Musings on Game Design and Revisiting AD&D 1st Edition: Initiative #DnD #RPG #ADnD

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Introduction to Each Post in This Series

On Friday (July 23, 2021), I mentioned that I was relearning AD&D 1st Edition (“1e“) with the intention of running it. As I read through the Player’s Handbook (“PHB“), certain mechanics or text will strike me as odd or surprising, but in either case worthy of discussion. In fact, the most surprising thing I’m experiencing is that I’m finding a lot more great ideas in 1e that we’ve since abandoned. I find myself asking, “Why?” As a result, I’ll be writing several posts over the next few weeks. I’m sure everything I’m thinking has been discussed before — sometimes be me — so perhaps my questions have been answered, and my concerns resolved, years ago. My experience with RPGs is relatively limited in scope, having played a small number of games, so I’m sure a lot of what I’m going to say has been incorporated into games I’ve never even heard of. (Some have certainly been addressed by future editions of D&D themselves.) Nevertheless, bringing this directed conversation to the public is new to me, so here it goes.

Posts in this series: | My Playlist | Campaign Settings and Pantheons | Languages | Level | “Dead Levels” | Division of Labor, Distance, and Time | Initiative | Combat Subsytems |

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Initiative in 1e starts off simply but doesn’t stay there. Each side gets a single roll, but each character deals with that roll differently. Characters may add bonuses or penalties based on their Dexterity scores and, if a character has multiple attacks per round, staggers those attacks. For example, if a character attacks twice per round, and its enemy attacks once per round, then then character attacks first and third in the round. Maybe. It depends in part on surprise. The net effect is that, unlike every other RPG I’ve ever played, initiative affects combat resolution but isn’t dispositive of it. Instead, other things largely determine combat order, and where there’s a tie, initiative breaks that tie. I was so confused by the writing that I posted to various social media outlets looking for clarification. Even worse, rules aren’t presented in a couple of paragraphs under an appropriate header. Instead, the rules for initiative are found in two different places in the Players Handbook, and elsewhere in the Dungeon Master’s Guide. This isn’t uncommon. Optional rules are in Unearthed Arcana. You really have to do a lot of research just to get the rule for initiative, and that’s just a small part of combat as a whole.

To get clarity, I often go to the Facebook and MeWe hiveminds. Unsurprisingly, there was only a sliver of consensus in the responses I received from my question on initiative, so other people’s interpretation of the initiative rules as written still left me confused. In the end, here was the best response I received from Pete on Facebook (referencing the entire ruleset):

The rules are crazy complex, have some bizarrely overpowered aspects, and tons of exceptions and unexplained aspects. I found it best to take what I liked, toss out what I didn’t, write up my initiative system on my game wiki so everyone understood it, and play like that.

This makes sense, except there are some real issues with rewriting initiative. Many spells have casting times given in segments, so you can’t ignore those divisions of a turn unless you want to rewrite a lot of 1e rules. No thanks. Fortunately, David Prata did a lot of research and work to clarify and summarize the entire combat system, complete with references in the footnotes. The linked document seems like the kind of thing I’d write — it’s a 20-page outline with footnotes — and it makes the system a lot easier to understand.

Why is this a big deal to me?

True story.

Among the many reasons I’ve stopped playing D&D, I don’t like DMs that treat the game like it’s their table, and not our table. I never intentionally DM like that, which means, in part, the rules should be open and understandable to everyone.

So, my current plan is to stick with initiative as is. Once I get the hang of it, it should be fine. However, tomorrow I’ll discuss some other aspects of the combat system, and the push and pull between strict and flexible systems. As with languages, 1e has some really good things to offer that modern game designers have left behind.

My table is a constitutional democracy, and the rules can be deemed void for vagueness (see Skilling v. United States, 130 S.Ct. 2896 (2010)).

Follow me on Twitter @gsllc

Dungeons & Dragons is a trademark of Wizards of the Coast, LLC, who neither contributed to nor endorsed the contents of this post. (Okay, jackasses?)

Musings on Game Design and Revisiting AD&D 1st Edition: Division of Labor, Distance, and Time #DnD #RPG #ADnD

If you enjoy this post, please retweet it.

Introduction to Each Post in This Series

On Friday (July 23, 2021), I mentioned that I was relearning AD&D 1st Edition (“1e“) with the intention of running it. As I read through the Player’s Handbook (“PHB“), certain mechanics or text will strike me as odd or surprising, but in either case worthy of discussion. In fact, the most surprising thing I’m experiencing is that I’m finding a lot more great ideas in 1e that we’ve since abandoned. I find myself asking, “Why?” As a result, I’ll be writing several posts over the next few weeks. I’m sure everything I’m thinking has been discussed before — sometimes by me — so perhaps my questions have been answered, and my concerns resolved, years ago. My experience with RPGs is relatively limited in scope, having played a small number of games, so I’m sure a lot of what I’m going to say has been incorporated into games I’ve never even heard of. (Some have certainly been addressed by future editions of D&D themselves.) Nevertheless, bringing this directed conversation to the public is new to me, so here it goes.

Posts in this series: | My Playlist | Campaign Settings and Pantheons | Languages | Level | “Dead Levels” | Division of Labor, Distance, and Time | Initiative | Combat Subsytems |

This post covers three topics, but the division of labor is short.

Division of Labor

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I’m a controller!

