Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Go Back...Go Waaaaaay Back...

Lately, I've been on an OD&D kick where I read and analyze the original booklets for the game.

Yes, the ORIGINAL booklets for the game. Those three magical tomes that changed the mundane world forevermore.

My reasons are largely of a scholarly nature. I'd like to examine what made the original D&D game what it was. Those qualities that have evolved or disappeared entirely, as well as the essential elements that continue to shape the game today.

One of the main differences between OD&D and D&D "today" seems to be the adventure. OD&D was all about it. Adventure - as opposed to, say...building a cool fantasy superhero destined to advance a minimum of twenty levels and become like unto a veritable demigod by the time he or she reaches their experience level teens. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

There isn't. Really. I've been playing and DMing this game a good long time and I'm here to tell you the later editions of the game are not bad. Some may be bad for pulp-style heroic adventuring, but not bad in themselves.

It depends on what your particular fantasy RPG thrill happens to be.

Sometimes, it is all about the adventure. For those times, I look back - not ahead. When I want a hack-and-solve dungeon adventure, I'm not going to crack open a D20 book. I want something held together with staples. I want something with a framework of rules I can build upon. Rules that allow a player to bash together a character in less time than it takes to eat an entire bag of Doritos™ or consume a 2-liter Mt. Dew™. 

Because that character might not survive the first adventure. And that's okay too.

...Maybe they'll die by goblin axe...



  ...Perhaps a trap will do them in.

Odds are, something will get them before too long. This makes every victory and level gain that much sweeter. You feel like a real hero when you've fought and struggled for every bonus or experience point. Surviving a deadly dungeon becomes a point of pride instead of just another game session. That's what OD&D means to me. Legends - not feats. Danger - not encounter balance. Heroes - not collections of modifiers. I saw players more involved and motivated before hardback bindings than I have during all the years since. When you're not busy adding up bonuses, you have more time to think a problem through. I'm tempted to start some mold growing on my grid mat to give encounters a more realistic feel.

I mean, there's just something deviously fun about drafting and crafting dungeons. Yeah, I know they're not terribly realistic or historically accurate. That's why this is no longer Chainmail. This is DUNGEONS and Dragons. It's right there in the name. It isn't misleading advertising. What you see is what you get. And what you'll be getting is a dark and deadly underworld of hero-forging adventure. Early DMs tended to be incredibly creative because they didn't have much choice. There weren't shelfloads of shiny and expensive full-color books detailing countless pre-made campaign settings. It all hadn't been done to death yet. Nobody knew what lay behind the next corner, or beyond that locked door.

Yes, there's a whole world beyond the dungeon. No one is trying to say there can't be adventure aboveground, or even in town. In fact, Tome the Third tells us:

The so-called Wilderness really consists of unexplored land, cities and castles, not
to mention the area immediately surrounding the castle (ruined or otherwise)
which housed the dungeons. The referee must do several things in order to conduct
wilderness adventure games. First, he must have a ground level map of his
dungeons, a map of the terrain immediately surrounding this, and finally a map
of the town or village closest to the dungeons (where adventruers will be most
likely to base themselves).

"Blackmoor" is a village of small size (a one-horse town), while "Grayhawk" is a
large city. Both have maps with streets and buildings indicated, and players can
have town adventures roaming around the bazaars, inns, taverns, shops, temples,
and so on. Venture into the Thieves' Quarter only at your own risk!
The terrain beyond the immediate surroundings of the dungeon area should be unknown
to all but the referee. Off-hand adventures in the wilderness are made on
the OUTDOOR SURVIVAL playing board (explained below). Exploratory journies,
such as expeditions to find land suitable for a castle or in search of some
legendary treasure are handled in an entirely different manner.

And, so we did.

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