Tomes of ancient lore
November 24, 2009 4:13 PM   Subscribe

Although it's commonplace nowadays to assume that J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings was the primary source of inspiration for Dave Arneson and Gary Gygax when they created the world's first tabletop roleplaying game, Dungeons & Dragons, a careful examination of the game suggests otherwise... James Maliszewski on The Books That Founded D&D. Some disagreement.
posted by Artw (109 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite

 
Personally I'd take more issue with Mike Moorcock being tucked in under Poul Anderson than the downplaying of Tolkien.
posted by Artw at 4:15 PM on November 24, 2009


(along with Tolkein, whose name is consistently misspelled as "Tolkein")

Um.
posted by Pope Guilty at 4:18 PM on November 24, 2009 [4 favorites]


(along with Tolkein, whose name is consistently misspelled as "Tolkein")

Um.


The key word there is "consistently."
posted by The World Famous at 4:37 PM on November 24, 2009 [27 favorites]


Source material? My theory: a Dungeon Master's Guide in a bag of holding thrown into a portable hole.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 4:37 PM on November 24, 2009 [2 favorites]


I don't see any disagreement there. One says Tolkien is an influence but not the only one. The other says Tolkien's not the only influence, but he definitely is one.

And in general, Maliszewski is spot on. Though I too would give Moorcock his own spot on that list rather than grandfathering him in under Anderson.
posted by Naberius at 4:38 PM on November 24, 2009


No true serpent people in MM1? Lizard men don't count? What do?
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 4:47 PM on November 24, 2009


I recently got around to reading some Conan (I really don't know how I avoided it up until now) and was struck by how similar it all was to the DnD I used to play. Any given story could have been turned into a DnD module without changing a thing.
This is basically how I judge literature now, by asking the question "How easy would it be to run a campaign based on this?"
posted by AndrewStephens at 4:50 PM on November 24, 2009 [5 favorites]


Huh? The original 1st Ed DMG lists a bunch of books that obviously all influenced the game. I didn't buy my copy of "The Dying Earth" at random although I never enjoyed the Elric novels.
posted by GuyZero at 4:51 PM on November 24, 2009 [2 favorites]


No true serpent people in MM1? Lizard men don't count? What do?

Not sure any old reptilian humanoid counts as serpant people. Ka nama kaa lajerama.
posted by Artw at 4:58 PM on November 24, 2009


No true serpent people in MM1? Lizard men don't count?

Snakes aren't lizards and lizards aren't snakes, so, no, lizard men are not true serpent people.

Further evidence from Wikipedia: "The lizard man appears in the first edition Monster Manual (1977), where it is described as...omnivorous..." Whereas all snakes are carnivorous.

NEERRRRDSSSS
posted by jedicus at 4:59 PM on November 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm holding off on further comment on the matter until I can consult my Encyclopedia Cthulhiana.
posted by Artw at 5:01 PM on November 24, 2009


Though in the context of 1977 D&D literature omnivorous probably just means "omnivorous for people".
posted by Artw at 5:02 PM on November 24, 2009


So isn't this 'File Under Duh?' I mean, of course the creators of a fantasy gaming system read more than one fantasy author. At no time did D&D's creators sit down and say 'These are the few works we chose to emulate!' It was more organic with multiple creators, players even, bringing their preferences to the table. All these people probably read their fair share of fantasy! Duh!

I mean, I've been doing a lot of research on a HP Lovecraft essay that pretty much accounts to 'Duh' (Arkham is Salem! Duh! HP Said so many, many times!), so I know wherefore I speak.

Speaking of which...

Though Lovecraft's worldview is in some ways antithetical to that presented in D&D,

No, it's not. Original D&D is a setting where only humans can advance to the full levels of their chosen class/profession. See also, HPL's worldview, except replace 'humans' for 'Anglo-Saxons'. People are whom they say they are in OD&D (fighting-man, priest, wizard), and that's the same as in Mythos tales. Labels matter so much in both HPL and D&D. A creature's attitudes are often pared down to their racial makeup.

If you want to get in to influences on early D&D, look to wargames. Look to fantasy novels. But also look to what models could be easily constructed from bits laying around the Gygax household. I'm willing to bet practicality had just as much an impact on OD&D than a shared bookshelf.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 5:04 PM on November 24, 2009 [3 favorites]


So isn't this 'File Under Duh?'

Really? You'd be surprised how often I've had the "D'n"D and/or all fantasy is based on Tolkien" conversation.

Though Lovecraft's worldview is in some ways antithetical to that presented in D&D,

No, it's not.


You seem to have skipped the whole soul-crushing cosmic-horror, non anthropomorphic nature of a universe indifferent to mankind and feeble insignificance of humanity bit of what Lovecraft is all about there and just gone straight for the bits people moan about sometimes.
posted by Artw at 5:11 PM on November 24, 2009 [3 favorites]


Snakes aren't lizards and lizards aren't snakes, so, no, lizard men are not true serpent people.

I'm contacting my local Union of the Snake.
posted by benzenedream at 5:14 PM on November 24, 2009 [4 favorites]


I think we can safely blame Vance for the abomination of D&D's magic system. Great books, and a true pleasure to read, but how he handles "magic" (in a setting more sci-fi than fantasy, no less) leaves much to desire in the transaltion to roleplaying - Always my biggest peeve with D&D, the idea of spell memorization rather than a pool of magic points usable in a more flexible manner.

The others... Anderson, de Camp, and Lovecraft I would tend to disagree with. Familiar with all-of-the-above, I see very little of either (beyond the coincidental) in D&D. Burroughs and Howard, perhaps, though they simply mainstreamed what at the time amounted to the core of "weird" fiction. Leiber I honestly don't know well enough to comment on.

Overall, I'd give TFA a 3/10... It manages to sink a few big nails, but seems to have done so by taking a sledgehammer to the entire genre.
posted by pla at 5:14 PM on November 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


Tolkien's stuff gets all kinds of serious attention because it is such a noble story of high minded heroism, and this is exactly why it has so little to do with D&D. The adventurer is after gold, enchanted artifacts for selfish personal use, and the chance to kick some ass - and the other authors on that list match this worldview much better than stuffy old Tolkien ever could. The thief, for example, has no real place in the epic stories of Tolkien, and plays a huge part in a successful dungeon crawl loot grab. And a Tolkien story makes for a pretty crappy role playing adventure.
posted by idiopath at 5:16 PM on November 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


I don't think Gygax actively worked to make D&D anti-Lovecraftian by creating a system that spawned a million munchkins.

It's as soul-crushing (though I give you anthropomorphic) as you want it to be.

My stewardship of The Keep on the Borderlands? Soul-crushing. By the time they got past the frickin' hermit in the fens they felt like Martin Sheen at the end of Apocalypse Now, covered in mud and blood and despair.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 5:17 PM on November 24, 2009 [4 favorites]


Oh, good observation, idiopath. Though, you know, Bilbo was hired to be a "thief".
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 5:19 PM on November 24, 2009 [3 favorites]


It's pretty clear that Tolkien was quite central to D&D; the sum total of the disagreement seems to be a matter of how strong the influence was, not so much whether it existed.

I sort of watched the evolution of the system; I owned a box set of the original D&D, though I was too young to play, and then started playing the Advanced version awhile after it first came out. The original had pretty clear Tolkien influences, but if anything, they got stronger over time, not weaker. As the system evolved in the early days, it seemed largely to be serving the need of people who wanted to play characters that were like the ones in Lord of the Rings. Witness, for example, the addition of the ranger class, and the additional backstory and material that was made available for dwarves and elves.