Over on Facebook, someone replied to one of my 1e posts with the following:

“I find the biggest difference in 1st Ed is how essential the thief class is, because there is no option for anyone else learning their skills. In later editions, it was relatively easy to work rogue skills like stealth, climbing, and trap detection into other classes.”

— Rick

That’s the entire quote, and I didn’t think to ask whether he’s saying it’s a good thing or a bad thing, but I think it’s a good thing. I also suspect Rick has never played 4th Edition D&D (“4e“). 🙂 4e went out of its way to make the division of labor clear by identifying each class as a defender, leader, striker, or controller. 1e inherently did the same because there were only a few classes (some with subclasses) that were noticeably different. I prefer this because in order for a character to shine, a character needs a specific set of circumstances that it, and not others, was well suited to address. A clear division of labor inevitably leads to moments where one character has a chance to shine above all others. That’s the very essence of heroism. Bravo, 1e, but for systems with far more classes, expressly stated categories may be helpful.

Units

And now it’s time for something completely uncontroversial: 1e was a tangled mess of confusing units. In combat situations, a character with movement rate of 6″ could move 6′ in a segment.

Wait, what? Why? Why not just say 6′? I’m pretty sure I know the answer. These guys were used to using rulers to measure distance on their dining room tables, and as RPGs evolved, the terminology didn’t. Maybe 1″ grid maps didn’t exist yet, but damn that was confusing to 9-year-old me, and why would the nonexistence of 1″ grid maps matter for theater of the mind anyway?

Next we get to outdoor movement. There, a movement rate of 6″ meant that a character could could move 6 miles in “one-half day’s trekking.”

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is image-7.png
Kirk could trek faster.

Okay, this is exposing an elegance in the math, so Lord Gygax is pulling me back in. The same movement rate is applied in a uniform rate to different situations even if the precise choices defy logic.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is image-9.png
Spock does not approve of defying logic.

That makes things easier but still doesn’t justify using a quotation mark instead of an apostrophe. We’re bound to associate the movement rate with what we expect the character to move, rather than what we expect the player will measure with his ruler. Not that it would matter, because indoors, 1″ = 10 feet, whereas outdoors 1″ = 10 yards (PHB, page 39).

Wait, what? Why? You’ve lost me again, Lord Gygax. I get it. You want to say that the range of a bow is always 210″ even though the indoors made archery more difficult, but handling the numbers this way is counter-intuitive. Just say that the range of a bow is 210′ indoors and 630′ outdoors, because that’s exactly what you mean. Even wargamers shouldn’t have a hard time adjusting to this. By converting everything from inches to feet, what do we lose? We lose a uniform statement as to distance. That is, 210″ will no longer be the range of the bow in all cases. However, I could live with that. There’s a reason this was abandoned by . . . everyone, I think.

Time

In adventuring below ground, a turn in a dungeon lasts 10 minutes . . . . In combat, the turn is further divided into 10 melee rounds, or simply rounds. Rounds are subdivided into 10 segments. . . .

PHB, page 39

I really don’t miss this. When you ask the DM whether it’s time for you to go, what do you say? “Is it my turn yet?” How about we just call each time a player acts as its turn (an abstraction), and, since we’re going around the table taking our turns, a full set of turns a round (6 seconds, because in truth they’re all going at the same time, so it’s all crammed into 6 seconds)? Ah, but then we’d have to call 10 minute periods 10 rounds! It appears Lord Gygax didn’t believe we could multiply or divide by 10 in our heads. Well, we can, so now we do. Besides, who cares about 10 minutes when you’re in a battle that usually takes less than 5 minutes to resolve?

Nevertheless, as I’ll discuss in my next post on 1e, segments are deeply embedded into the fabric of the game. We can’t get rid of them without a major rewrite of the rules. I, for one, am not willing to do that, and they don’t ruin the game for me.

Gratuitous Star Trek >> Star Wars image.

This post was clearly about weaknesses of 1e rather than its strengths. It’s impossible to write or talk about any system without landing on its weaknesses. 1e clearly had more of the former than the latter, but that’s exactly what you should expect from a pioneer.

Thank you, Lord Gygax, for running those bases.

Follow me on Twitter @gsllc


Dungeons & Dragons and is a trademark of Wizards of the Coast, LLC, who neither contributed to nor endorsed the contents of this post. (Okay, jackasses?)

Musings on Game Design and Revisiting AD&D 1st Edition: “Dead Levels” @DelveRPG #DnD #RPG #ADnD

If you enjoy this post, please retweet it.

Introduction to Each Post in This Series

On Friday (July 23, 2021), I mentioned that I was relearning AD&D 1st Edition (“1e“) with the intention of running it. As I read through the Player’s Handbook (“PHB“), certain mechanics or text will strike me as odd or surprising, but in either case worthy of discussion. In fact, the most surprising thing I’m experiencing is that I’m finding a lot more great ideas in 1e that we’ve since abandoned. I find myself asking, “Why?” As a result, I’ll be writing several posts over the next few weeks. I’m sure everything I’m thinking has been discussed before — sometimes by me — so perhaps my questions have been answered, and my concerns resolved, years ago. My experience with RPGs is relatively limited in scope, having played a small number of games, so I’m sure a lot of what I’m going to say has been incorporated into games I’ve never even heard of. (Some have certainly been addressed by future editions of D&D themselves.) Nevertheless, bringing this directed conversation to the public is new to me, so here it goes.

