Saturday, May 29, 2021

Recaps & Roundups: The Dragon #10

I've been fairly inactive on the D&D front, aside from the mammoth task of wikifying D&D 3.5e.  I don't have anything specifically to post about, so I guess I'll return to my chronological journey through D&D history.  I've currently reached the products that were released circa October of 1977, and I'll kick things off with a brief look at The Dragon #10.

Cover by John Sullivan

I originally covered this issue over two posts, here and here.  Since I've already gone over it, I'll be skimming over things more quickly with this post.

The "Dragon Rumbles" editorial mentions that GenCon X just happened.  The magazine's page count has risen by 4 pages, and there's a concerted effort to organise things better so that unofficial rules are clearly labelled as variants.

Other non-D&D articles include 
  • "The Tactics of Diplomacy in Stellar Conquest" by Edward C. Cooper, which gives guidelines for mixing both of those games together.  I've never played either, so it's completely outside my frame of reference.
  • "Snit Smashing" by Tom Wham, a truly bizarre board game.  Wham's stuff is loaded with personality, and I'd love to try playing this one day.
  • "Wormy" and "Finieous Fingers" are doing their things in the comics.

And now the D&D articles:

"Orgies, Inc" by Jon Pickens: The article doesn't live up to it's attention-grabbing title, but it does give some interesting variant rules aimed at getting excess treasure out of your campaign.  The central idea - one that the OSR picked up on many years later - is to limit XP for gold only to gold spent.  Characters can sacrifice treasure to gods or demons, give it away to charity, use it for research, indulge in wine and women, etc., and it then converts to XP.  We're in the time before training costs became an official rule, so I've no doubt that lots of campaigns at the time were having a problem with excess loot. I think this is the best way of dealing with it that I've seen up to this point.

My major problem with it is that the amount of XP earned is divided by the character's level, which would definitely slow advancement.  Original D&D did have a ratio based on how dangerous it was to obtain the gold, but this one covers all treasure regardless of how difficult it was to get.  I feel like the amount of XP needed to attain higher levels is already enough of a barrier, and dividing it like this seems unnecessary.

For my own rules, I've been toying with tying this kind of thing into player upkeep, with players deciding how they've been living between adventures and that lifestyle manifesting as a bonus or negative to hit points.  Unfortunately I haven't had the chance to implement it, because our games keep ending with the players in the middle of an expedition, or with a time limit hanging over their heads to get certain things done.  One day, though.

"Designing for Unique Wilderness Encounters" by Daniel Clifton: This is a series of charts for determining the general terrain of a wilderness battlefield, which is not a bad idea for varying things up when running fights outdoors.  It has charts for five types of terrain (clear, rough, mountainous, wooded, and marshy), with sub-tables for things like the grade of hills and the direction rivers flow in.  It's not an overwhelming amount of charts to use, and I like it better than my current "make it up off the top of my head" system.  It's an idea I'd like to work on, although if I used the charts here I'd modify the whole system.

"Random Monsters" by Paul Montgomery Crabaugh: A series of charts for randomly coming up with new monsters, because even by 1977 players have already memorised everything.  I don't have a lot of use for this kind of thing: D&D already has hundreds and hundreds of monsters, and I've barely used a fraction of them.  There are some good ideas to mine for inspiration in here though, especially the undead with the power to turn clerics.

"Let There Be a Method to Your Madness" by Richard Gilbert: This article gives advice on dungeon design, suggesting that rather than a series of random monsters and traps, a dungeon should have some sort of purpose behind it.  It's the sort of basic stuff that DMs learn very early on these days, but it is good advice.

The author gives an example dungeon, a castle on a small hill that was taken over by a wizard called Nappo around 400 years ago.  Nappo has been dead for 275 years, but the dungeons he created with his orcs are still there.  Levels include living areas for several hundred orcs (with temples, an armory, maybe some sewers), cells and torture chambers, maybe an arena, guardrooms and traps to snare intruders, and below that Nappo's quarters, with laboratories, monster pens, and a treasury.  About 15 levels are suggested.  If I was to ever get around to the fabled Ultimate Sandbox this dungeon would go in somewhere.

