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General Forge Forums => Actual Play => Topic started by: Rich Forest on November 17, 2006, 05:29:16 AM



Title: [Basic D&D (Moldvay)] dead elves and grave robbing thieves
Post by: Rich Forest on November 17, 2006, 05:29:16 AM
A friend (Ben Lehman) is passing through town this week, and this afternoon we fit in a game of D&D. We used the 1981 Moldvay edited edition of Basic. The idea to play it grew out of us making small talk about a longer running D&D3.5 game we've played in, which is currently on hiatus because me and another player are just too busy right now for the regular game.

Anyway, we decided to play some stuff that had happened in the ancient history of the game world, and use Basic D&D for it.

That's the general setup. He made a dungeon, an elven tomb. I made characters, two elves. He'd suggested that elves basically become "adults" by going out to some unoccupied part of the massive, mostly unexplored elven wood, occupying it, and sticking around for centuries. Basically, homesteading until they reach name level. I made a pair of 1st level elves, brothers (since they were planning on sharing the occupation of the area). One was a "mostly following in his father's militant footsteps" type, the other was a "bit odd for the family, very bright, spends time caving" guy. I didn't invest a whole lot of into backstory. Their names were Lorn and Wight.

They went into the ruin, faced some ghoulish elves, and died. The inauspiciously named Wight was the first to fall.

I rolled two new characters, and we cut to thirty or forty years later. This time I rolled up two thieves, with the boss being none too bright -- he'd decided, after all, to sneak into the elven wood to rob graves. His flunky was there because frankly, he needed the money. The first thief provided the funding, the other did most of the hard work. Surprisingly, they prevailed against the monsters who had slain the elves, they looted some stuff, and one leveled up. The money-bags thief was named Stief. The flunky thief was named Git.

By the end of the game, I really liked Git.

That's the broad framework. Here are some highlights, musings, and observations in no particular order.

1) My two favorite moments were sort of opposites. Both occurred with the thieves. One was a time I knew exactly what to do without thinking about it and could just put the characters into action with no hesitation. They had entered the tomb, they saw shadowy figures, they had surprise, and they started shooting them down. It was at that point that I realized these guys had ambushed folks before. This wasn't their first time. The other favorite moment was sort of the opposite because it was a time when I had no idea what to do. Things were going against them, one (Stief) was paralyzed, I was flailing around trying to decide on my next action for Git, and I stumbled upon something that snapped into place and worked. Git grabbed the holy water from Stief's belt and poured it over his own head. When the ghoul hit him right after that, it took the standard d8 holy water damage on its successful hit. That helped Git pull through and win the fight. (Later, in the game's postscript, Git would tithe 10% at the church by way of saying "thanks.")

2) Treasure based xp seems really cool. It's worth more than monster fighting xp, so the best way to level up is to get as much treasure as you can without getting caught up in too many fights, if at all possible. At 1st level, combat is scary dangerous.

3) But ranged weapons are great. When you have 4 hit points and a longbow, and the monsters have no ranged attacks, you might live.

4) Rogues are cool. They can dish out good damage and they can do so at distance. Also, they level up fast.

5) Outlier rolls and equipment are great little characterization tools. The elf who came with a backpack and two large sacks? He's clearly intent on looting, while his brother is not. The thief who decided to bring holy water and wolfsbane into the elven wood to use against the elves? He may just be stupid enough to have brought the right gear for the job. (Stief's holy water saved Git's ass, which in turn saved Stief's ass since he was paralyzed at the time.)

Ben'll probably have more to add. Right now I'm just kicking this off.

Rich


Title: Re: [Basic D&D (Moldvay)] dead elves and grave robbing thieves
Post by: TonyLB on November 17, 2006, 06:02:50 AM
Anyway, we decided to play some stuff that had happened in the ancient history of the game world, and use Basic D&D for it.
I love the way you connected those two things.  Like, you're using the rules to literally represent the nostalgic "Those were simpler times" vision of the past.  Was that deliberate?


Title: Re: [Basic D&D (Moldvay)] dead elves and grave robbing thieves
Post by: Rich Forest on November 17, 2006, 06:10:30 AM
I love that too. That was intentional -- and that specific combination was Ben's stroke of genius. Since the primary 3.5 campaign is set "on pause," we had started slipping in occasional pickup games using lighter, faster systems. I played a pickup game in the same setting with a couple of the other players a few weeks ago using a bare-bones thing that started out as Risus but ended up not being Risus. Anyway, Ben and I were chatting about it yesterday, and we brainstormed some other options. We were talking about doing stuff from Ben's Blackguard's part of the world using Sorcerer as the system, for example, but that'd be a bit more of an investment as far as time and effort. (It still might happen eventually.) Anyway, I suggested that it would also be cool to use simpler versions of D&D for some of the pickup games and Ben said, "set something in the ancient history of the world and use Basic!" And then he said, "I have dice. Should I bring them tomorrow?"

And we were off like a shot.


Title: Re: [Basic D&D (Moldvay)] dead elves and grave robbing thieves
Post by: Ben Lehman on November 17, 2006, 05:58:45 PM
I do indeed have more to add, though I lost the big post in a browser crash.

I have to catch a flight, so I'll write my thoughts extensively during the air-time and post them when I land.  A day or so.

Short summary: I'm impressed by how little prep needs to go into the game, and how it's more than possible to play a satisfactory session in about two or three hours, including character and dungeon generation.  The text itself is a fascinating thing, too.  I also want to elaborate on the world creation / prep method that both Rich and I use for D&D -- I'm a growing fan of it and want it to propogate.

yrs--
--Ben


Title: Re: [Basic D&D (Moldvay)] dead elves and grave robbing thieves
Post by: Ben Lehman on November 21, 2006, 02:08:20 PM
It was really cool to have the opportunity to play this game.  Both Rich and I are very enthusiastic fans of D&D, and given our geographical separation, so far we've only managed chat play, which has been interesting but somewhat slow and unsatisfying to me on a visceral level.  Being able to throw down with some D&D in person, and particularly for me a chance to mess around in Rich's really cool world, was just great.

I was really impressed by this game.  Now, that's a funny thing to say, given that I played more basic D&D than I care to even think about for my entire childhood, but this was a really different experience.  First of all, this was a slightly different version of the rules text (mine was the red book with the Elmore cover) but, more importantly, my own D&D play drifted pretty far afield from the core rules, incorporating good and evil alignments, a skill system, weapon mastery, re-arranging attributes to taste, and other such things.  With this game, I made a very conscience decision to hew as close to the rules text as possible (I did make three exceptions, which I'll detail below), and in the end I was surprised by how compact and satisfying a gaming experience I got from it.  I was also surprised by how enormously clear most of the game's procedures were.

I want to talk a little bit about the techniques by which Rich has developed his world.  It's a fantastic 1-2 punch of shaping the world directly around his player characters and obtaining key bits of setting, color, and situation information form the D&D rules texts.  If you're trying to paint your GM/author vision of your fantasy world over the D&D rules, there's a shocking amount of setting material subtly present.

So here's some examples:

As Rich mentioned, our game was set in the distant past of his 3.5 campaign world.  In this campaign world, arcane magic is evil (particularly spontaneous casting, particularly dragons).  This is because the original PC group contained no arcane casters.  Likewise, the only druids are elves (humans can be rangers only, but even then have to learn it from the elves) and the only clerics are dwarves (humans can be paladins only, but even then have to learn it from the dwarves.)  There was a previous age ruled by elves and dwarves together, which was disrupted by dragons in some way.  Gnomes, with a preferred class of bard, are thus evil.  Elves, with a preferred class of wizard, are thus very prone to corruption.

Now, the game uses two different measures of evil, the regular alignment sort and corruption, a completely separate scale.  Dragons and magic are not necessarily evil in the alignment sense, but are corrupt.  Likewise, my character in the game (a black-guard) is evil, but literally immune to corruption.  Rich has spun off this to imply that the "Gods of Man" are evil enemies of the dragons, perhaps demons.

I'm intending to run a game set in this golden age before the dragons crushed the other races, and I'm also using the basic D&D rules.  Concentrating for a second on elves, I learn the following:
1) All elves are users of arcane magic.
2) Elves are immune to the paralyzing touch of ghouls, specifically and with no other related immunities (like the immunity to sleep spells they would later acquire.)
3) All elves speak Orc, Hobgoblin, and Gnoll with native fluency. (I didn't get to use this, but we noted it during prep.)
4) Evil, metaphysically, does not yet exist in the world.  The world is morally relative, alignments are limited to law, chaos, and neutrality.  Spells which reference evil either require a group consensus about what constitutes evil or simply define evil as "differing alignment from the caster."  However, we know that evil will exist in the future of the world.

