Sunday, October 12, 2008

Old School Building Blocks

Lost in the mists of time was a nice little essay by Matt Finch, in which, among other things, he lays out how one might go about modifying Dungeons & Dragons Third Edition in order to make it more like old school D&D. The original post was found on ENWorld, but it's no longer to be found in the forum archives, at least not that I've been able to discover.

In any case, I'm not really interested in the specific topic, since I no longer play 3e. However, I think Matt's general advice is quite excellent, which is why I'm borrowing parts of it here, with apologies to him. My goal is simply to lay down some basic guidelines on mechanical/methodological elements that contribute powerfully to playing D&D à l'école ancien.

1. Magic items should never be available for purchase. Instead, they must always be won from opponents or discovered by exploring the hidden places of the world. In a similar vein, magic should never be a substitute for technology. Outside of the PCs, their allies, and their enemies -- and perhaps not even then -- magic and magic items should be rare.

2. Always award XP for gold. The reason for this is that it makes acquiring loot, not killing foes, the primary focus of dungeon delving. Once the players understand this, they might begin to behave more sneakily and realize that discretion is sometimes the better part of valor. XP should still be awarded for defeating enemies, of course, but it should pale in comparison to the XP gained from treasure.

3. Keep characters poor by any means you can. AD&D used training costs as a way to ensure that the PCs never had much money, as they rose in power. OD&D has no such mechanism, but I'd consider adding something like it. I know of several referees who only give XP for gold that's spent. This is a nifty idea, as it rather nicely emulates the way that Conan or Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser would go on binges of spending after they'd completed a particularly successful adventure -- only to wind up poor again in short order. Either way, PCs should rarely have a full coin purse.

4.
Make the acquisition of new magic-user spells difficult. They should rarely be available for outright purchase; when they are, they should cost ridiculous amounts of gold. Otherwise, the MU must win his new spells by finding scrolls or spellbooks. The point is to keep the magic-user's repertoire limited, both to encourage creative thinking and give him yet more reasons to go adventuring.

5. Encourage map-making by presenting environments where having a map is a must. D&D is as much a game of exploration as it is of heroic exploits. I've said before that planning a dungeon expedition is a bit like planning a safari or archeological dig. Having to draw a map in order to avoid becoming lost or suffering some horrible fate is essential to old school D&D. Yes, this means the game will run more slowly, but that's an important part of the old school gaming experience. This goes for wilderness exploration as well as dungeon exploration.

6. Sometimes there are no answers. That is, there are mysteries that will remain such. Not everything has an explanation, at least not an explanation available to the PCs. It's important to remind players that there are many things beyond their characters' ken.

7. All politics is local. Old school gaming is not about world-spanning, "epic "plots and cabals. There is no single Dark Lord whose machinations are behind the rise of evil in the world. Indeed, if you feel the compulsion to talk about the Big Bad Evil Guy of your campaign -- or, worse, to use the abbreviation BBEG -- seek help immediately. Likewise, there are no large organizations of do-gooders who oppose them. Instead, everything happens on a much smaller scale, with events being confined to (at most) a few hexes on the map.

8. High-level characters are few and rare and generally have no interest in helping -- or opposing -- the PCs. They have better things to do with their time.

These are some very broad strokes. I have some more specific advice I might dispense in a future post, but these ought to keep people busy arguing for a while.

56 comments:

  1. While I generally agree on all points (especially #2) I don't consider any of them to be set in stone. But if you step away from these tried-and-true precepts it should be done with forethought.

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  2. OK, let me play the devil's advocate here with (2).

    (2) giving treasure for XP always seemed weird to me. It's like rewarding people for getting what is already a reward. Why double the reward like that? XP should be rewarded on the basis of bold and skillful play, rather than on the basis of how much cash the PC's have on hand by the end of the adventure. (Or, by the way, on the basis of who landed a killing blow!)

    After reading James' blog for a while, I think I'm beginning to see the error of my ways. But what do you guys say to this argument?

