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

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Two Dimensional Characters

In the comments to my post about B/X Ability Scores, Timeshadows mentions,
The only pisser is thinking that people are so two-dimensional so as to only ever be one thing, or in this case, Class.

I have had a number or really interesting online discussions with TS over the past month or so as she is part of the Skype B/X game and like me, she really enjoys discussing gaming.

Her comment is one I hear often in relation to the limited class selection, lack of multiclassing rules, and/or race as class in B/X and I would agree wholeheartedly with her if B/X was a simulation. However, B/X is a glorified wargame. And I revel in this fact. B/X does not try to represent any type of reality and verisimilitude is not something that is strived for.

In real life I am much more than an ex-investment banker (at least I really hope so). Just like in real life an infantry battalion is more than just a bunch of guys with guns and an armoured battalion is more than a bunch of tanks. However, in most wargames they are portrayed as singular types.

Just like different types of units in wargames, Fighters, Thieves, Clerics and Magic-users are designed to provide different tactical options. A party made up of five fighters is going to have different tactics than a party made up of two fighters, a cleric and two magic-users.

In B/X, are all fighters the same? No and Yes. Ability scores and roleplaying are the only real ways to distinguish one fighter from another. As I mentioned in an example I gave in the B/X Ability Scores post, "A DM can reasonably determine if a character can swim based on his background."

But besides these arbitrary differences, yes all fighters are the same. And they have specifically been designed as such.


  1. However, and thanks for addressing this, we do both agree that B/X is in fact an RPG, not a wargame, correct?
    --A silver-age World War II RPG (ostensibly more of a 'glorified wargame' than B/X with its magic swords, potions of flying, and magical research rules)I own, Behind Enemy Lines, makes it clear that the character's pre-Boot Camp training plays an important role in how the unit (squad or platoon) functions, and that if a New York city character were in the possession of only his bayonet, the Ref would do well to give that character a literal edge in combat due to having witnessed, if not participated in, knife fights. Likewise, while fiddling with a diesel engine, a character from Billings, Montana would be given the edge in attempting to fix the engine, as they likely had experience with tractors, etc.

    So, the 'glorified wargame' thing, on second blush, doesn't seem so realistic other than saying, B/X is a slight step-up from the DUNGEON board game, and your characters are simply pawns on a track, roll your dice to move.

    I really don't know where you spot these instances explicitly stated in the game rules. Your inferring them is your option, to be certain, and my boundary, since I am playing in your game, but I think that this predilection for reducing B/X to a 'roll your dice and move your mice' stuff is doing the rules-set a real disservice.


  2. Of course, the stuff I say in my blog is just my opinion and while based on how I think the ruleset works best, I do not begrudge anyone their fun if they do things differently. In fact, you would know first hand that even I don't run my game in a strict wargame fashion.

    B/X is a slight step-up from the DUNGEON board game
    I also agree with this. And a really fun one!

    I really don't know where you spot these instances explicitly stated in the game rules.
    These are not "explicitly" in B/X. However, I believe that to truly understand why the B/X rules are as they are one needs to understand their wargaming roots. I have no problem with someone disliking all fighters being the same but I think it is good to know why they are all the same.

    To do that one has to realize that B/X is 98% the same as OD&D which is one step away from Chainmail. There are too many references to wargames, wargamers and Chanimail specifically in the 3 Little Brown Books to reference here. But just two examples from Men & Magic:
    The cover says, "Rules for Fantastic Medieval Wargames Campaigns Playable with Paper and Pencils and Miniature Figures"
    and from page 5, "With the various equippage listed in the following section DUNGEONS and DRAGONS will provide a basically complete, nearly endless campaign of all levels of fantastic-medieval wargame play."

    I do not believe the word "roleplay" appears in Men & Magic at all and I think it may only appear on the covers and in the Introductions of the B/X books.

    'roll your dice and move your mice' stuff is doing the rules-set a real disservice.
    Isn't this exactly what happens during a hexcrawl? Party decides what direction to go, DM rolls to see if the get lost, and then rolls to see if they encounter anything, day over, repeat.

