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Title: [D&D] Editions, Metacosmology and Setting
Post by: Grimcleaver on February 14, 2011, 10:39:43 AM
I've been playing D&D over various editions pretty much since red box (though those were childhood memories, really). My fullest intereaction with the game has been since the black 2nd edition AD&D books. Back then it was easy. All the D&D settings, published and homebrew, existed together in an infinite shared world of crystal spheres and phlogiston (on the Prime Material end, see Spelljammer) and in a Great Wheel of connected elemental and heavenly realms (on the planar end, see Planescape). It was elegant and sparked the imagination, but it wreaked havok on tone and campaign themes--for example when the PCs in your Ravenloft campaign included a kender from Dragonlance, a thri-kreen from Dark Sun, and a goblinoid beastman from Mystara.

So third edition made a bold move: they separated the cosmologies and the planes, and pretty much decided that all the official books would deal with the Greyhawk setting, a much beloved but long neglected setting. Each other setting book, like Forgotten Realms or Eberron, would treat with their worlds as being complete self contained cosmologies cut off from the others spacially or cosmologically and devices like spelljamming ships were merely curiousities for getting from here to there within a certain setting's planes and prime material worlds, not for going from one to another. All fine, and very cool. But then things got weird. Books started showing up that had background information for races that had nothing to do with the core setting, gods and cities and organizations that didn't fit anywhere. Most of the adventures in fact, weren't set anywhere in the core setting with no ideas as to where they were intended to fit (because in fact, they weren't...you were just supposed to "stick them in wherever you want").

Cue 4e. One of its guiding principles was that it would have a Core World, but no set map or guideposts. It would be a vast pastiche of all that great material that had been created and orphaned back in 3rd edition, a jigsaw puzzle for each DM to put together as they saw fit, with a few shared vantage points--the lost empire of Nerath, the fallen kingdoms of Bael Terath and Arkhosia, but for the most part it was made of modules, classic, modern and homebrew. But once again there was a serpent in paradise. This time it was that this cool amorphous world began to forget its bounds, absorbing swaths of other settings into itself, duplicating places iconic to other settings--ones that did have maps--and led to some bizzarre duplications of people places and histories. So the Tomb of Horrors and Temple of Elemental Evil are in the 4e world? And Greyhawk? Is there even a Greyhawk anymore? Not only were those questions unanswered, but they came to be deemed invalid questions to be asking as the whole idea of static settings and cosmologies was starting to become passe.

Now the interesting thing here is that because 4e was so wildly different from earlier editions both in feel and in flavor, I found it played nicely alongside 3rd edition games--and in fact 2nd edition games, spawning for me a desire to finally go in and separate the various D&D, to put them each somewhere where they could be loved and be what they were meant to be. So that became my project--and as I update this post, my plan is to let you all in, piece by piece, on how my deconstructed, reconstituted D&D Metacosmology fits together. Hope you find it useful. Heck, maybe even useful enough to take out for a spin in your own games!

So I guess that's my mission statement anyway.


Title: Re: [D&D] Editions, Metacosmology and Setting
Post by: Grimcleaver on February 14, 2011, 10:43:38 AM
Books started showing up that had background information for races that had nothing to do with the core setting...

Hmm...rereading this it seems misleading. I didn't mean new races like Goliaths, so much as new backgrounds for existing races that didn't fit what was known about them--mostly stuff from the "Races of" series that created whole new gods, cultures and societies for humans, elves, dwarves, whatever that felt like they were from a whole new setting and didn't fit what came before. I guess that was the real rub.


Title: Re: [D&D] Editions, Metacosmology and Setting
Post by: Grimcleaver on February 14, 2011, 11:01:30 AM
Step One: 2nd Edition (and earlier)

So going back to second edition I discovered something kind of amazing. Gary Gygax actually had envisioned an entire multiverse of his own back when he was the power behind D&D. Now mind you this was way before Forgotten Realms, or Dragonlance or anything. Old school. In his vision of things, each world was a thematically related variation off of our own world, where some legend, fact and fancy all interplayed in different ways. Greyhawk (Oerth) shared planar borders with other worlds such as Yarth, Uerth, Aerth, etc. A few of these made it into print under other publishers after Gygax left D&D behind. Learth is detailed in the Lejendary Adventures (yep, with a j) series, and Aerth is described in the Dangerous Journeys series. There's also signs as to what the cosmology might have been like in the old Deities and Demigods and the Cyclopedia and what planar adventures might have been like going through wormholes to worlds of pure air or fire. Interesting stuff. So what I wanted to do with 2nd edition is make it a shrine to D&D as it might have been, to take the original ideas of Gary Gygax and to try to peice them together like an archeologist. All the stuff that was added later on or absorbed into other settings (like Planescape or the 4e Core setting) I either try to gently rename to something appropriate or else remove and put where it belongs. The gods of the 2e world tend to be gods from real world history and mythology as well as gods from classical fantasy--the kind of fare you get in the Deities and Demigods book. I tend to run these games using all the Skills and Powers, mostly because I really love that system in all it's cumbersome glory.


