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Author Topic: [Basic D&D (Moldvay)] dead elves and grave robbing thieves  (Read 18518 times)
Rich Forest
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Posts: 226


« on: November 17, 2006, 05:29:16 AM »

A friend (Ben Lehman) is passing through town this week, and this afternoon we fit in a game of D&D. We used the 1981 Moldvay edited edition of Basic. The idea to play it grew out of us making small talk about a longer running D&D3.5 game we've played in, which is currently on hiatus because me and another player are just too busy right now for the regular game.

Anyway, we decided to play some stuff that had happened in the ancient history of the game world, and use Basic D&D for it.

That's the general setup. He made a dungeon, an elven tomb. I made characters, two elves. He'd suggested that elves basically become "adults" by going out to some unoccupied part of the massive, mostly unexplored elven wood, occupying it, and sticking around for centuries. Basically, homesteading until they reach name level. I made a pair of 1st level elves, brothers (since they were planning on sharing the occupation of the area). One was a "mostly following in his father's militant footsteps" type, the other was a "bit odd for the family, very bright, spends time caving" guy. I didn't invest a whole lot of into backstory. Their names were Lorn and Wight.

They went into the ruin, faced some ghoulish elves, and died. The inauspiciously named Wight was the first to fall.

I rolled two new characters, and we cut to thirty or forty years later. This time I rolled up two thieves, with the boss being none too bright -- he'd decided, after all, to sneak into the elven wood to rob graves. His flunky was there because frankly, he needed the money. The first thief provided the funding, the other did most of the hard work. Surprisingly, they prevailed against the monsters who had slain the elves, they looted some stuff, and one leveled up. The money-bags thief was named Stief. The flunky thief was named Git.

By the end of the game, I really liked Git.

That's the broad framework. Here are some highlights, musings, and observations in no particular order.

1) My two favorite moments were sort of opposites. Both occurred with the thieves. One was a time I knew exactly what to do without thinking about it and could just put the characters into action with no hesitation. They had entered the tomb, they saw shadowy figures, they had surprise, and they started shooting them down. It was at that point that I realized these guys had ambushed folks before. This wasn't their first time. The other favorite moment was sort of the opposite because it was a time when I had no idea what to do. Things were going against them, one (Stief) was paralyzed, I was flailing around trying to decide on my next action for Git, and I stumbled upon something that snapped into place and worked. Git grabbed the holy water from Stief's belt and poured it over his own head. When the ghoul hit him right after that, it took the standard d8 holy water damage on its successful hit. That helped Git pull through and win the fight. (Later, in the game's postscript, Git would tithe 10% at the church by way of saying "thanks.")

2) Treasure based xp seems really cool. It's worth more than monster fighting xp, so the best way to level up is to get as much treasure as you can without getting caught up in too many fights, if at all possible. At 1st level, combat is scary dangerous.

3) But ranged weapons are great. When you have 4 hit points and a longbow, and the monsters have no ranged attacks, you might live.

4) Rogues are cool. They can dish out good damage and they can do so at distance. Also, they level up fast.

5) Outlier rolls and equipment are great little characterization tools. The elf who came with a backpack and two large sacks? He's clearly intent on looting, while his brother is not. The thief who decided to bring holy water and wolfsbane into the elven wood to use against the elves? He may just be stupid enough to have brought the right gear for the job. (Stief's holy water saved Git's ass, which in turn saved Stief's ass since he was paralyzed at the time.)

Ben'll probably have more to add. Right now I'm just kicking this off.

Rich
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TonyLB
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« Reply #1 on: November 17, 2006, 06:02:50 AM »

Anyway, we decided to play some stuff that had happened in the ancient history of the game world, and use Basic D&D for it.
I love the way you connected those two things.  Like, you're using the rules to literally represent the nostalgic "Those were simpler times" vision of the past.  Was that deliberate?
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Rich Forest
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« Reply #2 on: November 17, 2006, 06:10:30 AM »

I love that too. That was intentional -- and that specific combination was Ben's stroke of genius. Since the primary 3.5 campaign is set "on pause," we had started slipping in occasional pickup games using lighter, faster systems. I played a pickup game in the same setting with a couple of the other players a few weeks ago using a bare-bones thing that started out as Risus but ended up not being Risus. Anyway, Ben and I were chatting about it yesterday, and we brainstormed some other options. We were talking about doing stuff from Ben's Blackguard's part of the world using Sorcerer as the system, for example, but that'd be a bit more of an investment as far as time and effort. (It still might happen eventually.) Anyway, I suggested that it would also be cool to use simpler versions of D&D for some of the pickup games and Ben said, "set something in the ancient history of the world and use Basic!" And then he said, "I have dice. Should I bring them tomorrow?"

