21 June 2019

D&D And Me Supplemental: The Chainmail Connection

Good morning, dear readers.

  I've been recently involved in an interesting project that has seen me running many editions of Dungeons & Dragons in sequence- and due to my nature I'm trying very hard to get all the details right.  Since this project may end up on the web someday, I get frustrated with myself when I get a rule wrong here or there because more than three decades of gaming is rattling around in my brain.  But I always make sure I get it right in my own head for purposes... well, like this.

  I don't think anyone can be a walking encyclopedia of every. Single. Rule. I have become pretty damn adept over the years at remembering esoteric little pieces of rules, but I think anyone who transitioned from D&D Basic (in its many and slightly different forms) or AD&D 1e to 2nd Edition ever really avoided the common table rule of including things from different editions together.  Having talked to a lot of grognards older than myself I find that many D&D players never played the "Rules as Written" and there were plenty of table rules and exceptions floating around.  Weapons vs. Armor, multiple attacks due to Weapon Speed, level limits for demihumans, even the basic imitative rules of First Edition... so  many things that were very often dropped, fudged, houseruled or modified.  So when I needed to learn how Chainmail worked with 1974 D&D, one of the answers I heard most often from older players, message boards and other blogs was "We never used it.  We always used the Alternative Combat System on page 19."  The ACS is basically the rules we use today- roll a D20 versus Armor Class.  The AC runs upward these days, and we use attack bonuses instead of THAC0, but it was there from the beginning.

  So, I was born a year after 1974 D&D dropped.  I never had the temporal opportunity to be in a position where a copy of Chainmail and Avalon Hill's Outdoor Survival were the current solutions for combat and wilderness maps.  I now own both as part of my effort to become a historian of gaming, but these were experiences that passed me by until I started to become active in the Old School Renaissance community.  I was kinda flying blind when I was asked to run 1974 D&D with Chainmail.  I'd played a LOT of Swords & Wizardry White Box, but we always used ascending armor class and the integration of Chainmail wasn't a thing yet.  I found THIS PDF which has some great advice on how to use Chainmail with OD&D, and a lot of wisdom from other gamers in many forums about how to do it.  Thing is- there was no absolute consensus.  Some folks never used it.  Some did.  Some insist it's three systems to use whenever they seem appropriate.  Some think it can somehow be hammered into a single resolution.  It's by no means a universal answer.  I came, I saw, I ran.  And here's what I found.

  Chainmail has several subsystems for adjudicating combat, and the ones that are most useful to D&D in the games I played were the Man-to-Man rules and the Fantasy Combat Table.  The Mass Combat system could also be used, and might be a lot of fun from the perspective of a "Hero" mowing down scads of enemy troops or goblin-level baddies.  It was in these rules that I found a couple of D&D epiphanies.  Here's what I found:

1) "Hero" and "Superhero" as the titles of 4th and 8th-level Fighting Men really drive home the original intent of what a character level represented.  A Hero was literally worth four regular soldiers.  In the Mass Combat rules, a Hero was treated as four soldiers.  A Superhero was treated as eight.  That's an incredible amount of power difference.  Today, most gamers think of 4th as "low-level" and 8th as "mid-level" at best.  It's clear that 9th level was originally the beginning of a change in the game- where characters become nobles and rulers, settle down, build a castle, join the PTA.  I'd always had this feeling from the placement of some other titles on the various tables- particularly 3rd-level Clerics being "Village Priest."  That's the final title for many clergy members, and the title for the lead clergy for a temple.  As in, an entire town might have a Village Priest as their highest level Cleric.  3rd Level then, is a Big Deal.

2) The Fantasy Combat Table doesn't even have an entry for normal humans.  This seems to indicate that until Hero status is achieved, many fantasy monsters are simply beyond the ability of normal warriors.  Even masses of them.  This makes these creatures quite fearsome indeed, and the need for Hero-level adventurers to deal with them even more imperative for a town besieged by, say, a Troll.

3) The restriction of Magic-User characters to daggers makes a lot more sense when one looks at the Man-to-Man combat tables.  For those of us who began with a version of D&D where all attacks did 1d6 damage, it was often confusing why this distinction was important.  After all, in Moldvay for example, every class had the same chance to hit Armor Class 0 at 3rd Level, and did the same 1d6 damage.  So what's the big deal?  Well, this is borne out on the Man-to-Man table which pits each weapon, listed in a Weapon Class going from 1 (Dagger and Hand Axe) upward to 12 (Pike) versus Armor Classes going from 1 (No Armor) to 8 (Plate Armor and Shield).  Note that the numbers for AC only appeared on the Individual Fires with Missiles table, not on the Man-To-Man Melee Table, which called out the type of armor and shield or lack thereof specifically with no associated number.  This meant that the Dagger potentially had very, very different chances to strike a person in a given type of armor than another weapon.  For example, Dagger versus unarmored required a 6 or better on 2d6, where a Sword needed a 7- the Dagger was superior here.  But where a Sword needed a mere 10 to pierce Plate armor, the dagger needed a hail-Mary roll of boxcars (12) to make the same hit.

