Saturday, January 24, 2009

Diseases

You know, I can't get over the fact that when I read OD&D's little books, I keep having the "oh my god, it's all right here!" reaction. I've written before about my decades-long quest for good mass combat & naval combat rules... and have been a little bit rattled to find that the most complete such rules are together in Chainmail and OD&D.

Having gotten into D&D in the era of Holmes Basic and AD&D, and then struggling with some of their limitations for years, part of me now wishes I'd had an opportunity to discover Original D&D circa 1980. But I simply didn't know at the time, and had no outlet to recommend them to me. (I suppose many of us our now following EGG's overall career path: Fighting with minutiae and trying to iron out ever-more detailed rules for years, then finally returning to OD&D at the end of the odyssey.)

Here's a small recent leg of my own journey: Trying to find good rules for diseases. When I first cracked open the 1E AD&D DMG, I found the detailed section on diseases, but at that point in the publishing cycle, it's already too abstract. There are no common names of diseases, just a huge list of body parts and broad categories of ailments which might strike them. Here, the author has already succumbed to the cancer of "complete abstract systemization". In reaching for mathematical-style completeness, he's removed the names and the flavor, losing the whole imaginative hook that would have enticed players in the first place.

Later, I moved on to 3E. Here, there is a smaller number of diseases (which I felt was an improvement: see my "magical number 7+/-2" article), and they have specific names and symptoms. Great. Only problem: None of them are real diseases, they're all made-up fantasy "wahoo" diseases (demon fever, devil chills, mindfire, etc). That was insufficient for conjuring the feel of a truly "fantastic medieval" adventure game that I desired.

At that point I turned to 3rd-party OGL publishers. Here I purchased Bloodstone Press' d20 supplement "Nature's Wrath: A Guide to Poisonous Plants and Infectious Diseases", which does in fact detail real-world poison animals and plants and diseases. Only problem here is, once again, there's an overabundance of information -- over 100 different types by my count. Which is of course a nice piece of work, but then I feel compelled to start doing own research about which types were most common in a medieval setting, so I can focus on introducing those in my game, hoping to cut it down to around 10 key representational types or so. Whew.

So, yesterday, I'm flipping through my digital copy of OD&D Supplement II: Blackmoor, and as you can probably guess -- exactly the treatment I've been looking for is sitting at the end of that book, waiting for me to find it since 1975. Three tiny pages; a baker's dozen of the most commonly known medieval diseases; standard real-world names and symptoms; in D&D terms and statistics. Precisely the names, numbers, and nomenclature that I've been looking to add as a little tainted spice to the medieval wargame, almost a throw-away gesture squeezed into the end of Blackmoor. I literally gasped.

If I'd only known.

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