Friday, August 28, 2009

Wargaming roots and 4E

For awhile now, there's been poking and prodding by many of us at 4E - what does it mean, what does it bring to the hobby and what exactly do we do with it? For alot of us, myself included, it's just not the D&D game we want to play - for whatever reasons. It's not D&D to me, but it is D&D by name and therefore by intent and brand, and it's not something to ignore.

It is, however, really damn close to a modern style wargame with the name of D&D, when you look at it like that.

That's what is popular today - wargames dressed in tactical miniatures. Look at Memoir '44, Warhammer, Monsterapocalypse and so on. The public loves these games - and it therefore is no surprise that Wizards of the Coast (WotC) aimed the latest game at it. D&D Minis apparently wasn't going to fit within that market, so why not point your flagship product in that direction and go with it?

The funny thing is that I can now talk to 4E'ers from a wargame roots aspect. When Chatty spoke about his problem with "the grind" of 4E combat, I thought "how do wargamers end battles" and I suggested victory conditions. That's a wargame mentality - when you've completed XYZ objectives, the battle is over. It takes a huge mental shift in me to look at a version of D&D as just a "wargame", but once I do, I can talk in concepts that are going to mesh with the latest version. If D&D 4E is a series of battles, using characters with "stories" that will travel from battle to battle, then looking at it from a wargame with roleplaying, versus roleplaying with combat - that makes it a little easier.

It also makes a bit of sense where people have spoken of the changed role of the DM in 4E - and the more static nature of progression with treasure parcels, magic item expectations, etc. - well, wargames don't always have a "Game Referee" unless it's one big battle requiring one - so player v. player wargames and Players vs. Monsters really starts to make sense.

Let me say that the "style" of wargaming for 4E is not for me. It's not a wargame that I could necessarily feel comfortable with - but suddenly, I feel as if DBA and 4E are of kin - except 4E has a ton more "add-ons" than a typical wargame than I play. I still prefer the D&D I play and the original rules. But D&D 4E as a modern wargame - that makes a lot more sense to me now. It's ironic. Those of us who hew to the older versions appreciate the wargaming roots from 30 years ago. D&D today may not be all that much different in the lineage, but from wargames of NOW. Are we all that different?

And the old-school has a lot of lessons learned from wargames and from the original viewpoint that role-playing and wargaming were complimentary. It's not that terribly different if you look back and consider that quite a number of people still enjoy the Chainmail style of combat during OD&D (agreed that we're talking about combat resolution, but is there more that could be considered? Has anyone tried the movement rules in Chainmail and tied it to movement rules for OD&D? I must remember to ask that question on the OD&D Board...)

(BTW, check out the game Spellcraft & Swordplay if you want to see what D&D keeping the Chainmail combat system would look like.)


Maybe you're thinking "Duh, Michael, welcome to Mr. Obvious Land" but it really just kinda clicked. Maybe I need to play more Games Workshop games to appreciate modern wargames a bit more... I have LotR Mines of Moria starter set, now I need are opponents.

Final note: I make it a point to try to not get into Flame Wars and Edition Fights over D&D and games, so please don't construe this post as that. If you want to get into a "I hate 4E" or "I hate old-school", please go to those places where that discussion is apropos. I will be ruthless in moderating comments that aim towards starting an edition war.

32 comments:

ChattyDM said...

I don't see this post as being divisive or Fueling the Edition wars. I find this a refreshing insight into the game by someone who explained why he wasn't a fan and went on a respectful analysis of the links between 4e and modern Wargames.

I don't think that Hasbro/Wizards did this on purpose (the D&D minis game crashed after the launch of the RPG).

I rather think that exception-based rules design, common to 4e, Magic and many of the modern wargames you describe makes all games share similarities.

Your insight on my post today helped me see away to deal with the grind which might come from D&D 4e DM still designing combat encounters as straight slugfests.

Victory conditions, Mini-games featuring combat and such are probably the way to go.

I salute your effort man, I don't see you as an Edition Warrior, but as a bridge builder... we need more of those in each Schools of play.

Peace

Chgowiz said...

@Chatty - I've not played enough of the GW games to fully understand if they're "exception based" or not.

What interests me from an OD&D perspective is that we can draw parallels between our wargames and appreciate where they draw lineage. Perhaps understanding modern wargames helps to enhance your appreciation of 4e just as learning about older wargames like Chainmail, and simplified game rules like DBA helps me to appreciate OD&D/AD&D.

I get to play DBA in about a week - I'm really excited! If I can learn DBA and be able to teach it, endgames in my campaigns (or even mass combat battles) might not be so difficult to achieve.

greywulf said...

Absolutely spot on post, old bean.

