Thursday, December 29, 2011

Space Gamer 47: Special D&D Issue?

A new indie used book store has popped up on my radar and I seem to have hit the mother lode yesterday. While I'm just finding the store, it seems to have been tucked away for some time, which means a lot of its gaming materials are older. Long story short, I scored a slew of Space Gamer and Ares magazines from 1980-82 including Space Gamer 47, a "Special D&D Issue."

The article of particular interest to me from this issue was the article by Aaron Allston and Ronald Pehr entitled Remedial Roleplaying, described in the TOC as "Getting more out of role-playing than just bashing monsters." The article launches by presenting a scenario in which 20th level lawful good characters plot the downfall of innocent merchants and 1st level guards, then pointing out the circular process rooted in original D&D... "To become a better and richer character, you must get experience points; to get experience points, you must kill things; the more things you kill, the better you will be able to kill things. Oboy!"

In January of 1982, that's probably how most of us were still playing. I know I was. In fact, I commented just last night to my co-conspirator David Welborn that my high school gaming group was guilty of devolving into a weekly death duel using whatever newest ruleset someone had brought to the (gaming) table. Granted, we played a LOT of supers games (Champions, V&V, MSH) so that may have something to do with our mindset, but even my weekend D&D campaigns with friends weren't really campaigns at all, being nothing more than one-off dungeon crawls.

Now here we are just about 31 years later, to the issue date, and we're now all very familiar (from our own collective experiences) with the precepts put forward in Mssrs. Allston and Pehr's article (and I'm paraphrasing here): 1) a world exists above ground where every locale and NPC should be unique, 2) encounters should have rationales that extend beyond the walls of the dungeon, 3) keep treasure low and prices high to force the effects of economics on the characters, 4) use background/social status to influence gameplay (see "WELL-ROUNDED RPGs" below), 5) secrecy = paranoia and conflict, 6) talents = more interesting characters (again, see "WELL-ROUNDED RPGs" below), and 7) "This is Your World!"

The final section (7) is the most textually economical section of the article, considering it is the richest in terms of what makes an interesting game. And while we're all quite cognizant of the points made, sometimes we have to be reminded so we can live them as the mantras of role-playing:
- it's your game world, not the game author's
- the rules are guidelines, not laws
- experience should be given for experience, not mindless slaughter

WELL-ROUNDED RPGs
I think one of the most interesting facets of the article is it's D&D-centric view (rightly so, given the issue of the mag is a "Special D&D Issue,") while referencing other systems (particularly C&S, TFT, and RQ) in regards to adapting their systems for social status and talents to D&D. When you compare D&D (of the time) to many other games that encourage the role-playing (sometimes even more so than the fighting), D&D begins to appear uniquely one-dimensional. In En Garde!, social climbing is de rigueur. Chivalry & Sorcery not only wraps social status into every character, but also provides a set of fears and phobias to add character depth. If you look at the 1e D&D DM guide, as broad as the content seems to be at first glance, it's all about setting (climate/ecology, government forms, inhabitants, tariffs/taxes/tolls, monster population and placement, et al.) and offers little beyond the goal of "populating the world with monsters and magic shops." Granted, there are some secondary skills and social status information in there, but I think this sentence best sums up the attitude of D&D as a hack'n slash game over true role-playing... "When secondary skills are used, it is up to the DM to create and/or adjudicate situations in which these skills are used or useful to the player character." The example that then follows is how an individual with the armorer skill could tell the quality of a piece of armor, or a repair. How dry is that?

ALSO IN THIS "SPECIAL D&D ISSUE"!
- an article about physicians in Traveller
- new SF weapons and a scenario for SJG's Killer
- a review, designers notes and errata for of Heritage Games' Barbarian Prince
- 9 pages of capsule reviews (none of which are directly D&D-related)
oh yeah... I almost forgot...
- Kimberant's Tomb, a D&D tournament adventure

Is that what makes a "Special D&D Issue?" A fairly generic GM article that references the flaws in D&D and a leftover module from Texcon, a convention held in Austin (home of SJG.) Hmmm? Do I smell a conspiracy?

3 comments:

  1. Well, it probably had more D&D content than most issues of TSG!
    That's one of the reasons I had a subscription, I didn't really play D&D and that magazine tended to cover a lot of more obscure games instead.
    Great blog by the way!

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  2. Thanks for the comment on the blog! Nice to know folks enjoy it, and it's not just a tree falling in the woods for no one to hear.

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  3. i do love Space gamer and White dwarf magazines far more than Dragon magazine, i don't know why :)

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