Monday, August 24, 2009

Moldvay's Elves

Here's what Volume I of OD&D has to say about elves as player characters:
Elves can begin as either Fighting-Men or Magic-Users and freely switch class whenever they choose, from adventure to adventure, but not during the course of a single game. Thus, they gain the benefits of both classes and may use both weaponry and spells. They may use magic armor and still act as Magic-Users.
Gamers are still debating exactly what this means. Greyhawk didn't make the situation any clearer, as it now enabled elves to "work in all three categories at once (fighter, magic-user, and thief) unless they opt to never be anything other than in the thief category." In retrospect, I see this as an early statement of what would become AD&D's multiclassing rules, which are quite different than the way OD&D describes elves' ability to function as either a Fighting-Man or Magic-User on an adventure-by-adventure basis.

By contrast, Tom Moldvay's Basic Rulebook is quite clear on the topic:
[Elves] can be dangerous opponents, able to fight with any weapon and use magic spells as well, but prefer to spend their time feasting and frollicking in wooded glades ... Elves have the advantages of both fighters and magic-users. They may use shields and can wear any type of armor, and may fight with any kind of weapon. They can also cast spells like a magic-user, and use the same spell list.
As a balancing factor, they generally require about twice the amount of experience to gain levels as does a fighter of the same level. It's really an elegant solution to the problems in understanding the text of OD&D on the topic.

Of course, once I was exposed to AD&D, I felt D&D's race-as-class solution was anything but elegant. In fact, I recall finding it downright ludicrous: "All elves are fighter/magic-users. That's silly," I would say. I had no problem with elven fighter/magic-users, of course. What I objected to was what I perceived to be a lack of meaningful options when it came to playing an elf (or a dwarf or a halfling, for that matter). Back then, race-as-classs was evidence that "Basic D&D," as I called all non-Advanced versions of the game, was "a kid's game," lacking in the sophistication and depth I associated with AD&D.

I don't think that anymore. In my Dwimmermount game, there's a single elf character, Dordagdonar. Initially, I used the Swords & Wizardry version of the "elven adventurer," which is one interpretation of the OD&D rules. We quickly found the switching back and forth between fighting-man and magic-user to be unwieldy in play and so opted for an interpretation that's actually pretty close to Moldvay's, although I retained OD&D's strictures about spellcasting in armor, which is why Dordagdonar still wears leather +1 rather than heavier armor.

Aside from mechanical simplicity, what I really like about race-as-class, at least in the case of elves, is that it helps emphasize their differences from humanity. Moldvay elves are much more strongly archetypal and feel more folkloric to me than do AD&D's elves. Indeed, they remind me of Poul Anderson's elves and that's never a bad thing in my book. Moldvay's dwarves and halflings somehow don't quite generate the same degree of fascination for me, perhaps because I don't have a solid conception of what their archetype is. As I've said before, I'm ambivalent about halflings in D&D generally and dwarves generally seem to be treated as caricatures rather than archetypes.

Still, none of this has any real impact on the notion of class-as-race so much as the specific implementation of them in Moldvay's rulebook. I like the elf more and more as I use it. I find it very effective at conveying a difference between elves and humans, something that's important to me when portraying elves. They shouldn't just feel like short humans with pointy ears; they should follow their own rules.


  1. They shouldn't just feel like short humans with pointy ears; they should follow their own rules.

    I've never worried about that "all elves are fighter/mages" thing, because, as you indicate, I've always seen it as one of the things which makes elves different from the other races.

    As an aside, I always imagined elves as taller than humans, to the extent that I still find it odd seeing them shorter in games. Where I got this impression, I can't say, but it may be something as simple as a sort of conceptual symmetry; if dwarves are smaller, then elves must be bigger. Or something.

  2. James, I recall your mentioning that D&D could use something like the "Aspects" character attribute from Spirit of the Century. A good alternative that would allow for AD&D's class options while maintaining "the feel of difference" you're looking for would be to make what Aspects an Elf could/must choose different from a human. Some good inspiration on those differences (for Tolkien-elves) could be found in Burning Wheel.

  3. I was always of the "Elves are taller" school, too. I put it down to reading Tolkien before ever finding D&D.

    I can appreciate James' reasoning regarding race-as-class (in fact, it's the first rationale that's made sense to me), but I still dislike it, since it feels limiting. Even though we played AD&D and never experienced that "problem," it was one of the conceptual differences that bugged me about OD&D/BX/BECMI.

    On the other hand (and just to be inconsistent), during the brief time recently when I was considering running a Cyclopedia-based game, I had decided to give Elves access to the Druid list, instead of magic. (I think that's an option in the book.) While still race-as-class, it somehow felt very right and delightfully alien. (Human fighter: "Ya can't trust them elfs! The very trees obey them!")

    Security word: "outoa," distaff cousins of the Kuo-Toa.

  4. I like the idea of using the druid's magic list for elves! Must use in next game! That would add to the OD&D conceit of differentiating elves by making them a class.

  5. Yeah, I like the idea of giving the a different spell list to make them feel even more different. A different magic subsystem altogether might be even better.

    (Of course, then you get complaints that it’s limiting for humans to not be able to use elfin magic or for elves not to be able to use human magic.)

  6. @Robert Fisher

    Of course, then you get complaints that it’s limiting for humans to not be able to use elfin magic or for elves not to be able to use human magic.

    It's a position I can sympathize with, though I have less problem with that than I do with race-as-class (in general) or level limitations on demi-humans (When I last ran AD&D, I removed the limits and charged XP penalties, instead.)

  7. I am a fan of race=class in general.
    I think the main reason for me not minding all dwarfs are basically fighters or all elves are a unique blend of fighters and magic-users was my earliest interpretations of these races. I began playing B/X before I read Tolkien, Moorcock or Howard. My baseline for what elves or dwarfs were from Moldvay's Basic rulebook and encyclopedias. My understanding of what an elf was therefore was basically the norse mythical version fit into the rule's description. One of the interesting things that first struck me and has always remained in the back of my head through later D&D description of elves and dwarfs is that they were related - something that I have often incorporated into my homebrew settings.

    Often in my homebrew campaigns elves are a magical race of minor nature and fertility spirits, who are often pictured as youthful-seeming men and women of great grace and delicate features living in forests and underground places and caves, or in wells and springs. Being semi-divine spirits they have no deities themselves. As such all elves are the classic D&D combo Fighter/Magic-user. Another interesting thing I sometimes incorporate is the Norse idea that famous men could be elevated to the rank of elves after death. Kill a player's famous fighter and let the party encounter an elf that is the elevated spirit of the former PC gives a real connection.

    Dwarfs are the non-magic using brethren of elves (the mythological Dark Elves - this was before the Drow are mentioned in the first Monster Manual). I often make the creation of dwarfs the product of some cursed elves or some catastrophe. These non-magic using elves are outsiders to typical elves and either through self-exile or enslavement end up underground (think Morlocks). Therefore, as non-magic using cousins to elves, dwarfs cannot be magic-users and do not have deities so cannot be clerics.

    Halflings are a bit different in that there isn't the same depth of mythology about them as there is for elves and dwarfs. I really just relied on the description in the rulebook but since elves and dwarfs were their own classes I never questioned it for halflings.

  8. I've always thought that if Elf = Class, then the class should have its own distinct spell list. For me, just using the Druid list didnt capture the Elf archetype.

    Lately, I have been thinking Moldvay Elves should use the Fairy-Charms from PC1: Tall Tales of the Wee Folk [], with the addition of making Invisibility a 1st level spell (to simulate the Elfin ability to turn invisible as per Chainmail). The spells are a good mix of Magic-User and Druid spells, plus a few extra that can be added or tossed out by a DM.

    I think the specialized list plus the non-use of a spellbook makes Elves a bit more unique in game terms and justifies the Race = Class concept.

    Of course, this also calls into question how someone could make another simple fix to the Dwarf and Halfling to make them more than just little Fighters with some quirky talents.

