Tuesday, 9 September 2008

White Box Volume II: Monsters & Treasure - First Impressions

Another list of first impressions:
  • Monsters only need one line of text to set out all their stats and abilities. This was a tradition that was maintained through 1st and 2nd edition AD&D (all you really need to know, even with 2nd edition, is the number of hit dice, the armour class and the morale rating) and it's a shame it's fallen by the wayside.
  • There's no attempt at locating the monsters in a fully-realised gameworld. Dervishers are just "fanatically religious nomads"; Mermen are "similar to berzerkers in most respects but they fight at -1 on land"; kobolds should be "treated as if they are goblins". That phrase, why let us do your imagining for you, echoes through the pages. It has its advantages and disadvantages; the 2nd edition Monstrous Manual provided sheets and sheets of information on each monster, but it was chock full of good ideas to spur your imagination and creativity. There's none of that in OD&D. On the other hand, you have a blank slate on which to work, more or less.
  • It's a book written by wargamers: "Buccaneers are water-going Bandits in every respect except composition of their force: Light Foot = 60%; Light Crossbow = 30%; and Heavy Crossbow (Chainmail) = 10%." Giants "act as light catapults".
  • The gnoll is patently not a hyena-thing. It is a "cross between a gnome and a troll." (See picture below.)
  • No fantasy puritanism here: robots and androids are given a big stamp of approval. That's started me off thinking about a Viriconium game again...


  1. The gnoll is patently not a hyena-thing. It is a "cross between a gnome and a troll." (See picture below.)

    Yep, much like the Dwarf Swordsmen and the Bearded Elf, they don't handle the monsters in the same way. In fact, they make the Bugbear look like a naked harry man with twisted, gnarly hands, and a head of a pumpkin, like a Jack-O-Lantern (page 67, Supplement I: Greyhawk).

  2. Although I remember reading somewhere (possibly on Sham's blog?) that the pumpkin-headed Bugbear was a mistake on the part of the artist, after he misheard Gary Gygax saying something else.

  3. The original monster manual amused me, but I miss the monster fluff and description from later works. Yeah, I know the philosophy of not doing our imagining for us ran through it, but I like reading about the fictional beasts in enough detail to imagine one standing there in front of me. I don't really get that vibe with the brown book.

    Still fun to read, and the art is interesting in the way that I feel lik eI could duplicate it myself.

  4. David: Oh yeah, the original MM isn't a patch on the 2nd edition iterations.

    I'm with you on the art, too. I've been thinking about releasing some of my game stuff here on the blog as pdfs, and it makes me realise I could probably do most of the art myself and have it reach the level of the brown books.

  5. Malcodon: By the way, I am definitely going to create Dwarf Swordsmen and Bearded Elf as character classes someday.

  6. It always struck me as odd that the first "official" D&D setting was Petal Throne. But now I'm starting to realize how that could have happened. I mean, these monster descriptions sound like the barest of bare write-ups. I could easily shift my thinking to imagine a non-European, non-Tolkienian setting that can still use the rules as written. That's much harder to do with later editions. Pretty much impossible to do nowadays without a whole "from the ground up" redesign.

  7. Sirlarkins: Yeah. The advantage of the tiny monster descriptions is more or less complete creative freedom. The disadvantage is that it's less interesting to read and you're faced with perhaps too much freedom.

  8. Sirlarkins: That is a really good thing, as D&D was meant to be universal enough to cover all sorts of literature - from the Celtic/medieval-style of Middle Earth, the Biblical/Arabian Nights-style of Hyboria, the Asian/Egyptian/Mezzo-American-style of Tékumel, or even some Greek Harryhusen-style setting. This was a real grass-roots, do-it-yourself game, and you could add/remove what elements you wished. It was not a guide book on how to play-out a fantasy, but a structure to help you play in a fantasy world you make up.