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  3. I can see both sides of the argument about no. 2, but I think James made a hell of a case for it here.

    Anyway, this is an excellent post, totally relevant to my interests...
    But 8 just seems a little odd to me.
    No dark lords with aspirations of world conquest ever? That always seemed like a fantasy staple to me, and frankly D&D has always struck me as a game about archetypes. The tropes and cliches are there for a reason and you oughtn't mess with that (part of my beef with 4e).

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  4. XP should be rewarded on the basis of bold and skillful play, rather than on the basis of how much cash the PC's have on hand by the end of the adventure.

    Getting your hands on the treasure and getting out the dungeon with it is my baseline metric for "bold and skillful play". And as a DM I like an objective measure, even an indirect and rough one, simply because then I don't have to adjudicate the difference between 'bold' and 'foolhardy but effective'.

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  5. I think you make a good point here Jeff; what we're talking about are objective measures of skillful play. (No doubt there will be intangibles that we'll want to reward from time to time. But we're asking what's the basic and abiding objective metric.)

    So it's really a debate about what we encourage our players to think of as success. And then here's the old school argument: If, respecting the roots of the game, we want to encourage a sword and sorcery pulp feel, then the largest part of success is looking out for number one and getting your hands on the booty. If we want our players to operate on the principles of, say, the world of Conan, then this is how we'll assign experience.

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  6. I'm going to suggest heresy here: I think that 4e could be easily and successfully adapted for this style of play.

    The way encounters are built and treasures are awarded in 4e would really only need minor tweaks to adjust to award XP for treasure acquired or GP spent. Restricting spells and items is the DMs prerogative, regardless of what the rulebooks suggest.The really difficult part would be training your players to overcome the assumptions that are built into the system, but assuming you have a fairly mature group of gamers, this shouldn't be terribly difficult.

    Actually, I think the biggest hurdle to this sort of play is that most players I meet don't want to play old-school style.

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  7. But if you step away from these tried-and-true precepts it should be done with forethought.

    I think that's reasonable, but it does assume a certain familiarity with these principle to start with and I'm not sure many people coming to old school games cold will have such familiarity.

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  8. No dark lords with aspirations of world conquest ever?

    As Jeff said in the first comment, any of these principles can be set aside if you do so for good reason. However, the Dark Lord thing isn't really that common in pulp fantasy and I don't recall noteworthy instances of it in D&D until Dragonlance, though I might be missing something obvious.

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  9. Actually, I think the biggest hurdle to this sort of play is that most players I meet don't want to play old-school style.

    That certainly is a major hurdle, to be sure. I also think, in the case of 4e, there are other issues I didn't address, but which Matt did in his original essay, because I'm not pitching my building blocks to a 3e/4e audience. I think the a number of 3e/4e character classes would need to be altered or disallowed entirely, for example, and the role played by skills would need to be overhauled. I'm not saying either thing couldn't be done, but it'd be a lot of work to do well.

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  10. Regarding point 1 I would add one additional possibility for acquiring magic items: trade.

    Not talking about magic item swap meets so much as wheeling and dealing with high-powered NPCs. The local wizard might be willing to enchant a sword or part with a wand of lightning in exchange for a spellbook or staff said to be lost in the local crypts, for example.

    Not something to overuse, obviously, but I think it fits the old-school style of play, so long as the players are free to refuse or cheat the wizard, and vice versa...

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  11. This is one of the reasons I keep coming back around here. Sometimes it's just like we're thinking on the same vibe.

    These are all points that I've pretty much adopted across the board without even knowing of Finch's original post.

    Point #2 took me a little while to get my head wrapped around, but once I did, I can see why the XP for treasure thing works. Point #3 is going to be an ongoing concern with the players, but after exploring some options, I'm still not sure how I'm going to impliment it quite yet. But that's cart before the horse at the moment.

    #7 is very much in play. I prefer the byzantine politics of many smaller cabals and despot to some Big Bad Evil.

