Sunday, March 29, 2009
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
It's the end of the world. It always rains. Rain beats against the walls. It seeps through the shutters. It pours off the mossy backs of the gargoyles. It turns streets into streams and rivers.
Teetering, damp towers lean against rotting townhouses. Servants dash through storms on petty errands. Fireplaces sputter weakly, and spellbooks filled with moldy spells rot in spite of the protections lavished on them for their precious contents.
The great school of magic used to be here. But that was before the world ended and the rains came. Now the old school is mostly under the bay, its secrets ruined and lore lost. Oh, a few of the highest towers peak out of the waters, testifying to its presence. Ferrymen use the towers as moorings and wayposts when the rain and fog make navigating the bay treacherous. But the school is from a past world.
But there is magic here. Wizards hide themselves away in their damp townhouses, each one jealously guarding the few secrets he still has, scrounging and scheming for more. The richest men live on the three peaks on the north bay, where the rains pour off the dark rocks in waterfalls. The poorest live in the sump, a low lying slum that is as much a swamp as it is a city. The desperate, striving tradesmen build their townhouses in rings that cling to the lower slopes of the peaks. Strange foreign merchants dock but rarely stay. The incessant gloom and rain drive all but the greediest or most hopeless men to move on as quickly as they come.
Rainwater pours off the backs and from the mouths of the gargoyles that decorate the stone towers and keeps. They plot too. Some say said they plot to destroy the city, but wizards sometimes hire them to keep watch over their petty secrets, anyway. Most find that rough men are security enough. Violence comes easily to them, and they care little for sorceries. But thieves can make a fortune here, if they are quick and clever. From the lowliest medium to the greatest wizard, the mages hire experts to steal spells and enchanted items from their enemies. And from their friends.
It's the end of the world. The rain never stops. And there's no one left to trust in but yourself.
Monday, March 23, 2009
Sunday, March 22, 2009
Saturday, March 21, 2009
Going through some old White Dwarf magazines, I stumbled across this letter from Gary Gygax responding to a (quite critical) article about combat in D&D, written by Roger Musson. This argument about realism in D&D is an old one (clearly), and you'll probably recognize some of the themes, which are still being earnestly repeated today. I've reproduced Gary's letter in its entirety, with no changes to formatting. All emphasis is from the original.
What strikes me is the comment quoted in the title of this post. While I recognize the danger of taking a specific, context-bound argument and treating it as if it's a "true" revelation about someone's overall opinions, I still find this comment on the place of combat in D&D worth quoting.
White Dwarf #7, June/July 1978, Letters, p. 11
I read the article Combat and Armour Class by Roger Musson with considerable dismay. It appears that the good gentleman does not know what D&D is all about.
Dungeons & Dragons is a fantasy game, of course, and this most reasonably indicates that statements regarding "realism" in a game must go out the window. (Quite frankly, there is no game with any true realism in it, or it would be real and not a game. Folks seeking realism should go and participate in whatever the game is based on, if possible, viz. if they are looking for realism in wargames they should enlist in the military service.) It got worse thereafter.D&D is a HEROIC fantasy game. Who can slit Conan's throat at a blow? The examples are too numerous to mention, but the point is that the game is aimed at allowing participants to create a heroic character who is not subject to some fluke. Getting killed requires a lot of (mis-)play in most cases. How does the fighter escape the dragon's breath? The same way other superheroes do – bending a link of chain or slipping into an unnoticed crevasse in the rock he was chained to or whatever, i.e. the same way all other larger-than-life sword & sorcery heroes manage to avoid certain death.
In summation, most players find that the game of seeking and gaining, with the ensuing increase in character capability is the thing. Combat at best is something to be done quickly so as to get on with the fun, and IT MUST NOT BE LOADED SO AS TO GIVE PLAYERS NO CHANCE TO ESCAPE IF IT IS GOING AGAINST THEM. Neither, of course, must it be a walkover. (And Conan is usually in a shirt of mail in battle!) Enough said.
