Friday, April 5, 2013

A Rebuttal To An Oddly Oriented Opinion regarding D&D and Competing RPGs

Awhile back a rather strange fellow posted a bizarre viewpoint over on the likely soon to be defunct (sadly) Grognardia, opining that:

“It's important to note that many games' attempts to be as little like D&D as possible are more about marketing, branding, consumer perception and other decidedly un-fun business-y stuff.

I firmly believe that classes, levels, hit points and many other conventions originated in D&D are legitimately better mechanics that give all editions of D&D a competitive advantage.


Often this comes from purposely avoiding better mechanics (like classes and levels) and other times through going after a different genre, like sci-fi.

The reason being that D&D has proven such a "killer app" that attempting to say "we're a better game than D&D" or convincing the consumer of that anyway, has always proven to be a non-starter.”


While there is a slim basis for some of this, in large measure it is not correct. Point by point:

1. At least for Metagaming’s Melee and subsequent TFT games, they were motivated by a desire to deal with D&D’s shortcomings, at least as Steve Jackson perceived them to be (in large measure I agree with his views, BTW) – and not the marketing stuff you bring up. I don’t have it in front of me, but I believe this motivation was mentioned in the designer’s notes to Melee in an early issue of Space Gamer.

2. You can firmly believe all you want, but it amounts to nothing more than a strongly held opinion rather than objective fact. Hit points, in particular, are a very poor mechanic, creating as many problems as they solve. And while I do not object to classes and levels, I hardly think they are the greatest way to handle character definition and development. There is certainly no objective basis for claiming they are “the best.”

3. Had Metagaming not shut itself down based more on emotional rather than logical reasons by Howard Thompson, than the TFT RPG rules would have continued to provide significant competition to the bloated D&D/AD&D system. Indeed, had the full up rules set been released on schedule (i.e. in 1978 timeframe) before the AD&D DMG came out, TFT might well have stolen a good chunk of the D&D market share, perhaps even beating it out altogether. This last is speculation, but I base it on the following facts:

  (a) In spite of Metagaming company’s small size relative to TSR, the TFT system was, according to some survey’s, second only to D&D in terms of popularity. And this in spite of the fact that the TFT “DMG” (i.e. In the Labyrinth) wasn’t released until mid-1980, a full year after the AD&D DMG came out.

  (b) The TFT rules set was objectively superior, being overall much better written and easier to learn and play. Not that the system was without flaws, but what flaws there were could be fairly easily corrected. The flaws in D&D/AD&D require vastly more effort and insight to correct.

  (c) TFT was much less expensive than D&D/AD&D, coming in at about half or less the price for comparable products. (On the other hand, you get what you pay for – certainly the AD&D hardbounds were much more durable than the paper covers of TFT)

  (d) TFT was also a much more flexible rules set than D&D/AD&D. Though intended for a quasi-Mediaeval setting like D&D, the TFT rules could much more easily accommodate other genres (modern, sci-fi, etc.) than D&D ever could. The later GURPS system (based partly on TFT) took this to its fullest. Had Metagaming not gone under, they would have been releasing various supplements/worldbooks (this was mentioned in Interplay, and would have included a Superheroes and Wild West supplements, among others)
In sum, D&D had (and still has, really) quite a few significant problems. Mechanically, many of the rules are just futzy and poorly reasoned (even when the basic mechanic is, in fact, viable). As a result, at least some early systems arose as a result of trying to find a better set of rules than D&D, and not, as alleged, because of simple marketing gimmicks.

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