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.