Friday, February 28, 2014

D&D 40th Anniversary, Day 28

What's the single most important lesson you've learned from playing D&D?

Well, here it is, Day 28 at last, and I've only stumbled once in the home stretch.  Now I face the deepest question of the whole challenge, and the most difficult to articulate an answer as well.  The short answer is that D&D helped me rediscover my creative side.  The long answer requires a little background...

I was not a very outgoing or socially confident kid.  I was smart, inquisitive, and artistic, but also quiet and very uncomfortable and uninterested in interacting with people outside my family.  I was (and am) on the extreme introvert end of the introversion-extroversion continuum.  Had I been allowed to develop at my own pace in all things, I probably would have grown up a lot more secure in my own abilities and personality than I did.  But Big Brother doesn't give a flying rat's ass on the lower east side of hell what any particular individual is or is not ready for, and so I was shunted off to the forced indoctrination camp euphemistically known as public school.

I excelled in math and other subjects where there are objectively correct answers.  I could come up with them readily, and there was little or no teacher subjectivity involved in grading them.  (I may have Charisma 5, but I've got a solid 17 Intelligence.)  For a while I did well in the more subjective, artistic fields as well - until they started grading them.  If you want to smother a sensitive child's creativity, there's no better way than to make it absolutely clear that his imagination is being judged.  It didn't take long before I had no desire whatsoever to share anything I created with anyone else.  Get a math problem wrong, and it's the answer itself that's being appraised.  Get points marked off a drawing or creative writing assignment, and it's a piece of  your inner self that's being judged.

As if that wasn't bad enough, by middle school the English classes consist largely of reading works and then scrutinizing them for all manner of literary techniques and devices, analyzing them for themes and hidden meanings, and generally taking all the fun out of reading.  I didn't understand most of it; I could memorize the terms easily enough, but because art is highly subjective, I never really grasped whatever it was these pretentious teachers wanted me to grasp (if they even knew themselves - I'm not entirely convinced that they did.)  So, from my point of view, there was some "right" and "wrong" to writing, and I was essentially flying blind because I couldn't tell the difference.  Not only was I to be judged on whatever fragments of my "soul" I might jot down on a sheet of notebook paper, I had no clear idea what I could do to weight the scales in my favor.  Math and science were a snap; all I had to do was understand and apply clear, logical, and objective principles.  Writing was a minefield, and one that ultimately I chose not to negotiate at all.  I spent many an hour in class staring at a blank page, knowing that there was absolutely nothing I felt safe handing over to a critical teacher, or worse still, sharing with classmates.

Then I discovered D&D.  Those rules, the lists of spells and monsters and magical treasures, struck sparks in my imagination that had been dormant for a long while.  I ran the Keep on the Borderlands for my young relatives, but soon I was cobbling together my own dungeons and wilderness areas.  It was safe; I didn't have to worry about plot or theme or any of the other literary esoterica over which high school English teachers obsessed.  All I had to do was draw maps and write up some interesting things for the players to find in them.  I set things in motion, and let the players determine where the story went.  They were an easy audience.  They weren't there to criticize my creation, nor to pick apart and analyze every detail.  They were there to experience it, and to experience the awesomeness of their characters within it, and they did.  It wasn't about technical perfection.  It wasn't about trying to impress the sensibilities of some inscrutable authority figure in order to earn high marks.  It was about fun, pure and simple.

It took me another 15 years or so to really get into writing, and to start to care about all the things that make a story click - stuff that doesn't really belong in a D&D game, because a D&D game is not a novel, but that I would never have cared at all about if not for D&D.  I don't think you learn to love writing by learning the "rules."  You have to learn to love it for its own sake before you care about style and technique and all that.  At least that was true for me.  There is something profoundly liberating about creative endeavors for no purpose higher than sheer enjoyment, and that's the lesson I learned from playing Dungeons & Dragons. 

Thursday, February 27, 2014

D&D 40th Anniversary, Day 26 and 27

Do you still game with the group that introduced you to the hobby?

Technically, for me this ought to be "Do you still game with the group that you introduced to the hobby?"
The answer, unfortunately, would be no.  None of the original crew still plays at all.  I guess they just outgrew it, but I never did.

If you had to do it all over again, would you do anything different when you first started gaming?

Honestly, probably not.  I still remember those early days fondly.  Everything was new and unsullied by long familiarity.  Every monster was fresh and frightening.  Magic felt magical.  We weren't even jaded with +1 weapons yet.  Even the things I screwed up, I wouldn't have changed, because we had fun and didn't worry about whether everything was exactly by the book or not.

In the months and years that followed, I'd have done a lot differently, though.  I wouldn't have gone quite so far overboard with the magic items in treasure hoards.  Knowing what I know now about player agency, I would have resisted the push toward plot-driven adventures.  Sure, they were fun to read, but not so much fun to play in.  Knowing what I know about the appeal of simple and abstract systems, I would have plugged my ears against the siren's song of skill systems, weapon mastery, and all those other optional fiddly bits that seemed to spring up like mushrooms in various supplemental books.

I didn't know, and I can't go back, but it was still a good time, and I'd rather have played deeply flawed D&D than no D&D at all.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

D&D 40th Anniversary, Day 25

Longest-running campaign/gaming group you've been in.

I never really did keep track, and I'm terrible remembering dates (even years!) but I'm pretty sure that would be the "second wave" of siblings and cousins.  We had just rebooted our Known World campaign, but a few of the original players were starting to lose interest in the game and drift away.  This was probably 1990-ish.  Also around that time, some of the younger ones were strongly agitating to be allowed to play, and I eventually allowed them in.  This changing of the guard didn't happen all at once, but I'd consider the campaign itself to have lasted from 1990 to the early 2000s, though the cast of characters changed and grew.  Nobody really wanted to retire their experienced PCs, but we still liked low-level play, so new characters were rolled up frequently, and adventured in the same world with their more powerful counterparts.  We'd often start an adventure, end a session in the middle of it, and then the next time when one or more players couldn't make it, we'd just start a new adventure with a different party of characters.  It was fun, but a hell of a time trying to keep track of what happened when, and whether that "paused" adventure would or would not have an impact on the current one, which technically was taking place after it in the chronology of the campaign world.  Even so, it must have been rife with temporal paradoxes and continuity snarls, which were summarily hand-waved, or if they were egregious enough, retconned. 

One of the nice things about this pattern was that no characters ever got much above name level, so we stayed in the "sweet spot" despite the long-running nature of the campaign. 

Monday, February 24, 2014

D&D 40th Anniversary, Day 24

First movie that comes to mind that you associate with D&D.  Why?