    Or Turns in a dungeon, DM rolls for wandering monster, party does 10 minutes of activity, if nothing is encountered turn ends, repeat.

    Sure the DM usually spices things up a bit by using descriptive language but in essence B/X is Dungeon! but the DM has the map.

    The great thing about B/X is that it appears as much more to the players as they interact with the DM's world and role play their characters but on the DM's side of the screen it is as simple as an expanded version of Dungeon! or a medieval wargame.

  3. Two more quick comments:

    1. I failed to address your first paragraph. Absolutely B/X is an RPG - an RPG with wargame roots. But just because it has wargame roots doesn't mean one can't roleplay. Hell, I roleplay in my online Diplomacy game! But, this gets back to my previous example, "A DM can reasonably determine if a character can swim based on his background." which is exactly like the examples you give.

    2. This view might also explain why I don't have the negative reaction to 4E displayed many in the old school sphere. B/X is still very close to its wargaming roots and 4E is at it heart a tactical miniatures game.

  4. In the B/X campaign I recently ran a few years ago, pretty much all the seven PCs were, I think, different than nigh any other B/X PC of their class.

    The characters aren’t the mechanics. No matter how fancy your mechanics, a PC that is nothing but mechanics is going to be flat. (Which I say because I’ve been the guy playing the PC who was nothing but mechanics.) Mechanics can provide some inspiration, but in the end, character depth comes from the player.

  5. Mr. Fisher,
    If I understand you correctly, my comment about:
    "Ability scores and roleplaying are the only real ways to distinguish one fighter from another."
    agrees with you. Mechanics aren't what makes a character a character because the mechanics don't differentiate them.

    I made a post waaaaay back in February called "Character Options" about a character I ran named Kilgor. He was a thief who mechanically no different than any other thief but as I mentioned then:

    "He had low hit points and not much starting gold. I quickly decided that Kilgor the Thief was a cowardly sort who would hide when he could and flee when he couldn't. He would avoid melee combat at all costs. Nearly every gp he had went into buying a crossbow - no armour and his only melee weapon was a dagger.

    Kilgor the Thief didn't live long enough for me to come up with a reason why he was a coward but he was different than any other thief I have played. And it didn't take mechanics to make him different."

  6. Patrick,

    I will wisely bow out of this contention with you, as you seem as heavily invested in your position as I am in mine.
    --We will have to agree to disagree.

    Talk with you and the party on Saturday, G-d willing.


  7. I didn't realize this was contentious. :)
    The only thing I took as even a little confrontational was the
    doing the rules-set a real disservice
    given how much I love this ruleset.

    In fact I don't think our positions are that far apart. If I am understanding correctly it is just a preference on the spectrum of simulation vs gamism.

    I am looking forward to Saturday!

  8. I tink it's always a mistake to try to find the character in the game statistics. That way lies madne... 3rd and 4th Edition, actually.

    I could have a B/X Fighter with 11's in every stat, and he could be as rich a character as I cared to make him. He could even be a proficient wainwright... without a skill system, he can be a wainwright if I say he is and the DM agrees. No need to add a bunch of game mechanics that don't really do anything more than justify my saying my guy can make wagons.

  9. "...he can be a wainwright if I say he is and the DM agrees. No need to add a bunch of game mechanics that don't really do anything more than justify my saying my guy can make wagons."

    Bingo! And therein lies the beauty of a role playing game. It's a cooperative / collaborative effort between DM and players. IF the rule set is flexible and transparent enough to support something like this then it's understood between all participants that it's not the rules that say 'yes', but the DM.

    I understand what TS is saying...I think. I have a multitude of friends who are into rules tinkering. i.e. They see a rich (extensive, expansive, encompassing, ect.) rule set as tableau upon which to paint their picture. I, on the other hand am opposite. I like a wide open, blank piece of paper upon which to doodle.

    They're both great ways to approach a game, but they ARE different and it's incumbent upon the players to understand this.

  10. Oh, and Patrick, I don't think that they mentioned the term "role playing" game in the LBBs because frankly, it hadn't been invented yet. But to be honest, while the game is only one step removed from war gaming, it's a very LARGE, radical step.