And we were off like a shot.
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Ben Lehman
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« Reply #3 on: November 17, 2006, 05:58:45 PM »

I do indeed have more to add, though I lost the big post in a browser crash.

I have to catch a flight, so I'll write my thoughts extensively during the air-time and post them when I land.  A day or so.

Short summary: I'm impressed by how little prep needs to go into the game, and how it's more than possible to play a satisfactory session in about two or three hours, including character and dungeon generation.  The text itself is a fascinating thing, too.  I also want to elaborate on the world creation / prep method that both Rich and I use for D&D -- I'm a growing fan of it and want it to propogate.

yrs--
--Ben
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Ben Lehman
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« Reply #4 on: November 21, 2006, 02:08:20 PM »

It was really cool to have the opportunity to play this game.  Both Rich and I are very enthusiastic fans of D&D, and given our geographical separation, so far we've only managed chat play, which has been interesting but somewhat slow and unsatisfying to me on a visceral level.  Being able to throw down with some D&D in person, and particularly for me a chance to mess around in Rich's really cool world, was just great.

I was really impressed by this game.  Now, that's a funny thing to say, given that I played more basic D&D than I care to even think about for my entire childhood, but this was a really different experience.  First of all, this was a slightly different version of the rules text (mine was the red book with the Elmore cover) but, more importantly, my own D&D play drifted pretty far afield from the core rules, incorporating good and evil alignments, a skill system, weapon mastery, re-arranging attributes to taste, and other such things.  With this game, I made a very conscience decision to hew as close to the rules text as possible (I did make three exceptions, which I'll detail below), and in the end I was surprised by how compact and satisfying a gaming experience I got from it.  I was also surprised by how enormously clear most of the game's procedures were.

I want to talk a little bit about the techniques by which Rich has developed his world.  It's a fantastic 1-2 punch of shaping the world directly around his player characters and obtaining key bits of setting, color, and situation information form the D&D rules texts.  If you're trying to paint your GM/author vision of your fantasy world over the D&D rules, there's a shocking amount of setting material subtly present.

So here's some examples:

As Rich mentioned, our game was set in the distant past of his 3.5 campaign world.  In this campaign world, arcane magic is evil (particularly spontaneous casting, particularly dragons).  This is because the original PC group contained no arcane casters.  Likewise, the only druids are elves (humans can be rangers only, but even then have to learn it from the elves) and the only clerics are dwarves (humans can be paladins only, but even then have to learn it from the dwarves.)  There was a previous age ruled by elves and dwarves together, which was disrupted by dragons in some way.  Gnomes, with a preferred class of bard, are thus evil.  Elves, with a preferred class of wizard, are thus very prone to corruption.

Now, the game uses two different measures of evil, the regular alignment sort and corruption, a completely separate scale.  Dragons and magic are not necessarily evil in the alignment sense, but are corrupt.  Likewise, my character in the game (a black-guard) is evil, but literally immune to corruption.  Rich has spun off this to imply that the "Gods of Man" are evil enemies of the dragons, perhaps demons.

I'm intending to run a game set in this golden age before the dragons crushed the other races, and I'm also using the basic D&D rules.  Concentrating for a second on elves, I learn the following:
1) All elves are users of arcane magic.
2) Elves are immune to the paralyzing touch of ghouls, specifically and with no other related immunities (like the immunity to sleep spells they would later acquire.)
3) All elves speak Orc, Hobgoblin, and Gnoll with native fluency. (I didn't get to use this, but we noted it during prep.)
4) Evil, metaphysically, does not yet exist in the world.  The world is morally relative, alignments are limited to law, chaos, and neutrality.  Spells which reference evil either require a group consensus about what constitutes evil or simply define evil as "differing alignment from the caster."  However, we know that evil will exist in the future of the world.

These are just four things that I saw.  The book is full of countless things like this, all of which could be seen as a basis for prep and exploration.

This is just three bits. I could have easily picked up similar information about halflings, clerics, whatever and run with it the same.  I just happened to be interested in elves.

I generate the dungeon entirely using the standard dungeon generation rules in the book.  These rules are given as optional, and I do fudge room placement a bit, but I'm trying to stick closely to the rules when I can.  I use monsters that I have in mind particularly, though.