Title: Re: [D&D] Editions, Metacosmology and Setting
Post by: Natespank on February 14, 2011, 09:33:37 PM
Hey, cool idea

Can you clarify the mission statement though? Are you forging an edition-non-specific multiverse, or one for use with a specific edition? Is this similar to an encyclopedia or will it be in the form of a playable product? Or is it more of a history?

It seems a little sketchy to me to attempt to combine them all since they had such various unrelated creators. Gygax disliked 4e a lot, so his "vision" of what the world of D&D ought to be must strongly conflict with the current WotC group. The changed mechanics alters the nature of the worlds as well- no more 1 hit kills against level 1-3 characters (well, mostly none).

I'm not sure there's a need to neatly combine the settings like you suggest- except maybe as an interesting scholarly work :D That's something I'd like to go through. Gygax intrigues me.


Title: Re: [D&D] Editions, Metacosmology and Setting
Post by: Grimcleaver on February 15, 2011, 08:45:15 AM
Hey, cool idea

Can you clarify the mission statement though? Are you forging an edition-non-specific multiverse, or one for use with a specific edition? Is this similar to an encyclopedia or will it be in the form of a playable product? Or is it more of a history?

It seems a little sketchy to me to attempt to combine them all since they had such various unrelated creators. Gygax disliked 4e a lot, so his "vision" of what the world of D&D ought to be must strongly conflict with the current WotC group. The changed mechanics alters the nature of the worlds as well- no more 1 hit kills against level 1-3 characters (well, mostly none).

I'm not sure there's a need to neatly combine the settings like you suggest- except maybe as an interesting scholarly work :D That's something I'd like to go through. Gygax intrigues me.

Quite the opposite. I found 4e so different from previous editions that I want to try and make each edition totally its own thing, to separate out all the IP between the various editions so each of them can be their own thing. The puzzle is what stuff to give to which edition. My hope is to have 2nd edition be the home for the original Gygaxian cosmology.


Title: Re: [D&D] Editions, Metacosmology and Setting
Post by: Ron Edwards on February 15, 2011, 08:47:31 AM
Hey guys,

This thread needs to include accounts of actual play in order to continue.

Also, people might be interested in my article "A hard look at Dungeons & Dragons" which you can find via the link at the top right of the webpage.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: [D&D] Editions, Metacosmology and Setting
Post by: Grimcleaver on February 15, 2011, 09:05:48 AM
Step 2: Third Edition (s)

So to try and stay as loyal as possible to third edition's goal of having each setting have its own entirely separate cosmology I've tried to take all the settings I've given to third edition and break them as far away from each other as possible. Spelljammer got written up nicely by the crew at Polyhedron magazine as a mini-setting with its own worlds and gods and I really like to hold to that version of the game as a template for all the 3e games I'm restructuring. Planescape, for example, I have always felt was more harmed than helped by being attached to different game settings. Being attached to every setting left you having to shoehorn gods into one of the prefab planes whether or not they really felt like they belonged there, including a lot of gods from real world mythologies which always seemed a bit weird to me. Where do you put mythical egypt? Shouldn't its cosmology be its own thing (if it even belongs in D&D in the first place--which is a contentious affair anyway)? Third edition made things weirder--because the Prime of Planescape became Greyhawk and now suddenly there weren't nearly enough gods to flesh out their varied and interesting planes--like Mechanus, there just are no Greyhawk gods who fit in Mechanus at all. What I've tried to do is make Planescape it's own setting. What Primes are there? Well like everything in Planescape you know there are infinite primes but that they probably adhere to the cardinal rules of Planescape cosmography--there's always three of everything (and a hidden fourth) etc.

Likewise Forgotten Realms has always felt distinctly third edition to me. So I've taken the setting advances of 4e and kept those, 100 years in the future, vast cataclysms, magic turned on its head, new draconic and elemental races. Rather than just having all these interesting evolutions to the setting all dump into Faerun turning into the 4e core cosmology, I've instead dipped into many of the lost books of 3e lore that never got used. Races of the Dragon for the immigrant Abeiran races, Incarnum and Tome of Magic for the changed nature of magic. In utilizing some of this rules material which never seemed to see much use before 4e, Faerun in its modern form feels much more rich and interesting and loyal to its world shaking events.

3e has also become the home to games like Ghostwalk that got created as little side projects and never really got the love they deserved. Likewise throughout a lot of the sourcebooks there's all these little mini-settings they kept coming up with and then never mentioning again (like the Winding Road Cosmology from the Manual of the Planes--just cool and totally abandoned). All of these cool and conceptually independant worlds have become the basis for my various 3e games.


