Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Avoiding Monsters in OD&D

At the risk of going over some well trod territory, I thought I’d share some notes I’d jotted down as something worthy of investigation - The section entitled Avoiding Monsters in the Underworld and Wilderness Adventures book (volume 3 of the original D&D booklets). The rules laid out there are very specific - some of them I’ve used and some of them I haven’t (probably since I originally started playing with Moldvay’s rules). Now that I play S&W: Whitebox, it’s interesting to more closely examine the beige books’ idiosyncracies.

One item of note is that monsters in OD&D will automatically attack and/or pursue unless their adversaries are obviously stronger and the monsters would know better. This is versus Moldvay, where some monsters always act in the same way and attack, but the reactions of most vary: “The DM can always choose the monster’s reaction to fit the dungeon, but if he decides not to do this, a DM may use the reaction table…”

So basically, Moldvay says “Use your best judgement” whereas OD&D says “Monsters are monsters - their raison d’être is to attack you. If it was otherwise, they’d be potentially dangerous animals or perhaps intelligent beast-men. We’re not on a zoological expedition kids, we’re monster hunting.

Also, Moldvay has a Reaction Table but OD&D has a Random Actions by Monsters table. In Moldvay, the monster might even become your friend! In OD&D, the monster might respond positively to something, but we can still assume that it wants to kill us. This seems contradicted by the inclusion of neutral and lawfully aligned creatures listed in Monsters and Treasure (volume 2). Maybe those should just have been listed separately as “Other, Non-human Beings."

One might conclude at least a couple of things from this reading: First, that OD&D as written is decidedly more hack and slash. Second, that there isn’t as much moral ambiguity in OD&D as there is in later editions. Maybe it was the fact that the game was becoming popular with kids and criticisms were being raised at the time that led to these particular rules being revised. Nobody wants to be accused of teaching children that there are intelligent beings not worthy of moral consideration precisely because they don’t consider you worthy of moral consideration (they just want to kill you). But…that’s just what monsters are - that’s what they do.

Maybe all subsequent hand wringing about goblin baby killing could have been very easily avoided if the term "monster" had simply been better defined. Or maybe it’s not that easy... just easier to let the dice be the judge.

6 comments:

DrBargle said...

"Maybe it was the fact that the game was becoming popular with kids and criticisms were being raised..."

I'd have thought that it was the opposite - as D&D (and RPGs in general) grew out of their wargame origins into something distinct, more sophisticated gamers started to think about goblin culture, psychology, etc. It seems to me that despite this, kids always played the game as a straight-up monster bash (we did), and only when we grew up a little (but not too much) did we start to think we could negotiate with the goblins, intimidate them, ally with them against the kobolds, etc.

Trey said...

I think we generally slew monsters, because they were gonna slay us (given the chance) and that was what the characters were there for. I think we were fairly comfortable with our characters as amoral treasure-seekers (a few paladins aside)--to the extent we ever considered such issues.

It is an interesting change, though, and you raise a good point.

JDJarvis said...

Kids don't worry about bashing monsters. Young helpless monsters are also easier to kill. The horrors committed by my fellow 11-14 year old players on imaginary foes would have made Vlad the impaler blush.

Bargaining and bribing monsters is certainly more sophisticated. I've definitely heard more sophisticated players complain about hack and slash dungeons than I've ever heard from kids and new players.

ze bulette said...

I agree with the comments here and am not saying that the game didn’t evolve out of wargaming and the players desire for something more sophisticated. That’s definitely borne out by some other parts of the section on avoiding monsters in v. 3.

I think a lot of inspiration for the rules’ evolution was unconscious though - I'm considering here if moral concerns, or concern for parental criticism for Basic D&D came into it and to what extent. Yes, as kids it’s more of a simple monster bash - but I’m talking about the way the rules were written, not about how we played it as kids.

jasonalexanderscanlon said...

That's not my reading of the books.

jasonalexanderscanlon said...

Sorry to dig up a super-old post, but i'm surprised everybody seems to agree. There are quite a few things in the text that do not conform to this view, though many are not strictly mechanical (check out the Explanation of Abilities).

I might concede your reading as difficult to deny except for the passages appearing in Men and Magic under the heading: NON-PLAYER CHARACTERS.

Here it states that:

"Monsters can be lured into service if they are of the same basic alignment as the player-character, OR they can be Charmed and thus ordered to serve. Note, however, that the term 'monster' includes men found in the dungeons..."

(emphasis mine)

I could see this being shoehorned into your reading, but i would be inclined against it, as this passage appears immediately before the section explaining capture. This must be what led me to the understanding (right or wrong) that there is an opportunity for alliance with 'monsters' that does not require a morale check (the method specified for capture of monsters).

By the way, the Reaction Table does appear here, though it seems identical in spirit to the Random Actions Table.

I had these passages at hand because i've clipped the vital bits from the lbbs to make a reference and a screen. They way they are organized, it's a small wonder nobody has much to say about this.

Now please update more frequently so i can comment on a current discussion!

Thank you!

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