On the topic of other online discussions of D&D-centric theory, this was an interesting breakdown of styles or flavors of D&D, partially correlated to editions, that have come up over the years. Like all broad categorizations, there’s sure to be some over-generalization, and lots of fun things in the interstices. There’s undoubtedly some interesting examinations of the causes and effects between emerging and evolving styles of playing D&D, and changes to editions, though I’ll leave that to people who actually know something.
Knaves & Kobolds – Or, “How I learned to stop worrying and love the fantasy f*#!ing Vietnam”. The style of play perceived today as the oldest of schools, where characters were cheap, treasure the main goal, battle a peril rather than an action hero scene. The assumptions here force caution and what after several minutes of thought I can only summarize as “probing for the ability to resolve obstacles without having to engage in applications of mechanics that can go horribly wrong”. I’m not sure if that would come across as uncharitable; I don’t mean it to be. Success, and fun, found in some non-linear thinking and then negotiations around how effective it should be in the fiction. It requires, I think, few rules, but harsh (though not punitive) ones. I think something like Dungeon World could be played in this style, because the mechanics push the characters towards further peril every time the dice are invoked.
Castles & Cronies – Also described (jokingly?) in the thread as “Sims: Fantasy Billionaire Edition”. This is the stuff I got into a bit in my earlier post about castle building and domains, and modeling armies, but also managing hirelings and henchmen and followers and so on. It doesn’t necessarily take the focus off adventuring (sure, it can) as much as place those adventures in a larger context which the players also manage.
Galactic Dragons & Godwars – Or perhaps “Battlestars & Behemoths”, this is the game with the weirdness dial cranked. This is the game of the externally fantastical – mighty psychic-sorcerers turned into dragons, elven tree spaceships from
Jurai whatever crystal spheres they come from, a ring-world atop an infinite spire at the center of the multiverse. The characters themselves aren’t necessarily bizarre (relative to baseline – British colonial hippo-people teamed up with psychic monk escapees from a brain-eater planar empire isn’t weird in context here). I’m unsure what level of mechanical support is necessary for this kind of D&D – it seems so focused on the trappings that the most useful thing would be understanding and codifying the setting, and working out whatever implications are necessary to enable it from there.
Oubliettes & Orcus – Or “Dungeons & Demoncrawls”, this style is less of a meatgrinder than the earlier approach, with more attention paid to playing out combats, less on the retirement endgame and hirelings, and at least stereotypically a fondness for the “dark and edgy” trappings that helped rile up the satanic panic at the disco. Home of the darkest dungeons!
Paladins & Princesses – The reaction to aforementioned panic changes the focus to largely good and decent adventuring hero types going around and saving a world worth saving. Sometimes the princesses even got to save the paladins!
Simulation & Magery – Ah, S&M – painful, but some people are really into it. (I admit it, I stole the joke.) Rules as physics might be too strict an assessment of this style, but there’s definitely some deconstruction and reconstruction as the mechanics and their consequences drive consideration about what kind of world would have to result from their consistent application. Eberron, with its semi-industrial world based on low level spells, is an example setting here. I admit, I’m less sold on this as a style of play than as one of world-building, or even just “playing third edition”. I honestly included it for the joke.
Misfits & Mayhem – A little high action, a little gritty. A tiefling named Poetry. Not quite gonzo in the Galactic Dragon sense, but out of the ordinary, perhaps, with respect to setting baseline – people near, adjacent to, or within sight of the edge, without the cheap disposability implied by K&K. Second edition’s proliferation of kits pointed this way, I think, and third’s abundance of races and classes continued it (and, I think, a lot of campaign styles within Eberron, like Sharn gumshoe or Xendrik expedition could end up in this cateogry as well), but it’s largely written as the house style for fourth edition.
Looking through this list, even if I can justify to myself a good correlation between some editions and some styles, I think there’s more tonal reasons than mechanical ones. The kind of rules assumptions that fuel a life-is-cheap game in the K&K style will obviously differ from games that permit more action at lower cost, but a system that gives you the survivability necessary to battle fiends and dragons should let you play demon dungeoncrawls or heroic princesses or even a fantasy Magnificent Seven, at least as much as D&D games ever provide explicit playstyle support in the way that it’s understood today.
I had thought to sketch out my ambitions for tones appropriate for my own game, but… it seems like the only things that would require special handling are the harshness of a K&K game, and the managing of entities external to the character from a C&C game. I think I can make nods in the K&K direction – as has been amply demonstrated in play so far, over-relying on having to roll to resolve skills will invite cascading bad outcomes (just pitch it as “things get more perilous!” rather than “gee, you’re incompetent!”), and I’ve got optional rules for making damage from combats harsher. I still entertain fond dreams of castles and armies, but I may just leave those for games that already know how to work them.