They just aren’t the same…

Editorial note:  I wrote this blog post some time ago, but aside from a few minor editorial updates, it is still very much how I feel about the current hype around the “evolution” of D&D.

Don’t mistake all of this for…

One of the comments made sometimes by fans of D&D 4th Edition is, “oh, it’s so much more old school than 3rd Edition!”  This may or may not be true, but that doesn’t mean 4th Edition is Old School.  In fact, there seems to be a fundamental difference between 4th Edition D&D and Original D&D, insofar as I could tell from observing a recent Lair Assault game session at my FLGS.

It may be a contrast in ideal types, but there is a distinct contrast between the “D&D-as-product-line” and “D&D-as-toolbox” approach.  D&D 4th Edition is clearly in the former camp, while 0e is clearly in the latter.  “Yes, but that change took place a long time ago!” someone might suggest.  That’s true.  It’s quite visible in Gary Gygax’s editorial “Dungeons & Dragons – What It Is and Where It Is Going” which appeared in The Dragon #22, in February 1979:

“From a standpoint of sales, I beam broadly at the very thought of an unending string of new, improved, super, energized, versions of D&D being hyped to the loyal followers of the gaming hobby in general and role playing fantasy games in particular. As a game designer I do not agree, particularly as a gamer who began with chess…I do not believe that hobbyists and casual players should be continually barraged with new rules, new systems, and new drains on their purses. Certainly there will be changes, for the game is not perfect; but I do not believe the game is so imperfect as to require constant improvement.”

…for this..

Broadly speaking, the history of D&D reflects this tension.  The successive editions of the game have been produced with a fair span of time between each edition – but as every edition has been produced, there have been questions raised as to the necessity of the new edition.  But what has also occurred over time has been the slow shift away from the “D&D-as-toolbox” approach.  I would submit that this shift has been detrimental to the creative process – and why 4th Edition and Original D&D are fundamentally different from one another.  Despite recent suggestions, I believe that 5th Edition will be no better at this than 4th.

…or this…

One might ask why this shift has taken place.  One reason is the pressure of commercialization, as noted above.  Another is simply the work involved in creating your own campaign, as Gary himself recognized:

“DUNGEONS & DRAGONS is like none other in that it requires the game master to create part or all of a fantasy world. Players must then become personae in this place and interact with the other populace. This is, of course a tall order for all concerned [emphasis added] — rules, DM, and players alike.”

What’s interesting is that even at this date, Gary did not see commercial products as being anything more than add-ons to existing campaigns, noting that “[m]odules and similar material will continue to be released so as to make the DM’s task easier and his or her campaign better.”  At some point, modules themselves supplanted original campaign creation, dovetailing nicely with the previously-mentioned pressure to produce commercial products to maintain the company – and in so doing, making it strange for anyone to engage in their own creative visioning of the game through their own campaign.  That’s what is really unfortunate.

…or your own work.

3 thoughts on “They just aren’t the same…

  1. Spot on, dude. One of the things about the OSR movement that I love is the return to DIY worlds, monsters, classes, dungeons, etc. In other words, the return to the toolbox approach.

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