4) In line with 3) above, Armor Class was quite literally classes of armor.  It was not the numerical progression it is today.  Looking at the Man-to-Man Melee Table, each weapon is rated separately against each type of armor with and without a shield.  This means it's not a simple matter of each class of armor giving a simple adjustment of 1-in-20 either way when progressing upward or downward along the list of possible Armor Classes.  It was specific to what each weapon could do.  This explains the Weapon vs. Armor tables that appeared in AD&D 1e, and the more general optional rules for piercing, slashing, etc. versus types of armor that appeared in 2nd Edition and later versions of D&D.

5) Hit Points were likewise a MUCH bigger deal in their very existence, aside from how many a character had.  Here's why: In Chainmail, the Man-To-Man Melee Table clearly states this is the number to meet or beat on 2d6 to kill the target.  So, pre-HP, a hit was a kill.  Period.  So, add the Hit Die and 1d6 damage per hit rules and what you've now done is create a completely new paradigm for life and death.  Even a character with a measly 2HP now has a chance- no matter how small- to survive what would have been a killing blow.  Someone who rolls average on their single Hit Die at 1st Level still now has a 50/50 chance to survive a wound that would have killed a rank-and-file trooper.  A Hero (4th-Level Fighting Man) with 4 Hit Dice has an average of 14 Hit Points give or take.  This means this character cannot be killed by any less than three deadly hits.  Impressive, eh?

6) Monsters.  Holy crap.  Each monster gets an attack for each Hit Die they possess.  This means the Troll I threw in got eight attacks per round.  Now, I was treating the Troll's claws as daggers on the Man-to-Man table, but it got to try eight times per round to eviscerate the PCs.

  So, what did I learn?

  I learned a lot of the things that still exist in D&D had their genesis in Chainmail and still influence the game in some ways through tradition and mechanical evolution.  I learned that the intent of Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson in the original D&D was that achieving "Name Level" was a big freaking deal.  Becoming a Lord or Wizard or Patriarch (Matriarch wasn't listed, but it was 1974) was a huge achievement, and characters of even 3rd- or 4th-Level were not to be trifled with.  I learned things were a lot scarier when it took a Hero or Superhero to have any chance at all against some monsters, akin to needing magic weapons to hit in the editions with which I am more familiar.  I learned that playing D&D this way is a whole hell of a lot of fun, but is very much an exercise in "Rulings, not rules."

  All in all- I'd happily repeat this experiment with my home table, or at a con.  It was a lot of fun, and kind of educational in the evolution of my hobby.  I hope to have the opportunity to teach this version of D&D to folks out of a desire to spread that knowledge of our collective pasts around a bit.

  Until next time.  Someday, you'll find it.  The Chainmail Connection.  The lovers, the dreamers, and me.  <<This reference brought to you by holy crap, I'm old.>>

23 January 2019

Dude... where's my blog?

Greetings, Programs.

  So, the next part of D&D and Me is going to cover the glorious introduction I had to AD&D 2e in high school.  2e was our go-to, along with BECMI, for those years- though we played too many different games to count during those four years.  I still have a deep and abiding love for it, it's got a permanent place on my shelves despite the rotation of books to and from "archive."  But I haven't gotten around to writing it yet.  Why?

  That's a good question.  Right now, I have zero game campaigns that I'm deeply involved in.  My games at Royal Dragoon Guards meetings have had trouble due to rotating groups of people in attendance (Ed got all the super reliable players!) and I watch the kids on Fridays now so my wife can go play FFG Star Wars.  Weeknights are a flurry of pick up kids, make dinner, do homework, do reading, so there's no room there to game.  Adulthood has caught up with me in a really frustrating way.  I hear this from so many other gamers in my age group.  It's a thing, and I really would that it wasn't.  Gaming is my stress release, my happy place, and I could use it.  Work is changing, finances are less than steady, we just lost our beloved calico Zoe...  life.

  So, I'm still here.  I'm in the middle of cleaning up and re-organizing my game room, The One-Eyed Ogre.  It's an interesting exercise.  Take books that were in the archive to storage.  Transfer the ones from the floor boxes in the alcove to the archive.  Transfer books that haven't been referenced or used since the last update in 2016 to the floor boxes.  Add or re-arrange books on the shelves by utility- D&D and all my OSR stuff, Battletech, Shadowrun, Star Wars, R. Talsorian- pretty much always on accessible shelves.  All my White Wolf save a choice few 1e Vampire books- storage.  Earthdawn to archive, sadly.  Gangbusters to shelves, since it's been requested for this year.  Shuffle, shuffle.

  I'm doing something new, too.  I've put in two standing shelves to organize tools, board games, and go-boxes.  I've put Battletech, Renegade Legion, B/X D&D and a couple other games into milk crates or Princeton files so they can be quickly pulled from the shelf to take to a game or demo, and just as quickly returned.  This is a lesson learned from years of reshelving after events.  Plus, I'm replacing vintage books with reprints (Thanks, Lulu!) so that my 30+ to 40+ year old books are no longer leaving the relative safety of The Ogre.  The popular "black cover" print folks are doing on LuLu of B/X (after legally buying the PDFs, of course) is tucked into a Princeton file with B1, B2, B4 and a couple of other modules plus the amazing B/X GM Screen from New Big Dragon Games.  Ready-to go, ready to play.

  I've just gotten copies of TSR Marvel Revised Basic, so that go-kit is coming together.  I'll be building go kits for other games we do - Shadowrun, Star Wars, Battletech/MechWarrior, that sort of thing.  I love teaching gaming, and at Central Texas Teen Comic Con in February, I'll be lecturing on RPGs to parents and students of Round Rock ISD.

