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Comparing Old D&D Versions
So I'm reading through my Expert Set rules, and they really do feel like an expansion to the basic rules. More levels, more spells, more monsters. Sure the wilderness rules are in there, but again this feels like an optional mode of play that expands on the core game set out by the basic system. So while I would want the expert set at hand if I were running a Moldvay D&D campaign, I sort of feel like the rules can be critiqued based on the basic set alone.

I've read now the OD&D books, the AD&D first edition books (OK, sort of, I failed to make it through the DMG), the Moldvay D&D books, and I skimmed through the Mentzer D&D books. So the natural question is, which makes the best game? If I were going to run one, which would I choose.

I think the answer is that I'd like to play basic Moldvay B/X D&D. OD&D is really interesting to read, but you have to admit that the content is extremely light. It feels like there is very little guidance on how to run the game, and I'd be afraid that I'd be groping a lot for how to run it. On the opposite side of the spectrum, AD&D 1e and Mentzer D&D both start to feel pretty bloated to me. I don't see a strong difference in content between Mentzer and Moldvay, but I had trouble doing more than skimming the Mentzer books because they were so verbose. Also, after the expert set it starts to feel like they're just adding content to have something to sell. I can't really imagine playing much into the companion set, never mind masters or immortals. Even when playing the giant D&D 3.0 campaign that lasted several years (and in fact started as a 2nd edition game), I don't think we made it higher than 14th level.

My opinions though are probably biased by a few things unrelated to the actual evolution of the game mechanics. I have physical copies of Moldvay, and only pdf scans of Mentzer. I find it really hard to read stuff on the computer screen, especially longer works, so this is a huge advantage for the Moldvay books. As for OD&D and AD&D 1e vs. Moldvay, the fact is that I really prefer Moldvay's writing style to Gygax's. Gygax's writing always strikes me as overly technical and academic sounding, while I think Moldvay really breathes some life into the work. The best example of this for me is the example play in the OD&D book that also appears in Moldvay. The example is pretty much the same, but the language is so different.

Here's a chunk of it from OD&D:

REF: 10', 20', 30', 40', 50'. 'Four way': Northwest, northeast, south and southwest -- the south passage is 20' wide.
CAL: Go south.
REF: 10'-70': passage continues, doors east and west.
CAL: Listen at the east door.
REF: (After appropriate check) You hear shuffling.
CAL: Two of us (specifying which two) will throw our weight against the door
to open it. All will be ready for combat.

Here's the same chunk out of Moldvay:

DM: 'After 30' there is a side passage to the south, 10' wide. The main corridor continues west. You notice the breeze is stronger and your torches are beginning to flicker even more.'
Redrik: 'I don't like this.'
Dougal: 'You've got infravision.'
Morgan: 'We'll take the side passage.'
DM: 'OK. After 50' you find doors to the east and west. The passage continues south.'
Morgan: 'Silverleaf, Fred, and Black Dougal will listen at the west door.'
DM (rolling): 'Black Dougal hears muttering voices.'
Dougal: 'Do I understand them? I speak Common, Orc, Goblin, and Elvish.'
DM (after deciding a chance for Dougal to recognize goblin language through the heavy door, and then rolling): 'No, the voices aren't loud enough.'
Morgan: 'We're getting ready for combat. Fred and I will force the door.'
Dougal: 'I'll guard the rear!'

I guess the next question is, how does this compare to more modern games? That will have to wait though, I've got to go move the cars before the snow piles up too high...
March 1st, 2009 - 10:34 am | Comments (1) | PERMALINK

Moldvay vs. Modern
How would a campaign using Moldvay B/X alone compare to other modern games? Does it stand up as a playable systems? I don't want to dig into real details of mechanics here. I mean, every game has a combat system that has it's own ups and downs, so I look at combat as more or less a wash. Fact is, if I was running a Moldvay game I'd probably do some minor house ruling to clean up the math. The obvious thing is to invert the AC/to hit rolls to make it a simple d20 plus bonus roll trying to match or exceed a target AC value.