Title: Re: [D&D] Editions, Metacosmology and Setting
Post by: Grimcleaver on February 15, 2011, 09:08:50 AM
[Really? Wow. I'm two for two. I seriously thought Actual Play was for your experiences with games and the theory you've developed from them. Is it really just logs of games you've run? That just seems way less interesting. Anyway I submit to the forum admin...that's it for this thread too.] *End of Line*


Title: Re: [D&D] Editions, Metacosmology and Setting
Post by: Ron Edwards on February 15, 2011, 09:41:33 AM
Please consider that: 

1. I did not close the thread.

2. No one said a thread topic had to be confined to play logs, nor that discussing play needed to be a "log." Just include some examples from genuine experience to illustrate your points, here and there.

I would like to see this thread continue, which is why I moderated it rather than shutting it down. The Forge isn't like other places. Being moderated is not a social signal to shut up.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: [D&D] Editions, Metacosmology and Setting
Post by: Natespank on February 15, 2011, 12:13:26 PM
Quote
My hope is to have 2nd edition be the home for the original Gygaxian cosmology.

Gygax wasn't actually involved in 2nd Ed, was he? I think the last edition he participated in was advanced 1e. I'm nitpicking though- I don't actually object.

Where's your source material for this idea of Gygax's? I wouldn't mind reading it :D

Quote
"A hard look at Dungeons & Dragons"

Will do, thanks. The history of RPGs always intrigues me!


Title: Re: [D&D] Editions, Metacosmology and Setting
Post by: David Berg on February 16, 2011, 02:14:20 AM
Hey Grim, this separation makes a lot of sense to me too, largely because I found different bits appealing from different editions, and would like to use each edition for the one thing it did best.  What did you enjoy most about the cosmologies in play?  I think that'd nicely clarify the value of the categories you're drawing, plus meet the AP requirement! 

Personally, my 2e games were very much about discovering a world and plots and factions, where cosmology mattered, especially as characters advanced quickly and came to matter on a large scale.  My 1e games were isolated dungeon crawls, but even there, cleric players got really into their relationships with their deities.  Verbal and material components got roleplayed and everything.  Sacrifices and prayers galore.  This went out the window in my 3e games; I don't remember any gods at all.  I don't know whether any of this was owed to the actual published material or just who I was playing with at the time, but I'm curious to hear your own experience on this front (if it's relevant to your mission here, that is).


Title: Re: [D&D] Editions, Metacosmology and Setting
Post by: Grimcleaver on February 16, 2011, 10:50:16 AM
I think in view of some of the feedback I've gotten on my Site Discussion post "Help me Ron Edwards, You're my only hope" I'm going to take a step back and maybe ground some of my experiences of "what D&D is" for me and mine with some of our experiences with it.

I have two good friends (who actually were the same guys who told me about the Forge in the first place) who hated D&D. They'd read things like Order of the Stick, or Munchkin's Guide to Powergaming and laugh and laugh. To them D&D was just a bunch of irrational dungeon cells filled with orcs standing in front of treasure chests patrolled by wandering monsters of a table. I finally threw down the gauntlet. I would run a Dungeons & Dragons game for them and they would love it. Their stipulation, I couldn't use any house rules--it had to be 100% played the way it is in the books, and it had to be epic level. If the game could survive both of those things and still manage to be a good game, I'd win. Nearly a year later we ended probably our most fondly regarded, certainly most often referenced games we ever played. We set it in the Forgotten Realms. One of the two guys played Thorin, a paladin of Torm--the crusader god against evil: but instead of spending as much time as I think his player thought he'd be spending riding forth to slay evil, he spent a lot of time sorting out the life wreckage of the years that had brought him to epic level, dealing with the consequence of the backstory he'd come up with. The baby he'd rescued from his former wife and her poisonous Loviatar worshipping religion was now a 16 year old young woman who was tired of all her dad's bravado and the trauma it had caused her seeing him fly into rages and slay people he saw as evil. She just wanted to settle down and embrace a life where she just tried to accept everyone. But slowing down and settling in the city of Teziir meant that his ex would eventually track them down--and that would mean a reckoning. Meanwhile the other guy played the archmage Rondel, an ooze merchant who spent most of his retiring years engaged in the pleasant hobby of meeting and greeting the wealthy strata of society and teaching them the wonders of ooze-keeping for security or just as a liesure activity. But he had his own issues. He'd promised his wife--a homespun, but still frightening archmage in her own right, that he would stop adventuring to pay attention to his family. He has a son who he believes is off in magic school, but who actually has run away to become a bard. Most of all he has to square with the past he has run away from--as General Talthea, the Scourge of the North, the merciless and relentless Icewind warlord who devoted most of his adult life to murdering barbarians and orcs for increasingly dark reasons. He locked away the paraphinalia of that life in a demiplane to dispose of that part of himself years ago--but its still there, and as the world once again is threatened by great evil he will have to choose to face it as either the eccentric and easygoing Rondel, or give in to the dread general that lurks within his soul.

Anyway more on that later--suffice it to say I won the bet, and learned a lot about good storytelling--that the best story tends to come from delving deep into a setting, it's gods, its history and its cosmology--but most of all good storytelling comes from abandoning the idea as a DM that you're there to tell "your" story. The most interesting stories almost always belong to the characters, and really it's their story after all.


