Monday, January 10, 2022

Analyzing Prince Part 2

Today, I want to take a look at the first numbered axiom laid down by Prince of Nothing, in which he enumerates what, to him, makes old school D&D superior to a lot of the stuff being put out under an OSR label but is really more avant-garde than old school (again, according to Prince). 

1. The greatest DnD is neither a slavish imitation of the past nor a wholesale rejection thereof (conscious or unconscious), but a continuation of that old craft, with syncretic improvements from other areas.

I simplified this statement to: 

1. Some parts of D&D can (and sometimes should) be changed, but a core essence of "D&D" must remain.  

I can't disagree with the sentiment in general. My own frankenstein-edition, titled Treasures, Serpents, and Ruins, is very much a Classic D&D base with elements of AD&D, 3E, and even some 5E inspiration in it. And a few things from other OSR games or blogs that I like. 

So yes, I've taken D&D to a place that I think is a continuation of the old craft while incorporating syncretic improvements from other games. 

But MUST it be this way? I mean, it works for me and my players. And every table back in the original days was tinkering with the rules, adding, subtracting or modifying things to suit their own tastes. That's about as "old school" as you can get. 

But the statement as written would actually invalidate some old school play styles. There are people who run things as by-the-book as possible. Sometimes, because of gaps in the rules or because of incoherent explanation or because of different sections of the rules providing different mechanics for the same subsystem, there's no way to be 100% by the book. But there are games that seek to do that. 

Is it wrong to try to run OD&D (or any edition) in a way that follows as closely as possible what is in the books? I don't think so. There's definitely value in that. I've read plenty of blog posts and forum threads over the years where people do just that, and come out of it with a deeper or changed perspective on the rules as they have been presented. Sometimes, it's exactly that which helps people to understand why the rule was that way to begin with. 

Other times, it helps show people why the rules have been changed. In order to understand what we're modifying and changing, I think it's a good thing to have a solid understanding of the rules before they get changed. 

And of course, there is no accounting for taste. Some people like the quick and easy recovery of 4E and 5E. Some people hate Vancian casting. Do I even need to bring up demi-human level limits? 

That's why I modified my version to read "can (and sometimes should)" because I don't necessarily agree that a Frankenstein edition is necessarily the "greatest" form of D&D. I'm constantly tinkering with mine, and never satisfied. How can that be the greatest? 

Obviously, that is simply Prince stating his opinion, one in which I more or less agree with, at least for the first half. 

The second half is of course where things get tricky, and untold gigabytes of blog and forum and G+ posts and YouTube commentary and whatnot have been spent debating just what exactly is the line that demarcates "continuing" the old craft and where have you moved on to "wholesale rejection" of the old ways? 

I don't have the answer to that. Except as it applies to me and my table. 

In my previous post about Prince's 0 Statement, people got into this discussion in the comments. I put forth the proposition that GP = XP is the key tenet of that "old school continuation", and plenty of people whom I respect disagreed. And reading their arguments, I can concede that perhaps it's only one of the tenets of old school play, not the key one. 

So we have here a statement I'm happy to agree with on a surface reading, but the more I think of it, the harder it becomes to give full-fledged support to the idea. I definitely agree that you can "go too far" and make a game not feel like D&D (for example, I feel the Black Hack line of games lose the essence). But what exactly does it? It's like the Supreme Court definition of porn - I can't describe it, but I know it when I see it. Or play it, as the case may be. 

And here's the thing -- while I haven't perused all of the ArtPunk scene's offerings, a lot of the things I have seen, like say Ultraviolet Grasslands, still feel very D&D to me. I'd say UVG feels more D&D to me (on a reading, I haven't played it) than Black Hack does. But again, your mileage may vary. And I may be a bit predisposed to like UVG since Luka is a friend and played in my West Marches game back when he lived in Busan a few years ago. Personal biases shape a lot of how we will determine these things. 

So, final thought on this axiom: An idea I can completely understand and sympathize with, but don't fully embrace.


  1. I think the interpretation here is too narrow. I don't mean you should neccessarily incorporate rules from newer editions into an oldschool framework, in fact I am, mostly, negatively disposed to this.

    For the record: Quick and Easy Recovery is a modification that is decidedly un-oldschool as it fucks with Resource management. I would be very skeptical of any game with oldschoolish pretensions that implemented it.

    I mean the totality, the Practice of DnD: How to build dungeons, how to run hexcrawls, what kind of character classes to use, what makes a good adventure etc. These are not things that have been radically improved over the years, in fact, I would posit the overall quality has actually declined and practice has been lost. The best module ever is unlikely to come from 2022.

    But there are minor improvements, in terms of layout, or additional tricks, or even new formats of running (Gardens of Ynn comes to mind, or the crystallized praxis of Stonehell) that do constitute a genuine improvement.

    My criticism towards some of this Artpunk drivel, and Veins is a fine example, is that instead of looking at a blueprint of a wheel and then deciding that, based on experience, maybe the wheel needs to be made 1cm shorter and rounder, (some of) these Avant-garde midwits read nothing, produce a Square, playtest nothing, have their non-playing friends declare it brilliant, and produce yet another coffee table book that falls apart under minor scrutiny.

  2. I appreciate you providing more context, Prince. But I'll stand by this interpretation of the words on the page (or screen). Part of my little experiment is to provide my own commentary on what you wrote, but it's also partly to look at what you wrote -- what specifically you wrote -- and think about how that can be interpreted. Just like how Finch's "Rulings not Rules" axiom has been misinterpreted by people who read that and fail to read (or remember) the explanation in the Old School Primer, similar things will happen with a list like this.

  3. That's your perogative, but you can't state that something is my opinion and take issue if I correct you on an interpretation that misses the point.

  4. On second thought: When you interpret what I write, what context do you use? I have immense trouble reconciling your interpretation with anything else. You interpret 'improvements from other areas' to mean "adding rules from other editions". This interpretation has no bearing on any other rule, and for context sake, I organized No Artpunk under fairly specific conditions. Perhaps I can convince you to look at the contest rules again? It seems wasteful to engage in punditry on imagined statements.

    1. I'm looking at your list partly based on my own experiences of course, but also trying to look at your statements in a vacuum. How would someone who comes across this list of 12 axioms but WITHOUT knowledge of the No Artpunk Contest make heads or tails of them?

      I tried to explain this above. People debate points out of the original context in which they were brought up all the time, and often come to skewed understandings, if not outright misunderstandings. The current debates of "rules lite" or "rulings not rules" misses a lot of the original context, but still rages. People often do miss the point. I'm probably going to miss your point quite a bit more as I continue this.

      Qixotic? Probably. Wasteful? No doubt. This is a D&D blog, after all! But I'm going to continue giving my own interpretation of your axioms, plus brainstorming what I think they might mean to people 5 or 10 years down the road who don't know why you were crusading against artpunk.