The movie that springs to my mind is Dragonslayer.  It's the one about a wizard's apprentice who goes off to kill a dragon, carrying the ashes of his master who's recently been killed.  I probably need to watch this one again, because I haven't seen it since the 80s and don't remember much of it.  What I do remember is the feel of it, and for some reason that makes me think of D&D.  I understand that it stood a lot of the heroic fantasy tropes of the time on their heads, kind of like what the spontaneous order of a really good sandbox campaign can do.  The hero fails to save the princess, is injured fighting the dragon, and it turns out that his real task was not to fight the dragon at all, but to resurrect his mentor from the ashes so that the old wizard can take out the monster, and himself in the process.  Oddly enough, this was a Disney movie, so it also bucks pretty much every standard Disney cliche as well.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

To XP or not to XP

A few days ago, I was looking at a recent Blog Watch post on Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog, and found a post in which the author argues for abolishing the concept of experience points as a metric of advancement in D&D.  I won't recapitulate his case here; suffice it to say that although I strongly disagree with his conclusions, it's worth a read.  (The Time for Experience Points Has Come and Gone)

I found the points raised against XP to be worth considering, but ultimately I can dispense with most of them fairly easily.  The problem of tedious accounting has never been a big deal for me.  Rather than the fifteen minutes of boredom described in the post, in my experience calculating XP is pretty quick and straightforward with a pocket calculator, and for the five or (at most) ten minutes it takes, the players are happy to talk amongst themselves about how great the climax of the adventure was, or hashing out the distribution of treasure. 

The problem of sacrificing adventure quality for insuring that the "proper" amount of XP is earned is really only a problem in games in which the pacing is dictated by story concerns rather than player choice.  Far be it from me to condemn a style of play that someone enjoys, but for my own preferences I cordially despise story-oriented games.  In the sandbox, whether it takes the characters ten sessions or two to gain a level, there are always appropriate challenges for them.  This is aided by the old school philosophy that "encounter balance" is at best a very loose guideline rather than an ironclad rule. 

The charge that XP provides incentives inimical to "good" play is one that deserves a more in-depth response.  First, I want to talk about what's right about XP.

Why I like XP

Alternative methods generally involve advancement after some number of sessions or adventures, as determined either by the DM or by group consensus.  While this makes advancement very consistent and predictable, it also divorces it from player choice and performance during the game itself.  No matter how well or how poorly they played, how bold or how craven, how clever or how obtuse, characters are guaranteed advancement, so long as they survive.  I'm not saying this is categorically a bad way of handling advancement (especially if you're one who enjoys a tight story arc rather than a freewheeling sandbox), but if you're looking for problems of incentives, this is a big one.  It incentives very cautious, risk-averse play. 

An XP-based system, on the other hand, allows characters to gain in level organically within the capaign setting, dependent upon skill of play and risk tolerance.  Yes, the amount of XP available is to some degree determined by the DM, but whether the player characters actually walk away with any given chunk of it depends on whether and how effectively the players decide to face the challenge.  If you do it well, they can't just chew through one encounter after the next; they'll have to exercise discretion and cunning, and leave some stones unturned.  The shrewdest players know the limits of their characters and the signs that a situation is more than they care to take on.

On the problem of incentives

XP for monsters and treasure, says the author, encourages the players to fight every monster and grind through the entire dungeon room by room, even when it's counterproductive to story considerations. 

The author uses the example of rescuing a princess, and posits that an XP system incentivizes the PCs to ignore quick solutions like teleporting directly into the chamber where she is held prisoner, thereby bypassing all the XP-rich enemies and treasure hoards.  Now, if your villain is foolish enough to let everyone know where the princess is being held, and doesn't even take precautions to prevent that teleport-quick grab scenario, I don't really know what you're doing designing adventures in the first place.  The more likely scenario - and frankly, in my estimation a desirable one - is that the PCs will have to do some reconnaissance and investigation to find out where the princess is and determine the type and strength of the villain's defenses, and in the course of that, they're going to have the opportunity to fight and discover loot.  Gaining of XP through monsters and treasure can happen organically, even within the context of a story goal.

I think it needs to be said that XP is not the only incentive in play in a game session.  Survival is another important consideration.  The sandbox almost by definition contains places and creatures beyond the strength of characters of any given level, and discretion is a must.  Over the long haul of an adventure, supplies of hit points, spells, light, and rations can also conspire to deter the systematic room-by-room looting of a dungeon.  Charging headlong into danger and pressing resources to the limit to scrape up every last bit of XP must be weighed against the likelihood of character death or even TPK.  XP aren't of much value to a dead character.  (Unless death is cheap due to prevalence of resurrection magic - which in my mind makes a much stronger case for abolishing or sharply limiting such magic, not XP.)

Other non-XP rewards for skillful adventuring include boons and benefits within the campaign world.  Rescuing the princess earns the gratitude of the royal family.  Rediscovering a lost trade route unlocks new goods and services for purchase.  Turning the orc queen and her hordes against the evil duke earns the respect and admiration of the villagers who were victimized by both. What precisely any of these things mean for the campaign and the PCs is open to interpretation, but this kind of reward can be every bit as satisfying and as useful as XP, sometimes even more so.

In fact, I would go so far as to say that if your players are motivated solely by acquisition of loot and XP, you might want to look in the mirror before you point your finger.  When players don't have any reason to care about in-fiction rewards and consequences, it's natural that they'll default to the only thing that still has meaning for them, which is accumulating power by leveling up.  It's on you, as DM, to provide a dynamic, compelling setting, and give the players reason to care about that world and its people.  One way to do that is by making it clear that the players' choices have a real, noticeable effect on the long-term course of the campaign setting, whether it be a village, a megadungeon, a kingdom, or a whole world.  When the status quo prevails whether they rescue the princess or not, you're providing no incentive to do so, and your hopes must hang entirely on them being "good sports" and going along with your story in which they have no personal investment. 

There's nothing inherently wrong with a "kill monster, grab treasure" game, but if you want it to be more than that, in most cases XP is not the culprit.  XP is but one motivator of several.  It's the easiest to utilize in play, because it requires little thought beyond adding numbers to a total.  The others are more difficult, because they require careful consideration of the consequences of player actions, and openness to allowing those changes to happen to your campaign setting, even if they cause it to deviate wildly from your original vision. 

Finally, there may be some players who just refuse to care about anything but powering up their characters, but it's still a mistake to point the finger at XP per se.  A game without XP simply hands them what they want without their even having to work for it, and my guess is that will bore them pretty quickly.  If it doesn't, then they're not really that type - they can be motivated by things other than XP, and we're right back to your responsibility as DM to provide that motivation.  Simply removing XP from the equation doesn't make your setting and NPCs interesting.  If your players really are incorrigible power-mongers, your options are to learn to love the game as they like to play it, or find yourself some players whose idea of fun gaming aligns more closely with your own. 