These are just four things that I saw.  The book is full of countless things like this, all of which could be seen as a basis for prep and exploration.

This is just three bits. I could have easily picked up similar information about halflings, clerics, whatever and run with it the same.  I just happened to be interested in elves.

I generate the dungeon entirely using the standard dungeon generation rules in the book.  These rules are given as optional, and I do fudge room placement a bit, but I'm trying to stick closely to the rules when I can.  I use monsters that I have in mind particularly, though.

So my dungeon is a long buried, millenniums-old elven tomb, partially unearthed by recent earthquakes, with some mysterious bits.  The very first room calls for a trap (remember, random roll), and the example traps in the book are either harmless (a fog) or absolutely deadly (spinning blades that inflict 1-8 damage.  On characters with 3 hit points.)  I decide that the tomb is flanked by four statues, and to enter the tomb you have to grasp one of their hands in greeting, which marks the victim with a secret sign.  The second and fourth rooms are empty, the third room contains monsters and a treasure, and the fifth room is a "special room," which I decide will be a landslide-filled chamber that cannot be moved through until several decades of seismic activity open another way.  For the room, I stock it with ghouls (randomly rolled: 4 of them), which are rather powerful monsters which would normally be appropriate for level 2 characters, but I figure (wrongly) that the elves' immunity to their paralysis will cancel that out, and I'm interested in the relationship between ghouls and elves implied in the rules.  At this point, I haven't decided what that is.  I did some stuff for the rest of the dungeon, but as you'll see below, we didn't get that far, so I won't go into details.

The layout is like this:  Room one is outside, room 3 is a large chamber, 200x60 feet, with a hall at the end to room 5, and rooms 2 and 4 as incense/sacrificial/inscription chambers off to the sides.  All rooms in the tomb were once tiled, but seismic activity has tossed up the stones, making it rough terrain and difficult to move on (half normal speed.)

So Rich and I get together and he rolls up characters, 3d6 for each attribute take it or leave it, and ends up with two very strong elf characters he develops a cute little backstory for them, being rebellious and obedient sons of an overbearing and militaristic father.  Their names are Lorm and Wight.  We use the optional rule that allows rerolls for 1 or 2 results on starting HP, which doesn't help Rich much -- both of his guys end up with three HP.  Yikes!  We talk and agree on three house rules.

1) We're not going to use the variable weapon damage optional rule, so all weapons do 1d6.  We make an exception for two handed weapons, which do 1d10 (that's the house rule), although this never matters in the game.  Potential problem for later play: weapons have different costs.  Should you have to pay just for color difference or should everyone just use daggers?

2) We're going to use the rule which was apparently invented in Dave Arneson's Blackmoor game that you don't get experience for your treasure until you spend it.  This is *way* more important than either of us realize at the time that we agree to it.

3) We include "skill descriptions" equal to 1+intelligence bonus.  These are basically just "describe what your character does with his time" and have no direct mechanical impact, but serve to help us as players frame *how* the characters do things.  In retrospect, I realize that we reinvented the secondary skills system from 2nd edition AD&D.

So, avoiding all "adventure hook" nonsense, we start with Rich's guys finding the tomb, with a few old, partially buried statues of elves wearing clothes and jewelry that neither recognizes.  Rich figures out the statue trick pretty quickly and, after Lorm takes the hit, Wight decides not to join him.  So Lorm is marked, Wight is not, and the way into the tomb is opened.  To note: I have no real pre-thought-out way to avoid this trap.  I'm prepared for Rich to come up with an idea to avoid it, and basically decide whether or not I find it cool enough, but it doesn't really come up.  I do know how it works beforehand, though.

His guys go down in the tomb, poke around a little bit, and run into the four ghouls about midway through the area.  Instead of just attacking, though, we follow the rules of the book, which give the side with initiative (a random, modified roll) four options: Fight, Talk, Run, or Wait and See.  Rich gets the initiative and decides to wait and see, describing his guys getting into a defensive position.  I decide to talk.  A leader of the ghouls, who I describe as a very old elf with long white hair and long twisted nails, steps forward, and announces that the interloper (meaning the unmarked Wight) must leave.  Rich (as Lorm) agrees, and both elves start making their way to the door.  No, says the leader of the ghouls to Lorm, you are now one of us, and must stay.  Well, he wasn't going to take that, so they engaged the ghouls and were absolutely slaughtered with only light injury on the ghouls' side.  Yikes!  Even with the immunity, they were much meaner than I thought, and the PCs were no more than ghoul food.

At this point we had probably spent about an hour of prep (we were slow) and another hour of play.  We had a whole lot of time still left in the afternoon, so we decided: "Hey, let's roll up more characters and keep going."  So Rich makes two guys, but they don't qualify to be elves (intelligence too low) and thus he makes a pair of thieves named Git and Steif.  We decided that they had hatched a hair-brained plan to rob treasures from the elven wood, and had crossed the mountain and wandered around the wood, delirious and starving, until stumbling across the statues (the tomb now closed again and hidden) marking the entrance to the tomb.  Knowing something was up, they spent a good while screwing about with the statues until Git happened to luck into grabbing a hand and triggering the trap.  It doesn't mark him with a sign, it just burns him badly, but the tomb still opens.  They enter, finding the chewed bones of the previous characters ("wild animals!" explains Steif.)

They encounter the ghouls, but surprise them.  Not one to take chances, Rich takes the "attack" option mentioned previously, and gets an opportunity to strike the unaware ghouls.  Since thieves, in this version of D&D, get very large bonuses to attack and damage unaware targets, they take down one target immediately in the first volley, a second on the next round before the ghouls close, and then we're left with two vs. two.  The first round of attacks by the ghouls manages to paralyze Stief but not Git.  As Rich talked about above, he paused and hesitated several times about his options here.  I went over the retreat rules a couple of times, trying to get a solid statement out of him, before he decided to grab Steif's holy water and break it over his head.  I decided that this was a clever enough idea that I should reward it, so I decided that it would damage (as if it were thrown) the ghoul on the next successful hit.  Which then happened, killing that ghoul.  I describe it as hissing "demons!" as it lit up with a bright red fire and burnt to dust and ashes.  The other was occupied dragging Steif off to eat him, and Git laid him low with arrow fire.  That done, they set off to explore the tomb.

In the two side rooms (2 and 4, you'll recall), they found the ceilings decorated in precious metals -- a golden sun and sky in copper, and a night sky with starrs in silver, all told the equivalent to 1000 gold pieces, 6000 silver pieces, and 8000 copper pieces.  The chambers also had some elven writing which they didn't even recognize as writing, let alone understand (we'll leave that 'til next time.)  In addition, each of the ghouls had a woven silver mantle worth around 120 gold, which Git managed, through a ruse, to take without Steif noticing.  Let's look for a second at the reward system here:  The combination was worth over 2000 experience between the characters, whereas the ghouls were worth a total of 100.  The requirement to spend the money, as well as the impassable landslide, made the most prudent course of action returning to civilization, which they managed to do even though they barely made it across the mountains (no roll, just color.)  Steif wasted his excess money on girls, gambling, and fair-weather friends, where Git (now level 2) give %10 of his treasure to the church and uses the rest to open up a restaurant.

I'd like to emphasize that this treasure amount was not at all abnormal.  Treasure is, in this version of D&D, the fundamental way that you win the game.  Monsters are basically secondary -- like traps, they are barriers to be surpassed in order to get good treasure.  It's a fascinating sort of statement, and I'm still thinking through the implications.

The other impressive thing is that we managed a perfectly reasonable small dungeon adventure, with one TPK and regeneration, in about three and half hours.  Those of us looking at how to reduce the social footprint of games would do well to look at early basic versions of D&D.

Discussion with Rich afterward were about all these things, plus a general enthusement and also speculation about what it means to be a "ghoul."  Our impression is that, perhaps, ghouls are simply a form of old / corrupt elves.  But more play will have to happen before that's a definite.


Title: Re: [Basic D&D (Moldvay)] dead elves and grave robbing thieves
Post by: James_Nostack on November 21, 2006, 03:55:46 PM
Hey Ben, that's awesome.  I'm not sure if I had the exact same version of the game (I had a red box, with a crazy fighter attacking a red dragon on it), but I remember the elves vs. ghouls thing too... and I think there was also a thoul, which was like a troll + ghoul hybrid.

I've gotten very interested in D&D3.5 over the past 12 months, but haven't played it yet.  In what way is it more onerous to set up?  For example, you said the Basic Set allowed you to roll for rooms and their contents (I vaguely recall that)--but there are similar rules in the 3.5 DMG, allowing you to create a dungeon equally randomly, with perhaps a few extra rolls.  I'd expect some crazed D&D fan has already written them up as a Web application.  So where the does the extra prep come from?  I almost wonder if it's because the two of you had no expectations for this game, so there was less pressure to tweak it--or is that a wrong assumption?