"Weights & Measures: Physical Appearance and Why Males are Stronger than Females in D&D" by P.M. Crabaugh:  What we have here are charts for determining a character's rough height and weight, a new system of encumbrance based on those scores, and some statistical differentiation between men and women.  Size (being equivalent to height) is rolled on 3d6, with a chart showing what that means for each race and sex.  Then Weight is rolled on1d6, with characters being light, medium, or heavy.  This determines carrying capacity, with heavier characters being able to carry more than lighter ones.

As for statistical differences between men and women (something not in official D&D at this point), the author does an unusual thing by making women statistically superior to men.  They are given bonuses to both dexterity and constitution, both scores of statistical relevance to every character class.  Their only downside is a reduced carrying capacity, due to their smaller size.  It's not enough to balance out the bonuses, I feel: of all the DMs I've played with, I'm the only one who has ever tried to properly track encumbrance, and I only started doing that last year.  Encumbrance-based penalties are more often than not a complete non-factor.

I also have a problem with the chart numbers, because the range isn't variable enough.  The tallest human possible is 6'4"; I went to high school with a guy who was 6'7" when he was 15.  I feel like there should be more scope for outliers at both ends.  The weights seem low as well.  215 pounds for a heavy guy at 6'4"?  Maybe that's accurate for normal people, but pretty much all my knowledge of how much people weigh comes from pro wrestling.  Those guys can be in the 250-300 lb. range, with some even heavier.  I know that body-building wasn't necessarily a thing in ye olden times, but who's to say someone wouldn't have gyms in their D&D campaign?  I've had the same problem with almost every random height/weight chart I've seen in D&D though.  Either they're too limited, or my expectations are out of whack.  I dunno, I like to have the possibility of rolling up a freak now and then.

"Gaining a New Experience Level" by Tom Holsinger: Now here's an idea I really like, and had completely forgotten about since I last read it.  The idea is this: instead of levelling up automatically, or through training, or by spending your gold on orgies, levels are bestowed by the gods.  It makes a lot of sense of D&D's power scale, to be honest, and the author has thought up all sorts of little ideas that tie in.  Why do high-level PCs have to build castles? Because the antics involved in getting the attention of the gods cause a lot of trouble for all those around.  Why do demi-humans have level limits? Because the state of mind necessary to commune with the gods involves alcohol and drugs, and demi-humans just can't get wasted like humans can.  There's a lot of fun, inventive stuff here.  The downside is that the wrong gods might take notice, with consequences as decided by the DM.  That's a little disappointing: I prefer DM fiat to be as rare an occurrence as possible.

I've been thinking about levelling up, and employing a system whereby training isn't required but does confer some bonuses if you're willing to pay for it.  I might add petitioning the gods as another option that is high risk/high reward.

Next: I'm not sure, but October of 1977 has the following options.  From TSR there's Monster and Treasure Assortment Set Two and the Outdoor Geomorphs.  Judges Guild's offering for this month is Installment O, which featured the second part of Wilderlands of High Fantasy.  And finally, there's White Dwarf #3. We'll see what takes my fancy when I get around to writing something up.

1 comment:

  1. Glad to see you are back! Looking forward to reading more of your analysis of the early products.

    I've used adaptations of Orgies, Inc., combined with Rients' Carousing rules for more than a decade now (always as an optional way to get more XP out of gold, rather than the only way). As you have encountered, the main issue is finding the downtime for this sort of thing. So many adventure end in media res, and then when we are playing again people want to play n actual adventure, not worry about having any sort of downtime activities.

    Of course, it does not help that sessions these days are maybe four hours long, if we are lucky. There is only so much time to play these days.