Thursday, September 27, 2012

Reading Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, Part 36

...AND WE'RE BACK!!!!!

Miss me?  Thought I'd forgotten about yinz, didn't you? Never!  As I said in a recent entry, life has been pretty miserable for me the past two years or so, but things are looking up, now. I got through it with the aid of an iron will, St. Johns Wort, and good friends and family. So hopefully, you'll be hearing from me on a regular basis again.

That being said....SO....where were we?  Ah, yes.  I remember...

This section pretty much wraps up the notes on "The Campaign," and honestly, I probably should've included it in my last blog, but to be quite frank, I ran out of gas and got lazy. We were pretty much in a section of The Campaign where it was talking about the erstwhile "end game" of AD&D: the point where characters reach high level, build keeps, attract followers, and carve out their own little slice of Heaven (or Hell, depending on their alignment).  This particular section is a favorite of mine because it hammers home something that far too many people who like to bitch about D&D forget: this is not a game about history.

I'll repeat that: This is not a game about history. It is not now, and never was, intended to be remotely historically accurate. At best, the game is an amalgam of historical periods from ancient Rome through the late Renaissance--there are even firearms rules of a sort in here (we'll get to that later). But the next time you hear someone griping about how "things really didn't work that way in the Middle Ages," remind them that someone in their party can probably throw fire around like it was a rock they picked up off the ground, so they should kindly shut up about realism.  This game is not simulationist.

Why do I mention this here? Because essentially that's what this section does. It talks about how the feudal society worked in history, and then very quickly goes on to state that these ideas just won't fly in an AD&D game. You wouldn't, for example, have the kinds of wandering adventurers in an historical medieval game as you do in AD&D.  For one thing, those not of noble (or at least "genteel") birth were not permitted to carry weapons, as a general rule. In addition, it talks about how PCs that take over an area, set themselves up as independent lords (another thing that generally didn't happen), and enforce slavery or serfdom on the populace will in fact be in for a revolt.  The section then goes on to give guidelines on how to run such a revolt, and at what point it effectively becomes a civil war. It's an excellent section; another in a great many sections that should be "must reads" for any lover of fantasy role playing, and in particular any edition of D&D. I've said it before and I'll say it again: the first edition DMG is one of the finest RPG books ever written.

After this we get on to....

This section is pretty much what you might expect from a DMG--it provides a map of one level of a dungeon, a map key, wandering monster tables (two very simple ones--roll a d4 on one of two tables; the DM normally determines the chance of a wandering monster encounter, but it's generally a 1 on 1d6).  Reading through the three described rooms actually made me shudder a bit--I sometimes forget just how deadly first edition AD&D was. But again, as I've said before, this was the excitement of play in this edition: making it to third level, where you had a significantly higher survival probability, was an accomplishment, something to be proud of and something in which you could take pride. This was kind of lost in later editions of the game.

All-in-all, it's a pretty cool map and good jumping off point, especially when you consider that after the map and 3-room description, the game jumps into...

...which uses the map and described rooms to provide a fairly extensive concrete example of play. The neatest thing about this particular section, to my mind, is that it pretty much shoots in the foot the idea that old school gaming somehow fostered antagonism between the DM and players. Even some more recent throwback games like Hackmaster have latched on to this. HM calls itself "hard core old-school gaming," and sets up a purely antagonistic relationship between DM and players. 

This is not old school.

The description in this section has the DM very clearly making suggestions about courses of action the players might take, dropping very clear clues and hints, and even warning them about things their characters might know but they might not. It's definitely a collaborative experience. Now naturally, the DM doesn't say, "You know, there may be ghouls behind that secret door," but he does, for example, ask the group why they would put the gnome and halfling at the front of the marching order and the fighter at the rear.

There's also some important information tucked in here, which arguably could've been placed in the "Exploration" or "Underground Movement" sections. This information regards how long it takes to do things like listen at doors, search for traps, search and map rooms, look for secret and concealed doors. It also gives advice about what to do if your players are way overly cautious or just wasting favorite bit of advice has to be, "Mocking their overly-cautious behavior as near-cowardice." I got a chuckle out of that.

Rules are also in place here for things like opening doors (the aforementioned "Rule of 2" appears here again--in general a roll of 1 or 2 does the trick, exceptional ability scores notwithstanding), as well as the difference between concealed or secret doors, and the means by which characters might find the mechanism that operates the secret door--in first edition, just finding the door didn't mean you could go through. You also had to figure out how to work the damn thing.  Something else I kind of dig that's been lost. 

The example of play itself, written like the script of a play, is quite detailed and a good primer on running a game overall, as it includes not only basic combat (which, by the way, is WAY faster than in later editions), but things like DMs making judgement calls when necessary (how does the fighter manage to grab that scroll tube that's washing away down a rapid stream?  The DM decides it has AC 4: make a hit roll, fighter!) to surprise and just how devastating it can be when a low-level gnome sticks his head into an alcove and finds himself surprised by four ghouls. Two words for you: Dead Gnome.

Overall, this is an incredibly informative, well-presented, and useful section of the rules that should not be glossed over, even for experienced DMs.

That's all for this installment.  Next up: NON-PLAYER CHARACTERS.

1 comment:

  1. Good to hear from you again!

    Yeah, I agree that the example of play is particularly instructive for describing what "old-school" play is like. More people should read it with an eye to understanding what adventure gaming is all about.