Title: Re: [D&D] Editions, Metacosmology and Setting
Post by: Erik Weissengruber on February 16, 2011, 12:35:56 PM
I am liking what you are saying about game setting and table outcomes.

The only RPG setting that I ever fell in love with was Stafford's Glorantha (with M.A.R. Barker's Tekumel a   d i   s  s ... t  a  n  t   2nd).  It was, however, Stafford's creation before it was game fodder.

To further your Actual Play discussion:

Can you recall any moments where the results of a roll or the outcome of a spell really made people around the table say "yeah, that's it, that is how we roll here in the Forgotten Realms"?

Any moments where a rule from the edition you were using made you stop and say "nuh unh, that just doesn't sound like the kind of things that happen in the Forgotten Realms"?

And character death: one time when a character bought it, did you say "suck it up, that's how you die -- FR style" or "wow, that was a really lame way for a Realms hero to go out"?


Title: Re: [D&D] Editions, Metacosmology and Setting
Post by: Grimcleaver on February 16, 2011, 12:45:04 PM
Gygax wasn't actually involved in 2nd Ed, was he? I think the last edition he participated in was advanced 1e. I'm nitpicking though- I don't actually object. Where's your source material for this idea of Gygax's? I wouldn't mind reading it :D

Researching it, yeah it looks like he left the company four years before 2nd edition came out, but really this is how I look at it. Second edition, with skills and powers, really is the mechanical summation of all the stuff in it that speaks to me of "old school" D&D gaming: Thac0, Non Weapon Proficiencies, Kits, The Man-at-arms/Magic User/Priest/Rogue breakdown. From looking at other older editions it feels like some of it is there, but it really isn't until 2nd ed. that all of that stuff is under one roof. So chronologically I guess Gary Gygax's D&D isn't 2nd edition at all--but it feels the most like his.

I actually did quite a bit of digging to find out what his ideas were, including finding a forum on EN World where you could actually talk to the man himself and ask him questions. His family still own the rights to his work and have forums at a place called garygygaxgames.com. I took a lot of it from the cosmology sections in the Cyclopedia and the old Deities and Demigods as well as from the cosmology sections in The Hall of Many Panes, and Epic of Ayrth. Some chunks were in articles and interviews in Dragon Magazine. But I guess I've been mining around for all the information I could get for a while now and pinning down a single source is hard--because I really couldn't find one single source myself.


Title: Re: [D&D] Editions, Metacosmology and Setting
Post by: Caldis on February 16, 2011, 03:00:30 PM

That's a pretty cool set up for a game.  I wonder though how much of it really had to do with the rules of D&D any edition?  I mean you've added issues that concern each of these characters that are not mentioned in any D&D book, children? hidden tragic pasts?  life as an ooze merchant?  I dont see any mention of hit points or armor class or challenge ratings or even experience points.   You've got a lot of cool play that sounds like it only barely touches on the rules of the game.  It looks like the character issues are what is really driving the play, and that you may have loosely tied them to the cosmology of the game world/used setting info to give a feel of a real place/inspire ideas for opposition.

IME all the editions of D&D are too clunky for what I'm after and I cant be bothered with the hassle of levels and spells and all that mechanical jazz but there settings have often been interesting and tieing those to character issues could be amazing.  2nd edition had a lot of their best setting work with Planescape and Dark Sun even Al-Qadim had interesting bits. 


Title: Re: [D&D] Editions, Metacosmology and Setting
Post by: Natespank on February 16, 2011, 03:51:17 PM
Quote
His family still own the rights to his work and have forums at a place called garygygaxgames.com.

I couldn't find the website. Could you post a link? Thanks!


Title: Re: [D&D] Editions, Metacosmology and Setting
Post by: Grimcleaver on February 17, 2011, 11:18:51 AM
That's a pretty cool set up for a game.  I wonder though how much of it really had to do with the rules of D&D any edition?  I mean you've added issues that concern each of these characters that are not mentioned in any D&D book, children? hidden tragic pasts?  life as an ooze merchant?  I dont see any mention of hit points or armor class or challenge ratings or even experience points.   You've got a lot of cool play that sounds like it only barely touches on the rules of the game.  It looks like the character issues are what is really driving the play, and that you may have loosely tied them to the cosmology of the game world/used setting info to give a feel of a real place/inspire ideas for opposition.

