Saturday, February 29, 2020

Defining the Set of All Possible D&D Worlds

Caveat lector: I am not an expert in philosophical logic, nor set theory, though I've taken classes in both subjects. So don't take my use of these clearly technical terms too strictly. 

Several times in the Dungeons & Dragons canon the concept of other worlds are mentioned as a part of the expansive vision that is D&D. In fact the first time it sees actual men is in the 3rd little brown book, The Underworld and Wilderness Adventures:

There should be no "natural laws" which are certain. Space could be passable because it is filled with breathable air. On the other hand the stars could be tiny lights only a few hundred miles away. Some areas of land could be gates into other worlds, dimensions, times, or whatever. Mars is given in these rules, but some other fantastic world or setting could be equally as possible. This function is up to the referee, and what he wishes to do with it is necessarily limited by his other campaign work. However, this factor can be gradually added, so that no sudden burden will be placed upon the referee." (p. 24)

And of course, Gary Gygax had already created the wargame rules for Burroughs' world Barsoom.
So even before D&D hit the shelves the idea of having fantastic adventures on other worlds was forming as a foundational aspect of the game. Of course this makes sense, as by the time Gary was creating D&D with those around him, speculative fiction of all types were based on this idea of strange and fantastic worlds of adventure. Exactly how this fit into D&D would become more clear as the rules developed. 

In the Blackmoor supplement Gary refers to the Blackmoor campaign as Arneson's "world".

"This writer always looks forward with great anticipation to an adventure in the "BLACKMOOR" campaign, for despite the fact that I co-authored the original work with Dave, and have spent  hundreds of hours creating and playing DUNGEONS & DRAGONS, it is always a fresh challenge to enter his "world". I can not recommend him more highly than simply saying that I would rather play in his campaign than any other — that other dungeonmasters who emulate Dave Arneson will indeed improve their games." (intro)

So we see that there is a growing idea that different campaigns are seen as different worlds. And later in Temple of the Frog we read of the usurper High Priest, that "This fellow is not from the world of Blackmoor at all, but rather he is an intelligent humanoid from another world/dimension." Thus we see the admission that these D&D worlds were connected to each other in some way and travel between them was possible. Again the game was based on fantastic fiction in which such things were a given. In fact that this genre had opened up the possibility of an infinite number of such worlds -- the imagination was literally the limit i.e. there are no limits!

And by the time we get to Eldritch Wizardry, we see the development of astral travel, dimension door, dimension walking and probability travel. Other worlds are literally opening up before our very eyes, as well as how to access them. The beautiful thing here is how the game is being woven to encompass all such possible worlds. And by the time of Gods, Demigods & Heroes we are encompassing the worlds of the Gods as well.

This expansive vision of an infinite possibility of worlds was eagerly grasped by early players. So much so that it began to create some concern among the game's creators. Regardless of their injunction to take the game to the limits, literally "imagine the hell out of it!" They saw the need to begin to reign in the extremes some players were going to. Admittedly the ones most frequently written about were Monty Hall type campaigns, super high level campaigns and so called god-killing campaigns. These and other hyperimaginative worlds were likely what Gygax had in mind when he cautioned against taking the rules so far as to create something "so strange as to not be AD&D."

I've written before on the "reigning in" quality of 1e, and the many reasons Gygax may have felt for doing so. But the one I am interested in today is the defining the set of all possible D&D worlds

The term "the set of all possible worlds" is used in formal logic to define the terms of truth in modal, or propositional logic. So, for instance, if I make an assertion such as "the sky is always blue", the extent to which this statement is true depends on certain conditions. For instance the sky is blue during the day. And, on the moon the sky is not blue. The condition sets under which the statement is true is often called a "world". And this idea, that there are sets of worlds can be used to extend truth claims, For instance the set of all possible worlds is all the worlds that could ever be said to exist. 

That's about as far as we need to go with the idea. But if you didn't find that helpful, lets just think of all the possible fantasy worlds that could be imagined under the basics of D&D concepts. We don't need to think far to come up with some ready examples -- Metamorphosis Alpha, Gamma World, Boot Hill, Top Secret, Gangbusters, Hyperborea of Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea, McKinney's Carcosa, the world of Dungeon Crawl Classic RPG, Yoon Suin, The Slumbering Ursine Dunes, Fever Dreaming Marlinko, Veins of the Earth, The Misty Isles of Eld, Vornheim, The Midderlands, The Gardens of Ynn, A Thousand Thousand Suns, Woodfall and countless others that have followed this tradition. 