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  12. However, the Dark Lord thing isn't really that common in pulp fantasy

    Arguably, Hour of the Dragon is very much headed in this direction. I think on the issue of "Dark Lords", the point is that there should not just be one.

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  13. I did say Dark Lords weren't all that common, not that they didn't exist. :) Xaltotun certainly does seem to be tending toward the high fantasy Dark Lord archetype, it's true, but he's used as a one-off villain, so he never has the chance to fulfill his possible destiny.

    That said, your larger point stands. It's not that there aren't powerful evil guys in pulp fantasy; it's just that there are many of then. Pulp fantasy is "multi-polar" on the subject of villainy.

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  14. Sauron surely counts as "something obvious" :)

    Not that you point isn't valid, but the inclusion of Sauron in the Middle Earth tales is a powerful model for many people.

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  15. #7. I understand your point, but it's overstated.
    No Big Bad Evil Guy? What about Iuz the Evil? A 2nd edition Tolkienesque invention, probably!
    Or Lolth, the Queen of the Demonweb Pits? A fancy Dragonlancey big-hair cheesy dark lady for sure!
    No global cabals? What about the Scarlet Brotherood? Are they into petty local politicking? Or the Slavelords? I guess their influence did not extend beyond Hommlet.
    As far as Greyhawk is concerned, at least, I'd rather say there are MANY big bad guys. But their plots are not necessarily limited in scope.

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  16. Not that you point isn't valid, but the inclusion of Sauron in the Middle Earth tales is a powerful model for many people.

    True, but Tolkien isn't a significant influence on OD&D beyond the importation of a few monsters. That's not to deny that his stories and ideas aren't there, lurking in the background, but they weren't primary in Gygax's mind when he created and promoted his take on the game.

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  17. As far as Greyhawk is concerned, at least, I'd rather say there are MANY big bad guys. But their plots are not necessarily limited in scope.

    I would argue that, in Gygaxian Greyhawk, there are no Dark Lords with worldwide scope to their plans. That changed with From the Ashes, when both Iuz and the Scarlet Brotherhood were elevated to "epic" status they didn't possess in the original folio or boxed set.

    (Lolth is more complex, owing to the convoluted history of the GDQ series and Gygax's original plans for it.)

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  18. Excellent points and I concur that they work together to form the humble beginnings I prefer in D&D.

    Rare Magic Items, XP for Gold, Hungry Characters, Scarce Spell Knowledge, MAPS!, The Unexplained (and often better left that way), Play focused on the immediate (and allowed to grow), 8th Level IS high!

    As stated, each is not a hard and fast rule, but a good way to start your campaign. I find it's best to start with this approach and let the play take the campaign where it might. For example, a campaign that sees hundreds and hundreds of hours of play will likely push many of these guidelines beyond their starting point.

    ~Sham

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  19. I love the bit about acquiring magic-user spells. The Wizard in my D&D 3.5 game recently said, "We need to battle more wizards. It's the only way I can get more spells."

    Even thought it's contrary to the spirit of 3.5, I really like the idea of Wizards scraping, scratching and searching for new and mysterious magic.

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  20. "XP should be rewarded on the basis of bold and skillful play" -- Jeff Rients. I agree 100% percent, but rewarding gold is just... well... silly. I can remember once too many times in 1E that my players would argue for more xp based on gold found or stolen from illegal/criminal behavior of the PCs. And then money would all go towards training. It was a waste of player effort. Instead, I would suggest awarding XP for effort and success. Killing things doesn't always award XP, nor does gold. Instead, XP might be based on chunks of the adventure completed. e.g. clearing level 1; defeating the Cabal; discovering the _real_ identity of the Duke; successfully evading capture by Army of the Dead, etc. I've personally always hated monster (or loot) based XP systems but have begrudgingly stayed with it only so that the players could see the incremental progress in "real time" so to speak.