 



Title: Re: [Basic D&D (Moldvay)] dead elves and grave robbing thieves
Post by: Jon Scott Miller on November 21, 2006, 04:02:49 PM
This is a really interesting thread. I usually don't post anything here at The Forge, but I have a couple of questions.

1. I do not yet fully understand the current version of Forge-theory, despite having looked at the glossary a couple of times (I am simply not patient enough to digest all of that in my "free" time). Because of that, this question may be ill-formed, but here goes: Assuming that D&D is designed to meet gamist goals, how do your decisions about setting, situation, and color factor into what the game is supposed to be about? What, exactly, do you see as riding on your decisions about the relationship between elves and ghouls (for example), assuming the point of the game is to get as much treasure as possible (or whatever).

2. The DM's ruling regarding the holy water is intriguing. Do you think this sort of ad-hoc extension of the rules is encouraged by the game itself, in terms of the kind of holes that are left open in the system? Or is this moreso a case of your deciding to change the rules in a way that you think is fun?

I have long thought that earlier editions of D&D have a lot of potential for rewarding play that is not always tapped--in part because of players insisting on playing the game in ways that it does not really support--perhaps because of years of experience playing that way with other systems, or perhaps because they have only ever played D&D dysfunctionally. It's nice to see you guys having some fun with the grand-daddy of rpg's.

Thanks,

Jon


Title: Re: [Basic D&D (Moldvay)] dead elves and grave robbing thieves
Post by: Callan S. on November 21, 2006, 05:07:53 PM
Hi Jon,

Take chess: It puts two kings on the board, says if one is in check then that player loses, and then puts a bunch of other pieces on the board. D&D, any edition, doesn't have any 'you lose' statement built into it. It doesn't even put pieces on the board. It has no conflict built into it. Have a look through the account. See how the space (where it's missing this component) is exploited to forfil a simulationist agenda (I estimate it is, from the account so far).


Title: Re: [Basic D&D (Moldvay)] dead elves and grave robbing thieves
Post by: Larry L. on November 21, 2006, 10:08:23 PM
Ben,

I had never heard of the Arneson "spend your loot first" rule. It certainly seems to change the implied meaning of why PCs earn XP for getting treasure. Very interesting.


Title: Re: [Basic D&D (Moldvay)] dead elves and grave robbing thieves
Post by: Ben Lehman on November 21, 2006, 10:56:36 PM
Hi Jon!  You're got some really good questions, let's see if I can unpack them.

Quote
1. I do not yet fully understand the current version of Forge-theory, despite having looked at the glossary a couple of times (I am simply not patient enough to digest all of that in my "free" time). Because of that, this question may be ill-formed, but here goes: Assuming that D&D is designed to meet gamist goals, how do your decisions about setting, situation, and color factor into what the game is supposed to be about? What, exactly, do you see as riding on your decisions about the relationship between elves and ghouls (for example), assuming the point of the game is to get as much treasure as possible (or whatever).

1. First off, it's a very good question, and well formed, so no sweat on that end.

I think that a lot of people want to reduce gamist role playing to the level of board games, or even abstract board games: clear win conditions, strongly limited character choice, etc.  I think that the result of such a reduction is not only not suitable for gamist play, but not suitable for any form of role-playing at all.

Gamist role-playing, like any other competitive endeavor, is about victory as well as "good play" (it's quite possible to lose the game and still "win" social credit, if you lost in an interesting or honorable fashion.)  But that does not mean it is purely about victory.  The setting, situation, color and characters serve two roles.  The first is simply as pieces for play.  In the context of a game like Moldvay's D&D, this is covered in improvisational use of scenery, items, or character background of the sort that Rich demonstrated when he doused his own character in holy water.

The second, and more interesting to me, is that they serve to frame victory in the context of the fiction.  This is a role-playing game, after all.  The fiction of our play is necessarily important.  The relationship between elves and ghouls, the relationship between alignments, Lorm and Wight's relationship with their father, Git's resturaunt and Stief's gambling are all integral pieces of the fiction.  Rather than providing a means for victory, however, they provide a context for victory.  Through them, we see what it means to risk the character's life, and what it means to be successful and emerge with money and property for your success.  Without them, the game is reduced to a simple miniatures board game, with no particular meaning to the successes and failures.

To give an example (which is actually from 3.5 play, but the case still holds): a friend of mine played a character who was a professional adventurer -- he did it to support his wife and children.  The wife and children were named, fleshed out characters in the fiction.  That player, often, would decide not to take certain risks put before the party, because of what his character stood to lose (far more than his life but also his family.)  The fiction provides a means of assessing and contextualizing success and failure.

(Do you all see how the "must spend treasure to gain XP" rule, while ultimately having little effect on mechanics, enhances this aspect of the fiction?)

Quote
2. The DM's ruling regarding the holy water is intriguing. Do you think this sort of ad-hoc extension of the rules is encouraged by the game itself, in terms of the kind of holes that are left open in the system? Or is this moreso a case of your deciding to change the rules in a way that you think is fun?

This kind of ad-hoc extension of the rules is not only encouraged by the rules through absence, it is explicitly required for the DM to make ad-hoc rulings about things not already covered by the ordinary game rules.  It is recommended that the DM should try to make up a rule by imagining the situation, and further suggests that percentile rolls or attribute checks (roll under value on a d20) may be used in some cases.  In this particular instance, I thought it was a clever idea, neatly fit with the character as portrayed so far, and allowed me to introduce a cool bit of color, so I let it happen.  If Rich made it standard operating procedure in future adventures, I would probably reduce it's effectiveness (by having it only take effect on a 3/6 on a d6, say, or a 1/6 on a d6 but remaining until used.)

Quote
I have long thought that earlier editions of D&D have a lot of potential for rewarding play that is not always tapped--in part because of players insisting on playing the game in ways that it does not really support

I just wanted to highlight this, and say that I agree entirely and give a hearty backslap of approval.

James:

Rich and I are huge fans of D&D 3.5 and newly minted Basic D&D enthusiasts, which I'm just clarifying because I'm about to say some things which could be misconstrued as cuts on one game or the other.  They aren't, it's just an attempt to highlight the differences between what ultimately are very different games.

In a word, D&D 3.5 is just a much slower game than basic D&D.

D&D 3.5 character generation involves a hideous amount of decision points.  You must allocate your attributes, decide race and class, pick feats, pick spells, and buy equipment from a hideously large list full of options.  If you are playing optimally, you should already be planning your prestige class progression through 12-20 levels, depending on how long the game will run.  In terms of dungeon design, the DM must pick from a humungous list of monsters, consult volumnious treasure tables, and create decent color for the whole thing.

In D&D Basic, there are three decision points in the entire character generation: The first is "what class will you be?"  The second is "what alignment are you" which is almost entirely Color.  The last is "what equipment will you use" and is by far the most complicated.  Oh, and you have to pick a character name.  On the DM's side, you have a list of about 20 monsters, a simple random table for if you're truly stumped, and a dungeon generator that I could write onto my palm with room to spare.  That's system, let's talk color: As opposed to the 3.5 DMG's "100 plotlines" which are confusing and, well, there's 100 of them, there is a list of 10 very solid adventure ideas with fleshed out paragraphs discussing the different possible outcomes.  See what I'm getting at?

At all levels of the game -- prep, introduction, combat, exploration -- D&D 3.5 is simply more complicated than Basic D&D.  This is by design, and 3.5 is an excellent game for its design goals.  But Basic D&D is amazingly useful for a few hours in a coffee shop, or a little time after dinner.  The social footprint of the game, and the manner of play, is entirely different.  3.5 is a game of strategy and tactics, Basic is a game of cleverness, luck,  a little bit of tactics but very little strategy.

Callan:
What the hell, man?  Every statement you are saying about D&D is wrong (this version has loss conditions, pieces on a board, and built in conflict all featured prominently), and the implied conclusion would be wrong even if your statements about D&D were correct.

yrs--
--Ben

P.S.  Crossposted with Larry, but just wanted to share a grin with him.  Yeah, exactly.


Title: Re: [Basic D&D (Moldvay)] dead elves and grave robbing thieves
Post by: Rich Forest on November 22, 2006, 12:02:37 AM
(Note: I see Ben posted while I was writing this. Iím just posting this as is, so consider it an independent data point.)

James,

I can speak a bit to the prep thing, from the point of view of D&D 3.5. The dungeon generation thing is just one aspect of the different demands in terms of prep. With basic, we basically chatted a bit about it one day, and the next day Ben was able to generate the dungeon while I generated two characters. That took about an hour, like Ben said, and we werenít moving particularly fast -- we were also chatting about cool or interesting things weíd noticed in the rules. All the rules for basic, both for players and GM, are in one 64 page book. That book covers everything: characters, treasure, monsters, and dungeon generation. It seems like a small point, but it was tremendously helpful that all equipment is contained on a single page, for example. By the time I was making the second set of characters, I had already memorized the costs for some of the items. There are also far fewer choice points: to generate a character, I only need to make a few choices.

