was too little too late and a new edition is ALWAYS more profitable.

Every player and every group brings certain expectations to the table, but the internet makes sure that instead of just respecting how we enjoy ourselves, it has to make sure that it points out that we are, in fact, doing it wrong.

Fiona, apparently, finds PC deaths an impediment and not a moment in a game. My groups don't find it an impediment, we joke about it, lament the dead character, and it almost always becomes a permanent fixture of our shared experience.

In the end, the important part of it all is having fun.


Scott Anderson said...

Try not to take these people's opinions seriously.

Take them seriously of course because they mean to destroy you and me and everything we like.

But their opinions are kind of garbage.

Scott Anderson said...

On topic, I also disagree with his opinion (he's a dude in a dress.) You said it. I agree.

Tangent: the longer it takes to make up a character, the less likely it is the DM will kill it. So tiny character sheets with scant data are far better and not just for the usual reasons: they reward good play by allowing bad play to have repercussions.

mythusmage said...

Mr Anderson, I find you unreliable, and largely due to your prejudice.

Scott Anderson said...

Thank you! My prejudice is well earned from seasons watching the completely insane attempt to inflict their bizarre version of reality on me.

Rather more to the point, he’s simply wrong about old school play. He is demonstrating a fundamental ignorance to it. You can play without deaths if you want but don’t try to tell people it’s old school. That would be like telling someone that you’re a girl despite having a Y chromosome.

Melan said...

As a thought experiment, it would not be hard to imagine a form of D&D where 0 Hp means the character is knocked out, and the consequences would range from "being left for dead after looted of all valuables" to "imprisoned by the bad guys". That is often the logic of adventure stories, and while these stories do not usually kill off their main characters, they are not lacking in consequences and drama. There are many ways to win, and many ways to lose. Perhaps all you lose is time - but that time will cost the princess you were planning to rescue her life (or she is married off to Count Evil).

Would I enjoy playing in a game like that? Yes, if done right. But I do recognise that it is some steps removed from the old-school experience, both on a gameplay and aesthetic level. It would put both GM and players in a different frame of mind, and encourage different decisions. I have a regular player who is heavily into character development and plot, and does not take character death too well. But he does recognise that the threat of death (even the occasional senseless death) is part of the experience our games bring to the table. As you put it, it makes it "real". There is no reload button.

But here is a third point: D&D (as designed and as regularly played) does have a peculiar form of plot armour in the form of healing magic and particularly raise dead. This is major departure from any kind of fiction, and it does cheapen injury and death, the same way D&D's mountains of gold pieces cheapen being a down-on-your-luck adventurer. In practice, mid- and high-level A/D&D PCs have a lot cushier time than the old-school aesthetic would suggest.

The Evil Dungeon Master said...

I wouldn't worry what the insanity of the minority thinks. They just happen to be like that little barking dog, this small tiny thing that's really loud.. normally we just look at them and laugh as we walk by. Who cares what that Dude has to say, let them play the way they want, its all a game, we all play how we wish. No one can tell you how to play a game.

Ruprecht said...

I'm pretty sure the term TPK dates back to AD&D, or earlier, for what its worth.
Death was fairly common. TSR made big bucks selling pads of characters sheets.

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