Tolkein's world, though, was very low-magic. His wizards had almost no explanation at all, other than 'powerful and very rare'. To make a mage class work, they had to go to other sources, because Tolkein just wasn't enough. Gygax and Arneson ranged far afield in searching for new and interesting ideas and mechanics to integrate. They stole from a very wide range of sources. It was interesting watching people trying to justify the mage class against Tolkien's books; I remember an article in the 80s sometime, roughly titled "Was Gandalf a Fifth Level Wizard?"

The best analogy I can draw is that Tolkien was the warp of the cloth, the mentioned books in these two articles provided the weft, and then a myriad of additional ideas served as embroidery. Without Tolkien, the core of the system, it would be an astonishingly different game. It might not even be called Dungeons and Dragons, since The Hobbit was such a major influence on bringing dragons back into popular consciousness. (well, nerd popular consciousness, anyway. :) )

Rather, it might have been called something like Chainmail Deluxe, and somehow I doubt it would have had anywhere near the same level of impact.
posted by Malor at 5:19 PM on November 24, 2009 [3 favorites]


Old school D&D, as it was played, was actually nothing like anything Tolkien would have written.

The desire to have that kind of D&D experience could possibly be placed behind the rise of Dragonlance and the whole story-based D&D game that, to make a long story short, shittified everything.
posted by fleacircus at 5:20 PM on November 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


And don't get me started on trying to play D&D with a player who is into Tolkien. The enigmatic ranger who has an unusual number of 17s and 18s in his stats and can only fade silently into the background or be the center of attention with no room for playing with others. Bleh.
posted by idiopath at 5:22 PM on November 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


At no time did D&D's creators sit down and say 'These are the few works we chose to emulate!'

Yes, I swear to Thor that there's a list of book that influenced the game right there in the DMG.

And man, later on D&D TOTALLY ripped off those Dragonlance books. Shameful.
posted by GuyZero at 5:24 PM on November 24, 2009


The Hobbit was such a major influence on bringing dragons back into popular consciousness. (well, nerd popular consciousness, anyway. :)

Well, maybe, but... Sleeping Beauty, 1957. I'm not sure you can draw this huge strong link between The Hobbit and the second D in D&D.
posted by fleacircus at 5:30 PM on November 24, 2009


This is basically how I judge literature now, by asking the question "How easy would it be to run a campaign based on this?"

"When Gregor Samsa woke up one morning from unsettling dreams, he found himself changed in his bed into a monstrous vermin. He had failed his saving throw vs. polymorph."
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 5:30 PM on November 24, 2009 [23 favorites]


"When Gregor Samsa woke up one morning from unsettling dreams, he found himself changed in his bed into a monstrous vermin. He had failed his saving throw vs. polymorph."

GM: OK, which one of you is playing the retarded one?
Lennie: Me
GM: Her hair looks really soft. Make a saving throw versus... softness.
Lennie: 1. I rolled a one.
GM: Woah. That's a critical miss there.
posted by GuyZero at 5:33 PM on November 24, 2009 [28 favorites]


You seem to have skipped the whole soul-crushing cosmic-horror, non anthropomorphic nature of a universe indifferent to mankind and feeble insignificance of humanity bit of what Lovecraft is all about there and just gone straight for the bits people moan about sometimes.

You must have had much kinder DMs than me.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 5:33 PM on November 24, 2009 [2 favorites]


It's pretty clear that Tolkien was quite central to D&D...

I think it's clear that
(a) There are some up-front inclusions of Tolkien stuff in AD&D, like elves and dwarves and halflings and orcs-among-the-evil-humanoids, but
(b) they don't really run too deep in the game as originally presented in AD&D, however
(c) Tolkien looms/loomed large in the mind of the average D&D player, so that
(d) lots of people are hugely mistaken about how much influence Tolkien had on the creation of D&D.
posted by fleacircus at 5:39 PM on November 24, 2009 [4 favorites]


(er, b... as originally presented, or even still shown in AD&D)
posted by fleacircus at 5:40 PM on November 24, 2009


Am I weird that I played D&D for a decade before I read any Tolkien?
posted by GuyZero at 5:40 PM on November 24, 2009


Yes, I swear to Thor that there's a list of book that influenced the game right there in the DMG.

Thor smiles upon you, for there is! That list includes more than Tolkien, which brings me back to the 'Duh' aspect of the article. Maybe I expressed things wrong by saying 'works' rather than 'work'.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 5:41 PM on November 24, 2009


GuyZero: I remember that list, and, well, happened to know where "the box" is.

DMG page 224:

"Appendix N:
INSPIRATIONAL AND EDUCATIONAL READING

Inspiration for all the fantasy work I have done stems directly from the love my father showed when I was a tad, for he spent many hours telling me stories he made up as he went along, tales of cloaked old men who could grant wishes, of magic rings and enchanted swords, or wicked sorcerors and dauntless swordsmen. Then too, countless hundreds of comic books went down, and the long-gone EC ones certainly had their effect. Science fiction, fantasy, and horror movies were a big influence. In fact, all of us tend to get ample helpings of fantasy when we are very young, from fairy tales such as those written by the Brothers Grimm and Andrew Lang. This often leads to reading books of mythology, paging through bestiaries, and consultation of compilations of the myths of various lands and peoples. Upon such a base I built my interest in fantasy, being an avid reader of all science fiction and fantasy literature since 1950. The following authors were of particular inspiration to me. In some cases I cite specific works, in others, I simply recommend all their fantasy writing to you. From such sources, as well as just about any other imaginative writing or screenplay you will be able to pluck kernels from which to grow the fruits of exciting campaigns. Good reading!

Inspirational Reading:

Anderson, Poul. THREE HEARTS AND THREE LIONS; THE HIGH CRUSADE; THE BROKEN SWORD
Bellairs, John. THE FACE IN THE FROST
Brackett, Leigh.
Brown, Fredric.
Burroughs, Edgar Rice. "Pellucidar" Series; Mars Series; Venus Series
Carter, Lin. "World's End" Series
de Camp, L. Sprague. LEST DARKNESS FALL; FALLIBLE FIEND; et al.
de Camp & Pratt. "Harold Shea" Series; CARNELIAN CUBE
Derleth, August.
Dunsany, Lord.
Farmer, P.J. "The World of the Tiers" Series; et al.
Fox, Gardner. "Kothar" Series; "Kyrik" Series; et al.
Howard, R.E. "Conan" Series
Lanier, Sterling. HIERO'S JOURNEY
Leiber, Fritz. "Fafhrd & Gray Mouser" Series; et al.
Lovecraft, H.P.
Meritt, A. CREEP, SHADOW, CREEP; MOON POOL; DWELLERS IN THE MIRAGE; et al.
Moorcock, Michael. STORMBRINGER; STEALER OF SOULS; "Hawkmoon" Series (esp. the first three books)
Norton, Andre.
Offutt, Andrew J., editor SWORDS AGAINST DARKNESS III.
Pratt, Fletcher, BLUE STAR; et al.
Saberhagen, Fred. CHANGELING EARTH; et al.
St. Clair, Margaret. THE SHADOW PEOPLE; SIGN OF THE LABRYS
Tolkien, J.R.R. THE HOBBIT; "Ring Trilogy"
Vance, Jack. THE EYES OF THE OVERWORLD; THE DYING EARTH; et al.
Weinbaum, Stanley.
Wellman, Manly Wade.
Williamson, Jack.
Zelazny, Roger. JACK OF SHADOWS; "Amber" Series; et al.