Posts in this series: | My Playlist | Campaign Settings and Pantheons | Languages | Level | “Dead Levels” | Division of Labor, Distance, and Time | Initiative |Combat Subsytems |

I’m an Asshole

In light of yesterday’s post on the inconvenience caused by having multiple uses of the word, “level,” I purposely added a fifth in the title of this post.

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When I say, “dead levels,” I’m referring to ability scores. Point buy has become the favored means to determine your base ability scores, but it always results in a stray +1 that in turn results in one odd ability score. This, of course, seems like a wasted value. I know my cleric is wiser than yours, but it doesn’t play out in any meaningful way. That can be a mild source of frustration adding to a chorus of frustrating sacred cows of game design. Interestingly enough, AD&D does a better job avoiding this problem despite a greater range of valid player character scores. The solution: Bring dead levels to life.

Okay, enough calling it a “dead level.” Instead, I’ll borrow from grammar and refer to it as a “dangling ability point.”

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“Dead level” it is!

Some Oppportunities

One such opportunity to bring a dead level to life is with languages. As I said recently, I want to see players have the opportunity to speak an amount of languages beyond common, and a dead level in intelligence is the perfect place to add some. Very simply, if your character winds up with a 13 in Intelligence, they know an extra language. If your character winds up with a 15 intelligence, they know yet another extra language, or maybe two. This would apply at character creation, but depending on your design philosophy could also apply when a character increases their Intelligence through leveling up or magic. Because these adjustments occur during downtime, it’s not a burden on the player. All it does is give the player a further opportunity to flesh out their character.

Another opportunity is with poison resistance. A dead level of Constitution could grant a character a very minor poison resistance that stacks with all other sources of poison resistance. This wouldn’t be enough to create a huge mechanical difference, but it technically would create a mechanical boon that logically follows from the nature of the higher Constitution score. It remains more flavor that mechanics, clearly distinguishing the character from other characters for which other choices were made.

These two examples show how a player can really flesh out their character concept, and how the relationship between mechanics and character concept can be reciprocal. For example, a player’s character concept could be that of a dwarven ranger with a tragic backstory involving giants. Ergo, the ranger’s favored enemy is giant. Moreover, the player boosts the ranger’s con score because a adding poison resistance to a dwarven woodsman (that sounds weird) makes sense. However, the ranger now has one point to place in another ability. The player puts it in Strength, and suddenly the ranger has a small amount of necrotic resistance. That feeds the backstory, giving the player the idea that the leader of the giants was vampiric. On the other hand, perhaps the player is playing in Ravenloft or otherwise knows that the campaign will use a larger than average number of undead. In that case, the needs of the campaign can be fulfilled by the player’s choice as to where to place the extra point. This isn’t a novel idea; it’s just one more opportunity for it to manifest.

Still Simple

As I said, neither of these two design elements make character creation or management significantly more difficult, but they give players yet another opportunity to fine tune their character designs. Not everyone agrees. I had a too-brief argument with Stephen Radney-MacFarland about this last February at Winter Fantasy. It got sidetracked by other attendees of the Zoom room long before either of us could state our positions with any level of detail. Maybe this post will rekindle that argument.

Where I suspect Stephen and I might agree is that ability scores certainly shouldn’t range from 3 to 18. That range originates from the need to create a perfect bell curve for random ability generation, and 3d6 was the only way to do that. Even D&D itself acknowledges how foolish that is, having all but eliminated scores below 8 as being possible for PCs (neither point buy nor standard arrays allow for it, and 4d6 drop 1 is a conscious attempt to make it rarer). WotC probably keeps the scores in that range for historical reasons and for allowing random generation to still be a thing. It certainly allows us to acknowledge that tigers are smarter than spiders. None of those reasons are compelling justifications to me. So, D&D scores actually run from 8 to 18, which means they should run from 0 to 10. For the record, I hate negative ability score modifiers, so I’d prefer 10 to 18, which maps to 0 to 8, but the math for a different game system may have a more appropriate range. The point is to go from 0 to X rather than 7.5 to the square root of 300. If you really want random generation of those numbers to follow a bell curve, force it through use of a table that maps a d100 roll to an ability score. I haven’t worked out the math on this yet, but instead you could add 1d8-1 (treating negatives as 0) to 8. This would on average generate numbers (15, 14, 12, 10, 10, 8) that could almost maps to the standard array from 5e (15, 14, 13, 10, 10, 8), but would be weighted too much towards the middle. Being able to freely transfer points among the scores would fix that, but if we’re doing that, just roll a 2d12 to generate a random pool of points that can be added to starting ability scores of 7 across the board. I’m certain we could work out a better die roll than these.

A Hippie’s Bad Idea

Stephen’s solution to dead levels is to eliminate them altogether. Your ability bonus is your ability score, such that your Strength is (+)2, your Dexterity is (+)1, and so on. This not only eliminates the dead level but also eliminates the math you have to do to calculate your ability score bonus. Dragon Age RPG uses this method, and I enjoyed that game. It also limits the difference between characters’ ability bonuses to 5 or 6 (I’m not sure what the range is in DelveRPG), which is a good thing I’ll address in a future post. Finally, if Stephen wants to give poison resistances, languages, etc. based on ability scores, he can still do that. However, that math isn’t that hard, and once you resurrect those dead levels, you’re creating a solution for a problem that no longer exists. I also suspect that most players would prefer a range from 0 to 10 more than they would 0 to 5 (or 6). That would make players feel that there’s a greater distinction between the characters, and filling in dead levels certainly feeds both that perception and reality without screwing up the math.

