Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Notes on OD&D - Part 2

Today I continue with my reading of the original three D&D Booklets by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson. 

Men & Magic 
  • p5 - Scope
    • The scope is focused on medieval fantasy wargames, but they (Gygax & Arneson are assumed to both have had a hand in the writing) suggest that the scope can range to pretty much any time period from prehistoric to "the imagined future".  It is suggested to thoroughly explore the possibilities of the medieval fantasy setting before going on to other time periods.  Of course a thorough exploration of the medieval fantasy setting could take decades, but ...
    • They mention that miniatures are not necessary but add "eye-appeal" when using maps.  I think it is notable that at this juncture in the development of the game, stemming as it does from wargames which are played with counters on map paper (hex or grid), it is anticipated, and in fact a requirement, to use battle maps.  The quibble here is not about the use of battle maps, but whether or not miniatures should be used.  Alternatives offered are cardboard counters, or any other kind of unit counters.  This would correspond, most likely, to the kinds of unit counters found in wargames such as Blitzkreig (published 1969), which I believe were popular at the time. In other words, D&D was originally intended as a Battle Tactics game.
    • Age Level: 12 years and up.  Also notable is that the age starts at 12, whereas now I think the minimum age for players as dropped considerably under the influence of RPGs-as-Story-Games.  That change is significant as the expectation of Story Games (and I do not mean the Indie-Revolution definition of that phrase, to be clear, I simply mean RPGs that are intended to produce Stories, rather than Encounters for Combat) is that they tell charming, or at least interesting, stories of heroes and/or villains, usually with some Epic theme lurking about in the background.
    • Number of Players:  "At least one referee, and four to fifty players".  WOW.  The standard Referee to Player ratio is given as 1:20.  That's very interesting.  I don't know of many games that have more than six players.  Sometimes 10.  The absolute most I've ever tried to GM for was 35, and most GMs go ballistic when they hear that.  So it's very interesting to consider what those games with Gygax and Arneson must have been like.  Did they really ever have 50 players?  Or even more than 20?  I feel I must assume that they did.  Fascinating.
    • Recommended Equipment:  The 3 TSR Rules books, and another book listed as "Outdoor Survival".  The usual pairs of TSR D&D Dice: 2 4-sided, 2 8-sided, 4 to 20 pairs of 6-sided, 2 12-sided, and 2 20-sided.  That's up to 28 dice.  Sounds reasonable.  Inventing their own dice for the game was a brilliant marketing move for TSR. Chainmail Miniatures Rules is also listed. Again OD&D is a derivative of Chainmail, not a separate game at this point.  Other equipment include a 3 ring notebook for each player.  Graph paper (6 lines per inch), sheet protectors, 3 ring lined paper, drafting equipment and colored pencils, scratch paper and pencils, IMAGINATION, "1 Patient Referee", Players.  Hehe.  I love the sense of humor they slip in throughout the book.
    • Preparation for the Campaign
      • The Referee bears the entire burden, but if care and thought are used the rewards will be worth the effort.  True that.  And interesting to note - the Players are not expected to contribute to the creating of the World.  I wonder if Gygax and Arneson even considered the possibility.  Lots of games these days talk about "Shared World-Creating" where Players co-create the World with the GM.  This seems reasonable, but it may actually have been antithetical to the original D&D modality.  My guess is that Gygax and Arneson probably never even considered the possibility of Shared World Building with the Players at this juncture, though it is evident that Shared World Building among GMs was not only likely, but possibly preferred.  We have a hint of this in so far as Gygax wrote "Dave located a nice bog wherein to nest the wierd enclave of "Blackmoor", a spot between the "Great Kingdom" and the fearson "Egg of Coot"".  Arneson and Gygax ran separate Societies in two different cities (Lake Geneva and Minneapolis).  So Shared GMing World Creation seemed to be taken for granted at this point. Notice that Blackmoor is described as an "enclave" not a separate world. So Shared World Building goes back to the very beginning of D&D.  Interesting.
      • The GM should first create "a half dozen maps of his 'underworld', people them with monsters of various horrid aspect, distribute treasures accordingly, and note the location of the latter two on keys, each corresponding to the appropriate level".  The details of this procedure are to be discussed in more detail in "Underground &Wilderness Adventures".  Once completed the players can begin their adventures.