D&D 40th Anniversary, Day 23

First song that comes to mind that you associate with D&D.  Why?

That would be Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap by AC/DC.  This association is fixed in my brain because one day when we were listening to it, one of my cousins remarked that this song, with the titular lyrics repeated in the chorus in Bon Scott's playfully snarling vocals, sounds like something orcs would sing as they're marching along to battle and plunder.  It could also easily apply to adventurers of certain stripes.

There's a selection of other songs that, while they don't appeal much to my musical tastes, and lack even the most tenuous connection to anything D&D-ish , nonetheless remind me of D&D simply because I heard them a lot in my gaming heyday back in the late 80s through the mid-90s.  That "She's Got the Look" song seemed to be playing on the mall sound system every time I went to buy new books, and if it wasn't that, it was almost certainly something by Tears For Fears.  Similar stuff would be playing on the radio in the house while I sat on the couch sketching maps and thumbing through rulebooks for the perfect monster or magic item to place in the next room.  It's one of those intangible things that sticks in my mind, like the New Book Smell that radiated from every brand-new rule set and sourcebook.  Yep, those were the days.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

D&D 40th Anniversary, Day 22

First D&D-based novel you ever read.

The first one, and the only one, I've ever read was Azure Bonds.  Overall it struck me as a case study in why novels should not be based on a game.  I really don't remember much about it, save that the writing style came across incredibly flat, the story was so-so, and the characters felt like they had been rolled up by a bunch of players each determined that their character should be the most "interesting."  The whole thing had an air of trying way too hard to capture D&D in novel form at the expense of being good fiction.

Oh, I've heard of others.  None has struck me as really worth reading for any reason other than its explicit connection to D&D.  Dragonlance doesn't even rate a yawn from me, and that whole drow thing smacks so strongly of Mary Sue-ism that I doubt I could force myself to read more than a chapter.  Maybe I'm judging these stories too harshly, having never read them for myself, but I have a hard time imagining D&D being a good basis for a novel.

Using works of fiction to inspire games is well and good.  You take a rich and nuanced work, and distill it down to fit within the framework of the game.  It loses a dimension in this translation, but that's OK, because it's a game, and games must be playable first and foremost.  You're not trying literally to duplicate the adventures of the Fellowship of the Ring or Jason and the Argonauts, but to borrow details to put flesh on the skeleton of the game system.  I just don't think it works the other way around.  A game system makes a lousy frame on which to build a compelling, rich, and nuanced work of fiction.  It's like wrapping a turkey skeleton in deli-sliced turkey and calling it Thanksgiving dinner.

Friday, February 21, 2014

D&D 40th Anniversary, Day 21

First time you sold some of your D&D books, for whatever reason.

I've never actually sold any of them, partly because we really used the hell out of most of the ones that would have much resale value.  My copies of the rulebooks from the various boxed sets are dog-eared, worn, and have spines of duct tape.  I've got battered and beaten modules and Gazetteers and sourcebooks, too.  A few might be considered fair to good condition.  But that's only part of the reason why I haven't sold any.  Mostly, I just don't want to give them up, even the ones I've barely used.  There's too much nostalgia, too many fond memories of thumbing through them for hours for inspiration and entertainment.  There's also the hope that they may still be useful in the present and future, too.  My D&D days are not behind me yet - not by a long shot. 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

D&D 40th Anniversary, Day 20

First non-D&D RPG you played.

I never played a non-D&D RPG until I got involved with the 2E group.  In fact, 2E wasn't the first game I played with them.  It was a homemade d6-based game of paranormal investigation that they called Nightwatch.  Character templates (they didn't use the term "class") ranged from mundane sorts like law enforcement officers, scientists, and journalists, to werewolf and vampire hunters, mystics, and witches.  My character was an FBI agent named Jack McMillan, who was a little out of his element around supernatural weirdness.

The character templates had some balance issues, but overall it was a pretty fun game.  At one point they were planning to publish it, and had a website and everything, but now that's gone, and I've never heard anything about it since.  Kind of a shame, really.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

D&D 40th Anniversary, Day 19

First gamer who just annoyed the hell out of you.

I'm not sure which one was first the first to do it, but my youngest two siblings and a cousin of about their age did their level best for a while to push my buttons.  At first, it was just an obsession with bar fights.  I had run an adventure which began in a tavern, and some random NPC had offended them (by acting indifferent toward their characters rather than treat them as the Big Deal that they clearly were in the minds of their players) to the point that they decided there was no alternative but to seek revenge.  A huge brawl ensued.  I guess they enjoyed it a little too much.  For months after that, they didn't want to do regular adventures at all.  I'd drop a hook or two, they'd ignore them, and say, "We look for a bar." Sigh.

Then there was their "shock" phase, when they'd say their characters were doing all sorts of revolting things, mostly involving bodily waste and NPCs who weren't subservient enough to suit their preteen egos, to see just to what extent I'd really let them try whatever they wanted to do in-game.  If I had been a meaner DM, I probably would have made one of those "uppity" NPCs a powerful warrior or spell-caster and put that batch of player characters in shallow graves, or serving out a fate even worse than death.  As it was, I remember just walking away from the game table in frustration quite a few times.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

D&D 40th Anniversary, Day 18

First gaming convention you ever attended.

I've never been to one, and it's pretty likely I never will.  It's not that I don't find the idea of a bunch of RPG geeks getting together to share their love of the hobby intriguing.  Part of me - a pretty big part, actually - would love to meet other D&D enthusiasts, especially of the OSR variety, share thoughts and stories and play a few one-shot adventures.  Then there's the other part - the part where the social anxiety disorder lives.

I find people kind of intimidating.  I've never learned how to approach them or how to start a conversation.  Even if someone else initiates contact, I worry that I'm annoying them and don't say a whole lot.  I probably come across either snobbishly aloof or weirdly nervous.  If I were a character in a D&D game, I'd have a Charisma score of about 5.  That might be overly generous, actually. 

Given enough time, I can become semi-comfortable with other people, but that time frame is a lot longer than I would imagine even the longest game convention would last.  It'd probably be a waste of my time.  I'd show up, wander around gazing furtively but hopefully at all the people having a good time, finally feel that I had reached the uttermost pinnacle of irrelevancy as an individual, and go home feeling empty and disappointed.  So yeah, probably not.

Monday, February 17, 2014

D&D 40th Anniversary, Day 17

First time you heard that D&D was somehow "evil."