    P.S. I *loathe* the whole "attack rank" add-on for high level demihumans, so I'd just expand the xp tables instead (as was done in some supplements, like Elves of Alfheim, which also has an alternative spell list that I like too).

  9. In my C&C game I altered the Elven spell list so that it mainly consists of spells from the Druidic and Illusionist lists. It's worked pretty well, all told.

    word verification: rhantsem - a ransom paid off by a guy who won't shut up

  10. I can't get away from wanting the interesting combinations available from separate race vs. class.

    Me, I include thieves from Greyhawk and tell elves: "Pick any two". The best I can do with the "freely switch class" bit is to say: "Tell me before the adventure which class your XP goes towards".

    Giving elves mentors with specific themed spellbooks is not bad, but I wouldn't want to make a whole firewalled spell mechanic for them.

  11. The B/X Elf is my all-time favorite character class.

    Interestingly, the *absence* of any class similar to the B/X Elf has been sharply felt in D&D 3.5. There are tons of extremely complex builds that go to torturous lengths to create a spellcasting swordsman.

    word verification: likedind. Yes I do.

  12. After thinking about this idea for a bit, I also started to wonder about the B/X Elven Wizard-Lord's forest stronghold too:

    "When the stronghold is completed, the elven Wizard-Lord will develop a friendship with the animals of the forest (birds, hares, squirrels, foxes, bears, etc.). All normal animals within 5 miles of the stronghold will be friendly towards elves dwelling there. Animals will be able to warn of approaching strangers, carry news of events, deliver short messages to nearby places, etc. In return for these services, the animals will expect help and protection from the elves."

    Ok, so being friendly can just mean no bear-maulings, but what is meant by "carry news of events"? Like messenger pigeons? Or can elves communicate with them? Speak with Animals is notoriously absent from the MU is this a special ability?

    I'd just add the spell to their list, or allow them to speak with animals by sacrificing a language.

    Has anyone else ever thought about this?

  13. I use the B/X elf in my S&W game (currently) as well as the B/X thief (an NPC only, so far).

    I actually use a lot of stuff from B/X, like morale, surprise, missile weapon tables, blurring the lines even further.

    Its easy to forget in D&D, especially in the more rules-intensive editions, that sometimes the simplest solution is the best, and the B/X Elf is a wonderful example of that.

  14. Back then, race-as-class was evidence that "Basic D&D," as I called all non-Advanced versions of the game, was "a kid's game," lacking in the sophistication and depth I associated with AD&D.

    Heh. I suspect you're setting up a boring straw man here by implication, and there's a terminological complexity worth teasing out here.

    In terms of rules-design, there's an argument to be made that OD&D is in fact a kids' game (or at least a childish one), its mechanics poorly-suited to its purpose as a storytelling/verbal-adjudication/negotiation game. AD&D at least gestures at this problem, though we can no doubt go twelve rounds re: its success/failure in this regard.


    That's separate from the concern that D&D presents a juvenile fantasy world - one in which 'naturalism' extends only as far as the limited imaginations of the designers, morality is resolutely adolescent, and the worldbuilding examples of Tolkien et al. were aped in the crudest, most superficial imaginable terms. AD&D doesn't actually address this concern - its rules and implied setting are much more complicated than those of OD&D, but Gygax seemed to think about D&D worlds (and the stories that flowered there) in pretty consistent terms from the 70's to the mid-80's.

    We're all more or less adults; let's be frank here. Race-as-class is a crude simplification that undermines Gygax's insistence on the imaginative-adult nature/audience of D&D. There's nothing particularly original about it, nor does it breed complexity (just compensation).

    Which is to say: you had your finger right on D&D's limitations as a kid, James, but you were mistaken in equating AD&D's baroque complication and OCD elaboration with 'sophistication and depth.'

  15. Wally,

    So what does a solution look like, if AD&D was a step in the wrong direction? Can you describe it in broad outlines?


  16. @Irda Ranger -

    If you mean 'How should AD&D have improved on OD&D' ruleswise and worldwise/morally, I'd say:

    * Customizability is not a numerical measure; build mechanics that enable players to customize their characters meaningfully, and treat roleplaying as a first-order activity within the rules instead of just improvised 'flavour' atop the crude task-resolution model of D&D (and the panoply of such models in AD&D). Gygax was never equipped to undertake this task, which is OK; he never really attempted it either.

    * Abandon the simulationist pretension of AD&D and its explosion of subsystems and emphasize the things players actually care about, e.g. inter-character dynamics, story control, quick intuitive task resolution, evocative information-gathering (rather than tracking e.g. every ounce of equipment), etc. Vancian magic isn't a simulation, it's a dramatic device (and an excellent one), but Gygax treated it as a mathematical law in the rules, and that hampers the game. It's indicative of his aesthetically-thin approach.

    * Point-buy systems make for richer characters, to my eye, but it's not clear that D&D is actually a rich storytelling game at all anyhow. If that's what you want (it's what *I* want), move toward more open character creation, greater player role in determining what's up with the shared (shared, god damn it) world from the campaign's beginning. If you're building a glorified wargame, race/class barriers certainly streamline the process, and the expense is acceptable. But it was clear even by the late 70's/early 80's that RPGs were going to evolve away from their wargaming roots...

    * The alignment system is a useful and even elegant play aid, but it's juvenile. If D&D's job is only to evoke its pulp roots, the alignment matrix makes sense. But hardwiring that numerical 'morality' into the mechanics of the world streamlines the game at the expense of complexity and grey-area depth. Ditch it and bake in evocative character traits. (D&D 4e is even worse on this score - it loses the interesting moral axis and keeps the preschool good/evil shit.)

    * Elves, dwarves, giants? Gygax was no worldbuilder, and his classes and races are derivative placeholders. The bold move - which 4e makes in its most remarkable advance - is to expose the mechanisms for building classes and races, and present a genuine toolkit. Again, that comes down to 'simulationism' of a kind: Gygax wanted to emulate certain types of fantasy/pulp fiction, and to this or that extent he succeeded. But it took other designers to see that this model of gaming was more fruitfully applied, with much much greater moral and narrative complexity, to entirely different worlds. The first D&D world without pointy-eared elves was a vast step forward for the genre and the industry.

    Blah, blah, blah. But I figured I owed a positive statement, for all the carping and bitching I post here. :)

    Anyhow, see where I'm coming from, I.R.?

  17. I should say, by the way, that I recognize that this isn't the place for the 'Is D&D even a good idea?' debate. And I apologize for threadjacking, as it were. But I don't want to be taken for a troll.

    I just hate y'all. NOT THE SAME. :)

  18. Just so I have a complete picture Wally, what specific game(s) is/are your idea of an RPG "done right"?

  19. It's funny. Whenever I look at games like Wally describes - with "shared worlds" and a focus on "story control" and "inter-character dynamics" I feel ill.

    I don't *want* story control. Story is an emergent property: It's what happens as a result of the game. What happens in the game is under no one's control, precisely.

    The perfect RPG is like a sporting event. The players are simultaneously participants and spectators, and the GM is simultaneously participant and sportscaster.

    "Story control" is like that fake WWF wrestling.

  20. I can get into a game like Wally describes, sometimes, but it's not what I'm looking for in D&D, so I feel no need to remake D&D into a different game. I like D&D for what it is.

    (I, too, am curious what games Wally prefers.)

  21. I don't *want* story control. Story is an emergent property: It's what happens as a result of the game. What happens in the game is under no one's control, precisely.

    You're wrong. Or rather, you're implicitly defining all the meaning and value out of 'story,' and that's wrong.

    '____ is an emergent property' is often a dodge, especially when this topic comes up. 'Fitness' is an emergent property of exercising and eating right; pretending there's no intentionality behind such a program is dumb. If you want good stories, nonlinear stories, stories that are complex rather than complicated, then you act to produce them. Since most DMs have trouble telling good stories, a game that empowers everyone to take part not only in story-making but good-story-making will be more likely to produce good stories. See what I mean?