But then consider, the types of campaign worlds available for AD&D. The official products: Greyhawk, Forgotten Realms, Al Qadim, Kara Tur, Maztica, Dark Sun, Dragonlance, Lankhmar, Ravenloft, SpellJammer, and Planescape. With the exception of perhaps the last three, all of these are largely medieval type fantasy games with the variation being in flavor and culture more than mechanic influencing content. AD&D in the middle east, in east Asia, in space, in horror, in a dying world, etc etc. The difference between the worlds of AD&D and the worlds mentioned in the previous paragraph are that the game changes very little from setting to setting. This was of course, by design. The DMG clearly stated that DMs should stay within the bounds the First Edition set as being legitimately AD&D. Thus the set of all possible AD&D worlds became noticeably smaller than the set of all D&D worlds. 

The marvelous thing is that as AD&D was released, the outcry of those who feared losing the raw, imaginative freedom of the original game, brought about a preservation of the original power in the basic line. First with Holmes, then with Moldvay Cook. Despite the fact that the B/X line became more and more staid and stable through TSR releases, eventually reaching a level of depth and complexity through the BECMI and Rules Cyclopedia that it was in the end as tightly restricted as AD&D. But the premise of the basic game, that original genie in a bottle could be turned to in a way that AD&D was not quite meant to. 

And this was fine. AD&D was meant to be one thing and B/X another. B/X was a toolbox begging to be houseruled and changed and invented in your own image. Hence the basic chassis of the game was what gave birth to most of TSR's other RPGs. It is a little harder to take such liberties with AD&D. Sure, a DM can choose to ignore a few detailed rules or implement a few options from the menu. But In almost all games the classes were the same, magic worked the same and so did combat. Not so easy to assume this was the case with a game grown from the original roots. This was the very reason quoted in Dragon magazine: that the game needed formalized so that other players and DMs could get together and play under a system that was agreed upon. That system was AD&D. 

Now, truthfully, as mentioned above, D&D also became a fairly tame beast as the company evolved. So much so it was generally dropped and the game became one thing in the late 90's until the buyout. What we have seen in the OSR is that people have been incredibly inspired by the raw power of the original game. In fact do yourself a favor and head on over to DriveThruRPG and set the filters to D&D OGL, 1e, Setting Guides. Yep. I didn't find any. Reset it to Basic/Classic and there's a literal deluge. The supports being produced for 1e are very much like what was produced in the old days. This doesn't mean they can't get gonzo wild and push the boundaries of what's possible. They simply do so within the bounds set by Gygax when he outlined the rules some four decades ago. 

For me, I don't see this as limiting, not at all. I see the B/X game as the version of D&D with infinite possibilities, containing a vast almost endless set of possible worlds. Worlds composed of medieval fantasy, weird magic, strange, alien beings, star spanning science fiction, irradiated post apocalyptic landscapes, twisted graveyards of abysmal horror, spies, crime bosses, desperadoes and cyber-tech geniuses. And AD&D, one of the finest games ever written for the possibilities contained in a certain genre of medieval fantasy. A set of worlds admittedly more limited, but still filled with millions of fantastic possibilities. 

Friday, February 28, 2020

The Rising Price of AD&D

How many of us have gaming shelves at home that look something like the above? I know I do. In fact I'm flat out of room in our rather modest home. That, however, has not stopped me from seeking to round out my collection. I have a fairly large 1eAD&D collection, but have always wanted to complete it with copies of all D&D related TSR publications pre 1990. However, this has become very hard to do on an educator's salary.

My recent energy has been on Judges Guild's publications and other stuff Gary Gygax wrote or worked over the course of his life. I'll tell you what though, JG stuff has begun to be out of reach as well. I was looking for a copy of Temple of Ra Cursed By Set
And the cheapest I could find was 34.95! Now, that may seem like a reasonable amount, but we were buying old TSR modules fro under 10$ not too long ago, and you now can't find a lot of them for under $50! For a guy with a tight $20 a month game budget it makes me pause.