I remember hearing vague stories, back in the early 80s, about some game that was supposedly linked to Satan worship or some nonsense like that.  I can't recall where or how I came by this knowledge, because I was frankly too young to care much about it.  None of the adults I knew seemed too upset by any of it, though I think they did talk about it a little bit.  I kind of assumed this game probably wasn't really evil, but it must be popular with the dark and rebellious sort of kids.  That assumption was reinforced when I went to a weeklong camp in the summer between fifth and sixth grade, and a group of kids regarded as troublemakers talked a lot about this "D&D" thing.  When I was in seventh grade, some of my classmates were apparently into D&D, or at least some sort of fantasy role-playing.  I remember being on my way to class one morning, and hearing one guy shout across a crowded court to another, "Olaf!  It is I, Sven!"  Yep, this game was clearly for weirdos.  Not exactly evil, but wacko.

It was only a couple years later, after I had read through the Moldvay rules, that I realized that really is not how the game is normally played, and not only is it not evil, it's entirely acceptable to enjoy the game without engaging in publicly embarrassing role-playing.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

D&D 40th Anniversary, Day 16

Do you remember your first edition war?  Did you win?

I've never really had an edition war.  Maybe one little edition skirmish.  For most of my gaming life, I've DMed for younger relatives, and they're cool with whatever I want to run - which, I should point out, has pretty much always been B/X or BECMI D&D. 

The only non-family group I've played in was the 2E group, which was run by a friend of a relative.  Now, I'm perfectly cool with playing 2E, but it isn't my game of choice, so when I finally worked up the nerve to suggest DMing for a while, I wanted to port in some of my favorite stuff from BECMI.  (Some of those things, like weapon mastery, are no longer among my favorite things, but that's neither here nor there.) 

I have no idea how most of the group liked it, because they didn't remark upon it - at least not to me.  Soon thereafter, the usual leader of the group told me no more hybrid, it was straight 2E or nothing.  That was the last time I DMed anything for that group, not because I was hell-bent on doing things my way, but because I was rather mortified at the rebuke.  (Social anxiety disorder is a cruel beast.)

Saturday, February 15, 2014

D&D 40th Anniversary, Day 15

What was the first edition of D&D you didn't enjoy?  Why?

Hmmm...well, I can honestly say I've never played any edition that I didn't enjoy.  The first edition that made me say, "Nope," was 3E.  I'm pretty sure I would not have enjoyed that. 

Remember back on day 10, when I said that my first gaming magazine was Dungeon, and how I loved it so much I got a subscription?  I renewed that subscription several times, until one day the magazine that came looked...different...somehow.  The cover art was still excellent, but the lettering was all weird, with sensationalized teasers of the adventures inside, as if they were the latest celebrity gossip!  Exclamation points!  I felt a little uneasy at this new style, but didn't panic just yet.

Then I looked inside.  The horror.  The horror.

All sorts of messed-up stuff in there.  Nothing looked familiar, and the stat blocks!  Sweet Flying Spaghetti Monster, the stat blocks!  I didn't even recognize half the stats, and every monster had ability scores and skills.  I tried my best to make sense of it all, to figure a way that I might use this material for my old classic D&D game, but I just couldn't grok this mess.  The differences between classic D&D and AD&D are kind of like the differences between American English and British English.  You probably have a preference for one or the other, but you could converse between them, and figure out what lorries and loos and lifts are from the context.  Moldvay and 3E are completely different languages, perhaps with the same parent language, so you recognize a word here and there, but unless you actually learn 3E, you can't really make sense of it in Moldvay terms.  As if that weren't bad enough, the adventures themselves had changed, perhaps to reflect some shift in the focus of the game system, and they did not engage my imagination at all.

That was it for me.  Goodbye, Dungeon subscription, and goodbye, "official" D&D.  

Friday, February 14, 2014

D&D 40th Anniversary, Day 14

Did you meet your significant other while playing D&D?  Does he or she still play?

Well, that would be quite a story, wouldn't it?  But no, I hadn't played in several years when I met my future wife on a social networking site in 2008.  She did know I was (and still am) a bit of a nerd, considering that she was well aware of my interest in economics and my aspirations to write and publish fantasy novels, and also made a point of asking me not to talk about zombies when I met her parents for the first time.  With all that stuff in my background, D&D wasn't a surprise to her.

It turns out, though, that when she was a kid, a few of her cousins used to shut themselves away in a room together and play D&D.  She knew very little about it, but was interested enough to join the group when I started running a game for my brother's family.  So we have played together, and probably will again in the future.  I couldn't ask for a better match than that.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

D&D 40th Anniversary, Day 13

First miniature(s) you used for D&D.

Our first "miniatures," if you can call them that, were buttons.  The players picked from among the fancier ones for their characters.  The plain old plastic ones, I painted numbers on them with a toothpick dipped in model paint, and they were the monsters.  It worked pretty well, too.  None of them ever got knocked over, and it was easy to keep track of which monster had how many hit points left.

I think we used some small plastic dinosaurs for dragons and really big monsters.

Real miniatures didn't make an appearance in our games until much later, when we finally discovered a store that sold them.  The first ones we bought were a pack of three dwarves, a pack of three fighters, and my personal favorite, a "young adventuring wizard."  That was what it said on the package, anyway.  I liked him because he was not at all the D&D magic-user stereotype.  He didn't have a beard, nor a pointy hat, or a hat of any sort for that matter.  He wasn't dressed in voluminous flowing robes, or a cloak and cape, or anything classically wizardly like that.  No, he wore boots and trousers and a loose-fitting shirt with a vest over it.  He looked like he was outfitted for a hike.  He stood slightly sideways, looking over one shoulder, with his arm and forefinger extended, pointing at something he had spotted, or perhaps the target of whatever spell he was casting.  In his other hand he held a wand.

I eventually acquired a fair collection of minis, including a few dragons, a griffon, and even a beholder, in addition to various characters, orcs, and goblins.  These days I really like them more for their form than their function.  When it comes to setting up a combat on the tabletop, buttons have the advantage.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

D&D 40th Aniversary, Day 12

First store where you bought your gaming supplies.  Does it still exist?

It was quite a while after we started out with our second-hand Moldvay Basic set before we felt any need to acquire more D&D products, but eventually that need did arise.  Specifically, we really, really needed the Expert rules so we knew where to go with these characters who were outstripping the limits of Basic.  I had simply extrapolated the XP charts in a linear fashion as a stopgap measure, but we needed the real tables.  We needed the higher-level spells, and we needed some new monsters and treasures, dammit!