    One trouble here is that most people can't improvise good stories. Perhaps that's one of the causes of your skepticism, @Alexander?

    A version of D&D that pushed players beyond the dungeon-crawling hack'n'slash juvenilia of OD&D would've pushed the field to earlier maturity. That never happened (though the various 2e worlds and rapidly-expanding gamer culture sorta pushed in some interesting directions). Race-as-class is part of the problem, though the problem doesn't reduce to boring fantasy-racial essentialism.

    Obviously I want OD&D and AD&D to be something they never were. That's my problem, aah well.

    One question on my mind is, Given the things that later games are much, much better at than D&D, what do OSR types really want to get out of the old games? It's not 'freedom' (race-as-class is more or less as unfree as you can get, character-creation-wise); it's not 'precision'; it's not 'complexity.' What is it? (No, not 'fun.' There are different types of fun.)

    Specifically, why would anyone prefer race-as-class to any alternative? What the hell is the appeal of such a system, given other choices? It's not 1975 anymore, and we're not 13 years old. What exactly is the appeal?

    Again - this might not be the place for that argument. But James has written how many tens of thousands of words over the last year+, and I'm no closer to hearing an answer more complex than 'I like to take a break.'

    I'm done with this (time to watch Mad Men). Best of luck, everyone. Enjoy the games.

  22. @philotomy et al -

    Among other things, I love Day After Ragnarok as a pulp setting, and think Over the Edge and Dying Earth and the GUMSHOE games and even D&D 4e have mechanics worth emulating, all a big step beyond the first-draft nature of OD&D and free of the many shortcomings of AD&D.

  23. I'm impressed with The Dying Earth. I also think GUMSHOE has some insight to offer investigation-based games (I'm not as convinced that the actual mechanics behind GUMSHOE are that special, though). I'll have to look into Day After Ragnarok -- the name is definitely appealing, to me.

    A while back I bought In a Wicked Age, mainly out of curiosity about the 'oracles' and their suitable as an adventure idea generator (it's great for that). However, I was also impressed with the game, itself. Very different from D&D, of course, but still something I think I could have fun with.

  24. Here's a simple rule idea. Elves may cast spells in armor, provided that the armor is magical.

  25. Heh! I’m beginning to think if I ever figure out what I really want out of this hobby, I’ll be done with it. It’s like that’s the destination that will end the journey. ^_^

    There’s probably not much more to add to what I’ve already written about why classic D&D appeals to me today like it never did before, including the race-class issue.

    I think, though, that it can be likened to poetic forms. (Or music forms or literary forms or what have you.) Why does anyone write a sonnet when they could write free-verse? Although a sonnet puts limits on how the poet expresses themself, does it limit what they can express? And sometimes, using a form and breaking it in specific ways can be very effective.

    And I think perhaps it is less about choosing a specific limitation for a specific purpose than it is about just accepting the structure and looking for what I can do within it. In much the same way that, as a player, I choose to make an effort to make my PC fit into the limitations of the DM’s world.

    That said, I’m not convinced that certain qualities in the system are required to get whatever it is I really want. I’m only convinced that some systems help me get there better than others.

    I’m also unsure that I want a good story. I’ve enjoyed lots of sessions without getting a story I’d bother repeating out of them. I doubt that any of the stories that I do repeat qualify as good stories.

  26. I'll have to look into Day After Ragnarok -- the name is definitely appealing, to me.

    You'll love it - Kenneth Hite's "Conan: 1948" meets "Quatermass vs the Giant Snake" setting. I think Hite's the best writer in RPGs at the moment. It's a Savage Worlds setting, trivially adapted to other systems of course.

    Savage Worlds is a great pulp system too, BTW. And it addresses some of my concerns upthread. Not that they're terribly important in the long run. :)

  27. I’m also unsure that I want a good story.

    I'm pretty sure I don't. :) I don't want a good story - I want a good game. The story exists only after the gaming is done.

  28. @Wally,

    the story behind a given RPG campaign is what emerges from the players interacting with the setting, NPC, and plot run by the referee.

    It that simple and that complex. People try to conflate writing plot with writing a story and they are not a same thing. A plot is plan, a guideline for the referee in determining what his NPCs do and what events occur. As a plan a good referee will change it in response to what his players do in actual play.

    Pretty much all RPGs have the ability for the referee to create exciting, and interesting settings, NPCS, and plot. And vice versa they all have the ability to suck as well.

    The feel of D&D comes from how it's combat, magic and task resolution combine. Each RPG has it's own feel in that regard. Some are more detailed in one area than another. So I can run the same setting, same adventures, same NPCs, and same plot with D&D as I can with GURPS. But it will feel differently sometimes vastly so.

    I will glad to run people in Harnmaster where a swift jab from a Vlasta beak to the neck take you down in hit. And I am equally glad to run people through OD&D and have 10th level fighters slaughter Orcs by the dozens.

    I can run my Majestic Wilderlands using GURPS, or I run it using OD&D. Both having Thothian Mages, Soldiers, Mountebanks, and Priests of Set running around.

    Ultimately it comes down what do you like in rules, and what you like for a campaign. The combination either produces something you like, or something you don't.

  29. "A version of D&D that pushed players beyond the dungeon-crawling hack'n'slash juvenilia of OD&D would've pushed the field to earlier maturity."

    Ironically, there's nothing more juvenile than being concerned that your fantasy games aren't mature enough.

    Really, Wally, we get it. We're just a bunch of ridiculous, botched babymen. You, on the other hand, are an exceptionally mature patrician fellow and any so-called leisure activity less sophisticated than reclining in the richly-appointed Victorian study at stately Wally Manor, smoking the finest pipe tobacco and sipping the finest cognac whilst studying an antique leatherbound volume of the collected works of Tacitus is far, far beneath you.

    Are you happy now? Can you please stop projecting whatever insecurities you're overcompensating for all over the rest of us, who are just trying to enjoy a simple game?

  30. Aaactually, if you think about elves being able to freely switch between classes between adventures it, more than multi-classing, shows how bored elves are with life and humans drive for power.

    The elf becomes flighty. "Oh I'm bored playing with my spells today I think I'll dally with the fighting-men. This enui, this can't-be-bothered-to-stick-with-one-thing, really showcases D&D's early argument for demi-human level limits and the rationality of the 1E's multi-classing. Brilliant really.

    The 1E version of multi-classing was obviously better rules wise, but the feel of an elf "dabbling" in human classes was obscured a bit.

    Also, why is it odd for all elves to be F/MU when all ogre-magi have the same spell list? Or all dragons for example? Only humans, and the demi-humans that chose to live among them have "levels"

  31. "'Story control' is like that fake WWF wrestling."

    Enormously well put.

    I continue to be puzzled why people who don't like D&D are so determined to take it over and transform it into something else.

  32. The thing that's recently intrigued me about a Moldvay style race as class system is that they're really nice target points for world customization.

    Even if it's just changing out descriptors and renaming, swapping out the Tolkieny bits for something else, while leaving yer standard fighter/mage/cleric/theif in place, is a quick way to retexture a game world without to much bother.

    Say, for example, you wanna do a Moldvay style Sesame Street dungeon crawl. You could swap out elves, dwarves, and halflings for fuzzy monsters, grouches, and muppets, fiddle with special abilities and stats, and off you go. (This example brought to you by the letter D and the number 20)

  33. OK, I just have to inject one point that I haven’t seen mentioned here: Just because all PC elves are F/MU, that doesn’t mean all elves are F/MU. If you look closely, you’ll find NPCs that don’t follow the PC rules. You’ll find individual monsters that don’t exactly match the standard set forth in the monster section of the rules.

    Now, one might think that that is a flaw, but the flaw isn’t that all elves are F/MU. (Even if I tended to read and play it that way myself once upon a time. I was wrong.)

