Sunday, March 11, 2007

Random Likes/Dislikes

Random stuff I like in OD&D:

- Simple equipment. There's a single one-page list of all the equipment you need, including weapons, armor, and gear. Every cost is simply in gold pieces (there are no fractions or cp/sp to make change with). Armor is simply leather, chain, plate, shield, helmet. They still manage to include horses, mules, wagons, and those pricey boats! (merchant ships and galleys)

- Naval rules. On the topic of boats, OD&D has what looks like the most playable ship rules I've seen for D&D (and I've looked for a long time). It very concisely has rules for points-of-sail and wind power, movement in inches, specific crew numbers for each ship type (something I always longed for in AD&D), and reference to Chainmail rules for combat. Nice!

- Limitless Levels. "There is no theoretical limit to how high a character may progress." (Vol. 1, p. 18) No supplemental books are required -- Right from the get-go, a single paragraph provides rules for continuing advancement in hit dice, fighting ability, even never-ending spell advancement for all the classes! The way experience gets added is a bit unclear, but you can work out something reasonable.

- The Astral Spell. Introduced in Supplement I: Greyhawk, this spell has wonderful flavor that matches standard fantasy much more closely. It's a lot like what the ethereal spell is today (which itself doesn't exist in OD&D). No travelling outer planes, it makes a powerful spellcaster basically invisible and intangible for long-range scouting missions (but with a good chance to cast spells into the physical world, and a small chance of losing their body and so being "immediately sent to jibber and shriek on the floor of the lowest hell"). That's great!

- Chaotic Storm Giants. Storm giants, also introduced in the Greyhawk supplement, can be any alignment -- which is more in sync with Norse depictions of evil storm giants.

- Limited Dragon Types. OD&D has only 6 dragon types: the five colored evil-type dragons, plus the good and intelligent Gold type. It seems a lot easier to keep track of that mentally.

Random stuff I don't like in OD&D:

- Gold Standard Pricing. I've always been bothered by D&D pricing in gold pieces, which prohibits using real-world medieval prices for an economic model (which would normally be in some type of silver coin, gold coins not really being exigent in the medieval world). I think I understand why this was done -- it's just fun to think about pricing things in gold. I can also now see that the line in the AD&D PHB about prices assuming an inflated, adventure-rich economy was just an after-the-fact rationalization.

I wish they'd thought in advance to model prices on real-world medieval economies, but I can also see how this was too much to ask for when a fun, lightweight game was being developed. (Probably 15, 30, 50 for armor costs is the hugest simplification ever.) The after-effect is that every fantasy paper or video game for the rest of history is stuck with a very unrealistic gold-standard economy (and basically useless copper and silver coins).

- Magic Item Construction. Yes, the times for sample magic item construction are probably way too long. 1 week for a potion of healing? 1 month for 20 magic arrows? 1 week per spell level on a scroll? That's probably way too long to make flavor-sense (consider doing some comparisons in legend for how long it takes to make a love potion, or write a spell, or craft a magic hammer...)

- All-Access Cleric Spells. In the white box rules everyone had spellbooks and full access to the list. In Supplement I: Greyhawk, magic-users had spellbooks with partial list access, but clerics got rid of the need for spellbooks while maintaining full access to expanded spell lists -- "All cleric spells are considered as 'divinely' given and as such a cleric with a wisdom factor of 3 would know all of the spells as well as would acleric with an 18 wisdom factor" (p. 8).

Unfortunately, this system created a power-creep and complexity problem in that every time a new cleric spell was added to the game, then every cleric automatically gained access to it (both increasing their power, and increasing the number of options cleric players had to parse each day in preparing spells). The current 3.5 Edition situation is basically out of hand for new players -- there are 37 or more spells available for consideration by every starting 1st-level cleric!

One of the very best new ideas I've seen in D&D is the 3rd Ed. Unearthed Arcana "Variant: Spontaneous Divine Casters", in which clerics must pick a small subset of spells from each level (I'd call them "miracles"), and then are allowed to cast them freely, without prepared selection in advance each day. This both reduces the complexity to new players, the everything-under-the-sun power of cleric spellcasting, and has a very nice flavor effect of priests having specific well-known powers you can depend on. But, I can certainly understand why this forever-expanding-spell-list probably could not have been predicted at the outset of the OD&D game.


  1. The problem with Spontaneous Cleric spells is that the spells selected by the players can seem completely random. Having a clearly defined [or even loosely defined] spell list based on religion would be more useful.

    Consider the OD&D Cleric list: Most of those spells are like the miracles of Christian saints and Jewish Holy Men. Create Water didn't create created a magical spring from the ground! Sticks to Snakes evokes the story of Moses.

    It would be hard to craft a clearly defined spell list for each and every religion, but I think the 2E idea of "spheres" was on the right track, as was the 3E idea of Domains.

  2. I always found it odd that Clerics are excused study! surely literacy, books and study are the meat of veg of the Clergy? I prefer the idea that Magic users have to quest to find new magic from other magic users knowledge & spell books, scrolls and so on while the Cleric needs to study too but can do so at friendly religious buildings. The Clerics local 'church' could only have a limited range of spells requiring a pilgrimage elsewhere to learn others. Never knock another game hook I always say.