So my dungeon is a long buried, millenniums-old elven tomb, partially unearthed by recent earthquakes, with some mysterious bits.  The very first room calls for a trap (remember, random roll), and the example traps in the book are either harmless (a fog) or absolutely deadly (spinning blades that inflict 1-8 damage.  On characters with 3 hit points.)  I decide that the tomb is flanked by four statues, and to enter the tomb you have to grasp one of their hands in greeting, which marks the victim with a secret sign.  The second and fourth rooms are empty, the third room contains monsters and a treasure, and the fifth room is a "special room," which I decide will be a landslide-filled chamber that cannot be moved through until several decades of seismic activity open another way.  For the room, I stock it with ghouls (randomly rolled: 4 of them), which are rather powerful monsters which would normally be appropriate for level 2 characters, but I figure (wrongly) that the elves' immunity to their paralysis will cancel that out, and I'm interested in the relationship between ghouls and elves implied in the rules.  At this point, I haven't decided what that is.  I did some stuff for the rest of the dungeon, but as you'll see below, we didn't get that far, so I won't go into details.

The layout is like this:  Room one is outside, room 3 is a large chamber, 200x60 feet, with a hall at the end to room 5, and rooms 2 and 4 as incense/sacrificial/inscription chambers off to the sides.  All rooms in the tomb were once tiled, but seismic activity has tossed up the stones, making it rough terrain and difficult to move on (half normal speed.)

So Rich and I get together and he rolls up characters, 3d6 for each attribute take it or leave it, and ends up with two very strong elf characters he develops a cute little backstory for them, being rebellious and obedient sons of an overbearing and militaristic father.  Their names are Lorm and Wight.  We use the optional rule that allows rerolls for 1 or 2 results on starting HP, which doesn't help Rich much -- both of his guys end up with three HP.  Yikes!  We talk and agree on three house rules.

1) We're not going to use the variable weapon damage optional rule, so all weapons do 1d6.  We make an exception for two handed weapons, which do 1d10 (that's the house rule), although this never matters in the game.  Potential problem for later play: weapons have different costs.  Should you have to pay just for color difference or should everyone just use daggers?

2) We're going to use the rule which was apparently invented in Dave Arneson's Blackmoor game that you don't get experience for your treasure until you spend it.  This is *way* more important than either of us realize at the time that we agree to it.

3) We include "skill descriptions" equal to 1+intelligence bonus.  These are basically just "describe what your character does with his time" and have no direct mechanical impact, but serve to help us as players frame *how* the characters do things.  In retrospect, I realize that we reinvented the secondary skills system from 2nd edition AD&D.

So, avoiding all "adventure hook" nonsense, we start with Rich's guys finding the tomb, with a few old, partially buried statues of elves wearing clothes and jewelry that neither recognizes.  Rich figures out the statue trick pretty quickly and, after Lorm takes the hit, Wight decides not to join him.  So Lorm is marked, Wight is not, and the way into the tomb is opened.  To note: I have no real pre-thought-out way to avoid this trap.  I'm prepared for Rich to come up with an idea to avoid it, and basically decide whether or not I find it cool enough, but it doesn't really come up.  I do know how it works beforehand, though.

His guys go down in the tomb, poke around a little bit, and run into the four ghouls about midway through the area.  Instead of just attacking, though, we follow the rules of the book, which give the side with initiative (a random, modified roll) four options: Fight, Talk, Run, or Wait and See.  Rich gets the initiative and decides to wait and see, describing his guys getting into a defensive position.  I decide to talk.  A leader of the ghouls, who I describe as a very old elf with long white hair and long twisted nails, steps forward, and announces that the interloper (meaning the unmarked Wight) must leave.  Rich (as Lorm) agrees, and both elves start making their way to the door.  No, says the leader of the ghouls to Lorm, you are now one of us, and must stay.  Well, he wasn't going to take that, so they engaged the ghouls and were absolutely slaughtered with only light injury on the ghouls' side.  Yikes!  Even with the immunity, they were much meaner than I thought, and the PCs were no more than ghoul food.

At this point we had probably spent about an hour of prep (we were slow) and another hour of play.  We had a whole lot of time still left in the afternoon, so we decided: "Hey, let's roll up more characters and keep going."  So Rich makes two guys, but they don't qualify to be elves (intelligence too low) and thus he makes a pair of thieves named Git and Steif.  We decided that they had hatched a hair-brained plan to rob treasures from the elven wood, and had crossed the mountain and wandered around the wood, delirious and starving, until stumbling across the statues (the tomb now closed again and hidden) marking the entrance to the tomb.  Knowing something was up, they spent a good while screwing about with the statues until Git happened to luck into grabbing a hand and triggering the trap.  It doesn't mark him with a sign, it just burns him badly, but the tomb still opens.  They enter, finding the chewed bones of the previous characters ("wild animals!" explains Steif.)

