Saturday, July 11, 2009

D&D was a Wargame

I have been giving this one some thought recently. I was first introduced to wargames, and it was only afterwards that I started into D&D. The concept of the mega-dungeon strikes me as a bit of a wargame. The object of a mega-dungeon is to explore and eventually conquer it. It is designed to be tough. There will be character deaths. It has a players vs. GM mentality, in that the players are actually trying to beat the dungeon. Sure it’s just a game, but the object is to beat the dungeon. This creates a sense of accomplishment, and provides a reason to play the game. There is a winner. This is all good stuff.

As I read through the old school blogs and dig into the history of the game, I get a sense that this is where the game started. It was a game of exploration, and about defeating the dungeon. It was a small scale wargame, in that there were not armies involved, but rather the characters where a small band of explorers. I get the feeling that characters where meant to be plugged into the adventure and they were kept basic on purpose. They were meant to be slightly better than normal men at arms, and one could consider them as leader types with special abilities. When I read through the original rules, I am struck by the notion of how vanilla they are. This idea supports the notion of simple characters, as they are meant to die. Why create a complex character that was not likely to survive the mission. We are not suppose to fall in love with them. They were there to fulfill a mission, and success was based on player interactions, not on character feats and abilities. This is the core of old school gaming. It’s a de-emphasis on creating super heroes. Characters were not meant to be points of light.

But, something happened along the way, and I think this is when D&D moved away from being a wargame, and turned into something a bit different. Looking at it, I think it was really unavoidable. As we played with our characters, we fell in love with them, and we wanted a bit more. This in turn led to an inflation of character abilities and the development of a campaign as a story. Why? Because role playing games pull players into their character. The game encourages players to become their characters, and no one wants to play just an ordinary character.

When I look over the various editions, that is the first thing that really pops out at me. The character classes have expanded in terms of options and abilities, and with the latest releases, they can become quite customized. I will go as far as to say that companies have made a living off creating new and expanding classes. TSR and latter WotC quickly realized that splat books sell very well, because players love their characters.

And to be honest, there is really nothing wrong with that. I think it’s a natural evolution of the game. As folks play with their characters, they become more attached to them. For example, one of the folks in my gaming group played with a character for a long time, and when his character died, he stopped playing for a long time. Subconsciously, the character became a part of him, and with his character’s death, it was like losing a long time friend. There was a sense of loss. Now I am not sure that he would phrase it quite like this, but I think its there.

I have written a bit on the evolution of D&D, and I will write a bit more on this. I suspect that as one plays, no matter how basic you make it, there is a natural tendency to want to move to a story-plot with characters that have more options.

I think this goes back to the question of why do we play the game? How is fun created? I have read that fun is not the responsibility of the GM. I am not exactly aligned to this. If the game is not fun, then why are we playing?

The answer to this question is really determined by the makeup of the group. I suspect that wargamers are more inline with playing D&D as a wargame, and have no problem with character death. On the other side, there are a folks that really enjoy role playing and want to immerse themselves into their character. These folks are going to have a tough time with character death. Now I have just painted a black and white view of the D&D player population, and I am sure that there are plenty of people that are in the middle somewhere.

With this said, I think it is interesting to note that the hardcore wargamer is going the way of the dinosaur, if one is to believe the sales numbers on wargames. Sure board games in general are probably doing ok, but the players that like games such as Squad Leader, Panzerblitz, and other Avalon Hill classics are becoming rarer. Part of this is because of the demands on adulthood, which limits the time available to play. Part of this is having trouble finding consistent opponents.

To go back to my earlier comment, D&D has a fan base that is greater than that of wargames. The focus of enjoyment is very different, and it resonates better with more folks. I suspect that is because the enjoyment of D&D centers around the shared experience of being the hero. There is an element of escapism, and the idea of knights and dragons scratches a certain romantic itch that quite a few folks have. To put it bluntly, we want to believe in magic. Disney has made a fortune on this. This is very different than the concept of D&D as a wargame, and I think explains the popularity of 3rd edition and 4th edition D&D.


Today officially marks our 18th Anniversary. Time really flies by as you get older.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

4th of July

I would be remiss if I did not comment on July 4th. Officially it marks the birthday of the United States which is recognized as July 4th, 1776 when the Second Continental Congress approved the Declaration of Independence from Great Britain. When I look at this document and the Constitution, I am continual amazed at the thought that went into this documents, and I firmly believe that these are two of the most significant documents created by man, particularly with regards to self governing. They were cutting edge for their time, and are still highly respected to this day.

Consider the first couple of lines from the Declaration of Independence:

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

Wikipedia has this to say about the second sentence, which I have highlighted above:

This sentence has been called "one of the best-known sentences in the English language" and "the most potent and consequential words in American history". The passage has often been used to promote the rights of marginalized groups, and came to represent for many people a moral standard for which the United States should strive. This view was greatly influenced by Abraham Lincoln, who considered the Declaration to be the foundation of his political philosophy, and promoted the idea that the Declaration is a statement of principles through which the United States Constitution should be interpreted.
That is high praise indeed.
It is no secret that I am a big fan of heroic fantasy. It’s in the struggle between good and evil that everyday people step up to answer a bolder challenge than what they have previously expected. Heroic fantasy is centered on the hero answering the call and getting involved with something larger that self, and with it comes the recognition that this is worth fighting for, and if needed, to die for. It makes for exciting reading, and I never grow tired of this theme. This is exactly what happened in 1776.

