Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Old School: Mining White Dwarf 3

The cover to White Dwarf issue 3 is one I particularly like, because the adventurous couple, who have obviously bit off more than they can chew, aren't wearing any armor.  I like this because our first level characters never really wore any either, except for the odd fighter who claimed he was of knightly stock and had inherited some chainmail.  The reason for this was simple - you go into dungeons to liberate large amounts of cash and the more you are weighed down by armor, the less you can be weighed down by treasure.  In the first few levels of the dungeon, those amounts of cash are likely to be copper or silver rather than gold, so you really need the carrying capacity.  At least, that's how we reasoned it.  As a result, the lives of our PCs tended to be nasty, brutish and short (a bit like the players, really - we were 12-13 year old boys...)

Turning to the contents, the first article is extremely interesting and I suggest still useful.  It suggests a non-geomorphic approach to solo dungeon mapping which requires considerable investment in time to set up but once you've built your library of 200' by 200' dungeon elements, you can use it to create a massive variety of dungeon layouts.  I did this one summer vacation and it worked extremely well.  Worth looking at.

Next up is part 3 of Competitive D&D, which describes some interesting puzzle-type rooms that would still make nice entries in a tournament dungeon but which don't really work in a setting that requires any sort of suspension of disbelief (one of the rooms references Judy Garland).  There's a couple of nice ideas but generally this is of limited use.  Straight after that is the news section that announces the imminent release of Traveller and Chivalry & Sorcery.  The second generation of RPGs was about to arrive!

Part 3 of the Monstermark System follows, which reveals that, under the system, a lone 8th level fighter would need to slay 125 Shambling Mounds to advance to 9th level, with each of them on average handing out 385 hits in damage.  Yikes!  As explained below, the Monstermark system is basically useless today but the glimpses of Don Turnbull's dungeon design philosophy are nice to see.  It would be wonderful if Don's son did indeed find his Greenlands Dungeon and published it.  It might be the closest to a full original megadungeon we get.

Up next are Don's reviews of the first slug of Judges Guild materials to hit the UK, including such classics as the Ready Reference Sheets, the Judge's Shield, Tegel Manor and, of course, the City State of the Invincible Overlord.  My, I wanted the City State and woke up every day anticipating the first post waiting for it to arrive (GBP 6.50 - 13 weeks pocket money!).  Also reviewed are three boardgames, illustrating the paucity of RPG products available at the time.

Yet another long essay by Lew Pulsipher on D&D Philosophy is next.  To give you a taste of the level of discourse, there's this:

What method should the referee adopt to regulate the interchange between himself and the players? There are several decisions to make:
1) Shall the players roll their own attack and saving throw dice?
2) Shall each person be permitted to decide what his characters do?
3) Shall the players be permitted extended time to think about what they intend to do?
4) Shall the referee permit players to change their minds about what they intend to do (before they are told results, of course) ?
My answer to all these is yes.
 No spit, sherlock. It's intriguing, however, to realize that some DMs at the time might not have allowed these.  Ye gods.  On the other hand, there are these trenchant comments on the alignment system and the creeping addition of good/evil to the law/chaos scale:
Four-way alignment, allowing such combinations as Lawful/Evil and ChaoticIGood, requires a complete
restructuring of the game. Even if this were practical, the effect of the four-way is to reduce alignment differentiation to nil. Only Law/Good and Chaos/Evil are automatically hostile, as most referees interpret it, and few players choose either of these pairs. Virtually anyone can be in any party, and all act about the same regardless of alignment. If automatic hostilities resulted whenever Law met Chaos or Good met Evil,
regardless of the other member of the pair (four mutually hostile alignments), this would be greater differentiation and no doubt quite interesting. But I know of no one who runs it this way.
 You know, I think I agree with him.  I like the Law/Chaos duality, as mentioned several times below, and consider that all the extra alignments added was a plethora of gods that ruined the cleric class.  But that's just me.

The article on painting minis (or figures, as I always called them), Colouring Conan's Thews, is interesting in that it reveals the lengths people had to go to in the days when you could get all sorts of paints for Napoleonic uniforms but little of use for medieval-style figures (besides the odd "ancient" color).

The Treasure Chest feature has another incomprehensible entry in the Loremaster of Avalon series, but also some nice refinements for the Assassin class (including the ability at second level to slit throats on a first hit on a roll of 19 or 20 - suddenly people wanted to play assassins!) and two trick rooms.  One of them, the Room of Cloning, was a big hit in my first playable dungeon:

Any Neutral who steps inside this room will be split into two characters - one Lawful and one Chaotic. They will immediately start fighting to the death by whatever means at hand. The survivor will go up one level and the dead character will vanish. The player has no control over the fight. Other members of the party may help, but once inside the room the Lawful characters will have a tendency to fight the Chaotic character and vice versa (assuming you allow both types to go down together).
 I vividly remember the first time I ran this.  The way it was set up was the clones descended into a pit in a room by an underground river.  The two started laying about each other, but being first level, kept missing.  I allowed the player to roll both characters' dice, as we didn't know which one he'd be playing.  The assembled party started chanting, "Good guy MISSES, bad guy MISSES, good guy MISSES, bad guy MISSES..." and so on, until the "bad guy" hit and killed the "good guy" in one go.  He looked up at his former allies and strode off into the river, which he was able to wade up until he found a boat at a dock elsewhere in the level and rowed off in it, never to be seen again.  The lack of boat came back to bit the party on the backside...

Finally, the letters page includes my first encounter with Paul Jacquays, the genius behind Griffin Mountain and the Caverns of Thracia.  Incidentally, he has put some of his treasures up for auction on Ebay.

Our mysterious benefactor has archived a PDF of this issue here.

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