1) I need to choose a character class, of which there are seven options, but only a couple are probably going to be relevant (remember, you donít assign attribute scores -- you get what you roll)
2) I need to choose an alignment, of which there are three.
3) I need to buy equipment. At character creation, this is actually where the largest number of choices must be made. Starting gold can be pretty tight, and my equipment choices provided characterization and also had consequences for effectiveness.
4) And if Iím a spellcaster, I need to pick one spell.

In 3.5, the number of choices is far greater, both for the players and the GM. This continues as the characters advance. As GM, doing prep for 3.5, you need to track a much larger range of options. In our campaign, the main ďbad guyĒ group is heavily populated by users of arcane magic, and creating them and selecting spells for them has been a consistently demanding process for me as DM. I have used a variety of online tools to help with this, but itís still relatively time consuming. In fact, I have used far fewer NPC wizards and sorcerers as villains than I would like to have, and among the ones I have used Iíve recycled statblocks. Getting them right, and getting them effective, and knowing how their spells function, etc., is time consuming. I only use monsters straight from the monster manual, with cosmetic changes, in every case possible. In contrast, in our basic D&D play last Friday, we did the prep, both for player and GM, in an hour. And when my first set of characters died, I rolled up two new characters (and that probably only took fifteen minutes or so) and sent them into the same dungeon. Pretty fast.

In basic, remember, going into dungeons is the main thing you do. If you get out the red book, thatís it Ė thatís the play structure. There is a set of (pretty cool) story types listed, but they share space with the assumption that youíll be dungeon delving, and thatís what the equipment list and the character classes and the monsters and the random tables are geared toward. In 3.5, the dungeon certainly hasnít been left behind, but right from the beginning you have a wider range of options. And arguably, D&D 3.5 combat is at its most interesting in environments larger than a standard dungeon corridor or dungeon room. Combat in 3.5 really shines when thereís a lot of room for maneuvering, and squads of monsters, and terrain modifiers, etc (the terrain types in the 3.5 DMG and their tactical effects are pretty fun). Deciding what monsters, terrain, and tactics to use, setting it all up, and making sure you know how it works (to the extent that you wonít be looking up too many things during play) can be time consuming.

Jon,

Iím going to take a stab at part of your question 1, but Iím going to sidestep your query about terminology for the time being. Basically, I like this part of your question:

What, exactly, do you see as riding on your decisions about the relationship between elves and ghouls (for example), assuming the point of the game is to get as much treasure as possible (or whatever).

There are at least two things relevant here. On one level, thereís how this game relates to our larger campaign. On another, thereís the moment-to-moment decision making process during game play. So the musings about ghouls and their relationship to elves, that stuff is setting material that has been introduced to the ongoing campaign because of this session. It suggests some things about the ancient history of the game world, and it suggests some things we can pick up and add into the current campaign. By the book, Elves die of old age. Except what if they donít? What if they just keep getting ďolderĒ and their type turns to undead and they become ghouls? This is interesting to me because, well, the players have decided that for the next arc in our campaign theyíre ready to go to the elven wood and get in the high druidís face about whether heís really the coward and traitor that our last bunch of adventures suggested he might be. So this elf -> getting older -> ghoul thing, Iím thinking thatís something cool, and itís a new point of reference for me in thinking about the elven court. But I'm not sure I've quite answered your question yet.

Let me see -- the question is ďwhatís riding on it.Ē Well, thinking about it some more, I think itís something like this. The rules provide the single largest set of ďfixedĒ points of reference for elaborating a setting. There are a lot of rules and details about races, monsters, and classes that interact in interesting ways and are open to multiple interpretations, so once something is introduced and ďratifiedĒ (so to speak) it sends out waves through the setting that makes you look at certain things in a different light. This has happened multiple times over the course of the campaign. We didnít know when we started that, for example, dwarves had the only clerics. It was only after playing for months that someone pointed out that weíd only ever seen dwarf clerics even though we were adventuring in human lands, and we went, ďHuh. Why?Ē And someone said, ďMaybe the dwarves are the only ones who have clerics.Ē (The ďrealĒ reason there hadnít been any human clerics in the game was that I hadnít made any. Itís too much work to manage their spells. One of the players had a dwarf cleric as a PC, and he was the only cleric to show up.) Then suddenly one of the other PCs, a human paladin who worships a dwarvish god, made sense in a new way: ďAh, someone said, the dwarves have the only clerics, so thatís why when humans go that route, they learn from the dwarves, but can only become paladins.Ē This elves and ghouls thing is a new example from the most recent game. Whatís riding on this new point of reference and set of connections implied by the elves and ghouls thing is probably something like this: does it get ratified and adopted as a permanent part of play? Does everyone go, ďHey, thatís awesome, now I see elves in a new light, and thatís just cool.Ē

Now where does treasure fit into this? Iíll give that some thought later. My gut feeling is that one difference is that weíre talking about a reward cycle thatís occurring on a different timescale. Itís probably worth pointing out that I assumed my PCs would be cashing in on treasure and xp. My first two elves were going into an ancient elven tomb and it was not by accident that I had outfitted one of them with an empty backpack and two empty large sacks. I remembered that treasure was good for xp, though before play I hadnít really realized just how much more valuable the treasure is than the monster xp. Now, those guys died, so they didnít get anything. But the second party looted everything they could pry loose, once they handled the ghouls. And one of them leveled up. At no point, with either party, did I think, ďThe PCs wouldnít loot this tomb out of respect for the dead.Ē That sort of thing wasnít even an issue -- it was taken for granted. What I didnít realize until later was how important the treasure would be to characterization. I came to like Git more and more over the course of the adventure, but when he spent his treasure as a tithe to the church and to start a business, I had a better understanding of the character and a fondness for him.

Anyway, those are a few thoughts. I think I have more to say, but itíll have to wait for a later post.

Btw, Larry, we canít actually substantiate that the xp rule comes from Arneson -- we both remembered having heard of it, and in my foggy memory I think I read it mentioned by the poster ďOld GeezerĒ at RPG.net one time, but Iíve had no luck in tracking it down. I could easily have misremembered a) whose rule it was and/or b) where I read it. (Hell, I can't say with 100% certainty that it was Arneson rather than Gygax, but that's how I remember it.) Apparently it is not how Arneson runs things now (at least at con games) (http://forum.rpg.net/showthread.php?referrerid=&t=286043). I liked how it worked, though. It was my favorite of the three rules changes we implemented. (While I liked it at the time, in retrospect Iím less sure that the weapon damage thing was an improvement for this version of D&D, anyway.)

Rich


Title: Re: [Basic D&D (Moldvay)] dead elves and grave robbing thieves
Post by: James_Nostack on November 22, 2006, 07:50:45 AM
Ben & Rich --

Thanks for that explanation.  I've given a lot of thought about how to run D&D3.5, when I get the chance (hopefully sometime in 2007), and it sounds like I've reverse-engineered Basic/Expert D&D: everyone's human, only four classes (which top out at 12th level), about 12 weapons and 3 armors, maybe 50 monsters, etc.  But it still doesn't solve the problems with tracking modifiers, etc.  But you've given me a lot to think about.  Maybe the thing to do is use those old Boxed Sets after all... if I can find them...       


Title: Re: [Basic D&D (Moldvay)] dead elves and grave robbing thieves
Post by: Ron Edwards on November 22, 2006, 08:41:32 AM
Hello,

As with most D&D threads, this one is getting a little humpbacked. I'd like to provide some moderator organization. Yes, I'm being a bit pushy, because a new poster is involved and I want to keep him from being steamrolled.

1. Rich, can you enter into a one-on-one dialogue with Jon Scott Miller in this thread, for a while? If this gets going, then everyone else shut up and let them work out the necessary points and questions.

2. Reference note: the reward system of "spend loot on personal interests" in order to improve your character may be found in the original Blackmoor material by Dave Arneson; I'm not 100% sure, but close, that this material (the way they played) preceded anything to do with Gary Gygax or indeed the name "Dungeons & Dragons."

3. Jon, regarding terminology, the only necessary reading is the first two pages of the Provisional Glossary with one diagram; I believe there are seven specialized terms. A lot of people complain about "all those terms," but I don't think seven terms and one picture is too much to ask. Rich understands them as well as anyone in the world and he can explain anything you'd like to challenge or get clarified.