  So, this is where I've been.  I'm going to keep blogging when I can, and write the 2e post (or break it up into multiple posts) for D&D and Me, once I defeat the enemies of Time, Anxiety and Depression.  Thanks for sticking around and reading out there in cyberspace.

09 July 2018

D&D And Me Vol. 2: Advanced Dungeons and Dragons

Image result for AD&D player's handbook 1978  I'm pretty sure I heard the phrase "Advanced Dungeons & Dragons" in reference to action figures before I ever laid eyes on a Player's Handbook.  I was a fan of the LJN figures, and last month I dropped $30 on a copy of the Quest for the Heartstone module because it involved Strongheart, Warduke, Kelek, etc.  And I am still planning on writing a module based on the Fortress of Fangs someday...
 So, my experience looking at AD&D books actually predates my first real game.  We moved to Temple Terrace, Florida for my 5th Grade year, 1985-86.  During that time there, my friend Eric's older brother played AD&D.  We always heard them talk about it, and we saw the stacks of books, but we didn't have any idea at the time what it was, and unlike Elliot in E.T. the older kids decidedly did not want us playing in their game, so I was left to look at the neat hardcover books and wonder what they had to do with the action figures.
Fast forward to 8th Grade.  I had been playing D&D for two years along with many other games picked up along the way.  BECMI rapidly expanded to Traveller, Star Frontiers, Marvel, Battletech, Robotech, etc.  The first AD&D book I was able to read cover to cover wasn't even a PHB or DMG or MM...  it was Oriental Adventures.  As with so many other players in those days, AD&D was close enough to D&D for the brain to fill in a lot of the blanks.  But for the first time I was seeing the more granular bonus charts, spells with components, a massive list of weapons and armor, and of course the Asian-inspired character classes.  I was absolutely fascinated by this book.  I devoured it cover to cover, fascinated by the story opportunities of the Yakuza, and the taboos of the Wu-Jen, and so many other things.  I next grabbed Unearthed Arcana from the same friend and discovered a world of polearms and some more classes and options.  It was only then I got my hands on a PHB and DMG and started learning the core game.
  If I look back on that experience, one of the things that sticks in my head is the official character sheet from that period.  AD&D was originally published from 1977 to 1979, one book per year, with the Monster Manual leading the PHB, followed by the Dungeon Master's Guide.  In 1983 the entire line got new covers painted by Jeff Easley and in 1985 Oriental Adventures and Unearthed Arcana joined the line, and we got the Wilderness Survival Guide and Dungeoneer's Survival Guide shortly thereafter.  The new character sheets released to keep up with the new content were produced, REF 2.  These character sheets had boxes to tick off ranged weapon ammunition, water, food, feed for your mount.  DETAIL.  Now there was an expectation of having to plan out the logistics of a delve into a dungeon- one must have adequate supplies of all sorts.  This made gaming take on a new aspect for me- not just adventure, but simulationist adventure.  I'd already started to glean some of this from Twilight: 2000, but now I had a building block of my eventual fascination with gaming as something that could do more than just weave a tale- it could transport us to a new reality.  Dirt and grime and grit, what the Dragoons now call "Beans & Bullets" gaming.
  The time window here ensured my initial contact with AD&D 1e was short but packed with awesome.  2nd Edition dropped in 1989, and we jumped into it from the beginning with gusto- so we really only had about a year and a half of AD&D 1e before 2e was a thing.  I've played more 1e since then, in the 21st century, than I did during that period.  What my initial contact with AD&D did was broaden my horizons.  I learned the function of detail and "crunch" in an RPG. Verbal, Somatic and Material spell components.  How many GP fit into that belt pouch?  Got enough water for the cross-desert voyage?
  A lot of people talk down about Unearthed Arcana and the Survival Guides.  Since my experience with AD&D meant they were part of AD&D for me from day one, I just accepted their content as being as valid as that of the PHB and DMG.  So my AD&D1e experience was a very different one from someone who starting playing as the books dropped in the 70s.  The detail possible with all the stuff from the Survival Guides.  Effects of weather, temperature, availability of food from foraging in different terrains...  Non-Weapon Proficiency.  SO MUCH DETAIL.  Then I got my hands on Dragonlance Adventures.  Knights of Solamnia were an inspiration to me, as well as the White-Red-Black robes of the Wizards of High Sorcery.
  Though my initial run with AD&D 1e was short- it was certainly formative.  It showed me a different way to play D&D, a way that was initially thought of as more "adult" but I soon came to realize was just another focus of play.  It wasn't superior to BECMI - especially full-on BECMI with the Gazetteers to back them up- but it was a different kind of gaming.  One much more concerned, or apparently so, with reality and the necessities of survival.
  Hot on the heels of this revelatory flirtation with AD&D came 2nd Edition- and boy, howdy was that a ride.

23 April 2018

D&D And Me Supplemental: A response to a friend.

  First of all, dear readers, sorry for the length of time between posts.  I've never been able to get the hang of regular, clockwork posting in the first place.  That gets exacerbated by my issues with depression- and boy, howdy did that raise its ugly head last week.  I'm still climbing out a bit, but over the weekend I got some of my morale and creative groove back- so while it's lasts, I'm going to write a response to a conversation I had with a good friend via email this morning.