They encounter the ghouls, but surprise them.  Not one to take chances, Rich takes the "attack" option mentioned previously, and gets an opportunity to strike the unaware ghouls.  Since thieves, in this version of D&D, get very large bonuses to attack and damage unaware targets, they take down one target immediately in the first volley, a second on the next round before the ghouls close, and then we're left with two vs. two.  The first round of attacks by the ghouls manages to paralyze Stief but not Git.  As Rich talked about above, he paused and hesitated several times about his options here.  I went over the retreat rules a couple of times, trying to get a solid statement out of him, before he decided to grab Steif's holy water and break it over his head.  I decided that this was a clever enough idea that I should reward it, so I decided that it would damage (as if it were thrown) the ghoul on the next successful hit.  Which then happened, killing that ghoul.  I describe it as hissing "demons!" as it lit up with a bright red fire and burnt to dust and ashes.  The other was occupied dragging Steif off to eat him, and Git laid him low with arrow fire.  That done, they set off to explore the tomb.

In the two side rooms (2 and 4, you'll recall), they found the ceilings decorated in precious metals -- a golden sun and sky in copper, and a night sky with starrs in silver, all told the equivalent to 1000 gold pieces, 6000 silver pieces, and 8000 copper pieces.  The chambers also had some elven writing which they didn't even recognize as writing, let alone understand (we'll leave that 'til next time.)  In addition, each of the ghouls had a woven silver mantle worth around 120 gold, which Git managed, through a ruse, to take without Steif noticing.  Let's look for a second at the reward system here:  The combination was worth over 2000 experience between the characters, whereas the ghouls were worth a total of 100.  The requirement to spend the money, as well as the impassable landslide, made the most prudent course of action returning to civilization, which they managed to do even though they barely made it across the mountains (no roll, just color.)  Steif wasted his excess money on girls, gambling, and fair-weather friends, where Git (now level 2) give %10 of his treasure to the church and uses the rest to open up a restaurant.

I'd like to emphasize that this treasure amount was not at all abnormal.  Treasure is, in this version of D&D, the fundamental way that you win the game.  Monsters are basically secondary -- like traps, they are barriers to be surpassed in order to get good treasure.  It's a fascinating sort of statement, and I'm still thinking through the implications.

The other impressive thing is that we managed a perfectly reasonable small dungeon adventure, with one TPK and regeneration, in about three and half hours.  Those of us looking at how to reduce the social footprint of games would do well to look at early basic versions of D&D.

Discussion with Rich afterward were about all these things, plus a general enthusement and also speculation about what it means to be a "ghoul."  Our impression is that, perhaps, ghouls are simply a form of old / corrupt elves.  But more play will have to happen before that's a definite.
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James_Nostack
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« Reply #5 on: November 21, 2006, 03:55:46 PM »

Hey Ben, that's awesome.  I'm not sure if I had the exact same version of the game (I had a red box, with a crazy fighter attacking a red dragon on it), but I remember the elves vs. ghouls thing too... and I think there was also a thoul, which was like a troll + ghoul hybrid.

I've gotten very interested in D&D3.5 over the past 12 months, but haven't played it yet.  In what way is it more onerous to set up?  For example, you said the Basic Set allowed you to roll for rooms and their contents (I vaguely recall that)--but there are similar rules in the 3.5 DMG, allowing you to create a dungeon equally randomly, with perhaps a few extra rolls.  I'd expect some crazed D&D fan has already written them up as a Web application.  So where the does the extra prep come from?  I almost wonder if it's because the two of you had no expectations for this game, so there was less pressure to tweak it--or is that a wrong assumption?

 

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Jon Scott Miller
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« Reply #6 on: November 21, 2006, 04:02:49 PM »

This is a really interesting thread. I usually don't post anything here at The Forge, but I have a couple of questions.

1. I do not yet fully understand the current version of Forge-theory, despite having looked at the glossary a couple of times (I am simply not patient enough to digest all of that in my "free" time). Because of that, this question may be ill-formed, but here goes: Assuming that D&D is designed to meet gamist goals, how do your decisions about setting, situation, and color factor into what the game is supposed to be about? What, exactly, do you see as riding on your decisions about the relationship between elves and ghouls (for example), assuming the point of the game is to get as much treasure as possible (or whatever).

2. The DM's ruling regarding the holy water is intriguing. Do you think this sort of ad-hoc extension of the rules is encouraged by the game itself, in terms of the kind of holes that are left open in the system? Or is this moreso a case of your deciding to change the rules in a way that you think is fun?

