Old School D&D vs New School D&D: The Combat Divide

From talking to players in my old school campaign and players at the local game shop, I’ve decided that, locally at least, the main divide between liking old school D&D and new school D&D seems to be the player’s opinion of combat. Players who like fast, narrative combat are interested in older version of D&D while players who like using miniatures and battleboards for tactically detailed combat are interested in newer versions of D&D.

This divide seems to be nearly universal among local D&D players I’ve talked to and seems to be a better “determining factor” for interest in older version of D&D than other factors (such as save or die, level drains, character skills vs player skills, or GM fiat) I see talked about on RPG forums and blogs. Players who enjoy the long, tactically rich combats of 3.x and 4e show the least interest in trying older versions of D&D while players who do not like long, tactically rich combats are much more open to trying older versions of D&D.

Is this universal? I have no idea, but I’ve discovered recruiting players locally is much easier now that “discovered” this.

[Don’t forget that rare Traveller fanzines (Working Passage & Imperium Staple) and the RPGA limited edition AD&D Modules R1 (To the Aid of Falx) and R2 (Investigation of Hydell) are available (for Cancer Fund Donors) — addition to the usual PDF downloads every donor has access to. There is still plenty of time to make a donation and get in on the giveaway which ends at the end of October 2009. Thanks much to those who have already donated.]

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5 Responses

  1. Ben says:

    While tactical minded in combat, I prefer not to need the minis, and do prefer 2nd Ed myself. I Tend to lay out combat on a piece of notebook paper and track where people are etc, and go form there. Also I find older editions are far easier to through out a rule in combat for flavor, or fudge rules for use of story. (especially with players that aren't massive rules lawyers, heck most of mine never crack the books)

  2. Randall says:

    Some of it may be a visual thing. A lot of the local players who are into long tactical combats with minis seem to be playing in campaigns where someone has spent hundreds of dollars on minis, dungeon terrain with walls and the like. They can spend 10-20 minutes just setting this stuff up for a combat, before they even start playing out the combat. Most of the combats in my games would be over in the time it takes to set up the terrain. To each their own, I say.

  3. Otto says:

    I've come to see the divide as the result of two wildly diverging schools of though.
    To me, mechanics cover the breakdown of the game's flow- combat, saving throws, ability checks, etc. should be avoided if possible. The heart of the game for me has always been planning, decision making. The players decide the course of action and (in this case combat) determines how it plays out- the combat is not the fun of the game, anymore than the combat of risk, or even chess.
    4e takes great strides towards making combat fun and allowing players to make meaningful decisions, but I prefer combat to be an eventuality with a good degree of player choice, rather than the heart of the game.

  4. Spike Page says:

    I'm only just starting a 4e play-by-post so my point of view probably ought not carry too much weight, but it seems the goal of 4e has been to eliminate all possible variables from combat and make rulings less arbitrary. Line-of-sight is an example that comes to mind. It's set down fairly clearly in the 4e player guide and if I recall rightly is not even mentioned in Oe and ADD.

    On the other hand, there are aspects of combat that are almost automated..and this I find bothersome. The "marking" of targeted foes for example, is a game mechanism that belongs on the chess board, not the RPG. While I understand there is always a place in a scrum for thinking tactically, it seems that model placement and assuming the correct combat role have overshadowed playing off-the-cuff, taking risks, plying foolhardy heroics and thinking outside the five-foot-square.

  5. roleplay says:

    You have right, in the other hand oldschool and newschool dnd players likes the same stereotypical herocentrical game.