Saturday, May 18, 2019

Static Damage - Not a Fan

D&D 4E used static damage for monster attacks as the default, with a rolled range (of which the static amount was the average result) as optional. If I remember right, it was also supposed to be the default for player attacks as well, although none of the DMs I played with used it on the player side.

5E continues to support this idea. Although spells and monster attacks are given a die range to roll, the average result is presented first in the monster stat blocks.

I think it takes a lot of the fun out of the game.

Zak Smith is persona-non-grata in the OSR these days (and we won't rehash why here, that's not the point and any comments defending or dissing Zak will be deleted), but he did have a good post I remember defending the Classic D&D group initiative system. In that system, you roll for each side in the combat each round to see who goes first. His defense of it was that the rolls not only add variety/unpredictability to combats, they also work at building group cohesion and keep attention focused on the events unfolding at the table. And I think he was right.

Set initiative (3E through 5E style) makes things a bit easier for the DM to manage at the table. But as a DM and as a player, I've noticed that after a player takes a turn, they know they've got quite a while to wait before their next turn, especially if they're not in a position to be attacked by the opponents for that round (archers, spellcasters, hiding stealthy characters). And there are enough distractions in this modern world (smart phones, new web browser tabs, etc.) that we can turn to while we wait that it can leave players a bit out of the loop at times. Group initiative focuses the whole group during the initiative roll, and it tends to last longer no matter which side goes first.

Set damage for monster attacks isn't exactly the same, but I believe it was implemented for a similar purpose - to make things easier for the DM. But it has the unintended side effect of making combat less interesting. If the damage for attacks is set, I know exactly how many hits my character can take. If it's random, I am forced to make assessments of the situation, and gamble based on how likely I am to get hit, how much potential damage the monster might deal (maximum and minimum), and how lucky I feel. It makes each round of combat feel more visceral and engaging. As a DM, it sure gets players' attention if you announce a monster has hit a certain character and then grab one or more dice to see how much damage was inflicted. Simply announcing "You were hit for 6 damage" is not so compelling.

Dice rolls add variety and uncertainty. That unpredictability makes the game fun. That's why we use them. Many mechanics that are designed to reduce the number of die rolls may save some time, but I feel the loss of player engagement isn't worth the time that's saved.

(Yes, there was a recent in-game situation involving set damage dice in a game I played in, and no, the details aren't important.)

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

The Thief of Bagdad (1924) and the Thief Class

This is the first of a series of posts looking at classic cinema and mining it for elements that may have inspired elements in D&D.

According to Peterson's Playing at the World (2012), the Thief class was developed by players at Aero Hobbies in Santa Monica, CA in 1974. They shared the concept with Gygax, who wrote up his own version and published it. There's no mention of what the original concept was like mechanically, but Gygax's published version is what we had from OD&D through 2E. Weak in combat, without spells, but with percentile-based unique skills that could be used more or less at will.

Plot Summary (spoiler warning...if that's necessary for a movie nearly 100 years old)
The Thief of Badgad (1924) is a black & white silent movie starring Douglas Fairbanks as the titular thief (he goes by the name Ahmed when he's pretending to be a prince, but it's not stated if that's the character's actual name or a pseudonym). The thief plies his trade in the streets of Bagdad, and one day decides to rob the Caliph's palace. But while doing so, he sees the princess and falls in love with her. Shortly thereafter, several princes arrive to woo the princess, and the thief pretends to be a prince to try and kidnap her. But a prophecy tells the princess that the thief is the man destiny has chosen for her, and she falls in love with him. She devises a plan to test the princes. Whichever returns with the most unique treasure will win her hand. We see the thief go on several adventures to win a magical chest with a dust that creates whatever he desires. This is interspersed with scenes of the Prince of Persia (fat and lazy, nothing like the video games) finding a flying carpet, the Prince of the Indies prying a magic crystal (crystal ball) from the eye of a giant idol statue, and the Prince of the Mongols acquiring a golden apple that cures poison. The Prince of the Mongols left spies in Bagdad and with the other princes, and secretly amasses an army. When he fails to win the princess with the magic apple, his soldiers mount a sneak attack and take the city. The thief arrives just in time, uses his magic dust to create a huge army, and attacks the Mongols. Using a cloak of invisibility, he gets into the palace and manages to stop the Prince of the Mongols from abducting the princess on the magic carpet. Huzzah!