I have long thought that earlier editions of D&D have a lot of potential for rewarding play that is not always tapped--in part because of players insisting on playing the game in ways that it does not really support--perhaps because of years of experience playing that way with other systems, or perhaps because they have only ever played D&D dysfunctionally. It's nice to see you guys having some fun with the grand-daddy of rpg's.

Thanks,

Jon
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Callan S.
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« Reply #7 on: November 21, 2006, 05:07:53 PM »

Hi Jon,

Take chess: It puts two kings on the board, says if one is in check then that player loses, and then puts a bunch of other pieces on the board. D&D, any edition, doesn't have any 'you lose' statement built into it. It doesn't even put pieces on the board. It has no conflict built into it. Have a look through the account. See how the space (where it's missing this component) is exploited to forfil a simulationist agenda (I estimate it is, from the account so far).
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Larry L.
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aka Miskatonic


« Reply #8 on: November 21, 2006, 10:08:23 PM »

Ben,

I had never heard of the Arneson "spend your loot first" rule. It certainly seems to change the implied meaning of why PCs earn XP for getting treasure. Very interesting.
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Ben Lehman
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« Reply #9 on: November 21, 2006, 10:56:36 PM »

Hi Jon!  You're got some really good questions, let's see if I can unpack them.

Quote
1. I do not yet fully understand the current version of Forge-theory, despite having looked at the glossary a couple of times (I am simply not patient enough to digest all of that in my "free" time). Because of that, this question may be ill-formed, but here goes: Assuming that D&D is designed to meet gamist goals, how do your decisions about setting, situation, and color factor into what the game is supposed to be about? What, exactly, do you see as riding on your decisions about the relationship between elves and ghouls (for example), assuming the point of the game is to get as much treasure as possible (or whatever).

1. First off, it's a very good question, and well formed, so no sweat on that end.

I think that a lot of people want to reduce gamist role playing to the level of board games, or even abstract board games: clear win conditions, strongly limited character choice, etc.  I think that the result of such a reduction is not only not suitable for gamist play, but not suitable for any form of role-playing at all.

Gamist role-playing, like any other competitive endeavor, is about victory as well as "good play" (it's quite possible to lose the game and still "win" social credit, if you lost in an interesting or honorable fashion.)  But that does not mean it is purely about victory.  The setting, situation, color and characters serve two roles.  The first is simply as pieces for play.  In the context of a game like Moldvay's D&D, this is covered in improvisational use of scenery, items, or character background of the sort that Rich demonstrated when he doused his own character in holy water.

The second, and more interesting to me, is that they serve to frame victory in the context of the fiction.  This is a role-playing game, after all.  The fiction of our play is necessarily important.  The relationship between elves and ghouls, the relationship between alignments, Lorm and Wight's relationship with their father, Git's resturaunt and Stief's gambling are all integral pieces of the fiction.  Rather than providing a means for victory, however, they provide a context for victory.  Through them, we see what it means to risk the character's life, and what it means to be successful and emerge with money and property for your success.  Without them, the game is reduced to a simple miniatures board game, with no particular meaning to the successes and failures.

To give an example (which is actually from 3.5 play, but the case still holds): a friend of mine played a character who was a professional adventurer -- he did it to support his wife and children.  The wife and children were named, fleshed out characters in the fiction.  That player, often, would decide not to take certain risks put before the party, because of what his character stood to lose (far more than his life but also his family.)  The fiction provides a means of assessing and contextualizing success and failure.

(Do you all see how the "must spend treasure to gain XP" rule, while ultimately having little effect on mechanics, enhances this aspect of the fiction?)

Quote
2. The DM's ruling regarding the holy water is intriguing. Do you think this sort of ad-hoc extension of the rules is encouraged by the game itself, in terms of the kind of holes that are left open in the system? Or is this moreso a case of your deciding to change the rules in a way that you think is fun?

This kind of ad-hoc extension of the rules is not only encouraged by the rules through absence, it is explicitly required for the DM to make ad-hoc rulings about things not already covered by the ordinary game rules.  It is recommended that the DM should try to make up a rule by imagining the situation, and further suggests that percentile rolls or attribute checks (roll under value on a d20) may be used in some cases.  In this particular instance, I thought it was a clever idea, neatly fit with the character as portrayed so far, and allowed me to introduce a cool bit of color, so I let it happen.  If Rich made it standard operating procedure in future adventures, I would probably reduce it's effectiveness (by having it only take effect on a 3/6 on a d6, say, or a 1/6 on a d6 but remaining until used.)

Quote
I have long thought that earlier editions of D&D have a lot of potential for rewarding play that is not always tapped--in part because of players insisting on playing the game in ways that it does not really support

I just wanted to highlight this, and say that I agree entirely and give a hearty backslap of approval.