  I have had the insane luck over the past few years to make the acquaintance of a good number of authors and artists from my chosen hobby- and I am even more fortunate to count some of them as honest-to-Crom friends.  One of these friends- a damn good one who had a hand in helping me get over last week's urge to just hide from the world- sent me an interesting email this morning by way of "confession."  That email explains that while he has been with the industry since the very early days, he never saw the need for expansions, campaign settings, modules and the like.  He did most of his work with 0D&D and Chainmail, never really using Holmes, Moldvay, Menzer or even AD&D.  In his estimation, the sweet spot in the game is making up all your own stuff, rather than playing in anyone else's game world.

  Now, here I am with my collection being the antithesis of this philosophy- I've at least one copy and more likely four or five of every version of D&D from 1974 (reprint, sadly) to today.  I have a copy of every version of Forgotten Realms and Greyhawk published, plus boxed sets like Kara-Tur, Ravenloft, Birthright, the various Dragonlance incarnations, Thunder Rift...  I stopped counting books and boxed sets and started counting shelf feet.  Thing is, for this massive collection of D&D stuff (not to mention all my other games) I have never, not once, run a game in the Forgotten Realms.  Nor Greyhawk, unless one counts the modules that have been retconned into that world when they were originally setting agnostic.  But, I have run a LOT of Ravenloft, DragonLance, and especially Mystara.  In addition to those worlds, however, I've run quite a few D&D realms of my own creation.

  It strikes me that there's absolutely nothing to "forgive" that my friend's style differs from mine- first of all because everyone has different preferences for gaming, but also because our experiences getting into the game were very different.  When I started playing D&D, it was with the Mentzer Red Box from '83.  It was 1986, and my friend Dan and his brother gathered a few of us and taught us the game.  We were adventuring in The Known World (not yet called Mystara) and making use of the Karameikos setting as it appeared in Red Box and in modules like Night's Dark Terror and The Veiled Society.  D&D as we knew it sort of came with a setting, much like a licensed game like Marvel Superheroes or Robotech would.  It wasn't until I started to read the DragonLance novels and ease into AD&D that I realized you could do D&D in any world- including your own.

  Of course, we wrote our own dungeons and adventures, but they tended to include NPCs from the Known World setting like Bargle or the Black Eagle Baron or (and I still do this) the AD&D action figures from LJN.  But armed with this knowledge, I started to create my own towns and place them on the maps- my own dungeons, minor nobles, etc.  Filling in the blanks.  I grabbed my Traveller books and created my own subsector, and later a full sector.  But in the early days in the 70s, it was assumed everyone would create their own settings and stories- to the point that TSR initially gave Judge's Guild wide leeway to create settings and modules because it was believed nobody wanted them.  They wouldn't sell, why buy someone else's story when you can make up your own?

  There are lots of reasons to use modules or settings.  Maybe, like with Star Wars, you like the IP and want to play in that world.  Maybe you're busy with family and work and don't have time to be M.A.R. Barker and create a fully realized setting.  Maybe the Big Picture doesn't matter to you as much as the actions of the party, so you're content to let Ed Greenwood or Aaron Allston do the heavy lifting and plop your story into their worlds.  But maybe you just want to start with a very minimum of rules and no setting at all and craft something entirely your own to present to your friends in the game.

  Not only do I see this last being as valid an approach as any other- I see it as being an extremely admirable endeavor.  Tabletop gaming is, after all, about creativity.  What can be more creative than weaving your own world whole cloth?  To be blessed enough with the brain sweat and time to create stories and campaigns from scratch is a wonderful thing indeed.  Sticking to the basics of the rules with which to run those stories has its charm, as well.  I used to be a fan of crunchy, rules-heavy systems.  As I get older, however, I find myself reaching for things like Swords & Wizardry, The Hero's Journey, and my good old Rules Cyclopedia when I think about what I'd do with a new campaign had I the time to run one.  Sure, I would enjoy any version of D&D, and lots of games that aren't D&D.  Pendragon, Earthdawn and ElfQuest come to mind.  But there's a reason I love the OSR (Old School Renaissance/Revival, Original Source Rules, whatever) movement.  Simplicity.

  I ran a one-shot espionage game the other day using White Lies, an OSR game in that genre.  The book is tiny, like many OSR products.  We created a bunch of spies, played a great game, and didn't quibble over rules of any sort.  It was fast, easy, and I made stuff up as I went.  The story played out with a thin veneer or rules and no need for constant reference of tables, charts or complex systems.  Through this kind of experience, I have a lot of respect for the back-to-the-70s rules mindset.  That's not to say I don't wow when I see a nifty new-school mechanic.  I totally do.  And my shelves are full of such things.  But in a space in my life where pick-up games are the rule rather than the exception, rules light and make it up as you go have a LOT of value.

  So, there's nothing to apologize for in admitting you're a bit of a collection and rules minimalist and believe in writing your own material.  Nothing wrong with that approach at all.  While some of the rest of us accumulate ridiculous stacks of tomes and hoards of dice, it's possible to have amazing games without any of the excess accoutrements.  I doubt I'll ever leave behind Mystara or Thunder Rift permanently, or that I'll perma-shelf any edition of D&D (no, not even 4th which would work GREAT as a Final Fantasy I type tabletop game) or any other setting.  I'll probably keep Horror on the Hill and B1 and B2 handy for demos and introducing folks to the hobby.  But I have the utmost respect for the DM who can run for literal decades with the original boxed set, chainmail, and some graph paper.  There is nothing wrong with that approach, it's actually pretty damn admirable.  And saves a lot of money and shelf space.

