Wisdom from Metatopia

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Wargamer and RPG'er since the 1970's, author of Adventures Dark and Deep, Castle of the Mad Archmage, and other things, and proprietor of the Greyhawk Grognard blog.

20 thoughts on “Wisdom from Metatopia

  1. To me, this does not ring true at all. D&D is first and foremost about exploration to me. Sure, there is often combat along the way, but even in games where you primarily get XP from killing things, it still seems like monsters are the carrot dangled in front of the PCs to get them to go out and explore the world.

  2. Battles are merely an obstacle in the path of continuous development, growth and exploration.

    Battles should never be the focus of a social game like Dungeons & Dragons. That's a good reason why 4e failed to grasp so much of the 'old school' imagination.

    I vote false, also a little stupid and offensive. Can I ask who said it? Private email works just as well for that, too, if you don't want to name and shame. 😛

  3. At face value, it's insulting.


    If the context was about gaming – including wargaming's long history – it could be a very complimentary statement…

  4. I don't think it was presented as a secret; the person who made the observation was Kenneth Hite (who has a bunch of games to his credit plus a ton of game reviews).

    He was discussing the very core game mechanics in the context of its origins with Dave Arneson's original campaign, which was essentially a miniatures campaign with the role playing to string things together. He also made the observation that while 4E "got combat perfectly" what it was lacking was the "connective tissue" to string together those combats.

    (Presented without comment, to further the discussion.)

  5. Scottz: Most certainly it was not presented as an insult in the roundtable discussion. He had posed the idea that games should have mechanics that move their intentions forward, rather than relying on the players' understanding of the narrative. Thus, a game about the Three Musketeers should have three elements:

    1) Swordplay
    2) Court intrigue
    3) Influencing international politics in the 17th century

    Given that premise, I asked him what the "purpose" of D&D would be, and that was the answer.

  6. So the purpose of D&D is to essentially cultivate a military campaign out of adventures… continuity for the characters between battles.

    That's like saying Star Trek was about the Enterprise's phasers.

    I honestly don't know what to do with that statement. Wow.

  7. That's like saying Star Trek was about the Enterprise's phasers.

    That's Star Fleet Battles! 🙂

    D&D as the continuity between battles?

    Nay, it is just another stage of the battle. Prepping, planning, leveling, etc. All a part of the never ending battle.

    Social occassions (encounters) are merely warfare concealed, eh? 🙂

  8. I dunno, scott, I interpreted the comment a lot differently, even before I knew the details. I think D&D certainly started as a way to connect combat and problem-solving encounters together, and what we think of as "roleplaying" grew out of that as a side effect. That doesn't mean it's just about fighting, or even has to have fighting in it; you could provide continuity for other games as well 9I just posted to my own blog on what "Monopoly + continuity" would look like.)

    The Star Trek example is bad, because of course Star Trek also has continuity: continuity between problem-of-the-week scenarios. So it's more like saying "Star Trek is about Kirk, Spock and McCoy".

  9. As you wish, Talysman.

    I never considered the Basic box I got a long time ago to be a wargame or combat game. I'll leave it at that.

  10. He was discussing the very core game mechanics in the context of its origins with Dave Arneson's original campaign, which was essentially a miniatures campaign with the role playing to string things together.

    Maybe at the very beginning but it seemed to go beyond that quite quickly. I think the idea of playing a single individual that grows in wealth and ability so powerful that it quickly overwhelms the wargame elements of the campaign.

    Also supporting this observation are is that miniatures quickly were deemphasized. By the late 70s it was revelation for many groups that they could use miniatures to resolve what the characters were doing.

    Also the early roleplaying game had a large amount of people attending these session. Far in excess to what we were used to later. Under those condition it would have been hard to use a miniature wargame.

  11. dungeoncrawls can be grinds or just constant exploration in empty rooms. This must be why my long time D&D players have had a backlash to dungeoncrawls and prefer story based above ground adventures.

  12. Now me, I like dungeoncrawls because you can't get anymore continuous than a megadungeon exploration. Single goal, single location. Now if you include forays back into town, sure that's where the game had to develop new rules to account for downtime.

  13. I don't feel any twinge of distress about the importance of combat in the game. As someone who found wargames AFTER my youthful phase with rpgs, I recall the delight I felt upon discovering, after an unexpected event on one corner of a battlefield that seemed particularly vivid, that wargames could conjure imagery as effectively as rpgs.

    I think many devoted wargamers feel just this way, that what holds their games apart from abstract games like chess is the thrill in the conjuration of memorable imaginative moments via co-operative participation at the table- the sense of 'being there'.

    I wonder whether the comment refers to the distinction between discrete(one off)combat games and those which attempt to play out a string of related incidents. There certainly seems to be some connection between the interest in formulating extended wargaming campaigns and the genesis of d&d. The notion of an ongoing narrative of related encounters perhaps suggested that such could be possible with individuals rather than with battlefield units…

  14. I don't take the comment as an insult directed at the game, and having read Joseph's context in which it was mentioned cannot read it that way.

    It does however presuppose that D&D is played in a particular fashion. Whilst the concentration on combat mechanics does give credence to this view, as does its genesis as a wargame, I don't think it accurately encompasses all D&D. I have played more than a couple of campaigns where combat is at best infrequent and far from the centre of the game. Was I playing it 'incorrectly'? Of course not.

    That said, there are games where that statement may fit. What I think is entirely correct is the 'continuity' part of the statement. that is certainly true when compared to other games which do not rely on an ongoing narrative. It is the 'between …. x' which is somewhat debatable.

  15. Combat figures heavily into any edition of D&D, of course. Such is the nature of the heroic quest: you beat the bad guy. But that generally happens in addition to exploring the unknown, answering riddles, rescuing damsels, searching for ancient tomes, acquiring lost treasures, etc. Mr. Hite's assertion seems, to me, to be more a commentary on his own experiences playing D&D than any sort of actual insight. (And his status as a game designer is completely irrelevant as to whether he is correct or not about a game he didn't develop.)

    I like hack-n-slash as much as the next guy but if everything besides combat is relegated to "continuity" then something has gone off the rails somewhere.

  16. Eh. It's simply illogical to make statements like this. This, ladies and gentlemen is called the fallacy of Reductionism.

    I could say "D&D is about providing continuity for characters between Tavern visits" and be just as accurate/inaccurate.

    It's also kinda weird to me that the support for the statement is supposed to be Blackmoor "miniatures play". Blackmoor, from the start was very much about player intrigues and ambitions, as previosly developed though Braunstein and Diplomacy. It's not like they were sitting around doing mass combat all the time or even very often, according to the players statements.

  17. I agree completely with the comment.

    That people might find the 'continuity' more valuable than the battles doesn't change the reality of the game design.

  18. Bass-ackwards. D&D is the exploration of a hostile environment for fun and profit (with an underlying dark horror motif).

    It's no more about fights than it is about treasure, or levelling-up, or solving puzzles, planning, hanging out with friends, challenging your imagination.

    Well, maybe a little more about fights. 8]

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