The most immediate influences upon AD&D were probably de Camp & Pratt, REH, Fritz Leiber, Jack Vance, HPL, and A. Merritt; but all of the above authors, as well as many not listed, certainly helped to shape the form of the game. For this reason, and for the hours of reading enjoyment, I heartily recommend the works of these fine authors to you."

Typos are mine.
My apologies to the copyright holders; it's for a good cause.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 5:42 PM on November 24, 2009 [27 favorites]


I roll my bluff check to convince Major Sanderson that I'm crazy

Success!

Ok, what now?

I tell him I don't want to fly any more mission.

You blew it! now he knows you're not crazy because only a sane person would want to avoid flying missions.

posted by Megafly at 5:43 PM on November 24, 2009 [6 favorites]


Regardless of book influences, I did find this account of early play made older rules editions start making sense to me.

At least, more sense than rolling up a new character every 10 minutes.
posted by yeloson at 5:44 PM on November 24, 2009 [4 favorites]


Art! Yer killin' me!

Yeah, it's a strawman dealie. The pre-Blue-Book D&D stuff to my eye is more obviously influenced by a boatload of fantasy authors, among whom JRRT must be numbered. I always thought Lieber and Howard were as important to D&D. HOWEVER, and to Art's point, Moorcock was also well-known and influential in the milieu the games spring from. The games' alignment systems, in fact, are more or less wholesale fanboy codifications of Moorcock's (and from a different perspective) Zelazny's 'systems' of allegiance.

Judges Guild published a massive, licensed supplement, The City State of the Invincible Overlord, in 1976. The supplement, while playing fast and loose with just what the name of said city might be, is a room-by-room visualization of Leiber's Lankhmar, complete with poster-size wall map and building-by-building NPCs.

Of all my D&D crap, the loss of this inexpensively-published work of fannish obsession is the one thing that I regret disposing of the most. It does appear that Judges Guild rereleased the product in 2004.
posted by mwhybark at 6:46 PM on November 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


idiopath - And a Tolkien story makes for a pretty crappy role playing adventure.

I kinda of disagree* vis Middle Earth Role Playing and its plethora of sourcebooks and adventure/campaign modules.

I once played a campaign that was set at the same time as the fellowship while having zero direct interaction with the main characters from the books, as well as just using the setting and playing pre-Hobbit up to just prior to the events of the Ring.

MERP eventually became Rulesmonster, my favourite system, but I digress.

*Yeah, I followed DM of the Rings in 'realtime' from about halfway done to the bitter end.
posted by porpoise at 6:47 PM on November 24, 2009


ooo-er, here's some maps from the re-release and an excerpt from the GM's map. The players' map in the first link appears to be closely based on the map I recall.

[seems like some awfully large scans - I don't want to screw the publisher here. Mods, judgement please?]
posted by mwhybark at 6:52 PM on November 24, 2009


Although it's commonplace nowadays to assume that J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings was the primary source of inspiration for Dave Arneson and Gary Gygax when they created the world's first tabletop roleplaying game, Dungeons & Dragons, a careful examination of the game suggests otherwise...

This would mean a lot more if Tolkien hadn't ripped off so much himself. Love the books, but it isn't like he didn't steal from Anglo-Saxon and medieval myth.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:03 PM on November 24, 2009


Although it's commonplace nowadays to assume that J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings was the primary source of inspiration for Dave Arneson and Gary Gygax when they created the world's first tabletop roleplaying game, Dungeons & Dragons, a careful examination of the game suggests otherwise

And Wagner.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:04 PM on November 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


Although it's commonplace nowadays to assume that J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings was the primary source of inspiration for Dave Arneson and Gary Gygax

Yeah, as others have pointed out this is almost troll bait. Commonplace among whom? Certainly not anyone with any knowledge of the situation.
posted by Justinian at 7:04 PM on November 24, 2009


I would suggest that many more people's exposure to fantasy begins and ends with Tolkien than doesn't.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:29 PM on November 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


Judges Guild published a massive, licensed supplement, The City State of the Invincible Overlord, in 1976. The supplement, while playing fast and loose with just what the name of said city might be, is a room-by-room visualization of Leiber's Lankhmar, complete with poster-size wall map and building-by-building NPCs.

I totally have this. I'm going to go pull it out after dinner and pore over it some more.

Still kicking myself for selling "Tegel Manor" back in the early '90s.
posted by Aquaman at 7:38 PM on November 24, 2009


I would suggest that many more people's exposure to fantasy begins and ends with Tolkien than doesn't.

Until about ten years ago, when television and the cineplexes started being overrun with vampires and hunters, not to mention wimpy, indecisive wizards.

But for the older generation, that is probably accurate. We read The Hobbit in the fifth grade and LOTR in high school as course work, and while there were a few class discussions about the character of Eowyn (the book version, not the horrible film model), I don't think I would have received high marks for turning in a homework assignment on Red Sonja's chainmail bikini.
posted by rokusan at 7:50 PM on November 24, 2009


Any given story could have been turned into a DnD module without changing a thing.

It's been a long time but I remember thinking the same thing about the Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser books.
posted by JaredSeth at 7:52 PM on November 24, 2009


The Fafhrd and Gray Mouser books were awesome and the strange thing to me is how young people today know about Howard and Lovecraft and Tolkien but have never heard of Lieber.
posted by Tashtego at 8:29 PM on November 24, 2009 [2 favorites]


Fantasy in general gets pretty short shrift from most people. Much like comic books. I was reading 'Maus' sitting on some sandbags and a buddy of mine started ragging on me that I was still into kid's crap and comic books, etc.
Really, I was astonished how lucky I was that I wasn't reading Batman or something a little less defensible.
But lines like he handed me come along once in a lifetime - I said it wasn't for kids, it was a serious work on a serious subject: "What kind of serious subject can involve mice?"
"The Holocaust."
Pause.
"Smed, no one's going to want to read something like that. Not with mice in it."
"It won the Pulitzer Prize."
"...no it didn't."
I showed him the book jacket, he walked away muttering.

What's weird is how people just assume past a certain age that metaphor in storytelling is somehow only for children without considering why we tell those tales to children in the first place.
I'm still amazed how well researched the original AD&D works are. I had no idea about the Babylonian gods or the anunnaki, any of that, but after seeing it in those books, I go to the library, look online, all that.
I'm watching Jaws and I'm saying "Hey, that's what Marduk did to Tiamat - blew wind into her and pierced her with an arrow."
Of course they changed stuff in D&D. Still, it's a game not a scholarly work. But the research there was pretty vast and comprehensive. And so I know something about the Enuma Elish, etc, and some nifty ideas I'd never otherwise been exposed to.
But some people dig imagination, some don't.
posted by Smedleyman at 8:31 PM on November 24, 2009 [9 favorites]


played D&D once...snooze
read part of LOTR once...snooze
yep, definitely related...
posted by Confess, Fletch at 9:35 PM on November 24, 2009


Back in the throes of the early aughts I reread more than the entire canon of fantasy authors I had loved as a kid, with the exception of Howard (no decent reprints at the time and the paperbacks were still boxed up, as they remain). I was not a big Lovecraft fan as a kid so his stuff was out-of-scope as well. What I tried to do was read every single published word by Moorcock, Tolkien (hopeless cause due to absurd publishing of every single scrap or jot or tittle the good prof ever scrawled), Lieber, Zelazny, and Wolfe.

