Sunday, November 23, 2008

On the 4e Edition Wars, Blogging, and Levels

Recently, we've seen some opinions on what Dungeons & Dragons 4e does (and doesn't do) for folks at The Gamer Dome and RPGCentric. For the most part, the conversations on those two entries has stayed civil, especially compared to the sort of hysterics we've been seeing to no end over at ENWorld.

But the fact remains, D&D 4th edition, switching editions, switching to Pathfinder, going back to an older version of D&D--anything in the least bit tied to 4e remains a hot button item. And though some very good bloggers have written some fantastic words about how we should all get along and not let the Edition Wars muck things up, no blog post, no matter how brilliantly worded, is going to change the fact there will be potshot takers and people without any sense of perspective claiming a "side" and pooping squarely in somebody's Cheerios. This is just how its gonna be for a while.

You know what? I don't play 4e. I mean, I have, but it doesn't do what my gaming group or I want. We run campaigns where the characters start out as very low-powered adventurers, perhaps days removed from being conscripted into the Baron's army and leaving their days as a blacksmith's apprentice behind. They are novices, without any particularly powerful attacks or special moves. They're likely scared shitless of facing a lone goblin for the first time, let alone a mess of minions. They aren't going to romp into combat and start pulling off lavishly-named maneuvers. In the end, 4e didn't fit what we wanted, and there were other systems that would get us there with less work. That's it. No sinister plan, no angry letter-writing campaign. A simple expressed preference for a different framework for rolling dice and Making Crap Up.

But, to the best of my knowledge, while growing up, I never once caught 4th Edition shagging my mom while my dad was out of town. It didn't throw my old high school sweetheart off a bridge. It didn't invade the Western United States, giving me and my fellow ragtag band of teenagers no choice but to form a guerrilla band to avenge our parents. It was not the cause of a resurgence of the Black Death in 18th-century Sevilla.

On the other side of things, my rejection of 4e doesn't mean I'm a Luddite, it doesn't mean I fed poisoned meat to your dog, and I am sure your mother is a perfectly nice, respectable woman.

Look, I get to a point why people get defensive--its the Internet, and its never fun when people start flinging poo at stuff you like. Let's take ENWorld for example. Usually we see this stuff start when someone posts a thread on "Why God and Abraham Lincoln Are Up There Right Now Playing 4e" or "GOODBYE FOREVER--4e IS THE WORST!!!1!" As I see it, there are three levels of posts on Edition Wars:

Level 1: This post is a (seemingly) innocuous comment on some perceived position someone may have on 4e. There may even be a good run of rational conversation on the topic at hand. Yet this is invariably a corrupted specimen, befouled by a True Believer or One True Way type--and once turned, it can't go back. Many times a Level 1 conversation will be changed by a later Level 2 comment (see below).

Level 2: On the surface, this post might seem like a Level 1--reasonable, courteous, informed--but there will be one comment placed in just the right spot, or juuuust the slightest air of smug superiority about it to cause the conversation to smolder. There's a tense air about this conversation, much like a Level 1, as everyone knows the flames are merely lying in wait. Sooner or later a backdraft of nerdrage will cause a fiery explosion, and the well-reasoned bits are forgotten as single sentences, minutiae, obscure books quotes, and the stress on syllables are brought in as evidence for the prosecution and defense alike.

Level 3: This post is pure flamebait. It is often signified by claims of "not really D&D", "just like World of Warcraft, "so's your sister", "dumbed-down", "the only way to play", and "clearly you didn't or were unable to read all 14 paragraphs of my brilliantly-crafted argument". It is made worse by people thinking they are clever by assigning the rant a rating ("you lose points for originality--7/10"), or pretending they don't care ("yawn--next please") when it is clearly EATING THEIR SOUL THAT SOMEONE DOESN'T LIKE THEIR NEW GAME YARRRGHHHHHHHHAHHH! This post quickly devolves into personal insults, and largely undoes the good effort put forth in therapy for a wide range of individuals.

Hey, until the research scientists at RPG Bloggers perfect and stabilize the element known as Level 0 (rational edition choice discourse, with well-reasoned discussion--something we have actually caught glimpses of, much like some rare subatomic particle in a supercollider), we can at least keep it at level 1. Or, we can laugh at jerks.


Jeff said...

Errrmmm, yes but...

"... we can at least keep it at level 1. Or, we can laugh at jerks."

"... or pretending they don't care ("yawn--next please") when it is clearly EATING THEIR SOUL ..."

So, are you pretending, and do you care? If not, why post?

I agree with most of what you said. That combination just struck me as oddly ironic, in the literary sense (as opposed to the Alanis Morrisette kind).

I like gaming, be it whatever edition. Though these edition wars have got me hankering to run an OD&D game!

ChattyDM said...

Excellent Essay my good man.

I too pine for Level 0 discourse and I will do my darned best to keep it that way.

