Monday, July 31, 2017

Welcome Back Potter: Reacquainting Myself With My Old BX Books

Basic and Expert as a unit really do paint such a unique picture of D&D even from the unified expanded BECMI line, let alone AD&D and other versions of the game. You flip through the Rules Compendium and this is a game that is all about super high level monsters who can only be defeated by galloping goatshit magical chicanery, here's all the ridiculously high XP thresholds to get strong enough to do that, oh by the way did we mention all these other-dimensional creatures and monsters we made up in a hurry ("It has a big mouth and a big eye and uhhhhh like all the magic and you can't hurt him;" Beholders were put together like modern Doctor Who baddies) and remember how you could already fight all those dragons well those dragons SUCK here are a bunch of new dragons and fighting them is like fighting SIX dragons and here are some more giants and some other stuff way better than dumb old dragons I mean who wants to do that anyway?

I am going to die mid-way through a run-on sentence one day. That will be punctuation's final revenge. That said, quick sidebar: FUCK the MLA; I got too much fucking style as it is.

There are TWO spells in Basic that immediately stand out as doing direct damage to your HP. Combat encounters list seven steps that have to happen before things get started, with like four chances for no armed struggle to happen. The majority of the monsters on its list are animals, bigger animals, tougher animals, just guys, some fungus, a few dead guys, and then a vastly outnumbered selection of monster-monsters, most from the Greek canon or Tolkein. Expert's monsters are mostly giants, dinosaurs, Halloween shits, and uh fuck let's say "ethnic monsters," a game of remembering the middle east exists but not talking about it too directly. Expert also has about 9 more directly-damaging spells.

They don't model everything they can think of for equipment, just about a hundred things you'd need to explore a dungeon.

There's not that much info speaking directly to DMing in either really but what's there pulls weight. There's not a ton of information on traps and most of the magic item tables rely on your knowledge of things you're ALREADY FAMILIAR WITH from earlier in the book and so don't have long write ups.

The book seems in places to be saying here you go: this is what you do and where you do it and what you do it with and what you do it for. Venture, kill, die, come back, loot, level, repeat. Your campaign can be anything: a series of dungeons where you try to kill a monster and find treasure along the way, a dungeon where you try to get some treasure and kill some monsters along the way, all two types of game there are.

Which would be fine. That's a fun game too. But I think these books are written that way because that's the only shit you need. There's a section on building castles and boat fights because that shit is hard to model or waive off on the fly. You're expected to be able to argue with the vizier, sing for your supper, hire a poisoner, find a map, pray to your god, and win at Gwent without the book's help. You're a person who has been in the world, use those tool sets for Make-Em-Up World.

Some people struggle in the world and so struggle with the fake world and that's fine, we need lots of brushes in the tool tray to make up Photoshop. I'm never in a position to judge. Then again I suck at chess and that's not chess' fault. Point is your world, the campaign, the story (explicit and/or implicit and/or player-facing emergent) can be whatever you want or need it to be.

This is how dungeons work, and it's where dragons are. That's it! That's all there is to the game, the big fucking secret on how to Do Good at the game. Just love the game, do the game, and use the book when you need to do some specific hard things for the game. There is a somewhat implied setting but you can ignore that like hell and just make your game be about a bunch of Protestants trying not to burn so many farmhands for witchery that everyone starves come winter. You can win an ENnie if you write that shit down.

D&D picks up so much This Is How The World Works Care About It Care About It Now so quickly before the novels even get into things... You know I never understood how Rogue Trader could be the bedrock of the 40K world's lore and still so poorly regarded by people who really really take that lore seriously. I needn't have been mystified, it's the same way there are people who OMG LUV D&D but only this specific iteration of the later game, or for that matter people who LOVE Spider-Man but only Earth 5714 Spider-Man who works for BANDAI. There are a lot more people who love things about D&D than just plain love how D&D works.

That's not a problem. It makes sense. I'm that way about that Game of Thrones show, I only love things about it. That's fine and I don't want anyone to be denied THEIR D&D, even if their D&D is deciding to recreate some Salvatore fan fiction using FATE.

In the search for MY D&D, though - trying to find out what D&D means to me not in a philosophical sense but in a family-genus-species sense - I am amazed every time I come back to this tight little engine. This set of books doesn't put you in a box or tie you to a milieu. It just gives you a framework. That framework says "You are small, there are many threats beyond you, never trust a dark or lost place, if you try to kick the ass of everything you meet you will probably die, here's how to try anyway."

I fully get people not digging that and deciding that it doesn't give them enough opportunity to Play The Hero and have a big cinematic moment. Me, I've always maintained that D&D wasn't a game of fantasy heroics (that's the elves complicating shit again) but instead one of survival horror. Oh, I'm going to go slowly mad before Big Squidward's creepy crawlies? A quarter of the monsters in Expert turn you slowly into fucking stone while you watch, and that's before the ghosts show up. I'm covered, thanks.