Sunday, October 25, 2015

Notes on OD&D - Part 6

Continued reflections on the original Three Booklets of D&D ...


To return for a moment to something I passed over a bit too briefly I think in Parts 2 and 3, or rather now that I've had time to kind of mull things over and go back and take another look from my newly broadened understanding... something interesting occurs to me.

On page 7 of Men & Magic we find out that Dwarves can speak several languages.  These are the languages of Gnomes, Kobolds, Goblins, as well as "Common" and their Alignment tongue. Likewise Elves can speak the languages of Orcs, Hobgoblins, and Gnolls in addition to their own (Elvish) and "Common" and Alignment tongue.  

Dwarves and Gnomes are listed in the Race Alignment table as "Dwarve/Gnome"  ... that's interesting.  It is as though they are so tightly linked as to be nearly synonymous at this point in the game's development.  Moreover, we find the following combinations:

Dwarve/Gnomes = Law or Neutral
  - Speak Gnome, Kobold and Goblin Languages
Elves = Law or Neutral
  - Speak Orc, Hobgoblin and Gnoll Languages

However...
Orcs = Neutral or Chaos

And...
Goblins/Kobolds = Chaos (only)
Hobgoblins/Gnolls = Chaos (only)

A couple of things stand out.  One, I would have thought Goblins would get paired with Hobgoblins over Kobolds.  Two, Hobgoblins get paired with Gnolls, but I would have thought Gnolls would have been paired with Trolls, rather than Hobgoblins.  

Furthermore, I think it very notable that Dwarves and Elves are both Law or Neutral, but the Monster Languages they happen to know are Chaos.  I'm not sure what the Story Rationale for that would be, other than, perhaps, that it's a good idea to know your enemy's languages.  Notice also that Orcs can be either Neutral or Chaos. 

But there's a more important consideration that comes to mind, and it has to do with how the game is played and what it's overall design is purposed for.  And that is military style wargames, I believe.   So, how does this play out?

We know that Languages are important, and I've speculated based on the language rules earlier suggesting that the reason they're important is because they allow one to form Alliances. However this comes at the (potentially significant) risk that speaking the wrong language to a newly met and unknown race might invoke an immediate fight.  In particular if one tries to speak the Alignment Tongue to make the communication, and the newly met race happens to be of the opposing Alignment then the rule is that they will "attack immediately". Risky business, especially if the party happens to already be bloodied from a previous encounter and is trying to return to a safe haven at the time.  

Men have no special Language advantages, unless they have a high Intelligence, or Wisdom, in which case they can learn the languages of various monsters (and I should note quite a few of them too).  But Intelligence and Wisdom do not confer the ability to learn an opposing Alignment Language.   It's a bit confusing, but lets track this with an example.

We have a low level party with players who are new to the game and only know a few monster races so far.  They have, lets say, five Neutral Fighting-Men only, and they've chosen to be aligned to the Law faction.  They're bloodied and trying to get home when they happen to encounter some Goblins.   At this point they can't speak the Goblin Language, and they don't know that the Goblin's Alignment happens to be Chaos.  They may try to speak to the Goblins in the only way they know how ... using their Alignment Tongue, and so they take their chances.  Since the tongue of Law is the opposition to Chaos the Goblins immediately attack.  Game over TPK.

Lets try the same scenario again.  This time they have a Lawful Dwarven Fighter.  Aha.  Now they have someone who can speak Goblin.  Not only that but the Dwarve will know that the Goblins are Chaos.  Best to avoid this encounter if at all possible.  They go the other way, and the party survives.

Lets try this scenario again, but with another twist.  This time they don't encounter Goblins, but instead they encounter a band of Werewolves, another race they are encountering for the first time.  They happen to have a Dwarve who can speak, not Werewolf, but the Law Tongue.  The Dwarf, not knowing Werewolf, does not know what Alignment they are, but the party decides to take their chances and tries speaking to them in the Tongue of Law.  Voila!  Luck is with them and the Werewolves respond positively, being Lawful.  Now they manage to make a deal, and form an alliance based on Law Alignment.  Great.  Not only do they make it home alive, but they made some new friends.  Perhaps, even, the Werewolves have their own retainers and armies (which in the style of play that I think was prevalent at the time, they very likely would).  Their new friends now give them a bigger military force, and they stand a better chance of winning the game.   Remember, in military wargames like Blitzkrieg, unlike how we have come to play RPGs today, there was a definite winner and loser to the War.  I suspect that the concept carried over into Chainmail, and therefore into OD&D.  Again, not 100% sure, but these rules seem to imply that.  At least to my mind.   Further I suspect that it wasn't long before dungeoneering became the predominant modality of the game and the Land Battle aspect was mitigated and eventually abandoned.  We now play without any expectation of there being a "Winner", and we've come to think of the game as an ongoing story about the main Player Characters and their adventures in the World.

So I think I'm starting to get a sense of how these rules blend together to form a certain type and style of gaming.  One that is far closer to a traditional board-game / wargame like Blitzkrieg than I previously imagined.  Very interesting indeed.


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