Results tagged “dungeons and dragons” from Andy Best

Rating D&D covers through history

ph cover
I'm about to curse and rant about a D&D thing. For those not up with the latest developments, here's an overview post I wrote pertaining to the upcoming Wizards of the Coast 5th Edition:

And here's the article I'm reacting to, a Wizards long term employee talking about rating rule book covers:

Now on to the unfocused blather. If you're not really into this, stop here. 

So, there are the four Player's Handbook covers from AD&D 1 and 2, then Wizard's D&D 3 and 4. Firstly as to rating them and how to judge that, the answer is obvious. See also: most comments there. They get progressively worse. 

The pictured 1st Ed cover was a typically sketchy TSR early product but it embodies everything good about the game, especially at that time. A bit DIY and then showing a party checking a map, cleaning off a sword next to dead monsters and looting treasure from a cool location. Also you come to this game in many ways ... but being attracted by a shiny book cover as you shop for something else - having never before entertained the notion of playing - is not one of them. And for people into the game already, the cover becomes all but irrelevant.

If you look at the industry insider article on this that I linked - many things are revealed, especially through his criteria for judging the covers. I think it not only shows why the older ones were better - but gives us a clear view into how the 4th Ed was developed and then failed.

(5/5) D&D Theory - zen gameplay vs. menu play

Picture: Tavern scene. From The Temple of Elemental Evil (TSR) I can't identify the artist and five were used on the book.

Part one, the overview, is here. But if you're not into D&D then what's the point. Credits repeated at the end.

I first felt the need to define the original game mechanic after playing V3.5 and then 4th edition rules, both WotC games. Player characters now had so many skills, stats and powers that whenever they wanted to do something in the game, they looked at their list to choose an action. I felt this was odd and I call it menu play.

I got around this by drawing my group's attention to the idea of the DM having DM's discretion and being able to make their own calls at times. But, those systems really push into menu play. When deciding to go back to TSR, I wanted to clearly define what menu play was not.

(4/5) D&D Theory - the toolbox

the inner sphere
Picture: The inner sphere. From The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth (TSR) by Jeff Easley.

Part one, the overview, is here. But if you're not into D&D then what's the point. Credits repeated at the end.

This post is the most theoretical and throws up more questions than it answers. When comparing old school play with the linear story drive of the Dragon Lance series, we then ask what constitutes a good adventure? But we are talking about pre-written adventures. So first real question: if we like the old school play, do we need pre-written adventures at all?

Old school gamer and blogger James Maliszewki really likes TSR's The Lost City.

I played that early on too. What he likes about it is how the dungeon crawl, the suggested expansions and the minimal but idea laden background form a kind of toolbox.

(3/5) D&D Theory - the Hickman revolution

Picture: In your face, Total Recall. From Palace of the Silver Princess (TSR) by Erol Otus

Part one, the overview, is here. But if you're not into D&D then what's the point. Credits repeated at the end.

The Hickman revolution was a sea change in D&D gameplay that husband and wife team Tracy and Laura Hickman brought about with their Dragonlance series. It also had a series of novelizations and products that saw the game step up commercially. Some see it as a reaction against the Gauntlet play in favor of story driven play. That's a tough one as the old style has story too. 

Maybe it's best to let them speak for themselves. When writing for an earlier series called Nightventure, they outlined four key points:

The following are word for word quotes:

1) A player objective more worthwhile than simply pillaging and killing.
2) An intriguing story that is intricately woven into the play itself.
3) Dungeons with some form of architectural sense.
4) An attainable and honorable end within one or two sessions playing time.

(2/5) D&D Theory - the eternal dungeon

Picture: Storoper entry from Assault on the Aerie of the Slave Lords (TSR) by Bill Willingham

Part One, the overview, is here. But if you're not into D&D then what's the difference. Credits at the end.

The first model is what I think of as The Eternal Dungeon or Gauntlet Play (after the old arcade game.) I realise these titles have negative connotations.

These are the features of original D&D (OD&D) and the early TSR games like 1st edition AD&D and Basic/Red Box. They are also the features embraced by old school D&D gamers.

- sandbox principle
- level one of dungeon : level one encounters principle
- high player freedom / participation
- OD&D door principle
- heavy use of random generation / tables
- luck element of game embraced

The fact that this idea of gameplay is usually positioned against the story-based Hickman ideas doesn't mean that it has no story. Me and my brother sometimes laid out the map of Greyhawk, took the travel times and random tables then just played a journey with no DM or preamble at all. As we went, we just improvised bits of story and built on that.

(1/5) D&D Theory - overview

Picture: Blackrazor from White Plume Mountain (TSR) by Bill Willingham

I recently blogged about the history of D&D here. I have played the game since I was around eleven including all its versions and incarnations.

I recently decided to go back to the TSR era for my next game and was thinking a lot about what I liked about the game, why the newer editions bothered me and how to approach writing for the new games. It turns out that a lot of other people are having the same thoughts and many of them are cerebral and good writers. 

So, I'm going to present four models of play or theories of the game that help to illustrate the issues I've been thinking on. They don't represent absolutes and there are many in-betweens.

Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition: oh, I'm old.

Warning: long, long non music post

"This is a game that is fun. It helps you to imagine."
F. Mentzer, Preface to the Basic Boxed Set. Feb. 1983.

Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) is a table top role-playing game (RPG) that I have played since I was about 12. I'm 39. Now we have the news that current owning company Wizards of the Coast are play testing the 5th Edition. 

Also, a recent game of V4 means that I have now played all the existing editions organically. I mean, as they were current. 

Here is an excellent mid length article to summarize. But I'm going to go on about the same thing anyway.

So, on to my thoughts ...