A friend of mine put it best when he said "If roleplaying games are movies, the mechanics are the special effects". People often seem to confound the mechanics of a game for the game. D&D isn't about armor class or saving throws. But certainly decisions you make about how you use the mechanics flavor the story greatly. The single biggest weakness to as-written D&D is hit point bloat. First level seems about right. You have about six to eight hitpoints, weapons deal anywhere from 1-8 hitpoints on average. So weapons effect flesh about how they should ie. they can kill you with a good hit but more often leave you reeling and badly wounded to be finished off with another good hit. As characters level up, this becomes less and less the case, until fights become multi-hour affairs of hacking away on each other like you're chopping wood. Now if the setting supports this kind of fighting (like maybe an Advent Children game or something) fine, but I get frustrated with how weird it feels. In our games we thing armor works much better as damage reduction, but the DR rules are right in the books so it's no big deal. The other big hallmark of third edition D&D is that it's swingy (in other words, with a 20 gauge die the difference between rolling a 2 and a 19 are enough to completely eclipse skill or ability at all but the highest levels--an untrained farmkid can keep up with a seasoned vetran a suprising amount of the time if the dice are on his side. That's the guts of what d20 adds to a setting, and as long as you cap hit-point bloat I like all of those things. It's a simple, powerful mechanic that churns out reasonable results without a lot of extra clunk that overly detailed systems end up with.


Title: Re: [D&D] Editions, Metacosmology and Setting
Post by: Grimcleaver on February 17, 2011, 11:21:37 AM
I couldn't find the website. Could you post a link? Thanks!

Bad news squared, man. I got the address wrong, it's just http://gygaxgames.com/ (http://gygaxgames.com/) but doesn't help since it seems they've shut it down pending "something good" which may or may not be coming. Shame too. That place was a goldmine.


Title: Re: [D&D] Editions, Metacosmology and Setting
Post by: Grimcleaver on February 17, 2011, 11:36:18 AM
To further your Actual Play discussion:

Can you recall any moments where the results of a roll or the outcome of a spell really made people around the table say "yeah, that's it, that is how we roll here in the Forgotten Realms"?

Any moments where a rule from the edition you were using made you stop and say "nuh unh, that just doesn't sound like the kind of things that happen in the Forgotten Realms"?

And character death: one time when a character bought it, did you say "suck it up, that's how you die -- FR style" or "wow, that was a really lame way for a Realms hero to go out"?

Hmm...wow. I guess I'll tackle number three first. Nobody bought it. Epic level. It's pretty impossible to kill people at this level using the rules as written. Plus I'd allowed some liberties to be taken on the player side with the rules (stacking abilities that don't stack, counting multiple enchantments and whatnot just to up the ante on whether or not I could still spin a good game out of it, even with all the excess of power drooling out) That said there was plenty of that on the NPC end. Thorin, in particular, could dish out (through some impressive rules tinkering) a blistering 300 points of damage a hit. What does that even look like on a scale where a normal warhammer maxes out at 10? People were just coming apart in gory spray, which combined with great cleave just made him look like Sauron. He even activated his boots of flying and one hit killed an enormous shadow worm that had just erupted from the catacombs beneath Candlekeep, like a huge fist rising out of a sandcastle. And at least one of the major villains ended up as one of the most anticlimatcic fights in the history of D&D. Ugrosh Stinking-sore, cancermage and favored of Yurtrus one moment, boom-splat gorestain the next. I guess that's a bit of number two also. As for your first question, I don't know that any of our great roleplay experiences in that game arose from the mechanics--not that none ever have in games, which are frequently full of great moments of mechacs painting awesome vistas--but one of the aspects of the challenge was taking the epic level rules (which are admittedly pretty wonky) and trying to tell a great story using the setting, cosmology, history and NPCs of D&D despite some pretty uncooperative mechanics. Our homebrew D&D rules make small but crucial changes to the rules that make things much more cinematic and real-feeling.


Title: Re: [D&D] Editions, Metacosmology and Setting
Post by: contracycle on February 17, 2011, 11:40:45 AM
A friend of mine put it best when he said "If roleplaying games are movies, the mechanics are the special effects". People often seem to confound the mechanics of a game for the game. D&D isn't about armor class or saving throws. But certainly decisions you make about how you use the mechanics flavor the story greatly.

Well, that's not the prevailing view here.  Maybe if you find yourself having to work around the mechanics of D&D, you'd be better off playing something else, in which the rules are more significant and more "meaty".

As it happens I agree with all your criticisms of D&D, and they are precisely the reason I moved away from it a long time ago.  But there is little point to staying with a set of rules you are, functionally, not using.  And although rule-less play can work, it also has significant problems like unclear distributions of authority.  System isn't just special effects; if you don't have system you don't really have a game.


Title: Re: [D&D] Editions, Metacosmology and Setting
Post by: Grimcleaver on February 17, 2011, 11:55:18 AM
Hey Grim, this separation makes a lot of sense to me too, largely because I found different bits appealing from different editions, and would like to use each edition for the one thing it did best.  What did you enjoy most about the cosmologies in play?  I think that'd nicely clarify the value of the categories you're drawing, plus meet the AP requirement! 