It was vastly interesting, much like listening to the lifework of a composer or (generally smaller in scale) rock band. Authorial themes repeat and vary, skills and approaches change over time, and what appears to have been - and was surely intended as - a strictly commercial enterprise suddenly pops into focus as a sort of lens into the soul of the author's obsessions. Technical aptitude and inventiveness also leap out. Moorcock is clearly the giant among these authors, in my opinion. Directly after him, Wolfe and Lieber joust for position, with Tolkien, whom I do adore, lagging in the drudgery of his scholasticism.

I reread Howard more than any of these as a kid, and he ranks behind JRRT largely because of his short life. If he had fought his way past that shotgun, I feel sure a salutary competition between Lieber and Howard would have enriched us all. Wolfe's material is hugely rich but had nothing to do with D&D, as his fantasy material came later, beginning in 1980 or so.

Of these authors, the one whose work was most astonishing to me, clearly the most elegant and focused, was Lieber. The man was an incredible stylist. I would term it mannerist, but Moorcock's amazing ability to craft a new authorial voice for each cycle or novel depending on his parameters would seem to tilt the description to him. Yet often I have felt that MM's material comes roaring through him at such a pace that it simply dictates the tone of the voice.

Lieber's prose, especially as he ages, is ever more carefully controlled, ever more precise. Especially in the Fafhrd and Mouser stories, it sometimes feels as if he identified with the Mouser more and more as he aged; of course, one of the pleasures of reading these stories in in-cycle-sequence is that Lieber wrote the stories over the entire span of his life, and clearly used his hero pair as a sounding board into which he threw his voice on matters of mortality.

He died in '92, so his book is closed. Moorcock is alive and writing - in Texas, last I checked - and shows no sign of slowing his output, although he rarely travels.

So, like: read more Moorcock! Read more Lieber!
posted by mwhybark at 9:43 PM on November 24, 2009 [5 favorites]


I'm contacting my local Union of the Snake.

Tell me more. I understand its on the rise.
posted by Joey Michaels at 10:46 PM on November 24, 2009 [4 favorites]


The Fafhrd and Gray Mouser books were awesome and the strange thing to me is how young people today know about Howard and Lovecraft and Tolkien but have never heard of Lieber.

It's probably just as well for Pratchett that they don't, or they might find the Discworld a somewhat less "original work of unique genius" than they do.
posted by rodgerd at 11:27 PM on November 24, 2009 [2 favorites]


porpoise: MERP eventually became Rulesmonster, my favourite system, but I digress.

Actually, that's backwards. Rolemaster existed (especially in the form of the [Insert word here] Law supplements) well before ICE go the license to do a Middle Earth-specific RPG.
posted by jiawen at 11:46 PM on November 24, 2009


I think we can safely blame Vance for the abomination of D&D's magic system. Great books, and a true pleasure to read, but how he handles "magic" (in a setting more sci-fi than fantasy, no less) leaves much to desire in the transaltion to roleplaying - Always my biggest peeve with D&D, the idea of spell memorization rather than a pool of magic points usable in a more flexible manner.

I like Vancian magic, and I've argued in its favor multiple times both here and in chat with Pope Guilty (shaking fist in air: "GUILTY!!!!"). I am not going to say that a spell point pool is not workable (it obviously is), or worse or better. It is just one of the frankly few things that makes D&D something slightly other than Generic Fantasy Game #1. It was part of what made the game what it was. (Hasbro, obviously, disagrees with me.)

The thing that I think people don't like about it is that most DMs (and indeed published adventures, even ones from the classic era) don't seem to be designed with it in mind. You must know something about the adventure you're about to embark upon in order to choose your spells for the day well. A Slow Poison spell selection is wasted if there's no poison anywhere in the dungeon, but having the spell in your spellbook is similarly worthless is you never choose it. That, combined with the fact that most low-level characters have so pitifully few spells that they must make them all count plus the otherwise general uselessness and extreme fragility of wizards at first level in all versions of D&D after the original books... that is bad design.

Mages in Vance's The Dying Earth (really the book that inspired D&D's magic system; later Dying Earth books don't feature memorized spells) are not frail aesthetes, but more like rogues in both nature and physical combat ability, and spells are more a type of hyper mathematics/technology with power to affect reality simply by its performance. That, I think, is the vision that enthralled Gygax and demanded to be included in the game. Wizards in Vance, Howard and Lovecraft (my own personal favorites from Appendix N) are not physically slight at all. (Except, in Howard, maybe in how everyone looks like an 80 lb weakling compared to Conan.) If wizards were only a little more capable of things other than magic then I suggest that Vancian magic wouldn't require so much mindfulness from the adventure writer, and thus players who dislike it wouldn't chafe against it so much.

But anyway, yeah, I don't think the relatively low inspiration Gygax took from The Lord of The Rings books is a surprise to anyone who has played D&D for more than a session or two. AndrewStephens is pretty much spot-on, most classic D&D adventures read an awful lot like Conan stories, I think right up to the advent of the campaign setting.
posted by JHarris at 12:29 AM on November 25, 2009 [6 favorites]


Ah yes, thanks Durn Bronzefist. You surely deserve a seat at the table in Valhalla for typing all that out.
posted by JHarris at 12:37 AM on November 25, 2009


A Slow Poison spell selection is wasted if there's no poison anywhere in the dungeon, but having the spell in your spellbook is similarly worthless is you never choose it. That, combined with the fact that most low-level characters have so pitifully few spells that they must make them all count

Eh. Just memorize Magic Missile for all of your slots.

But, I do agree. This is why I was so happy when they introduced the Sorcerer class. Definitely more playable.
posted by Netzapper at 3:19 AM on November 25, 2009


But, I do agree. This is why I was so happy when they introduced the Sorcerer class. Definitely more playable.

Ah, but that was the beginning of the end for Vancian magic, really. I maintain that Vancian magic works very well if adventures are designed with it in mind. Or, instead, one uses a kind of improvised, or even randomized, campaign where anything can happen on the fly; then, anything can come up, so players don't have to play an all-or-nothing game in deciding what to memorize.

But these things require some foreknowledge. Even possibly-false foreknowledge is okay, such as in gathering information in town before the adventure, or using divination spells to try to get some handle on what is needed, which aren't available at low levels.

Sorcerers bypass all of that by simply not requiring memorization, which isn't Vancian at all, it's simply a different kind of magic point system. Although in a way they do have it worse; there have to pick a very limited number of spells for their entire career, instead of being able to change each day. Which means the more-specific spells get picked even less, if you think about it.
posted by JHarris at 3:35 AM on November 25, 2009


played D&D once...snooze
read part of LOTR once...snooze
yep, definitely related...


Oh, I get it! You're being a douchebag! Interesting.
posted by grubi at 6:07 AM on November 25, 2009 [4 favorites]


The Fafhrd and Gray Mouser books were awesome and the strange thing to me is how young people today know about Howard and Lovecraft and Tolkien but have never heard of Lieber.

Well, the publication history is the damndest thing. Whereas Howard has become voluminously available in the last five or six years, and Lovecraft has always haunted the shelves, the last serious run of Leiber to get through the F&GM stories and on the shelves was White Wolf's versions of a decade or so ago. Also, Conan and Cthulhu are big pop culture hits whereas Fafhrd and the Mouser...not nearly the same recognition level.

</eponysterical>
posted by graymouser at 6:21 AM on November 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


Eh. Just memorize Magic Missile for all of your slots.

Seriously? Sleep is so much more bang for your buck. Used correctly you pretty much get to avoid a whole encounter.