    Oh, and I don’t think Wally is talking about the DM creating a plot and railroading the players through it. Giving players “story control” is, I believe, about coöperatively building the plot.

  34. James, I sense that your journey to the Moldvay side is nearly complete. Join us (well, Dan) and together you will dominate the OSR! >:)

    Seriously, I just find that Moldvay-Cook B/X is just the best damn iteration of D&D there is, and in Labyrinth Lord it has reached apotheosis. By now I'm running 2 Labyrinth Lord PBEMs and a weekly Labyrinth Lord chat game, and loving them all. And one day I'll have the guts to run it at my games club, right there on the table! :) - Simon

  35. For once, I find myself in agreement with Will Mistretta's comment above!

    Why I do I like race-as-class? Well, for one thing it automatically creates a humanocentric setting. In my LL games a very high proportion of PCs are (human) Fighters. Conversely, in 1e AD&D it seemed like 90% of PCs were Elves, and you certainly never saw a human Thief.

    I like humanocentric settings.
    When Elves, Dwarves and Halflings do appear, they are automatically different, a little alien, with well-defined roles. Conversely, human Fighter PCs are enormously varied, covering all the variety of real fighting-men through the ages.

    I think this is connected to why I see much better roleplay in my LL games than with 3e or 4e, where all too often PCs seem defined by their 'builds' and abilities, not by their personalities. But it also seems to work much better than AD&D/OSRIC. I don't fully understand why it works, but I know that it does.

    Limitations - restrictions - are a good thing in my book, when they're in the right places. They give structure and shape. Without them you get an amorphous blob. With the wrong restrictions, it doesn't feel right - which is kinda how I feel about 1e AD&D. At first glance 1e looks like it would suit an Elf-dominated game world, but then you run into the level limits. Except for Thieves & Cavaliers. But then they raise the limits in UA. And humans get a special stat generation method so they become viable again. And so on. A bit of a mess.

  36. P_Armstrong
    I often make the creation of dwarfs the product of some cursed elves or some catastrophe.

    Nah I always thought that was the Orcs.
    They've both got pointy ears, y' see...

    Limitations - restrictions - are a good thing in my book, when they're in the right places. They give structure and shape. Without them you get an amorphous blob.

    Or statistical soup.

    And because not everything is over-determined it's easier to go off on a tangent should a player get inspired.

    Will Mistretta
    Ironically, there's nothing more juvenile than being concerned that your fantasy games aren't mature enough.


  37. Speaking realistically. Let me ask you this question. Suppose you had a man, who as a young adult sailed to the US on Mayflower, stayed out of trouble and lived to this day. Let's say that he came of age at the time Magna Carta was signed. Can you imagine the wisom and life experience that this individual would possess? What if s/he still lived today? Now consider the wealth and influence that this person would choose to accumulate. THAT would be your typical gray elf among humans. Ecobnomic studies have already shown that fa,ilies in England and France that were on the ground in 1400's and survived as families to this day have become seruously upper class. There is direct accumulation of wealth from generation to generation, the key is that a famly survived as a unit. That study showed that direct descendants of nothing French peasants are todays upper class. Now take this historico-economic dynamic and apply it to elves with live spans of not 60 but 1000-1200 years! What uyou have created is a ruling elite, not to mention a master race. Elves are GOOD, of course, so they would use rtheir power to non-interfere and theerfore they would never stoop to enslave or dominate the short-lived fecund humanity, choosing to frolick inthe forests instead. I prefer to have a bit more realism of course...

    I think that AD&D rules for races and multi-classing for demi-humans are adequate. An Elfin fighter-magic used will advance twice as slow and will be most severely restricted from casting spells in armor above leather (higher chances of spell failure in chain mail and almost nil chances of successfully casting a spell in plate) Elfin chainmail has been specifically designed to accomodate combat spell casting in armor.

    No nods to the Elven universe of Mr Tolkien here. In my setting, Elves are feared, hated and despised along with the Goblins, Orcs and humanoid kind. Elves are hardly seen this far away from their realm. In the big cities Elves are extremely wealthy and are not seen much in public. Their mansions are broken into for the wealth and magic, but becasue Elves can be both cruel and vengeful, the local Wizards' Guild will never accept magical loot that appears to have been taken from local Elves. This is not to say that minions of the Underdark or individual owerful mages would not take their chances stealig from the Elves.

  38. I said it on my own blog and I'll say it here: the benefit for me of "race as class" is that it keeps humans at the center of both the campaign world and the gaming group. Experience says to me that PC groups tend to be a "UN" of demihuman races.

  39. S’mon: “And one day I'll have the guts to run it at my games club, right there on the table! :)

    ^_^ Yeah. If the game was fun once, it’s fun today too. We didn’t have fun in spite of it. It would never have done as well as it did if that was the case. And personally, the vast majority of gamers I’ve known are up for just about anything anyone is willing to run. My group, who all really like Wizards’ “3e” D&D had quite a blast playing B/X. I can’t imagine that you couldn’t find a few people at a games club who’d enjoy it.

    Now, I’ll grant that it may not be everyone’s preferred game, but that doesn’t mean it is broken, flawed, or out-dated.

    Brooze the Bear: “Speaking realistically.

    (1) My elves only live lifespans comparable to humans. (2) Elves are not humans. (i.e. Reasoning based on humans doesn’t necessarily apply to elves.)

    ^_^ But I love your take on elves. I love all the different takes on them.

    And those different takes go to show that not every character a player can imagine fits in every game world. Furthermore, not every character that fits into a world fits into every campaign set in that world. Yet those worlds and campaigns aren’t considered flawed because of those limitations.

    (Although, I will say that an “anything goes” GURPS game a friend of mine once ran, in which each player constructed their own race, was one of my favorites.)

    And Moldvay’s book itself is clear that nothing in it is set in stone. Many of the comments to this article and many of the articles on this blog show that the “limitations” of the guidelines are no limitations at all.

  40. You know, I've never played Odnd (started with redbox), doesn't it look like a fair interpretation is that elves are multi-class just like in 1E except before each adventure the player must determine which class (fighting-man/MU) gets exp? And not "choose to be a mu or choose to be a fighter" this adventure?

    The logical evolution was that in 1E they just had multi-classed characters split all xp instead of deciding which class got to level?

  41. Robert, I think that the more in deptjh the DM makes his setting, the more intertwined will the charcter classes and races be with that setting. Generic dungeons aside, If you set the game in Medieval England, you should not be able to play a Samurai warrior in it, more so, it will be impossible for the samirai to survve in the line of fight in UK just as it would be impossible for a lone British knight in Japan. Sae limitations will apply to a well developed fantasy setting as for an accurate historic setting. Moreover, charcer classes will becoem less and less generic. So, yuo want to play a fighter at a time of the Crusades. You wanna play a Templar or a Saracen? Same fighter clas, but so differently defined, not just in terms of the Armor Class and Weapons/Damage, but also in terms of skills in a more detailed character generation system.

    A big thing that was lost when AD&D First went to AD&D Second was the Weapon versus AC table. That made offensive capabilities so much more varied added a layer of complexity. That a longsword remained a favorite and the most potent weapon in D&D is the result of the oversimplicity and weakeness of the rules set. The Combat Tactics made the subsequent editions of the game more confusing and less realistic. What was lost, however, was the tactical purpose of each weapon. For instance: Gygax noted correctly, that a spear can be set against a charging opponent (for double damage in successful hit), but spears were also used to attack bigger animals as a safer distance (hence, rangers would probably porefer them). Sword was the deadliest weapon against an meer peasant mouthing off to his Lord. However, to overcime a drunken man at arms with a swrord, two or three men with pole arms would be used, shorted ones, woth a hook to trap men and pull them off horses. Few know, that a battle Axe was used to break apart the defender's shield, but in shielless combat swordsman had the advantage since an axe was a slower, heavier weapon. Also, bardiches, long handled axes were used to hook the shied and pull it away from the defender, so that others may slash the defender's face and neck with sword or spear. Age of Horse and Plate Mail has changed the dynamics of batle, maces and warhammers were develop to crush the armor where sword could not cut it, stilettos and narrower blades were used to stab through the eyeslits and cracks in the armor. Flails were used to swing around the shield. As the mounted warrioer came to dominate the battle, pikemen again, became useful to defend agaisnt cavalry, and then came the Two handed sword to break the spearheads off the pikes and to extend the reach of the blade. Many of these nuances can be integrated into the game with the simplest rules additions (such as flails and morning stars will negatethe AC bonus the shield provides), and make the texrture of the game richer without going in the direction of the WoTC game. Also, in this context a Fighter will really need all of hsi weapon proficiency slots: sword, of course, pole arm against a mounted or a large opponent, short sword to fight without penalty in close quarters where you can't use a regular sword wothout a penalty. Morning star agaisnt a shielded opponent, Lucernr hamme against a plate mail armored opponent, a bow? How many slots was that? Sixth level charcater under AD&D First Ed rules?