The only place we could find at the time that carried D&D stuff was a little toy and hobby store in the Clackamas Town Center mall in Portland, about 45 minutes away when traffic wasn't bad.  I was still a few years away from my driver's license, so the only way I could get there was to beg a ride.  They had probably the best selection of board games I'd ever seen, though I wasn't particularly interested in those.  They also had an entire shelf full of classic D&D rule sets, modules, and supplements.  I had never realized just how many things there were to add to this game, but once I knew, I wanted them all!  It was always agony deciding what to get, because my meager budget wouldn't allow more than one or two at a time.  I only went there maybe three or four times, and can't remember the name of the place to save my life.

We stopped going there after the Waldenbooks in the mall here in Vancouver, Washington started stocking D&D products, and I haven't been back that way since, but I'd be shocked if it were still there.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

D&D 40th Anniversary, Day 11

First splatbook you begged your DM to approve.

I was the DM in our group, so I didn't have to beg for anything.  I don't recall my players begging for any either.  Most likely that was because there really weren't a lot of splatbooks for classic D&D (as opposed to AD&D 1E, which I understand had several, and 2E, which went absolutely bananas with the concept.) 

My understanding is that a splatbook is a supplemental book whose purpose is to expand the options for players - races, classes, sub-classes, abilities and powers, etc.  Sure, the Gazetteer series offered a few new options here and there, but I consider them more as campaign sourcebooks, since their primary purpose was to detail settings, and the new classes and sub-classes were often explicitly stated to belong to each particular place or culture.  The first BECMI supplement that I think warrants the name "splatbook" was PC1: Tall Tales of the Wee Folk, which fleshed out a variety of the fairy and woodland creatures from the monster lists as player character race-classes.  Nobody begged, because I bought it myself, and we embraced its contents with enthusiasm - perhaps a bit too much enthusiasm, but not complete reckless abandon.  I didn't allow PC treants or sidhe, and nobody complained.  We had PC dryads, brownies, pixies, centaurs, pookas, hsiao, and with later entries in the series, a gremlin and a gnome as well, and it made our game a lot more fun and interesting.

That sort of splatbook I can get behind, even if the execution was a little flawed.  At least it provided really different options for players.  The 2E splatbooks seemed like mostly an excuse to bestow gratuitous bonuses on players for having a character concept at all.  There was virtually no attempt to balance the "kits" for the various classes.  When I played with the 2E group, I remember really wanting to make my fighter a peasant hero, but the kit presented in the Complete Fighter's Handbook was pitiful compared to most of the others, with the only perk being the nearly meaningless one of popularity with the lower classes of society.  Compared to others that granted bonuses to hit points, attacks and damage with certain weapons, and extra proficiencies, it was pretty lame, and I would think the last thing you'd want to do would be to discourage a player from playing such a classic fantasy archetype.  So, classic D&D splatbooks, great in concept, a bit shaky in execution.  2E splatbooks, terrible in concept and horribly executed.

Monday, February 10, 2014

D&D 40th Anniversary, Day 10

First gaming magazine you ever bought.

One day at the book store, having been disappointed that there were no new D&D books to be had, I decided to take a chance on the latest issue of Dungeon magazine instead.  This was at a time that we were playing at least a couple times a week on average, so new adventures were about the most useful things I could ask for.  The magazine didn't disappoint.  Featured on the cover was an adventure set in a theater, titled Legerdemain, which unfortunately I never did find a good time to run.  Nevertheless, it was a good read with a lot of thought-provoking material, and shortly thereafter I filled out the subscription card folded in the middle.

Almost every issue had one or two adventures that I could use, mostly AD&D 2E stuff that was easy enough to convert to classic D&D.  Nearly all of it was at  least entertaining to read, even the ones that just did not fit my campaign or personal DMing style.  A lot of it was pretty railroady, because this was the age of plot-driven adventures, after all.  Even so, quite a few authors managed to make an engaging backstory while leaving plenty of wiggle room for player and DM improvisation.  Even the irredeemable railroads could be mined for locations, NPCs, and other bits and pieces. 

It took the advent of 3E to get me to let my subscription lapse.

I was considerably less impressed with the only issue of Dragon I ever bought, a couple years later.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

D&D 40th Anniversary, Day 9

First campaign setting (published or homebrew) you played in.

I guess that depends on what you mean by "campaign setting." By many standards, the time spent exploring the setting of the Keep on the Borderlands would qualify as a campaign unto itself.  It started out with the official published material, with homebrew material liberally tacked on to the edges of the map. 

After that we expanded into the Known World setting outlined in the Expert Rules and X1: The Isle of Dread.  One of the maps had suggested locations of previously published modules noted on it, so I just ruled that the Keep was at the spot marked B2, and the characters moved on from there to explore the wider world.  Via retcon, we essentially had been playing in the Known World all along. 

We stuck with it through the re-christening of the Known World as "Mystara" and the Gazetteer series, too.  My thoughts on the resulting campaign world are probably enough for an entire post, so I'll save that tangent for another time.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

D&D 40th Anniversary, Day 8

First set of polyhedral dice you owned.  Do you still use them?

Those would be the ones packaged with the Moldvay Basic rules.  This was literally the first time I had ever seen dice other than the ordinary six-sided ones with pips instead of numbers, and I was instantly fascinated.  There's something about polyhedral solids that does to my brain what a point of red laser light does to a cat's.

Having never seen better examples of the genus, I didn't realize how cheap and shoddy these ones were.  They were plastic, a bit misshapen, rather too light, and a bit hard to read because the numbers were not colored.  The dice themselves were dully colored - orange for the d4 and d12, yellow for the d8, and a nasty brownish-mauve for the d6, d10, and d20.  The material wasn't terribly durable; after a few months' use the corners started to blunt.  I'm sure they didn't roll true; in fact, that may have contributed to the low mortality rate in my first games.  The d20 tended toward middle teens, a point at which characters could hit the typical 5-7 AC of most monsters, but a 1 or 2 HD monster wouldn't hit the AC2 of a plate-clad fighter with a shield.

The Mentzer-edition Expert Rules came with a new set of dice - an unexpected surprise.  The new ones were larger, of harder material, with a satisfying heft to them.  They were vividly colored, and the numbers were painted in white for easy visibility.  Once we had those, nobody wanted to roll those wobbly butt-ugly old ones or squint at their distorted, uncolored numbers any more, and they were relegated to backup dice.  I think I still have the d12 and the d6 in my dice box, but they haven't seen use in years.  The others were all lost somewhere along the way.  I don't miss them at all in terms of utility, but I wish I would have kept better track of them for nostalgia's sake.

Friday, February 7, 2014

D&D 40th Anniversary, Day 7

First D&D product you ever bought.  Do you still have it?

After wracking my brain all day, I've come to the tentative conclusion that the first product I personally bought, as opposed to receiving as a gift from someone else, was the adventure module DA3: Temple of the Frog.  My understanding is that this was written for the original Blackmoor campaign, but was adapted for use with the Known World of the Expert Set by making Blackmoor a part of the Known World's distant past and invoking time travel to bring the PCs into the setting. 