But I'm of the mind that Vancian magic is a feature. Gygax thought that the game should reward players who put a lot of forethought and caution into what they did (although not to the point of bogging down play). If you are going to run up against a situation where you are going to need Knock but you have Web memorized, maybe you should've done the proper scouting / information search beforehand.
posted by graymouser at 6:30 AM on November 25, 2009 [2 favorites]


The Fafhrd and Gray Mouser books were awesome and the strange thing to me is how young people today know about Howard and Lovecraft and Tolkien but have never heard of Lieber.

It's probably just as well for Pratchett that they don't, or they might find the Discworld a somewhat less "original work of unique genius" than they do.


*eyeroll* Yeah, and we all think he came up with Phantom of the Opera, Hollywood, and rock music by himself too!
posted by kmz at 7:20 AM on November 25, 2009 [2 favorites]


I think we can all agree that it's a good thing D&D wasn't largely based on Piers Anthony; if it was, XP would only be awarded for seeing panties or leching after a topless centaur.
posted by COBRA! at 7:39 AM on November 25, 2009 [7 favorites]


Way, way back ( possibly pre-Hellboy) there was a neat Mignola adaptation of some Fafhrd and Gray Mouser stories. Not sure how easy it would be to find now.
posted by Artw at 7:57 AM on November 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


Artw, I presume you mean this one, which I thought was OOP but is apparently available on Amazon. Beautiful stuff, I also loved Mignola's covers for the White Wolf books - they just suggested so much of the correct weirdness for Leiber's world.
posted by graymouser at 8:10 AM on November 25, 2009


That Mignola series was actually the second comic adaptation of the Lieber stories. I still have a copy of #4 of the earlier Sword of Sorcery series.
posted by JaredSeth at 8:29 AM on November 25, 2009



played D&D once...snooze
read part of LOTR once...snooze
yep, definitely related...
posted by Confess, Fletch at 12:35 AM on November 25 [+] [!]

DM: Roll a saving throw Confess.
Confess: I rolled a 1.
DM: The cackling sorceror clutches a dark gem and mutters the words to the spell "Trap the Soul."
posted by bastionofsanity at 8:43 AM on November 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


Given what I said above HP Lovecraft did actually do some high fantasy stuff. Of course, the results were also highly crappy.
posted by Artw at 9:26 AM on November 25, 2009


played D&D once...snooze
read part of LOTR once...snooze
yep, definitely related...


Is that something I'd have to know you to care about?
posted by Naberius at 9:48 AM on November 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


Snakes aren't lizards and lizards aren't snakes, so, no, lizard men are not true serpent people.

Ah the old no true Scots serpent-man argument.
posted by Babblesort at 10:21 AM on November 25, 2009


I remember that list, and, well, happened to know where "the box" is.

Mr. Bronzefist, you sir, are a gentleman and a scholar. I am not 100% sure where "the box" is although it has been seen in recent months. Someday, either through strength or weakness, eBay will be a few dollars richer when I finally part with it all.

But "the list" pretty much seals the argument, such as it is, for good.

Also, man, what a list. It's very close to being the Western Fantasy Canon.
posted by GuyZero at 10:22 AM on November 25, 2009


Sorcerers bypass all of that by simply not requiring memorization, which isn't Vancian at all, it's simply a different kind of magic point system. Although in a way they do have it worse; there have to pick a very limited number of spells for their entire career, instead of being able to change each day. Which means the more-specific spells get picked even less, if you think about it.

That sucks. (Leomund's Tiny Hut fans, represent)

I prefer the Ars Magica setup: "formulaic" magic with all the bells and whistles (and time, and components), and spontaneous (or off-formula) casting at penalties. And little sense that spells and magic items are plucked from a pan-campaign franchise menu, the same flavours you can expect to find from Greyhawk to Waterdeep to Ansalon. But then, very different game.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 10:24 AM on November 25, 2009 [2 favorites]


Someday, either through strength or weakness, eBay will be a few dollars richer when I finally part with it all.

Don't do it!
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 10:25 AM on November 25, 2009


I will never be strong enough to part with my childhood and when I am finally weak enough someone else will have to do it for me. Although I may be buried with my Traveller books - do you know how much goddamn trouble it was finding a copy of "Vilani & Vargr"?

In the meantime my son read my old WestEnd Games 1st Ed Starwars books and think I must have once been cool.
posted by GuyZero at 10:36 AM on November 25, 2009


And little sense that spells and magic items are plucked from a pan-campaign franchise menu, the same flavours you can expect to find from Greyhawk to Waterdeep to Ansalon.

It is, in theory at least, up to the DM to determine which spells are and aren't available. The trope of copying scrolls into one's spellbook instead of casting them was never really well used IMO. But in theory the DM could make spells very rare and influence the nature of the game quite heavily.

Also, at least one friend preferred Illusionists to Magic-Users as the higher-level phantasm spells simply did it all. I recall him once using a higher-level illusion to flood a room. All the orcs (or whatever) failed their saves and believed they drowned. It worked a lot better than a fireball would have.
posted by GuyZero at 10:40 AM on November 25, 2009 [2 favorites]


But I'm of the mind that Vancian magic is a feature. Gygax thought that the game should reward players who put a lot of forethought and caution into what they did (although not to the point of bogging down play). If you are going to run up against a situation where you are going to need Knock but you have Web memorized, maybe you should've done the proper scouting / information search beforehand.

I wholeheartedly agree. I'd say more than forethought and caution, the Vancian system rewards players who use their imagination. A spell may have a specific rigid effect, but that doesn't mean the player can't use that rigid effect flexibly. Look at Grease: the original spell just coated an area in, well, grease, making it hard to move quickly through that area. Players being players, they immediately started also using it to grease themselves up so they couldn't be grabbed, or greasing weapons their enemies were holding, or casting it and then trying to light it on fire, and so on. Eventually those other applications became so commonplace that they were codified within the actual rules, but without the Vancian need to get full use out of your arsenal, it's likely dull "I cast Magic Missile ... again"-type wizards would be much more common ... and that's not very fun for long.

So not only is Vancian magic workable, it may be the best part of the whole damn game.

Or, you know: was.
posted by Amanojaku at 10:42 AM on November 25, 2009 [3 favorites]


Prismatic Spray is the best euphamism for vomit ever.
posted by Artw at 10:54 AM on November 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


Fritz Leiber always read like a great D&D game to me--much more so than Tolkien (and much, much more so than any of the later D&D branded novels).
posted by paulg at 11:47 AM on November 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


For most of my life, I despised Vancian magic. It was the opposite of how magic was portrayed in nearly any fantasy thing I watched, read, or saw.

Now that I'm older, I can see the appeal from a game standpoint, though I still think it's wack to have only 1-2 spells at first level. The link above, which explained early play as each player controlling 3-5 characters, made a lot more sense. Even if the wizard was spent, as a player you still had more you could do with the other characters.
posted by yeloson at 12:00 PM on November 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


there were no true serpent-men in the first Monster Manual.

There's a Naga outside who would like a word.
posted by Sparx at 12:07 PM on November 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


graymouser: Seriously? Sleep is so much more bang for your buck. Used correctly you pretty much get to avoid a whole encounter.

Oh wow tell me about it. I'm in a game right now in Sunless Citadel. My wizard (since deceased) absolutely rocked Sleep. That and Color Spray. They are probably the best generally-useful spells at 1st and 2nd level, although they have the drawback of being useless against undead. Meanwhile Magic Missile only affects one target per spell and does little damage against a group of opponents at those levels.