  42. What you have created is a ruling elite, not to mention a master race.

    True but will they have the same drives as the shorter lived races. Many of them may adopt "what is the point?" attitude. In my Majestic Wilderlands my Elves are immortal (yes I borrow heavily from Tolkein). The oldest Elves have done the master race bit and are not interested in repeating the experience. Not so much they were bad at it because it required too much work to stay on top. Literally they have all the time in the world to do whatever they want. They retreated to their homelands and dealing enough with the other races to manipulate them into leaving them the hell alone.

    As for why Elves are "good" in my campaign is because in the Dawn Age of my setting the ambitous and ruthless Elves did become masters of the world for a time in alliance with rogue gods. Eventually the Gods and loyal Elves allied along with anybody else that escaped and overthrow the whole lot. They named them Demon and threw them into the Abyss.

    The trick is not so much anybody intrepetation is correct or not. But set out your inital premises and follow through on the implications. If you don't like the implications then change the premise until you get something you want.

  43. @Wally,
    A story is the narrative of events in the lives of protagonists. In RPGs of the sort that I enjoy, the nature of the events are unknown until they occur. Will Audarius survive the trap? Will the party defeat the dragon? As a result, the story IS an emergent property -just like the story of my real life is an emergent property, just like the story of how the Steelers won the Super Bowl is an emergent property. One cannot write my biography yet because my life is not over. One cannot write the story of who won the 2010 Superbowl yet because it has not yet been won.

    Suggesting that story is an emergent property doesn't take away meaning and value from it. In fact, many people find that stories that emerge from events outside the control of a narrator are MORE meaningful and valuable than stories resulting from narrator control. This is why "true stories" and "biographies" and "histories" are so gripping and so popular, and why many people eschew fiction in favor of stories that emerged from actual events.

    RPGs are a lousy mechanism to tell good stories. I don't play them to tell good stories. When I want to tell a good story, I write - I TELL.

    But RPGs are a GREAT mechanism to create and witness virtually true stories. You might say "but they aren't true;" except that they are. They are true stories in the same way the story of my life is a true story, in that they occur outside of narrator control. It is TRUE that in my campaign Morne died and was reincarnated as a centaur. No one planned for it; not the player, not the DM. But it happened and is fact. And that's now the story of that character's life.

    Thus, I view RPGs that spend their time giving the GM narrative control and focusing on story to be uninteresting. I view RPGs that spend their time creating an understandable framework within which true stories can *emerge* to be quite interesting. OD&D is an excellent rules set for that purpose.

    You're not going to enjoy OD&D because it's a terrible rules set for the purposes you play RPGs. But there are many great RPGs for that purpose.

    Play games you like the way you like, and I'll do the same. But don't tell me that I'm "wrong" or imply that I'm just a lousy storyteller.

  44. @Brooze, I really like your thinking about elves having a bred heritage of familial wealth and experience. So much so that I'm thinking of stealing it for my own Sword and Planet goulash!

    However, the historic analogy doesn't fly. We went through several eras of advancement, including a booming industrial revolution that made it possible for families to accrue incredible wealth over shorter spans of time though trade on a massive scale.

    Elven culture has remained in the wilderness as, basically, a clandestine society. One also assumes that over the course of those thousands of years that their world hasn't changed much, and as such, neither have they. It's in a perpetual state of "medievalness". (In most gaming universes). Maybe there was an ancient period akin to our Egyptian/Greek/Roman period, but really, in classic fantasy the era is static no matter how much time passes.

    I get what your saying about the accumulation of knowledge over time. But really, in order for a society to advance it has to be expanding/conquering/exploring/trading on an ongoing basis. Humans, yes. Elves, not so much.

  45. Trees live hundreds of years, but their goals and lives are not measured in human terms either.

  46. Jay,
    I never considered the industrial revolution being responsible for the accumulation of wealth. Excellent idea! By the same token, don't you think that it's the magic and the preence of living deities micromanaging via the good works of teh Clric class that would be keeping the AD&D world from developig historically like our own? In that vein, wouldn't power and wealth accumnulate in the hands of those with access to magic and the altars? THAT becoming the high technology of its place, albeit less systematized and more restricted? In that vein, I like your idea of Elves as the shadowy and alien beings who exist in the virgin wilderness, that they would likely protect from the expansion of the humanity (or even Dwarven kin, if you consider the environemntal damage that non-magical mining and tunneling produces). My analysis was based ont he the way the Elves were presented in AD&D in general and in the Complete Book of Elves in particular, where Elves are basically human beings with a great deal of wealth and pointy ears, just look at those illustrations, and also, if you look at the conceptualization, in LOTR in the AD&D, the wilderness that Elves live in is not the true wilderness, but are actually PARKS in the age of the Sun King (Louis the XIV). Your take othe Elves as the empowered wilderness aboriginals is a compeltely different cultural social order.

    With regards to your representation of Elves as Tolkinesuqe demi-gods, there is one observation that you may consider. Ancient Greece was a society where people believd that the Panthenon of Gids was alive up in the Olympus and could walk among them in the guise of mortals. This led to the belioef in Fate and to a sort of an existential resignation: Grcian Gods were another layer of rulers, like local Kings but only more so. Just as corrupt, tempermental and unfair as their mortal counterparts. This finds best expression in Homer's Odysseus, where the Odesseus crew is told not to eat the sacred cattle fo the Gods and the response of the crew is: How do you know that THESE sheep are sacred? and Gods decide everything and if they decide we die, then we die, what diference does it make, we are pawns in their hands anyway. Same kind of belief in the power of faith and in one's own powerlessness before it is seen in orther historical literature of both Ancient Greece, Pre-Christian Vikings, and, incidentally Islam, and in this context, this Koranic noton of submisison to the will of God is it the consequesnce of Islamic theology or is it the influence of Antiquity over the modern islamic culture?

  47. UWS,
    How many trees are PCs in your game?

  48. Depends on if it's Mutant Future! ;)

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  50. Emergent play is a fallacy.

    Or rather, "Emergent Play" in the way that most old-schoolers talk about it is a fallacy. The old-schooler will tell you that games with no scripted plot, a bare-bones setting, and most events determined by rolls on random tables will produce Emergent Play - and they're right. But here's the fallacy: so will almost every other type of roleplaying.

    Here's an example: Last week, our usual DM was out of town, so I was tapped to run a one-shot. I didn't have much time on my hands, and the adventure I produced was a rail-road. There were a few branches here and there, but basically, the party was getting on at point A and ending at point E, with stops at stations B, C & D along the way. B,C & D were scripted battles. At the beginning of the session, I told the players, "This is a one-shot and we don't have much time, so play along a bit." And they did. We had a blast. What came out of that rail-roady adventure was Emergent Play and Story. When we look back on that evening, we aren't going to think about the crappy plot, we're going to think about how the ranger scored a crit to save another character from being strangled by an aquatic goon (and broke our Level 5 damage record at the same time!) We'll think about how the wizard was ambushed by a horrible monster with paralyzing tentacles when he tried to sneak up on a group of enemies. We'll remember how incredibly cool it was when the paladin bulled his way through the enemy lines to score a powerful strike on the enemy wizard. We'll think about the creepy setting, the mysterious seagulls, and any number of personal details we liked. That's emergent play. None of that was written into the adventure.

