I played in a rather odd RPG at Go Play NW. It's a third-party version of the original, three-book D&D rules set. There are apparently several such innovations. Castles & Crusades might be the best known. We played Swords & Wizardy. I rolled up an elf and adventured through a dungeon. The DM was Wilhelm Fitzpatrick, the Dragonflight events manager.
The game has a lot of warts, but it played really fast. Combat was arbitrary but it was blessedly fast. We didn't use miniatures. That's a break with tradition, but it seems to represent a bald refusal to be realistic and or attempt simulation. The interesting thing is that we can now approach the original D&D rules knowing everything we know about game design and role playing. Used judiciously, the system works and is simple, just what you need for a more story-oriented game. I think there are some interesting possibilities along these lines.
The problem with such games is that there's a lot of bad stuff that people are nostalgic for. For every bad rule that you might want to strip out, there are people who won't think your OD&D is original enough if you don't have it. Swords & Wizardry even has two AC systems that it uses side-by-side: the old-fashioned 9-down system that they have to include for tradition's sake and the 10+ system that they have to include because it's just clearly better.
Added 5 July 09: For the record, the "bad stuff" I'm referring to is stuff like: too much arithmetic (5% XP bonus, copper pieces, etc.), wonky XP progression per class, too-random character creation, and poor class balance. It also has the problem that didn't get fixed until 4e: all spells are daily, which makes spellcasters play too differently from the fighters.
"The problem with such games is that there's a lot of bad stuff that people are nostalgic for."
I'm curious what you consider "bad stuff" - we might agree, but I'm just curious. Given how sparse these rules are in comparison to later games, it would seem to me that there might not be enough there (that however might be a different question).
"For every bad rule that you might want to strip out, there are people who won't think your OD&D is original enough if you don't have it."
Two comments here: one of the hallmarks of the "old school" movement is that you get to decide for yourself what "D&D" means for you. So if somebody tells you that your game lacks some D&D-ishness, they're already off the mark. (There's an argument here about how much can you leave out or change and have it still be D&D, but that one's been raging since February 1974).
More to the point, have you seen Microlite 74? Sounds like you might enjoy it.
The "bad stuff" I'm referring to is stuff like: too much arithmetic (5% XP bonus, copper pieces, etc.), wonky XP progression per class, too-random character creation, and poor class balance. It also has the problem that didn't get fixed until 4e: all spells are daily, which makes spellcasters play too differently from the fighters.
It's true that there isn't "enough" to the rules set, which is what makes them so attractive to me: there's plenty of room to improvise.
Microlite74 looks cute, thanks for the tip. All these rules systems, however, are so sparse and so derivative that I could probably just invent my own comparable rule set more easily than I could use any of these OD&D systems.
For the record, Labyrinth Lord is not another 'version'. It's a retro-clone specifically of the the 1981 Moldvay Basic and Cook-Marsh Expert rules.
I'm glad you gave S&W a whirl and I'm glad ya had fun.
I'll try to say my piece without sounding as if I'm "taking you to task".
First, I've personally never, ever seen miniatures as "traditional" to D&D. In fact, I don't recall ever using them. Of course, my group played 3E in 2000 or 2001 or so for only a few sessions before we tired of it, and I've never attempted 4E.
From my perspective, I see no 'bald refusal' to be realistic. It's abstract. It isn't supposed to be simulationist (not that simulationist games are any more realistic...just slower and heavier. To me, anyway.)
I s'pose we just simply have wildly different views of 'balance' (which to me isn't perfectly reachable, and in fact, it's not something that appeals to me anyhow. It's sort of a bugbear.) But, that said, I think the older iterations of D&D are just as balanced as anything. *shrug*
Also, I don't find it difficult to deal with adding 5% or 10%. I do find it difficult to remember thousands of pages of rules, feats, skills and ultra-long spell descriptions for the sake of 'realism' that will never be achieved.