01 March 2018

D&D And Me Supplemental: My Gaming Timeline

  Sometimes it takes me a while to organize my thoughts. Lately, it's taken way too much time.  By the time I'm in a writing mode, I've got to move on to other tasks like parenting, day job, etc.  As excited as I am to write this D&D And Me series, it's taking quite a bit longer than I'd like.  Also- I want to do it right.  So today's post is going to lay the groundwork for the future posts by laying out when I was exposed to various versions of D&D.  The interesting thing to me, looking back, is that I didn't really go backward until I'd already moved forward in some cases.  Like many players, I jumped in at the year I was introduced to D&D, and didn't see the value of looking at what had come before until a bit down the road.  So, here we go- the Old Dragoon's D&D timeline.

  • 1982: First became aware of D&D thanks to hearing the name here and there, and seeing the brief scene in E.T. where the older boys are playing and Elliot wants to join in.  Didn't think much of it at the time.
  • 1983: The Cartoon and the LJN action figures hit my awareness.  The D&D animated series was, and continues to be, a favorite of mine.  I watch it with my kids even now.  
  • 1985: My first gander at a D&D book.  My friend Eric had an older brother who played AD&D.  We paged through his books- they were the '83 Easley cover AD&D PHB, DMG and MM.  I could swear that he had a box or folder set that had one of the hex-grid transparencies to overlay onto maps, but I'm not sure of those came out until the Forgotten Realms box released later.  But I was extremely intrigued- all the numbers, math, etc.  But if this had something to do with the cartoon, it MUST be cool, right?  And the cover art was amazing to my ten-year-old eyes.  Sadly, the big kids wanted nothing to do with us come game time.  My intro to D&D would have to wait.
  • 1986: Summer before I started the 6th grade, I met Daniel Varner.  That was the start of my D&D sojourn.  We played Red and Blue Box, the '83 Mentzer versions, all summer.  And all of Middle School.  As chronicled in my first D&D And Me post, this was where it all really started for me.  I immediately started collecting non-D&D RPGs once I got the idea of what an RPG was- my first two were Palladium's Robotech and FASA's Star Trek.
  • 1987: We dipped our toe into AD&D, but haphazardly.  First we used the MM with our BE games.  Then we used Oriental Adventures to take classes and monsters and put them into our BE games.  Eventually we got our hands on PHBs and a DMG and tried AD&D, but found BE to be more our speed.  We also got the Companion and Master rule boxes and found them to be awesome, so we played BECM more than AD&D.
  • 1988: The Satanic Panic hits our church in the form of a single guy who raised a stink about RPGs.  I debated him and won, feeling smugly happy to do so at age 13.  We kept branching out to other games, but D&D was still the core of our gaming.  Marvel, Star Frontiers, Palladium Fantasy, etc.
  • 1989: AD&D 2e drops, and we all start High School.  It's at this point that we're all briefly overtaken by the "AD&D is the adult version" bug, but I never completely left BECMI behind.  In fact, my regular Friday night campaign in High School was BECMI for most of my four years, with some Shadowrun in there after 1990.  This was my first edition to release after I had already begun the hobby- so we got in on 2e on the ground floor and hung on for the ride.  Larry Elmore's painting of the proud Dragon Hunters still makes me feel nostalgic for the age of MTV and my high school campaigns.  From here on out, I pick up new editions as they arrive, but I've still not discovered all the older editions.
  • 1991: I got my hands on a Moldvay Basic book in a trade.  No idea what it was, I hadn't even really thought about D&D pre-Red Box.  I liked the holes drilled in the book and put it in my Trapper Keeper and basically had a D&D book with me at all times at school. I found the compactness of a single rulebook that was very close or identical to the rules I most enjoyed to be extremely convenient.  This was also the year of the Rules Cyclopedia and the Black Box of D&D- both of which I relish to this day.  The Dragon Cards to teach the game in the Black Box were kind of neat, and the Rules Cyclopedia is still my Desert Island D&D book.  You could run campaigns from here to Judgement Day with just that one book and some dice.
  • Mid-1990s: I saw my first copy of Holmes D&D, and like the idiot teen/twentysomething I was I kinda shrugged and shelved it.  It wasn't until I was in my late thirties that I realized the significance of what Dr. Holmes had done- until I had a good solid look at the original 1974 books and seen how necessary an accessible basic rules could be.  The mishmash of Basic and AD&D in the book threw me, and I ignored it until relatively recently, when I started to really study my editions out of curiosity in the development of the game and the hobby.
  • Mid-1990s: The 2.5 revision.  You know, the abomination.  They reformatted AD&D 2e to include inferior art, layout and trade dress.  AD&D 2e was meant to look like it did in 1989, dammit!  In retrospect, this may be my very first "Get Off My Lawn!" moment in my 20s...  But seriously, I disliked the entire presentation of the revised 2e so much that I've never purchased a black-border book.  I've gotten a couple in donations and trade, but I dont' go out of my way to put my hands on them.  *shrug*
  • 1999: What?  There's going to be a THIRD edition?
  • 2000: 3.0 releases.  The OGL happens.  D20 everywhere.  Some great stuff comes out of it.  Some less-than-great stuff comes out of it.  We rapidly learn Feats can be a two-edged sword, Attacks of Opportunity are sometimes complex, and BAB means multiclassing out of a martial class kinda sucks.  BUT- it is the new shiny, and everyone plays it!
  • 2003: A new edition?  ALREADY?  3.5 arrives, fixing some of the problems of 3.0 and generally cheesing off anyone who had invested heavily in 3.0.  Like I did.  Ugh.  BUT- it was an improvement, and it led to some more OGL products that were awesome.  Enough people loved 3.5 that when 4.0 was announced, Pathfinder (3.75?) took the sales lead for a long while.
  • 2008: 4.0 Arrives.  I'll admit it- I tried 4.0 with gusto.  I liked some of the new mechanics, but found combat to take far too long.  I ended up embracing it as I was running games at Rogue's Gallery as part of league play, but something about it just felt off to me.  This is the year I first got my hands on copies of the original 1974 books- in PDF.  I was now able to trace my hobby lineage all the way back to the first release.  I could see how the game evolved, and what the original core ideas were.
  • 2010: D&D Essentials.  For all my dislike of 4.0 as it existed at launch, Essentials hit a sweet spot for me.  Something about the reworking of 4.0 to give it a more old-school feel and progression clicked with me.  Combat still took too long- but the Warpriest felt like a BECMI Cleric to me.  It felt more like traditional D&D than 4.0 ever had.  It was still very much a different game, and to this day I maintain it's great if you want to play Final Fantasy on the tabletop, but it's not good at traditional D&D the way I run it.
  • 2014: 5e.  This may be my second-favorite edition of D&D after BX/BECMI.  It seems to be the best parts of D&D, AD&D, 3.x and 4E all thrown in a blender and what comes out is a sweet, smooth mixture of D&D essence.  It fixes a lot of glitches, but it introduces one or two of its own.
So this brings us to present day 2018- no further editions have released after 5e in 2014.  In fact, WoTC has kept the 5e release schedule admirably slow and steady, without the splat creep that so often occurs.  This keeps 5e lean and mean when games like 2e and Pathfinder were deep into the creep at four years of age.  Now, this only lists official D&D variants aside from a mention of Pathfinder (since it was kind of the spiritual continuation of 3.x.)  I have left out the OSR, Retroclones, DCC, etc.  That's because D&D And Me is specifically about my feelings and experiences with actual D&D.  I may discuss retroclones etc. in the main articles about an edition- I will probably talk about Blueholme when I talk about Holmes D&D.  But for the most part, I'm trying to stay on task.

