"We don’t explore characters, we explore dungeons…"Posted: February 18, 2011
The above quote (which is only approximate; I’m quoting from memory), is from one of the heroes of the ‘Megadungeon’ revival who was known as ‘Evreaux’ (sp?) on Dragonsfoot. I don’t know if he is still active on that discussion board (I used to enjoy that board a lot, then, either I changed or the general character of the board changed and now visits are painful. I usually end up leaving after getting hit in the eye by someone else’s dick AGAIN because most of the current crop of users are all wagging their dicks so forcefully in all directions… but, I digress…).
But it’s a good quote and one that (perhaps) sums up what I am missing when I talk about the allure of ‘old school’ versus the ‘new school’ of play in rpgs. After having expressed my love for OD&D and 1st edition AD&D, I’ve been told, more than once, that ‘new editions exist for a reason — because the old edition was flawed and they needed to fix it’ or something similar. And it is true that having picked up those tattered old books and reread them again as an adult, I have encountered a lot of “huh?” moments in reading these old rules that I either didn’t bother to read or didn’t absorb years ago. I can’t see myself using initiative in the way that Gygax fails to explain it in the AD&D Dungeone Master’s Guide. And unarmed combat? Huh?
At the same time, page long ‘character backgrounds’ and extensive character building sessions that usually use computer programs or spreadsheets seems to be the average for 3e, 3,5e, Pathfinder and similar ‘newschool’ games (I won’t talk about 4e because I don’t know anything about it). Players need to know a lot more about where they want their character to be at level 10 when they are picking their feats and skills at level 1. In terms of game mechanics, each character needs to be a ‘unique’ creation, with skills and feats selected from a baffling array of books and options. And somewhere along the way, most players that I know seem to have become attached to the idea that an in-depth ‘background’ story which includes notes on a troubled childhood, etc., are necessary. We no longer seem to sit down to create a character minutes before the game begins, roll the dice, see what we get and then say, “My dex is better than my wisdom; I guess I’ll be a thief,” or similar. Creating a character in the 3e and post 3e world feels more like a visit to the career counselor.
Back in those benighted 1e days when dwarfs couldn’t be wizards and paladins had to be humans, we didn’t see ourselves as deprived. We thought our handful of characters and classes was actually a lot to choose from. Little did we know. And, if memory serves, we did have characters that we tried to make unique. One of my favorites was a dual-class (if I remember right) Cleric/thief named ‘Odekin of the Purple Moon.’ He wore all purple and could both sneak around and cast cleric spells (he worshipped some sort of ‘purple moon god’ — I have no idea). He was mysterious and cryptic and liked to jump out of the shadows and stab enemies in the back and help himself to extra treasure when my fellow players were not looking. I really thought he was the shizzle. Nowadays, no one would look twice at poor Odekin. My friend Alan had the brilliant idea of deciding that his cleric would carry an ‘iron holysymbol’ in the shape of a mace(iron holy symbols are in the 1e price list; look it up)… so he could cast his ‘turn undead’ and whack people in the head without having to put one thing away and get another thing out. His was some god of great violence and head bashing I guess. And there were others.
I think one of the differences that I feel most keenly is that back in the old days, our characters might have ‘become’ special through play; they were not ‘designed’ to be unique. So your character might have been more of the sum of where he/she had been or what he/she had done rather than the result of character design. Which was fun. Because it felt like the choices made in the context of the game, even the small ones (do we turn left or right at the intersection?), were more important. These choices we made in game sometimes led to memorable events. I remember, as players, we defeated the giants in “Steading of the Hill Giant Chief” and actually decided to move in and make the steading our home. I enjoy imagining normal size humans and dwarves living in that massive place and needing stepladders to get into bed or up on the table.
So, as Evreaux (sp?) said, we were exploring dungeons, not characters. And it was good.