    When the old-schooler talks about emergent play, I often get the feeling that they mean that every detail of the adventure must emerge during play. That's the fallacy. The truth is that whenever players meet plot in an interesting way, emergent play is the outcome.

  51. I just came off a randomly generate adventure. Didn't like it much. It was like playing Source Of The Nile. Reason was, DM wanted to amuse himself with the element of Unknown. His trick was, he'd roll random elements (such as location of the pass), and put them in if they made sense. That was horrible.

    First, he had no clues, no puzzles and no narrative. Second, we couldn't use our knowledge and initiative to figure anything out. For instance - we couldn't meaningfully look for the secret camp (look for ravines and thickets that would onceal tents and bedrolls), becaue the DM had no idea what was in the forest until he rolled the dice. Basically dei rolling takes away from teh design, and if there is no design, there is small chance for intelligent adventuring. This aprticular DM loved role playing, so he strung a bunch of scripted encounters, which he role played amazingly ina sea of die rolling and mediocre combat. His improv acting ability made the game, and the game wasnt a total failure, but I am no fan of Emergent Play and Roll Playing.

  52. A large part of this emergent play vs. scripting, random vs. plot business is simply personal preference, and as such, there is no right or wrong. And asmodean66, I agree, so-called 'emergent play' is nearly universal, but I still think there is a spectrum there--some games are more 'emergent' than others. Yes, there is still emergent play in a tightly run, "rail-roady" adventure, but perhaps not the same amount or of the same degree as would be found in a more "sandboxy" adventure. I don't know why I prefer the more "emergent" style. I don't knock anyone who loves story and plot. For me, the second I get the inkling that there is railroading occurring (even in a very benign way), I start to lose interest. I suppose for me I lose that sort of (very silly) wonderment at the idea that 'anything can happen' when I sense the hand of a narrator rather than a DM. That doesn't mean other people can't have tremendous amounts of fun in such an adventure. Part of me really is a throwback to those who enjoy the wargamer style. Many have equated it to sports, and I think the analogy is a good one. There are many games that combine random elements with elements of skill--say, poker or backgammon. I enjoy those as well. And for me, D&D (used in the most generic sense possible, as was my wont in youth) is a much, much cooler form of one of those activities. I am probably more emotionally stunted and intellectually deficient than most, but hey, that's what I enjoy, and until someone can show me why I am wrong for doing so, that's how I'll play. Thanks.

  53. @ Wally
    The genius of Gygax, Arneson et al was to find a way to channel the natural role-playing tendencies of children into a flexible structure that allowed them to persist into adulthood. I happily concede that the style of role-playing that I enjoy is a form of neoteny (retention, by adults in a species, of traits previously seen only in juveniles) and am suspicious of any attempts to evolve it into something more "mature."

    @Will Mistretta
    Can I license the expression "ridiculous botched babyman" to print on a T-shirt?

    I think the idea of elves having pointy ears came from Tolkien. Didn't he actually describe them as having ears "like leaves"? So a pointy-eared elf might be an Elm Elf or a Bamboo Elf :-) Also, I believe it was Tolkien and Lord Dunsany who popularized the idea of elves as a human-sized race. They borrowed this from the Norse tradition. In other European traditions, elves were often tiny, ethereal nature fairies. The OD&D elf-class seems to fit well with the more robust Norse álfar. In Norse mythology, the álfar were a powerful, beautiful human-like race skilled in witchcraft and battle.

  54. @Brooze, I think you broke my brain! To be honest I never looked at it from that perspective (or that deeply).

    I guess I had always thought about cultural interaction in D&D as more of a NYC melting pot that had to be navigated, battled through, and endured by PCs to get to the [treasure, XP, etc.]. I never delved into it on a socio-economic-magico-environmental level(!). I was aware of that aspect, but it seemed to be too dense or unwieldy to put into practice. Your explanation though offers great possibilities for enrichment--so thanks for that!

    I think my take on elves stems from more of a Grimm Fairy Tales/mythology point of view that's while enhanced by D&D, isn't based in it (or even AD&D, such as yours). To me they were always 'behind the scenes' and leprechaun-like. And of course, I was aware of all that Tolkien and RPGs had embellished upon, but that's not where it originated for me.

    All things being equal, it just goes to show how something seemingly so "universal" can really have endless permutations depending on the perspective of the observer.

    (Or something less sanctimonious sounding!)

    Anyway, I enjoyed reading your thoughts, thanks for humoring my stream of consiousness blurt! :)

  55. Jay, anthropologists say that the more hostile the environemnt the more technologically advanced the people that live in it, which makes sense - you NEED to survive in arctic, whereas you can survive in the rainforest pretty much wearing a loincloth and being blissfully harmonuious with nature. Fanatsy world where dead can be brough back to life and battle damage healed instantly would be the multiverse equivalent of the rainforest, which begs an interesting question: If Elves possess harmonious relationshipwith the environment (can survive in it where humans can not) and they have the magical advantage, HOW did they get it? To overcome WHAT obstacles?

    BTW I dig your Grimm brothers conception of the Elves and figured the answer to the above (hinted at by Tolkien) can you figure out what that is?

  56. Brooze
    Second, we couldn't use our knowledge and initiative to figure anything out. For instance - we couldn't meaningfully look for the secret camp (look for ravines and thickets that would onceal tents and bedrolls), becaue the DM had no idea what was in the forest until he rolled the dice.

    Well just because you can have random encounter tables, it doesn't mean they have to occur "randomly," eg. "5 Orcs jump out of the bushes and attack." You can make up a little story or if they PCs are travelling carefully at Slow speed searching as they go the DM can give them the advantage of surprise etc.

    I think the OSR blogs have covered this extensively.

  57. @ Wally

    The genius of Gygax, Arneson et al was to find a way to channel the natural role-playing tendencies of children into a flexible structure that allowed them to persist into adulthood. I happily concede that the style of role-playing that I enjoy is a form of neoteny (retention, by adults in a species, of traits previously seen only in juveniles) and am suspicious of any attempts to evolve it into something more "mature."

    Point to you!

    @Will -

    Are you happy now? Can you please stop projecting whatever insecurities you're overcompensating for all over the rest of us, who are just trying to enjoy a simple game?

    Oh, grow up. You're not 'just trying to enjoy a simple game' any more than I'm 'just having a friendly chat with some gentlemen on the internet.' These issues are part of your cultural self-identification and -definition. Own up to them. By all means utter inane mantras and schoolyard asides to yourself but do leave me out of it.

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  59. "You're not 'just trying to enjoy a simple game' any more than I'm 'just having a friendly chat with some gentlemen on the internet.' These issues are part of your cultural self-identification and -definition."


  60. Booze:
    "anthropologists say that the more hostile the environment the more technologically advanced the people that live in it"

    That's true inasmuch as high arctic hunter-gatherers have a more extensive suite of tools, clothing and gear than do tropical hunter-gatherers. Aboriginal desert hunter-gatherers in Australia or the Kalahari though have a fairly simple suite although the environment is highly hostile to those unskilled in surviving there.

    The biggest advances seem to occur in mid-latitudes where there is predictable seasonal change - the spring flood, the winter frost, and so on, combined with viable intensive agriculture.

  61. @ Chris T. I am not at all against random encounters and random events in a game. I think I misunderstood the term Emergent Play. The DM I was talking about was keeping things random so that even he wouldn't know what happened next, and he was poorly prepared (i.e. Dungeon not mapped out or stocked).