Rich, this thread is now handed back to you, especially for defining its express purpose and point. I'd rather see you lead a powerful discussion than play soccer goalie for a bunch of random/hyper questions from various directions, so let's see what you and Jon come up with.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: [Basic D&D (Moldvay)] dead elves and grave robbing thieves
Post by: Calithena on November 22, 2006, 10:33:36 AM
Arneson's XP rules are in "First Fantasy Campaign," published by Judges Guild in the mid-late seventies. Each character declares a hobby (some options: wine, women, song, some game-useless modeling/engineering project you have in your character's basement, four or five others). Treasure rescued from the dungeon can either be used to buy new/replacement equipment (in which case, no XP) or burned on your hobby, at which point it converts into XP. This personalizes your character, gives your character a sort of reason (like the addictions in Ethan's game Thugs & Thieves) to be adventuring, and creates a tactical trade-off between sessions (more stuff to use adventuring or level up? type decisions).

I had some other points/questions but in deference to Ron's moderation I'll save them for later if ever. Enjoying the thread.


Title: Re: [Basic D&D (Moldvay)] dead elves and grave robbing thieves
Post by: Jon Scott Miller on November 22, 2006, 01:48:17 PM
The second, and more interesting to me, is that they serve to frame victory in the context of the fiction.† This is a role-playing game, after all.† The fiction of our play is necessarily important.† The relationship between elves and ghouls, the relationship between alignments, Lorm and Wight's relationship with their father, Git's resturaunt and Stief's gambling are all integral pieces of the fiction.† Rather than providing a means for victory, however, they provide a context for victory.† Through them, we see what it means to risk the character's life, and what it means to be successful and emerge with money and property for your success.† Without them, the game is reduced to a simple miniatures board game, with no particular meaning to the successes and failures.

Thanks for your reply, Ben. This reminds me of an old thread by Ron Edwards where he presented a partial transcript of a game session, and then asked readers to identify the Creative Agenda of the players. It was a trick question; supposedly, you can't identify a CA just from the transcript, because a coherent story is usually created as a by-product by Simulationist and Gamist CA's, just as it would be by a Narrativist CA. But I think now I can see part of the difference between these CA's . . . with a Gamist CA, these story elements are still present, but they provide "context for victory," as you say, which is a different from the function they serve in games with other CA's. So issues of motivation and setting (for example) are still part of an rpg with a Gamist agenda, but they are more like the platform which sets the stage on which the actual CA is pursued. I guess I was having trouble seeing that. (Which makes me wonder what kind of game I want to play . . . not sure anymore.)

Thanks,

Jon


Title: Re: [Basic D&D (Moldvay)] dead elves and grave robbing thieves
Post by: Rich Forest on November 22, 2006, 04:50:08 PM
Jon,

In your recent reply to Ben, you end by noting that you're a little unsure about which kind of game you'd like to play these days. I'd like to see where that takes us, if you're interested. I'm on my way out the door this morning and won't be back until later tonight, but I'd like to ask: what kind of games do you play these days, and with who? What is it about what we've said in this thread in particular that makes you wonder about what kind game you'd like to play? Now, we can talk about this in CA terms, but my own preference is to not sweat the terms at first. That's something we can turn to once we've got a basic shared context for what we're talking about: what games you're playing, who with, for how long, what sorts of game activities you keep coming back to, and so on. I'll happily provide the same on my end.

Rich


Title: Re: [Basic D&D (Moldvay)] dead elves and grave robbing thieves
Post by: Jon Scott Miller on November 22, 2006, 05:20:18 PM
Rich,

Thanks for your reply. Currently, I'm playing nothing, but I'm getting ready to play a fantasy game I have been working on. I plan on playing it with some first-time players within the next couple of weeks.

The game is based on an earlier design I did; both wed some techniques from games like D&D and BRP with a set of rules for Passions and rules for a Humanity stat. I thought I was working with a Narrativist CA, but this thread has got me thinking . . . It's possible that what I am actually looking for is a game that simply does a better job than D&D or BRP of generating a believable or interesting storyline as a byproduct of play. Perhaps what I really want is game where players succeed in overcoming obstacles to further their character's Passions, much like success in D&D is measured in large part by XP from treasure gained or monsters killed. The only difference would be that the players get to choose which goals net their characters XP; and this may do little more than provide some incidental Color, for all I can tell.

The game I have been working on is actually inspired in part by years of dysfunctional and semi-functional play of earlier editions of D&D. I thought that what I was doing was designing a game that uses a lot of the same tropes of D&D-type fantasy, but which supports a Narrativist CA. But now I am more confused than ever about what my CA actually is, and what it was back when I used to play D&D.

Jon



Title: Re: [Basic D&D (Moldvay)] dead elves and grave robbing thieves
Post by: Ricky Donato on November 22, 2006, 06:47:24 PM
Hi, Jon,

I think your best bet is to post a new thread about an example of the dysfunctional play that you mentioned. Describe what happened among the players, what happened in the game fiction, and what you did and did not like about each. I for one would be glad to then discuss with you what you are and are not looking for in a game, and what kind of game can make those things happen.


Title: Re: [Basic D&D (Moldvay)] dead elves and grave robbing thieves
Post by: Rich Forest on November 23, 2006, 04:12:46 AM
Hi Jon,

Cool. I'm going to disagree a bit with Ricky about what your best bet is, actually. I think you're better off not getting caught up in too many fast moving threads at once. I think we can talk about a few concrete examples of play right here, and take our time. I'm slow. I think slowly. I need to chew things over, and I don't have a lot of time every day to commit to posting. I like it that way. I think your best bet is to hold off on getting into a bunch of other threads right off.

Also, as far as your game is concerned, I think your best bet is to not muck around with the rules at this point, since you already have a draft. What you want to do now a) play it like crazy, b) watch everyone at the table (including yourself!) carefully, c) reflect on the session, chew it over, but don't change anything yet, d) play like crazy!, and repeat that cycle until you start to see the patterns of behavior that develop over time. Then you'll be ready to revise it to make it a) keep doing the stuff you like, only better! and more often!!, and b) stop doing the stuff that just isn't working. Frankly, critical observation and reflection on play is worth a thousand pages of the glossary and a thousand threads at the Forge without that play, and I'm confident in saying that Ron would tell you the exact same thing. Furthermore, you've already identified your new game as (in part) a reaction to past dysfunctional and semi-functional play, one that you've written to address what wasn't working. What that tells me is you've already done a lot of that play -> reflect -> play -> reflect process already. What you need to do now is take that game and start playing the hell out of it to see if it's working.

I think, in this thread, our best bet is to get really concrete about what I mean about that process. Let's try this: I'll talk a little about that process up there in terms of my own D&D play, using both the Moldvay Basic set game and our D&D 3.5 game as points of reference. Ben's played in both, and he may have different angles on some of these things, so I'll expect that on stuff where we saw the same event really differently from me, he'll let me know. I'm also pretty curious about some of your semi-functional and dysfunctional D&D experiences, and what versions of D&D they were with, and if it was the same groups of players, and so on. Now, in my case I'm not actually writing a game that responds to my D&D play (I'm pretty happy with it). But you are, so feel free to say, "So this thing that always happened when I was playing D&D that wasn't working, I figured one way to fix it would be to do this instead, so that's what I put in my game." Also, don't be shy about saying, "You know what, that thing you're saying was absolutely the coolest thing about play? That doesn't sound like it would work for me. In fact, that's something I was hoping to avoid." I'm cool with that. I'm not made of glass :-) As far as what CA you're working with (or looking for), I don't want to jump the gun on that. I really don't have enough information to speculate intelligently about it yet. There's plenty of time for coming back to that.

I'll be back with some talk about my own concrete D&D experiences, along with observations and reflection, later. Some of it is already in my first post, actually, and my and Ben's other posts in this thread, so I'll come back to bits and pieces of it. I might get back to do this later tonight, but I might not be able to do it until tomorrow. But I will be back, and I will get concrete about that play, observe, reflect process I talked about in the second paragraph.

Rich

(edited to fix a couple of annoying typos I thought I'd already fixed)


Title: Re: [Basic D&D (Moldvay)] dead elves and grave robbing thieves
Post by: Rich Forest on November 24, 2006, 08:27:27 AM
Hi Jon,

Ok, Iím back. Iíve been thinking about this a bit, and Iím going to focus on two things. 1) This session of Moldvay Basic D&D with Ben Lehman, and 2) Our ongoing 3.5 campaign, and how they relate. Iíll talk about things in big model terms, and in terms of creative agenda, as youíve indicated some interest in the big model and CA in particular.

Hereís what Iíd like from you, if youíre interested: Iíd like to ask you to play the role of asking me questions and evaluating what Iím saying, letting me know where Iím not making sense, and so on. Youíve already shown that you have good questions to ask, which Iíve partly (but maybe not yet thoroughly) addressed. In the process, Iíll also welcome comments about how D&D isnít/wasnít/hasnít worked for you that youíve tried to address with your game.