What I love about the 2e cosmology in play is how untouched and brand new it feels--but at the same time dusty and vintage. Like finding some $300 comic book in your attic by your favorite artist that you forgot you even owned, yellow pages but still striking and powerful. To be specific, we had a buddy of ours from another game group come to our place to run an "old-school second edition game" set in all places--dark ages France. What? We were all thinking dungeon crawl snorefest in a non-setting ripped from a history book so as to require no creativity, but we made the best characters we could and faced it bravely as a roleplaying challenge. It was amazing. Think Season of the Witch with mudspattered smoke filled towns and long stretches of dirtclod strewn roads. The monsters were pulled from things like the Fiend Folio (the crusty old one) and the Cyclopedia. The kobolds were far from the yipping dog lizards we'd come to know, and were more like melted yowling baby things riding oche yellow elephant tusked ogres as mounts. Wow. I felt like I was rediscovering a game that I had never played. Since then I've been in love with that whole abandoned world that existed before everyone took for granted what was what.

What I love about the 3e cosmologies, is that each one is totally different: different planes, different gods, different arrangements of planes. The most striking experience I've had with this is our Planescape game, which has changed from a Greyhawk-centered 3e Planescape to a Planescape-as-its-own thing game midstream. The PCs are getting ready to dive into a distant formian dominated section of Mechanus to ambush a party on their way to the deepest levels of Acheron to swap a copy of a lichdom formula with a slightly altered counterfiet that causes horrible death to the wizard attempting the ritual--all as part of an intricate plan to give the laugh to the Fraternity of Order. Only now, rather than the PCs being ultimately headed to the Mausoleum of Wee Jas, I suddently realize now that I get to send them to the hidden enclave of any one of an infinite number of gods that fill not only that plane but every plane--because Planescape is no longer beholden to any other setting. It's entirely its own. What a heady rush of power and unfettered freedom. I love it!


Title: Re: [D&D] Editions, Metacosmology and Setting
Post by: Grimcleaver on February 17, 2011, 12:05:45 PM
System isn't just special effects; if you don't have system you don't really have a game.

Don't mistake "special effects" for "fluffy unnecessary thing". Try making a big budget blockbuster at home with your camcorder. But inversely watch Weta or ILM make a movie without a director or actors or crew. That's what I mean. They're tools to craft and tell a story. Bad ones stick out like wires holding up pie-pan spaceships. Good ones energize and synergize with the story and make the whole thing a lot more fun. The core mechanics of D&D are cool and elegant, simple and powerful, which is why we like them so much. There are some really bad systems out there (ironically a lot of them, like GURPS or Palladium are supposed to be ways of creating sets of rules to facillitate storytelling...but are a mess) to a degree that they're unusable and are better off scrapped or stripped for parts.

I suppose in part its that I'm a sentimentalist too. Yeah THAC0 is a clunky bad mechanic--but it also means something. A bit like the bubbles and scratches in Quinton Terrantino or Robert Rodriguez movies, they are a cue to the player that you're going somewhere with history, somewhere classic.


Title: Re: [D&D] Editions, Metacosmology and Setting
Post by: contracycle on February 17, 2011, 01:35:30 PM
So.  Firstly, "telling a story" is dangerous ground for any kind of comprehensible discussion.  I for one think the term is virtually useless, in that it can mean so many things, and in addition, if there are people who play primarily for challenge, or primarily for exploration, then "story" can only be a tool itself, not an end.  As a result this doesn't serve as an explanation, I still have to guess at roughly what you mean.  You say that good system energises play, but as Caldis pointed out your account of a succesful game didn't make any mention of any system action.  And when you do mention system in the later case you describe them as "wonky" and "uncooperative". All of which suggest that you are really overriding or ignoring the system in large part, and might be better served by something else.  Why waste effort fighting it?  System isn't a secondary function like special effects, it's more like the camera itself.

It is still pretty unclerar what this thread is really about.  What sort of feedback are you looking for?  As it happens, I'm also interested in cosmologies and how they inform play but I don't have anything much to contribute on this point becuase it as yet unclear what this has to do with the play of any particular game.  This is more or less the aim of calling for some sort of AP to contextualise a discussion.  Was the cosmology of the game you described a relevant factor?

Lastly, and as an aside, this "a non-setting ripped from a history book so as to require no creativity," is a sentiment I couldn't agree with less.  And not because you'd "solve" this problem by throwing in a bunch of fantastical monsters and magic powers. 


Title: Re: [D&D] Editions, Metacosmology and Setting
Post by: Erik Weissengruber on February 18, 2011, 09:55:21 AM
There are a number of systems-related decisions and categories in your post.  Once which can tie together Editions and Settings.

Epic level. It's pretty impossible to kill people at this level using the rules as written.

- 3.5 introduced the "Epic" level did it not?  Broad distinctions in character effectiveness are systemic.  And you appear to like this feature.
- Was "Epic" or "Epic-ness" a part of the setting where the adventures took place?  If so the Setting ties to system-as-developed by a particular issue in a particular setting


I'd allowed some liberties to be taken on the player side with the rules (stacking abilities that don't stack, counting multiple enchantments and whatnot just to up the ante on whether or not)

- Sounds as if you are drifting the system to make something work for your table
- Did these liberties help flesh out the setting (and its metacosmology)?