    With regards to plot and story in D&D, it doesn't have to be a scripted railroad to move ina ecrtain direction, just as it doesn't have to be a barebones setting. The key is in developing the background with regards to push and pull. Pull = what the players want. Push = what happens to players. For instance: Finghter wants plate mail, magic user wants to join Wizards Guild, it takes gold and oh good, there is a Dungeon and a convenient quest nearby. Sign up and get free chain mail armor and a few men at arms to help the party. That's Pull. Push is: Thief needs to complete quests to jouin and maintain his guild standing. Barn's advisor is threatened by the party's success and is trying to turn the baron against the party. Battle of wits in role play form, party is either banished or (if they resort to violence, outlawed) or they defeat the advisor and assume aposition of greater responsibility. There is no pre-written story, but there are forces of push and pull in a sandbox that require the players to keep active. That become espacially easy if you dont just level characters up, but reqire the players to find training, equipment and magical components. Fifth level fighters dont just grow on trees, and even the merest warior needs to find a mster and gain his/her confidence.

    @ Iaowai, Elves inhabit Dreamtime, and so do Australian Aboriginals with their Lardil (Dreamtime). Naked, literally, they survive in one of the most uninhabitable places on eart, which still clais lives of tourists, whose cars run out of gas and who are out of contact for no more than 2 days. Yes, Australian Aboriginals exist in awesome harmony with their environment, but they are nothing like Elves of high fantasy, with their silver, association with the high culture, tended forests and tree top palaces. Nothing like fairy folk of Norse mythology or Tokien. If anything, the British settler considered to be the subhuman equivalent of Orcs or Goblins and tried to exterminate them.

    There was more to the development of Western (and other) civilization that the harsh climates, the only point I was making was that the feudalism of fantasy world would survive primarily because of existance of magic and living active dieties who take active role in nature.

    One thing to remeber is that the deeper the rationale underpinnign the world in which your camoaign is taking place, the more vivid your seting, more easier it is to play unique and memorable NPCs that the players woill encounter.

  62. Brooze
    The DM I was talking about was keeping things random so that even he wouldn't know what happened next, and he was poorly prepared (i.e. Dungeon not mapped out or stocked).

    Ah OK I get you now. Yeah I find it's usually better to roll up a few encounters the night before and take a day to stew over (and possibly link) them. And then play them out according to the march turn and area type that they're scheduled to happen.

    Good point about the indigenous Australians.

  63. Booze The Bear,

    James has stated, and I agree, that one of the DM's primary functions is to provide context for the random encounters provided by the charts. It's pretty clear to me your DM was actively avoiding this responsibility, leaving your group in a context-free Wonderland. It's no wonder you experienced disassociation and ennui.

    A proper world should be equal parts predictable and unpredictable. That allows the players to feel like they know what's going on but it also keeps them on their toes. A complete lack of random encounters would create a world that's far too predictable (and reduce the game to "What's the DM thinking?"), while clearly your DM went too far in the other direction. That's his problem though, not the game's.


    Thanks for replying. I know it can be hard to bring up these opinions in "grognard forums", as the chance of flamewars is incredibly high - so I appreciate that you posted.

    It's pretty clear to me though that you don't actually want to play D&D. A few of the changes you propose might be helpful, but by and large they would simply make it "not D&D."

    Point-buy systems are particularly antithetical to D&D, but you can get almost any class you want anyway by designing a custom class (as EVERYONE has done at some point). There's no "point buy" system for this though because any pre-written system can be abused - only an experienced DM can judge whether a class is appropriate or not for his campaign. Point of example: attempts in 2E and 3E to provide class-creation rules allowed for too much abuse, and 4E's answer was to take away all the interesting choice. Blech. Just trust the DM to know what he's doing, or at least to learn from his mistakes.

    Class creation isn't the only way that you sort of "miss the point" in how D&D is already close to what you want. For instance, role playing IS a first-order activity in D&D (at least, OD&D and Basic). The rules are designed to just provide you the most basic of mechanics so you can GET PAST THEM and get to the business of role playing. I think Gygax and Arneson were right to simply ignore rules for this entirely, as almost all systems I've seen designed to "encourage" role playing in fact restrict it a great deal through built in assumptions.

    Further, I would contend that many people do not actually enjoy story control. They think they want it, but after the fact it's the accomplishment of goals DESPITE lack of story control that provides the greatest sense of satisfaction. Winning through story control is a cheap prize. Just like in real life.

    Anyway, I guess the only thing I agree with you on is that alignment is simplistic. I think it's still helpful though and would not ditch it, as people really do come in categories. I would simply provide another layer on top to added depth and complexity.

  64. @Brooze and @Wally:

    Like in anything else, there's balance. Just as completely scripting out every event negates the ability of the player to make choices, so too does complete randomness. Most old-school games don't devolve into the sort of "roll-playing" you describe.(Man alive, I hate that term. I realize you two probably weren't trying to be nasty, but if there's a quicker, more obnoxious way to dismiss something as fit only for clueless, vapid manchilds, I've never heard it)

    I have always found that you can plot meaningful player choices (which is the essence of just about any game, from Harn to Minesweeper) on a parabolic curve. Players have zero effective choices at the point where you know exactly how every encounter will go - the "frustrated fantasy novelist" game. But there is zero *meaning* to their infinity of choices if everything is generated randomly on the spot without any kind of consideration beforehand - your "roll-playing" game. I think everyone here will agree that both of these are degenerate forms of RPG - and that neither would be much fun to play.

    A parabolic curve means there is also a sweet spot which maximizes the meaningful choices made by all players (and, presumably, the fun of the game). Most of us would also likely agree that this sweet spot is the place we call the Sandbox.

    The method behind the Sandbox is fairly simple:

    1) Prepare a large enough world beforehand that it can accommodate whatever goals your players would care to pursue for the next while.

    2) Populate it with actors (both NPCs and monsters) of varying levels of power, resources, and influence. Avoid protagonizing them and permit the PCs to be the driving force of the story - supporting cast can scheme and hatch plots, but PCs shouldn't necessarily be required to do as they say.

    3) Plant several hooks for different adventures. Let the characters bite at whatever interests them, or if nothing does, let them forge their own path. Leave avenues of retreat and never force them to complete a quest. (Although failing can certainly have unpleasant consequences)

    4) If something unpleasant or unexpected happens that won't completely ruin your game world, roll with it. Even if someone dies, and potentially even after a TPK - there can always be more characters. Generally, one should avoid even adding elements that could completely ruin the setting. This is largely why old school gamers so often loathe save-the-world fantasy and prefer a smaller power scale.

    5) If the PCs begin to press up against the boundaries of your defined setting, rather than channel them back inside the box, expand the setting to encompass whatever they might do in the near future.

    Where you seem to be led astray is by all those random charts. Those aren't there to be used all the time, as you probably did when you played D&D as a kid. (You wouldn't be alone; I know I did, too.) Most of those charts are meant as a tool for rapid improvisation when preparation proves inadequate. They are NOT there to dominate the flow of the game. I think this fallacy more than anything else (backed up by the way a lot of gamers do actually play early in their gaming careers), is the biggest misconception used to bash older D&Ds.

  65. @Brooze, Aw, man, I'm not as up on my Tolkien as I should be, so I'd shame myself to venture a guess here.

    I guess I always assumed that the elves had natural advantages over humans (brains/psyche), but you're referring to specific event, yes?

  66. PT 1 of 2
    I build sandboxes deeper than the Arabian desert. Frontier regions that swallow adventurers. The trick is not to get carried away with over design. You get specific in the areas that touch the players in any way, and less and less specific as you move away from the players. You can get away with 100% improvisation three days journey away from the players, so long as you fix yourself to what you said. I am a big fan of wilderness adventure, since underground Megan dungeon is a way to avoid dealing with realistic terrain mapping. To this end I succeeded in being able to have wilderness levels equivalent to Dungeon levels. To me, the best and most complex in AD&D thought are the Dungeoneer's and Wilderness Survival guide, though WSG will not show a DM how to draw an engaging wilderness map.