James:

Rich and I are huge fans of D&D 3.5 and newly minted Basic D&D enthusiasts, which I'm just clarifying because I'm about to say some things which could be misconstrued as cuts on one game or the other.  They aren't, it's just an attempt to highlight the differences between what ultimately are very different games.

In a word, D&D 3.5 is just a much slower game than basic D&D.

D&D 3.5 character generation involves a hideous amount of decision points.  You must allocate your attributes, decide race and class, pick feats, pick spells, and buy equipment from a hideously large list full of options.  If you are playing optimally, you should already be planning your prestige class progression through 12-20 levels, depending on how long the game will run.  In terms of dungeon design, the DM must pick from a humungous list of monsters, consult volumnious treasure tables, and create decent color for the whole thing.

In D&D Basic, there are three decision points in the entire character generation: The first is "what class will you be?"  The second is "what alignment are you" which is almost entirely Color.  The last is "what equipment will you use" and is by far the most complicated.  Oh, and you have to pick a character name.  On the DM's side, you have a list of about 20 monsters, a simple random table for if you're truly stumped, and a dungeon generator that I could write onto my palm with room to spare.  That's system, let's talk color: As opposed to the 3.5 DMG's "100 plotlines" which are confusing and, well, there's 100 of them, there is a list of 10 very solid adventure ideas with fleshed out paragraphs discussing the different possible outcomes.  See what I'm getting at?

At all levels of the game -- prep, introduction, combat, exploration -- D&D 3.5 is simply more complicated than Basic D&D.  This is by design, and 3.5 is an excellent game for its design goals.  But Basic D&D is amazingly useful for a few hours in a coffee shop, or a little time after dinner.  The social footprint of the game, and the manner of play, is entirely different.  3.5 is a game of strategy and tactics, Basic is a game of cleverness, luck,  a little bit of tactics but very little strategy.

Callan:
What the hell, man?  Every statement you are saying about D&D is wrong (this version has loss conditions, pieces on a board, and built in conflict all featured prominently), and the implied conclusion would be wrong even if your statements about D&D were correct.

yrs--
--Ben

P.S.  Crossposted with Larry, but just wanted to share a grin with him.  Yeah, exactly.
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Rich Forest
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« Reply #10 on: November 22, 2006, 12:02:37 AM »

(Note: I see Ben posted while I was writing this. I’m just posting this as is, so consider it an independent data point.)

James,

I can speak a bit to the prep thing, from the point of view of D&D 3.5. The dungeon generation thing is just one aspect of the different demands in terms of prep. With basic, we basically chatted a bit about it one day, and the next day Ben was able to generate the dungeon while I generated two characters. That took about an hour, like Ben said, and we weren’t moving particularly fast -- we were also chatting about cool or interesting things we’d noticed in the rules. All the rules for basic, both for players and GM, are in one 64 page book. That book covers everything: characters, treasure, monsters, and dungeon generation. It seems like a small point, but it was tremendously helpful that all equipment is contained on a single page, for example. By the time I was making the second set of characters, I had already memorized the costs for some of the items. There are also far fewer choice points: to generate a character, I only need to make a few choices.

1) I need to choose a character class, of which there are seven options, but only a couple are probably going to be relevant (remember, you don’t assign attribute scores -- you get what you roll)
2) I need to choose an alignment, of which there are three.
3) I need to buy equipment. At character creation, this is actually where the largest number of choices must be made. Starting gold can be pretty tight, and my equipment choices provided characterization and also had consequences for effectiveness.
4) And if I’m a spellcaster, I need to pick one spell.

In 3.5, the number of choices is far greater, both for the players and the GM. This continues as the characters advance. As GM, doing prep for 3.5, you need to track a much larger range of options. In our campaign, the main “bad guy” group is heavily populated by users of arcane magic, and creating them and selecting spells for them has been a consistently demanding process for me as DM. I have used a variety of online tools to help with this, but it’s still relatively time consuming. In fact, I have used far fewer NPC wizards and sorcerers as villains than I would like to have, and among the ones I have used I’ve recycled statblocks. Getting them right, and getting them effective, and knowing how their spells function, etc., is time consuming. I only use monsters straight from the monster manual, with cosmetic changes, in every case possible. In contrast, in our basic D&D play last Friday, we did the prep, both for player and GM, in an hour. And when my first set of characters died, I rolled up two new characters (and that probably only took fifteen minutes or so) and sent them into the same dungeon. Pretty fast.