As you can tell, if you've never seen it, it's a very D&D sort of movie, made 50 years before D&D was released.

Analysis
The following are moments where I noticed something in the film that seemed like something in a typical D&D game. I started out only recording what seemed like the classic Thief Skills in action, but later took notes of anything vaguely game-like. Time stamp markers are based on the free version of the film available here. The run time is 2 hours 20 minutes.

2:07 Right at the beginning, we see the thief picking pockets.
5:25 He doesn't climb sheer surfaces, but the thief uses a strategem to climb to a balcony to steal some food. He makes a pulley from a long sash looped over the balcony railing and tied to a donkey which pulls him up.
6:55 The Magic Rope of Ispahan, made from witch's hair in a djinni cave. A rope of climbing. After some hijinks, the thief steals it and uses it later.
13:56 We see him picking pockets again
22:30 We see that in addition to guards, the Caliph uses tigers and an ape to guard the palace.
23:30 The thief's "evil companion" forms a cloak into the shape of a jar to hide while the thief enters the palace. Not quite Hide in Shadows, but hiding in plain sight.
24:20 The thief moves silently through the palace of the Caliph.
26:06 The thief uses his wits to open the treasure chest. He doesn't pick the lock with thieves' tools, but he does use some wits to get the key (attached to a guard's belt) into the key hole.
30:00 Another case of not quite "hiding in shadows" as the thief hides under a blanket at the foot of the princess's bed.
38:11 and again at 50:45, we see the thief scaling trees with ease. Again, not quite "climb sheer surfaces" but there is an awful lot of climbing in this movie.
1:10:42 We see a secret door, as the princess has the thief smuggled out of the palace before he's imprisoned.
1:19:37 The thief goes to a mosque where he had earlier insulted the worshipers. The mullah forgives him, much like the atonement spell.
1:20:12 A royal alchemist consults a gigantic spell book, turning pages by magic.
1:23:38 The "Mountains of Dread Adventure" begins. This card marks the start of a LOT of D&D-like action in the movie, and a much faster pacing of the film.
1:24:14 The thief (and the audience) are warned of "devouring flames, foul monsters, shapes of death" ahead.
1:24:14 The thief is given a talisman and told to use it on the center-most tree in the Cavern of Enchanted Trees.
1:26:32 The thief enters The Valley of Fire, and has to jump many pits with flame bursts coming out of them.
1:27:59 The Prince of Persia's men go to the Bazaar of Shiraz and discover the magic carpet in a shop whose owner obviously does not have access to a detect magic spell. The Prince buys the carpet for cheap.
1:29:59 In the Valley of the Monsters, the thief has to battle a dragon/dinosaur that breathes smoke. He kills it by stabbing its vulnerable belly.
1:31:09 In the Cavern of Enchanted Trees, the thief uses the talisman to awaken the central tree. It's sort of like a treant, but smaller. This may have been inspiration for the Wood Golem in Classic D&D. After getting a map from the tree, the thief fights a giant bat.
1:33:42 The Prince of the Indies has a servant climb a giant 6-armed idol (Climb Sheer Surfaces).
1:34:01 The servant pries the gem out of the idol's eye (familiar image, right?) then falls to his death.
1:35:22 The Prince informs us that the gem is in fact a "magic crystal"
1:35:56 The Old Man of the Midnight Sea sails the thief out to the middle of the sea. Does he give the thief a water breathing spell?
1:36:32 The thief retrieves a star-shaped key from an underwater chest.
1:37:33 The thief fights an underwater spider
1:38:41 Sirines/Nixies tempt the thief to stay with them (and he definitely either has water breathing or there is air in their undersea lair) but the thief thinks of the princess and saves vs spells.
1:40:54 The thief reaches the Abode of the Winged Horse and rides off into the sky on the pegasus (there is a tale in The 1001 Nights about a winged horse like this).
1:41:04 This winged horse sequence includes more climbing.
1:41:49 The Prince of the Mongols arrives at the island of Wak (Japan?) to visit a court magician and a secret shrine.
1:43:31 The Prince of the Mongols' henchmen find a secret door and claim the magic apple.
1:44:34 The henchmen use a "snake staff" (a staff with an intricate cage containing a poisonous snake at the top) to poison a fisherman. His poisoned body turns dark - is it from the poison, or is he turning to stone? The magic apple restores him to life.
1:47:03 The thief reaches the Citadel of the Moon. A ghostly dwarf gives a warning that the silver chest is hidden by a cloak of invisibility (elven cloaks in D&D are obviously taken from Tolkien, but the same idea is here first, under a different name).  The thief retrieves the cloak and the magic chest.
1:49:00 The Mongol slave girl poisons the princess (on the Prince of the Mongols' order). The princess fails her save vs poison.
1:51:25 The Prince of the Mongols convinces the Prince of the Indies to use the magic crystal, and they see that the princess is poisoned. Then the Prince of Persia uses the magic carpet to fly the three to Bagdad, and the Prince of the Mongols uses the magic apple to neutralize poison on the princess.
1:55:27 The thief uses the (dust of creation?) in the magic box to create a horse (create monsters or summon animals), fancy new clothes (change self), and some bread (create food & water).
2:01:17 A Mongol soldier backstabs a Bagdad guard.
2:02:52 More backstabbing by the Mongol invaders as they launch their sneak attack.
2:03:09 Lots of Mongol soldiers Climb Sheer Surfaces to get up the wall of the palace.
2:07:59 The thief arrives at the gates of Bagdad and uses the dust in the magic chest to summon soldiers ... and then more ... and still more ... and many, many more.
2:14:06 Blocked by Mongol soldiers, the thief uses the cloak of invisibility to sneak into the palace.
2:14:37 The thief "backstabs" the Prince of the Mongols and his men while using the cloak of invisibility, and rescues the princess.