    @ Asmodean66 : /agreed. 4E is extremely flexible. Rituals, for example, are a rare find in my game - as is "masterwork" gear and magic loot in general. I've always hated the majik store that was introduced in 3E. Just doesn't happen in my game.

    @ James Maliszewski : "because I'm not pitching my building blocks to a 3e/4e audience." Unfortunate; but we're here anyway =P. You also said "the role played by skills would need to be overhauled" -- yes. /agreed. The 4E "skill challenge" idea is total crap for immersion; unless maybe I'm misunderstanding how it is supposed to be used (which we dont).

    nice post. another one added to my notebook, TYVM.

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  21. Jonathan wrote: I suggest awarding XP for effort and success...

    I award XP for success. Usually, basing it off of treasure recovered is a good way to do that, since the treasure usually represents success. That is, treasure *is* a success/story award. If treasure isn't a good reward for a particular situation, I'll substitute something else. (More details on my take on XP for gold can be found here.)

    ...e.g. clearing level 1...

    The idea of "clearing a level" is antithetical to my favored approach to dungeon play. Even if players attempted it, it would be almost impossible because of the dynamic nature of the dungeon and its denizens. I'd be astonished if players took a "let's clear this level" approach before going deeper. Happily, most players see the stairways or ladders and can't resist dipping down to see what's a little deeper (or they fall victim to a chute trap or something)...

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  22. Greetings, James... long overdue first post to a generally excellent blog. Thanks; and for this present copy-forward. :)

    What Jeff said. Generally good points for a particular type of "old school", but not cast in stone.

    Guidelines, yes, but to adhere to these as the quintessence of "D&D à l'école ancien" might be pushing the envelope a bit much, IMHO, given that this still does read more as a perceived wishlist, projected back from more recent times, vs. the actuality of some of the original campaigns (well before my time ;)

    For a start, the concept of magic items being "rare" simply doesn't tally with a browse through Greyhawk and high level characters there were aplenty there.

    On a personal level, keeping characters poor is an imperfect solution to a broken economy/worldview. Fixing the economy and tweaking to a degree is a preferred "solution" to railroading using whatever deus ex machina may be required to fit that Conan/Fafhrd & the Gray Mouser plotline dynamic. That's possibly even less desirable (in my book) than introducing the "Dark Lord" (or worse, in the original Greyhawk given Lovecraftian influences ^^ ) as an overarching evil.

    (Oh, and "Amen!" to #6... :)

    Cheers,
    David.

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  23. @James

    True, but Tolkien isn't a significant influence on OD&D beyond the importation of a few monsters. That's not to deny that his stories and ideas aren't there, lurking in the background, but they weren't primary in Gygax's mind when he created and promoted his take on the game.

    I agree with that when talking about OD&D, but pretty much everything else after that has a greater Tolkien influence, IMO, especially when we look at the typical class lineup.

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  24. For a start, the concept of magic items being "rare" simply doesn't tally with a browse through Greyhawk and high level characters there were aplenty there.

    I'm not sure where this persistent notion that the original Greyhawk campaign was stocked with uber-characters or dripping with magic items comes from. A quick browse through The Rogues Gallery, for example, would quickly disavow anyone of that notion. The highest level PCs from that campaign were generally around 12-14, with Mordenkainen and Robilar being slightly higher. Most possessed no more than 8-10 magic items of any significance. And these were all PCs played regularly over many years, which makes them quite unusual, especially when you compare them even to the leaders of nations.

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  25. I agree with that when talking about OD&D, but pretty much everything else after that has a greater Tolkien influence, IMO, especially when we look at the typical class lineup.

    I'm speaking primarily of OD&D here, although, truth be told, I think only the Ranger owes much to Tolkien class-wise.

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  26. Unfortunate; but we're here anyway =P.