In basic, remember, going into dungeons is the main thing you do. If you get out the red book, that’s it – that’s the play structure. There is a set of (pretty cool) story types listed, but they share space with the assumption that you’ll be dungeon delving, and that’s what the equipment list and the character classes and the monsters and the random tables are geared toward. In 3.5, the dungeon certainly hasn’t been left behind, but right from the beginning you have a wider range of options. And arguably, D&D 3.5 combat is at its most interesting in environments larger than a standard dungeon corridor or dungeon room. Combat in 3.5 really shines when there’s a lot of room for maneuvering, and squads of monsters, and terrain modifiers, etc (the terrain types in the 3.5 DMG and their tactical effects are pretty fun). Deciding what monsters, terrain, and tactics to use, setting it all up, and making sure you know how it works (to the extent that you won’t be looking up too many things during play) can be time consuming.

Jon,

I’m going to take a stab at part of your question 1, but I’m going to sidestep your query about terminology for the time being. Basically, I like this part of your question:

What, exactly, do you see as riding on your decisions about the relationship between elves and ghouls (for example), assuming the point of the game is to get as much treasure as possible (or whatever).

There are at least two things relevant here. On one level, there’s how this game relates to our larger campaign. On another, there’s the moment-to-moment decision making process during game play. So the musings about ghouls and their relationship to elves, that stuff is setting material that has been introduced to the ongoing campaign because of this session. It suggests some things about the ancient history of the game world, and it suggests some things we can pick up and add into the current campaign. By the book, Elves die of old age. Except what if they don’t? What if they just keep getting “older” and their type turns to undead and they become ghouls? This is interesting to me because, well, the players have decided that for the next arc in our campaign they’re ready to go to the elven wood and get in the high druid’s face about whether he’s really the coward and traitor that our last bunch of adventures suggested he might be. So this elf -> getting older -> ghoul thing, I’m thinking that’s something cool, and it’s a new point of reference for me in thinking about the elven court. But I'm not sure I've quite answered your question yet.

Let me see -- the question is “what’s riding on it.” Well, thinking about it some more, I think it’s something like this. The rules provide the single largest set of “fixed” points of reference for elaborating a setting. There are a lot of rules and details about races, monsters, and classes that interact in interesting ways and are open to multiple interpretations, so once something is introduced and “ratified” (so to speak) it sends out waves through the setting that makes you look at certain things in a different light. This has happened multiple times over the course of the campaign. We didn’t know when we started that, for example, dwarves had the only clerics. It was only after playing for months that someone pointed out that we’d only ever seen dwarf clerics even though we were adventuring in human lands, and we went, “Huh. Why?” And someone said, “Maybe the dwarves are the only ones who have clerics.” (The “real” reason there hadn’t been any human clerics in the game was that I hadn’t made any. It’s too much work to manage their spells. One of the players had a dwarf cleric as a PC, and he was the only cleric to show up.) Then suddenly one of the other PCs, a human paladin who worships a dwarvish god, made sense in a new way: “Ah, someone said, the dwarves have the only clerics, so that’s why when humans go that route, they learn from the dwarves, but can only become paladins.” This elves and ghouls thing is a new example from the most recent game. What’s riding on this new point of reference and set of connections implied by the elves and ghouls thing is probably something like this: does it get ratified and adopted as a permanent part of play? Does everyone go, “Hey, that’s awesome, now I see elves in a new light, and that’s just cool.”

Now where does treasure fit into this? I’ll give that some thought later. My gut feeling is that one difference is that we’re talking about a reward cycle that’s occurring on a different timescale. It’s probably worth pointing out that I assumed my PCs would be cashing in on treasure and xp. My first two elves were going into an ancient elven tomb and it was not by accident that I had outfitted one of them with an empty backpack and two empty large sacks. I remembered that treasure was good for xp, though before play I hadn’t really realized just how much more valuable the treasure is than the monster xp. Now, those guys died, so they didn’t get anything. But the second party looted everything they could pry loose, once they handled the ghouls. And one of them leveled up. At no point, with either party, did I think, “The PCs wouldn’t loot this tomb out of respect for the dead.” That sort of thing wasn’t even an issue -- it was taken for granted. What I didn’t realize until later was how important the treasure would be to characterization. I came to like Git more and more over the course of the adventure, but when he spent his treasure as a tithe to the church and to start a business, I had a better understanding of the character and a fondness for him.

Anyway, those are a few thoughts. I think I have more to say, but it’ll have to wait for a later post.