The school of D20


This post is continuing from Jim's post that carries on from a comment I made in a discussion of the movie Clash Of The Titans. I want to start on my entry into the world of table-top gaming and fantasy literature through the game-book Forest Of Doom. Then I want to touch on the split in fantasy literature between the traditions of Orientalism in the English language novel and the New Wave authors. Finally, I want to rant on the merits of Dungeons and Dragons in education and how it has open-source ideals (bear with me) - a fact recognised in the industry and solidified in it's D20 movement.

... time passes as reader catches up with huge amount of background ...


forest of doomIt may be a bad analogy but one day in the final year of elementary school, a butterfly flapped it's wings in the life of Andy Best. Puffin Books had a 'book club' scheme. Twice a year a small catalogue of books, glossy and colourful, was passed around the class. We took it home, chose one, and returned the next week with our order forms. A few weeks later you picked up the book at school.

I had chosen 'The Forest of Doom'. It was a 'fighting fantasy game book'. Not in the tradition of the Choose Your Own Adventure, the series was created by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone who were dedicated to spreading the table-top gaming hobby to the UK. This industry was based around the flagship game, Dungeons and Dragons which itself came from the fantasy literature tradition and borrowed heavily from the achievements of two major authors. Tolkien is obvious, but also H.P. Lovecraft, who wove esoteric lore into a complete fictional universe with demons and planes of existence.

As you can see already, from picking up that first book I was immediately led into reading a diverse literary canon and to playing the games each week. Importantly, this meant creating our own material and playing through it with our peers. I did this devoutly without the need of any further prompting or encouragement, ever. The seemingly living world of the book, the tower of Yaztromo on the edge of the forest, the thief stuck in the bear-trap, the talking crow on the signpost, catapulted me into the idea of other worlds that lived in an abstract dream space where you could play out scenarios and expand your experience without limits. Much like we try to achieve in educational drama.

Then I read Michael Moorcock.

Up until the age of sixteen I had absorbed a huge amount of fantasy and sci-fi literature and started to form more critical opinions but I hadn't been able to put my finger on something that bothered me. This was down to lack of awareness of the history of the world and current affairs. And that analysis of literature beyond identifying characters and narrative structure was not encouraged at school. But what I did know at this point was that, unlike most of my friends, Tolkien bothered me, along with 'hard' sci-fi, and Michael Moorcock was the man. 

MonsterManual-v35-CoverWhat I was unaware of at that time was the split between traditionalists who were still bound by the ideologies of English literary tradition and the New Wave authors like Moorcock and J. G. Ballard. One one hand you had Tolkien, who set out to create a fantasy world that would put across his Empire era worldview to the next generation in a non-didactic manner. One the other hand you had Ballard and Moorcock, and all the authors centred around New Worlds Magazine, who saw fantasy sci-fi as an absract art form with which they could explore the world around them and ask questions of it.

From Jim's description and anaysis of the Monster Manual you can see the influence of the old-school, both in its contents and in its attitude to the other. But, the key to the game was always that the players could create their own adventures and worlds. More in the tradition of the New Wave. The rules heavily catered to this giving countless generation tables and help to get you started. Eventually, the industry, whether concious of the depth of meaning behind it or not, came to realise that the game would die with its era unless they focused on this key aspect. They identified the D20 system ... basic game mechanics that underpinned all their systems. New versions were adjusted to follow this and you now had a game split into an engine and its mods

Here is where it gets interesting. Firstly, I have never stopped playing some form of table-top game. I simply can't. Once I got off into teaching I realised early on that the game - R.P.G.s of the table-top variety - was an amazing participatory tool. The players create thier own worlds. Each time you play, the story expands based on the input of the group, each session naturally leads to the next. As you write and expand your gaming universe, you have to actively research it, and the act of playing through it kills dead ends and reinforces strong lines. From D20 you could go into any setting - or any course, so to speak. 

This worked immediately for me on many levels due to my background training in Drama and Education. As with drama, the D20 game provides you with many tools for participation that can be utilised in part as well as in whole. The most recent use of these tools was to play through a story/event based D&D game with some of my advanced language students and later introduce the idea of devising and improvisation in story writing. During the game play, the students had learned skills of testing work through use, rejecting weak points and running with parts that were working. This was a welcome change, they are turing 13 at the moment, from their school model of being told to write a story in isolation, then having it marked, or worse still reading it out and having it appraised (euphemism of the week).

Obviously, D20 products are not free and there's a nice big semantic debate out there as to whether it's open source in the way a wiki is. However, the game is written to be modified and customized by the players and offers huge scope. It is a platform for open participation that contains many tools. And opening that first book turned me onto art and helped me eventually get out of the ideological maze I was been run through at school. And lets not forget, it's a social activity in which people happily come together with their peers and think and create - without any kind of prodding or educational structure or goals.  



andy bw 2001My name is Andy Best. I was born in the early seventies in the U.K. I spent most of my life (everything after 4 years old) in the city of Liverpool. I liked books, Dungeons and Dragons and music. I ended up in university where I studied drama.

I was originally focused on music completely. I played in bands and practised guitar five hours a day. Me and my friends voraciously devoured the trade, building crossovers and custom PA's, recording demos in studios and at home, playing shows, collecting music, putting out flyers ... all of it. I stepped out of that world to do university, in theatre, and then went off travelling. It's only since I came to Shanghai in 2001 that I found a music scene I liked again, one based around DIY culture and not sending tapes to A&R men. 

My fourteen year long working life has been in writing and in education. I get up to all kinds of stuff and I'm currently still in Shanghai, China.

Douban (Chinese language)

Mail me: andy(at)kungfuology(dot)com 
Twitter: @andybest72

response to xkcd 435

This cartoon style may look familiar, this is why.


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