Monday, November 17, 2008

D&D Cover to Cover, part 7

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
CHARACTERS (continued)

"Elves: Elves can begin as either Fighting-Men or Magic-Users and freely switch class whenever they choose, from adventure to adventure, but not during the course of a single game. Thus, they gain the benefits of both classes and may use both weaponry and spells. They may use magic armor and still act as Magic-Users. However, they may not progress beyond 4th level Fighting-Man (Hero) nor 8th level magic-User (Warlock). Elves are more able to note secret and hidden doors. They also gain the advantages noted in the CHAINMAIL rules when fighting certain fantastic creatures. Finally, Elves are able to speak the languages of Orcs, Hobgoblins and Gnolls in addition to their own (Elvish) and the other usual tongues."
The above passage concerning elves as player characters has probably generated more questions and confusion than any other in Men & Magic. The more I read it, the more I think that a total lack of a phrase such as ‘at the same time’ leads me to deduce that indeed an elf must decide which class to pursue between adventures. While the elf never has to remove his magic armor, even when he decides to cast spells for an upcoming excursion, he or she is either one or the other for each adventure, but not both ‘at the same time’. Indeed this means that an elf player character will need to alter certain class specific details whenever he opts for the other class (such as re-rolling hits and rewriting saving throws). It looks as if a revision of my house rules is in order.

"Other Character Types: There is no reason that players cannot be allowed to play as virtually anything, provided they begin relatively weak and work up to the top, i.e., a player wishing to be a Dragon would have to begin as let us say, a “young” one and progress upwards in the usual manner, steps being predetermined by the campaign referee."
While I’ve never personally been too keen on this sort of thing, I believe that the authors are trying to convey that anything is possible with D&D, and that if a referee wanted to, he could indeed construct a ‘Fantastic Medieval Wargame Campaign’ for a party of Dragon player characters. The predominant theme here is that everyone starts ‘weak’ and needs to experience the same challenges and obstacles in their pursuits of experience, wealth and fame. A theme that was presented over 30 years ago as a campaign concept in Men & Magic, and has influenced countless games since.

"Character Alignment, Including Various Monsters and Creatures: Before the game begins it is not only necessary to select a role, but it is also necessary to determine what stance the character will take - Law, Neutrality, or Chaos."
Much has been written and debated about this original D&D Alignment system. Pulp fiction inspirations aside, my take on this is it is a result of the need to add actual sides to the game, much in the same way that all wargames prior to this rather unique iteration pitted players or sides in a conflict against one another in a table-top miniatures simulation. You had Bob versus Bill, with Neutral forces who might be added through the course of a game to one side or the other, either as mercenary units or once certain criteria where met. (edit: a few days after typing this I noticed in CHAINMAIL a passage titled 'GENERAL LINE-UP' which include Law-Neutral-Chaos. This supports my ‘line-up’ or picking sides theory). There is no mention of moral codes, ethics or doctrines which might govern the behavior of a particular individual player character or non-player character. There are even some creature types which are either Law or Neutrality; Chaos or Neutrality; or that appear in all three columns on the Law-Neutrality-Chaos Table. Men and Lycanthropes are listed in all three columns. Many monsters which are considered ‘evil’ in later editions of D&D appear here in both Neutrality and Chaos; for example Orcs, Ogres and Minotaurs. Men, though, are the only ‘default’ playable race which appears in the Chaos column. As mentioned earlier in the Characters section, Neutral Clerics are in fact required to declare which ‘side’ they are on prior to attaining 7th level. The fact that Anti-Clerics become synonymous with Evil Clerics in later passages leads me to believe that Evil is always on the side of Chaos, and that Good is always on the side of Law, but not vice-versa. Good and Evil were added in later editions, Law and Chaos were retained, and the entire scope of Alignment became unnecessarily involved once the various codes were mingled. But such subsequent editions and ways of considering Alignment are not the intent of this reading of Men & Magic. Furthermore, there is no mention of penalties or drawbacks for switching from one Alignment to another (provided it is permitted by the three column table), except for the brief explanation in the Clerics section which speaks to the loss of help from “above” after constructing a stronghold. From all of this I construe that there are Protagonists, Antagonists and the Indifferent in between who are either non-committal or not intelligent enough to care. Exactly how Law and Chaos are defined, whether it be Good guys and Bad guys or Order and Anarchy, is left to the referee to decide. Perhaps Clerics simply have a higher ethical and moral standard, being the only ones truly concerned with Good and Evil, and that each situation dictates whether or not Alignment even comes into play.
"Changing Character Class: In order for men to change class they must have a score of 16 or better in the prime requisite (see below) of the class they wish to change to, and this score must be unmodified. A Cleric with a “strength” of 15, for example, could not become a Fighting-Man. In any event Magic-Users cannot become Clerics and vice-versa."
This rather vague passage does not clarify whether a 4th level Cleric with a 16 strength can become a 4th level Fighting-Man, or a 1st level Fighting-Man. On the one hand we have a very stringent prerequisite for making such a change, and on the other hand we have no penalty for making such a change. If there is no penalty for changing classes, it would be possible for all men with very high intelligence or wisdom to begin as Fighting-Men, and then switch to Magic-User or Cleric once they had advanced in experience. But why would such a change be restricted to only those with a very high score in the new class’s prime requisite? Are we to assume that, through the course of play, the character in question is utilizing this ability enough to compensate for not actually practicing the other class? When switching from Magic-User or Cleric to Fighting-Man, having a very high strength could justify such a 4th to 4th level change, but not the other way around. In the end I assume that a character making such a change in fact starts anew at 1st level, and must recalculate Hits and saving throws. I would allow such a character to retain his prior experience, but only insomuch as it pertains to his original class, incase he or she desired and was able to change back to it. A character with a 16 or better in both strength and intelligence, or strength and wisdom is fairly rare, so allowing such men to switch class between adventures, like Elves can, would not be unfair nor unbalanced, but it might potentially cause issues for a Cleric’s moral or ethical demands. I would handle such a situation on a case by case basis, if it ever actually arose in a game.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

4 comments:

Ian said...