Judging from all of this, I'd say it is plausible that this movie (and some others I'll be viewing later, including the 1940 remake) may have exerted an influence on the development of the thief class. I say this especially due to the picking of pockets early in the movie. I don't remember Bilbo Baggins, Cugel the Clever, or Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser often picking any pockets, if at all. There are some stories where F&GM climb things, but again it's not something they do all the time. So the Thief class's climb skill may also have been an influence taken from this movie.

This is a very speculative post, but it was a fun thought exercise and it may inspire a few people to watch this really fun old movie if they haven't before. I'd also say that with modern special effects/CGI, this would be an excellent time for Hollywood to try and remake this movie. But with the live action Aladdin coming out soon, and the animated Aladdin lifting characters and situations heavily from the 1940 remake, I doubt that will happen soon. Hollywood would probably mess it up anyway.



Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Looking for D&D inspirations in Classic Films

Alexis over at the Tao of D&D was writing about his thought process leading to him implementing a system of cross-class weapons training. Along the way, he mentioned the classic Errol Flynn The Adventures of Robin Hood, and how many younger gamers have probably never even seen it. Well, I've seen it. Have it on DVD even. And it got me thinking of one of MY favorite classic films, the 1924 black & white silent movie The Thief of Bagdad, starring Douglas Fairbanks.

Since it's a public domain movie, it's free to watch online. If the poor quality is a problem for you, well, there is a remastered version, but apparently commentary and a new score was added in order to renew the copyright on it, so you'll have to pay for it.

Anyway, I started re-watching it this evening, and taking notes of elements of the film that seem similar to things in D&D. I know Gygax only listed fantasy fiction as inspirations for the game, but he didn't come up with the idea of the Thief class originally. So maybe, just maybe, this classic film may have led to some of the inspiration for the class. Obviously the published version owes a debt to Fafhrd & the Grey Mouser, and Cugel the Clever. But it seems plausible that The Thief of Bagdad may also have played a part in inspiring the class.

I kept getting interrupted though, so I'm only halfway through the movie and starting to nod off a bit. I'll finish it tomorrow and post up my notes.

And I may make this a thing. I have the 1940 remake on DVD, which is fairly different (and Disney ripped it off hard when they made Aladdin back in the 90's).  And there are a lot of old films, whether from the silent film era or talkies, black & white or color, that I've never seen. Seems like a series of posts that would be good for me. I can rewatch some old favorites, and also take the time to watch some of the classics that I've still yet to see.

So thanks Alexis, for the roundabout inspiration.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Strength Bows

Thanks to the suggested videos algorthms of YouTube, I discovered this series of videos on Medieval weapons and armor called Shadiversity. I'm no expert on the subject, so I don't know if this guy is just another blabbering blogger or if he knows his stuff, but some of what he's talked about concerning misconceptions of ancient and medieval weapons and armor matches things I've read or seen elsewhere, so maybe he's alright.

