[Edit-- this post was written at 0743 after an entire 36 hour period of no sleep and copious caffeine. It rambles and isn't entirely coherent. You have been warned. --Jason]
It’s interesting to me when folks talking about Legacy D&D (anything from Chainmail all the way to Skills & Powers, for clarity) talk about the rules as if they had ONE way to play and ONE way to read them. The default is usually assumed to be some variation on exploration/sandbox, free-form, rules-lite, “theater of the mind” — and that’s simply not the case with my experience of D&D. I used miniatures/token/gummibears on a pretty tactical kind of wargame setup– ACCORDING TO THE RULES AS WRITTEN– and had a great time with running and playing in very scripted kinds of adventures.
The OSR stuff has basically been telling me and people who had similar experiences to me (and there ARE many of us– we just aren’t as vocal because we tend to get shouted down by the “purists”) that we were playing the game wrong by their refusal to acknowledge other styles of play as valid. I feel pretty solid saying this because I have not seen any support whatsoever for anything other than the aforementioned playstyle in any of the OSR/OSRIC/C&C/L&L stuff that I have looked at– and I own most of it. And it’s remarkably hypocritical to complain about how “new” D&D doesn’t let them play the way they want to when their own fixes for the problem do nothing to accommodate the way others played the game when those versions of the rules were current.
Christian Lindke did an AMAZING job on his blog Cinerati breaking down the Opportunity Attack rules from each edition up until 4E, and I’ll let his work stand on its own merits. It’s good stuff, and it’s his breakdown of the rules edition by edition that really prompted this post. Back in the day, I was playing the way the designers intended– it’s in there in black and white. So were the folks playing in the “theatre of the mind, gridless sandbox” style.
We were both doing it right, you and I. We were ALL doing it right, because we were sitting down with our friends, chucking some polyhedrals, and having a good time. THAT is the core of our chosen hobby, THAT is what makes our hobby so much fun– the interaction with other human beings, face-to-face, sharing in the highs and lows and critical hits and natural 1s that come along with it. No matter what game you’re playing–regardless of what the rules say– if you and your group are having a good time, you’re doing it right.
So when the playtests start, regardless of your favorite edition, don’t come to it with the attitude of “If it doesn’t have X (with X being your particular niche rule or style or whatever from your favorite edition), then I’m not even going to try it!” Instead, give it a play for what it just might be– the way to get folks from all editions, and all gaming backgrounds together in the same place to share their love of the game we all say we love. Let the 4E folks mingle with the 1E/Moldvay folks, and come to the table with a “wait and see” attitude… and then send good, solid feedback. Don’t try to clone your favorite edition– try to make THIS edition the one that we can all rally around and play together.
Don’t expect the new version of our game to be EXACTLY what your favorite version was… if it was exactly the same, they would just reprint the old editions and let the community stay fractured and bleeding and dying. Expect it to be something new that we can all learn together, and that if the previews are correct, a great many of us from all gaming spectrums might just learn to love.
This could be what saved D&D and Tabletop RPG in general. But if we all come to the table with our arms folded and our noses in the air, it’ll never happen. We have to give it a chance and we have to try–together– to make this game the best edition yet.