Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Here we go again?

In my A Team post yesterday, Dave commented, "OD&D was mechanically all about combat."

Sorry, Dave.  We've discussed this before, I discussed it here about a year ago, after Dave, Alex, Josh, Pat and I had a talk about it at the Board Game Group.

I emailed Dave a copy of OD&D, so he can have a look (in case he's never seen it).

Anyway, looking at it, I can see all kinds of non-combat mechanics.  First of all, there are social mechanics such as the henchmen/followers rules.  There are the Wisdom, Intelligence and Charisma scores.  There are the general equipment items, the majority of which are non-combat related. 

Next, let's look at the spell lists.  Obviously Fighters fight, but what about the Magic-Users and Clerics?

M-U Combat Spells:
Level 1: Protection from Evil, Charm Person, Sleep
3 out of 8, all of them defensive, and with some non-combat applications as well.  Light and Continual Light have not yet been noted as able to blind opponents.

Level 2: Detect Invisible, Levitate, Phantasmal Forces, Invisibility
4 out of 10, with only one directly offensive, and two best used by weak M-Us to get the hell out of the combat!

Level 3: Fly, Hold Person, Dispell Magic, Fire Ball, Lightning Bolt, Pro. Evil 10' Radius, Invisibility 10' Radius, Slow Spell, Haste Spell, Protection from Normal Missiles
10 out of 14.  Well, 3rd level has always been the combat spell level.  Still, quite a few of these are defensive and/or have useful non-combat or avoid-combat applications.

Level 4: Polymorph Self, Polymorph Other, Confusion, Charm Monster
4 out of 12, although the Wall spells and Growth of Plants could be used in combat, possibly, but they're really escape spells IMO.

Level 5: Hold Monster, Conjure Elemental, Animate Dead, Magic Jar, Cloudkill, Feeblemind, Growth of Animals
7 out of 14, although again some wall spells, Transmute rock to mud, and a few others could serve get out of jail free purposes in combat, and some of the above could be used for non-combat purposes.

Level 6: Invisible Stalker, Anti-Magic Shell, Death Spell, Disintegrate
4 out of 12, again with Invisible Stalker and Disintegrate having some useful non-combat applications, and clever use of a few of the non-directly offensive/defensive spells being used in a combat.

That leaves an awful lot of spells that aren't intended for combat purposes, and there are mechanics for their resolution.  I'll do the Cleric spells and some other bits later, as I've got to get ready for work.


  1. I totally get what you're saying, but I also feel as if this makes D&D somewhat schizophrenic. The whole henchmen thing has a massive benefit in combat, but it's totally incumbent upon mechanics and not roleplaying (although you can roleplay it out). The utility spells are great, but the main problem with them is opportunity cost. Again, as a wizard, I don't get a lot of spells a day. At fifth level I get, what, three 1st level, two 2nd level and one 3rd. Fifth level is pretty high. If we're going into a dungeon, it might make more sense to stock up on Melf's Acid Arrows, Magic Missiles, and a Fireball than Tenser's Floating Disk or Knock. Survival trumps utility.

    On the other hand, the wizard's limited spellcasting abilities force his player to be creative, which I like. As we've discussed, OD&D put emphasis on problem-solving far more than bludgeoning enemies into submission. This makes sense for why enemies are so often very lethal and give such small XP rewards.

    But you aren't attacking the thrust of my argument, which is that the XP rewards pretty much illustrate the entire point of the game. Yeah, there are extraneous non-combat related mechanics. Exploration of a dungeon is just as important as, if not twice as important than, combat.

    But, as I said, what is NOT important is things like I listed earlier, like converting others to your faith, composing epic poetry, etc. These things are not mechanically rewarded, they are beyond the scope of the rules, therefore they are superfluous--flavor and flair the players and DM bring to the game but which aren't necessary whatsoever.

    I hope you don't think I'm being a dick. I simply enjoy debate and I like reading your opinion, even if I disagree with aspects of it. Considering how many OSR-pals you've got, I'm surprised none of them have taken me to task yet.

  2. "beyond the scope of the rules, therefore they are superfluous"

    I consider this a statement of opinion.

  3. I'm not an OSR partisan or ardent apologist for OD&D - I like old games, I see where others might not, don't really care as long as everyone is having fun - but I don't think it follows that because something doesn't carry an xp award, it's unnecessary in any meaningful sense.

    There aren't xp awards, even in later editions, for naming your character or defining his appearance or for painting his miniature, either. I sincerely hope there don't need to be. The assumption is that certain things are just part of the game and you don't have to be rewarded for them. I can't imagine the absurd reduction that would result if players only undertook endeavors that resulted in xp awards and considered everything else superfluous, regardless of edition.