One of my brothers was to step into the DM's shoes to run this one, with me as a player, so I didn't read it until much later, though the cover illustration, with characters seemingly firing some sort of laser guns against giant frogs clambering out of a swamp, made it sorely tempting.  Despite my brother's inexperience at DMing, I remember it being an entertaining adventure, with lots of investigation, lots of people we weren't sure whether or not to trust, and lots of sneaking through the temple and trying not to arouse too much suspicion amongst the priests and lay members of the frog cult. 

Of course, I eventually did read through the entire thing, and realized that there was a lot of content that my brother probably just didn't know how to utilize.  I still do have the module, but I'm not sure if I'll ever run it.  It might make a cool one-shot adventure some day. 

Thursday, February 6, 2014

D&D 40th Anniversary, Day 6

First character death.  How did you handle it?

I really don't have any clear recollection of the first character death in a game I ran.  I think the victim was a thief, but beyond that I can't say.  I don't recall how it happened, whether it was a monster or a trap, or any other circumstances surrounding it.  That in itself is a pretty strong indication of how we handled it:  We moved on quickly.  Yes, it sucks to lose a character, but you make a new one.  I don't remember my game being of particularly high lethality; character death wasn't a regular occurrence, but it did happen now and then.  It was just part of the game.

Really, I think one of the "jump the shark" moments for that first campaign came when we got the Expert Set and learned of the raise dead spell.  After that, no character who died ever stayed dead.  I think I initially set the price to have a dead character raised at a temple at 1,000 gp and eventually bumped it to 5,000, which stung the players a little bit, but not sufficiently that they'd leave a PC in the grave. 

I actually do have an account of the first time a character of my own bit it, too, and incidentally a related big-monster-slaying story that somehow got misplaced in my brain when I wrote the post for day 4. 

I was in a group that played 2E for a while, and rolled up a halfling thief by the name of Emory Bramblethorn for a one-shot run through part of the Against the Giants series.  He had just scrambled up a tower wall and through a window of a giant keep, as part of some advance scouting and hopefully looting, and found a giant there.  My intrepid burglar quickly hid before the none-too-vigilant giant spotted him, and when the giant turned and headed down the stairs, it was backstabbing time!  I had in mind to wait until the giant was down the stairs enough to put his back at halfling-sword level, do whatever damage I could by surprise, and then skitter away before he could make a halfling pancake.  I rolled - a 20!  Shortsword, that's 1d8 vs. large creatures in 2E - max damage!  Doubled for the natural 20, quadrupled for backstab, 64 points of damage, and down went the giant!  After recovering from being completely dumbfounded at his success, Emory trotted down the stairs, opened the gate for the others, and nonchalantly said, "There was one up there, but don't worry.  I got him."

Sadly, Emory met his end a short time later while trying to stay out of the way in a toe-to-toe fight between the party and some other giants.  It was quite the anticlimax after his crowning moment of awesome with the sentry in the tower. 

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

D&D 40th Anniversary, Day 5

First character to go from 1st level to highest level.

I personally haven't had a character reach very high levels, again because I really haven't spent that much time on the other side of the DM screen.  If I remember correctly, the highest-level character in our first long-running campaign was a fighter named Zeke, played by one of my brothers (a younger one than the first two I introduced to the game.  I have five brothers and three sisters, and I've DMed for all but one of them at some point.)

Zeke reached somewhere around 27th or 28th level.  We had transitioned over to BECMI D&D long before that point (not intentionally, as such - that was what was in print, and I still didn't realize there were any actual differences) so we were into Master level play.  It was Monty Haul madness.  Zeke and his cohorts had literally extra pages attached to their character sheets listing all the magic items they'd acquired.  Even without all the magical goodies, BECMI characters at that level are pretty ungodly.  Nothing short of a huge dragon was really much of a threat. 

I had for a while been regretting being so liberal with the enchanted loot, and looking back with nostalgic fondness on the Caves of Chaos and the Isle of Dread.  My younger siblings and cousins were pretty attached to "their guys," so I was reluctant to make them give up the characters.  It was at that point that I suggested what would come to be known as a reboot:  Let's retire this whole campaign, bust all these characters back down to level 1, and start over.  I expected some resistance, or maybe outrage.  To my surprise and relief, they accepted it, tentatively at first, and then with enthusiasm.  The adventure began anew; the danger was real and the rewards mattered again.

As much as I generally prefer classic D&D over AD&D, I think the latter really had the right idea in capping character advancement around level 20. 

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

D&D 40th Anniversary, Day 4

First dragon your character slew (or some other powerful monster.)

Honestly, I've spent so little time as a player over the years that I can't recall any character of mine ever slaying such a mighty foe, but I do remember the first dragon that was slain by my players.

 I was a bit disappointed that there were no dragons in the Keep on the Borderlands module.  The second "D" is for Dragon, after all.  So when I started expanding the wilderness map, I placed a swamp south of the road which was the lair of a black dragon, and a bluff some way farther along and to the north from which a red menaced the land.  The garrison of the Keep warned the party about the red, and knowing that red dragons are fearsome monsters indeed, they were loath to venture that way. 

The black, though, was a reclusive beast, and his presence in the swamp was not common knowledge.  The swamp, appearing from the road a far greater mire than the little fens east of the keep, drew the party's curiosity, and they headed in.  By now they were mostly 3rd level, with one 4th level character in the party, and felt pretty confident about dealing with lizard men and such. 

The dragon's "lair" was in the open, on the shore of a stagnant mere, where it slept curled around a great stone chest that held its treasure.  The party approached from the far side, and saw what seemed to be the dark bulk of a strange mound.  They approached cautiously, circling the shore. 

I don't remember how things went down from there, other than that they found themselves pinned between an angry dragon and the sodden muck of the pond, and that the dragon got at least one breath weapon attack in, because I recall having to look up the dimensions of a black dragon's breath line.  The party took some pretty significant damage, but somehow everyone but the dragon survived the battle.  My players were all pretty excited, and they certainly weren't disappointed with their first Type H treasure hoard, either.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Weapons are more than their stats

My post about weapon damage yesterday earned a mild and entirely justified rebuke from Brendan of Necropraxis, who pointed out that even a straight 1d6 weapon damage system doesn't necessarily make weapon choice purely an issue of style.  While I do prefer my combat stats just a wee bit crunchier than straight 1d6, I found his point that weapons can be distinguished by other factors, both in and out of combat, worthy of a follow-up post.  What's more, these factors need not be codified in stats - in fact, an intuitive approach may be best.  (Trying to stat up every function of a weapon draws one into the trap of thinking that it can't do anything but what the rules explicitly say it can do, a trap that I have to admit I fell into a bit.  Sometimes less airtight rules encourage a broader view of things.)

