Sunday, September 12, 2010

Thoughts on Dungeons and Dragons

I was recently reading a discussion on the Victoria, BC gaming forums regarding Dungeons and Dragons. A person had posted and asked the group if there was an interest in an old school D&D game. The response from Malcolm McCallum included the following:

"As much as I found myself personally dissatisfied with the miniatures focus of D&D from 3 on, a number of us disgruntled grognards tried to go back to 'old school'. It was unasatisfying. :/

DM: Six Orcs round the corner. They appear violent and bloodthirsty. What do you do?
Elf: I fire my bow.
DM: Roll to hit
Elf: 17!
DM: Roll damage
Elf: 4!
DM: The Orc falls. Fighter, what do you do?
Fighter: I swing my sword.
DM: Roll to hit:
Fighter: 5
DM: you miss. Wizard?
Wizard: I throw a dart. I roll a 12.
DM: You miss. The orcs swing. Three points of damage to the wizard. You're dead.
Thief: I loot his body. His next character will want the gear.

What a great commentary on D&D! As they say, it's funny because it's true. Malcolm very accurately points out that combat in D&D can be insanely dull. That's fine. D&D is a role playing game.

This seems obvious but adult players sometime describe some frustration with D&D and when you ask for details they almost always involve the very mediocre combat system. It's both simplistic and time consuming if you can imagine that. But there's a message there- keep your combats limited and infrequent. If you want to play skirmish fantasy combat then play Mordheim or Warlord or Warhammer.

The beauty of first edition D&D is it's simplicity of character generation and lack of skills and abilities. Does your character need to sail a ship? Come up with a compelling reason why she should be able to. Does your character need to identify poison ivy in the woods? Explain to the DM why he can. That's what role playing is all about- creating that character through story rather than relying on a "sailing" skill. The lack of defined skills, abilities, and feats makes combat a bore but is a huge role playing bonus.

Anyway, thanks to Malcolm in Victoria for putting into words what our group has been experiencing recently. They don't call it a role playing game for nothing.


  1. I've noticed that D&D combat is, indeed, boring as hell when you're know...being creative.

    Geez. How do they even -- HOW DID THEY GET THEIR PANTS ON IN THE MORNING?!

  2. You're right, and old school D&D does allow all sorts of creative shenanigans, assuming the players think to try them. The moment you have a specific list of feats and skills it seems to imply that anything Not on that list can't be done.

  3. Precisely. And from one Doctor to another, I say, "nuts to that jazz."

  4. This is why I actually like 4th edition. The simplified skills list gives you more creative freedom with what you can actually do with them (like in the old editions), but the miniatures gives all the players at the table a better idea of where everyone is and what they can do as a team. I've had players knock a monster over a prone ally, and the combination of Mage Hand and Kobolds has been... intresting so far.