"Black Dougal gasps 'Poison!' and falls to the floor. He looks dead."

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Does anyone have a mop?

This post might be a bit rambling because I have had a couple of thoughts rattling around after re-reading a few different threads on OD&D Discussion and Dragonsfoot. These thoughts have sort of gelled into a messy gooey blob.

Source #1, a thread on Dragonsfoot that I have already mentioned regarding the use of Dwarfstar’s Barbarian Prince with Moldvay.

Source #2, a thread on OD&D Discussion regarding DMing with no maps and that touches briefly on gameism in D&D.

Source #3, the wilderness exploration rules of the Cook/Marsh Expert rulebook.

Source #4, looking at a bunch of the card-based fantasy games from Warp Spawn Games and Atlas Games’ Dungeoneer card games.

These have made me realize that I like gameism in my D&D. What exactly do I mean by gameism? My D&D is one step removed from a board game. It is not a White Wolf LARP. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t lay out the map so that the players can move a token around the Isle of Dread. However, the fact that we are playing a game about dungeons and dragons (you know – fantasy stuff) colours the feel of the game. I do not go for, nor do I want a bunch of immersive roleplaying. Anyone talking in a funny voice risks being ridiculed by the DM (usually me). Now for people that do play these types of games – more power to you. I really believe there is no wrong way to have fun with roleplaying games. But there is wrong way at my table.

Taking this realization one step further, I love the gameism and abstraction of wilderness exploration as given in Cook/Marsh. In fact, my preference is to take the abstraction one step further. I would like to adopt some of the simplified wilderness exploration mechanics from Barbarian Prince such as movement (1 hex on foot, 2 hexes if mounted and 3 hexes if on a flying mount per day).

My love of abstraction makes the reason I like Tunnels and Trolls pretty obvious. I am not a huge fan of the magic system in T&T and not just because of the names of spells (I much prefer by-the-book Moldvay but that is a future post). But the combat mechanic is a thing of beauty to me. Now for the funny circular thing about immersion… the high level of abstraction in T&T combat – and D&D combat so long as everyone realizes how abstract it is SUPPOSE TO BE (cough, cough, 3.5E and 4E I am looking at the two of you) – lends itself to a very narrative game. A few quick dice rolls and you have the results of 10 seconds (D&D), 1 minute (AD&D) or 2 minutes (T&T) of combat and now you can narrate the action until your heart’s content.

My preference for a high level of abstraction goes hand-in-hand with how much I like randomness in my games. As a DM, I would rather to go into a game with a half-dozen of tables (terrain, wandering monsters, etc) than a 20 page written adventure with boxed text. I mentioned when I began the Pit of Tortured Souls that I am not creative but I am imaginative. I struggle if I have to sit down with a blank piece of paper and have to write an adventure. But give me some random tables that give me a Hill Giant, a waterfall and a brass horn and I can get somewhere. One of the thrills that I enjoy when DMing is thinking on my feet. Random tables can give me the ingredients, the beginning spark. How I combine these random elements into an adventure, to me, is the fun part. And one thing I learned is that players don’t see random. Give a group of players three random encounters and they begin to ruminate about how they are connected. Heck, sometimes the players can develop an entire arc for me if I just sit back and listen to them talk to each other about their hypotheses about how the random stuff is connected.

Another thing about my preferred level of abstraction, it makes me struggle with cities and city-based adventures. To me a city has a handful of purposes:
- to collect rumours;
- to buy provisions;
- to find retainers and hirelings;
- to get the services of a temple (healing, remove curse, raise dead, etc);
- to find wizards (very important if using by-the-book Moldvay spellbooks);
- to utilize Jeff Rient’s Ale & Wenches house rule and use the wonderful Carousing Mishaps table;
- and finally adventures.

There are mechanics for each of these except the last one. There is no “How to build a city adventure” in B/X the same way as there is for dungeons and wilderness adventures. And since B/X has coloured the way I have looked at D&D since the beginning, I have felt like I am woefully incapable of developing a good city adventure. As a result, I have typically skipped that purpose of a city and focused on the other uses. Asking the players what is the purpose of their visit to the city, a few dice rolls, subtract some gold and we are back to the wilderness/dungeon.

One thing I have done (and have likely internalized from Barbarian Prince somewhere in the past), is use the mayor or lord as an adventure. Each mayor, lord, high priest, etc has something they want and/or a secret that they don’t want revealed. If the party is successful getting an audience with the lord and gain a favourable reaction, they may be asked to help the lord gain what it is that they want. Or through gathering clues they may learn of the lord’s secret. However, most of these adventures take part outside of the city or are at a specific site within the city. For example, Count Drokant wants to gain a Green Dragon egg and his secret is that he is actually a vampire. This gives me at least 2 easy adventure hooks: get the egg or kill the Count. The location of the egg adventure can be randomly determined on the wilderness map. The kill the Count adventure would be in his palace (a dungeon adventure in all but name).

Whew… sorry for the mess.

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