At first I tried to include a number of spells, but I keep coming back to those generally useful spells, because I can be nearly certain they'll be valuable. Which, again, gets back to not knowing much about the area I'm going into and so having to play it safe in order to avoid being useless in battle due to a wizard's fragility.

If you are going to run up against a situation where you are going to need Knock but you have Web memorized, maybe you should've done the proper scouting / information search beforehand.

That is the thing, many adventures are not designed with the possibility of this in mind. It is becoming more and more apparent, to me, that the big problem with D&D's early days is that an adventure needs to be constructed a certain way to make sense to the game (have gold to earn experience points from, provide opportunities for knowledge-gathering to reduce general lethality and give spellcasters the chance to pick spells that are worth a damn), and those things don't seem to have been mentioned in the DM's guide. (Or maybe they have, but it's too crowded out by other information to stick in adventure writers' minds? It has been a long time since I read through that huge small-print tome....)

Artw: Given what I said above HP Lovecraft did actually do some high fantasy stuff. Of course, the results were also highly crappy.

But HPL also wrote The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, and the Cats of Ulthar, and a few other such stories, and those are pretty nice. I think anyway.

yeloson: It was the opposite of how magic was portrayed in nearly any fantasy thing I watched, read, or saw.

But we are talking about fantasy. If any literary genre should be as unhindered by conventions and past expectations, it should be fantasy, which doesn't even have science-fiction's requirement of being slightly plausible to hinder it. It is magic after all.

One thing that is wrong with fantasy right now, and something which ironically I think D&D is ultimately responsible for, is a great codification of fantasy tropes. The Monster Manuals are seen by some as kind of textbook representations of all those monsters, for instance. Many of them were first made explicitly into monsters by the monster books. And even the now-common trope of the band of adventurers wading through hostile territory, which I see everywhere, complete with preparation phases and big meanie at the end, got furthered more than anything by Dungeons & Dragons.

COBRA!: I think we can all agree that it's a good thing D&D wasn't largely based on Piers Anthony; if it was, XP would only be awarded for seeing panties or leching after a topless centaur.

That isn't as far from plausibility as you think! In both OD&D and 1st ed AD&D (and I think in "basic" D&D too), you tend to earn far more experience points from collecting treasure, at the rate of 1 XP per GP brought back to town, than from killing monsters. The justification behind this award is that it rewards the results if your questing, whatever that might be, instead of the means used to go about it. And what else did Conan did with all the money he collected over most of his adventures than spend it on women and drink? One could easily move the justification for experience a little up the ladder, from gold to gold spent carousing, which additionally means players don't receive double use out of that cash.

and to everyone: Damn you all for making me expend so many favorites on this thread. I am running dangerously low on Favorite Points (FP) for the day.
posted by JHarris at 1:37 PM on November 25, 2009


Wait, what - did they change the XP:GP ratio from 1:1 in 2nd Ed or later? That sucks.

Having said that I was never beyond just using the mechanism (such as it is) described in Star Frontiers where you simply have a fixed pool of XP you hand out every so often based on who actually did stuff. SF modules seemed to be sort of predicting save points in FPS games where the whole module simply paused every so often and players could bail out for whatever reason. The GM handed out XP, etc. The mechanics were different of course and 3 experience points was a lot but the basic idea works just as well for xD&D.
posted by GuyZero at 2:59 PM on November 25, 2009


graymouser: "the last serious run of Leiber to get through the F&GM stories and on the shelves was White Wolf's versions of a decade or so ago."

I hold faint, worthless hope for a hardback reissue of the Mignola-illustrated paperbacks. As elegant as the prose.
posted by mwhybark at 3:21 PM on November 25, 2009


"Way, way back ( possibly pre-Hellboy) there was a neat Mignola adaptation of some Fafhrd and Gray Mouser stories. Not sure how easy it would be to find now. - Artw

graymouser: Artw, I presume you mean this one, which I thought was OOP but is apparently available on Amazon. "

Holy crap, I had no idea - it would stand to reason why he was tapped for the covers. Gonna have to dig that up.
posted by mwhybark at 3:26 PM on November 25, 2009


Also, ha ha - Adaptation by Howard Chaykin! He couldn't possibly screw up the sexual subtexts, could he? Oh wait! I bet he could (no offense Howie; I kid).
posted by mwhybark at 3:29 PM on November 25, 2009


mwhybark - My very short review of American Flagg was essentially that I liked it right up until it turned into a chick tract on the dangers of transvestites.
posted by Artw at 3:34 PM on November 25, 2009


GuyZero: Wait, what - did they change the XP:GP ratio from 1:1 in 2nd Ed or later? That sucks.

They changed it from 1:1 to 0:1; gold pieces harvested were disassociated from experience gain from second edition onward.

OD&D: Most experience from gold pieces, a few from defeating monsters.
1E: Most from gold, a few from defeating monsters, some extra from doing miscellaneous things. There is also a clause in there telling DMs to scale back experience awarded depending on the quality of the player's roleplaying, multiplying by a number from 0.0 to 1.0, with 1.0 used only for superlative roleplaying. I don't know how many groups used this rule, but it does come straight from Gygax's pen.
2E and later: Most experience from defeating monsters, some extra from story awards and roleplaying experience. The books do mention the possibility of awarding XP for finding treasure at the 1:1 rate as an option for the DM, but I don't think anyone did that. I'm pretty sure it isn't mentioned at all from 3E onward.
posted by JHarris at 5:46 PM on November 25, 2009


Oh God yeah, I remember the bad old days of GP=XP. That fucked with the mechanics of every D&D group I was involved with... I guess if I'd been paying attention, I could've learned from economics from watching the world-distortion caused by all that gold laying around.
posted by COBRA! at 6:10 PM on November 25, 2009


I wholeheartedly agree. I'd say more than forethought and caution, the Vancian system rewards players who use their imagination. A spell may have a specific rigid effect, but that doesn't mean the player can't use that rigid effect flexibly.

Well, okay, I'll grant you that.

For instance, another player once drowned a giant nasty horde with Create Food.

You see, the rules say (said?) that you can pick the food. And that it creates enough of that food to sustain you for one day, with all nutritional requirements. And Jello, you see, doesn't have any significant nutritional value beyond some protein and sugar.

It takes an ocean of Jello to feed a person for a day. So the horde drowned in an ocean of Jello.
posted by Netzapper at 11:17 PM on November 25, 2009 [4 favorites]


COBRA!: Oh God yeah, I remember the bad old days of GP=XP. That fucked with the mechanics of every D&D group I was involved with... I guess if I'd been paying attention, I could've learned from economics from watching the world-distortion caused by all that gold laying around.

Well, it needn't necessarily mess with a party too badly. It is still all awarded by the DM, so it shouldn't be a problem unless he decides to go all Monty Haul (which is why I think 2E discarded it, the temptation being too great for some people).

Netzapper: It takes an ocean of Jello to feed a person for a day. So the horde drowned in an ocean of Jello.

That is really good thinking, so good that usually a DM allows something like that exactly once.

When a player comes up with some inventive use of an ordinary thing, there is both the temptation to reward it and to clamp down on it and deny it. The former case because there is no more awesome moment in D&D than finding a clever use for a spell or magic item and using it to win big; those are the exploits of which stories are made. The latter case because, as with the Jello, often these instances end up being horribly unbalanced, and if left unchecked could destroy the balance of the game.