Iíll be referring to the major terms from part one of the glossary, as well the big model diagram. We wonít need anything else. Youíve raised some questions about creative agenda, which weíll get to, but Iíd like to start with social contract and work my way down through the model first. Iím not holding out the creative agenda as a mystery, though: itís pretty straightforward Step On Up (gamist) play. We wouldnít be playing D&D 3.5 if it wasnít. I donít mean that trivially, either. I am not one of those folks who is ďstuckĒ playing D&D because itís all I can find players for. I have no secret yearnings to be playing something else. Itís consistently giving me and my friends the experience weíre looking for. Aside from wishing that prep were faster, my main complaint is that Iím geographically separated from my friends back home so I canít break out minis and battlemaps when we play. I yearn for dioramas!

Ok, now Iíll start with the social contract. I have two to describe: one for my game with Ben last week, the one that I started this thread about. The other is about our main campaign. First, the game last week.

I originally encountered Ben through the Forge. It just so happens he studied Chinese and lived in Beijing, and he finds reason to live and travel in China. I first actually met him when he came through Hong Kong. I picked him up at the airport. Heís come through town three or four times while Iíve been here, and heís played in the main D&D campaign as well. When he comes to town, we meet up in coffee shops, talk a lot, and often also fit in a game, though it hasnít been the top priority. (We played Donjon one time he came to town, Dogs in the Vineyard another time, and this Basic D&D session this time.) We certainly did come to Basic D&D with plenty of preconceived notions: in particular, that itíd be a decent system for facilitating gamist play, and that itíd have a relatively small social footprint. Oh, and we also both like talking about game mechanics. When we chose Basic D&D, we were both interested in seeing how the engine runs, so to speak.

Ben also has played in a few of the sessions of the ongoing 3.5 campaign, so Iíll give you some of the social context for that. I've gamed with everyone face to face in the past, but this campaign has all been played online. The players are all friends from back home. Two of those players, Ben T. and Josh, are friends from my hometown. Weíve been gaming together since high school. The other two are Chris and Bill, both guys I met at college, though Bill only played through the first phase of the campaign (to about 5th level) before dropping out due to other commitments. So it's mainly Ben T., Josh, Chris, and me who have shared the largest number of sessions in the long running campaign. Chris is a pretty strong booster of getting sessions together: if we go too many weeks without one, heíll generally be the first guy to send out a ďhow about this weekend?Ē notice. Iím always happy to see those, even when Iím too busy to prep for a game. None of our SOs game, so game night is ďpoker night,Ē in a sense. Just the guys. Thereís sufficient commitment from the guys that we manage to arrange time to game in spite of the 12 hour time difference. That has meant balancing them getting up early with me staying up late, or vice versa, to fit in games. I only have time for one ongoing game, and this is it. There are other games in Hong Kong that I could get into, and Iíve visited a couple to play once or twice, but Iím always clear when I do that to let them know I canít commit to joining those groups regularly. My game with my friends back home is the game I have time for. Gaming isnít the only way I stay in touch with these friends. I keep a livejournal for friends and family, we email, and some of us share a workout schedule via a google calendar. This is obviously a thumbnail sketch, but itíll be sufficient for our purposes.

Now Iím going to move down a level to exploration and the shared game fiction, but first Iíd like to mention some things about creative agenda. Remember, in the big model these are nested boxes, and creative agenda cuts across these boxes and accounts for our shared aesthetic, creative orientation, for the things about our gaming that we keep coming back for. Itís best not to think of it in terms of motivations in individualís heads. It also best not to expect it to necessarily be some kind of explicitly talked about, formalized matter. It ainít, or it doesnít have to be, at any rate. With Ben L. and me, sure, creative agenda does tend to be explicitly talked about in big model terms, but thatís a legacy of the fact that we met through the Forge. With the rest of the guys, we donít really talk about gaming in big model terms. That doesnít change the fact that I can say that everything I learned about mature, honest Step On Up game play, I learned from gaming with Josh, starting back in high school. (The roleplaying context for that was Street Fighter: the Storytelling Game.) I learned to articulate it through the Forge, and to analyze it. This, in turn, helped me to reflect on it more clearly, and I think my contribution to our gaming is better because of that. But our game was already pretty coherent before I came to the Forge, and I learned to Step On Up in practice by gaming with the guys back home (with Josh way ahead of the rest of in terms of promoting a mature, coherent creative agenda in the group).

Iíll be back with exploration in my next post. Right now, Jon, Iíd like to turn it over to you for a bit. Weíre at the social contract level. Is there anything I seem to have mentioned, or hinted at, or not mentioned but should have, etc., that you think might prove relevant and that youíd like to know more about? As far as your own D&D gaming was concerned, you mentioned it was problematic at times. I noted that for me, D&D 3.5 really is my game of choice right now. Was D&D (and which version?) your game of choice when you were playing it, or did you feel a bit like you'd gotten stuck with it? I know a lot of people do feel like they're getting stuck with it due to its popularity, and they do all sorts of things to try to make it do the things they'd rather be doing. I did when D&D 3.0 first came out, and in my case, it was a mistake. Did this play into your experiences with D&D? This is a matter of social contract as much as it is of system.

Rich


Title: Re: [Basic D&D (Moldvay)] dead elves and grave robbing thieves
Post by: Paul T on November 25, 2006, 03:24:24 PM
Ben,

I have been thinking a lot lately about ways to facilitate dungeon crawl-type games in the format of a pick-up or low prep game. It sounds like Basic D&D was very well equipped for this sort of situation. Unfortunately, I got involved in RPGs through Heroquest (the boardgame, not the RPG) and AD&D, and missed out on Basic D&D. As a result, I was fascinated by the part of your account dealing with the prep for the dungeon itself:

I generate the dungeon entirely using the standard dungeon generation rules in the book.† These rules are given as optional, and I do fudge room placement a bit, but I'm trying to stick closely to the rules when I can.† I use monsters that I have in mind particularly, though.

So my dungeon is a long buried, millenniums-old elven tomb, partially unearthed by recent earthquakes, with some mysterious bits.†

[...]

I did some stuff for the rest of the dungeon, but as you'll see below, we didn't get that far, so I won't go into details.

[...]

On the DM's side, you have a list of about 20 monsters, a simple random table for if you're truly stumped, and a dungeon generator that I could write onto my palm with room to spare.  That's system, let's talk color: As opposed to the 3.5 DMG's "100 plotlines" which are confusing and, well, there's 100 of them, there is a list of 10 very solid adventure ideas with fleshed out paragraphs discussing the different possible outcomes.  See what I'm getting at?

Am I right in reading your account, that you did not do any prep until you were sitting at the table with Rich? In other words, you prepared the dungeon while he created his character? And you had time to prepare something that didn't even get entirely played out?

I didn't realize that Basic D&D had a "dungeon generator". I presume it worked by rolling dice on table. I'd love to hear more about it, what worked, what didn't, any particular clever features--it can really fit in the palm of your hand?

Which parts of the dungeon, above, came from the generator, and which from purely from your imagination? (Is "millenium-old tomb unearthed by earthquake" your own idea, for instance? What about those "mysterious bits" you mention?)

To note: I have no real pre-thought-out way to avoid this trap.  I'm prepared for Rich to come up with an idea to avoid it, and basically decide whether or not I find it cool enough, but it doesn't really come up.  I do know how it works beforehand, though.

[...] until stumbling across the statues (the tomb now closed again and hidden) marking the entrance to the tomb.  Knowing something was up, they spent a good while screwing about with the statues until Git happened to luck into grabbing a hand and triggering the trap.  It doesn't mark him with a sign, it just burns him badly, but the tomb still opens. 

Also, the four-statue trap was your own invention, right? Was it purely a puzzle/challenge for the player, or was there a game element (like a roll of some sort) to it? I didn't really understand how it worked from the write-up. Was there some way that the player could tell that he was supposed to grab one of the hands, but that there might be a danger in doing so?

And what the same player encountering the trap about the second time around? Were there any "firewalling" issues? How did that play out? Rich?

I'd also love to hear about the 10 solid "adventure ideas". In what format are they presented? What makes them particularly workable, in your opinion?

It sounds like they crammed a lot of useful information into a small space.

Thanks for the writeup!


Paul T.


Title: Re: [Basic D&D (Moldvay)] dead elves and grave robbing thieves
Post by: Rich Forest on November 26, 2006, 05:27:00 AM
Paul,

I can speak a bit to your question about the four statues trap, which sets me up to talk about something Iíve been thinking about.

