Sunday, February 26, 2012

The limits of control (Discovering Old School D&D)

Here I go again. Had nothing posted for a very long time, but real live has a tendency to fuck things up and to express the thoughts of my poor German brain in English is harder than I thought. Especially since there is so much great stuff already out there! So the Ranger is out of the woods again, let's see how long he'll stay at the inn to tell his stories...

D&D is a very complex game.

I was DM in many games before I confronted myself with The Rules Cyclopedia for D&D nearly 2 years ago. Being a huge fan of the OSR I decided to make the game my own. I picked some house rules from the community, made some on my own and generally made a fool of myself trying new things. But most of the experience I had with other games seemed insufficient to give me a feeling for the game. Oh, we had tons of fun killing and looting and dungeon crawling, but most of the time I wasn't able to see the big picture. I was only going through the motions and used powerful tropes to keep me aloft. As I stated before, it worked. Sort of.

The biggest problem: how to improvise the game.

Most games set boundaries. That's a good thing, because within these boundaries and in combination with the rules a DM is able to improvise the game. Most of the newer rpgs bring a specific setting or theme with them and/or the rules are designed to fulfil very specific purposes. This is also true for 3e and it's offsprings (well, mostly, I'll get to that). But it's definitly not true for the RC and, arguably, any older edition of D&D. The sheer scope of the game is impressive if not intimidating!

So what's this about?

A Magic User (in the Rules Cyclopedia) needs 4.350.000 xp to reach level 36 and if he got that far, he might as well aim for immortality. As did those who were already gods when he got his first chesthair. I'd guess most people don't play this far, but that's not the point. You have the monsters to challenge PCs or NPCS of such power. They (the monsters and the mighty) shape the world around the players and have done so for thousands of years. They have already earned the xp to get there or are on their way while your players make characters. This is where DIY and improvising gets VERY difficult.

This might be old news, but Gary did it...

I sometimes wondered why most people think D&D is only fun for the first 3/6/10 levels. Now I think the reason is because it's manageable. The aforementioned boundaries are in effect. Any power levels above that are handled as flavourtext. Or by using something published. Or by playing the game for decades (without getting gamers ADD). Nothing wrong with that.

But for me this is the sweet spot I am aiming for. Not only to decide how my campaign setting developed and how those power levels shaped it, but also to see this machine working in full force. This just might be why I wanted to start blogging and where the focus of this blog should be: exploring D&D as someone with no experience in this wonderful game.


  1. Thanks! Glad somebody is still reading :) Nice questions, by the way. I plan to tackle them tomorrow.


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