This doesn't really make sense if you think about it. If it worked once then why shouldn't it work again? Has the nature of the universe changed since that first time? And yet, to just deny any such clever rule exploits makes Dungeons & Dragons a much more dreary game. 3.5E had a lot of stamping out of such things, and 4E seems to be designed so that they never even occur, boiling down pretty much all combat situations into a game mechanic.
posted by JHarris at 1:16 AM on November 26, 2009 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I have the first-gen D20 books sitting on my shelf. (I don't remember which edition.) I've only played them once.

They strike me as radically less fun than my old AD&D 3rd ed, specifically for the reasons you state. They've gone out of their way to make sure that all the loose ends are tied up, that there are no "loopholes".

Meanwhile, they've added about eleventy-billion rules related to all manner of asinine combat lawyery. And they're all "carefully balanced" so that if you don't use all of them, the system falls apart somewhat. For instance, the attack of opportunity system is byzantine, and yet is necessary for your characters to have much combat effectiveness. And if you don't play with miniatures, just forget about it.

This is why I like GURPS so much. It's intentionally modular. And it maintains considerable balance even with the most basic set of rules. We played many truly excellent GURPS campaigns without ever worrying about any combat rules other than than initiative, attack, dodge, armor, and damage rules. Even when somebody did something bizarre that might be covered by the rules, we just went ahead and turned it into a skill check (maybe opposed if appropriate). I think GURPS is about the only system where we ever played a session without opening a book*.

*Except for Vampire. But that campaign only lasted two nights before two of our friends informed us that their parents had said playing vampires was unChristian, and so forbidden.
posted by Netzapper at 1:33 AM on November 26, 2009 [2 favorites]


XP went like this:

OD&D: 100 xp/Hit Die of monster + 1 xp/1 gp (the monster xp would divide down fractionally if you were higher level than the monster - 2nd level vs. 1 HD monster = 50 xp/HD)

AD&D 1E, Basic, etc.: Most xp from gold, a little from monsters

AD&D 2E: XP from class specific actions (casting spells for magic users, fighting for fighters, thieves still got xp/gold though)

D&D 3E: XP from fighting monsters

D&D 4E: XP from fighting monsters and/or completing Quests

The interesting shift is that gold xp basically made the game more about stealth/heist while monster xp made it a fight grinder. 2E's class specific stuff was interesting, though it kinda rewarded disparate activities. 4E's Quests are really nice because then you can just customize to whatever you want ("Steal the Crown Jewels", "Seduce the Pirate Queen", "Throw that damn Ring into the Volcano", etc.)
posted by yeloson at 10:38 AM on November 28, 2009


yeloson: OD&D: 100 xp/Hit Die of monster + 1 xp/1 gp (the monster xp would divide down fractionally if you were higher level than the monster - 2nd level vs. 1 HD monster = 50 xp/HD)

A text search of the original (pre-supplement) D&D books for the word "experience" only says that it is to be awarded for finding treasure and defeating monsters, and some more information on relative awards per dungeon level and bonuses for high attribute scores. It appears to give no advice on precise awards. Scanning through the issues of the Strategic Review turns up no mention of the issue.

I notice that, at 100 XP for killing a 1 hid die monster, and with a fighter needing 2,000 experience points to advance a level, he could achieve that by defeating only twenty same-level opponents. That figure seems more in line with 3E than 0E. The original books state that they are meant to be used as guidelines as opposed to solid rules. In this spirit, presumably some players decided on the 100 XP/HD figure for themselves.

The first supplement, Greyhawk, has this to say:

Guidelines for Awarding Experience Points for Monster Slaying: (Addition)
The awarding of experience points is often a matter of discussion, for the referee must make subjective judgments. Rather than the (ridiculous) 100 points per level for slain monsters, use the table below, dividing experience equally among all characters in the party involved.


The supplied table tells us that that a 1HD monster without special powers is worth 10 XP.

I remember fairly well that 2E still awarded experience for killing monsters. And I believe that thieves only got XP per gold piece for treasure stolen using their skills.

Quest awards are a pet peeve for me, since they are entirely subjective and put emphasis on story (not really my favorite part of D&D).
posted by JHarris at 3:59 PM on November 28, 2009


Hmmm....

"How does your character know what Jello is?"
posted by Artw at 4:38 PM on November 28, 2009


Artw: "How does your character know what Jello is?"

From the Middle Ages through the eighteenth century, making gelatin was a daylong, laborious process in which cattle hooves were boiled for six hours. The stock was clarified as it dripped through a jelly bag

I doubt they had strawberry Jello or Green Jello, they probably had to settle for turnip flavor or something.
posted by idiopath at 5:28 PM on November 28, 2009


They probably used the gelatin to make aspic like head cheese without the head.

One might as well have asked for thin broth or tea although those might cause some sort of inter-planar divide-by-zero error when trying to summon 2,000 calories of tea.
posted by GuyZero at 7:04 PM on November 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


"How does your character know what Jello is?"

Sounds like a great way to cash in on gold pieces while waiting around in town for that goddamn wizard to finish his stupid memorizing.

Step 1: Sharpen sword.
Step 2: Summon Strawberry Gelatinous Cube.
Step 3: Profit.
posted by rokusan at 2:08 AM on November 30, 2009


I'd still be inclined to ask some rather stern questions regarding the characters knowledge of % RDA of Vitamin A in horsehoof glue. Plus inclined to give them the amount of horsehoof glue they could plausibly eat in one day, regardless of nutritional content, because it's not like the spell magically expands their stomach.

No fun allowed in my game!
posted by Artw at 10:22 AM on November 30, 2009


(This is getting very close to infinite oregano)
posted by Artw at 10:23 AM on November 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


You know, a scientifically-minded mage on Oerth could figure out the relative nutritional value of any food by casting Create Food with it and seeing how much was made.

The witch in Hansel and Gretel obviously made her house by using Create Food to make building material, then maybe a variant of Permanency to make sure it didn't decompose.

A mage with Create Food could break scarcity easily, could in fact open up a restaurant simply by buying a building and staff and memorizing the spell several times a day.

In the future of the D&D world, once computer technology is discovered and the internet invented, I'm sure they will have devised spells that could be read off of monitors, meaning anyone with an internet connection and Read Magic (probably taught to kids in school as part of a basic education) could feed themselves and others. This would rapidly become the primary means of subsistence for the world; probably computer and internet companies would organize more strongly to raise gatekeeper prices for internet services because of the greater usefulness.

The food itself would become more varied and strange, first due to people experimenting with foods not naturally possible, then more and more as people lose touch with what basic food is like. Among the higher classes there arises a "real food" movement devoted to making it for themselves (or rather, having their servants grow/raise and prepare it for them). Druids complain about the slaughter of animals when it is no longer required to feed humanity (and demi-humanity).

Meanwhile, the second law of thermodynamics quietly slinks to a dark corner and shoots itself in the head.
posted by JHarris at 11:12 AM on November 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


(Don't even get me started on what happens to all of that, uh, waste material. Suffice to say, the world gets slowly bigger over tens of thousands of years....)
posted by JHarris at 11:15 AM on November 30, 2009


I always figured that the second law held overall and that every time someone cast fireball someplace got really, REALLY cold. Niven had the magic go away (peak magic! google ron paul!) but I figure they're more like Bernie Maddoff, robbing energy from one place for their own filthy ends and trying to cover it up the best they can.
posted by GuyZero at 11:35 AM on November 30, 2009


Well, over in the Marvel Universe the usual explanation* is that stuff comes from dimensions, so Johnny Storm's flames come from a fire dimension, Cyclops's force beams come from a force beam dimension, etc... etc...

Whether there's an equal and opposite effect where other stuff gets removed to dimensions to compensate is unmentioned.

