Monday, December 31, 2012

Thinking Outside the Rules

I had a long conversation with a close friend who has played AD&D with me for many many years a few days ago. He's never really liked the D&D system that much, always preferring Shadowrun (and a small number of other PnP games) even when we were but children. I've struggled to understand his point of view for years but its only this past week that we delved deep enough into it where I feel like I can finally make an accurate judgement about what has irked him for so long—to the point where I can almost guarantee that the reason isn't because of anything that's built into the system but rather a misapprehension about the way the game is played.

This all came about while we were discussing (in a sort of post-game manner—I have several major flaws as a DM and one of them is that I love to postgame break down the tactics and strategies used by the party so they can think of better ways to handle things in the future) the raid on the ogre-held Island of Meri. My nameless friend (let's call him Argo) had considered again and again what to do with the information they had which was this: A few weeks ago, ogres (perhaps in barges) sailed to the island and laid it waste. The few priests who escaped where so near to death that they died shortly thereafter, unable to give a clear indication of the enemy forces on the island. They were told that there were ogres and some of the dying believed they had seen a giant.

With this information, the Hounds hired up a mercenary ship full of men that was equipped with catapults and scorpions on the grounds that they could use it to bombard the island and possibly kill any giants. They were fearful that rock-hurling would blast smaller ships out of the water. Now, the issue I point out right here is that they didn't have enough information to make an informed decision.

My suggestion was that they should have CREPT onto the island in the night and done some recon work. Argo's immediate reaction was that it didn't make any difference: "Tactics and strategy can do very little to overcome higher level foes" is something like what he said to me on the phone. I was flabbergasted. I couldn't comprehend why he thought that. He went on to reveal that he was familiar with "many many AD&D modules" that were "single rooms where you fight some guys and then move on to fight other guys in other rooms, never expecting them to interact."

I don't know if OD&D modules were ever designed this way. I informed him that, to the best of my knowledge, he was quite mistaken and indeed a lot of time and effort has been dedicated to describe states of alarm in various dungeons and the amount of noise you make while fighting (and whether that provokes wandering monster checks, etc.) I told him that you really have to think OUTSIDE the box in D&D. It's my experience that if you come to a fair fight, you have a 50/50 chance of dying. Things such as terrain, numbers, and magic help make up for what appears to be fair, but you must do your best to cant the odds in your favor, relying only at the very end in the very pinch on your martial prowess to save you.

This is the way everyone and their mother plays Shadowrun... but Shadowrun explicitly has rules that make this clear, I guess. I'm not TOO too familiar with it ruleswise, only through the stories I've heard. Lateral thinking has always, as far as I'm concerned, been part of AD&D. Without it, you really can't expect to be victorious. Running headlong at any foe is a sure recipe for death unless you have all the gods of fate, luck, and dice on your side. D&D is just like Shadowrun as far as I know, in that you should be encouraged to make use of things outside the direct field of combat.

The real tricky part for him is that some rules are hidden (DM only) or non-existant (contacts, information gathering) which really throws him for a loop. As he told me, when considering his actions he thinks of what the rules are to see what tools he has available. I think we've finally come to an understanding about the way AD&D is meant to work (you think something you want to do, the DM translates that into the rules as best he can), which isn't by choosing a wrench to deal with a nail situation. This also harkened back to the thief/sneak debate in which I informed him that I would never ask for a move silently roll from a thief unless it was clearly called for—the risk to make a lot of noise and blow cover. In that same way, characters who are not thieves can still sneak around... they just have to do so using environmental cover and advantages (and are generally not going to be as good at it).

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