  11. Yes. I think I am (mostly) agreeing with you.

  12. while the game is only one step removed from war gaming, it's a very LARGE, radical step.
    I would agree that in gameplay it is a really big step.

    In design and mechanics, it is a very small step.

    But as I said this is one of the beauties of B/X. The fact that the game can be as simple as it is for the DM and yet appear to be sooooo much more for players is something amazing.

  13. "role playing" game in the LBBs because frankly, it hadn't been invented yet.
    Absolutely correct, which is the point I was trying to make.

  14. Just in case it wasn't clear, I wasn't disagreeing with TS.

    Just to go back to the beginning:
    1. TS says she finds B/X characters two dimensional
    2. I agree but
    3. They are two dimensional in the rules for a reason and
    4. They aren't two dimensional if go past the class and use the Ability Scores and roleplaying.

    I think TS and I get to the same spot (full, living characters) but from different angles. Which is all good!

  15. Hmm…I guess I disagree with this post as well.

    B/X may be only a small step removed from OD&D, itself removed only a small step from wargaming, but that step IS the difference. I don’t think the game was designed for the intention of representing one-dimensional (you did mean one-dimensional, right? Or maybe you’re talking about carbon copies?) characters.

    I think the intent of the design was to allow one to explore a fantasy world. I think the generic archetypes we call “class” were implemented to allow that exploration in different ways. I don’t think they were designed with the intention of duplication, indistinguishable save for role-playing and possible “brownie points” (i.e. ability scores).

    That may be the END RESULT (which is what leads to Timeshadow’s initial gripe regarding players that don’t put a lot of effort into that beautiful blank canvass), but I don’t believe it was specifically designed as such…at least not by the time Moldvay and company get their hands on it.

    I also believe B/X is more than a glorified war game. Chainmail is a wargame. I think that OD&D started as a wargame, but by the time it was published it was an “adventure game” (which may or may not have involved warfare). B/X was designed as something very different from a wargame, with its Reaction checks, dominion rules, etc. It is designed to emulate and allow play in an imaginary world, but it was designed to simply facilitate combat after combat.

    4th edition may be a glorified (and overly complex) tactical wargame, but I don’t think B/X is.

  16. ***edit to last comment***

    ...it [B/X] was NOT designed to simply facilitate combat after combat...

  17. Don't we all just love agreeing/disagreeing on semantics :)

    As I said previously, I completely agree that in game play, B/X is not a wargame but an RPG and one of the best there is.

    All I am trying to say, and I must be doing a terrible job of it, is that to understand why the rules are as they are you need to understand where they come from. And to do that you need to understand D&D's wargaming roots. Nothing is forcing anyone to run it as a wargame and I agree that to do so is not in the "spirit" of the rules but the "letter" of the rules are not that different.

    As Mr. Fisher says on his Classic D&D website
    "When you read a rule & it seems weird, unfair, or broken; ask yourself: “How can I interpret this rule in way that it doesn’t seem weird, unfair, or broken” Remember: The people who wrote, developed, & playtested this rule didn’t find it weird, unfair, or broken.
    They used mechanics that they were familiar with - wargame rules.

    So for example, the added mechanics that you cite (which all first appeared in OD&D) are added because the game no longer has two opposing sides but instead the opposition is now an impartial referee - whose impartiality is maintained by using dice to make decisions.

    Now people that think that having a reaction roll is weird or not needed can understand why there is a reaction roll - but nothing says they need to use it. But in deciding whether or not to use it, it is important to know why it is there.

    Why is a fighter a fighter? Because it is the "armour battalion". Does that mean that it cannot be changed? Absolutely it can be changed but before it is changed it is important to know why it is what it is.

    I think my biggest problem is I love talking about B/X so much I get on tangents that divert from the issue at hand!

  18. <<< Addendum >>>
    And after you understand why the rules are as they are and you still want to make a change, I would first encourage you to see if there is a non-mechanical or non-codified way of changing it - ie through roleplaying.

  19. Hopefully I’ll remember to include that addendum if I ever get around to cleaning that stuff up.