Saturday, November 7, 2009

How to define your game as the anti-D&D, very differently

For those of you who know about John Wick, and keep up with his designs, it's no news that his game Houses of the Blooded is intended to be his "anti D&D". Looking at the core story of Houses of the Blooded, it's crystal clear that this is not the same as in D&D. Maybe John did have managed to design the "anti D&D". I'm going to talk more about that game at a later date, since John is a smart guy, and writes not only eloquently about game mastering advice, he also writes a lot. Not only that. He also writes about player advice. Like I said, I'll get back to that at a later date. Keep watching this blog! Now I'm going to talk about Old School, and anti-D&D.

There is a game, called The Burning Wheel which I long have been curios about. Thanks to a dear friend who lent me his copy, I have read most of it, and feel like I can talk about it a bit more. BW is designed by Luke Crane, and if you have ever listened to a podcast with (or met him) Luke, you know he is a passionated individual! When you visit the BW web page, the title of the page say "Fight For What You Believe". Ok.

Most of us have hear scary stories about this or that game, how crunchy it is, and how hardcore those people are that play it. BW is that game. Even though much of it is written in a chatty tone, it clear that this is a game designed with the idea that everything is taken care of the rules. As soon as you do anything, like expressing feelings or acting "in character", there are rules for rewarding, managing and otherwise just handle the situation. I realize I'm not making this sound very fun, but Luke is a very talented individual, and you realize that this game is a machine of cogs and wheels that works together like a machine, and a machine of sublime beauty.

I did say I was going to talk about Old School, wasn't I? Ok. Most of you have probably heard by now that Back In The Old Days, dungeon masters were less constrained by rules, and had to fly by the seat of their pants. Mostly because the games were less about detailed rules for everything. While I have some problems with that view of history (have you seen a game from FGU? They sure are from the 1970-ies and they sure aren't New School. Not Rules Lite either, at all) there are some merit to that view of things. Also, since so many bloggers today can be found who find retro clones like S&W liberating, I guess authentic or not, rules lite is perceived as the preferred way of doing things.

Since so many people think everything start and end with D&D, let's indulge them a bit and take a look at D&D. Is it rules light? Well, if OD&D is, and AD&D is if you squint, then 3rd ed sure isn't and 4th ed probably not either. So if you want to make an anti-D&D, which one do you oppose? Well, I did talk about core stories in the beginning. Maybe we can say that that element have been consistent throughout all editions. I think it might be true. Then Houses of the Blooded is the anti-D&D, no question about it.

If the true heart and soul of D&D is the rules light game about exploration of worlds of fantasy, then I think Burning Wheel must be the anti-D&D above all. It's about your character's believes and passions, screw the world. It's driven by rules and game mechanics while tell you how to act at every step. I'm pretty sure Luke didn't set out to design the anti-D&D, but maybe that was what he did.

Make no mistake, the surest way to make someone love your game is to be passionate about it. Would I love to play Burning Wheel? Right now? Cool! Would I love to play Houses of the Blooded? Sure! Old school D&D with rulings, and 1 hit point? Give it to me! I love how all these games are so furiously trying to be something different that "that game", and by that passion I get hooked, all the time, and buy a new game that I "have to" play at once. This is why I love this hobby.


  1. You say that Burning Wheel is "a machine of cogs and wheels that works together like a machine, and a machine of sublime beauty." From my experience playing BW, I can only say, "Perhaps." We found that the machine was very finicky and often ended up jammed by bits of story and other grit. So I find it hard to be passionate about BW. On the other hand, we really liked the lipepath based character creation.

  2. I'm not surprised, frankly. I have read it, and know how it works, but I can see how it would be grit in the machinery as soon as another human being would be involved.

    But it's a damn nice machine to admire from afar!

    I can't decide if I like it or hate it!

  3. I've heard of BW but haven't tried it out. I'll take a look at the site, it sounds interesting.

    I do like S&W, but I might be a little biased because I did some artwork for them. But I'm not so old-school that I don't appreciate other systems. I'm just fed up with WotC.

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  5. I played a seven session BW campaign via Skype and a Blossoms Are Falling one-shot. I have Burning Empires at home. I want to like the game. But somehow it's not working out as expected and at the end of the day I start asking myself how many more evenings I can spend trying.

    Perhaps I should look at actual play videos. For the time being I've removed it from my to-play list.

  6. Honestly, I'm not sure I'd categorize AD&D as "rules lite", squinting or no. I would, however, say that back in the late 70's/early 80's, we were less constrained by what was in the books. Perhaps it was just a difference in gamer culture back then as opposed to today (but somehow I don't think that's quite it), but we thought nothing of tossing out whole sections of rules and inserting others as we saw fit. Even The Dragon was a vehicle for such things (back when it still sported the "The" in its title). The plethora of sub-classes, new magic systems, nascent skills rules, stripped-down or more-complex combat; nobody played AD&D "by the book". I guess it was rules lite by default, since most people threw out the rules that made it heavy.

  7. Alex,

    I don't know if playing it made it clearer, but I didn't start by reading the rules, but by listening to podcasts of actual play.

  8. Joseph,

    I'd probably not categorize AD&D as rules lite either. Many do for some reason. I haven't played it more than one session, but from where I'm sitting it looks like a disorganized mess of rules for way to much.

    The mentality of gaming was different in the heyday of AD&D though, that much even I can tell who never participated.

  9. Theoretically, wouldn't the Anti-D&D be a non-Sword&Srocery game?

  10. See, there are even more ways to position yourself as the "anti D&D". :)

    It's getting crowded.


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