Saturday, January 18, 2014

My D&D Was Different (Not Old or New But Middle School*)


I started playing D&D in the late '90s with Second Edition AD&D. We didn't have any older players to show us the ropes. What we did have was a huge hard-on for Tolkien and mysterious books with black borders and cover art of some overly muscled dudes (one with a fucked-up hand). So we wound up playing D&D very differently than most people apparently did.

  • There were almost no "Dungeons" (plenty of Dragons, though). Pretty much everything happened somewhere out in the wilderness between points A and B. It was all sweeping vistas, attacks in the night, survival/camping, and small 1-2 room lairs. Travelling wasn't handwaived; it was the adventure. We were all Boy Scouts so outdoor adventuring just seemed natural.
  • We built sandboxes (though we didn't know the term), but the characters were created to adventure (and save the day). They actively looked for exciting situations and typically bit whenever the hook was bated with "save the world (for fun and profit)". The old plot-hook was almost always bated with "save the region" at least.
  • If you wanted to buy some more arrows (and keep track of your arrows damnit!), you went and did it in-character. We roleplayed through everything. The thought of not doing so never occurred to us. Besides, we enjoyed it (and had essentially limitless free-time).
  • All magical items were a big damn deal. They were also very rare (even potions and scrolls), and obtaining a single magical item was often the endgame of whole "story-arcs".
  • There was very little magical healing. After (I think) the first two campaigns, nobody wanted to play a cleric. "I don't wanna be some god's slave-bitch." The murder-hobos survived just fine due to cleverness, the travel time between encounters, and the Healing Nonweapon Proficiency.
  • Speaking of, the Weapon and Nonweapon Proficiencies were a big deal to us. It was how you defined your character to a large extent. Proficiencies made Xanthar the Wiley (with his broadsword and thrown daggers and rope-use) different from Gurtnor the Facebreaker (with his two handed sword and swinging cod). 
  • Taking a beat from the Proficiencies system (as well as Combat and Tactics), we used the hell out of Stat checks. Need to jump across a chasm? Make a DEX Check (roll under your character's Dexterity on a d20 to succeed.) Need to wrastle that Staff of Bad-Assery away from the Necromancer? Make opposing STR Checks (whoever rolls the highest w/o going over wins).
  • I gave out +1 or +2 bonuses for smart maneuvers in combat like they were fucking candy. If you had a clever/fun idea about how your character was gonna murder something, you got a bonus. I think there was something, somewhere (DMG maybe) that told me this was a good idea. It totally was.
  • Thac0 is easy. Seriously. Subtract your roll from your thac0 and that's the best AC you can hit with that attack. How the fuck is that difficult? It strikes me as much easier than rolling d20+34.
  • The idea of a "balanced" party was an anathema to us. We played the classes that appealed to us at that moment and figured out how to make it work. (I don't think I'll ever forget the raid on a goblin lair by a level 1 Illusionist [out of spells], a level 1 Thief, and a random dock-worker the Illusionist had charmed. It went comically awry and most of the goblins [and very nearly the PCs] died of smoke inhalation.)
So that's my D&D.

(In my mind, the idea of D&D still conjures up images of sweeping landscapes, campfires, and lots of walking [also dragons, giants, pig-faced orcs, and gleaming swords].)

I like the OSR. It's one of the most creative and least pretentious RPG "communities" around. I guess I sort of consider myself a part of it, but, ya know, I never really did the "old-school" thing. Mega dungeons don't really appeal to me, but I vastly prefer Descending AC. I like Lamentations of the Flame Princess, but I hate Mëtäl.

Though I find myself struggling to draw an actual conclusion from this post, I'll plod ahead.

I suppose the point is that I find myself somewhere in between (and expect a number of others do as well). Labels are a useful tool, but only so long as they are taken to be sliding scales rather than strict categories.

Finally, because I'm always interested to see how other people do the "same" things, what does D&D mean to you?

* "5th Grade, like Junior High." Bonus Points to whomever gets the reference.