Staying in the Game

The word has come down. All games older than Ten years will have the text flake off the pages. All you old geezers will have to buy into the new games to keep playing. HA!

Well not yet at least. I’m quite sure the Evil Liches in the basement at Hasbro have been working on that. Just like the MAAfia wants to charge you royalties for the song stuck in you head.

I say it often enough, the words do not fall of the pages when a new game comes out. It is no vice to keep playing the system you like, and no virtue to constantly jump systems.

To wit: I have not even cracked the cover of 5e. Not because it is a bad game, but because it is a different game. The system changes are sufficient that I would have to rewrite my whole world to conform to it. Reams of work. Last I checked I was not into self flagellation.

So do not feel you have to have the latest thing if you are having fun. Players, just because a game is not the latest thing does not mean it’s a bad game. The fun does not fall out of a game because they stick with a system that works for that game.

Years ago I ran into a girl on a Star Trek forum that would not watch Casablanca because it was Black & White. It is still one of the best films I have ever seen. Hopefully she has gained in wisdom. The point being don’t be that person. Do not judge a game by the age of the rules.

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Growing up, everything was black & white for my family, even the things in color! But I guess they don’t make reverse-Ted-Turner tvs anymore.

I think we crossed a line as a culture sometime after 2000. I’m not sure when, maybe between 2005 and 2015? People - generally young people who weren’t already set in their ways - got bombarded by more movies, tv shows, music, games, and internet stuff than ever before, and a lot of it was made permanently available instead of scheduled. No more missing an episode because you were out shopping, no more waiting for second-run theaters or home video releases of that cinema masterpiece you missed. More of it than ever and it never goes away, and it’s a lot to go through. Even if they don’t want most of it, it takes work to find what they do want. Since they’re always filtering new incoming stuff, basically their whole lives up to now, they haven’t experienced the older stuff, and so they don’t assign any particular value to it. That’s all media in general, and I think it holds true enough to RPGs, there are more releases now than ever. And so the default stance of the Youth Of Today™ is Nothing Before Me, 'Cause Have You Seen How Goddamn Much There Is Now?

Whereas in my youth, that blursed time known as The Eighties, you watched whatever was on tv and listened to whatever was on the radio and played whatever game you had the bits to play because that’s all there was. And thankfully, it was varied. Weekend afternoons were a grab bag if you were around the house, could be Marx Brothers, could be Night Gallery, could be something so dull it would force you into the open air. My generation was at least exposed to a broad age of media and did assign value to it, and that colors how we judge all older material, in that we don’t dismiss it outright.

People need to see old games being played to feel like there’s something worth seeking out. Kind of an experiential spam filter: old is -10, being used now is +15, the total scored high enough to not get moved to the junk folder.

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I was born in the Eisenhower administration. I’m a child of the Sixties. Three lousy channels, the library, outside. That was the entertainment options. Help was the first film I saw as a kid. Why my Dad took us to that one? We were all Beetle crazy. The past is a foreign country, they do things different there.

The sheer volume of media available at the touch of a finger is staggering. The computer I’m using was unthinkable in 1973 when I hit high school. IBM was still thinking in terms of Huge-I-vac.

When I started the hobby there were a few choices in terms of games. D&D and…D&D. I saw it as a rules for the kind of thing my friends and I had been doing all along.

Hate to have to say this, but you guys don’t really get the point. It has nothing to do with if its old or new or good or bad. There is one thing, and one thing only, that younger people are interested in… PEOPLE. Humans only learn with other humans, we only gain interest in things if we have communities and people do to them with. I don’t know if any of you noticed, but all the things we all grew up doing are GONE. Not just boring or defunct, but have been specifically ripped out and destroyed with the gentrification or run-down destruction of neighborhoods. The only thing “The Youth” have to interact with is a bunch of lies and bullshit that constantly force feed them the “latest and greatest” while subtly removing any of the older stuff. This isn’t just about memes going old or games disappearing. This happens with academic journals and legitimate medical information. The only thing younger people have as a way to connect with each other systematically removes access to older things and constantly pushes only the new things on them. Double onto that the amount that the older generation shits on them by shoving participation trophies down their throats and never letting them just go make mistakes and the younger generation literally doesn’t have access to older people to learn from.

