Friday, March 24, 2017

Dis AD&D? Not on My Watch

"You dissin' me?"
Some time ago I came across this littel gem, and it comes up on my search engine every time I search for AD&D stuff: The Ten Most Insane Old School D&D Rules. I was miffed the first time I saw it, by the time I read it I was pissed, and the vitriol has just reached overflow today. So it's time I unleashed the wrath of my cold blade of reason.
WH 40K Blade of Reason


First of all I just want to point out how ignorant the points in the article truly are. Almost all of them are a complete misreading of the intent of the rules and the understanding of the ethos that moved and animated AD&D. Secondly, you should not only first seek to understand, but to appreciate that there was a different way of doing things from the way you think things should be done, and unless you are going to give real evidence to why something is "insane" you need to just chalk it up to preference and move on. Now, without further ado:

1. Treasure Type: This critique utterly misunderstands the notion of treasure type as if it were some arbitrarily applied mechanic like a monstrous ATM. Treasure Type was the way it was because treasure was worth experience in AD&D (which admittedly some also think is ludicrous, but we're not covering that here--although I would be glad to sirrah) and that treasure was a measure of difficulty and commensurate reward. And that the treasure "type" is not what these creatures were carrying around with them necessarily but what they would possess in lair. Thus acquiring that level of treasure was not simply a matter of hunting down the creature, but finding it in its lair and acquiring said treasure. Not only this, but treasure type was a aide to help DMs when planning encounters. It was not a hard and fast rule to be applied mindlessly. And the notion that players would somehow hunt down monsters for treasure type clearly ignores the fact that the rule books make it clear that the DMs Guide and Monster Manual are not to be in the possession of or read by players! And if players have happened to read them because they DM in some other game they are never to use such knowledge for advantage or reveal it to other players! Plainly said, players should never know what treasure type even is let alone use that knowledge in game play. Moreover the modules that list treasure amounts in round numbers were mostly tournament modules, but also required a bit of DM creativity to fluff out the basic guideline in the module.

2. Level Titles: Besides the fact that I love them, others do also, and they are just down right cool, level titles are one of the mysterious archaisms of Old School D&D. Level titles, though the real reason is lacking in evidence (I wonder if Tim Kask would know?), the fact is it is much cooler to say you play a Myrmidon instead of a 5th level Fighter. And level was also problematic becuase it was used to define several different terms in D&D and this much is illustrated in both the PHB and DMG. And yes, much like Myrmidon, is drawn from ancient Greek mythology (the Myrmidon's were an army of amazing warriors created by Zeus from a swarm of Army Ants), and Canon is from Catholic hierarchy, AD&D is a pastiche of all amazingly mythic our world has to offer. We don't have fits that Paladin is a term drawn from the romances of Roland or Monk is used as an East Asian role (though this truly was an issue for many including the old guard) but could just as easily been a western one. The fact is AD&D, and D&D generally was drawn as a modernized, fantasy based view of what medievalism was and implied. And each age's mythic past. So it is no surprise that terms were used that may seem out of place. And in fact the use of Catholic Crosses in early D&D art was also a product of fantasy and pulp of the day that gave D&D much if its inspiration and yet drives some anti-Christian folks crazy. They have no problems including demons and devils, but put a cross on a D&D cleric's shield and all hell breaks loose :-) Plainly stated, having problems with level titles shows a gross disregard for the spirit which inspired the game and the history and mythology from which it drew.

3. Magic Users: Don't even get me started. If you have a problem with this, go play some other game. Though I think it is worth noting that Gary evidently didn't like MUs (according to Tim Kask) and made them weak on purpose. I personally have never, ever seen a weak high level mage, but as I said: don;t get me started.

4. Level/Ability Limits: this always cracks me up. I have covered it in detail on other areas of my blog, but level limits are simply logical. Men are generally stronger than women, and three foot tall halflings are weaker than humans, even it's females. The fact is doing away with these limits makes no sense. Class level limits for demi-humans was a compromise, I'll admit. It was clearly spelled out in the rules of the game this was to not lose the humano-centric nature of the game, and that if you changed it you changed the spirit of the game. (You can verify this in the DMG and the Book Mastering the Game.) Nuff said.

5. Bard: I love the old school bard. It was designed from the start to be something special. It also had much more power and potential than whatever passes for a bard these days. These types of character classes were designed to be epic in nature and very, very rare. A true bard--someone who weaves magic with music--and also could fight, adventure and master the natural world was a compromise between the historical troubador, often a retired knight who traveled telling epic tales and singing songs, and a druidic bard from history. It was a complex thing, not simply a character that strummed a lute and inspired people. And, if you don;t know the actual "minstrel" class was something even Gary wanted to include in the game, a more basic musical character that could use musical magic. The purpose of the old school bard was not just to have a minstrel, it was something else entirely. And I never met a player who had achieved those feats.

6. UA: I'm not going to grace this with a reply. It's insulting and could be said about any number of WoTC splat books since 2000.

7. God Stats: I've been waiting for this one, because it is such a nuanced thing. Even Tim Kask admits, once the original book on deities was released for Original D&D, and players were going wild killing Gods that they needed to amp up the God stats. This is a part of the D&D power inflation that has been happening since pre 1980. However, there was an important point here. D&D was, being based on ancient mythology at least in part, and the pulp fiction that catered to that lineage, portrayed Gods as they were often portrayed in mythology. They could be beat! Often, yes by other gods, but occasionally by crafty mortals and more often by heroes and heroines of one sort or another. The Gods walked among men, and interacted with them. This was seen as a possibility in D&D, and a very exciting one which was often mined for effect by many creative DMs. For this very reason, Gods needed stats. If we are just going to assume a God is all powerful and can do anything then we lose some of this ethos. However, even then, in most reasonable campaigns the levels and powers of the Gods were so powerful that mortal PCs often saw the Gods and all powerful. They were simply soooo awesome. And a stat of 20 or 21 let alone 25 was something mortal PCs simply never could attain. Now, having said that, yes, there is a problem when a God or Goddess dies/is killed/overcome by a PC--great campaign plot stuff by the way. So how do we deal with this? Personally I like C&C's approach that sees Gods among men as their avatar and not their true being. You could certainly play it either way, and I have--nothing crazy here--just crazy fun.

8. Material Components: OK, I'll admit not a lot of people used these--though they were awesome color for the game regardless. But we did occasionally and they add so much to the game and spell casting and power limitation that you should really try it. Resource allocation is often an approach to play in many ways in old school games, and SC are just one way to spice up a game. Personally I love it. Try it some time before you knock it. Then if you don't like it, don't use it--many didn't.

9. Encumbrance: Look, if you have a problem with encumbrance you can use the rule of thumb measure. And yes it is designed for realism, but it is also designed for fairness. Every game I've every played for any amount of time deals with encumbrance. You start letting players or monsters for that matter, carry whatever they want or not tracking the number of weapons or items they are carrying, then the PCs simply become too powerful and yes, very unrealistic. How detailed you wanna get, whatever, but you have to address it. It's insane not to.

10. Hand to Hand: alright, yeah, HtH is tough in AD&D if you are going to do it BtB. It was an attempt to make it realistic, but it failed. It isn't insane, it needed fixed. It also violated the rule Gary himself made clear that detailed combat rules just slow the game down and lose the focus on the action adventure the game was designed to simulate. If you asked me, I think Gary just had them roll a d20 and adjudicate, but then I was never there.

So, quit dissin' my game. And if you must insist then I will call you ignorant and walk away. Until I can't stand it anymore and I have to rant on my blog.


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