Friday, November 26, 2010

Down in the Dungeon

Over at Grognardia, James Maliszewski authored a post about an art book from 1981 called "Down in the Dungeon."  I have zero memories of it, but I love what has been said about it.  I feel almost as if I know it, can almost feel the pages beneath my fingers, and smell that musty smell that old books found in used bookstores so often possess.

Well, I googled it, trying to figure out if there were a way to purchase it through Amazon, perhaps, or eBay.  And I found an interesting item online:

The Monster Brains blog has posted 34 images from the book.  They're interesting renderings, if a bit dated.  The art in Down in the Dungeon is, on the whole, about as good as the cover of the first edition AD&D Monster Manual.

For those of you who have seen the book, enjoy the trip down memory lane.  For those of you who own the book, well, this post does you little good, and I apologize.  For those of you who have never seen the book, hearken back to a time when gaming was still young, and fertile imaginations ran wild.  Enjoy!   

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Gamorrean Guards -- Inspired by Orcs?

When I was younger, I was particularly struck by an image in a storybook I owned about Return of the Jedi.  Despite the disappointing movie overall, there was a pic of a Gamorrean Guard.  The Guard himself reminded me of nothing more than a classic 1e orc!

Now, Gygax himself has gone on record as saying that he didn't like the pig-faced orcs, but nonetheless it's an iconic image -- one that I didn't like 2e and 3e changing, thank you very much.

For anyone who doubts what I'm saying, here's a pic of the Gamorrean Guard:

And here's a pic from the first edition AD&D Monster Manual:

Note that for Star Wars, the G. Guard seems to be rather low tech, something you would find in a more medieval/Hyborian Age culture.  What do you think?

Happy Turkey Day everyone!

The Turkey Dance, errr...what?

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Race As Class

Because I love the occasional hot-button topic, I'll be weighing in on the "race as class" debate.  For those of you unfamiliar with the debate, there are two schools of thought in the D&D community: 

One favors the idea of "race as class," that is, if you're a non-human such as a dwarf or an elf, your character type is automatically accounted for and the ability to fight or cast spells is a racial ability.  There is no selection of Elven thief, as you are automatically either a mage or a warrior. 

Another favors selection of race and class.  That is, you can take a Dwarven Cleric, you're not automatically a warrior-type simply because you chose to play a Dwarf.  This would be the more familiar type to modern day players. 

We will now contrast how the various editions handle races and classes:

The LBBs (little brown books)  seem to indicate that if you were one of the non-human races, then you were already in a "class:" 
There are three (3) main classes of characters:

Fighting Men includes the characters of elves and dwarves and even hobbits. Magic-Users includes only men and elves. Clerics are limited to men only. All non-human players are restricted in some aspects and gifted in others. This will be dealt with in the paragraphs pertaining to each non-human type.
It is interesting to note that OD&D never defines the term "class." The LBBs also do not use the term "race." The only idea of race that creeps in is that the non-human player's choice plays differently depending on whether you select Elf or Dwarf, and the Dwarf has a level limitation.

D&D (Holmes Blue Book)
In Eric Holmes' edition of Dungeons & Dragons (blue book, cover by David C. Sutherland III), the trend of using race as class appears to continue.  I say *appears* because the one reference to race on page 7 reads: "the four basic classes and races (human, elven, dwarven, halflingish)..."  But the classes and races are all lumped together in the experience tables, and page 6 says "any human character can be a fighting man and all halflings and dwarves are members of the fighter class, unless they opt to be thieves." 

The terms "class" and "race" are not defined.  There is a third way Holmes refers to characters, and that is "character type" (page 7), indicating class and race, which perhaps is the term that should have been used in later editions.    

AD&D hardcover Player's Handbook, first edition, is the first clear delineation between class and race.  There you can be one of quite a few races, and you first select your race, then you select your class.  There's also quite a bit of fiddly bits that make little sense, like level limits for non-humans.  But this has been torn apart in many, many magazine articles, so we won't tackle this here.  The interesting thing about the classes is that they now had "minimum ability scores" that you had to roll to be certain classes (like the Paladin).  If you didn't roll it, you had no chance to be that class.   

Basic/Expert D&D (Moldvay) & BECMI (Mentzer)
The simple race as class structure can be seen here, hearkening back to the LBBs and Holmes.  The trend continued in Mentzer's BECMI.  In contrast to AD&D, Moldvay had a "prime requisite," which meant the highest ability score you had was used to help determine class selection. 

AD&D2e was, for the most part, a cleaned up revised version of AD&D1e, and the final nail in the coffin for any royalties Gygax might have received.  Race and Class are separate entities, and for the most part resemble their 1e counterparts.  The main difference was in the fantastic settings created for 2e, introduced "Kits" which could be special classes designed for a specific race (like Elven BladeSinger or Dwarven Chanter). 

D&D 3.X
The 3.X naming convention is strange, since its simplified ability bonus tables remind one of B/X or BECMI, but Race and Class are distinct and separate, like AD&D.   Eventually 3.X would ape 2e by doing "racial kits" (like the Dwarven BattleRager).    Dropping the "Advanced" moniker sent a clear message that this was the only Dungeons & Dragons we would see from WotC, and that B/X and BECMI were effectively unsupported.

D&D 4.X

Does the same thing as 3.X, races and classes are discrete groups, and one must select a race and a class. 

My take:
I never had a problem with "race as class" because I'm aware of one of the dictionary definitions.  From
27.  to place or arrange in a class; classify: to class justice with wisdom.
28.  to take or have a place in a particular class: those who class as believers.
The word comes from the Latin "classis," which meant class, fleet, division, army, etc.  So we can infer that the D&D "class" is merely a grouping, and the only thing in the dictionary that implies profession is class as social standing or caste, hardly an ironclad case.  So the snarkiness that I have observed (and been the target of) could have been avoided simply by cracking a dictionary. 