So, aside from Supplementals, here's the order in which I'll be talking about editions.  The order in which I first experiences them.  In some cases, it's chronological with the release of a given edition, but as with B/X, Holmes and 0e, sometimes it's not.  I look forward to chronicling this journey.

10 January 2018

2018- What's The Old Dragoon Looking Forward To?

  Life goes by pretty fast, or so Ferris Bueller tells us.  My last D&D And Me was in November.  Holidays, parenthood, work, life.  As I type this I'm at my desk at work pushing out updates to 162 computers, a process that looks like it will still be running when I head home.  So, time enough at last.

  I'm going to be continuing D&D And Me, of course.  BECMI was my first version of D&D, so next stop is AD&D 1e.  Then 2e.  I love recalling my first experiences with these books and games.  Takes me back to my happy place.  And I love sharing those experiences on the blog, so others can reminisce a little.  Since I've gotten involved with OSR gaming and North Texas RPG Con, I find myself stuck between the REAL grognards and a coupla generations of younger folks that come after.  Much like my role as Zane and Kaylee's dad, I'm kinda in a Dad role while the first generation of gamers who attend NT are the grandparental figures.

  I'm continuing on my Big Project with my writing partner Bobby and Evil Beagle Games.  The project isn't moving as fast as I'd hoped. I wanted it out by now- but I vastly underestimated the effect Real Life has on writing.  Being a special needs dad takes a toll on energy and free time.  I hope to squeeze in a couple of OSR projects this year- small things. Adventure modules, etc.  I'm beginning a course in Desktop Publishing next week to take my 22-year-old Quark Express knowledge and self-taught MS Publisher knowledge and add a brand new bunch of Adobe InDesign skills.  This is, of course, to help get projects Bobby and I want to do out the door under our own imprint.

  OSR is still a thing for me.  Why?  Because the core system is just so damn intuitive to me.  I want to contribute, and I want to PLAY.  White Box Gothic sounds GREAT.  White Lies, the spy RPG, sounds like a good alternative to Top Secret until NWO releases.  Guardians is fun for quick superhero pick-ups, even quicker than old-school Marvel.  There's a lot of goodness in the OSR, and a lot of friends are active in the scene.

  New games?  Well, I'm eagerly awaiting my Delphi Council Box for the new TORG game.  I just got the PDF for the Savage Worlds Flash Gordon game.  I'm re-reading Cubicle 7's beautiful Lone Wolf RPG, based on the Joe Dever books of the same name that got me through Freshman Algebra.  And I hold out a hopeless hope that Mekton Zero will finally drop at some point.

  Oh, and I have to learn the My Little Pony RPG- Kaylee spent some of her Christmas money on it, and so Daddy is going to have to GM.  Equestria, here I come.