    I'm glad to have you here! I stated that mostly because I wanted to be clear that 95+% of my posts pertain primarily to OD&D/AD&D and are thus couched in the vocabulary/style of those games. Were I to focus more on the WotC editions of the game, I'd probably phrase things differently or fixate on other matters, such as, for example, the abomination known as the cleric's spell list in 3e :)

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  27. Keep in mind that my original essay was addressed to an audience relatively unfamiliar to old school play, and wasn't intended to be encyclopaedic. Rather, it was an attempt to nail down the major defining points. These weren't written as unbreakable rules for old school play, they were written to identify where the tent-pegs of it are located. I've broken every single one of these rules, myself.

    As to awarding xp for treasure, I definitely stand by that. Awarding xp for specific mission goals I agree with ... but there's a huge danger in trying to replace gp=xp as a general rule. If you try and make "results" into a general rule, then you have re-routed the game into a situation where the DM directs player activity instead of giving the players a completely open playing field. I don't have time to go into it deeply, but consider that "gold" is basically everywhere. The players know what they're looking for. DM-awarded xp is given out when the players anticipated the DM's view of the adventure. What if I don't want to rescue the princess - if I can get more money playing her ransom off against two rival bidders? Is the DM suddenly going to shift the awards based on my unanticipated plan? Probably, but I think you can see where the problem lies here even though this example could be easily repaired by the DM.

    Big bad evil guy: I meant a Sauron. The fact that Iuz, the Scarlet Brotherhood and Lolth all exist in the same campaign illustrates my point. There's no single evil source there - there are several. All bad guys plan to take over the world; it's a job requirement. There's only a problem old-school wise if all evil in the campaign boringly ties back to one ultra-bad guy in his fortress of evil solitude. This is railroading by omission - there's only one real adventure here (unless the players decide to ignore alignment-wars entirely).

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  28. > I'm not sure where this persistent notion that the original Greyhawk campaign was stocked with uber-characters or dripping with magic items comes from.

    Not so much a "notion" as my reading of the original notes for Greyhawk and others, as played in by EGG & co.
    Will that suffice?

    Besides, there's a /large/ gap between between "rare" and "dripping". :)

    Those abbreviated Rouges Gallery examples aren't exactly "dripping", perhaps, but neither is magic excessively "rare" there IIRC. (I know I should have a copy of /that/ at my fingertips to cross-check, but will have to apologise and use 3.30am or some-such sad excuse, sorry!).

    d.

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  29. > And these were all PCs played regularly over many years

    (p.s. Not so many years, by that point in time, compared with today's 10/20/30 year veterans)

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  30. @ Matt : "but consider that "gold" is basically everywhere. The players know what they're looking for." -- ahh, I see... the gold is a proxy for effort/success. It provides a scalable metric that allows the players to decide where their effort should be put. Hmmm... I still remember that when I used to run 1E games this xp=gold would often drive campaigns toward otherwise completely evil endeavors.

    On the other hand, if players are simply prevented from knowing _how_ the DM calculates XP, then this is all a moot point from their perspective, right? I mean - if you start awarding XP for gold, instead of kills, but the bottom line is the same - then it doesn't matter. The issue with gold=xp is how the mechanic of doling out XP works and whether or not the mechanic itself affects player decisions. Maybe the key here would be to simply say "I have a system, but i'm not telling you how it works" this completely frees them to decide their character's actions based on the character's concept. Isn't this the real goal of roleplaying? Or am I missing something?

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  31. Will that suffice?

    Of course!

    That said, as Matt Finch notes above, none of these building blocks can't be bent or twisted as appropriate to one's campaign circumstances; it's the general thrust of them that's important. I'd still contend that the original Lake Geneva campaign was not one at all comparable to many published settings in terms of NPC power or the prevalence of magic items, but I am willing to admit error if that should be the case. Fortunately, Mike Mornard has agreed to be interviewed for the blog sometime soon, so I'll be sure to ask him this very question.

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  32. > That said, as Matt Finch notes above, none of these building blocks can't be bent or twisted as appropriate to one's campaign circumstances; it's the general thrust of them that's important.