If you really want the younger generation to experience and appreciate the classics offer to spend time with them and make it fun for them like it was for you. Stop judging and comparing the difference and notice the real root here – young people are depressingly levels of lonely and overwhelmed and terrified because of it.

For me the game has always been about the social aspect. One reason remote gaming holds little appeal. It is about breaking bread with friends.

However I’ve seen too many people hung up on game or editions. Some people are shallow that way, the latest thing or they can’t have fun with it. You wonder how anyone can enjoy chess or poker. They have not had new cards, pieces or rules in forever. (Yes I know, there are people fiddling with chess all the time. The classic game remains.)

Fun is not found only in novelty.

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It’s something I think about a lot. On the one hand, I’m seriously content with the systems – or even modernized versions of systems – I played in the 70s and 80s. On the other, I want to keep an open mind. Someone might just come up with a system I like better.

That’s the way it is with the updated version of games I play. I like the 7th (!) edition of Call of Cthulhu, for instance. But I find some games are influenced a bit too much by video games for my taste. That’s what I see with D&D 5e, though it’s not as bad as 4e. Another turn-off is the desperate attempts to seem edgy.

I seriously won’t touch a game that has [random word]punk in it’s description. IMO, the only legitimate use of “punk” as a suffix is cyberpunk. And maybe steampunk, though I’m not sure. Same goes with “dark.” There’s actually a game called “C’thulhu Dark.” Because Call of C’thulhu isn’t dark enough, I guess. My point is that they seem like cynical marketing strategies, I guess. Which, with the glut of new games on the market, is probably just good business.

And get off my lawn! Okay, rant over. All this is to say, I agree – if it works, why upgrade? It’s not like games are like my cell phone, which I’m sure the USB port will break on long before it’s useeless, making it unchargable and, well… useless.

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My wife dragged us into Steampunk because she loves Victorian clothing.

At Steam Con:
Girl: Has anyone seen my boyfriend?
People: What does he look like?
Girl: He has a beard, and a top hat.

I yell at them to get on the lawn. I hate grass.

I agree in part that it is a good deal the information overload. New, new, new being constantly shoved at you from everything around you.

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I tried 5e but running it I was still running AD&D only with substitute inflated numbers. It wasn’t intentional but AD&D 1st and 2nd edition are just a part of my DNA now. I raised my kids playing it and their friends likewise. We’ve played Dungeon World, Blades In the Dark, Cy_Borg, etc. but when we want D&D it’s the old standby warts and all.
Can’t say AD&D 1st and 2nd are best but they are my dearest and most comfortable friends of role playing.

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The most comfortable, if I might invisible system. When you are comfortable the system falls away and the game remains. Crunch is important, it is how things get decided. To my thinking it should never be in the front.

Play Comfortable.

That’s a fact, I never get analysis paralysis with AD&D able to roll with whatever punches the characters and players might throw. I’ve definitely learned some better practices from Dungeon World and Burning Wheel over the years that I think made my AD&D games better. Still, there’s been Band if Blades games where as a Gm I just lost the what happens next plot for the rules being a bit too open to interpretation. When figuring GM moved on a failure I felt like I was supposed to tap into a sadistic game master side I don’t have.

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I’m a fan of playing what you like with whom you like. There can be value in new things and new concepts, and there can be value in tried and true, even if it’s more tried and it works good enough.

My happy place is psi. If an RPG doesn’t allow psi, I won’t play it. If a group doesn’t allow psi, then they are not an option for potential gaming friends. (Regular friends is still okay, of course.) If an individual hates psi, then we will not be playing together. Some people find that limiting and a few offensive which puzzles me, but gaming should be about happiness and fun I feel. Thus that inherently means that some people are better off playing together, and others are better off passing by.

Another quirk I’ve noticed about myself, is that I seem to prefer to game with people who have strongly held beliefs… which often means religious. I’m not terribly particular about which religion exactly, but there is something I find different and desirable about having a group of highly intelligent people who have dug up the moral and ethical landscape and found beliefs that they can really devote themselves to. So long as our beliefs are not diametrically opposed, and occasionally even then, we can have some great gaming sessions.

