Sunday, 15 November 2009

I Got My Philosophy

One thing I rather like about traditional, sandboxy D&D is that it firmly believes in self-empowerment. Once you've rolled up a character his or her fate is essentially in your hands; it's up to you to make things happen. You're the master of your own destiny - unless of course the bad luck of the dice declare otherwise. In this sense it provides valuable life lessons to youngsters (especially the geeky and bookish youngsters who the game attracts) - take risks, have adventures, make something of your life; even if you fail, which is a distinct possibility because the universe is a random and uncaring place, that's more interesting than staying in your comfort zone. Whether or not people learn those lessons is debatable, but I think they are there.

Another interesting aspect of early D&D is that it throws into sharp focus what I believe to be the crux of the human condition, namely: Are we bound by our genes or can we transcend them? Of course, the PHB doesn't use words like "genes". What I'm referring to is the way the character generation process, performed the way God intended it (3d6 in order for stats), etches the character's strengths and weaknesses in stone; they are his or her DNA as surely as your individual genome determines how tall you are and what colour eyes you have. On the one hand, this is restrictive: a character with an INT of 6 can't become a mage, just like a person as bad at maths as me can't become a quantum physicist. But on the other hand, stats can never restrict player freedom once the game has begun: it is never possible for a DM to say to a player "You can't attempt task x because your y stat is too low." You can try anything. This is somewhat contradictory, but it is also very human, at a basic level; it is the paradox that faces all of us. Your nature moulds you, but your consciousness fights to transcend that mould.

These are the thoughts once has after a few beers down at the pub watching England get beaten by Brazil in a meaningless international friendly.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. This is ancient game knowledge:

    "You play the hand you're dealt."

    Case in point--the word down at the bottom of this page WOULD be "vaginas", except the "G" is missing.

    With that "G" it could've gone on to a long and glorious career in any number of places, but hey, even without the "g" it still went on to find work as a verification-word and I'm proud of it.

  3. A man can fail many times, but he isn't a failure
    until he begins to blame somebody else John Burroughs

  4. Just so, Noisms. You should drink more, it suits you.

  5. Yes, this desire of our consciousness to transcend our given mold IS, as you put it, "so human" -- in the same sense that Capt. James Kirk so often uses that word. An inspiring post, thanks.

  6. Your philosophy is sound, and fun. However, I don't think it's always a feature of "traditional, sandboxy D&D". Most of the DMs I started playing with (c. 1977) would not allow you to try anything. "You can't do that, you're a magic user. You can't do that, you only have a 6 Intellegence". The attitude was, "rules are rules". If the rules say a 10' fall causes 1D6 damage, then no amount of describing how your character carefully lowers himself over the edge of the pit, hangs at full extension so he's only 3' from the floor, and drops the rest of the way will save you from 1D6 damage. Why? "You're a magic user. Magic users can't climb". Even in the later 3x editions, some DMs reasoned, "If a feat is required to do x, then a character without that feat can't even attempt x". Any DM can use any rulest to be a dick.

    On the other hand, some DMs would allow some chance, no matter how restrictive the rules were. It's a matter of choice.

    To be clear, I heartily agree with your philosophy. But another DM could look at the exact same rules and choose to be a dick.

  7. You know, in B/X play you CAN play a magic-user with a 6 in intelligence. You're just going to have a much harder time than the guy who's "good at the maths."

    And that is YOUR choice...your fate really IS in your hands (the only time ability scores preclude you from a class is the demi-human classes, 'cause let's face it, you need a little luck to be born "special").

    This is one of the many reasons I prefer B/X to all other editions of the game.

  8. Zak: One of the many reasons why one should have no truck with points-based systems.

    Clovis: I blame the parents myself. ;)

    E. G. Palmer: If you knew how much I drink you wouldn't be saying that.

    Carter Soles: I am rather like Capt. James Kirk in my fashion. Ahem.

    Leo Knight: As I've written before on this blog, the solution to most difficulties in this hobby is: Don't game with dickheads.

    JB: It'll never be better than BECMI and you KNOW it. ;)

  9. Somehow a simple uplifting observation.

  10. You're missing an important part of the genetic picture though, Noisms... race-based level limits. Until D&D3, you could do whatever you wanted to try and escape the effect of those dice rolls, but if you were an elf you were never going to get to cast Gate, even if you were a mage.

    And the multi-classing rules meant that if you ever made the mistake of choosing a single class to play (always a mistake, because the doubling increment of xp makes single class play very silly), you would never be able to correct it later - you'd be doomed to be an 8th level halfling thief, tops.

  11. Kent: Thanks!

    faustusnotes: Very true. I'm not sure what you mean about multiclassing though. Multiclassing basically means that gaining new levels takes twice as long as singleclassing, so it's a decent trade off.