In the video I linked, he talks about bows [starting around the 17:30 mark, if you want to skip ahead to the bow segment], and how in lots of RPGs and fantasy games, they get bows wrong. Bows, he claims, aren't weapons for weak but agile characters. Crossbows are better for those sorts. Bows, to be most effective, require strength. Having done some archery when I was younger (one of those things I keep telling myself I'd like to get back into but always put off for another day), he's right. The fiberglass recurve bow I had as a kid launched the arrows relatively slowly. Hunting bows or military bows would need to be a lot more powerful to be useful. For target shooting, my old bow is fine (still have it back in the States, my boys get it out now and then). If I actually wanted to kill a dragon or some such, I'd need a lot stronger bow. Which would mean I'd need to develop my upper body strength a lot more (or use the modern "cheat" of pulleys for mechanical advantage).

3E had compound bows that could be made to deal extra damage if you were a strong character. 2E had them as well. I think that might be something for me to work back into my house rules. Besides, I've always liked the idea of a Thief with a crossbow over a Thief with a short bow anyway.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

In Media Res

I've been playing in a West Marches game (5E D&D) on RPOL.net for several years now. It was the inspiration to run my own West Marches game, which I started also in 5E but recently switched to Classic D&D.

In September 2017, a player in that online West Marches game decided to start a game, also 5E, of the new Ravenloft adventure. I signed up. We created characters and started playing.

Now, if you've ever played by email or play by post (PbP), you know how slow it can go. And this Ravenloft 5E game was no exception. I'm OK with the slow pace. I can take my time, consider options, ask questions, before posting my moves.

This game, however, started up and then fizzled out. The DM dropped it for a bit, then decided to start it up again. I was willing to keep going, but the DM wanted to start at the beginning again. So we did. A few new players replaced some that disappeared.

And then it started to fizzle again. A few players dropped. A few new players joined. Luckily, this time the DM didn't make us start over from the very beginning again. Still, it's slow going and the new and old players in the game haven't really gelled as a team yet.

I think...and yes, I could be wrong about this...the problem is not with the players or the DM, it's with the way the module is structured. It's trying too hard to avoid railroading us into the Mists of Barovia.

We started out in whatever forgettable Forgotten Realms town. Survivors of a caravan attacked supposedly by werewolves are brought to town. We question them, and find discrepancies in their testimony and they claim to come from Barovia, a land no one's heard of before. They have coins no one's seen before. We investigate the site and find the remains of the caravan and potential signs of werewolves. We follow the trail into the woods. We end up at the Gates of Barovia.

And then the game resets. We're back at the podunk town. We have to roleplay the mystery again. And it pretty much goes the same way as before. And it breaks down as we're investigating the site of the attack.

As I mentioned above, this time we get some new players and new characters and just ret-con them in and now we're at the Gates of Barovia again.

Now, PbP is a slow format, but it took us a year and a half to do all that. I'm not surprised that many players keep losing interest. The module is trying really hard to give us the illusion of free will, but here's the thing. The module isn't being plunked down in an existing campaign. It's a game specifically for running this adventure. And when we either defeat Strahd or die trying, the game will conclude. I can see why all that intro mystery stuff would be important for running the module in an ongoing campaign, but in this case, it would have been a lot better if the DM had just started us in Barovia, giving us a summary of how we'd gotten there. We could have rolled with it and gotten to the meat of the module already.

And thinking back, way back, in the 3.5 days there was a Ravenloft module put out. And someone was running a game of it on RPOL that I joined. And after we made our characters, we did start in Barovia. The problem with that game was that it was just a constant series of battles with zombies as we tried to get to the village and once we got to the village, it was overrun with more zombies. I wanted Gothic horror, not zombie apocalypse, so I lost interest and quit the game before it got too far.  But at least I wasn't put through a bunch of useless RP scenes that were virtually predetermined before we got to the zombie fights.

When I ran the original I6 Ravenloft module (12 years ago now? Wow!) for some friends, it was just that. So I stared them with the letter and after reading it had them arriving in the village. It went well.

I think there's something to be said for cutting to the chase and just starting the adventure where the action is. The Basic Set has adventures starting just at the door (or cave mouth) of the dungeon because that's where the fun is. I think it's a good way to start IF you already have buy-in from the players. Yes, there are some adventures where the wilderness travel and whatnot to get to the dungeon is the point. But many times, it's just a waste of session time and isn't engaging for the players. Much better in cases like that to just cut to the chase and start them where the action is.