Ok, the statue trap. I deal with the statue trap at the entryway twice, once with each party. The first time, Ben describes the four statues and the shifted earth. When he describes the statues, he sort of poses with his arm and hand, showing how the hand of the one is outstretched. So right away, I have one of the elves (Lorm) basically ďshake handsĒ with the statue. The sort of open hand gesture that Ben made is what prompts me to make that move. 

Ouch, damage, and the door opens. No real craftiness is involved on my part. I basically just fell for the trap, so to speak. Now, in spite of the symbol it gave Lorm, I chose not to have Wight do the same. I didnít want to sacrifice the hit point, even though I had a sense I was taking a risk in not getting the mark.

Ok, letís cut ahead. The elves are dead, Iíve generated new characters, and here they are in front of the statues. I know the trap is there from the previous adventure, and I even know itís ďa trapĒ because when I poke around Ben gives me my Detect Traps roll for being thieves. I fail that roll. Now what?

I kind of thrash around a bit at this point. I donít want to lose the hp. I try a bunch of different things to get in, but itís all pretty ďlaundry listĒ in style. Basically, I just go through my equipment lists trying various things, applying the ten foot pole as a lever to a statue, and stuff like that. I even end up having them camp because I canít come up with a good workaround for the trap. Eventually, I know I'm out of ideas and I'll have to bite the bullet and take the hp loss. I've just gone from 4 hp to 3 hp, and there are four ghouls waiting downstairs for me, and I know it, but I can't figure out a good way around the damn thing. So I basically have Git stumble across the hand-shaking bit so the door will open. At that point, the only real characterization I had in mind for the characters was ďslightly bumbling thieves,Ē so I played to that. Ben picked up on what I was up to -- when I had Git bumbling around the hand, climbing about on the statue, he activated the trap (as I was hoping he would).

In retrospect, I could just as well have been more direct with the bumbling. I could have said something like, ďGit bumbles around, climbing on the statue, and in the process he grabs ahold of the statue's hand.Ē I didnít do that, so it took a bit more climbing around the statue than it had to before Ben activated the trap on me. Thatís basically a technical blunder on my part. I was leaving Ben to do a bit too much ďmind readingĒ by not just being clear about why I was bumbling around climbing on the statue.

That technical blunder didnít take away from the functional nature of the whole scene from the standpoint of creative agenda, though. In terms of agenda, I had an opportunity to show off some cleverness, but instead I did a laundry list equipment activation thing that just didnít cut it. Thatís why I was forced to take the damage. It wasn't a huge loss, but it was a loss. But failures like that come with the territory. Fortunately, I was moderately more clever once I did get inside. Scenes like this are pretty straightfoward parts of Step On Up play, in my experience. Now, when you tell gaming stories about this sort of play, it's easy to get caught up in talking about how clever you were, and to skip over the stuff where you weren't particularly clever. (Like I did in the first post of the thread.) That can give a deceptive impression that it's dramatic clever success followed by dramatic clever success! It isn't -- there's plenty of failures too, big and small. These failures are functional parts of play, though.

Now that I'm thinking about it, that f'n statue trap got me twice. The first time, I can kind of excuse it, but the second? Jesus.

Rich


Title: Re: [Basic D&D (Moldvay)] dead elves and grave robbing thieves
Post by: Jon Scott Miller on November 27, 2006, 08:15:50 AM
Rich,

Sorry about being slow to reply. I tend to move slowly in general, and my time is limited as well.

I don't have any questions yet about what you've posted so far. I might need to think about it some more.

In response to your query, here is some information about my past gaming experiences and the current project I am working on. I have played several different rpg's, mostly D&D, AD&D, Call of Cthulhu, Stormbringer, and WFRP. Much of my gaming has been dysfunctional. When I was young this was not because of a mismatch between system and CA, but probably because I was not a capable enough GM to handle the systems properly.

I stopped gaming and picked it up again in college. I think my CA's had changed from Gamism and Sim to Sim and Narrativism. Unfortunately I largely stuck with the aforemntioned games of my youth (though there were also excursions into games such as Pendragon and Pumpkinland). I will take two brief examples of Actual Play using older versions of D&D to illustrate what was going on.

In the first case I was playing Basic D&D. This was a game I played on an irregular basis with some of my family when I was home from school for the holidays. We were using the old D&D module Keep on the Borderlands. At this point my CA certainly included Narrativism. I made changes to the module that I thought would result in more interesting storylines, such as making the lord of the keep a devotee of a demon god (unbeknownst to his pious wife), who was a rival to the demon god of the EHP who had disguised himself as a holy friar. There were also conflicts between the NPCs in the keep and NPCs in the surrounding wilderness. The various conflicts were mapped out in a little diagram, and the idea was that the PCs would be hooked into it one way or another.

The actual play was mediochre. There were at least two problems. One was that I didn't do a good job working with each PC's storyline. This was mainly due to not making things either open-ended or dramatic enough. What emerged in terms of story seemed predictable and lacking much drama.

This was especially egregious, since one of my players, Greg, even took the Director stance and had a grest suggestion for what should happen to his character, but I didn't follow up on it as a GM (and of course there was no way in D&D for him to make it happen directly). Basically, he had killed a monster of some sort that was wearing a suit of demon-possessed armor, and, instead of shunning the armor as I had assumed, he decided to wear it. I can't remember what powers I gave the armor, but his character's relationship with it was akin to that of Elric with Stormbringer. Greg's character was fighting the followers of the demons, using the power of a demon. Greg even made his character act increasingly bloodthirsty and callous. His suggestion was for there to be a sort of showdown between his PC and the demon of the armor, but I never actually followed through as a GM. The campaign ended after several climaxes of sorts, but Greg never got to play out the demonic showdown.

The second problem was that the rules and perhaps the format of the module did not support my Narrativist CA very much. There was a lot of combat, which was fine in principle, but in practice the fights were often boring because we didn't care so much about how many hits it takes to kill a goblin. D&D combat is geared for either Sim or Gamism or both, and the details of the fights had virtually no narrative significance. In several of the larger battles I think we all got a little bored.

The second actual play case was with roughly the same group of players, a year or so later. It was a one-shot game using 1st edition AD&D set in Lankhmar or some other big city. As I recall this was s sort of medieval urban crime drama, and it went better than the previously mentioned case of actual play. This might have been a case of a semi-successful drifting of the AD&D rules towards a Narrativist CA, but the details are hazy in my mind. I remember the prep began with a true Relationship Map, and that the PCs seemed to be more effectively involved in the various circles of intrigue. The players had a good time deciding who they would ally with and what risks they would take. On the other hand the actual possible outcomes were probably not open-ended enough, and there wasn't a whole lot of convincing premise-addressing going on. Nevertheless, it was this experience (among others) that probably kept my interest in role-playing alive and inspired the current game I am working on.

I would like to talk about that game some and how it was influenced by actual play experiences with D&D, but that will have to wait until I get another chance to post. I have not started playing the new game yet, but one of my players (who is completely new to rpg's) made a character last night, and we got a good creative buzz going. Assuming that this is the proper place to talk about my new game (I'm still unclear about that), I'll post about it later.

Regards,

Jon

 

   
 
     

 


Title: Re: [Basic D&D (Moldvay)] dead elves and grave robbing thieves
Post by: Rich Forest on November 28, 2006, 06:59:35 AM
Hi Jon,

Your analyses of your own game sessions are insightful. I can relate to some of what youíre saying about finding that your agenda and your game arenít matching up, and some of the problems that can arise (and often, be introduced) from the GMís chair. While I come at D&D with gamist assumptions now, a couple times with 3.0 I tried doing narrativist oriented play, to somewhat mixed effect. (Partly because the system wasnít particularly suited to it, but also because I brought a mishmash of GMing notions to D&D that clashed with that.)

Which is to say, your actual play examples are familiar to me as well. Iíve had experiences that were similar to the ones youíre describing: where I had a decent setup for premise addressing play, in terms of NPCs with conflicts of interest, and with real human problems and issues that could have been addressed, but I didnít really quite know how to take I had and follow through in the session. I wasnít engaging the players in the process, or allowing themes to be addressed through actual play. So we had a couple abortive attempts at narrativist play (though I wouldnít have recognized it consciously as such at the time). These attempts were only intermittent for us, and I never did get a good handle on how to go about narrativist play myself before I started seeing how it was done in some games at the Forge, and especially through playing those games. For us, these incoherent sessions only arose in side sessions, when weíd take a break from our main game and run a one shot or short duration series of sessions in some other game. Our main gaming with Street Fighter was pretty coherently gamist in style. Itís funny that I could handle coherent gamist play with Street Fighter but at the same time was bringing all the wrong assumptions to D&D, not playing to its strengths at all. I simply didnít transfer techniques I learned playing one to the other. I think my players were a lot better at making the transfer; they seemed to have a lot fewer hang-ups with D&D in particular than I did.