09 November 2017

D&D And Me Supplemental: BECMI Demihumans

  Let us speak of Elves, Dwarves and Halflings as I knew them in my early days of D&D.  This being my first exposure to them as playable races in a game, they made a deep impression on me as to what the Elf, Dwarf and Halfling were supposed to be.  Today, I still feel a little odd when I hear some whippersnapper talk about his Dwarven Wizard.  Modern D&D has none of the class or level limits of old school D&D, which is not a bad thing when one considers that allowing a player to create a character in which they will invest is an incentive to get into the game and stay in the game.  But, back in the proverbial My Day, we rolled our stats and picked what was possible.  I'm sure I'll talk on these points in later posts in this series.  So the first thing to note for players of modern D&D who are unfamiliar with BECMI is that, as mentioned in the previous post, Elf, Dwarf and Halfling are classes, not races that may then take a class.  I later learned that this was a holdover from the Moldvay/Cook/Marsh edition of Basic, but the Holmes edition that represented the first incarnation of "basic" D&D referred to rules for demihumans becoming Theives appearing in the forthcoming Advanced Dungeons and Dragons.

  So, race as class.  What is found inside BECMI D&D is the idea that the characters of the Dwarf, Elf and Halfling classes are archetypal of their race.  So what it is to be Dwarven, Elven or Halfling is distilled into the abilities and attributes of the class.  While this can be argued to have a negative effect on the diversity of the party of characters, since every elf is an Elf, and every dwarf a Dwarf, we did not see it that way as we started play.  The ideal that each of these characters were part of a monolithic society of their fellows appealed to us. After all, were not Thorin Oakenshield and his retinue cut from the same cloth as the Dwarf class presented in BECMI?  

  Beginning alphabetically, let's talk about the Dwarf. They are described as about 4' tall, and around 150 pounds in weight.  Yes, Virginia, female dwarves are described as having beards - short ones, but beards nonetheless.  They are described with earth-colored skin and dark or gray hair.  Right after the physical description the fact that Dwarves are stubborn, practical, and fond of food, drink, and gold are stated.  So, as I noted above, Dwarves are presented as a monoculture, as are the other two demihuman races.  The implication here is that all dwarves fit the Dwarf archetype, full stop.  Therefore, all Dwarves are fighters, crafters, etc.  I find that in my older years this does not bother me as much as it probably should.  When I was 11, this was just how things were.  When I was 30, I found it fairly simplistic and started to wonder about Dwarves who did other things, or how the Dwarven Cleric was totally a thing in my D&D circles yet wasn't strictly possible without using the Dwarves of Rockhome supplement.  As of this writing, I'm 42, a dad, and introducing D&D to my kids and godchildren.  The simplicity of Basic and its view of demihumans is actually more comforting than frustrating.  I like that I can, when explaining D&D to kids, rely on the fact that a dwarf is a Dwarf, and concentrate on other things.

  So, Dwarves are fighters in all aspects- weapons and armor allowed, d8 Hit Dice, and much later the Fighter combat options.  They require a CON of 9 or more, and their Prime Requisite is Strength.  This makes them the equal of the human Fighter class PCs in any party, level for level.  Dwarves do require more XP to advance than Fighters, and they top out at 12th level.  The additional XP goes to compensate for the things a Dwarf can do that Fighters can't.  60' of Infravision allows Dwarves to see heat in the dark.  They speak four additional languages.  They can detect stonework traps, hidden stonework, and the slope of tunnels.  The Dwarf also starts with some pretty impressive Saving Throws, two of which are in the single digits at 1st Level.  NOTE: In old editions, Saving Throws are numbers to meet or beat on 1d20, so having a low Saving Throw means more likelihood of success.  A Save below 10 at 1st Level is phenomenal.  Of the seven classes in BECMI D&D, Dwarf and Halfling are tied for best saving throws at 1st Level, and the Fighter is second only to the Magic-User for the worst.
  The Level Limit.  Yes, this, too could be an entire post on its own.  Quite a few bloggers have already talked about this, among them my friend James Spahn, author of The Hero's Journey RPG among many others.  He's got a great handle on the Original Source Rules, so I'll direct you to his post HERE until I can pen my own.  Dwarves top out at 12th Level- which is the most generous level limit of the three.  Bear in mind that 9th Level, called "Name Level" on old D&D Lore, represents the level at which a class reaches it's 'Name' as a Level Title.  "Lord" for Fighters, and "Dwarven Lord" for Dwarves.  This is the level at which PCs may choose to start settling down and carving our a holding of their own.  So, Dwarves, while limited, may progress three levels beyond this.  Not too shabby, eh?  To be honest, in 31 years of gaming, this level limit has never actually been a problem.  In the later books of the BECMI series, the level limit is addressed by allowing demihumans to gain other benefits - like "Attack Rank" which lets them keep improving in combat but without the Hit Points and Saving Throw benefits of gaining an actual level.
  How do I feel about the Dwarf?  Well, I like this class just fine.  I embrace the archetype in my fantasy worlds, and since I love running in Mystara/The Known World where this version of the Dwarf is the in-world Dwarf, it works for me.  I find the 10% or so increase in XP needed to level over the Fighter at low levels to be fair enough, given the other things Dwarves can accomplish.  Overall, with the addition of the Dwarf Cleric class from the Rockhome Gazetteer, it represents enough material for Dwarves to be a strong, vibrant part of a D&D Basic campaign.

