Sunday, November 16, 2008

D&D Cover to Cover, part 6

Being a series of articles in which the author reads the indelible words of Gygax and Arneson as presented the Original Collector's Edition of Dungeons & Dragons, published by Tactical Studies Rules. Beginning with Men & Magic, and concluding with The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures, the author will consider those earliest passages, adding elucidations and interpretations along the way for your consideration.

Men & Magic

"There are three (3) main classes of characters:
When I first took the time to seek out and explore this, the original version of D&D, I was taken aback at the absence of the Thief class. I got my humble start with Basic D&D (Holmes), and quickly moved to AD&D. Now I truly enjoy what I call the Three Pronged Crown of D&D Classes. Of late I’ve actually become enticed by the Swords & Sorcery influenced take of ‘No Clerics’ (specifically for a particular Age of Solstice), and just Warriors and Wizards, but I think for "good-old-honest-as-it-was-intended" D&D, these three classes form a perfect triumvirate of dungeon crawl balance. For reasons I have made plain in older posts, I find great fault with the Greyhawk Thief class. I also find it quite remarkable that this Three Pronged Crown of D&D Classes continues to influence most fantasy games that have followed in D&D’s footsteps. My defense of the Cleric’s importance in D&D and gaming is in this older post.

"Fighting Men includes the characters of elves and dwarves and even hobbits. Magic-Users includes only men and elves. Clerics are limited to men only."
Something that bothered me about Basic D&D, once I became immersed in AD&D, was the Race-as-Class approach. Perhaps this was rooted in my feeling, through those years, that AD&D was somehow the superior version of D&D; that Basic was for kids and Advanced was for those who were prepared for the big-boys edition. Now I realize that dwarves, elves and hobbits were never designed to be the ‘Lords of the Land’ in Men & Magic’s D&D. I understand it now, but it did take me some time to come around to this realization. Men are the Heroes destined for legend in original D&D.

"Fighting-Men: All magical weaponry is usable by fighters, and this in itself is a big advantage."
Aside from slightly better Fighting Capability and Hit Point totals, a Fighting-Man’s greatest ability is owed to the restrictions of Magic-Users and Clerics. Not much to get excited about, but Fighting-Men are still the backbone of any successful adventuring party in D&D. I like the fact that this class is so straightforward and barebones.

"Magic-Users: Top level magic-users are perhaps the most powerful characters in the game, but it is a long, hard road to the top, and to begin with they are weak, so survival is often the question, unless fighters protect the low-level magical types until they have worked up."
Again, this speaks to the usefulness of Fighting-Men. Without their presence, Magic-Users will not reach their potential. Interestingly, Magic-Users do not build a stronghold at high level like their other human counterparts. They can, however, manufacture magic items and create custom spells through research.

"Clerics: Note that Clerics of 7th level and greater are either “Law” or “Chaos”, and there is a sharp distinction between them."
In fact, as we shall discover later, those Clerics of “Chaos” are distinguished from those of “Law” by not only the title “Anti-Cleric”, but also by the effects of their spells. Of note is the fact that there are no Patriarchs of “Neutrality” in D&D. If a player wishes to have a Cleric character progress beyond 6th level, said character must have a greater conviction than simply Neutral. Based on the scattered passages concerning Clerics, found here, under Alignment, and in the Spells section, I would conclude that Clerics may indeed be Neutral before attaining the title of Patriarch (or its Chaos equivalent, Evil High Priest).

"Dwarves: Their advantages are: 1) they have a high level of magic resistance, and they thus add four levels when rolling saving throws (a 6th level dwarf equals a 10th level human);2) they are the only characters able to fully employ the +3 Magic War Hammer (explained in Volume II); 3) they note slanting passages, traps, shifting walls and new construction in underground settings; and 4) they are able to speak the languages of Gnomes, Kobolds and Goblins in addition to the usual tongues (see LANGUAGES in this volume)."
This passage is the very paragraph I read recently that encouraged me to study Volumes I-III in the manner I am now doing. For some reason, I originally read this passage as +4 on saving throws (vs. magic). In fact, not only had I misread the bonus received, I scoured the books for a contradiction, assuming that there was no way I had gotten this so wrong the first time. While the passage reads “when rolling saving throws”, I would probably still only give this bonus of four levels against threats of magical nature, which would include almost everything aside from poison and ghoul paralysis. I enjoy the fact that dwarves also have a race specific magic item in the +3 Magic War Hammer. It’s a nice design choice, likely rooted in mythology, that has been carried on through later editions of the game. Additionally, with the absence of the Thief class in original D&D, the dwarf should be considered an indispensable asset to any dungeon crawl due to their ability to ‘note’ traps (and the other listed hazards) while underground. I believe that this powerful trait is often overlooked in D&D circles, but it is a pronounced skill given the lack of the Thief. Exactly how the ability to ‘note’ traps is handled is left to the referee, but it is certainly an aspect of the ‘Class’ which I have neglected when putting together my own clarifications of these rules. An aspect I will address in the future.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee


John Stephens said...

This is good stuff, I never paid attention to Dwarf trap spotting ability before either. How about letting them spot traps the way Elves spot secret doors? 1-4 if they're actively searching, 1-2 even if they're not (Vol.3, p.9).

Snorri said...

Good stuff! I also was interested by that point on Dwarf as a trap noticer, which leads to another way of viewing the dwarf.

In the Dwarf paragraph of book II, Dwarves have often bears and wolves as wards, form which I deduced they could have special link with wild beasts - anopther mythological trait

Sham aka Dave said...

Thanks. Once I get through this I'll begin work anew on my Solstice OD&D rules. I'm not sure how I'll handle the Dwarf thing, but it's interesting in that no where does it say 'stone traps' or that this Dwarf 'talent' is called stone cunning or any of that. That's AD&D-speak. This clearly says underground traps.

John - yeah, I'd do something based on precendence, with a d6 and as you mentioned this is very much like the Elf secret door thing.

Snorri - I've been very impressed with the insight you have displayed in some of your posts over at Fin's forum. The bear and wolf bit is something I hadn't considered before. One of the fun aspects (or infuriating/frustrating) is finding those little tidbits scattered in various places throughout the LBB.

njharman said...

This is a real valuable service. It's something we probably all should do but are too lazy (or more generously too busy)

"Men are the Heroes destined for legend in original D&D."

I've always hated the humanocentric nature of D&D and it's stronger the older you're edition is. Some claim humanocentric is necessary for old school.

It seems arbitrary (unless realworld human superiority beliefs are allowed to bleed into game) and I don't see the appeal for it at all. It limits DM campaign design choices/fun and player character choices/fun for what?

Sham aka Dave said...

njharman: Thanks. I've actually never given the humanocentric rules much thought. As an AD&D/OD&D GM, it's just always been that way. I suppose Gygax wanted it that way, so for years the approach stuck. Like anything else, you're free to remove the level cap for demi-humans. Hell, you could cap humans and let the dwarves run the place.

I've heard others mention that the approach is rooted in fantasy...but I can't comment on the whys, just mention the whats.

We removed level caps back in those old AD&D campaigns, and ended up with an all elf and dwarf party most of the time (since there was no reason, game-wise, to play a human at that point).