First, there are differences in how various weapon types might affect the physical forms of different monsters.  In B/X, there's no rule that says skeletons take less damage from slashing or piercing weapons than from bludgeons, but it makes a great deal of sense.  There's a lot of empty space between those bones, and no flesh to slash with a blade.  A sword might do some impact damage, but it seems intuitively obvious that you won't do it much harm with a dagger or an arrow or a spear-thrust.  Breaking those bones with a stout blunt instrument seems like the best bet.  But hey, maybe the player wants to use the haft of her spear like a quarterstaff?  Why not?  It makes perfect intuitive sense, without needing to be hard-coded into the rules. 

What happens if you smack the resilient substance of a gelatinous cube with a club?  What about when the finely-honed edge of a sword meets the unyielding surface of a stone golem?  Our basic understanding of how the physical world works suggests that the sword is better for carving up a living Jell-o mold, and a blunt weapon is better for beating a golem to rubble. 

You don't need a bunch of new stats for each weapon, or each monster, just a blanket declaration that weapons that seem completely unsuited to harming a particular creature do half damage, or 1 point, or whatever, and apply it whenever common sense tells you that it's applicable.

Then there are the non-combat uses of weapons.  If you want to emphasize exploration over combat, it makes all the sense in the world to play up the differences between weapons as tools.  You can drive iron spikes with a war hammer in a pinch, or perhaps with the back side of your battle axe, if it doesn't have another blade or a spike there.  You want to pry the gemstones out of that throne?  I hope you have a dagger handy, because your fingers aren't going to do the job.  Forgot your ten-foot pole?  No problem, if somebody's got a spear, staff, or polearm to hand.  Heavy wooden door blocking your way?  Better have an axe, because you're not going to do more than mess up its finish with a sword or club.  The odd little hooks and flanges on many polearms make them great for retrieving items out of arm's reach. And so on, to the limits of player imagination...

In short, if a character tries to do something that experience or common sense suggests requires a tool, the DM is perfectly justified in asking what he's using to accomplish the task, and quite often a weapon makes an admirable stand-in for a common tool.  It's up to the players to think outside the box, of course, but it's up to the DM to encourage that by rewarding them with success when their idea makes good sense, whether the rules expressly endorse it or not.

D&D 40th Anniversary Blog Hop Challenge, Day 3

First dungeon you explored as a player or ran as a DM.

The Caves of Chaos, naturally.  B2 came in the box with my copy of the Moldvay rules, so that's what I ran for my players.  We got some really good mileage out of them, too. 

I know it's not a perfect module by any means, but it was a wonderful introductory module because it didn't conform to the way the rule book said things should be.  Maybe some of this can be chalked up to its being written for a previous edition and adapted to B/X, but nevertheless it taught me a lot about how to break the rules - not in play, but in creating dungeons and adventures.  First, there was the layout of the Caves, which conformed only in the vaguest terms to the concept of dungeon levels.  More powerful monsters tended to be in the higher caves (reversing the conventional wisdom that deeper = more dangerous) but there were a couple exceptions even to that generality.  Monsters were often modified slightly from the official rules.  I remember the minotaur being able to hurl his spear and close for melee in the same round, for instance, and also wearing a coat of chain mail for a better AC than the book listing of the monster.  The leaders of the various humanoid tribes varied a bit from the stats listed for leaders in the rule book monster descriptions, too. 

Then there was that spell of direction confusion that confounded intruders into the minotaur's cave.  I remember sifting through the rule books with the proverbial fine-toothed comb for the official write-up of that spell before concluding that it was something Gygax made up just for that particular place. 

The Caves of Chaos also taught me a lot about making treasure interesting (well, non-magical treasure, anyway.  Magic items were pretty ho-hum, but what else should I expect from an introductory module?) and hiding it.  There were silver bowls and bottles of wine rather than the hoards of gems and jewelry that you'd get just by rolling on the rulebook treasure tables.  I remember coins being sewn into the hem of a blanket used as a wall-hanging in one lair, a magical shield used as an herb tray in another, and a wand inside a gelatinous cube. 

I made very little of one of the most celebrated aspects of the Caves, that of the factions of monsters that could be played against one another by clever players.  We played it mostly as a straight-up dungeon crawl - not that there was anything at all wrong with that.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Tweaking weapons and damage

Weapon damage is kind of a contentious thing in D&D.  There are quite a few different methods, and probably dozens if not hundreds of tweaks and variations on each.

There's straight 1d6 for everything (possibly "roll twice, take higher" for big two-handed weapons.)  This has simplicity on its side, but it also makes choice of weapons pretty much pure fluff.

There's the optional variable weapon damage rule from B/X, which feels better intuitively to me, but also makes it incredibly obvious which weapon is "best."  (It's the one with the highest damage die, possibly mitigated by the inability to use a shield.)  Likely to result in Every Fighter Wields a Sword.

There's damage by class or Hit Die.  Fighters and dwarves always do 1d8.  Clerics, elves, and halflings do 1d6.  Thieves do 1d6 or 1d4, depending on the DM's concept of the class.  Magic-users do 1d4.  It does a good job of enforcing the combat supremacy of the fighter class, but once again, the actual choice of weapon is merely one of style.

There's the Weapon Mastery system of BECMI.  It looks cool on paper, but in practice it can be a bit of a nightmare, the huge damage increases and other benefits can be wildly unbalancing, and a character who specializes in a single weapon will tend to be vastly superior to one who studies more broadly.

There's the weapon proficiency and specialization of AD&D, the primary effect of which seems to be giving fighters a damage bonus with a chosen weapon.

Some of those are closer to my ideal than others, but none is completely satisfying.  What I want is something that's simple, makes weapon choice matter, and makes fighters better at dealing damage.  Here's what I've come up with:

1d2 damage unarmed
1d4 damage for light or crude weapons, such as daggers, clubs, hand axes, and slings
1d6 for medium weapons, including all other one-handed weapons plus the quarterstaff.  Note that this includes the traditional "normal sword," which is no longer the obviously superior choice for every fighting man, as well as the battle axe.
1d8 for heavy weapons that must be wielded two-handed, such as polearms and two-handed swords

Fighters use the next higher die for all weapons.  A fighter thus does 1d6 with a dagger, 1d8 with a sword or mace, and 1d10 with a two-handed sword.
Dwarves (if you're using B/X race-classes) step up one die for traditional dwarven weapons.  In a traditional fantasy world, that's probably axes and hammers.
Elves step up one die for traditional elven weapons.  Sword, spear, and bow are typical.
Halflings step up one die for traditional halfling weapons.  As far as I'm concerned, that's only the sling.  Hey, they may be decent fighters, but halflings aren't supposed to be damage-dealing juggernauts.

