Check for Traps
Simulation vs. Cinematic

Greg Tito | 4 May 2010 21:00
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There is a schism in the role-playing world. It is only now represented in the forum battles and blog wars between old-school Dungeons & Dragons players and those who just happen to like the game's Fourth Edition, but I imagine that it was always there underneath the surface. When 4E was released in 2008, many of my friends, quite frankly, thought it sucked. "They got rid of alignment?" "Why are they pushing tieflings and dragonborn?" "They're selling out to the WoW crowd." Communities like EN World and the forums at were ablaze.

It took me a while to figure out why people were so vehement about one role-playing system over another. To me, what matters more is who you play with than what the system does or doesn't do. Give me a crappy system and 5 of my friends, and I'll still have a good time. I don't want to reward badly designed or un-playtested systems, but D&D Fourth Edition was neither of those. It had years of research and development behind it from some of the best designers at Wizards of The Coast, many of whom worked on the previous editions. What nerve had they touched to set off such a reaction?

Answer: The conflict between simulation and cinematic.

Older versions of Dungeons & Dragons were built to offer a simulation of life in a fantasy setting. This was mostly due to the evolution from wargaming, wrought by Gygax and Arneson. The rules expected large battles of fantasy troops like wizards and ogres, in addition to the smaller dungeon crawls played on a micro scale. That's partly why at level 9, all characters receive a "keep" and begin to attract others of their ilk, ostensibly to wage war on similarly stacked armies. The rules also support a low level of magic and power in the world; a "normal" man in OD&D is worth only half a hit-dice and first level characters have a very high mortality rate.

I'm currently playing in Alex Macris's OD&D sandbox game, wherein I play Farlagn the Elf. Elves in OD&D are the Fighter/Magic-user class and Farlagn, now at level 7, is just powerful enough to feel capable in either capacity. It took a while, with many sessions spent hanging in the back of the party, making sure that I wasn't killed. Consequently, I'm much more invested in Farlagn, even if it isn't always fun to cast your one Sleep spell at the start of a session and then sit on your hands for three hours.

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