  • Characters - p6
    • Illustration: Sprites
    • Before they begin the players must decide what role they will play in the campaign.  The role encompasses both Race and Class.  So one might play a human fighter, or an Elven Wizard, and so on.
    • All Characters will work towards gaining Experience in order to advance in the game.
    • It is notable that the original Race and Class combinations are far more restrictive than what we're used to today.
      • Fighting Men - can be men, elves, dwarves or hobbits.
        • Can use all magical weaponry.
        • Have more Hit Dice 
        • Can use a very small number of non-weapon magical items
        • They can use no spells.
        • Top Levels 
          • Can build castles and become Barons.
          • They may make "Investments"
          • Income is 10 Gold / Inhabitant (serf?) / Game Year
      • Magic Users - can only be men or elves.
        • Perhaps the most powerful characters in the game at top levels
        • It is a long hard road to the top, and to begin with they are weak
        • Fighters are needed to protect them at lower levels
        • Can use all enchanted items, except for magical weapons and armor
        • May only arm themselves with daggers
        • May manufacture potions, scrolls, or anything magical, though at costs "commensurate with the value of the item" and game time required to enchant the thing.
        • A list of example items with monetary and time costs is provided.  There are seven items on the list, ending with X-Ray Vision Ring, costing 50,000 Gold Pieces and taking 1 year to produce.
        • "Research in magic can be conducted by magical types (Magic Users) at any level, but the level of the magic involved dictates the possibility of success" One assumes therefore that rolling of dice will be involved, but this is not stated here. 
        • Can create new spells, provided the spell is equal to or less than their current Level.
    • Characters (continued) p7
      • Illustration: Treasure Chest
      • Clerics - can only be men.
        •  Have advantages of both Fighting Men and Magic Users.
          • Can use magical armor and non-edged magical weapons
          • Can not use arrows (missile weapons)
          • Have their own "spells"
          • Can use more non-weapon magic items than Fighting Men (but not as many as Magic Users seems to be implied).
          • When Clerics reach the top level of Patriarch they may build a stronghold and gain double value for the money invested.
          • "Faithful" followers will come to such a castle, be fanatically loyal, and will serve at no cost.
            • 10 - 60 Heavy Calvary
            • 10 - 60 Horsed Cross-Bow men ("Turcopole" type)
            • 30 - 180 heavy foot(men).
          • Clerics at 7th Level or greater are either "Law" or "Chaos", and if they change sides then any benefits they accrued along the way are immediately forfeit.
          • Receive "Tithes" of 20 Gold Pieces / Inhabitant / Game Year
      • Races
        • Dwarves
          • Can only be Fighters
          • Can not progress higher than 6th Level
          • Advantages:
            • 1) Magical Resistance = +4 Levels to Saving Throws
            • 2) Only Characters that can use the +3 Warhammer
            • 3) Able to note slanting passages, traps, shifting walls and new construction in underground settings
            • 4) Speak the Languages of Gnomes, Kobolds, Goblins and "the other usual tongues".
    •  Characters (continued) p8
      • Illustration: Dwarf
      • Races continued ...
        • Elves
          • Can begin as either Fighting Men or Magic Users and freely switch between them from adventure to adventure but not during a given game session.
          • Can use weapons and spells.
          • Can use magical armor and still cast spells.
          • Can not progress beyond 4th Level Fighter (Hero)
          • Can not progress beyond 8th Level Magic User (Warlock)
          • Can note Secret and Hidden Doors
          • Gain advantages noted in Chainmail Rules Book when fighting certain fantastic creatures
          • Speak languages of Orcs, Hobgoblins, and Gnolls in addition to their own (Elvish) and "the other usual tongues".
        • Halflings
          • Can only be Fighting Men 
          • Can not progress beyond 4th Level (Hero)
          • Magic Resistance like Dwarves (+4 Levels to Saving Throw)
          • Have Deadly Accuracy with Missiles as detailed in the Chainmail Rule Book
        • Other Character Types
          • They note here that players could play virtually anything provided they begin weak and work their way up to the top.  Levels progression would be determined by the Referee.
Several interesting points are that there is a direct reliance on Chainmail as a source book for rules in OD&D.  Without Chainmail, in fact, you would be missing critical information regarding these classes.  Another saavy business move by TSR - one rules book will not do.  You must have both.