Yes, the XP charts are different. The classes are different and thus advance differently...because they're different. Yes, MUs play differnt than fighters. That's sorta the point, I think.
Sure the rules are spartan, but I've never had a need for more than the guidelines. Never had need for more than a solid core foundation. It's why I love Basic/Expert and Original (and LL and S&W) and it's why my favorite game is Tunnels & Trolls. I don't need anyone to do all the work for me, and usually when they do, there's just way, way more than I'd ever need or want.
But, you had fun, despite things you view as bugs (things that are features to me instead). That's the real core engine. Fun.
I was wrong about minis in the original 3 books. They said "miniature figures" in bold on the cover, which I've always taken to mean that they were the default way to play, but on second look I see that every 70s version of D&D pointed out that they were optional.
My impression of 70s-era D&D is that players mostly used miniatures, even if they were optional. We did without minis when we couldn't afford them, when we were camping, etc. My community, the Quad-Cities in Illinois and Iowa, was something of a hotbed for gaming early on, and maybe I lived in an anomalous pro-minis area. I'm genuinely curious about how common minis were in 70s-era gaming.
The 5% thing never bothered me 20 years ago, but I've spent a lot of time since then teaching people games and watching people learn games in focus groups. I never want to turn to a new player and say, "Here's the part of the game where we run percentages on triple-digit figures."
The XP charts give the impression that the classes have been finely tuned for balance, which they haven't. You can't balance wizards to fighters because that balance is contingent on the amount of combat between resets, which is undefined. I could explain this point at length, and maybe I will some day, for the record. There are also house rules and varying treasure level that also affect class balance. The idea that the designers had the class balance pegged so tight that they could fine tune it with XP charts is not really credible.
The XP charts are cool, and I've sort of gone soft on them since my first post. If they make the game better, it's by providing more texture rather than actual game balance.
I have no problem with spartan rules and have designed spartan rules system professionally and for my own amusement.
I think that MUs and fighters should play differently, and I'm no big fan of how 4E made the classes feel much more similar. (I was not officially involved in 4e.)
My problem with OD&D is that the two classes play more differently than I think they should. On one level, it's just that the fighter has very little to think about (and they should have more) while the MU has too much to think about (and should have less). But the real problem is that the fighter's abilities are all at-will and the MU's are all daily. The smart way to play the MU is to blow through all your spells in the first room or two and then whine that you want to go back to the surface and rest. The fighter, given some healing, can swing the sword all day.
The resource management of the wizard, judiciously using spells as they're needed, is the sort of fun that doesn't appeal to everyone. To play the spellcaster right, you have to often not cast a spell even when casting a spell is more fun. The image of Xylarthen the MU running up and knocking a critter on the head with a staff because he doesn't want to use a daily spell makes sense to me because that's what I learned, but it's not the style of play that appeals to most.
I do find the idea that magic-users playing differently from fighters being a bad thing is kind of strange. I have the opposite view: for example, in 4e I don't like how the classes all play the same. I've always liked fighters, but not magic-users, and now in 4e, every character, even the fighters, are essentially wizards, and need to keep track of spell-like powers in every battle. I'm not saying you're wrong, just that it's always interesting to see how differently people can take a given thing.
It's nice to see the retroclones getting some attention from big names in the field. I admit I'm a little astonished at some of the things you see as bugs, though. Maybe it's an individual thing, but there is real value in many of the "bad things" you mention here.
The dual AC system in S&W is there because an important part of the target market of the system consists of grognards who are used to descending AC. It's there to make it faster to learn. I'm inclined to prefer ascending AC myself, if only because new players catch onto it slightly (and really only very slightly) easier, but it's really not "obviously better".
With regards to classes playing differently, though? That's the whole point of classes. Why would anyone even bother to differentiate them if they were all basically the same? If you are going to use the same mechanics for every character anyway, you might as well play a classless system. The purpose of a new class is to allow a different play experience, not to fill a different role in arena combat. RPGs are gloriously unlike computer games that way.