    *nods*. Agreed on that, James, and indeed a useful list to keep tabs on the situation in general.
    As with the aforementioned concept of "challenging the presumption that the characters have a defined narrative pathway" which I'd also rope in as a "building block" whilst others might prefer to run their games more within more familiar narrative territory, yet still be far from entering videogame-RPGing mode.

    Looking forward to that interview and listening to Mike's perspective.
    Still scope for a degree of relativism, perhaps, on what "rare" might mean vs. "the least... or the most/worst... one has seen"?
    Would also be interesting to know how that compares from a player/DM experience (Rob Kuntz, say) vs. those others who have studied the original material analytically such as Allan/grodog.

    David.

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  33. (aside/part-OT) Of course, magic items might be rarer under particular circumstances, even if they weren't to begin with... e.g. http://piedpiperpublishing.yuku.com/reply/21937/#reply-21937
    <<
    Tenser (as a neutral wiz before turning goody-goddy) had red drgaons and was always complaining about fried magic items and massive lumps of recooling gold and silver which had been melted from their breath weapons. EGG loved telling him about all of the various items he'd fried as ernie sifted through the charred remains (whether they were magical or not, Ernie never knew), and in detail... :)
    >>

    Heh, heh... ^^

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  34. >> I can remember once too many times in 1E that my players would argue for more xp based on gold found or stolen from illegal/criminal behavior of the PCs.

    Conan, Fafhrd and Grey Mouser, Cugel... sounds about right. :D

    >>Instead, I would suggest awarding XP for effort and success.

    This example sounds like a bit of railroading and GM heavy-handedness. "What does the GM find important?" rather than what the players wanted to do.

    "XP for gold" is something I like because

    A- it allows for amoral behavior without creating psychopaths amongst PCs.

    B- Is an objective standard. Sure, the referee decides where the gold is, but the players can decide to chase the gold or not and know if their activities that session are things that advance them, or not.

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  35. I like XP for gold. One has to remember that D&D is a game. Game rules do not necessarily have to be wholly logical in the "real world."

    Contrary to people who say things like, "I like [such and such game] because the rules fade into the background...", I actually think that in a game the rules shouldn't be viewed as "background". They are part of the game, and influence how games go. But I guess my philosophy isn't the same as many other peoples. To me D&D isn't about "telling a story", it's about playing a fantasy game.

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  36. gp=xp "gives the players a completely open playing field."

    Disagree: any token, including coins, is a sign of DM steering; cf Mario/other side-scrollers. Also, it throws the game into a deliberately acquisitive direction. It worked like a cancer in the D&D campaigns I played in. Conan and Fafhrd are fun characters and they definitely prized gold, but the money=success/greed is good formula sits uncomfortably with a wide variety of other literary ideas of heroism. We don't care, you say, this is pulp fantasy. Well, some of pulp fantasy: Flash Gordon and John Carter weren't in it for the cash, and gp=xp makes it hard to make other goals (already mostly unfamiliar to many of us out hear ITRW) attractive.

    Big bad evil guy: Agree, but mostly from a mechanical perspective. A BBEG is a signal that the world has an end - what will you do when Sauron is dead? THe Flash Gordon response is "resurrect Ming," but this gets you quickly into soap opera territory. As for all evil leading back to one source, well, that's the devil, right, and he shows up in many guises...

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  37. addendum (like that other comment wasn't long enough): IME RPG campaigns tend to be remarkably anti-heroic things. I think a lot of the story-first new school gaming comes out of a desire among some players to tell heroic stories, coupled with the tendency for players almost never to act heroically, in a literary sense. Xp for gp tends to accentuate this anti-heroic slant. I even wonder if it hasn't played a significant role in tilting the whole hobby in an amoral, anti-heroic direction.

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  38. (Leaping into the "XP for gold" debate....)