I've always felt that the pre-Greyhawk alignment system is much more akin to, say Brunner's Traveller in Black than Moorcock's Eternal Champion (although the popularity of the latter means that it naturally had a greater influence on most gamers' perception).

What I mean by this is that the natural tendency of the original D&D player (especially from a wargaming background, and most of us were at the time), was to carve out a domain in the wilderness (or neutralize a dungeon which is much the same thing), essentially bringing Order/Law to the Wilderness/Chaos. Civilization was generally something that was off-screen in most of the games we played at the time (although it did exist as a source of supplies and workers).

Thus Chaos was the enemy - the forces that resisted building your stronghold, carving out your domain, and taming the wilderness. Neutral characters and creatures weren't particularly antagonistic, but neither were they likely to be very helpful. Lawful characters and creatures would tend to assist this process.

The cleric, as a servant of the church (it being strongly implied in OD&D that the clerics belonged to a monotheistic [or at least unified] religion), was thus an agent for spreading religion, society, and civilization, and thus a servant of order. The Anti-Clerics were opposed to "the church" and thus were servants of Chaos.

It wasn't until the later supplements that the emphasis of Law and Chaos changed to cosmological principles (neccessary will the addition of Good & Evil to the mix).

Sham aka Dave said...

Excellent points, Ian! Thats some awesome stuff there. I agree with your assessment of the Cleric in Volume 1. I hadn't seen the meaning of Law/Chaos spelled out so succinctly before, thanks for taking the time to relate that. It really sheds light on the approach from a wargaming perspective, and lines up almost precisely with my take on it. It's the 'evil' stuff that keeps cropping up (normally related to the Cleric) that tends to throw things off a bit.

The_Myth said...

I know this has been debated ad nauseum, but what the hey...

The more I read it, the more I think that a total lack of a phrase such as ‘at the same time’ leads me to deduce that indeed an elf must decide which class to pursue between adventures. While the elf never has to remove his magic armor, even when he decides to cast spells for an upcoming excursion, he or she is either one or the other for each adventure, but not both ‘at the same time’. Indeed this means that an elf player character will need to alter certain class specific details whenever he opts for the other class (such as re-rolling hits and rewriting saving throws).

I think you might be specifically discounting the following wording:

Elves can begin as either Fighting-Men or Magic-Users and freely switch class whenever they choose, from adventure to adventure, but not during the course of a single game. Thus, they gain the benefits of both classes and may use both weaponry and spells. They may use magic armor and still act as Magic-Users.

Note the use to the word BOTH in the bold-faced statement. It seems clear that, while an Elf must choose a class to advance in between adventures [and will thus start as either Fighting-Man *or* Magic-User], the Elf will *always* retain all benefits of each class level achieved, including the ability to cast spells in armor and use all weapons. So, while this does imply that an Elf is not a gestalt combo-class of fighter/magic-user [as in Mentzer or AD&D], forcing the Elf's player to keep re-rolling hit points and using different saving throws seems to contradict the statement that they "gain the benefits of both classes."

In essence, the Elf is able to change classes without the necessary 15 in the prime requisite needed for Humans. The big question for me thus becomes whether an Elf starting as a Magic-User has full weapon and [magic] armor use. [I think not...at least not until the "next adventure" when the Elf can switch classes and gain some XP as a Fighting-Man.]

Sham aka Dave said...

gain the benefits of both classes and may use both weaponry and spells

This is the bit they helped me form my original opinion in my initial 'house ruling' of OD&D. I allowed Elves to gain the benefits of FM and MU at the same time, but they had to declare, prior to each adventure, into which class their experience for that excursion would be placed.

So I do understand this interpretation, Myth, and it's one I am currently using in my own OD&D game.

I ruled then that Elves only increased hits when a new class's roll exceeded their current amount (a house rule within a house rule).

I suppose the question is, what exactly is meant by 'gain the benefits of both classes'?

Perhaps if I did away with the notion of rerolling hits, and made both hits and saving throws based on the highest of the two classes, an Elf would indeed be gaining the benefits of both (at the same time), but would have to choose spells or a higher fighting capability from adventure to adventure.

That is, if I do indeed change my house rules based on my most recent opinion. One thing that I don't like is the idea of an Elf losing the use of his Sword and Bow if he decides to be a spell-caster for an adventure or two.

I will say, I think the Elven Adventurer from S&W is one of the best solutions to this ongoing debate.

In regard to your question at the bottom, I actually ruled that an Elf starts at 1st/1st (in my current version), so he or she begins with Sword, Bow (or other, I just envision Sword and Bow for all Elves) and one 1st level spell. But I can see your take on this aspect as well!

In the end, I think I've just been slow coming around to the funkier, less AD&D take on the Elf. As you might see in the forthcoming posts, I do a 180 on a few debatable OD&D topics.

Cheers!