2019-01-01 Warm and fuzzy feels

I just saw Michael Julius’ blog post, DnD this year, 2019.

Alex Schroeder’s Halberds & Helmets is a big influence. I enjoy his iterative approach and simple, classic game. Focus on light and casual. I want something folded up, pretty, and played by the end of the year.

– Michael Julius

It made me smile! :)

He links to Jeff Rients’ blog post from 2009, On System.

Brothers and sisters, it is time that we stop arguing about the stupid footprints. My advice to anyone currently fretting over which edition or retro-clone or whatever they should use is to just pick one. It doesn’t matter which one. No matter which one you pick D&D isn’t there. It’s your job to take that text and turn it into D&D. Interpret, interpolate, edit, house-rule, mangle, spindle, mutilate. Run that text into the ground. Import crap from other editions, other games. Break it and remake it in your own image. Only once you have your own version of D&D up and running does D&D in any way exist. The texts are mere echoes, shadows of someone else’s D&D. Use them to bootstrap your own D&D into existence. That’s all they’re good for.

– Jeff Rients

Very true. I recommend reading Eero Tuovinen’s thread, Our OSR D&D sandbox campaign. That is where I heard of this argument for the first time.

The way I see it, D&D resolution system properly works via precedent rulings and legislatory action. The given campaign has a bunch of rules and mechanical ways to resolve different situations, and the GM is the guy most responsible for tracking these. When a situation comes up in play the GM is mandated to resolve it consistently, using a rule that was used for the same purpose beforehand. If he encounters a new situation that the rules do not cover adequately, he needs to make a ruling that then becomes a new precedent for the future. If he encounters a situation for which there already is a rule, but it’s a stupid rule, then he needs to take it to the table, have the players affirm a change in the rules, and then continue using the new rule. It’s very similar to how common law legal systems operate.

– Eero Tuovinen

This thread is full of gold!

My viewpoint on this ultimately indicates that most of D&D writing is necessarily of secondary concern, as most of that writing focuses on mechanical resolution concepts. This means that these writers, starting with Gygax, have failed to actually address the first-order concerns that gamers need to be able to overcome to play the game successfully: instead of telling us how he set up his sandbox campaign and how his group negotiated challenges, Gygax tells us about the outcome of this process of play. He tells us that after playing the game their group had established these sorts of character classes, and this is how their thieves picked pockets, and this is how shields worked vs. polearms. However, he never tells us the bit that I’m absolutely convinced about today after playing the game myself, that the GM’s referee position cannot work without a clear system of precedent. He also doesn’t tell us how these rulings need to be rooted in the fictional concerns of the group, and how there are no absolutely right or wrong choices for how to handle the individual resolution details. What we get instead is this myth where a long playtest has stabilized a genius rules system, and you’re not really playing AD&D if you don’t follow every brainfart rules subsystem written down by Gygax. I think that history has amply shown that the way D&D uses rules means that these rules are necessarily tied into a time and a place, into specific nuances of how people play and what they care about their fiction.

– Eero Tuovinen

I mean, come on! This is great.

I think I had already read all of this when I wrote about rulings back in 2017. I’m sure Eero’s ideas have influenced me a lot. :)

As befits this viewpoint our D&D campaign doesn’t really use any single version of the rules. Rather, I started with a simple framework of non-denominational D&D and then created the specific resolution rules details utilizing the game’s mechanical logic, all so that it makes sense to me as a GM. This allows me to use a system where I can personally stand behind every little detail of how the mechanics go: there’s no dissonance about what hit points mean or grief over how unfair level drain is, as instead of accepting somebody else’s ultimately arbitrary fiction I’m making these rules fit mine, just as the “rulings, not rules” principle advocates. And when we find that some rule doesn’t perform to the group’s satisfaction, we change it. I believe that this approach to the game mechanics works much better than utilizing a rulebook when the game is like old school D&D and relies on constant referee judgment.

– Eero Tuovinen

And here’s where I got my idea of “D&D as oral tradition” from:

Also, there is an important point in having the mechanical rules be an oral tradition: the process of forgetting stuff works to our advantage when we can claim that any rule unimportant enough to forget deserves to be forgotten. So even when somebody notes that hey, didn’t we have a rule about polearms and how they affect initiative, and then we stop for five seconds to consider the question and realize that we’ve forgotten all about that - it’s very easy and natural to just declare that rule null on the basis of the fact that we didn’t remember to use it in the last three fights where it could have come into play. Annulment due to nonfunction.

– Eero Tuovinen

Anyway, there’s more where this came from.

And you should take a longer look at Michael Julius’ blog.



Nice! So much to chew on in even this single post. I get a lot out of the connected discussions you post.

Michael Julius 2019-01-04 19:36 UTC

Thanks you for the encouragement! :)

– Alex Schroeder 2019-01-04 20:26 UTC

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