Do I prefer race as class?  For some things it works well.  It gels nicely with the simplified structure of B/X.  In the "clone" I'm working on, I have them separate as of this writing, though I'm thinking of leaning toward the race as class model and giving them different "builds" for race-specific classes.  Time will tell...

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Why I Hate Energy Drain

Over at B/X Blackrazor there is post about how the author loves Energy Drain. Energy Drain is one of the little banes of my existence as both GM and Player.  I don't agree with the rules for it at all.  

It's simply not conceptual.  Why should I lose my skills because my life force is gone?  Simple fact: Energy Drain is stealing your life force.  It is not retrograde amnesia affecting procedural memory.  

It's also a pain in the patootie.  If you reduce someone's level, it could affect attack rolls, saving throws, thieving skills, class abilities, and spells.  That's a lot of bookkeeping! 

I finally figured an easy way to do Energy Drain (even easier than losing a level) and have it be true to what I feel Energy Drain actually is.

Make it a stackable -1 modifier to every roll.  

Even easier than losing levels, and more effective.  Someone drained 3 times would be at Energy Drain -3.  You may only be drained a number of times equal to your level.  If the penalty from Drain is equal to or greater than your Level, you are dead.  Energy Drain can only be "cured" by a Restoration spell or potion.  Since those spells are not only high level in my world but it is necessary to find them in ruins, tombs, etc, it would take awhile to get that life force back.   

Players whose characters were drained would write it on their character sheets, along with the penalty (e.g., "Energy Drain -2").  In the case of percentiles (frex for thief skills), it would be -5%. 

Another option is to have the victim of an Energy Drain make a CON Check (8 or less + CON Modifier) 24 hours after being drained.  A successful Check means a -1 penalty is gone.  Other penalties still remain, so if you were drained to -3, and you healed one, you'd still have a -2 to deal with.  Only one Check can be made each day (or if you want to be cruel, each week).

Obviously, YMMV.  I'm messing with a rule that's been in place for nearly 30 years.  But still, the rule has bothered me for about that long...         

Abstract vs. Heroic Combat

Something that D&D has done in violation of the fiction that inspired it is retain a combat system that doesn't give you much of a "feel" for combat.  Technically, you can try anything, but the RAW (rules as written) DMs were more than likely going to either (A) not let you or (B) give you a high chance of failure.  

Older editions seemed to lean towards a more abstract combat system.  That's great, but I don't want to read that Conan quickly dispatched his foes, I want to read about *how* he did it.  

Recent editions have put a premium on tactical combat.  Move this much, gain this modifier, etc, has become a standard part of modern iterations of D&D.  But, to me, this still doesn't fit the source material.  

What I'm talking about is Pulp Combat.  Pulp combat isn't about kewl powerz.  Pulp combat isn't necessarily saving someone's bacon, though it's certainly possible.  Pulp combat, in this context, has to do with emulation of some of the fantastic things we see heroes doing in fiction.  Think Robert E. Howard, Alexandre Dumas, or David Gemmell (for a more modern take) and you pretty much have what I want.

So, how to make combat more pulpy?  Well, I started in my retro-clone by adding maneuvers that you can do in combat.  I designed them with two assumptions in mind: 1) pluses and minuses suck.  2) I want results *now*.

Now, I'm sure we're out of grade school and can add +1 or subtract 2 or whatever.  But I got tired of that schtick in 2nd Edition, and I sure didn't like it in 3rd.  So I made it go away.  Too, I wanted results that would let the combat march on normally.  I don't want a 45+ minute combat. (Awfully demanding, aren't I?)   So here's an example maneuver I designed:

KNOCK FOE OFF-BALANCE - This is a powerful blow designed to move weapons and shield out of the way.  STR vs STR.  If successful the attacker can attempt to follow up with a quick attack before the defender can get his shield/blade back into position.

STR vs. STR is a from a rule I devised called "Ability Checks."  The check is 8-, and the Ability Score Modifier adds to it.  So if you have a +4 Modifier your Check would be 12- on a d20.  In cases where an opposed Check is needed, the higher roll wins (as long as it falls within the range of the Check).  If the person above rolled a 13, for example, his Check would fail.  

So, quickly put, the attacker and defender roll their STR Checks.  If the attacker wins, the attacker can try to quickly attack and take advantage of this, and the defender cannot parry or block.  If the defender wins, the attack was wasted.  

It's quick and easy.  Here's another:

THROWING YOUR FOE -- You have to win a turn of combat to do this (i.e., do damage, bind arms, etc).  You lift your foe over your head, and throw him into one or more foes to stop them.  They must make DEX Checks to see if they're knocked down.

No zillion arcane modifiers, just the ability to quickly knock down more than one foe at once.

Or how about this one?

INTERRUPT ATTACK -- DEX Check vs foe's attack roll.  If DEX Check succeeds, then foe's attack is disrupted and no damage is done.  DEX Check failure means the attack hits.

These are just maneuvers that I see all the time in fiction, in comics, in films, and for some reason haven't made them into many, if any, game systems.  Some might think that if you include maneuvers, you infringe upon creativity.  I don't believe that -- a list of combat maneuvers with accompany text on how to model them can be a springboard for all sorts of maneuvers.  You can simply roll to hit, but why when you can do cool things like throw sand in your foe's face, fast-talk your foe into making a mistake, bash through your opponent's parry or perform a Leaping Attack (think James Cameron's Avatar).  

Again, if you don't like all that, you can simply describe your action and roll to hit.  But I don't ever want to hear you say "I roll to hit."