That's why wizards fret about expending valuable magic power and should always be trying to find out what spells they will need. It's why fighters are strong and can wield magic swords and armor, but can't use most other magic items. It's why thieves suck at face-to-face combat but have so many escape abilities. It's why clerics and paladins used to be on the turning tables for evil clerics. Different subsystems open to different classes, depending on the experience you want.
And the amounts of XP needed to level vary because some of those experiences are a little more or less powerful than others. "Thieves suck" unless you realize that the experience it takes to bring a wizard to 7th level takes a thief all the way to 9th.
As for minis... I really don't see the connection between minis and "realism". More than any other aspect of the game, minis require rules that aren't realistic to make them make sense. And they really aren't traditional, either. Neither I nor anyone I knew used minis until the pickier 3e rules started to force the issue. Gary Gygax is on record saying he preferred not to use them. I think Dave Arneson is too, although I'm not as certain of that. Minis were labelled as optional ever since the beginning. As far as I can tell, they only "traditional" once Wizards' marketing team decided they wanted to sell them. I still find them a giant distraction that mostly serve to take up space where the potato chips should go.
I find your objection to basic arithmetic a little troubling, too. My table never bothered with that rule for other reasons, but a 5% XP bonus is really not hard to calculate - certainly no harder than figuring the tip at a restaurant. You divide by twenty: Kids can do that in grade school. And D&D is the last place I'd expect to see this objection. One of the things that made D&D easier for me to convince other kids' moms about (back in the mid-90's) was that it made you better at math.
I mean, tastes differ between people, but nostalgia really doesn't need to factor into liking most of the "bad stuff" you object to here. I actually felt that the reduction of character classes from "game experience" to "combat role" really damaged 4e for me. Honestly, it's the main reason I left it for more interesting games.
I've been playing since the summer of '80, and I have to say (no really, I'm literally compelled to, as evidenced by the fact that I actually created this account just to say it) that you are without doubt the dumbest stump in the deforested waste that is Wizards of the Coast.
Don't get me wrong... I'm not a cheerleader for the "Old School Renaissance" (I still play AD&D, never stopped, so see no need), and I don't play these retro-clones, but I don't cotton to 4th edition "D&D" either.
The game has never been about realistic simulation. Or at least it wasn't meant to be to begin with. Read the friggin' AD&D DMG introduction again. Oh!! You've never read it? No big surprise there.
Two AC systems confuses you? Too much arithmetic? I suppose I should be surprised by these confessions of intellectual inadequacy, but I just read your barely subliterate original post, so I frankly can't claim to be.
Where do they find "designers" like you, anyway? Have fun waiting for your eventual (and inevitable) pink slip.
You do realize you're talking to the cat responsible for Over the Edge, right? There aren't ten roleplaying games ever made that touch that game's coolness and daring. Step lightly, eh? I know Tweet doesn't need anyone defending him - this is a reasonable post - but since Google and Wikipedia are apparently broken, I figured I'd help ya out.
Hey Jonathan, Wilhelm here... about not using minis for combat, there is a bit of a story. I showed up for my Friday night session with a set of battle tiles in my backpack, dry erase markers, and player and monster tokens, fully intending to use them. But when I got to actually running the game, I just sort of forgot about them, because just scribbling out a rough diagram on an index card or pointing to the (player created) map was so much faster and more fluid.
So when it came to Saturday (the day you played) the battle tiles just stayed home :)
For our session, at least, your not using minis was a choice that favored speed over tactical detail. For my own upcoming OD&D campaign, I'll probably leave the minis out to emphasize what the system does well (fast free-form) over tactics.
This is Matt Finch, the author (I don't have a LiveJournal account).