Ultimately, I suspect either way works just as well as the other, so Stephen shouldn’t be rushing to redesign DelveRPG. But don’t be too kind to Stephen. The man is a liar. I never said I didn’t appreciate Desperadoes Under the Eaves. I just said that it wasn’t my favorite Warren Zevon song, and as a lawyer, how could it be? Dirty hippie.

I told you I was an asshole.

Follow me on Twitter @gsllc
Follow Stephen through Delve RPG @DelveRPG


Dungeons & Dragons is a trademark of Wizards of the Coast, LLC, who neither contributed to nor endorsed the contents of this post. (Okay, jackasses?)

Musings on Game Design and Revisiting AD&D 1st Edition: “Level” @DelveRPG #DnD #RPG #ADnD

If you enjoy this post, please retweet it.

Introduction to Each Post in This Series

On Friday (July 23, 2021), I mentioned that I was relearning AD&D 1st Edition (“1e“) with the intention of running it. As I read through the Player’s Handbook (“PHB“), certain mechanics or text will strike me as odd or surprising, but in either case worthy of discussion. In fact, the most surprising thing I’m experiencing is that I’m finding a lot more great ideas in 1e that we’ve since abandoned. I find myself asking, “Why?” As a result, I’ll be writing several posts over the next few weeks. I’m sure everything I’m thinking has been discussed before — sometimes by me — so perhaps my questions have been answered, and my concerns resolved, years ago. My experience with RPGs is relatively limited in scope, having played a small number of games, so I’m sure a lot of what I’m going to say has been incorporated into games I’ve never even heard of. (Some have certainly been addressed by future editions of D&D themselves.) Nevertheless, bringing this directed conversation to the public is new to me, so here it goes.

Posts in this series: | My Playlist | Campaign Settings and Pantheons | Languages | Level | “Dead Levels” | Division of Labor, Distance, and Time | Initiative |Combat Subsytems |

Homonyms Suck

We all know the problem caused by having multiple uses of the word, “level.” Surprisingly enough (to me, at least), this was acknowledged by Gary Gygax in the 1e PHB.

It was initially contemplated to term character power as rank, spell complexity was to be termed power, and monster strength was to be termed as order. Thus, instead of a 9th level character encountering a 7th level monster on the 8th dungeon level and attacking it with a 4th level spell, the terminology would have been: A 9th rank character encountered a 7th order monster on the 8th (dungeon) level and attached it with a 4th power spell.

PHB, Page 8

Before I compliment this idea, I want to pull back a little bit. First, observe that it reads “to term character power as,” and then concludes that “power” would have been the term used to refer to spell level. It also refers to monster “strength,” which could be confused with the ability, but that’s not my point. I’m noting how interchangeable these terms are. If the ability, Strength, were instead labeled, “Might,” then strength is another reasonable substitute for level. There were a lot of options. Moreover, it introduces another term, “complexity,” that would certainly fit as a replacement for for a spell’s “level.” That’s more an observation than a criticism. Second, I don’t even see the need for “order” as a replacement for monster level; in fact, I’d advise against it. Characters and monsters are using “level” in the same exact way both semantically and mathematically, so there’s no need to use different terms for their “level.” This makes it even easier to clean up this linguistic shit pile with a result that’s a slight bit easier to memorize.

What’s done is done, but I’m not one with much love for sacred cows of game design. They impede its evolution and probably result from a fear of experimentation, or at least a perception of too much experimentation. So, I wish game designers, including Wizards of the Coast, would show a little more courage and abandon this ambiguous terminology. We clearly have several options, each of which would remove any ambiguity from the game, and in some cases would actually sound better.

So what happened? Why did D&D keep the ambiguity and doom us to this confusing terminology for decades? Because of this “logic.”

However, because of existing usage, level is retained throughout with all four meanings, and it is not as confusing as it may now seem.

PHB, page 8

I have two problems with this statement. First, “existing usage”? By whom? Wargamers? Gygax, et al. must have known that they were on to something different, and this was the very start of it. This is the precise time when you should make changes. Only the established players, which you know you’re going to play anyway, will have difficulty making the switch, but they’re expecting differences, so they’re prepared to do so. New players won’t know what they’re missing, which is good, because what they’re missing is ambiguity that would drive them nuts for decades. Sadly, that’s exactly what everyone got and are still getting.

The second problem with the statement is that the claim that it isn’t as confusing as it may now seem. Who is Gygax trying to convince here, you or himself? He clearly knows it’s exactly as confusing as it seems, which is why he has to address it. What he’s really saying is that he doesn’t want to have to learn new terminology, and he knows that eventually it won’t be a big deal … because it isn’t. I’m overstating how confusing this is. It’s not that hard to keep track, especially after you’ve gotten the hang of the game, but it is a potential barrier to entry, and all those small barriers add up. Those barriers don’t affect a trailblazer, but it does affect the decisions made by current game designers, so it’s relevant. The issue therefore is where to strike the balance between ambiguity and volume. In this case, I think having to learn a couple extra words is easier for a new player than having to keep track of different meanings of the same word, which can always create mild confusion even after everyone is used to it. If I were wrong, comic strips wouldn’t still ridicule it to this day. Either option is ultimately okay, but I stand by my request of game designers. My personal choice would be:

A 9th order character encountered a 7th order monster on the 8th (dungeon) level and attacked it with a 4th [either power or complexity] spell.

