Thursday, November 5, 2009

Musings on Character Definition and Editions

Now that I'm DMing AD&D instead of the two most recent incarnations of the brand, I'm reveling in the simpler ruleset (yes, I know...). With the simpler character generation the players are able to churn out new characters in minutes. Memorable characters. Without feats, skills or build options. I've been handwaving languages ever since I erased the whiteboard. I don't even use weapon specialization...

And the characters have been distinctive and memorable, even the ones in the heap of dead 1st-levelers. Somehow the stench of their rotting corpses hasn't dissuaded my pool of players.

I'm not a proponent of capital-R Roleplaying, the game comes first. But the characters have personality and an engaging story sometime emerges. This may very well be due to the fact that the players in my game are well versed in the source literature, enthusiastic about the genres and themes I'm exploring in the game, tolerant of my radical traditionalist exploration of Dungeons & Dragons, creative and enthusiastic people, and quite coincidentally great roleplayers. And I don't prioritize roleplaying at all, aside from NPCs speaking in funny voices and acting like characters in Curb Your Enthusiasm or an Oscar Wilde play. I am truly lucky to have such a great band of bohemians at the table, and they may be the greatest group I could ever imagine (aside from Clark Ashton Smith, Robert E Howard (HPL doesn't get invited on account of being a sadsack; plus he'd make a fuss about the bong rips and atonal music), Oscar Wilde, Gary Gygax, Dave Arneson, Bod Bledsaw, MAR Barker, Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein and Lin Carter).

Aside from the touchy-feely roleplay/story aspect, these memorable characters are also defined by their diverse equipment and tactics. A combination of using the weapon vs. armor type modifiers and weapon proficiency rules (no character class weapon restrictions however!) combined with strength and dexterity requirements for various weapons has helped with this as well as generally random treasure generation with no wish-lists or class/level appropriate "parcels." Buzz Brazelhatch is a great swordsmen simply because the Shunned One he killed was carrying a +3 two-handed sword and he rolled really well for hit points. Rodan the Scrounger is an excellent skirmisher by virtue of his completely random high dexterity score and that he sought out and acquired a random laser pistol. Gan-Ron the Silver Man NPC signed his death warrant due to having a low-intelligence and a magic sword. Sorcerers are cowardly lurkers due to their low hit points and vancian casting, and we're all fine with that (although the acquisition of technological weaponry could very well radically change that despite their -5? non-proficiency penalty with said arms until they finally get a proficiency at level 6? or 11?)).

The genre conventions are emerging as an artifact of the rules. Perhaps an indication of the modern/plastic influences upon that later editions? As much as I tried to run a gritty, pulp romp in 3.5 the system fought me tooth and nail (while chaining me to endless rule lookups). Although anime and videogame/Peter Jackson LOTR superheros are not my bag when the dice hit the table, if they are your thing than definitely the later editions are suitable for such play. Me, I'll be sticking with my musty yellow-spined DAW paperbacks.

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