Its just a game damnit... and contrary to all its predecessors, it is NOT a generalist's game anymore.

It does things in a very specific way... and it does them well.

What it does not do is the Zero to Hero model of prior editions.

And that 's all right with me... plenty of other RPGs around and with the Old School Rennaissance, there's now dirt cheap support out there for all these older editions.

(humor)Well apart from 2e, because that one just sucks(/humor)

Lurkinggherkin said...

A nice analysis!

The trouble with all the mud being slung is of course that the respective sides of the 4E vs OtherE become more balkanised and entrenched. I think this is a phenomenon of the internet age - yes, the 'net brings people together, but it also enables them to clump together more strongly, as if under a gravitational force, with only those people that agree with them.

Zachary The First said...

@Jeff: I guess I don't care in the sense that if someone is having fun or an issue with 4e/3e/2e/1e/FUDGE/FATE/D6/Bunnies & Burrows, I want to be able to hear about it in clear terms without it resembling the Hindenberg tragedy, regardless of edition. I don't care what edition folks play--but I do care in that I really enjoy the blogging community, and want to see good conversation continue on it. My ending there was just a little flip, I guess. :) Thanks for the posting--I hope you fire up and have fun w/ OD&D!

@Chatty: I do think you're right. 4e does something very, very right for people. Its when people project what they want onto other people or assume it is also what they want to get in trouble. I think most of our blogs in the network do a nice job of a live-and-let live point of view.

2e? Shhh! I know a good cluster of guys around who still consider that their go-to edition. :)

Lurking: Thanks! I think the smaller the hobby, the more balkanized it becomes. :)

Olman Feelyus said...

That's a pretty funny analysis of the way the threads evolve, Zach.

The only real problem for me with 4e is its disproportionate market size. And that's not even really about 4e the game but WotC. Actually, 4e has probably ended up splitting WotC's market and pushing a lot of gamers to look outside its solipsistic confines, which is a good think, IMO.

I think things will settle down in a year. There was so much anxiety before the game actually came out. Once the people actually got the books, it was much easier for people to calm down and decide whether they did or didn't like it and then act accordingly instead of just fighting with each other.

Squach said...

Hmmm, I have to say. This seems a perfectly reasonable, logical, and intelligent identification of the situation (although perhaps incomplete, I might add a few levels were I to retcon the level analysis).

Good on ya!

Rich said...

Hilarious,Zach, but you still make some really funny points here. I had several specific ENWorld and other rpg forum posts in my head when I was reading the Levels.

I agree with Olman--I think some of the hype beforehand just kept spilling over into the release of 4e, and folks are still dealing with that. I think you're right when you say this is just going to be how it is for a while. But it definitely doesn't seem as bad on most blogs compared to message boards. I don't even really go to ENWorld that much any more--I just got tired of it, from both sides. Which is a shame, because they've been doing a nice job with their site upgrade...

Tony Law said...

4E killed my puppy! ;)

Flamewars on different RPGs have been around for years. I think since 4E is the big dog on the block, it just brings out more people willing to tear it down or build it up.

Jeff said...

@Zach: I, too, mourn the shortage of unbiased comments in any conversation, be it "edition wars" or politics. And yeah, I'm really excited about OD&D, the more modules I read, the more issues of OD&Dities I read, etc. But no one around here plays OD&D, and no one wants to spend time learning another system. Maybe I'll spring it on them during a one-shot!

@Tony: Which sort of brings to mind a question: Did 3e receive this kind of response? If not, why?

Tony Law said...

@Jeff - I really don't know. I stayed away from all the naysayers and flamers. I loved 3.5. The only reason I'm seeing the people responding this way to 4E is because of my blog. I'm trying to look at more sides. =)

Zachary The First said...

Oh my gosh--sorry, Rich--I did not mean to do that.

For the record, Rich posted nothing inflammatory. I just have still not learned how to run a computer.

Donny_the_Dm said...

I say we just blame the grognards. It's all their fault for spawning ever more followers of their corn-chip smelling, bearded ways :)

Or we can just all agree that FATAL must be destroyed, or a roll of 23 on table 34-G for orifice elasticity.

Dead Orcs said...

Zach..excellent post on forum madness. It is precisely for these reasons I try to avoid them. It makes me wonder if the Parker Brother's forums are lit up with people arguing whether or not the original Monopoly is better than newer modified versions (Simpsons, Star Wars, etc.).

Or perhaps there's a movement deep within the forum community over there that says that only wooden houses and hotels should be acceptable in Monopoly.

Zachary The First said...

@ Dead Orcs: I'll bet there is. Monopoly fans are cutthroat. :)

@ Donny: Youch! Careful about those grognards! I happen to be a Junior Grognard myself (and have the membership card to prove it--with ratings in Rules Cyclopedia and Classic Traveller)! At the next level I'm allowed to grow a messy, cheeto-stained beard! :P