Sure, it sounds stilted today, but once we’re used to it, it would actually sound cool. That’s why I referred to courage above. A designer would have to weather that initial storm of complaints. By the way, I didn’t choose “rank” for characters or monsters because that could be confused with a “fighter’s” military rank. There’s no need to muddy the waters even further. I admit, however, that this shows that there will always be at least a small amount of ambiguity, especially when comparing mechanics with story elements (e.g., the Order of the Gauntlet). Certainly power wouldn’t work in 4th Edition D&D (i.e., “A power of 4th power”). I concede this inevitability, but my opinion on this particular issue in this particular context stands firm.

Tomorrow, I take things to a new level . . . and pick on a friend.

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Dungeons & Dragons and Ravenloft are trademarks of Wizards of the Coast, LLC, who neither contributed to nor endorsed the contents of this post. (Okay, jackasses?)

Musings on Game Design and Revisiting AD&D 1st Edition: Languages #DnD #RPG #ADnD

If you enjoy this post, please retweet it.

Introduction to Each Post in This Series

On Friday (July 23, 2021), I mentioned that I was relearning AD&D 1st Edition (“1e“) with the intention of running it. As I read through the Player’s Handbook (“PHB“), certain mechanics or text will strike me as odd or surprising, but in either case worthy of discussion. In fact, the most surprising thing I’m experiencing is that I’m finding a lot more great ideas in 1e that we’ve since abandoned. I find myself asking, “Why?” As a result, I’ll be writing several posts over the next few weeks. I’m sure everything I’m thinking has been discussed before — sometimes by me — so perhaps my questions have been answered, and my concerns resolved, years ago. My experience with RPGs is relatively limited in scope, having played a small number of games, so I’m sure a lot of what I’m going to say has been incorporated into games I’ve never even heard of. (Some have certainly been addressed by future editions of D&D themselves.) Nevertheless, bringing this directed conversation to the public is new to me, so here it goes.Posts in this series:

| My Playlist | Campaign Settings and Pantheons | Languages | Level | “Dead Levels” | Division of Labor, Distance, and Time | Initiative |Combat Subsytems |

Languages

So this post is my first substantive post in this series actually on game mechanics, and completely by coincidence, it came on the best day possible.

Celebrating Gary Gygax Day, Happy Birthday To The Late Gary Gygax | DDO  Players
Seriously, I just found out about this yesterday.

Thursday night, I tweeted the following:

This is (yet another) something that’s bugged me for a while. Think of the Fellowship of the Ring trying to get into the mines of Moria. Imagine if none of them spoke Elven. That’d be quite an inconvenience (especially for Legalos). Sure, they could head back to the mountains, and because it was a movie, the audience could ignore the time that passes, but it really would have been a pain in the ass. A game system should be built such that it’s likely at least one of the characters speaks Elven so that in such a situation the story doesn’t pause, drag out unbearably, or outright end. This would instead give one of those players a chance to shine, jumping in as the one person that speaks the language in question. Once we get past that language barrier, then we enter the real fun of solving the riddle.

1e gets this right. A high intelligence score grants a player extra languages as a bonus to the other mechanical benefits you received from that score. That is, languages didn’t have a cost. To my recollection, unlike 4the Edition D&D, which made Abyssal and Supernal inaccessible at character creation, the language chosen could be any language in the game. You could choose for the long haul, but if the party missed one, by the time they needed a language like that, casting Comprehend Languages was trivial (i.e., it still had a very low cost).

Additionally, no matter their intelligence, certain characters get a long list of known languages. Looking at the non-human races of 1e, they all speak several languages even if their intelligences are low. In addition to their alignment language, elves speak elvish (duh), gnome, halfling, goblin, hobgoblin, orcish, gnoll, and common. The list for half-elves is the same. The list for gnomes is dwarvish, gnome, halfling, goblin, and kobold, plus they can communicate with any burrowing animal to the extent that animal can understand. The other non-human races have such lists, and all of them have other means to learn additional languages. Alignment languages may be overkill, but having Thieves’ Cant is an awesome idea. Druidic? Not so much. I’d call that piling on to a cool idea, and thus more overkill. Doing something cool too many times is uncool. YMMV.

If you find yourself asking why I’m making such a big deal out of this, ask instead why game designers are. Everything has to have a cost, including languages. In 3.5 Edition D&D, you could buy a language with skill points, but that would cost as much as your points in mechanically important skills like Hide, Spellcraft, or Tumble. By associating such a cost with flavor elements, flavor gave way to mechanics, and the story we were telling came down to a die roll instead of a creative character element. Perhaps instead of a character’s backstory providing a means to explain their entry into the mines of Moria, the DM was forced to pull out a deus ex machina so that everyone could keep playing. That’s cheap and robs players of their accomplishments.

I suspect most of you agree with at least the broad strokes of this argument but handle it by avoiding situations in which knowing a language is the only way to push the story forward. You may instead allow intelligence-based skill checks to figure out the script, but that means only the smart characters get to shine in this regard, and it dilutes the value of, for example, the 5th Edition D&D Linguist feat even if someone is willing to pay such a cost. Game designers, not players, are in the best position to fix this, and they should. Maybe they have in some games, but not in any I’ve ever played.