I was also hunting down a little gem called The Abduction of Good King Despot by Will Niebling from the Gary Gygax Presents line. I think the reason it has risen to $40 is because Gary happened to make the off hand comment that this was his "favorite module of all time." Talk about a comment increasing the market value! So for the nonce, this gem will be on hold for me as well ...
All of which I should take as a good sign, since what I would hope these prices mean is that there is a growing crowd of 1e players out there looking for old product. At least that's what I hope is happening. It could be newer gamers looking for the old stuff just to have a piece of the past, with little intent to use it or game with it. I mean, I'm not wanting to begrudge a collector their treasures regardless of intent. But all the better for collectors who are actually involved in the game. Said the same thing for years of comic collectors who bought rare issues just to have them and hardly read the comics they purchased. Something evil in that approach if you ask me.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Playing a Sheep in Wolf's Clothing

So of course the question with AD&D is: are we playing the real thing, or are we playing some version of classic D&D dressed up in an AD&D suit?

I should define my terms. "Classic" D&D has been defined as the line of Holmes Basic, Moldvay-Cook Basic/Expert, Mentzer BECMI, RC D&D. But I prefer a slightly more nuanced definition. Because BECMI/RC are so expansive they are almost a beast unto themselves. Mentzer B/X is also a classic era game, but played with Companion and up, or the Rule Cyclopedia, it is a more complex extension of the game, much like Advanced.Whereas Holmes and Moldvay-Cook are much more of a reflection of Original D&D. This, in my mind, is the classic age of the game. From original into the basic and expert lines, which essentially cover a refined version of the original game. The supplements, in terms of additional classes, race as class, variable weapon damage, etc. can easily be ported into the the basic game, to give a late original+supplements feel.  So to be concise, playing "advanced" like Labyrinth Lord AEC, is basically classic D&D. Hence a sheep in wolves clothing. And, I posit, what a lot of people do with AD&D 1e.

Now I'm not overplaying the sheep-wolf thing, I mean there's not value bestowed here. It may seem like I'm splitting hairs, or being purist, and I am sort of, but all in an effort to more deeply understand what it is we do once a twice a week on Thursday or Saturday night. Classic isn't a sheep anymore than AD&D is a wolf, or vice versa. But, see, D&D is more of a continuum up through 3e. On one end of the continuum there is the original game, which truthfully can't really be played as written because it's so hard to read. So lots of people made stuff up, houseruled it and worked it into something resembling what we know as D&D. AD&D, as well as the Basic+ lines come along and it makes the rules more clear and cohesive. We are now all playing basically the same game, some with a few rules variations in turning power, cleric spells at first level, race as class, paladins and other subclasses or not, all of these little variations, but we really aren't playing AD&D.

I mean, sure, we might have called friends together and said we are playing basic, or more likely just D&D, and we might have different editions, but we would agree elf is a class, you can't be an elf thief, or whatever. arguments might ensue, and we would clear up that we were playing basic rules, or advanced rules or whatever. But it didn't make that much difference. And the majority of the people I knew who were playing AD&D were not playing AD&D RAW. I think those people were very few and far between. It is more common now, as older grogs get back into the game, or newer gamers want to know what all the old fuss was about and try the old games. That's when we start thinking about playing with all the rules, or at least try to abide by most of them.

In the first few pages to the Dungeon Masters' Guide, most notably on pages 7 and 9, Gary Gygax speaks to the nature of AD&D as a game system. These passages are liberally quoted now when such discussions arise. It clearly says that Gary says the DM is the ultimate arbiter and will decide what rules they use and what rules they don't. But, I feel, that case is often overstated. What they fail to see or quote as regularly are the injunctions to abide by and trust the system first;

"Dictums are given for the sake of the game only, for if ADVANCED DUNGEONS & DRAGONS is to survive and grow, it must have some degree of uniformity, a familiarity of method and procedure from campaign to campaign within the whole. ADVANCED D&D is more than a framework around which individual DMs construct their respective milieux, it is above all a set of boundaries for all of the "worlds" devised by referees everywhere. These boundaries are broad and spacious, and there are numerous areas where they are so vague and amorphous as to make them nearly nonexistent, but they are there nonetheless." (7)