Btw, Larry, we can’t actually substantiate that the xp rule comes from Arneson -- we both remembered having heard of it, and in my foggy memory I think I read it mentioned by the poster “Old Geezer” at RPG.net one time, but I’ve had no luck in tracking it down. I could easily have misremembered a) whose rule it was and/or b) where I read it. (Hell, I can't say with 100% certainty that it was Arneson rather than Gygax, but that's how I remember it.) Apparently it is not how Arneson runs things now (at least at con games). I liked how it worked, though. It was my favorite of the three rules changes we implemented. (While I liked it at the time, in retrospect I’m less sure that the weapon damage thing was an improvement for this version of D&D, anyway.)

Rich
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James_Nostack
Member

Posts: 642


« Reply #11 on: November 22, 2006, 07:50:45 AM »

Ben & Rich --

Thanks for that explanation.  I've given a lot of thought about how to run D&D3.5, when I get the chance (hopefully sometime in 2007), and it sounds like I've reverse-engineered Basic/Expert D&D: everyone's human, only four classes (which top out at 12th level), about 12 weapons and 3 armors, maybe 50 monsters, etc.  But it still doesn't solve the problems with tracking modifiers, etc.  But you've given me a lot to think about.  Maybe the thing to do is use those old Boxed Sets after all... if I can find them...       
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--Stack
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #12 on: November 22, 2006, 08:41:32 AM »

Hello,

As with most D&D threads, this one is getting a little humpbacked. I'd like to provide some moderator organization. Yes, I'm being a bit pushy, because a new poster is involved and I want to keep him from being steamrolled.

1. Rich, can you enter into a one-on-one dialogue with Jon Scott Miller in this thread, for a while? If this gets going, then everyone else shut up and let them work out the necessary points and questions.

2. Reference note: the reward system of "spend loot on personal interests" in order to improve your character may be found in the original Blackmoor material by Dave Arneson; I'm not 100% sure, but close, that this material (the way they played) preceded anything to do with Gary Gygax or indeed the name "Dungeons & Dragons."

3. Jon, regarding terminology, the only necessary reading is the first two pages of the Provisional Glossary with one diagram; I believe there are seven specialized terms. A lot of people complain about "all those terms," but I don't think seven terms and one picture is too much to ask. Rich understands them as well as anyone in the world and he can explain anything you'd like to challenge or get clarified.

Rich, this thread is now handed back to you, especially for defining its express purpose and point. I'd rather see you lead a powerful discussion than play soccer goalie for a bunch of random/hyper questions from various directions, so let's see what you and Jon come up with.

Best, Ron
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Calithena
Acts of Evil Playtesters
Member

Posts: 336

aka Sean


« Reply #13 on: November 22, 2006, 10:33:36 AM »

Arneson's XP rules are in "First Fantasy Campaign," published by Judges Guild in the mid-late seventies. Each character declares a hobby (some options: wine, women, song, some game-useless modeling/engineering project you have in your character's basement, four or five others). Treasure rescued from the dungeon can either be used to buy new/replacement equipment (in which case, no XP) or burned on your hobby, at which point it converts into XP. This personalizes your character, gives your character a sort of reason (like the addictions in Ethan's game Thugs & Thieves) to be adventuring, and creates a tactical trade-off between sessions (more stuff to use adventuring or level up? type decisions).

I had some other points/questions but in deference to Ron's moderation I'll save them for later if ever. Enjoying the thread.
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Jon Scott Miller
Member

Posts: 21


« Reply #14 on: November 22, 2006, 01:48:17 PM »

The second, and more interesting to me, is that they serve to frame victory in the context of the fiction.  This is a role-playing game, after all.  The fiction of our play is necessarily important.  The relationship between elves and ghouls, the relationship between alignments, Lorm and Wight's relationship with their father, Git's resturaunt and Stief's gambling are all integral pieces of the fiction.  Rather than providing a means for victory, however, they provide a context for victory.  Through them, we see what it means to risk the character's life, and what it means to be successful and emerge with money and property for your success.  Without them, the game is reduced to a simple miniatures board game, with no particular meaning to the successes and failures.

Thanks for your reply, Ben. This reminds me of an old thread by Ron Edwards where he presented a partial transcript of a game session, and then asked readers to identify the Creative Agenda of the players. It was a trick question; supposedly, you can't identify a CA just from the transcript, because a coherent story is usually created as a by-product by Simulationist and Gamist CA's, just as it would be by a Narrativist CA. But I think now I can see part of the difference between these CA's . . . with a Gamist CA, these story elements are still present, but they provide "context for victory," as you say, which is a different from the function they serve in games with other CA's. So issues of motivation and setting (for example) are still part of an rpg with a Gamist agenda, but they are more like the platform which sets the stage on which the actual CA is pursued. I guess I was having trouble seeing that. (Which makes me wonder what kind of game I want to play . . . not sure anymore.)

Thanks,

Jon
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