On rare occassions, the best way to move forward is to move backwards.

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Dungeons & Dragons is a trademark of Wizards of the Coast, LLC, who neither contributed to nor endorsed the contents of this post. (Okay, jackasses?)

Musings on Game Design and Revisiting AD&D 1st Edition: Campaign Settings and Pantheons @Luddite_Vic #DnD #RPG #ADnD #MythologyMonday #MythologyMonandæg

If you enjoy this post, please retweet it.

Introduction to Each Post in This Series

On Friday (July 23, 2021), I mentioned that I was relearning AD&D 1st Edition (“1e“) with the intention of running it. As I read through the Player’s Handbook (“PHB“), certain mechanics or text will strike me as odd or surprising, but in either case worthy of discussion. In fact, the most surprising thing I’m experiencing is that I’m finding a lot more great ideas in 1e that we’ve since abandoned. I find myself asking, “Why?” As a result, I’ll be writing several posts over the next few weeks. I’m sure everything I’m thinking has been discussed before — sometimes be me — so perhaps my questions have been answered, and my concerns resolved, years ago. My experience with RPGs is relatively limited in scope, having played a small number of games, so I’m sure a lot of what I’m going to say has been incorporated into games I’ve never even heard of. (Some have certainly been addressed by future editions of D&D themselves.) Nevertheless, bringing this directed conversation to the public is new to me, so here it goes.

Posts in this series: | My Playlist | Campaign Settings and Pantheons | Languages | Level | “Dead Levels” | Division of Labor, Distance, and Time | Initiative |Combat Subsytems |

As with my prior post, this post was written yesterday (7/25). That makes it the eighth post I’ve written in the series. It’s out of order because Mondays are for mythology, and writing something relevant to both topics is easy. So, here comes session 0.5.

A friend (Vic) and I are designing an RPG system. Our design sessions are months apart, so don’t expect this system to ever see the commercial light of day. It’s a fun exercise, so if nothing ever comes of it, I won’t feel I’ve wasted my time. As I was doing my homework on the campaign setting, a memory came to mind. In the original 1e Deities & Demigods, the chief god of the Egyptian pantheon was Ra. By 3rd Edition, it was Re-Horakhty (f/k/a, Horus). This switch mirrors the real-world switch of ancient Egypt. What we call the Egyptian empire lasted almost 3,000 years, and during those 30 centuries different dynasties held control. These dynasties were devoted to different temples, so as the dynasties rose and fell, so did the influence of the temples. Thus, the god seen as chief among the pantheon changed.

A Controversial Opinion?

As broad a view as that is, let’s go even broader and tie this to campaign setting design. First, I want to say that I believe campaign settings should be system agnostic, and game systems should be campaign setting agnostic. That is, if I want to run a campaign in the Forgotten Realms using Dragon Age RPG‘s AGE system, there’s no reason I can’t do it. Maybe I need to do a little tweaking to run Legend of the Five Rings using the Savage Worlds system, but if I can’t, the fault is on the system. Systems can and should be flexible enough to accommodate whatever story elements are needed. GMs, or at least the game designers themselves, could write a patch that addresses the needs of another setting. 1e is open-ended enough that you might think it was suited to this task, but I’m not certain that’s true. In any event, this opinion may or may not be well-received by game designers, but that’s not the point of this post; it’s just stated to give you context for my point.

A Long, Long Time Ago . . . .

Going back to my design efforts, I thought, “What if players wanted to play my game in a low-magic setting? That would certainly work in a more primitive campaign setting.” If we were inclined to create such a setting, why start from scratch? Why not just take the high-magic setting and make it more primitive? For example, the gods of the moon, sun, and sky would be the same god in a simplified pantheon. Not only would this save us a lot of work, but one setting would represent the natural evolution of the previous one, as that hypothetical god would be split into three different gods as mortals became more civilized and sophisticated. Oddly enough, that sounds like science, which branches out into an ever-increasing number of specialties the more we learn.

But wait! There’s more! A gold mine in a “wild west” setting could uncover archeological sites tied to the fantasy setting that came before it. The same could be said of a World War II setting where an occult-obsessed dictator could be looking for artifacts of great power. Depending on what type of game a DM wants to run, those artifacts could be nothing more than trinkets, or they could actually hold some form of supernatural or scientifically advanced power. Also consider that even in a high-fantasy setting, traveling the “astral plane” can take a character to space. The same setting could be adapted for the far future for a campaign resembling either Star Wars or Star Trek, and similar connections could be made.

What I’m saying is that all the campaign settings could exist as part of the same planet and universe in general. In a sense, it’s an ambitious plan, but in another sense, future efforts would be made easier by taking advantage of the ones that came before them. A large gaming company could easily do that, even one like WotC that’s already established. I suspect many people assume Theros, Faerun, and other planets all exist in the same universe, and the gods just have different names from planet to planet. In fact, I once read (can’t currently prove) that the Olman people from Greyhawk weren’t “like Aztecs,” but rather were Aztecs. Earth and Oerth were linked for some time by an interdimensional portal, so they were the same people. This might have been a fan theory, but clearly these connections are easy to make.

In an ideal world in which Vic or I win the lottery, maybe we’d commit to our efforts full time. If we did, this is definitely an idea I’d want to pursue.