* Or at least in the Handbook, it's probably all been retconned to hell and back since.
posted by Artw at 11:48 AM on November 30, 2009


The thing to remember about those things is that the transport of the forces/effects, themselves, is subject to the second law, as is the communication to those places that the effect is required. Dimmensional transport alone would require a tremendous expenditure of energy that...

...what was that? Beans you say? What about them?
posted by JHarris at 2:40 PM on November 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


As a supplement, Greyhawk drastically reduced xp rewards for defeating monsters. That said, OD&D didn't really advocate any kind of balance between characters and monsters, so generally you were better off going for gold rather than trying to beat your way through.
posted by yeloson at 3:59 PM on November 30, 2009


yeloson: I saw nothing in the pre-expansion OD&D books to support that figure. Philotomy is pretty up on these things generally (I've used him as a secondary source before). I am wondering where that figure came from.

If I seem persistent on these matters... some years ago I tried to learn 1E AD&D from reading through the books and found them maddeningly byzantine and obnoxious, not from the content but from the layout. Countless times I found myself wishing for a concise summary or overview only to be forced to churn through small-print pages of densest Gygax. It was impossible to digest. Worst of all, some things seemed to simply not be there at all, things that made some fairly important assumptions that had no basis in the text.

I didn't even know about OD&D at that time. Now I see that a player who read through the AD&D books after reading through OD&D would have had a much easier time seeing how everything fit together. OD&D is the summary that I had been desperately searching for in 1E.

But this experience made me curious about the lineage of the various rules, the places where they were first defined and how they changed over time. And I have yet to see any place where the OD&D guys themselves wrote that monsters are worth 100 XP per hit die slain. I'll gladly concede the matter if someone can show it to me, but that figure seems far too large to be in keeping with everything else I know about the game.

(There is one book that might have the information, now that I think about it, but I don't have access to it at this moment. Will have a look tonight.)
posted by JHarris at 4:47 PM on November 30, 2009


First Edition is a little like the Bible where there's what everyone does in Church and there's what's written down. I mean, nowhere in the Bible do they talk about giving/taking Communion but it gets done a lot. Similarly, the way 1E was played was passed on largely by word of mouth and only rarely did we need to look stuff up except for stuff like how much damage a halberd did, etc.
posted by GuyZero at 5:25 PM on November 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


Not sure anyone is still reading this thread, but I got an interesting email from Philotomy! The 100 XP/HD rule is not explicitly stated, but comes from an example in Men & Magic (OD&D first book of original set), which is how I missed it. The quote he gives:

Let's assume he gains 7,000 Gold Pieces by defeating a troll (which is a 7th level monster, as it has over 6 hit dice)…experience would be awarded thus; 7000 G.P. + 700 for killing the troll…

That seems high to me, but then, the AD&D values always seemed absurdly low, although treasure could have made up for that. (Which might have contributed towards treasure inflation?)

Anyway, it is weird that Gygax never stated it explicitly. He then goes on to call this ridiculous in Greyhawk.

My theory now is that, after the initial popularity of the game indicated that he was on to something, he realized that experience awards could be scaled back without losing players. D&D tends to play better at lower levels, but the promise of advancement is necessary both to reward good players and to change the scale of the game to provide new challenges. Thus this way he prolongs the period during which the game is better-scaled to be challenging, while retaining the idea of character advancement.
posted by JHarris at 12:41 PM on December 1, 2009


Philotomy has given me permission to paste his entire message here for posterity:

"""
Saw your post on metafilter about the 100XP per hit die figure. It's never explicitly cited in the LBBs. However, it's a common interpretation from the following info:

Men & Magic, pg 18
Let's assume he gains 7,000 Gold Pieces by defeating a troll (which is a 7th level monster, as it has over 6 hit dice)…experience would be awarded thus; 7000 G.P. + 700 for killing the troll…

OD&D FAQ in Strategic Review vol. I no 2
Experience: Low value should be placed upon magical items as far as experience is concerned, as such items will be highly useful in gaining still more treasure. Thus, in the Greyhawk campaign a magic arrow (+1) is worth a maximum of 100 points experience, a +1 magic sword with no special abilities is valued at a maximum of 1,000 points, a scroll of spells at either 500 or at 100 points per level per spell (so a 6th level spell is worth a maximum of 600 experience points), a potion is worth between 250 and 500 points, and even a genie ring is worth no more than about 5,000 points maximum. Valuable metals and stones, however, are awarded experience points on a 1 gold piece to 1 experience point ratio, adjusted for circumstances -- as explained in D & D, a 10th level fighter cannot roust a bunch of kobolds and expect to gain anything but about 1/10th experience unless the number of the kobolds and the circumstances of the combat were such as to seriously challenge the fighter and actually jeopardize his life. For purposes of experience determination the level, of the monster is equivalent to its hit dice, and additional abilities add to the level in this case. A gorgon is certainly worth about 10 level factors, a balrog not less than 12, the largest red dragon not less than 16 or 17, and so on. The referee’s judgement must be used to determine such matters, but with the foregoing examples it should prove to be no difficulty.

Lastly, there's Gary's note in Supplement I, where he's introducing the Greyhawk-style XP awards. He says "Rather than the (ridiculous) 100 points per level for slain monsters, use the table below…" So that definitely shows the intention of the original rules (i.e. 100 xp per monster level), even though Gary is dismissing it as a poor choice (and I agree that it doesn't work well with the material from Greyhawk).

I've gone back and forth on this question, but I'm finding that 100 XP per monster level works pretty well for LBB-play as long as you enforce the level adjustments (e.g. 5th level PCs facing a 1st level encounter only get 1/5 of the XP award). I like that it boost the rate of advancement in the early levels, but then slows down, and it's easy to calculate. However, if your game uses the material from the Greyhawk supplement, I'd go with the Greyhawk-style awards.

You might also see the discussion on Knights-n-Knaves:
http://www.knights-n-knaves.com/phpbb/viewtopic.php?t=85
"""
posted by JHarris at 2:11 AM on December 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


I also had the horrible experience of trying to teach myself roleplaying from the books, without the oral tradition that went along with it. And yeah, between OD&D and early unwritten practices ("Each player has 3-10 characters." OH.) stuff is making a lot more sense for me.

The 100 XP/HD rule makes a ton of sense to me, and makes fighting monsters a less optimal, but not entirely pointless thing to do, which is fine by me.
posted by yeloson at 12:14 PM on December 2, 2009


I have to admit yeloson, putting it in context with the larger experience progression makes it seem a lot more sensible, maybe even more sensible than AD&D 1E's system. It gets players out of the levels of extreme fragility more quickly, but slows down advancement at higher levels.

I wonder how it played out in the context of Chainmail's rules? I never have been able to get them sorted out in my head.
posted by JHarris at 5:24 PM on December 2, 2009


The interesting thing I see coming out of that rule is that at lower levels, where you can't as easily avoid encounters, at least you're getting something for the effort. At higher levels, the monsters gain a lot more powerful abilities but you're not getting any extra xp- which makes it more worth your while to avoid/instant-kill them if you have to encounter them at all. So the strategic play goes up as the encounters become more difficult.

Of course, if you're playing very classic and merciless style, you don't necessarily have to balance challenges to the party- they might have goblins in one section and a full sized dragon in the next. Which is where it makes a lot of sense for each player to have multiple characters- you use your suboptimal characters as shields/point-men and let your better stat characters retreat over several delves until they level up to a reasonable state.
posted by yeloson at 9:56 AM on December 3, 2009


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