In my group Epic Fetch, one of my players wants to be the head of an organization and as I want to make them happy, I am helping them make that happen. Now they are happily working out the details of said group and their home base.

I have a psi system. More Star Trekish as you have seen. I’ve never liked D&D psionics. To start with it was unworkable, 1e. Then you would be stupid to work it, 2e, and then an alternate spell system 3e. Hence I have my own.

The most amusing thing to me about D&D psionics is that it was created specifically to address the two major perceived failings of D&D itself after it’s first year: at first a lot of people hated the class system, saying that the three classes (fighting men, magic-users, and clerics) were completely unrealistic (despite the options for races - even Gygax said in the very first book that people could start playing as a dragon, so long as they started weak, and later classes swiftly added on in various sources)…

…and that Vancian style spell-casting (memorize and forget after casting) was unpopular, and they wanted a point system instead.

Thus psionics was specifically crafted to address exactly those two points - it provided something not tied to any class in exchange for certain class features, and it ran off a point system. It was also extensively playtested before being released. Sadly, it introduced a few new problems as well. It didn’t match the look’n’feel of the rest of the game, and a lot of people were apparently bothered by the 60-70s parapsychic terminology being used despite the fact that there were a number of spells which did the exact same thing.

Which is a shame as the 0e psionics system was surprisingly streamlined and easy to use with simple combat rules, lightning fast resolutions, and realistic limitations on actions taken and affecting non-psionic targets. Too bad those rules were presented as “additions” to the previously existing rules by section, and as such were scattered into those various sections making referencing it a pain. It was by far easier to use than the spell casting system.

1e psionics tried to fix the new problems, providing more details and clarifying text, as well as addressing the complaint that ‘psionics should happen at the speed of thought’ feedback from customers.

2e saw the temporary removal of psionics, until it was brought back, and I quote, “by popular demand” in The Complete Psionic Handbook. It became a skill based system, and the combat modes became powers. Now people were complaining about it the fact that almost anyone could potentially get psionics, so it was tied to a class and it got rid of the ‘acting at the speed of thought’ concept when that proved to be wildly unpopular in the end.

When the skill-based system was complained about, it was converted to a combat system with the introduction of MTHAC0 later on in 2e in the newer Dark Sun updates to psionics, and the skill aspect was removed.

People still complained about it being a totally separate system from the core concepts of the game, so in 3e it was tweaked to use the same ruleset as magic. The combat modes were reintroduced.

3.5 psionics also incorporated the feedback from 3.0, Combat modes was removed again. Now people complained about it using the same ruleset (it’s an alternate spell system) even though that was what they had been asking for (in aggregate).

4e saw psionics converted back to a power based system.

They beta tested a bit in 5e, but never settled on anything.

6e/next/beyond/whatever is apparently still playing with the concept.

Unlike much of TSR/WotC, the psionics system was one area where listening to fans actually happened - as Gygax disliked the idea of psionics in his medieval fantasy, he assigned it to others to continue to develop. Sadly, psionics as a system gained a poor reputation that was cemented in the collective gaming consciousness and it never really escaped that shadow.

Ironically, they probably should have simply decided what psionics should be to D&D, and then stuck with those concepts and honed them. Obviously, listening to the customers in every little thing pleased no one in the end.

The one consistent aspect of the whole thing: “people complained”

I did not find the 1e psionics easy or streamlined. 2e broke the “any reasonable person” test. Would you pick up and use a power tool that had a 1 in 20 chance to blow off your arm? Yet 2e psionics had that everywhere. By 3e I had my own system.

I didn’t say 1e was easy or streamlined.

I said 0e was easy and streamlined (once the rules could be found in their various sections).

Also, people pick up and use power tools all the time that are wearing down and reaching that 1 in 20 chance. Not to mention the people that hurt themselves with a bow or sword or a knife rather frequently.

Now losing an entire arm, that is more rare these days (at least in our culture). I would have to gather statistics, but I’m pretty sure it is not everywhere - though you are completely correct in that there are a number of powers with a severe critical fail built in (Can’t even blame Gygax for that). One seldom hears complaints about the critical successes though, lol.

Yes, complaining but also TSR LISTENED. Otherwise it wouldn’t have been changed so often. and then people complained about the changes, which were also listened to. Not to mention that the demand has been consistent enough to keep psionics in the game for what, almost 50 years?