Anyway, as far as major parts of the game go, I think the easiest thing to do is compare character sheets. I'm looking at the character sheet in Moldvay's basic rules (page B14) vs. the character sheets I use for D&D 3.0, Warhammer RPG, and Savage Worlds.

Well, first the similarities. Each has a section for:

  • Name, XP, class, race (where applicable), etc.
  • Core Stats (D&D abilities, SW Attributes, WFRPG Profile)
  • Equipment List
  • Wealth
  • Spells (if applicable)
  • Experience/Advancement scheme

Now, here's what the other three all seem to have that Moldvay lacks:
  • Weapon/Armor section separate from other equipment
  • Skills
  • Talents/Feats/Special Abilities

The first item I think just represents the complexity level of combat in these other systems. Moldvay's character sheet just has a blank box for equipment, so I suppose you could write more details for weapons/armor if you wanted to. But really there isn't that much to write. Perhaps you'd want to list the AC bonuses from each armor item, and perhaps weapons could use damage and range if applicable. The option of including these details is certainly there, it's just not spelled out.

The major difference though is skills and talents. OK, Moldvay does have a line for 'Special Abilities' and one for 'Special Skills'. Really though these are just class granted things. Only spells are really going to differ from one character to the next. All thieves of the same level will have the same thief skills, all clerics of the same level have the same turning ability, etc.

Most of the other systems do grant special abilities specific to races and classes, but they also expand on this with customization. Usually you've got some choice of skill or talent A vs. B. This is only occaisonally true in the Warhammer professions, but there are so many professions in that game that the chances of there being two dwarven rat catchers in one game for example are pretty slim.

So the obvious bonus from these are further character customization. Players can define their characters more concretely by picking skills or talents as they advance, and sometimes right during character creation. On the other hand, the interesting thing about Moldvay D&D is that because these things are aren't itereated, you can really do anything.

Can a Moldvay D&D character drive a cart? Swim? Disguise himself? Sure. Some of these things (especially things like hiding and searching) do have specific mechanics general to all characters. Others, well, it's just up to the GM to adjudicate on the fly. In fact, Moldvay tells us:

Often a DM can decide on a solution to a player's action not covered by these rules. Other times, a problem may have no simple solution. One quick way for a DM to decide whether a solution will work is by imagining the situation, and then choosing percentage chances for different possibilities.

Holy crap, I can use my imgination. It's so obvious. It's also a bit of a double edged sword. On the one hand, having a skills & talents system gives players something to go on. Sometimes staring at the big empty spaces on your character sheet doesn't give you much of a clue on what to do. On the other hand, the world's your oyster. If you can imagine you want to do something, you can try and do it.

It probably comes down to GM style. Personally, I love being forced to improvise. I think I come up with the best stuff when I do. Also, it cuts down on rulebook page flipping time. Take for example last weeks WFRPG game. We were in a chase scene, using rules I floated from Savage Worlds. It's a very simple mechanic, basically expanding a yes/no question (do they get away?) into a series of dice rolls. It adds a little more excitement I think than just comparing stats or having a single percentage chance roll happen. However, in this case the chase was starting to drag just a little. One player asked: 'Are there rules for doing things other than just running? Can I knock stuff over to get in the way of the person chasing me?' Umm... I flipped through the rules I had jotted down, nothing. OK, I made something up on the spot. I wished at the time I had written rules for this idea. But it's a slippery slope I think, if I wrote those rules down, I might eventually have a chase system that's so cumbersome it takes an hour to adjudicate something that could've taken only five minutes.

Anyway, back to skills and talents. Are they good? I don't know, I'm kind of torn. It probably depends on the GM and players involved. I think I'd like to give Moldvay B/X a try some time and see how it goes.
March 1st, 2009 - 11:16 am | Comments (0) | PERMALINK

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