    At some level, players surely consider elements necessary even if they don't directly result in advancement. Have we hit that design-centric, literal-minded point where every single possible action has to have an explicit xp award to be considered a necessary part of the game?

  4. I am not knocking OD&D at all when I say this, but it seems to have not been designed in the way we think of game design today.. let's remember it was the first step into what we today call an RPG, it was not a perfect, polished "product" as such.

    It was a set of ideas in the vein of "here's some stuff we tried, maybe you'll find it useful" rather than a set of ironclad, comprehensive rules like today's games often are. There also seems to have been a general belief that the people using the books would know what to do with them, that it was not all about combat, but about adventure, exploration, etc. as well.

    The reason many of the mechanical elements relate to combat is because that is where you *need* some guidance, not because it was the only thing to do in the game, or intentionally designed that way. You were not meant to approach it as a game where the point to playing and sole activity was based on the rewards. The rewards were one aspect of an overall "let's play characters living in a fantasy world" sort of thing. As so many have noted, fighting in older games was a deadly thing, to be avoided if possible. You were meant to use your head at least as much as your sword.

    There's a lot unsaid, gleaned by reading between the lines in those books, something I don't see in modern "designed" games, which often seem to be over-designed, IMO, forcing play to focus on the specific (limited, again IMO) things the designers intended. That could be good, I suppose, for a typical "game", but the lack of richness in overall gameplay when compared to certain classic RPGs is obvious.

  5. Dave--I was thinking the same thing as I typed this this morning. I hope you don't think I'm being a dick by repeating this. I'm enjoying this debate, too, and I do think you have some good points. I'll be getting around to that soon. I just wanted to address the idea that there is more to the game than just combat.

    Besides, with XP for gold, who says you can't get XP for converting others to your faith? Convert a jungle tribe to worship Pelor instead of Nyarlathotep, and see how many GPs the new converts donate to the cleric to build a temple. There's your XP reward, without having to go down the slippery slope of nebulous DM fiat story awards.

    Got a bard? Perform that new epic poem about the sacking of the Gatehouse before the king, and see if he rewards you Hrothgar-style with some gold arm rings and a fancy sword. GPV=XP. Reward given for a roleplay activity.

    Sure, none of this is hard coded into the ruleset, but then there are quite a few things that are mentioned in the text but not given hard and fast rules on how to use them--like some of the general equipment.

    As the annonymous poster said, OD&D is really about making the game your own, and finding ways to use what's presented in the booklets to piece together whatever works for you.

    And if that's a campaign about converting heathens, composing epic poetry, and going into business selling potions of gasseous form, there are ways to make it work without too much thought.

    3E to some extent, and 4E completely, as we agree, define the game as a combat simulator first and foremost. The original had that combat simulation, but was also so much more. If they didn't want that more, they likely would have just stuck with Chainmail's 1-to-1 combat rules and played out tactical skirmish combats against monsters, without all the other stuff added in.

  6. Interactive story-telling. That's what DnD was for me the first time I played. I remember I fought exactly two monsters: a snake and a hydra-type thingy. The snake was by far the scariest, since I was looking for treasure on the dungeons dusty floor and then -- on no I'm fighting for my life. It was like video games before video games. To be honest in retrospect I'm pretty sure the DM fudged most of the rolls on the battle so that we'd win, but just the concept that the character could do anything I wanted was incredible, the combat as ancillary. The more memorable battle was the surprise viper attack. I think as video games have become common-place this aspect of interactivity receded in favor of game-play mechanics. I found 3d to be simpler to understand that 2nd edition but more mechanical. Nothing was cooler than the Redbox type of basic DnD. Mechanics were added slowly level by level so that play was first, not just the combat aspect of it. After coming back form Japan I gave all my DnD books to a friend to sell on ebay (back when a digital camera was hard to come by), but then I moved and didn't hear back from him. I kinda wish I still had them.
    Oh btw is odnd old dnd? or is that something else?

  7. In most circles, OD&D refers to Original D&D from 1973.

    The Red Box sets from 81/83 are continuations of it, without a lot of the extra stuff from supplements that ended up in AD&D.

  8. Two points:

    (1) Gary was genuinely surprised at one point that he’d left XP for other activities out of the original game. (I think it was an ENWorld thread, but I’m not positive.)

    (2) It seems to me that this “beyond the scope of the rules” stuff is exactly what made the Braunsteins a success. What make Blackmoor a success. What made Greyhawk a success. What fueled the sales driven through guys playing the game in Lake Geneva and then taking it home to their friends.

    I think looking only at the text leaves out a lot of context that was important. When I read that text, I have a hard time believing it became what it became based on the text alone. ^_^ It was, I believe, the “beyond the scope of the rules” stuff that drove the popularity of the game, even if it may have been underrepresented in parts of the text itself.

  9. Those gaps are where the magic happens. Take away the gaps, and you take away the magic.