Monday, 25 August 2014

Edition whoring; fifth and seventh; and things unseen

So we've lived to see a fifth D&D and a seventh 40K. Who'd have thought it, back in 1974 or '87?

I've been reflecting. The more editions, the more I think the magic, and the truer quality, was in the first, in OD&D and Rogue Trader; and the more I think that after any new thing appears, if we love it, the way to honour what it represents is to carry on truly developing, to push the limits in corresponding ways, not just rework.

Some, like the producer of the game, may have an incentive only to tinker, see it as a cash cow to milk, a safe source of income. But maybe that's what success and comfort can do: we just get desperate, hanging in or hanging on rather than rolling with or riding.

It's a bit like sugar. We can and do 'refine' it, to a form that's been called 'white poison', but the brown form, with its molasses, has higher mineral content, and maybe crucially is more of the source plant that emerged for a given moment in biological time in the overlapping ecosystems. It may be less about clarity than purity. Veracity, not voracity.

(If you're worried about white sugar, or sugar in general, especially if you seen material like this, you could consider moving to honey, or look into xylitol or steviol glycosides.)

I get the impression that a major attraction of fifth and seventh, and any new edition, is the ability to find fellow players easily. You can just go with the flow, barring influential reactions like Oldhammer and the OSR of course. The companies do the selling for you.

On the other hand, the bigger your gaming group, and the more you all share the same interests, or the more willing you are to look for and accept unknown or potential players and persuade and be persuaded to get your preferred games on, the less you need the new editions. You can dip in of course, but at leisure. You're in a long-term happy place, and less worried about what any sixth or eighth edition might be bringing, and how soon.

Even beyond this of course, there are so many other great games to play - games doing what OD&D and RT did when they arrived and first grew, whether whole new things or radical progressions. After all, how much of what D&D and 40K haven't covered in their 40 and 27 years respectively can the fifth edition and the seventh actually have to offer?

Let's turn that last broad question into a more specific set. We buy new editions not just to help with belonging, or from boredom or a hoarding instinct, but also for the changed or new rules. Bearing that in mind, does the newest edition of D&D or 40K have rules for:

  • ... higher or lower levels of gravity, plus zero gravity, that is, microgravity?
  • ... relationships between dimensions, mass, density, attributes and value?
  • ... an underlying continuity binding items, living beings, vehicles and terrain?
  • ... atmospheric composition and pressure, as well as velocities of light etc.?
  • ... a variety of distinct forms of sensory perception and physical interaction?
  • ... disability in starting characters or units, not caused only by injury in play?
  • ... a range of specific states of mind and mental illnesses, and epiphanies?
  • ... linguistic relativity and translation errors? (D&D) / ... negotiation? (40K)
  • ... specific dream or vision content? (D&D) / ... R&D for unit mods? (40K)
  • ... actions altering a wider world? (D&D) / ... supply management? (40K)

These are fairly general but relevant areas that I can't recall being covered in any edition, if ever, beyond supplementary homebrew of course, although I don't spend as much time reading rulebooks as I once did, or playing in more sanctioned ways: one or two may have come up. In the case of D&D it may be the Dungeon Master's Guide will cover some. For 40K, let's be honest - who has a clue what the next year or two could bring?

A lot of these rules might seem unnecessary, because we can make them ourselves, or adapt them or improvise, but the same can be said for a lot of rules, even core elements like aspects of combat. Regardless of how easy they are to make, we still buy, and the ability to pick and mix and find new inspiration is useful. But having them, shifting the core away from the superficial and direct, might reshape the niche, and eventually the wider culture, as D&D did, and to a lesser degree 40K too. They'd be evidence of vitality.

If even a handful appear in the latest edition of either game, it would be a reason to look.


Anonymous said...

'...the way to honour what it represents is to carry on truly developing, to push the limits in corresponding ways, not just rework.'

I have this feeling too. I've been wanting to reply to you for a while on this entry of yours, but I couldn't find the words or the time. Now I have the time, but still not many words! Von has expressed how I feel with regard to Games Workshop's settings today here, on my post the other day.

Can you give some examples of contemporary games that have this sense of heart and creativity? Or is it possible that the highly connected world we live in precludes naive genius, and crowds it out with recurring tropes and references and connections?

Porky said...

I've been making a list and collecting links, but there's enough going into it that I'm thinking I'll make it a full post or a whole series, with one post on each.

Then again, there's also a lot less in the list than would be ideal, and the longer I think about it and shuffle the categories the more doubts I have. I was in a generous mood when I wrote this post because if I keep to the area of the continuum with stricter criteria, almost nothing gets through.

I'd imagine the higher rates of interconnectivity are allowing a lot of crowding out, but it could also be a case of playing safe, that producers don't stray too far from the standards to avoid risk, and players feel comfortable with what they know.

It's easy to wonder how we ever got even this far.

garrisonjames said...

Some excellent food for thought there. I can't speak to 40K as I've never played it and only know what little I do from our conversations. That said, I like your idea for language translation errors, epiphanies, dream content and some of the other points you raise. Quite a bit. I guess I take some of that stuff for granted, because it is how I run things, have run things, and plan to run things when we finally get the new game going. Language is boring if it doesn't carry consequences in addition to benefits, for instance. Starting out with some sort of defect is one of the challenges potentially facing kids coming into Wermspittle off of one of the farm enclaves in the Low-Lands, so we're right with you on that. Alterations that affect a larger world is at the very heart of what we want players to feel welcome to attempt. We're very interested in the consequences and repercussions of player-character actions (and failures to act), as it makes for a very rich and organic milieu in which a lot of previously unsuspected, unplanned for and often quite intriguing things take place.

It would be handy to have some guidelines for research and development outside of just spell research...including scholarly investigations and scientific experiments and breakthroughs/failures.

Thanks for this post--you've got me really thinking about some of this stuff...

ChoiceGenie said...

It's easy to wonder how we ever got even this fa
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