That said there was plenty of that on the NPC end. Thorin, in particular, could dish out (through some impressive rules tinkering) a blistering 300 points of damage a hit. What does that even look like on a scale where a normal warhammer maxes out at 10? People were just coming apart in gory spray, which combined with great cleave just made him look like Sauron.

- Look at how comparison of damage values allowed to create certain kinds of color within your game.  Your systems tinkering enabled a certain kind of fiction to be established.

He even activated his boots of flying and one hit killed an enormous shadow worm that had just erupted from the catacombs beneath Candlekeep, like a huge fist rising out of a sandcastle.

- Did the parameters of magic items in the edition you were using make this moment possible?


As for your first question, I don't know that any of our great roleplay experiences in that game arose from the mechanics

- I don't mean great moments when the characters did or said something that, if turned into a comic book or movie, would have the audience saing "cool."  I mean when some system-constrained outcome, decision, or even made the 4 human beings around the table say "wow!".

You've laid down a couple.  Actual Play reports should focus around the activities of the people at the table, not just recounting of the fiction you created.


Title: Re: [D&D] Editions, Metacosmology and Setting
Post by: Erik Weissengruber on February 18, 2011, 11:09:02 AM
Let's take a page from the

http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forge/index.php?topic=31097.msg284282#msg284282

My take is that there exists a working middle ground between hard-and-fast paid for and effectively dysfunctional freeform under one person's control.

- Your game sounds like it was lots of fun for everyone involved.  Would you say it was functional freeform under 1 person's control?  Or did you develop your own customized system?


Title: Re: [D&D] Editions, Metacosmology and Setting
Post by: Grimcleaver on February 18, 2011, 02:17:38 PM
It is still pretty unclerar what this thread is really about.  What sort of feedback are you looking for?  As it happens, I'm also interested in cosmologies and how they inform play but I don't have anything much to contribute on this point becuase it as yet unclear what this has to do with the play of any particular game.  This is more or less the aim of calling for some sort of AP to contextualise a discussion.  Was the cosmology of the game you described a relevant factor?

I'm really not sure what this post is about anymore. See, I'm pretty new here and am still getting the hang of this. Initially I wrote this post with a mind to share a creative endeavor I've been working on--to break the D&D game apart into various editions and divvy up the content so each edition could feel like its own game and give myself and others three (maybe more depending on what else folks consider an "edition") different games to explore. I thought this was a fun idea to work out in a forum like this and would be a good way to get people to understand me, the kind of gamer I am, and what I have to contribute (a suggestion I found reading Ron's sticky on the Development forum).

But it turns out the topic I suggested was a little too abstract for the current nature of the boards, and I was encouraged to concretize it by giving some examples of games I'd played and how it related to my topic. So I tossed out a few, and have since just stepped back from my original topic and have been replying to people who have been responding, pretty much running with their questions and comments.


Title: Re: [D&D] Editions, Metacosmology and Setting
Post by: Grimcleaver on February 18, 2011, 02:43:28 PM
So that said, on to some of your comments:

So.  Firstly, "telling a story" is dangerous ground for any kind of comprehensible discussion.  I for one think the term is virtually useless, in that it can mean so many things, and in addition, if there are people who play primarily for challenge, or primarily for exploration, then "story" can only be a tool itself, not an end.  As a result this doesn't serve as an explanation, I still have to guess at roughly what you mean. 

Again, new guy here, so I'm not sure the conflicts that arise talking about "story" so I'm not sure if my further response is going to clarify things or just muddy them more--but here goes. My goal as a roleplayer is to create stories, worthy narratives that my friends and I can share. The more closely the system models a credible world the better for me, because it makes the stories told there feel more real. The more it strays from this and produces results that don't hold up as narrative the more I'd consider it "wonky"--you get results that break verisimilitude and for me that's bad, because I'm shooting for a story at the end of the day, the story of the characters I'm running the game for.

You say that good system energises play, but as Caldis pointed out your account of a succesful game didn't make any mention of any system action.  And when you do mention system in the later case you describe them as "wonky" and "uncooperative". All of which suggest that you are really overriding or ignoring the system in large part, and might be better served by something else.  Why waste effort fighting it?  System isn't a secondary function like special effects, it's more like the camera itself.

The nature of the challenge was to use the system in its hardest to use form, and that it still held together as a story worth retelling I credit to the beauty and richness of the world behind the rules. Its not that the D&D system can't be supurb for telling stories, it was simply that to prove that to my friends I had to forgo that. I guess to answer your question "why fight it" the answer was to prove to my friends that even at it's worst D&D is still an amazing game capable of telling amazing (for lack of a better word) stories. Now on any other day I wouldn't waste my effort fighting the rules, I would retool them to run the kind of game I want. That said, this particular challenge was specifically designed to keep me from doing that.

Lastly, and as an aside, this "a non-setting ripped from a history book so as to require no creativity," is a sentiment I couldn't agree with less.  And not because you'd "solve" this problem by throwing in a bunch of fantastical monsters and magic powers. 

