De gustibus non est disputandem…and all that

I ended up recently having an online conversation with Jonathan Tweet about his recent experience with Old School gaming. He seemed to mildly enjoy it, but had this to say about the rules:

The problem with such games is that there’s a lot of bad stuff that people are nostalgic for. For every bad rule that you might want to strip out, there are people who won’t think your OD&D is original enough if you don’t have it. Swords & Wizardry even has two AC systems that it uses side-by-side: the old-fashioned 9-down system that they have to include for tradition’s sake and the 10+ system that they have to include because it’s just clearly better….The ‘bad stuff’ I’m referring to is stuff like: too much arithmetic (5% XP bonus, copper pieces, etc.), wonky XP progression per class, too-random character creation, and poor class balance. It also has the problem that didn’t get fixed until 4e: all spells are daily, which makes spellcasters play too differently from the fighters.

I suggested he might like Microlite 74, and he thought it looked “pretty cute” – a compliment I would say. 🙂

But what I find interesting here is how he jumps to the conclusion that it is nostalgia that drives interest in the Old School movement. Oh, sure – there is some element of fond remembrance for some of us – but not all of us, and it certainly isn’t the main or even significant driving factor. I was also rather surprised, actually, to discover how quick he was to label some rules as “bad” and various “problems” with the game that were “fixed” in 4th Edition. In truth, I am still curious about how he came to these conclusions, but I think it is telling that someone of Jonathan’s creativity has reached such definite conclusions.

Beyond that, I also noticed that he implied that “bad rules” were retained by Old School gamers as a kind of authenticity test. I noted in my comments to him that such an attitude was not considered appropriate by Old School gamers; “doing it right” means doing it the way you want to. I’m still bothered by his implied criticism, though. Who are these “people” he’s referring to? It can’t be only Old School gamers – lots of games have fans who want to play “by the book.” My suspicion is that he’s half-remembering gamers who wanted everything to be settled by the “Sage Advice” column in The Dragon more so than gamers who were playing between 1974 and roughly 1978. (I could be wrong about this, but I do wonder….)

8 thoughts on “De gustibus non est disputandem…and all that

  1. At the very least, his gaming philosophy is on full parade there, albeit disguised as objective fact: that character generation is too random and that 4e fixed things. As much as I admire some of his game designs, I can't agree with much he has to say on this subject.

    But, he tried, so that's something.

  2. I continue to play older versions of D&D almost 30 years later because they are fun and I enjoy them, not for any nostalgic reason. I don't play other versions because I don't find them as fun. And if Jonathan finds adding 5% a challenging "too much arithmetic" problem, then perhaps that is rather more revealing of his opinions than any talk about "bad stuff" and rules getting "fixed". But of course it takes all sorts and each to their own.

  3. Remember, this is one of the guys who insisted that subtraction (as used in old school AC and to hit rolls and such) was "too much math" as well. I generally respect Tweet for not being overly obnoxious or full of himself, but I took that quote from him as just more of the usual criticism of the old by the people who have a vested interest in the new. Interesting to read, perhaps, but not going to change my mind.

  4. *cough*

    I mean: how interesting. I wonder if it's really a good idea for a game to homogenize strategies like that.

    Some things, like arithmetic reduction, or higher-is-better, are common good ideas for ANY game. You can argue whether it really effin' matters, but most people sort of generally agree on this stuff.

    However, narrowing the strategy space is, generally, not something people applaud. In fact it's something game designers strive hard to avoid. No one thinks Spades would be better if you couldn't go mellow.

    Hence, I wonder: wtf.

  5. Since we're all taking turns picking our choicest bits, here's mine:

    …which makes spellcasters play too differently from the fighters…

    And that's a bad thing because…?

  6. Sigh. People with active agendas really should try to give "objective" reviews of systems they know nothing about. Maybe the difficult addition and subtraction threw him off?

    Yeh, 4E "fixed" everything. Sheesh.

  7. I noted in my comments to him that such an attitude was not considered appropriate by Old School gamers; "doing it right" means doing it the way you want to.

    Victor, you got to the meat of it with that comment. I mean, what does "better" mean? In what context? I went down that rabbit hole myself once, and I ain't going back. The idea of "progress" was proven to be ridiculous long ago. All we can hope for is a clearer understanding of our own motivations.

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