Friday, August 7, 2009

Random Thoughts

On 2E: Goaded on by the rash of posts about 2E in the internets lately, I took a rare trip to the vault and pulled out a couple of filing boxes. Both filled to the top with 2E stuff (and I know there's a least two more boxes of 2E stuff in there) and a couple of folders of character and DMing info. I was surprised that I felt a bit... uncomfortable for a moment. Sort of like running in to an ex-girlfriend who's happy to see you, but you know deep down inside you were only with her to (ahem) "love the one you're with", to coin a phrase.

At any rate, I wasn't there just to gaze in irony-fueled wonderment at the ranks of Class Guides and Boxed Campaign Expansions, but to attempt to find a module, any module, to blog about along the lines of "Hey, I found a good 2E module!". No such luck. What was up with that? Why no cool modules, Mr. 90's Era TSR Designer Guys? I mean, you guys did a whole book on Gnomes fer frik's sake. A whole box set (with expansions) on the Ecology of the Forgotten Realms (my feelings are still to raw to even attempt to examine what possessed me to purchase that one).

The one published 2E adventure I used the most was Ruins of Undermountain, but I can't really say that was a great adventure, as it was really just a big box of maps that I did 90% of the work on fleshing out. Still pretty cool, though, don't think I'm in any way disparaging big boxes of maps. Sadly, this box came at the beginning of 2E, and its sequal was sub-par in every imaginable way. I know I bought a few actual modules back then, but they must be in one of the other boxes. Maybe some day I'll work up the courage to dig deeper.

Oriental Adventures: Another subject of recent web-fury, I pulled this out for a peek while I was in the area. I ran a short campaign with this the summer between 7th and 8th grade (short campaigns for us kids was about 7 or 8 levels of gaming - Oh, to have such free time again!), and have fine memories of it, but not a lot of detail. I kept this out to read through further, but was amused to note how Gary thanks a group of "The Japanese Players" (as well as listing their names) for their playtesting and input.

Really? How exactly was this particular focus group put together? Were they flown in direct from Japan? Did there just happen to be a couple of all-Japanese gaming groups down the road in Lake Geneva? What did they tell these guys? "Ok, we have this game, based on an outline by a Frenchman and fleshed out by this guy "Zeb" here, that attempts to faithfully recreate your culture in terms D&D nerds can understand. Give it test drive and be honest, we can take it!"

How the heck did they playtest that Gnomes book, I wonder?

Making a Published Setting Your Own: My last S&W session, set, as ever, in the Wilderlands of High Fantasy saw me moving ever further from the setting-as-written. Bear in mind I've been running this monster of a setting off and on for more than 25 years, and I think one of the main reasons I never get sick of it is its malleability. As the party slowly homes in on the various clues I've left for them about the location of the Forsaken Halls (my Megadungeon!), they have at last arrived at the gateway to the Valley of the Ancients. Somewhere in this hoary wilderness lies their goal, and I quickly realized that, while enamored of the map of the region in every way, I had no interest whatsoever in the published details for these locations. And so I've been detailing these cities, villages, forests, swamps, and rivers only a few steps ahead of the players actually arriving there.

The Valley of the Ancients, to my surprise, is turning into a vaguely Hyborean, dark, pulpy land of xenophobic citadels, crumbling temples, and freebooting river pirates. I'm having a blast, and the players seem to enjoy it. It'll be fun to see how this developes, and I'm hoping there'll be plenty of time for further Wilderness exploration even after they begin their eventual investigation of the Halls.

The "Rosetta Clone": A couple of days ago I posed a question to the OSR about the odds of getting behind a single, "big name" company D&D clone, if such a thing were to be produced. Almost universally, the response was "I'm happy with what I have already", so I think its fair to say, it would have to be a monumentally good game to inspire conversion en masse. Time will tell.

Thinking about that kind of made me wonder, exactly what am I playing? Some folks put it very succinctly: "TSR Era D&D", or just "Classic Era D&D", which I think is fair enough. When I look at the modest stack of books to my left while I play what is ostensibly Swords & Wizardry, I see Labyrinth Lord, which I use for some combat system elements, the wilderness campaigning info, as well as the Thief and Elf classes. I also see OSRIC, which I use for the awesome and nearly endless wonderful charts and tables, as well as for the Ranger PC class, Illusionist & Druid NPCs, and for the expanded lists of spells and magic items. And also there is the S&W monster book, OE Reloaded, which I use for... monsters!

So am I really playing Swords & Wizardry? It might indeed be more fair to say I'm just playing "D&D"; after all, that's what my players say.


  1. I started playing an OD&D game last year and ended up turning to my battered Moldvay Basic book everytime something came up that I wasn't sure about. Back when I was a kid, we played B/X but between us our group had the 1st ed DMG, PHB, MM, FF, and Deities & Demi-goods. We also used a ton of AD&D classes, monsters, and magic items from White Dwarf.

    Now I'm using S&W (White Book & Core), LL and B/X, and Mentzer Basic/Expert but yeah, like you and your group I think I'm just playing 'D&D'.

    Not sure how I'd feel about a 'big company' making a rosetta clone. For me it's prolly too late, I like S&W too much. Even though B/X is my fav version of D&D I don't tend to look at my LL pdf as S&W is close enough. Mind you, if I didn't still have B/X books I'd use LL more I guess.

  2. I have had a tough time with published settings. They are someone else's idea of "What should be". Warhammer: a great idea for pc games and novels, too much of a pain to make your own for an rpg. This is also how I see a big publisher working things, to maximize profit via an overabundance of detail (read "splatbooks"). There is nothing wrong with profit, but, as I said before, if you are going for the big time, skip the big rpg people all together and find a place in other areas. Any big rpg publisher will obviously want the product to reflect their interests rather than just follow what a smaller publisher wants, so why even give them the time? Find another market completely and push the oldschool mindset. Sorry if I am making a redundant post on your blog, Al, but at this point I feel that the longer the "big guys" stay out the better.



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...