Have any game designers connected campaign settings in this way?

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Dungeons & Dragons and Forgotten Realms are trademarks of Wizards of the Coast, LLC, who neither contributed to nor endorsed the contents of this post. (Okay, jackasses?)

Musings on Game Design and Revisiting AD&D 1st Edition: My AD&D Playlist #DnD #RPG #ADnD #music

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Introduction to Each Post in This Series

On Friday (July 23, 2021), I mentioned that I was relearning AD&D 1st Edition (“1e“) with the intention of running it. As I read through the Player’s Handbook (“PHB“), certain mechanics or text will strike me as odd or surprising, but in either case worthy of discussion. In fact, the most surprising thing I’m experiencing is that I’m finding a lot more great ideas in 1e that we’ve since abandoned. I find myself asking, “Why?” As a result, I’ll be writing several posts over the next few weeks. I’m sure everything I’m thinking has been discussed before — sometimes be me — so perhaps my questions have been answered, and my concerns resolved, years ago. My experience with RPGs is relatively limited in scope, having played a small number of games, so I’m sure a lot of what I’m going to say has been incorporated into games I’ve never even heard of. (Some have certainly been addressed by future editions of D&D themselves.) Nevertheless, bringing this directed conversation to the public is new to me, so here it goes.

Posts in this series: | My Playlist | Campaign Settings and Pantheons | Languages | Level | “Dead Levels” | Division of Labor, Distance, and Time | Initiative |Combat Subsytems |

That was a big build up. I hope this doesn’t disappoint. This post was written today (7/25), which means it’s actually the seventh post I wrote in the series. Why am I front-loading it? Because Sundays are always reserved for posts that celebrate other people’s thoughts, deeds, or work; something silly; some of the above; or all of the above. That, and not game theory, is what this post is about. You should expect the same tomorrow, as Mondays are reserved for mythology. So, consider the next two days sessions 0 and 0.5 if you will.

Like all of you, when I hear a song, it takes me back to the time I first heard it and/or listened to it the most. As a result, there are a lot of songs that bring me back to 1e that wouldn’t necessarily put high fantasy into your brain. Nevertheless, if I’m at the gaming table, I don’t want to hear the 1812 Overture, the Anvil of Crom, or even Sisters of the Moon (a later-discovered song) by one of my two favorite bands, Fleetwood Mac. No, these specific versions of these songs are what I want to hear. While gaming. Seriously.

  1. Limelight, Spirit of the Radio, and Closer to the Heart by Rush;
  2. Sweet Dreams and The One That You Love by Air Supply;
  3. While You See a Chance by Stevie Winwood;
  4. Sara, Monday Morning, and Say You Love Me, Not That Funny, Rhiannon (one of the strongest vocal performances I’ve ever heard), and Landslide by Fleetwood Mac;
  5. Literally anything off of Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors album;
  6. Turn Your Love Around and Give Me the Night by George Benson;
  7. Just Between You and Me and Sign of the Gypsy Queen by April Wine;
  8. Almost any song I can name by Triumph, but especially Magic Power and Fight the Good Fight;
  9. The Voice and Gemini Dream by the Moody Blues;
  10. Find Your Way Back and Jane by Jefferson Starship
  11. Ebony Eyes by Bob Welch;
  12. Don’t Fear the Reaper and Burning for You by Blue Oyster Cult;
  13. Babe and Best of Times by Styx;
  14. Lady by the Little River Band;
  15. Crazy Little Thing Called Love by Queen;
  16. Another Brick in the Wall Part 2 by Pink Floyd;
  17. Games People Play by the Alan Parsons Project;
  18. Refugee by Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers;
  19. Almost every song off of Foreigner’s album, Four;
  20. Every song from Asia’s debut album;
  21. Point of No Return by Kansas;
  22. Hold on Loosely, by .38 Special;
  23. Blinded by the Light and For You by Manfred Mann’s Earth Band; and
  24. Tragedy by the Bee Gees

I’m sure I’m forgetting a few big ones. I’ll add them as I think of them.

There’s a surprising number of songs on this list released in 1981/1982, which is the last year I played until 2005. I wonder what it says about me that I have the strongest association with songs that were there at the very end before the Satanic Panic kicked my ass. Probably that I’m a sociopath. That would check out.

Just order some pizza and put that shit on continuous loop, and I’ll keep playing the entire weekend nonstop.

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Dungeons & Dragons is a trademark of Wizards of the Coast, LLC, who neither contributed to nor endorsed the contents of this post. (Okay, jackasses?)

Cat D&D #Caturday #DnD #RPG

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I’ve been writing a ton of content over the past few days. I’ve recently decided to try my hand at a return to 1st Edition D&D, and I’ve already finished four posts, and started two, containing my impressions of the system. As a result, I’ve got nothing for Caturday today except these.

Uhh, guilty...: dndmemes
That’s some fine-ass spelling right thar.
Attack of the D&D / RPG Memes! - SHANE PLAYS
This is an offensive, back-handed compliment.
Nerdovore: Rogue Cleric Cat
Cats were made for this game.

Caturday!

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A Return to AD&D? #DnD #RPG #ADnD

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Dungeons And Dragons Dice - Stock Video | Motion Array
Stock image care of Motion Array

I’ve recently made a decision that may seem confusing if you’ve read this earlier post. I’m spending this weekend, and however much more time is necessary, reacquainting myself with 1st Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. My intention is to run the game again for the first time in a long while. I have a load of material, so why not make use of it?