I'm glad you enjoyed the game, and I think your review is quite accurate in terms of how the game will be perceived by someone who prefers a particular style of gaming. I believe that there are two "poles" of gamers, one group preferring to have a very specific rules-base for combat and viewing it as a head-to-head wargame within the RPG. For a head-to-head wargame, one wants the DM to be constrained in the same manner as the players. The other pole sees combat, and the DM's role in it, not as a head-to-head matchup between the DM's mind and the players mind, but as an abstract part of the game just like any other. It's less a wargame and more of a shared narrative moderated by some dice.
That distinction is one aspect of a more general preference in which one group plays with rules from an attempted "comprehensive book," and the other group plays with rulings from a set of "guidelines." 0e is the pirate's code.
I had only a couple of minor disputes with the review: Adding the option for ascending AC wasn't done because I think ascending AC is better, but because it makes for better compatibility with a couple of simulacrum-type games out there. I was shooting for a Rosetta Stone type of stat block. I don't think ascending AC is objectively better or worse - there are advantages and disadvantages to both methods. I personally use ascending AC, but that's because I'm REALLY bad at math when I'm also visualizing the fantasy. I can't walk and chew gum at the same time, apparently.
Also, I don't think that old school gamers are about nostalgia. They're about free-form gaming (again, the Pirate Code). If you look at the S&W message boards, the largest point of discussion is about house rules, not about how things were done back in the day. I've never quite understood the "nostalgia" assumption, and (with all due respect) I think it tends to come from people who don't grasp the fact that free-form gaming is a different gestalt, not just a shorter rulebook. Playing 0e/S&W is about playing that distinct style of gaming, not about donning the old velour shirt and tight-to-the-butt jeans of the 70's. Many people on the S&W boards are too young to have played 0e "back in the day." They're into it because of the game, not because of the memories.
But other than those small points, as I said, I think your review is accurate in terms of the "head-to-head-challenge" gamers; it's probably inaccurate in terms of the "free-form" gamers, but the nature of a review is to put a game into the context of the individual reviewer's preferences. I'm glad you enjoyed playing!
Thanks for swinging by and clearing things up. I'm favorably inclined toward people with "bird" names (like Robin D. Laws), so maybe we'll be good friends.
My post, on rereading it, comes across more negatively than I intended.
I'm well-aware the free-form gaming is a different gestalt from tactical play. I've done a few free-form RPGs myself, both professionally and for fun. The OD&D campaign I'm working on is heavy free-form, with players helping to define the game world (e.g. what dwarfs are) through character creation.
I figured that part of the appeal of 0e is nostalgia because that's part of the appeal for me. When I saw the old-fashioned XP charts in S&W, I got an emotional zing. I don't have anything against nostalgia. A recent campaign of mine was based in Tekumel, and I'm a big Arduin fan. I can agree that the appeal of these systems isn't just nostalgia, but I find it hard to believe that I'm unusual in finding that sort of appeal.
Anyway, the game I played has inspired a new campaign for me that I hope to start in the fall, so thanks.
Oh, are we taking design tips from John "I thought of one mechanic and applied it to everything even if it made no sense" Tweet now? How strange.
Here's how "to hit" works in AD&D with the "clearly" inferior decending AC: roll 1d20, add your opponent's AC and your combat level. Anything over 20 is a hit.
Ohh, that's a strain. Let's look at the so-called third edition's version: roll 1d20 and spend a week adding in modifiers for feats, location and phase of the moon, then argue about which abilities apply in this case. Then just have the DM decide. Then argue with the DM using 47 splat-books that he has failed to memorise. Then go and play a game designed with some bloody common sense.
"Added 5 July 09: For the record, the "bad stuff" I'm referring to is stuff like: too much arithmetic (5% XP bonus, copper pieces, etc.), wonky XP progression per class, too-random character creation, and poor class balance. It also has the problem that didn't get fixed until 4e: all spells are daily, which makes spellcasters play too differently from the fighters."
You are confusing "I don't understand this" with "this is broken". That confusion informed pretty well every mistake made in the design of 3e, while "just what you need for a more story-oriented game" probably covers the rest of them.
What 3e does teach us about game design is that more is generally less.