It's ironic-but-true that 4e D&D has some roots which are closer to the very earliest days of D&D - and not just in the way it uses a tactical battlemat. There's Minions too, which hearkens back to the idea that 'umble foot soldiers could only take a single solid hit whereas Real Heroes could withstand several before falling. We might laugh at the frail Magic-User with his d4 hit points, but back then he was still up to four times the man compared to the rank and file grognards who followed him.

Food for thought, indeed.

greywulf said...

Oh, and DBA is a freakin' awesome game! My Achaemenid Persians get an outing every couple of weeks at the local wargames club :D

Anonymous said...

I also had a hard time wrapping my head around the rules philosophy of 4e for the longest time until recently a friend of mine who is in the RPGA praised it as a godsend for ease of use when running RPGA tournies/adventures. When I started to look at it that way I could see it's strengths and I now have mentally filed it under "RPGA Tournament Edition".

Unfortunately my group enjoys a different style of play so, for the moment, I won't be DMing it any time soon.

Thanks for the excellent post.

Kipper

A Paladin In Citadel said...

It is clear that OD&D has wargaming roots. What I find hard to fathom is the assertion that OD&D is a miniatures wargame, or that Chainmail is a primitive role-playing game. I dont' think either is true.

No-one is making that claim here, but I have seen it espoused elsewhere.

If WOTC's intention was to turn D&D into a miniatures wargame (I dont' think it was), I wish they had gone all the way.

I have little interest in adding fuel to the pro/anti 4E debate, but I do find the "Chainmail is D&D" argument confounding.

Chgowiz said...

>> OD&D is a miniatures wargame, or that Chainmail is a primitive role-playing game

By dint of mixing the two - using the combat system, or linking one's wargames with a bit of roleplaying, I suppose? I've not seen that assertion. I don't have any first hand experience on this, my knowledge comes from reading those who talk about the history from either being there or reading books like Arneson's FFC. It's my understanding that the first attempts were to indeed play one with/alongside the other. I could see the simplification.

For me, it's enough to understand that you can look at D&D with a wargamer's eye and see the lineage.

I think that if WotC had "gone all the way", they would have gone too far and probably alienated those who were able to transition to it through the roleplaying element.

Ryan said...

When my group decided to call our one and only 4E campaign quits, the consensus among several of us was that the rules made for some great tactical minatures combat, but that the game failed to deliver for us in terms of play style and what we expected out of a roleplaying game. If they had gone all the way with a minatures game, I might be playing it still, but as a wargame on the side, not as our primary campaign.

Knightsky said...

I don't see this post as being divisive or Fueling the Edition wars.

Well, we clearly can't have that going on around here.

*takes Chgowiz behinds the chemical sheds and has him shot* "OSR ├╝ber alles!"



Word verification: 'skiess' - what Gollum calls the world's upper atmosphere.

Atom Kid said...

I started out as a wargamer (with a little medieval game called Cry Havoc!) so wargaming has always been at the fore front for me. But I love RPGs as well (I think Chill was actually the first one I played).

I'm not a big fan of 4E mainly due to WotC always releasing newer editions of the books, and cramming more restrictive rules into the many volume books they release. GW has the same problem! They release a newer edition almost every 5 years!

I don't know why companies can't just release on set of rules and stay loyal to it. I realize they need to make money, just like any business but it seems that they are alienating loyal fans.

By the way, how does DBA compare with Armati or Field of Glory?

Chgowiz said...

>> how does DBA compare with Armati or Field of Glory?

I wish I could tell you. I've never played either of those two and only mind-gamed DBA - I still need to sit down and do a solo or two to get the hang of it.

Thasmodious said...

"is the assertion that OD&D is a miniatures wargame"

I don't recall seeing that claim before myself. OD&D was originally rules a combination of 3 things - rules to make individual characters and roleplay them, use the Chainmail rules to resolve combat and that Avalon Hill boardgame I can never remember the name of to handle wilderness exploration. OD&Ds combat was a tactical minis game, much like 4e's.

I think people have a tendency to segment things too much. All of this, all the geek hobbies, inform each other, have numerous cross over players, rules, and shared ideas and game worlds.

Dave The Game said...

Thanks for posting this in such an interesting and respectful manner.

I see the tactical combat stuff as coming directly out of 3rd edition design, that codified and pushed to the forefront the exact distances and positions between combatants, so in a way, I see it as having conceptually wrapped back around to OD&D's wargaming roots instead of being a direct shot.

But here's a theory about 4e design that I can't prove at all: that the emphasis on miniatures and a map was an attempt to make D&D look like what non-gamers thought it was anyway, and how you're likely to see it portrayed in mass media.