"In this lies a great danger, however. The systems and parameters contained in the whole of ADVANCED DUNGEONS & DRAGONS are based on a great deal of knowledge, experience
gained through discussion, play, testing, questioning, and (hopefully) personal insight." (7)

"Limitations, checks, balances, and all the rest are placed into the system in order to assure that what is based thereon will be a superior campaign, a campaign which offers the most interesting play possibilities to the greatest number of participants for the longest period of time possible." (7)

"These facts are of prime importance, for they underlie many rules." (7)

"With certain uniformity of systems and "laws", players will be able to move from one campaign to another and know at least the elemental principles which govern the new milieu, for all milieux will have certain (but not necessarily the same) laws in common. Character races and classes will be nearly the same. Character ability scores will have the identical meaning - or nearly so. Magic spells will function in a certain manner regardless of which world the player is functioning in. Magic devices will certainly vary, but their principles will be similar. This uniformity will help not only players, it will enable DMs to carry on a meaningful dialogue and exchange of useful information." (7)

"The danger of a mutable system is that you or your players will go too far in some undesirable direction and end up with a short-lived campaign." (7)

"Similarly, you must avoid the tendency to drift into areas foreign to the game as a whole. Such campaigns become so strange as to be no longer "AD&D". They are isolated and will usually wither. Variation and difference are desirable, but both should be kept within the boundaries of the overall system." (7)

"Keep such individuality in perspective by developing a unique and detailed world based on the rules of ADVANCED D&D." (7)

"It is incumbent upon all DMs to be thoroughly conversant with the PLAYERS HANDBOOK, and at the same time you must also know the additional information which is given in this volume, for it rounds out and completes the whole." (9)

"I have attempted is to cram everything vital to the game into this book, so that you will be as completely equipped as possible to face the ravenous packs of players lurking in the shadows, waiting to pounce upon the unwary referee and devour him or her at the first opportunity." (9)

"Thus, besides the systems, I have made every effort to give the reasoning and justification for the game." (9)

"And while there are no optionals for the major systems of ADVANCED D&D (for uniformity of rules and procedures from game to game, campaign to campaign, is stressed), there are plenty of areas where your own creativity and imagination are not bounded by the parameters of the game system. These are sections where only a few hints and suggestions are given, and the rest left to the DM." (9)

"Read how and why the system is as if is, follow the parameters, and then cut portions as needed to maintain excitement. For example, the rules call for wandering monsters ... Wandering monsters, however, are included for two reasons, as is explained in the section about them." (9)

"Know the game systems, and you will know how and when to take upon yourself the ultimate power. To become the final arbiter, rather than the interpreter of the rules, can be a difficult and demanding task, and it cannot be undertaken lightly, for your players expect to play this game, not one made up on the spot." (9)

"Remembering that the game is greater than its parts, and knowing all of the parts, you will have overcome the greater part of the challenge of being a referee." (9)

I could comment on each emphasized portion, but I think they are clear enough, and also illustrate that while there are comments encouraging individual creativity, inspiration and even rule deletion at times, there are at least as many if not more injunctions to follow the game system and play the rules as written. I personally think, and it is back up in some of the quotes above that the modifications of which he is speaking are largely in regards to monsters, treasures, even spells (as long as the general structure and principles of such additions are in line with those presented within the game) can be added, changed or deleted. And yes such rules as grappling, even weapon armor and speed factors might be eliminated to "keep up excitement" I believe that they too were written carefully for portions and elements of the game where other options were rejected. And as he explained in the quote about rolling for wandering monsters, the rule wasn't ejected wholesale, it was allowed that the DM could determine, based on the reasons given for such rolls in the text itself were considered, to use or not use given a set of circumstances such as Gygax outlines.

Now, this is not to say that such a rules arbitrary game could not be played. It is quite regularly. I have drafted such rules myself. Only that, as mentioned above, "it becomes so strange as to not become AD&D." Call this the purist interpretation if you will. After all, you can play whatever you like at your table and even call it what you like. But let's call a sheep a sheep and a wolf a wolf. Otherwise in our zeal to appeal to others that they come join us play AD&D, we lose what AD&D really is.