E. Gary Gygax, Lake Geneva, USA.
Friday, March 13, 2009
Thursday, March 12, 2009
When it comes to articles related to D&D history, not all these sources agree on all points (of course), but together they are a fairly rich resource.
There are a couple very interesting sources on proto-D&D. The tradition of the "free kriegspiel" is one precursor that can be googled fairly easily. A direct precursor can be found in Dave Wesely's "Braunstein" game. At the Acaeum, Wesely himself has commented a bit about his contribution, and there are some good links at the Wikipedia page on Wesely. This link is worth looking at, as is this interview with Dave Arneson, which also mentions Wesely and Braunstein. Ewilen also has a summary, as well as other relevant links and comments in his livejournal archives.
Another precursor in the free kriegspiel tradition appears to be Mike Korns's "Modern War in Miniature." Wilf Bakchaus ("Chivalry and Sorcery, 1976) talks about Korns's game in this short but interesting piece at "Places to Go, People to Be."
Historical Notes and Anecdotes
Some of the players from the early days of D&D have talked about their memories of game play on various forums. Greg Svenson (gsvenson) and Bob Meyer (robertthebald), two of Dave Arneson's players from the early days talk about Blackmoor in this thread. Svenson adds additional thoughts on Blackmoor here and there.
Mike Mornard, another player from D&D's early years (from both Gygax's and Arneson's games), is a fairly prolific poster on RPG.net and other message boards. Here are a handful of his anecdotes of historical interest:
1. on henchmen, strongholds, the D&D endgame
2. on learning the rules through exploration and again
3. on the use of minis in D&D and again
4. on XP, treasure, and wandering monsters.
Actual Play Reports
Greg Svenson also has a D&D page, which is home to his "The First Dungeon Adventure" actual play report. He has another actual play report here, this time with orcs.
At least one of Gary Gygax's actual play reports is online and can be found at this board.
Here are the main reports on Gary Gygax's house rules: version 1 was compiled by R. Fisher and version 2 is a very quick post by Gary on the topic (his username at ENWorld was "col_pladoh").
For comparison purposes, here's an RPG.net account of a Dave Arneson run D&D game and his house rules.
For more old school house rules, here's a copy of The Perrin Conventions on the OD&D boards.
Classic D&D References
Here's our current rules reference document (pdf) for Basic/Expert D&D play. It's primarily for use with the Moldvay/Cook Basic and Expert sets, but some of the pieces are from Mentzer's edition and the Rules Cyclopedia, from the Holmes Basic set, and from the OD&D books. The document is originally based on Robert Fisher's Classic D&D quickref, with a generous helping from Philotomy's OD&D musings, especially the combat sequence notes he drew up based on Swords & Spells.
Robert Fisher's Classic D&D page is full of great thoughts and ideas that influenced the approach I took with our D&D game last fall. His quickref was the basis for my own rules reference sheet, and I found his articles On thief skills in classic D&D and I used to think... both interesting and useful early on.
I partially hijacked one of Judd's livejournal posts a few weeks ago and I don't think I linked to it here. So now I am. Just some thoughts on why some folks might not agree that 4e really nails the heart of what D&D is. I should probably add that I don't have any particular take on 4e myself yet: I haven't even read it yet and I don't pretend to have an intelligent opinion on it. My thoughts in this post have more bearing on traditional D&D. Here's the discussion for reference. My posts are fairly long and scattered throughout, but they're concentrated in two blocks: here and here. I also touched on some thoughts about the rhythm of D&D play in a short comment in an RPGSite post a couple years ago.
Wired posted an article with a number of interesting historical bits and pieces, and there are some interesting bits in this Believer article, though to my mind, it's a bit spottier.
This is a necessarily partial and limited overview, entirely rehashed and without anything substantially new in it. But you still might find something useful in there if you're interested in D&D.