  Let's talk about Elves.  The BECMI Elf is a pretty darn good choice for the player who wants to do it all.  Like a Dwarf, the Elf gets all weapons, all armor, and the same combat progression as a Fighter.  The d6 Hit Die makes the Elf as tough as the Cleric, and tougher than the Thief and Magic-User.  On top of being as fighty as the Fighter save slightly lower Hit Points, the Elf can cast spells as a Magic-User.  While wearing armor.  So, we've got a combat machine that can cast spells in armor.  That's great!  Wait, you mean there's more?  Yes, Elves are immune to the paralysis caused by ghouls.  The can detect secret and hidden doors.  They speak four extra languages.  They have 60' of Infravision.  WOW.  Their Saving Throws are better on average than the Fighter, Magic-User or Thief, and equal to the Cleric.  One might think the Elf was the perfect character class.

  Well, not quite perfect.  Elves must have an INT of 9 or better.  The Elf requires more XP than any other class in the rules to advance.  By way of example, Elves become 2nd Level at 4000xp.  A Fighter is 3rd Level at this point.  A Thief is 800 XP short of 4th.  Clerics are 3rd and 1/3 of the way to 4th.  It takes a LOT of XP to level up as an Elf, and their progress through levels tops out at 10th.  This means that Elves never have the potential to cast spells of 6th Level or higher as human Magic-Users can.  Elves are often left behind by one or two levels as their party climbs the experience charts due to these disparities.

  The description of the Elf might be a bit confusing to modern readers. Elves seem to have gained about half a foot or more in height since the BECMI days, where they are said to be 5'-5 1/2' tall.  In 5e, they can be "just over 6 feet," a height unheard of in Basic D&D elves.  Aside from that, this Elf is just as much an archetype of the "elvishness" most of us were familiar with as the Dwarf was of "dwarvishness."

  How do I like the Elf?  I think it's a wonderful mix of fight and cast, and the XP requriements give a healthy bit of pause to players who just want to play Elf for the potential power.  I enjoy having this class in my games, though I have very rarely played one.  On further thought, this is probably more because I took up being the DM quickly and have been a DM far, far more than I was ever a player.  What would I do differently with the Elf?  Well, if I get to run a BECMI campaign any time soon, I may give players the option to choose to cast Druid spells as opposed to Magic-User spells, but this choice would be permanent and reflective of the tribe of the Elf PC. So, more or less "Wood Elves" would cast from the Druid list, and "High Elves" from the Magic-User list.  In concept it sounds cool.  I wonder about how it would play in practice.  

  Halflings!  Like the other demihumans, the Halfling functions as a Fighter, and has Fighter access to weapons and armor and Fighter attack progression. Halflings are second only to Dwarves in their Saving Throws, indeed by 4th Level all a Halfling's Saves are 10 or less.  These are the smallest demihumans at 3' tall and 60lbs. They are the most restrictive demihuman class to create, requiring a 9 or more in both DEX and CON.  So what's so great about Halflings if they can't cast like an Elf?  Why pick one over the Dwarf, when a Halfling only gets a d6 for Hit Dice versus the Dwarf's d8?  The Halfling can't even make Name level, capped at 8th, one level before other classes reach this goal.  That means that ultimately, the Halfling loses out on a Hit Die.

  Halflings have some bonuses no other class can match.  Halflings, due to their size, gain a better Armor Class against large creatures.  They get a +1 To-Hit on any missile weapon.  If using Individual Initiative, they receive a +1 bonus.  Since Initiative is rolled on a d6 in BECMI rather than the more modern d20, this is the equivalent (roughty) of a +3 or +4 Initiative Bonus on a d20-based roll.  So far, so good. What else have Halflings got?  Glad you asked.  One of the things BECMI Thieves are often criticized for their abysmally low percentage skills in doing the things Thieves do.  Halflings can hide successfully with 90% ability in the woods, and 33% in a dungeon.  A Thief would have to be 6th Level to outdo the Halfling in the Dungeon, and 13th Level to outdo the Halfling in the woods.  These abilities never improve, but they are very impressive when compared to a Thief.  Later in their careers, Halflings will continue to advance in Attack Rank like the other Demihumans, and eventually take 1/4 Damage or no Damage on successful saves against some forms of attack.

  The Halflings depicted in the Five Shires Gazetteer are a bit more adventurous that Tolkien's Hobbits, but they are obviously heavily inspired by Hobbits nonetheless.  The Halfling is a great addition to any party as it represents a crack shot with a bow or sling, a good (short) sword arm, and an extremely sneaky scout.  Sure, I'd like to see Halflings able to master a Thief skill or two - but remember, even Bilbo was pretty darn bad at picking pocketses.

  So, here are the Demihumans of BECMI D&D.  This is the starting point from which all other D&D versions of them will evermore be measured in my mind.  Even having played each edition, including taking the '74 rules for a spin (with Frank Mentzer as DM) and recently getting a game or two of Holmes, I would gladly play any of these incarnations of the non-human D&D races.  I can see in my head fun concepts for characters of all three of these classes.  It might seem limited to a modern player, only one class per race, no feats, no customization to speak of.  But, having played with this version, 3.x, 5e, even 4e, what I can tell you is sometimes more complex isn't better.  There is something to be said for boiling it all down to basics and just playing the game, stereotypes, cliches, and all.