All other classes use "allowed" weapons at base damage.  If using a weapon not allowed for their class, they drop one die size.  (Clerics may suffer other penalties for using proscribed arms, but that's another matter.)  For example, a magic-user using a sword (a one-handed 1d6 weapon) would do 1d4 damage.  With a two-handed sword, he'd do 1d6.  He can do so as a matter of style, if the player likes, but it's not going to gain him any advantage over using a dagger or staff.

Weapons that are normally used one-handed but can easily be used two-handed, such as clubs, battle axes, and bastard swords, step up one die size when wielded with both hands. This is cumulative with fighter bonuses.  A fighter using a club two-handed would step up two dice, to 1d8.

Fighting with a weapon in each hand grants +1 to damage.  The second weapon must be a light one.

The overall effect comes pretty close to the class-based damage model, but allows some room for weapon choice to have an effect.

To distinguish weapons a little bit more and make weapon choice more meaningful:

Swords do +2 damage to unarmored and lightly armored opponent, i.e. leather or less.  Monsters with AC6 or better that isn't due to agility and dodging are considered heavily armored for this purpose.

Heavy impact weapons such as maces, war hammers, battle axes, and various polearms gain +2 to hit vs. chain mail or heavier armor, representing their real-world use in defeating armor.

Spears do +2 damage to large opponents, due to their ability to penetrate deep into flesh, where other weapons have difficulty doing more than superficial damage.

Quarterstaves grant a bonus to AC as if the wielder had a shield.

Crossbows are +2 to hit everything, but fire every other round.

That's it.  Not overly complicated, I hope; at least it doesn't offend my B/X sensibilities too badly.  Next time I get a chance to run a game, I'm going to give this a whirl.

D&D 40th Anniversary Blog Hop Challenge, Day 2

First person who you introduced to D&D.  Which edition?  Their first character?

Well, I kind of jumped the gun on this question a bit, in that I mentioned the answers the first post.  Anyway, the first people I introduced to D&D were two of my brothers.  Once I had determined that I really wanted to play this game, and given that I was the natural choice for DM because I'm the oldest and had read the rules cover to cover about 96 times, I needed some players.  Owing to my extreme introversion and a pretty strong case of social anxiety, I had no friends in school or otherwise outside the family, so siblings were the logical choice. 

So I said something like, "Hey, I found this game, and it looks pretty cool.  Want to try it out?" 

We rolled up a couple characters, one d6 at a time, because that was all we had.  It didn't seem too great a pain to do it that way; it was all new and shiny to us at the time.  We took whatever the dice gave us without prejudice.  I don't remember if their scores were particularly good or bad overall, but I think there were at least a couple below 9, and I know they both had 13+ in Strength.  After hearing my rundown of the classes they might be suited for, they opted for an elf and a dwarf.  Nobody agonized over character names too much back then, so they ended up as Elvie and Sam.

I mentioned yesterday that Elvie never saw action, because that brother lost interest in the game pretty quickly.  Dredging up some more memories, I'm pretty sure Sam wasn't used in play either.  That honor went to his replacement, a fighter named Joe.  (We REALLY weren't picky about names.) 

It wasn't long before the oldest of my sisters and a couple of cousins were on board as well.  I still clearly remember the first time anyone rolled a natural 18 for an ability score (Dexterity), when my sister rolled up her first character.  I can't recall the name of her thief to save my life, though.  Soon each player had a stable of three or four characters from which to choose for each adventure.  Fighters and dwarves were most popular, but we had a cleric or two, a few thieves, a couple elves, and a halfling.  They all had names like Fred and George and Charlie.  It was quite a while before anyone wanted to play a magic-user, though, and when one of my cousins finally had one, he was Merlin. 

Naturally, the edition was Moldvay Basic, which held until I got the Mentzer Expert set - of course, I didn't realize yet that those were two separate editions, probably because Expert had all the rules for levels 1-14 anyway, so I didn't refer much to the Basic book any more and I didn't notice the few small discrepancies.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

D&D 40th Anniversary Blog Hop Challenge, Day 1

Here it is February 1st, and that means it's time to start posting in the D&D 40th Anniversary Blog Hop Challenge (hereafter shortened to D&D40ABHC.)  I just celebrated my own 40th birthday last July, so I guess that makes me officially about seven months older than D&D.  Anyway, without further ado, the Day 1 question:

First person who introduced you to D&D.  Which edition?  Your first character?

I'm one of those oddballs who wasn't really introduced by anyone.  It was one of my aunts who found a slightly used copy of the Moldvay Basic rules at a garage sale and thought some of us might like it, but she didn't introduce me to it, unless by "introduce" you mean "left on the coffee table at my grandma's house until I happened to notice it."  I had heard of D&D before, and though I had very little idea what it was all about, it was enough to generate an intense curiosity as to how this game of dubious repute (it was 1987-ish, so the "Satanic panic" had already occurred, if I have the timeline right) had come to reside on grandma's coffee table.  So I opened up the box, thumbed through the contents, and was immediately fascinated.  Was it the weird artwork on the cover and throughout the books?  Was it the crude but exotically-shaped dice in a little plastic bag?  Was it the game itself, so different from anything I'd played before?  Yes to all.

After working up the nerve to ask my grandma whose game that was, and her assurances that it was for anyone who wanted it, I commandeered that little red box and spent hours over the course of a couple weeks poring over the rules every chance I could.  I read the hell out of that book, while pondering ways to get some of my younger relatives interested in playing the game with me.  So I guess I pretty much introduced myself to D&D.

As I mentioned above, the edition was the Moldvay Basic Rules.  This meant nothing to me at the time; as far as I knew, D&D was D&D, just like checkers was checkers and Candyland was Candyland and Uno was Uno.  Nonetheless, in hindsight I think the fact that it was Moldvay shaped my formative perceptions of the game in very different ways from how the Mentzer edition, which was the one actually in print at the time, would have.

It was a long time before I made a character of my own, since I was DM.  Two of my brothers rolled up the first two characters, an elf who was christened Elvie and a dwarf named Sam.  The first never actually saw play, since that brother decided the game was silly.  I don't recall if Sam made it into an adventure or was superseded by another character before our first session.

My own first character was a thief named Peter, patterned after Peter Venkman of the Ghostbusters franchise.  Besides my love of Ghostbusters, I think I was motivated by a desire to hint to my brother, who was taking a turn at DMing, that I would like this character's adventures to feature a lot of undead creatures and spooky scenarios - which I guess does work back around to my love of Ghostbusters after all.