Nearing the Heart of the Mountain

[A lacuna exists in the extant manuscript of the Journal of Jack Summerisle. It is unknown how much is missing, but compared to the previous entries, much has changed.]

The Journal of Jack Summerisle
Being a record of the exploits of the renowned Green Knight of Eldeen Jack Summerisle, and companions various and sundry, in the strange subterranean world of Pellucidar deep beneath the surface of Eberron. 

The great walking mansion Lungbarrow crumbled to ruin behind us. It had gotten us close to the Giants' Temple, but just how close we were not sure. Our time in the sentient residence had been interesting and full of challenges. Now, we were once more cast out into the vast midden heaps of the ruined giant city.

Rhea the Witch had performed a ritual to create a shelter for us, and we settled in for a well needed rest. Unfortunately for our intrepid party of adventurers, one of the sentient trash-creatures disturbed us in our rest. It was in the form of a stegosaur. Cankles the Ogre Barbarian, Jade the Elf Ranger and myself exited our shelter to destroy it or drive it away. Luckily, a few well-placed blows from my axe and Cankles' club, arrows from Jade's giant bow, and magical assistance from Yuv the Dragonborn Cleric of Bahamut ended the creature's unnatural existence. Yuv, however, was unable to recover the use of his prayers.

Jade scouted the area and found another place to camp. Rhea had slipped into a catatonic state and could not revisit her ritual, so we set a watch. Mine own watch was first, and as I stood guard I heard the approach of more trash hounds, scavengers that posed an annoyance more than a threat. I roused Jade and Cankle and we devised a plan to lead them off or at least confront them away from our camp to allow Yuv the rest he so badly needed. The plan went off well. Cankle distracted them while Jade killed one with his bow. The hounds decided not to interfere with us, fleeing as fast as they could.

The rest of the evening passed without incident until near morning. A giant passed our camp, playing its odd music on her flute. Those of us on guard duty were unaffected, but Yuv slipped into the magical trance while he slept. He dreamed, and that ended up to our benefit. The dragonborn saw the way to the Temple, and that we were near. Once we roused him, we set out and soon discovered the ruins of the Temple of the Mountain's Heart.

The temple was built like an inverted pyramid, with a deep pit leading into the earth (and strangely, up towards our surface homes although in this upside down world it appeared to lead down). There were a myriad of steps leading down the pit, but there was also the temple proper. Thinking there might be somewhat of use within, we decided first to explore this ruin before seeking out the Heart of the Mountain.

Inside was dust, decay, traps and magical guardians. We battled our way through the guardians, deciphered ancient Giantish texts, and discovered some golden religious implements. Judging by some of the images carved into the walls, we may need to offer up a sacrifice to the Spirit of the Mountain if we can awaken it. It seems strange that this long quest to seek the Mountain's Heart may soon be over. I just pray that the Ghoul Kingdom which was threatening the various peoples of the Mountain has not already fulfilled its goal of conquest, and that we can save the allies we have made above in the Kyber underworld and on the surface. After a brief rest here, we will set out again.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Gaming: Art or Science?

[This is a lot longer and more rambly than I intended when I started, but I come to an interesting insight at the end.]

There is an interesting discussion going on over at BX Blackrazor. JB brought up the idea of trying to certify gamers as competent game masters. It's not a crazy idea. However, to move forward with the idea (assuming this is something the gaming community would want), we should have a discussion about just what gaming IS and specifically, what is game mastering. And how can we measure or evaluate it?

JB's post mentions an old Dragon Magazine article suggesting giving players and DMs XP for the amount of gaming they've done "by the campaign" by which most of us would consider "an adventure" in modern thought. That's certainly one way to quantify gaming.  Of course, for older gamers, trying to look back on decades worth of game time is hard to do. I've been gaming for about 35 years now. Of course there were stretches when I didn't game.  There have been times when I've been the GM and times when I've been only a player. And I didn't keep records. At best I could only give an estimate of the number of game sessions I've played (and again, how to break each into its own adventure...or "campaign" as the original writer says...is not easy).

I could go through my old dungeon maps/adventure notes. I've got most of them still. A lot are crap, but we had fun with them. But I know some of the dungeons were used multiple times by different groups of adventurers. And there are modules that I own and have run, many of them at least twice. Some more than that. And then there were game sessions I ran that were just sort of free-form/improvisation (we especially did a lot of that with Star Frontiers games, playing them almost like a board game with RP elements). So I could come up with an estimate. A low-ball minimum would be feasible.