    I've always thought of gold as its own reward - what player-characters do with it is where the reward comes in. That having been said, I've played in campaigns where gold was used for XP - and often the referee was fairly miserly (one of them being Michael Mornard, so you know of whom I speak). Not too surprisingly, we valued every single coin we came across. I now tend to think of this as the monetary equivalent of the debate over how many magic items to have floating around - not too many! I think it's worth noting that Gary was in favor of limiting both magic and treasure, and finding ways to remove them if things got out of whack (see White Dwarf #7 and The Strategic Review Vol. 2 No. 2): "By requiring players to work for experience, to earn their treasure, means that the opportunity to retain interest will remain. It will also mean that the rules will fit the existing situation, a dragon, balrog, or whatever will be a fearsome challenge rather than a pushover."

    I have no difficulty with a system that provides experience on the basis of what each class is supposed to do; in my friend Paul's campaign, each class got a set of specific rewards, and it worked out pretty well. Interestingly enough, only thieves got experience for gold. :)

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  39. I dont know if I can agree with all that. Its seems contradictory.

    Give XP for gold looted. Then proceeds to tell you to keep the players poor and hard to get items and spells.

    Wouldnt it be better to, instead, give the players some focus to spend their gold and/or invest it land/buildings, whatever? Or buys spells? or items? Or cost to invest in gaining them?

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  40. Wouldnt it be better to, instead, give the players some focus to spend their gold and/or invest it land/buildings, whatever?

    I don't think I want to give the players any focus on how to spend their gold. They should be coming up with their own ideas.

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  41. " A quick browse through The Rogues Gallery, for example, would quickly disavow anyone of that notion."

    Gary Gygax, at least, is on record as saying that the "real" stats for Mordenkainen have never been published. The version in Rogue's Gallery is not the one played in the Greyhawk campaign.

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  42. To me D&D isn't about "telling a story", it's about playing a fantasy game.

    It's a fine distinction, to be sure, but it's an important one and, not surprisingly, one I agree with. In some ways, I regret that we use the blanket term "roleplaying games" to cover a very wide variety of different games that are only vaguely related to one another. I sometimes suspect that many of the problems people have in understanding old school RPGs stem from a confusion about exactly what "RPG" means in the context of these older games.

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  43. A BBEG is a signal that the world has an end - what will you do when Sauron is dead?

    Bingo. This is another way in which I think it becomes clear that D&D campaigns don't "tell a story," but are instead a picaresque chronicle of fantastical exploits.

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  44. I even wonder if it hasn't played a significant role in tilting the whole hobby in an amoral, anti-heroic direction.

    I'd be amazed if that were the case. The number of gamers who actually used and understood the whole gold = XP set-up seems to be vanishingly small. I do, however, think it's quite possible that many new school trends arise out of the fact that playing D&D as written is often a terribly unheroic experience. Dissatisfaction with this is almost certainly the genesis of many subsequent games.

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  45. The version in Rogue's Gallery is not the one played in the Greyhawk campaign.

    Indeed it's not. My point wasn't so much that Rogues Gallery presented old school notables as they were in their own campaigns so much as presented them as models for what high-level PCs ought to be like. I know, as a young man, seeing a 16th-level MU with Gary's name attached to it having only 8 or 10 magic items had a profound impact on my own sense of what a high-level PC ought to be like.

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  46. Oddly enough, we used gold=xp in 2e, but from the comments here, it wasn't in the rules by that point. I wonder where we got the idea?

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  47. "I don't think I want to give the players any focus on how to spend their gold. They should be coming up with their own ideas."

    Except if you look at the list, #2 and #3 are direct contradictions, and #4and #1 are out as ways to get them to spend it.

    Further #3 seems to imply you should give foucs to spending it...or bsaically draining it off.

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  48. "I know, as a young man, seeing a 16th-level MU with Gary's name attached to it having only 8 or 10 magic items had a profound impact on my own sense of what a high-level PC ought to be like."


    Yeah. The christmas tree effect was always a problem in some editions.

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  49. Except if you look at the list, #2 and #3 are direct contradictions, and #4 and #1 are out as ways to get them to spend it.

