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

Sunday, June 7, 2009

First Level Sword & Sorcery Heroes

A passing thought...

So most old-school D&D players recognize that the roots of the game are in pulp-style sword & sorcery literature,

and

Heroes in pulp-style sword & sorcery literature are usually (always?) quite capable,

then why

Are first level characters, whether it be OD&D, B/X, AD&D, so fragile?

Because
The real roots of D&D are in wargames and players start as regular wargame Joes.

True? False? Thoughts?

4 comments:

  1. It doesn't need to be binary.
    That determination is made by the Referee/GM in designing the world and how 'heroic' the game will be judged.

    I think mechanically, PCs need to be compared to the average Jane or Joe, not against what they could become. In that regard, they are Conan dropped into his first pit-fight. --Entirely capable of triumphing, and getting better at it in time, but an automatically fearsome opponent to regular thugs with swords and knives. In a contemporary game, the PCs are vigilantes and veterans out for a quick buck, cold brews, and a lifetime of stories.

    Sounds pulp to me.

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  2. You have to read a bit about Arneson's first campaign to understand where the basic idea came from...I think it was an interview with the Great Svenny that he spoke of how Arneson first classified his players as "flunkies," that could earn enough points to become "heroes," and then "superheroes."

    Modern wargames (and perhaps Chainmail, though I'm unfamiliar with the rules) distinguish between the rank-and-file and heroic individuals on the battlefield. At some point the makers of D&D considered it a good idea to model how the rank-and-file becomes heroic. Call it the "Luke Skywalker" syndrome. The tradition has simply stuck around.

    From a practical point o view, it also builds in a reward mechanic to the game that makes play compelling.

    I think the setting is inspired by the S&S literature, but not necessarily the game or game play. I'm not sure your statements are actual logical progressions.

    Of course, for experienced gamers, I never had a major problem allowing a player to create a character higher than 1st level for a game. It allowed ME (as DM) to throw things harder than goblins and kobolds against 'em.
    : )

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  3. I used to start my D&D campaigns at 4th level, which I guess made the characters more capable... although, I have seen a party of four 1st level AD&D characters 'punch above their weight' and take down three ogres without losing anyone. Even a low-level character played smart can be pretty capable. Knowing that you start off as 'zero level plus' and have to work your way up to being a hero may affect the mindset... h'mmm, tricky.

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  4. an interview with the Great Svenny that he spoke of how Arneson first classified his players as "flunkies," that could earn enough points to become "heroes," and then "superheroes."

    I actually went back to check that interview before I posted this. I wanted to check if the players started as heroes instead of flunkies.

    RE starting characters at higher than 1st level
    I typically don't have an issue with it either depending on what I am trying to do. For the Northern Marches I felt it was important to start characters at 1st level. For the Dark Sun one-shot, players will be 5th level and for another micro-campaign I am considering (the party is made up of members of a noble family in Greyhawk's Keoland during a civil war) the characters will be quite high level.

    I'm not sure your statements are actual logical progressions.
    I'm not too sure they are either :)

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