There’s a lot of it I’ve never played or run, so I’m hoping that I can find some players that haven’t played whatever mod (aka, adventure) I’m running at the moment. The idea would be to run the mods in isolation just like I did as a kid. If a player wanted to keep a character from one mod to the next, I wouldn’t object to that as long as that character was the appropriate level for the next mod in line. Otherwise, they’d have to hold back on that character for a while. I’m also more than open to allowing one of the players to run one of the mods with which I’m unfamiliar.

In addition to the core books, Deities and Demigods, and the Fiend Folio, here are the mods I have:

  1. The introductory adventure from the Blue Box, level 1.
  2. B1: In Search of the Unknown, levels 1-3, pregens available
  3. B2: The Keep on the Borderlands, levels 1-3 (I’ve played only a small portion of this adventure and don’t know much about it.)
  4. B4: The Lost City, levels 1-3, pregens available (I know nothing about this adventure.)
  5. C1: The Hidden Shrine of Tomoachan, three characters of level 6 (human fighter), 7 (human cleric), and 6/7 (half-elf magic user/thief)
  6. C2: The Ghost Tower of Inverness, levels 5-7, pregens available (My favorite mod, I’ve run this more times than I can count, having converted it to 3.5e, 4e, and 5e.)
  7. D1-D2: Descent into the Depths of the Earth & Shrine of the Kuo-Toa, levels 9-14, pregens available
  8. D3: Vault of the Drow, levels 10-14
  9. G1-2-3: Against the Giants, levels 8-12
  10. I1: Dwellers of the Forbidden City, levels 4-7, pregens available (I know nothing about this adventure.)
  11. L1: The Secret of Bone Hill, levels 2-4, pregens available
  12. L2: The Assassin’s Knot, levels 2-5, pregens available (I know nothing about this adventure.)
  13. Q1: Queen of the Demonweb Pits, levels 10-14
  14. S1: Tomb of Horrors, levels 10-14, pregens available
  15. S2: White Plume Mountain, levels 5-10
  16. S3: Expedition to the Barrier Peaks, levels 8-12, pregens available
  17. S4: The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth, levels 6-10, pregens available (I know nothing about this adventure.)
  18. U1: The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh, levels 1-3, pregens available (I know nothing about this adventure. Seriously, I’ve never read or played it or the recent D&D Adventurer’s League “sequel.”)
  19. WG4: The Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun, levels 5-10 (I know nothing about this adventure other than that it may be connected to T1: The Village of Hommlet, about which I know nothing. Seriously, I’ve never read or played any of the T-series.)

As most of you know, G1-2-3, D1-2-3, and Q1 are a complete series that would convenient to run, but I don’t think there’d be any surprises in them for anyone. The same probably holds true for S3, which is a shame. It’s one of my favorites. Assuming no one objects, I might use Field Folio to spice up some of the encounters, but relearning the game will be most of the work I’m willing to do.

It may prove impossible to find players ignorant to these adventures, but as you can see from my notes above, there are plenty of adventures that would be a complete surprise to me. In fact, I’ve also never played the A-series (slavers). Go figure.

How many would I run? Who knows? There’s a lot of material there, so it’s a question of how long it would take before I grew tired of the mechanics. As for the players, the number of characters varies from mod to mod, as does the players interested in playing them, so I’m not looking for anyone to commit to anything regular. If you wanted to be one and done, that’s fine; after all, I may be one and done. I just want to get at least one table going and see where it goes. With all these restrictions and inconveniences in mind, I’ll add that I’d prefer to play in person (Northern Virginia), but if Zoom is my only option, then so be it.

So, if you’re interested, please let me know which of those mods you’d be eager to play and (be honest) whether you’re already familiar with them.

Note: Starting this Tuesday, July 27, my posts will be on my observations of 1e as I relearn the rules. Saturdays, Sundays, and Mondays are reserved for other things, so the posts will always skip those days. My reading may go slow at times, so they may skip other days, but I suspect this series of posts will span weeks.

If anyone has any suggestions for useful online resources (e.g., character generators, fillable PDFs, “quick rules”), please let me know. I found Dragonsfoot, which is where I’ll start.

Follow me on Twitter @gsllc

Dungeons & Dragons is a trademark of Wizards of the Coast, LLC, who neither contributed to nor endorsed the contents of this post. (Okay, jackasses?)

The Renaissance Faire and Star Trek? @StarTrek @mdrenfest #StarTrek

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The Renaissance Faire was a major part of my young adulthood. My family used to go to the one in Crownsville, MD every year. The impetus was my father, who was a well-read student of history. He’d go there and discuss “current events” with the actors. To their credit, they did fairly well, though they couldn’t out-history him.

I haven’t been there in a long time, but I consider it every year. a It’s ironic that we went as a family considering that I was a victim of the Satanic Panic, and here we were doing something reminiscent of the source of that panic. Well, if I do go again, and the opportunity presents itself (c’mon nerds!), I’ll be ready to add to the irony by adding my favorite intellectual property to the mix (something for which I was similarly ridiculed).

I really wish names weren’t obscured. Everyone deserves to receive credit for their ideas.

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Follow William Shatner @StarTrek
Follow the Maryland Renaissance Faire @mdrenfest