AWizardInDallas said...

I was glad to see you mention Games Workshop because, as I mention on my own blog, I'm rediscovering perhaps their simplest wargame: Space Hulk.

I really want to teach my kids this game because it is so simple and fast and does indeed have victory conditions, scenarios, etc.

I wouldn't have a chance of holding their attention with 4E, being an open ended-game, like an RPG, and having more kinship with trading card games, which also don't really have objectified victory conditions. That's primarily why I can't agree with 4E having classic or more modern wargame roots. It's also not much marketed that way. Still, I enjoyed my visit and see your logic. I can see how you reached some of the conclusions you did too.

Roger said...

It's a strange sort of wargame in which one side almost always loses.

AWizardInDallas said...

You're right! Which is also one of the reasons I want to teach my kids: for the challenge of it. In an age of cheat codes and walk-throughs this game provides a heart-pumping challenge at times, something I think they need 'cause life ain't easy. Besides, I want to play the marines sometimes too and see if they can succeed at ganging up on me! I like a challenge too.

Evernevermore said...

This nails my view of 4e on the head - it just feels so much like a wargame. The thing is, if I want a tactical wargame im going to try and round of some friends for Battletech and use a ruleset I much prefer

Fitzerman said...

Have you seen the board game Descent? It's very interesting, like a stripped-down 4e. I can almost picture the WotC crew sitting down with Descent and saying, "We want D&D to be just like this, only more so".

A Paladin In Citadel said...

"OD&Ds combat was a tactical minis game, much like 4e's."

This is what i'm talking about. I'm afraid I can't agree with this statement, since, in order for it to be true, minis (or suitable substitutes) must be required in the rules. But the OD&D rules say that minis are optional. The 4E mechanics, on the other hand, demand the use of minis, since you must track your pushes, pulls, marks, and so on.

Recently, I participated in an online thread where the original poster claimed that he could trace the Development of D&D, from Chainmail to 4E, and show how each of those D&D iterations was an "improvement" over the prior one.

I took no umbrage with his central thesis (mostly because it would be futile to do so, there's no convincing most people otherwise, when it comes to this stuff) but I did point out that Chainmail was not D&D. My argument was not terribly pursuasive.

anarkeith said...

If D&D 4E is a series of battles, using characters with "stories" that will travel from battle to battle, then looking at it from a wargame with roleplaying, versus roleplaying with combat - that makes it a little easier.

I recently started playing in a 4e group that is caught up in how many encounters they get through per session. This kind of thinking was new to me. In my previous groups, we just played. We weren't counting the combats or challenges as if they were segments of some greater game.

I wonder if this attitude is a product of the structure of 4e?

I love the idea of wargaming objectives as motivators for DnD combat(as opposed to just wiping out all the monsters.) Trying to secure a location, liberate surrounded allies, or beat the clock could certainly add great flavor to combats in any rules system.

In my experiences with DnD, the combats form the bulk of the story, but it's when we roleplay in between that the purpose of the combats is defined. As I've played the game, FWIW, you can't have one without the other.

Red said...

After years of DMing 3.x, 4E blew my mind... and led me to find the OSR. Now, in addition to the 3.5 game I DM, I play and DM in C&C.

I don't at all think that 4E and roleplaying are mutually exclusive. But 4E's prescribed powers and actions are contrary to OSR free-form play (skill challenges and page 42 notwithstanding).

However, having played such games as Third Reich, Advanced Squad Leader and Star Fleet Battle, I never would have thought 'free form play' was at all part of a war game.

So, OD&D/OSR being close to a wargame? Not to this roleplayer and war gamer, despite the known history.

I'd never DM 3.x again. But if my 3.5 players don't want to join my C&C campaign when the 3.x game is over, I would run 4E for them.

Chgowiz said...

>>"OD&Ds combat was a tactical minis game, much like 4e's."

I have to disagree with this as well:

"The use of paper, pencil and map boards are standard. Miniature figures can be added if the players have them available and so desire, but miniatures are not required, only esthetically pleasing..."
(pg 5, Men & Magic Vol1)

OD&D certainly traces lineage to wargames and historical miniature wargaming (vis-a-vis Chainmail and others previous) but there's no rules support for it using miniatures and a tactical mindset similar to 4E.

Chgowiz said...

>> So, OD&D/OSR being close to a wargame? Not to this roleplayer and war gamer, despite the known history.

My comments are upon lineage and concepts that are understandable from wargames:
- resource management
- defined combat resolution
- ranges
- movement
- weapon/defense mechanisms

Many of those things that you've used trace back to how wargames resolution mechanics worked.