    Noting a contradiction isn't the same as offering a criticism. So what if these goals are contradictory? A good contradiction creates interesting tensions in the dynamics of the game.

    And #4 isn't "obviously out" by a long shot. Let's look at what James says again:

    4. Make the acquisition of new magic-user spells difficult. They should rarely be available for outright purchase; when they are, they should cost ridiculous amounts of gold.

    So getting the spell you want might require travel (which costs money), paying informants (which costs money, especially if the services of a sage are required), arranging an introduction to the wizard who possesses the spell (which may require bribes), and perhaps expensive gifts to soften up the wizards before the reaction roll dice are thrown. Assuming a good reaction only then might the PC earn the priviledge of purchasing the spell, for which he will pay out the nose. And you're telling me this isn't a good option for draing PC resources?

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  50. @kelvingreen

    "I wonder where we got the idea?"

    It was an optional rule in the 2nd Edition Dungeon Master's Guide, written in a tiny blue box.

    Did anyone else play with a 'killing blow' bonus (last to hit the monster) or was this a house rule?

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  51. With the exception of perhpas once or twice in a character's experience should they have enough coin and money to walk into Metropolis "X" and commission the Ungulating Sword of Doom from the local wizard/artisan/blacksmith with a spear in a river.

    Eventually a goal or a want is such a driving force for a character/player, that designed or accidental money sinks thrown in their way will fail to deter them.

    As a DM over the years the thing that always had me nervous was the player who slowly and surely over time hoarded every CP and EP they could find and didn't spend it. They eventually got smart enough to not tip their hand to me what it was they were looking to buy until they were ready and felt they had more than enough money.

    And having THEIR treasure chests raided and stolen was a great way to earn animonsity both in game and RL. Chuckle. Even bad guys have adventuring parties.

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  52. Rumcove, thank you. I haven't looked at the 2e books in years, so I had no idea. I have to say, I always approved of the gold=xp rule myself.

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  53. Yeah. The christmas tree effect was always a problem in some editions.

    The fundamental choice is always between keeping character inherently "weak" and externalizing their power in the form of magic items or making characters inherently "strong" and either downplaying the importance of magic items or risking the possibility of their being even more powerful with their magic items.

    My personal preference is to keep characters inherently weak and be stingy with magic items. This seems closer to the Gygaxian Methodology and it's a much better natural fit for long-term campaign play.

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  54. many of the problems people have in understanding old school RPGs stem from a confusion about exactly what "RPG" means in the context of these older games.

    I think (and humbly suggest) that this point demands a post of its own: we know that role playing means different things to different people, and we acknowledge that Gary and others always said "as long as you're having fun you're doing it right," but I think there's a particular conception of roleplaying, that marries game and play-acting but isn't quite married to either one, that's characteristic of the old school. Since those days these strands have been pulled apart (into gameist/narrativist and many other directions): I'd love to know how you think they fit successfully together.

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  55. What happens when the BBEG is dead?
    Well, my friend, that's when a great campaign comes to a close. In my opinion it is important for a campaign to have such a close, instead of rattling on and slowly fading away like some mediocre fantasy-soap.

    As such I'm not opposed to BBEGs per-se, but they should be introduced as part of a campaign, not in the general setting description.

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  56. 3e works ok without XP for gold, as long as the GM allows PC wealth to deviate from the wealth-by-level chart. This is because PCs who gain gold and thus have more than standard wealth-by-level will have a much easier time in defeating bad guys and generally staying alive than will PCs who are high level but poor.

    That said, IM3eC I only allow sale or purchase of stuff up to 3,000 gp; so you can buy a +1 sword but you can't sell that super-weapon for 100,000gp. One of the benefits is that it maintains GM control and lets me keep PCs balanced against each other.

    In a previous campaign I allowed free buy/sale. The result was that if I gave out a cool weapon to keep the Fighter's power up, the Wizard player insisted it be sold and funds distributed amongst the party. Result - Fighter stayed weak, Wizard got even more powerful.

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