You are confusing "I don't understand this" with "this is broken". That confusion informed pretty well every mistake made in the design of 3e, while "just what you need for a more story-oriented game" probably covers the rest of them.
Naaaah - these are boring ad hominems and I believe we can assume good sense and a scrupulous game-design approach on Tweet's part.
Try this on for size instead: OD&D and AD&D were built atop a wargaming foundation, but roleplaying games have evolved to have little in common with wargaming. As such, the wargamer's attitude toward subsystem design predominates in the early days of D&D, and has finally been bleached from the bones in 4e. Its main symptom: the idea that flexibility should be sacrificed in the name of a pulp-fantasy 'simulation.' AD&D is an uneasy balance of inflexible 'simulation' with flexible play style; OD&D is, in those terms, a remarkably similar game. Neither is elegant in any way, which is forgivable but shouldn't be a fucking design standard.
3e was the endpoint of AD&D's design philosophy: lots and lots of rules for 'simulating' something that doesn't exist and wouldn't be terribly interesting if it did. Precision without accuracy. 4e just jettisons the simulationist pretense and gets on with being a quick-n-dirty fantasy fighting game with cinematic scale.
These games certainly all have a few things in common: juvenile escapism, risible implicit morality, gutless derivative worldbuilding, blah blah blah.
I'm sympathetic to the form of Finch's argument about 'free-form' gaming but I don't think it applies to OD&D nearly as much as he feels it does. At its heart, OD&D is a 1:1 minis wargame retrofitted to allow for puzzle-solving, minimalist 'storytelling,' and narrative instead of algorithmic scene-setting...but the constraints on play are wholly arbitrary (e.g. daily spells? seriously?), and don't tend to generate interesting game dynamics or rich stories. (When OD&D stories are interesting, they're so in spite of the rules. That's not true of 4e. Is that a win? I don't know.)
The old ways are 'free-form' in part because the rules were never that good at what they were attempting to do, i.e. sorta-simulate, sorta-tell-stories, sorta-combat-game, etc., etc. The 4e rules (vs the polyglot mess of 3e) pick a thing and do it. Less 'free-form,' but it's nice to have a form that works. No?
Matt Finch again. "I'm sympathetic to the form of Finch's argument about 'free-form' gaming but I don't think it applies to OD&D nearly as much as he feels it does. At its heart, OD&D is a 1:1 minis wargame retrofitted to allow for puzzle-solving, minimalist 'storytelling,' and narrative instead of algorithmic scene-setting...
Agreed, but the 1:1 wargame is extremely abstract and simple, I think you'd agree. That's important to my point about it being "free-form."
but the constraints on play are wholly arbitrary (e.g. daily spells? seriously?), and don't tend to generate interesting game dynamics or rich stories.
I agree the constraints are arbitrary, as they are in any game. Daily spells? Why not? Spells limited based on one use per encounter, with encounters separated by a minimum of five game-rounds? Why not? One is more abstract (a game day), one is more specifically game-designed (an encounter, with a definition of what that means). It's a matter of preference which works best for a particular group, but one's not more arbitrary than the other...
(When OD&D stories are interesting, they're so in spite of the rules. That's not true of 4e. Is that a win? I don't know.)"
I can't speak to 4e, since I've only played it in two sessions, and that was only at low level. But certainly I'd agree that it isn't the rules that make OD&D interesting - it's the fantasy being spun beyond the rules themselves - which is why keeping the rules in the background is important. Our different interpretations about this are a good example of how there are two entirely different approaches to gaming, the free-form and the algorithmic. And again, I'm not saying one is better than the other, but I am saying that (a) they are very different, and (b) not everyone perceives the difference. Many old schoolers don't perceive the different design principles of newer games (it took me a long time to "get" 3e and why it played differently, and I played for years), and many "new schoolers" don't get the different design principles of 0e.
Usually when someone criticizes 0e in terms of "DM fiat," I tend to start paying closer attention, because that's an indication that he's debating from a good understanding of where the major difference lies. We're on the same page, albeit in personal disagreement.