Estimating the maximum would be hard. During school time (when we were kids) we mostly played on weekends. But we didn't play every weekend. But sometimes we'd play on weeknights (especially once my little brother got interested and it was just me and him). And during the vacations, especially those nice long American summer vacations, we'd play a LOT more. But not regularly. As an adult, and especially over the past 10 years of blogging, I've got a much better record of my gaming activity. But I don't blog about EVERY game I run or play in.

And this brings me to my current point of consideration. Is simply number of "campaigns" run the best way to measure these things? As I pointed out to JB in the comments, the proposes system could be read as considering an entire megadungeon campaign as equal worth to a one night 5-room dungeon. It obviously needs some fine tuning. How else can we measure game mastering?

Number of hours spent GMing (again, not something I could calculate accurately anymore)
Number of players who have participated in my games (this would be easier for me to calculate, but isn't the most reliable measure - a guy who's been running for the same group for 40 years consistently would have a much lower number than a guy who's run multiple game sessions at conventions for the past 3 years).
Number of dungeon levels/scenarios/wildernesses/campaign settings created (and again, we've got the fuzzy issue of just how to compare a small effort meant for a single session to a massive effort intended for multiple sessions)
Amount of XP awarded to players (but then we need to account for Monty Haul play, or people who give holistic XP awards, or people who usually run one-shots at conventions, etc.)

There are of course more ways we could quantify game mastering. But we're still left with a big question, should we? Is GMing a science? Or is it more of an art? Should we be creating surveys to gauge player satisfaction and motivation to play (called "affect" in social science terminology)? Is the subjective nature of aspects such as "fun" and "engagement" and "motivation" something we can really measure and compare? And more importantly, should we be trying to measure and compare these fuzzy aspects of our shared imaginings?

Alexis over at The Tao of D&D recently went on a spot-on critique of 5E D&D and its philosophy that any old Joe Schmoe can DM just by throwing more (level appropriate)  monsters and treasures at players following the guidelines in the 5E DMG. For the record, I do still enjoy 5E for what it is and what it allows, but it's not designed as a means of challenging game masters to improve in their craft, it's designed to try and do it for you.

It's fairly typical modern thinking. We see it in education a lot. Some academic (typically but not exclusively) comes up with some way to measure or improve educational progress. And some bureaucrat (typically but not exclusively) comes up with a way to implement that idea in a way that ignores both larger social context but also local classroom context. And we end up forcing our kids to do some counterproductive activities to satisfy our government masters to get funding at the expense of actual educational goals.

Cynicism aside, there's this belief among many people these days that if we can just find the right way to operationalize some activity and quantify it, then we can increase efficiency/productivity. Science will save us. But the world, for the most part, doesn't operate that way. Different systems interconnect. Focusing on one area to the exclusion of others can be detrimental to the overall outcome. And efficiency isn't always the most important goal to strive for in an activity.

Documents like Matt Finch's Old School Primer and a lot of the discussion I've read over the years on blogs and forums online seem to view game mastering (and game playing) as more of an art. It resists easy quantification. It means different things to different people. Experiences are qualitative, not quantitative. And like any art, one can hone their craft to become better at it, mostly through practice - although study does help. Education, especially language education (my field) is very similar to this. You become a good teacher not by learning all the most efficient and productive teaching methodologies and classroom practices and implementing them - although knowing this stuff helps. You become good at it through experience. Knowing when to use certain methodologies and when not to, having a wide array of experiences with a wide array of students, empathy for and good communication with students, and of course good old trial and error. Game mastering, in my opinion, is much the same.

So when WotC puts out games like 4E and 5E and tries to do it all for you, just remember that they're looking at things not from a desire to make the games better and to make the people who play the games better. They're looking at it from a marketing perspective. "How can we get more people to buy more D&D stuff and make us more money?" Gygax, in a lot of his earlier writings especially, approached it from the angle "How can I help make people better game players and game masters?" and it was great for the gaming community but not so good for business at TSR. And latter TSR Gygax often sings a different tune about "only using OFFICIAL (A)D&D PRODUCTS" in your games. Post-TSR, he seemed to go back to offering insight and advice to help gamers improve their games.

And now I'm sitting here wondering if I've finally cracked the Old School/New School code without even trying!