I think a lot of that boils down to taste and the groups one finds oneself in. There's been some killer historical games that were just great. I'm not talking about these. I've also run into a lot of games where the DM, having put insufficient effort into his game and unable or unwilling to go to the effort to come up with a reasonably cool sounding name for his country/city/world/whatever just plucks a name out of real world history. In my experience this kind of thing isn't always bad--but if you've never gamed with a guy before, it isn't a great sign. Again we were totally blown away by this game, and really not just because we got to fight some fantastic mosters. In fact "it's France, but with MAGIC and MONSTERS! Roll initiative" is pretty precisely what I was dreading.


Title: Re: [D&D] Editions, Metacosmology and Setting
Post by: Grimcleaver on February 18, 2011, 02:55:38 PM
...You've laid down a couple.  Actual Play reports should focus around the activities of the people at the table, not just recounting of the fiction you created.

It seems we're treading into pretty deep water. Let me take a step back. It's fun talking about the Forgotten Realms experiment we ran, and looking at how the mechanics affected things for good and ill, but I really didn't mention it to showcase how great the 3e rules were. It was a challenge. Our regular 3e games run a lot more smoothly when I can fix some of my problems with the rules. I'm not 100% sure what "activities of the people at the table" means--though I'd be happy to include whatever would help advance the conversation. I'm not sure even where to start with regard to that though. Maybe I should read around a little to get a better handle on how these Actual Play reports work. Like I said earlier, my intent for this post spiraled way off somewhere a while back and for now I've just been providing some examples of my experience with the game and trying to play off of people's feedback. Not really sure at all what I should be including that I'm not or what I shouldn't be getting into. Still finding my legs, I guess.


Title: Re: [D&D] Editions, Metacosmology and Setting
Post by: masqueradeball on February 18, 2011, 08:12:23 PM
Using Gygax for 2e seems so very very strange to me. 2e is all about Ed Greenwood (and to a lesser extent, the Dragonlance folks) and Forgotten Realms... Drizzt Do'Urden is the poster child for 2e D&D. Look at the vast majority of the printed material. The "default" settings for AD&D was Greyhawk, for 2e the Realms, for 3e Greyhawk again and finally 4e's "Points of Light."


Title: Re: [D&D] Editions, Metacosmology and Setting
Post by: contracycle on February 19, 2011, 02:52:21 PM
Again, new guy here, so I'm not sure the conflicts that arise talking about "story" so I'm not sure if my further response is going to clarify things or just muddy them more--but here goes. My goal as a roleplayer is to create stories, worthy narratives that my friends and I can share. The more closely the system models a credible world the better for me, because it makes the stories told there feel more real. The more it strays from this and produces results that don't hold up as narrative the more I'd consider it "wonky"--you get results that break verisimilitude and for me that's bad, because I'm shooting for a story at the end of the day, the story of the characters I'm running the game for.

OK.  My thing with story is that, as I said, it can refer to a whole bunch of things.  Say your grand-dad one day tells a story of the "What I Did In The War" variety.  This is not a story in the dramatic sense, becuase it is not structured.  It is just a series of events, whose significance lies in the fact that they are real.  Whereas if you watch a movie, you are seeing a story that is structured in particlar ways to be engaging and to draw in an audience and evoke an emotional response.

Now my hostility to the the term is pretty much a personal view, but more broadly there are additional problems.  When you say you creat stories, that could mean that you imapose a mandatory vision on how play should go, ensuring certain things must happen to make your story come out, and overruling anything the players might do that detracts from your pre-imagined story.  This has a long history in RPG, and is associated with some of the worst cases of GM power abuse.

Or it could something more like, you and the players get together and interact over issues that you find personally meaningful, expressed throught conventions of the game and the systematic structure, and come out of it with a sort of greater insight into the human condition, in the way that the best movies and novels do.

Hence the idea of requesting accounts of what you do in play; armed with that, we could distinguish what you mean by story, what soprt of techniques you are employing.  At the moment you have stated a goal, not a method; it's a worthy goal, but a bit motherhood-and-apple-pie.  And as you note, you may well find the system is actually interfering, which is potentially something we could discuss in terms of trying to help with, if you want to explore that topic.

As to the history thing, that's was just a random hit on a nerve.  Sure it's a matter of taste; seems to me the default assumption is that extravagant costumes, dramatic powers, flamboyant moves and all that stuff are seen as/assumed to be inherently more interesting and entertaining that real historical settings, actual other worlds inhabited by other actual people.  I feel totally the reverse; all that fantasy stuff bores to me to tears.  I was talking with an old player friend of mine the other day about a book I was reading, which discussed the government of Henry V, and apropos of nothing he said "That's the problem with FRPGs, they miss out all the interesting stuff."  This didn't surprise me because I already knew we shared these interests; but it frustrates both of us that a medium like RPG, which could do a far, far better job than any novel or movie of making historical contexts "real" in a mental sense, pretty much ignores the possibility.

But this has nothing to do with your thread at all and is no more than a personal annoyance, so I'll leave it there.