There are powers in the psionics that have a 1 in 20 chance of removing all psionic ability. That’s getting a brand new tool with a warning label, “Stands a decent chance of crippling you for life while using it correctly” We are not talking worn out tools (Discard all worn out tools) Brand new tools, designed that way. It does not pass reasonable muster. Which is why I never used it. It’s on my shelf, but not in my game.

Psionics is a whole book of “Nice spell, don’t use it.” class of abilities. Identify being the 1e/2e poster child. Costs like hell, does not mitigate any bad effects and might not work. Gygax hated any magic/psionics that did not have a downside.

Having reviewed your psionic system, I think you did a great job of it, personally. Very tight and has a clear vision of what psionics are to be in your campaign world.

But I would like to clear up some incorrect information and misconceptions.

0e (Edritch Wizardry) and 1e (Player’s Handbook) both did NOT contain ANY powers which had a critical success / critical fail results. There were two powers out of thirty-seven (0e) or fourty (1e) which contained built in risk: astral projection and probability travel, both of which had certain chances of ethereal wind snapping the silver thread which would kill someone; chances which reduced as the character leveled up. On the other hand, those powers allowed one to travel the planes, or to change to alternate dimensions and alternate timelines… a level of capability well worth including some risk for.

Only the early 2e (The Complete Psionics Handbook, specifically) had the critical results for every power.

Later 2e (ie: Dark Sun) updated the powers and completely REMOVED the critical results entirely, though it did say that they could be kept as optional rules if desired.

Gygax was not involved with 2e psionics in any way that I am aware of - he had already been removed from his company a couple of years prior to the 2e PHB coming out, and TCPH didn’t come out for another 2 years after that, and Dark Sun update another couple of years after that.

Gygax approved the publication of articles in Dragon 006 and 023 praising the psionics system, even though he did not use it whatsoever in his campaign, and eventually came to regret the whole mess (despite the fact that 0e and 1e psionics were based partly off of the mental Divine class that he himself had written for testing to give players a chance against the dreaded mind flayer) because of how he did not feel that psionics fit with his vision of his personal medieval campaign world (as far as I’m aware), thus wanted people to stop asking him about psionics.

And yes, Gygax really didn’t want power without restriction or penalties… that was in fact the exact stated reason by him to introduce material components for spells - he wanted to limit the wizard and enable non-magical types to interrupt the spell-casting process as a means of balance.

Agreed. Judge a game by the enjoyment you get.
My campaign started back in the eighties, and I have run my game world under many different systems - D&D (white box), Chivalry and Sorcery, Runequest, and others - it was even visited by players running under Space Opera! The game world developed before D&D canon developed, so it has many little idiosyncracies built into it that are internally consistent but that don’t match any rules system. For example, a character gets NO saving throw against miracles cast by a priest of their god - why would they? (It helps the evil churches keep their congregations in line…)
And psionics do not work in the world. Having looked at Eldritch Wizardry, I gave it a big thumbs down and decided not to include it. The players recently met the first Illithid seen for centuries (they were thought to be extinct) and defeated it - it was a priest of an evil god, and seemed to exist quite happily without its supposed psionic powers.
I had a 30 year break from gaming after I married - family becomes the most important thing to you - but visited an annual games convention, and ran one game per year under AD&D. And players still wanted to visit, because they had fun.
After personal tragedy, I restarted GMing online when Covid hit, and have been running ever since. The weekly group runs under AD&D (an amalgam of 1e and 2e), but to begin with I also ran a second weekly group under 5th ed (it ended due to player commitments).
I also run an open game at conventions, and players can bring characters in from different systems. I trust them to know their system, and adapt outcomes for their character accordingly. Despite the world’s restrictions (some players really hate the limitation of maximum AC -5 under AD&D) I normally have more wanting to play than I have places.
I will try most games systems (including homebrew) but prefer those where I stand a chance of developing a character - which limits my enjoyment of Call of Cthulhu, Paranoia, and one-shots!
But the point is to know the setting you place the players in - if you can make it enjoyable, they will be happy. Just make sure you know the main rules sufficiently to manage them!

Quite the story! Thank you for sharing.