If I thought about it, I'm sure I'd find that some more modern mechanics would be hard to directly trace. The lineage is there, and it's interesting to approach both OD&D and 4E from that perspective.

Does it ultimately affect how I play the game? Not always - although my wilderness hex crawling puts me in the wargaming mood.

Thasmodious said...

"I have to disagree with this as well:

"The use of paper, pencil and map boards are standard. Miniature figures can be added if the players have them available and so desire, but miniatures are not required, only esthetically pleasing..." "

I think you are drawing a fine line between minis and visual representation. They are the same thing, one's just prettier. If you are using a map grid, pencils, and eraser or chits to mark a battle, you are using a miniature set for your combats. Both 4e and OD&D can be played entirely in your head with a bit of adjustment and on the fly-ness, but both were meant to be played with visual representations of the combat set on top of the table. Hence movement expressed in inches. If it was designed solely for the imagination, such a scale conversion would be unnecessary and even hampering.

The key difference is that one is designed for a ruler and paper, the other for minis on a scaled grid. That's not really a notable difference at all, especially as the scale and grid come from the inches system anyway.

Chgowiz said...

>>"The use of paper, pencil and map boards are standard. Miniature figures can be added if the players have them available and so desire, but miniatures are not required, only esthetically pleasing..." "

I think you are drawing a fine line between minis and visual representation. They are the same thing, one's just prettier. If you are using a map grid, pencils, and eraser or chits to mark a battle, you are using a miniature set for your combats.

As I understand it, the map boards referred to are the maps from Outdoor Survival, used for the wilderness travelling.

It's my understanding that most of the time, miniatures were used for marching order - I'm going on memories of what I've read from the earlier games, so hopefully someone with links to those Q&A can chime in. I know that in my early years, we used them for exactly that, as combat ended up being a big scrum.

If you look in Vol 3, pg 8, you'll see that inches was converted to feet fairly straight off, and no particular indication given that particular miniatures rules were intended.

This might be a good question for Messr. Kuntz at GaryCon2 - he might be able to shed a little light on the intent of miniatures in OD&D.

Matthew James Stanham said...

I do not really agree with this at all. D20/4e feels nothing like a war game to me, though it does feel a bit like a board game. This seems a little like an attempt to "box up" various games into neat little groups. Also, I have played a lot of War Hammer, and that is not a reasonable parallel to my mind either.

I was glad to see you mention Games Workshop because, as I mention on my own blog, I'm rediscovering perhaps their simplest wargame: Space Hulk.

Check this out:

Space Hulk

Chgowiz said...

>>I do not really agree with this at all. D20/4e feels nothing like a war game to me, though it does feel a bit like a board game. This seems a little like an attempt to "box up" various games into neat little groups.

I agree about 3.x, but 4E with its emphasis on tactics, did feel like a Squad Leader at times, when I played. YYMV, I suppose.

Given the Heroscape thing coming out, I agree - D&D is going off in many directions. Almost like what happened in the early 80s with every other game being branded D&D... except WotC is holding most the cards this time.

Peter said...

I don't actually buy your insight.

But I also didn't realize you even played 4E that often.

Joseph said...

It's a strange sort of wargame in which one side almost always loses.

Looks like someone's never played AH's 3rd Reich.

Rob Iannacone said...

I find the "X game is a wargame" argument to be a mite shenanigous. Both OD&D and 4e have some wargame elements in them - but they are *different* elements. OD&D focuses less on the actual goings-on of the combat and more on the logistical and strategic angle - hence Vancian Spell-casting, deadlier mooks, mass combat, stronghold-building, etc. 4e ignores most of that stuff to focus on small-unit combat and tactical crunch without too much concern about interplay between characters of different levels.

Both wargame trappings, just both very different games.

Chgowiz said...

>> OD&D and 4e have some wargame elements in them - but they are *different* elements.

Exactly. You succinctly stated what took me an entire blog post. :)

I'm just glad that to some extent, I can now wrap my head around what 4E says to me. It's still not my game, but at least I can look at it from that aspect and start to talk to other gamers about it.

In a really odd way, it comforts me that I'm not that disconnected from the many people I see at cons/gamestores playing 4E - I can at least appreciate that they're experiencing a game that has wargaming lineage, just to modern tactical miniatures versus the wargames that I grew up with.

I must be missing those wargames though - I'm eyeing my Squad Leader box wistfully these days.

Thasmodious said...

"Both OD&D and 4e have some wargame elements in them - but they are *different* elements."

I agree, that's nicely stated. This has been an interesting discussion. And now have we come full circle? OD&D and 4e cut from the same cloth - here are some character creation rules, some wargame based rules to resolve combats, the DM is the referee and has his own book to help him do that, here's a monster book, now go have fun.