Another thing I notice is the kind of hodgepodge nature of these Race-Class rules.  No justification is given (and none, I expect was thought of) for the fact that Dwarves can speak Goblin, but Elves speak Hobgoblin, for example.  Another example is the Level Limits for Class and Race combinations.  Why can Halflings (note: they are not called Hobbits, and rumor has it that this is because they wanted to avoid possible infringement on Tolkien's work) not progress past 4th Level?  I am going to go out on a limb here at this point, and suggest that the rules as they are were in an early state of refinement by the time the three booklets were published in regards to mathematical analysis related to game balance.  The relationships between Race-Class combinations and Levels is a key and critical component of the design, as it is intended to "balance" the game so that advantages are balanced by disadvantages.   Yet these are complex relationships and getting the balance right would require a rigorous analysis that I'm almost 100% sure did not happen at this stage.  Instead, the balance was done with eyeball measurements, and a gut feeling that "this sounds about right".  When it comes to cooking that often is the case, and works well.  However, in a game where odds are calculated and dice are rolled, and those odds make a difference between life and death for characters in the game... such nuances of imbalance might impact the enjoyment of the thing.

One thing I will note is that from the days of old GM's cheated.  I have always maintained that the cheating was a necessity because the OD&D rules were not balanced, and so to get some semblance of "Fairness" into the game, the GM had to cheat the dice now and then.  Otherwise, things just went south far too quickly than most players were willing to accept - especially once the RPG-as-Story-Game came into play.  You couldn't run a long term campaign if the odds were stacked against you because you you wanted to play a Halfling, and the rest of the party advanced to 10th Level and you were stuck down at 4th.  You'd be far too likely to get killed.  So, I think, in a highly complex environment such as this, where it is hard enough to calculate the odds of success for any given encounter (let alone an entire dungeon level) ... cheating came into play pretty early on.  Except, that is, for a GM named Zubin.  He played strictly according to the OD&D rules.  His game was extremely hard to survive.  It took years for people to figure out how to survive a single game in his world.  They did manage it, eventually, but it was very very difficult, and you had to be super careful.  But for most GMs, cheating and rules-modficitions went hand in hand and homebreow rules systems proliferated wildly in the early years.

Something else that stands out to me is the mishmash of Race Class and Levels designations.  For example, a Magic User at 8th Level is called a Warlock.  At 10th the MU is called a Necromancer.  But, but, but ... a Necromancer, we all know this - is EVIL, and a practitioner of the Black Arts.  Gandalf was at least 10th... but he sure as heck wasn't, nor would ever be called a Necromancer!  So the naming conventions, my point being, got off to a rocky start.  And I think this caused a number of problems with the entire system, and caused the early years of RPGs to get on a track that led inevitably toward a certain level of confusion.  It was, I say, systemic confusion.  The problem was that Levels should not have been named that way to begin with.  Each of those designations probably implied a different Class.  For instance, a Necromancer is a type of Magic User that uses Black Magic.  A Warlock is a male Witch, which operates differently and has different spells than a Wizard. Again the same is true for Sorcerers, who operate differently than Necromancers or Warlocks. And so on.  The naming of the Levels for the Class with names that could well have themselves been Classes created conditions in which things were bound to go off the rails for at least some GMs at some point, and I think in terms of the design, it was a pretty critical, albeit non-obvious flaw.  There's actually a lot of minor "flaws" in the system that were of just this kind.  Yes, yes, of course this is my own opinion.  It was also the opinion, way back when, of the other GMs in my hometown, and it is one of the reasons why we all went on to create our own homebrew RPGs over the course of the next few years.  We LOVED the concept of RPGs as embodied by TSR's Dungeons & Dragons... but we were less enamored by the details of the rules as published.  We wanted to fix them.  And fix them we did.  At least to our own satisfaction. 

Ok that's enough for today.  I will continue on with my notes and comments tomorrow. 


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