Okay, let's see if those italic tags are going to work...
I wouldn't give the "retrofitted wargame" claim a pass like you did, Matt.
If you look at accounts from Arneson's group, D&D was more about exploration than combat. The combat system was literally an afterthought. You need some method of resolving what happens when monster meets explorer, so at first Dave Arneson slotted in Chainmail. But the players wanted something that wasn't as cut & dried with its results, so he substituted in a different system that originally was used for naval combat. That "alternative system" became the standard d20-based approach.
One of my earliest role-playing experiences impressed me because, as a player, you could 'negotiate' with the referee for in game results that were independent of your character sheet. If you could project yourself into the situation, you could decide to tell the referee "I look under the carpet," or "I'll pick up a rock and throw it at my enemy" or "I'll hide behind the door." I didn't have to know any rules to do that.
One of my strong dissatisfactions with later versions of D&D is that they seem to have introduced in game mechanics to replace what we used to do by just talking and negotiating. Search checks replaced telling the referee where and how you look. Diplomacy checks replaced telling the referee what you say and the referee weighs it against what the non player character may know, think or feel. The earlier version of D&D, which (at least in my experience) relied more on talking and thinking and negotiating meant that everyone always had something to do, so I think the player of the magic user felt less handicapped in having or not having something to do as compared to the fighter.
When I later started playing a 3e era game for the first time several years ago, I was frustrated because my low intelligence and low wisdom character couldn't seem do anything except fight because of the meager number of skill points I had. With a poor score for spot, search, etc., I found I was limited my ability as a player to interact with the environment in the game simply because if I wanted to know or see or find anything, the DM told me I had to roll a dice... and usually I would fail if the task were anything other than hitting something with an axe. I didn't feel that the game challenged my wits as much as it challenged my allocation of skill points.
I love the warts and all of AD&D... and a great deal of that is probably a combination of nostalgia and the general weirdness of books like the Monster Manual which I fell in love with at an early age, as well as Gygax's baroque prose.
My good buddy Ray Winninger has said much the same thing for years: that the cool part of D&D was the free-form exploration and that skill checks put a damper on that. In fact, Wilhelm tells me that some OD&D players reject the thief class because it introduces skill checks and forces a dice-based resolution for exploration.
And this is an old debate, player skill versus character skill. Should the character be as smart and well-spoken as the player? Either way you cut it, some players are happy and some are not.
As for nostalgia: if nostalgia is bad, I'm guilty, too.
"Nostalgia" is just a bullshit excuse for not having a critique. We get it, you're a totally cool hipster who happens to game, but only totally cool hip stuff mind you, and you're really far too cool and hip for a stupid game like D&D. You might have had fun, but let's not mention that of course. No, it would be much cooler and hipper to be playing a game designed by some cool hipster, like that hip and cool Jonathan Tweet.
You know, when you're not running around Burning Man with all the dirty hippies who have their schlongs hanging out. In hip and cool way, of course.
First, I'd like to say thanks for all your hard work on 3e. It is a great system that got me and my buddies back into D&D and gave us hours and hours of enjoyment. And subsequently got me interested in the retro-clones and playing the old games supported by the so-called OSR.
Second, what the heck is up with all the vitriol in these comments? You'd think Tweet backed his car over somebody's dog, not posted about his OPINION of a con game.
Third, I'd like to hear more about what you mean by character generation being "too random". For me, the whole 3d6 in order is a huge draw. Will I roll well enough to qualify for the (clearly) better classes, will I have the all-important xp bonus, how long will this character live and how much gold and glory will I win from the dungeon. Or, to put it another way, how much gold and glory will I win despite not being an Elf with a 17 Strength!
Randomness has its appeal, as you say. But the clear trend for the last 30 years has been for less random RPG characters, and that's the apparent will of the people.