    I am not knocking anything about OD&D. The limitations are not so much the rules' as the DMs who interpret them. My D&D player had to trek for several days along a river. Hunted by pursuers (like so many, that novice DM could not escape the LOTR stereotypes), I was naturally thinking of concealment, so I asked him, "What's the terrain like?" DM goes, well. it's flat. Not much there, there s a river and you are walking on the grass. Basically, 7 days of clear terrain. That DM was not an outdoorsman and had no clue of how convoluted a riverine environment can be - marshes, steep banks, tall grass, areas where driftwood accumulates, rock washes. Great places to hide, difficult to navigate quickly and at night. Wouldn't it be fun to throw THAT at players? Have them navigate these obstacle and try to sue them to their tactical advantage in an encounter?
    I think that the real reason D&D never really addresses the issue of topography is because of great deal of difficulty. Consider narrating this: You are moving down a ten foot corridor with a vaulted ceiling, thirty feet down there is a door and the passage turns sharply left. Sounds easy? Sounds familiar? Now how about this: The party is moving on foot across clear terrain looking for a fleeing bad guy. They just moved off the plowed field into open country, there is knee high grass and some scattered rocks. Tree line starts 700 yards to the left. About thirty yards inside the tree line is an abandoned hamlet. Just inside the tree line is an Orca war party trailing the players. How do you narrate this consistently? How do you systematically present the scene in rich tactical detail based on a two dimensional wilderness map? Do you generate every hex beforehand?

  67. PT 2 of 2

    PT 2 of 2
    Not at all against randomness (random encounters, random terrain events, random weather events, random loot for corpses), I came up with the system of skyline and terrain features. When outdoors, people are surrounded by a horizon line beyond which they can not see. At sea, I believe it's a 12 mile radius, from a horseback or from an observation tower the radius is larger. Of course, wherever the characters are standing, there are taller objects - buildings, mountains, hills, tree lines, tall grass, that would obstruct the line of sight and appear as a 360 panoramic skyline. Hence, you have always something to describe. as the point of view and the major terrain features change, you tell the players about this on the consistent basis. Usually, when the DM goes into any great detail, the players know that they are about to have an encounter, however, when the description is rich, continuous and consistent, players will not know when to have their guard up and will have to rely on their own initiative and vigilance, or they will get used to grudging along until something ambushes them (as happens in the real world).

    The key to this system is breaking the map into major terrain features, secondary terrain and terrain events. Major terrain features are landmarks and should be mapped out. Each major type of terra8in will have a number secondary terrain types, which are rolled randomly and will continue from fifty yards to a mile or so of the journey. These terrain features look differently and provide opportunity for different tactics. A Major terrain feature might be the White (birch) forest covering southern half of the barony. Secondary terrain features might be a clearing, a thicket of undergrowth, a march, a meadow, a stand of pine trees etc. Every so often there is a chance for a terrain event. Terrain events usually provide an encounter for the party. In said forest, terrain events can be abandoned cabins, old tree cutting sites, plantings growing secret crops, washed out or trails blocked by fallen trees, old campsites.

    You can tell a whole story through a system of random event and encounter tables that are designed before hand with a view to the background story, and this adds another level of texture in addition tot eh primary adventure. The main challenge is to keep from having to make too many rolls. I mean, you have your wandering monster, which should have both combat encounters with monsters and non-combat encounters with game wardens, foresters, peasants chopping wood, etc. You should have an event table, which would have both terrain and weather events, and typically, an artifact table, which would contain clues and trash that players can find by digging around old campsites and searching abandoned places. It's not a good idea to combine everything into a huge encounter table, nor is it a good idea to have to interrupt your story to be making die rolls, so a golden mean has to be found.

    The point I am making here, is that even though I prefer AD&D rule set, even if I was playing OD&D, I'd still be bringing my experience into the game and modifying the existing rules.

  68. @ Iaowai

    umm, which I suppose explains why the Eskimos had such a technologically advanced society?

    [off topic rant]
    Eskimos did have an incredibly advanced technology for surviving in the arctic. If you are thinking cars and computers, then no, they were not technologicaly advanced. But their particular technological adaptations to life in a land with almost no vegetable life, winters with no sunlight and far below zero temperatures were very advanced and it has taken western civilizations until the last fifty or so years to catch up to them. Our grasp of nutrition has only recently begun to explain how a diet of almost nothing but sea mammals and fish could provide all the necessary nutrients (compare this to the sailors from the west who came down with skurvy by the boatloads). The first arctic explorers, from an "advanced" technological culture, were woefully unprepared to survive and would have died in their cotton garments if they had not been shown the amazing insulative powers of seal-skin by the natives. The traditional mostly buried houses were far better suited to the environment than the "modern" houses that have replaced them, to the tune that Eskimo villages are now actually housed in worse conditions thanks to wood-frame construction than they were in their "primitive" past.

    On a side note, a rainforest is almost as difficult a place to survive as the arctic and requires a complex technological and cultural adaptation, just not one that is readily identified as such. Drinking tremendous quantities of chicha (weak beer made from chewed maize) and no water may seem to be a quick way to a massive beer belly, but it is also the best way to avoid the many debilitating bacterial pathogens in the water. And despite the rainforest's well deserved reputation as the home of incredible biological diversity, this is diversity in numbers of different species and does not necessarily reflect tons of readily available food. Most of the animal life lives in the canopy and is not readily accesible. Blowguns may seem like a simple weapon, but they are virtually silent, very accurate and capable of delivering a dart to the monkey in the canopy without alerting the rest of the group of monkeys. Combined with technology like poison that silently kills and a blowgun is very advanced technology perfectly suited to its environment. Farming is incredibly difficult because the soil is some of the poorest in the world, but technological innovations such as neutralizing the poison in manioc root and fermenting various foods to gain much needed nutrients allowed many tribes to survive in the rainforest.

    [/off topic rant]

  69. Ah. I guess I misunderstood, Brooze. I thought you were railing against randomness in your earlier post. You pretty much nail it WRT the issue of not over-planning: That's the key. I usually just tend to sketch out the basics beforehand (Ogre den here, three-crowned hill there, caravan stop midway between them) and improvise based on my map as the players arrive. I usually use a 3-mile hex grid, or an artistic map like the PCs might purchase, so minor terrain features are easy enough to improvise without having to worry too much about consistent details.

    And you are right; there are some difficult issues with keeping a flowing commentary in sandbox wilderness adventures. It's tedious and difficult to maintain on a long journey, and not wholly to be blamed on the DM's lack of imagination. It's quite possible to have days on end of relatively uneventful travel where no major choices present themselves to the players. Narrating at a constant rate through that would be a disastrous slog unless you somehow made sure the players had to make more interesting choices each day than the normal rules provide.

    AD&D's WSG is one way, I guess. However - I say this as a guy who has read and tried to use that book in the past - the rules in there are WAY too intricate for me to actually use (YMMV). These days, I just speed up the narration when things are slow, and look to books like WSG for adventure inspiration more than anything else.

    What I find helps more in random event situations is look-up tables in Excel. You write up all the tables you might want to use ahead of time, and stick a randomized lookup cell to each table on a frontend sheet. Then when you need something complicated quickly, you can roll on all your tables and have instant results in one keystroke. It's fast, repeatable, and as a side bonus, subtle. Do it casually and unlike a die roll, your players probably won't even notice.

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  72. @Iaowai, as I will detail on my later post on Elves (no time now, Jay), I a trying to make MY mythology internally consistent and realistic. I am not thrilled with master races or Tolkien's fawning portrayal of Elves as spiritualized version of British aristocracy, as it was perceived by the most conservative elements of the British society at Tolkien's time. Remember, it was the same British Aristocracy that Tolkien fawned over, that produced Kim Philby and the Cambridge Five, but that's a different story. More on this later today.

    @Rob, awesome idea with that Excel application, one I shall use myself... Thanks!


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