When I read the above quotes from the Declaration of Independence, I know why ordinary men and women gave their lives so that we could have freedom today. Back in 1776, it was not a given that the colonies were going to win. It was a bit of a gamble, but the ideal of freedom was strong in the hearts of the leaders at that time. The founding fathers needed ordindary people to take up arms against their mother country. Not an easy thing to ask of, but the principles of the argument carried the day, and ordinary folks stepped up to the call. Of the 56 men that signed this great document, John Hancock deserves a special note as his signature is nearly 5 inches long, and I am sure that the King of England did not need his glasses to read it. He was not afraid to make a statement on what he believed, and it was quite a statement. In many ways, the American Revolution was a victory for the principles that the Declaration of Independence stood for, and I think this is what makes the United States a special place to live.

Xi'an - Terracotta Warriors

More pics from Xi'an. This time the terracotta warriors.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Review: Pathfinder #7 - Edge of Anarchy


This is the first installment of the Curse of the Crimson Throne Adventure Path, and I will be writing up reviews on all six parts with a final wrap up, very similar to what I did on first Adventure Path series. This adventure path returns to Varisa and centers around the city of Korvosal, with its troubled monarchy. It is interesting that I just blogged a bit about Cersei from Martin’s work, as there is some similarities between the two Queens. This adventure path has a number of tie in products to support it, which offers creative GM’s a number of add in options, which should enhance play. This series also contains quite a few special features that I think should raise the interest level for groups that like to try new stuff.

Nick Logue

I wrote a bit about Nick in my review of Pathfinder #3, which he wrote, so I will try not to repeat what I wrote earlier. It was about a year or so ago now that he accepted his current job with a college in England, which has taken him away from writing. This Pathfinder represents his last adventure write up for Paizo, but I would not be surprised to see him surface again. Right now he is a bit behind on his publish of Razor Coast that has a number of us chanting, “just write the book Nick.”


The layout for the new series offers a new and improved look. From its crimson red cover, to the new font, the layout is a lot nicer than the first series. The font on the earlier AP took a bit of criticism and it has been adjusted, which makes it a bit easier to read. The book itself is very similar to overall terms with the earlier series in that it is 96 pages not counting the covers, with the actual adventure taking up 51 of these pages, with an approximate word count of ~40,000 words. The book is divided up into several sections including the main adventure, two supporting articles (Harrow and People of the Road), the Pathfinder Journal, bestiary (six monsters) and the pregens.

One of the layout features that I like is the different colored heading bar and footer bars to differentiate the different sections of the book. The previous series had a color tab on the side, but I like the header and footer bars better.

It is also worth point out that the Pathfinder Journal is a bit cleaner in look than the first series.


As with all Pathfinders published to date, this one is in full color. Wayne again is the cover artist and has drawn up an otyugh bursting out of the sewers with the ionic paladin taking center stage. The interior art is excellent, and I do want to call out a couple of specific pieces. I like the shark on page 14, but then again Discovery Shark Week is a must see for me. The art in the bestiary is very good and is probably the best section of the book from an art stand point. It is also worth pointing out that the size chart at the beginning of the bestiary is discontinued, and is replaced by a specific art piece, which in this case is a devilfish attacking a small boat.


This first module in the series is an urban adventure and the campaign kicks off with the characters hired to go after a local criminal. The characters then discover a mysterious Harrow Deck that will stay with them throughout the campaign. Things pick up as they find a brooch that belongs to the queen. The characters find out that the King has died, and they are recruited by the Korvosan Guard to apprehend a woman named Trina Sabor. In the last part of the adventure the characters need to recover the missing body of a Shoanti warrior in order to stop a war. In the final moments of the adventure, the characters witness a heroic rescue by the legendary Blackjack and mysterious black ship approaches Korvosa.
Key features
There are a number of features that this module provides that I am going to list out below:
1. The Harrow Deck, which provides more than a bit of flavor to the adventure.

2. A fully mapped out city, which is supported by the Pathfinder Chronicles Korvosa supplement.

3. Imps and Dragons. This is just wonderful flavor that defines Korvosa.
4. A roof top chase, along with rules on how to play it.

5. Six new monsters, of which the reefclaw and the raktavarna are two of my favorites of the Pathfinder monsters.

6. The Pathfinder Journal, which continues the chronicles of Eando Kline.

Final notes

Let there be no mistake in that this is an urban adventure. Folks looking for a traditional dungeon crawl will be a bit disappointed. There is a lot of fluff included in the adventure write up, which supports more role play than roll play. Some may be turned off by the heavy story elements, which are significantly stronger than in the first AP. On the flip side, this AP hangs together better than the other series, with well defined tie ins to the following adventures in this series. The Harrow Deck and roof top chase provide something a bit different for the experienced group, and I applaud the Paizo team for adding these features into this adventure. The Harrow Deck will continue to be used throughout the campaign, and I think it is a very interesting feature. There is one small dungeon in the adventure that is at the end. Most groups should be able to finish it within a session or two, as it is not very big.

Overall, I do give this module a thumbs up, but I recognize that this particular adventure is a bit of a mixed bag. Groups that really like story heavy urban adventures are going to be really happy with this one, while groups that enjoy the traditional dungeon crawl are probably not going to like it. I personally really like the way in which the Harrow Deck is used, and that makes this a more intriguing adventure to run.
Rating: 3.5 Dragons (on a scale of 5)