From what you describe of your problematic experiences of actual play, I get the impression that youíre right in thinking that a narrativist CA is what youíre after. Iím wondering, what was it about our descriptions in this thread that made you second-guess that? Was it our general enthusiasm, or was it the particular set of things we were enthusing about (e.g., the stuff you discussed with Ben, which he talked about in terms of providing context for the gamist play)? If youíd like to compare how me and Ben talk about our gamist play in this thread with an example of us discussing a shared narrativist play experience, I have a thread from March that you might find interesting. Last time Ben was in Hong Kong, we played Dogs in the Vineyard, and it was a powerful session. I think it provides a particularly good parallel here because both of us were involved in both games (and Ben GMed both), but with distinct creative agendas each time. Hereís a link to that thread: Dogs: Cold Falls (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=19177.0).

My main interest right now is whether youíre feeling more confident in your assessment of what creative agenda youíre looking for, in light of what weíve talked about so far and in light of how me and Ben played Dogs versus how we play D&D. What are your current thoughts on the confusion about agenda that you expressed earlier? 

Rich


Title: Re: [Basic D&D (Moldvay)] dead elves and grave robbing thieves
Post by: Jon Scott Miller on November 30, 2006, 05:41:02 PM
From what you describe of your problematic experiences of actual play, I get the impression that youíre right in thinking that a narrativist CA is what youíre after. Iím wondering, what was it about our descriptions in this thread that made you second-guess that? Was it our general enthusiasm, or was it the particular set of things we were enthusing about (e.g., the stuff you discussed with Ben, which he talked about in terms of providing context for the gamist play)?

It may have been a mixture of both, but mainly the latter. Right now I am really interested in playing a game that uses the tropes of D&D fantasy. After reading about the careful thought that you put into the setting and situation of the Moldvay D&D game, it made me think that maybe what I was really after was just a more effective or carefully constructed version of old-school D&D-play. I am still a little unsure, but I'm leaning toward the Narrativist CA with quasi-D&D-Color idea.

The kernal of the idea I have is as follows: what would D&D-type fantasy be like if we took the characters seriously as dramatic protagonists? There is dramatic potential in this genre that is often untapped. What stories the characters could tell us, if only we would let them (etc.).

I picture the play of the game as approximating a grittier version of the Dying Earth novels (i.e., without the wit), with some typical D&D tropes added for good measure (i.e. dwarves, elves, and dragons). Ideally the conceit of the scenarios would be as in D&D--dungeon crawls, wilderness forays, or medieval fantasy detective stories (for the city adventures)--but they would be written so as to support honest-to-goodness open-ended and premise-addressing Narrativist play.

Despite some initial prep, I have put off designing a scenario in detail, because I am still not entirely sure how to go about this. (Currently I am using the method for designing scenarios in Sorcerer's Soul as my model.) Traditional dungeon adventures are often quite linear, and I haven't quite figured out yet how to change that. (Right now, I'm mainly setting up several different factions both in and outside of the dungeon, which the PCs will hopefully be able to interact with in interesting and unpredictable ways.)

Regards,

Jon


Title: Re: [Basic D&D (Moldvay)] dead elves and grave robbing thieves
Post by: Rich Forest on December 01, 2006, 06:54:29 AM
Hi Jon,

If youíre using the relationship map method in Sorcererís Soul as a model, youíve got a very good tool in hand for strong narrativist facilitating game prep. Out of curiosity, how closely are you following it? I ask because the blood (kin) and sex stuff really sets it apart from some similar methods of setting up narrativist facilitating play, but Iím not clear on how well that would mesh with ďD&D-likeĒ dungeons, unless the players are expecting to approach the inhabitants not as monsters but as, well, human. Is your set up more like the relationship maps in Sorcererís Soul in the sense that it focuses on permanent relationships like kinship and sex, or more like a broader conflict web (http://bankuei.blogspot.com/2006/02/conflict-web.html) like Chris Chinn talks about? That's an issue worth considering in your prep. Both are useful tools, but the emphasis on permanent, blood and sex relationships in Sorcererís Soul is a) a pretty important aspect of the relationship map but b) may be hard to use to its maximum advantage in a dungeon based scenario, where the inhabitants are typically approached as monsters, factions or no. 

Also, I suspect that some of the D&D color might work against you, depending on how much experience your players have with D&D. (And I say this as someone pretty fond of D&D color.) And by this I mean, the more experience they have with D&D, the more likely it could cause problems. There are a lot of game-specific habits and practices that people build up over time playing a given game (in this case D&D), which theyíll associate with that game, and they may well transfer certain associations and assumptions over if the D&D color is a strong cue for them.

Iíve done it in my own somewhat mottled history of introducing narrativist notions into D&D, where I was the one bringing in certain assumptions that unwittingly sabotaged otherwise promising narrativist set ups. The ďD&D assumptionsĒ I ended up dragging along with the color were not, in general, bad assumptions in and of themselves: but they did muck up my narrativist goals. This can happen just as well for the player as the GM. So if people come into the game with prior D&D experiences of some sort, this could lead to misunderstandings about what the game is about. I donít know if itís inevitable, but itís probably worth chatting about up front, as far as what people are expecting to get out of the game.

It probably sounds like Iím doomsaying here. Maybe I am, actually, though Iíll be interested in hearing how this goes. You are working with a different system, and if your reward mechanics are narrativist facilitating you may have some success. Iíll go ahead and suggest that youíd be better off starting with a village and manor with internal strife and troubles, or a castle and its inhabitants and their troubles -- something with very human NPCs and conflicts -- rather than a dungeon. The dungeon format is great (and can be quite open-ended) for certain kinds of play, but Iím not sure itís particularly well suited to narrativist play, even with the incorporation of various factions. Especially if any of the players have D&D experience and the D&D tropes cue them to approach play in a certain way from the outset. 

Of course, I may not be telling you anything you donít already know here. You already noted that itís a bit of a challenge figuring out how to integrate the ideas youíre trying to implement from Sorcererís Soul with a dungeon setting. This is something I actually donít have a lot of experience with: my dungeons are basically underworld deathtraps filled with loot, as far as what theyíre built to do. There's plenty of love for the setting and color involved in them, and they incorporate our "setting flows from system" approach, but they're basically deathtrap dungeons in function. Iím tempted to just open the floor to suggestions from other voices, but I think itís probably something thatís worth having its own thread. What do you think?

Rich


Title: Re: [Basic D&D (Moldvay)] dead elves and grave robbing thieves
Post by: Paul T on December 01, 2006, 06:08:06 PM
I just couldn't resist, after the mention of Sorcerer-style r-maps and traditional dungeons in the same breath:

The idea of a typical-looking dungeon that is actually full of familial trouble sounds kind of exciting... monsters getting into disfunctional family relationships, interbreeding, etc... is kind exciting.

Dungeon of Doom: the Soap Opera.

Next episode: the beholder keeps batting her lashes at the minotaur, but won't share the decaying corpses of her victims with him... how can he figure out what's in her heart?


Paul


Title: Re: [Basic D&D (Moldvay)] dead elves and grave robbing thieves
Post by: Ron Edwards on December 01, 2006, 06:49:41 PM
Not to get too off-topic ...

The Haunted Ruins, a RuneQuest supplement by Greg Stafford, presents exactly this situation. Arguably one of the finest scenario/setting books ever written.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: [Basic D&D (Moldvay)] dead elves and grave robbing thieves
Post by: Simon C on December 01, 2006, 10:52:55 PM
I wonder if one could put together "Dungeon Creation Rules" along the same lines as DitV Town Creation?

What do the Denizens want?

What will happen if the adventurers don't come?

and all sorts of other things.

If nothing else, it'd make for a richer dungeon delving experience.


Title: Re: [Basic D&D (Moldvay)] dead elves and grave robbing thieves
Post by: Ron Edwards on December 02, 2006, 03:46:56 AM
Hey guys,

We're jacking the thread, me included. Let's stop.

Rich, this is a good time for you to evaluate the thread and decide what you'd like to do with it. Everyone else, let's stop posting until Rich tells us what's up.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: [Basic D&D (Moldvay)] dead elves and grave robbing thieves
Post by: Rich Forest on December 02, 2006, 04:18:45 AM
Thanks Ron,

I'm pretty satisfied with what we've accomplished with the thread. I can think of other things we could still follow up on, but I think at this point I'd rather tie things up for now. (I have a busy next couple weeks coming up.) Jon, if you'd like to continue to expand on some of the issues we've raised, I recommend you start a thread and get a discussion going. I know there's a lot fruitful discussion still to be had, especially in a thread where you can really focus on your own play experiences.

(And if anyone else has any questions they wanted to raise but didn't get the chance to, they can always PM me.)

Thanks a lot everyone,

Rich