Your comment on how long the character will live is telling. The more iterations you get, the better randomness is. In cards, this means that any given hand of poker can be pretty random but each hand is fast and then you're on to the next one. (Thanks, Richard Garfield, for the poker example.) Likewise, if a character's lifespan is short, especially compared to the length of a campaign, then the drawbacks of randomness are smaller relative to its benefits. RPG players, however, generally prefer characters with indefinite life spans, for whom random generation is unwelcome.
Different strokes for different folks, but the RPG audience has responded favorably to less and less randomness in character generation, and it's that general audience I have in mind when I say that OD&D chargen is too random.
In Omega World, which was meant to be faster, wilder, and deadlier than D&D, I put in more randomness than I'd want in a more typical RPG.
In my particular case, my upcoming OD&D campaign will probably last 6 to 10 sessions and will include newbies, so I'm going to dial down the randomness (but not all the way to point buy).
There's a vast middle ground between OD&D, in which fighters and wizards have basically nothing in common, and 4E, in which all class powers function on the same economy.
3e was somewhere in that middle ground. Fighters had feats that let them do special things that not all fighters could do, and wizards had more spells (esp. 0-level spells) so that they didn't have to husband their resources as tightly.
Another approach would be to give fighters some per-encounter or per-day powers and to give wizards some at-will or per-encounter spells. The OD&D fighter and wizard could each take one giant step toward each other and still play very differently.
Mark Faulkner here. You know who I am, I keep posting anonymously because I am too lazy to log in to LJ. And I have a "bird name". Anyways, game designers get more flak than politicians it seems. Glad to see that you can take it in stride and let nay sayers say their nay LOL. Old school AD&D was awesome because it was the original. In the 80's, there were a lot of clunky games that made AD&D seem elegant. Top Secret & Role Master come to mind. To me, AD&D was all about the roleplaying, acting out a character. A fantasy cmomic-book character, but still it was about story and socialization. In old AD&D, if you came accross a complication, you simply invented a rule or revised it. For example, I always applied Dex to HtH combat because it just made more sense. To *us*. Hardly ever used minatures. Some friends were into minis, I used them occasionally, they added flavor and made things interesting once in a while. But only on occasion. I myself hated minis. Can't paint well. But my friends were into Warhammer and other wargames. They had lots of miniatures.
In the 90's, I had to compete with more "story oriented" games, such as the line from White Wolf (I think that was you ;) ). I had to argue that D&D was very much a story oriented game, depends on how you play it. Then I tried to retro-fit Mage into D&D, came up with a bizzarro world imitation of Ars Magica. Then I discovered Ars Magica (that was you again ;) ). Now I play nothing *but* Ars Magica. Even going to a mini-con in San Francisco which we refer to as "Grand Tribunal".
So, though I have read 3rd ed, I never played it. I didn't want to reinvest in a bunch of revised versions of books I already had. It *did* look cool, and I did like a lot of your innovations. I have looked at 4th ed, I cannot recognize anything I identify as D&D. It looks like "generic fantasy wargame with some RP in the background game" to me. No more making your own world, you are stuck in their generic fantasy world with invented dieties. No more Cleric of thor, no more Chaotic Neutral thieves, no more chaotic good fighter/magic user. I just don't like it. I would rather play a retro clone or a home brew.
It's true that one has always been able to play D&D as a story-oriented RPG. In the old days, there weren't a lot of good RPGs out, and most people used D&D for whatever style of play they preferred. Now there have been lots of good RPGs that support lots of different styles of play more or less well. The interesting thing about the OD&D movement is that it seems way more intentional than D&D originally was, in that people now value the rules for their ability to support a particular style of play: free-form exploration, as opposed to story-driven or combat-tactical. As a result, we see OD&D fans refusing to follow Gygax down the path he took with AD&D, with its weapon speeds, to-hit adjustments for a dozen types of pole arms, verbal-somatic-material spell components, percentile Strength, etc. Some OD&D fans even reject the thief class as imposing a regimented task resolution system on the game.