Friday, July 18, 2014

Basic Dungeons and Dragons 5e v0.1, Part 1 (pgs. Cover - 2): Learning About Role-Playing Games.


D&D Basic Cover by "Jester" David (source)

With the publication of each new edition of Dungeons and Dragons it has typically been done at the expense of the previous editions. Advanced Dungeons and Dragons had to come about because Original was too sloppy and unfocused. Second Edition had to come about because Advanced was too difficult to read and was filled with lots of rules no one ever used. Third Edition was required because Second was too simple and didn't provide the modern consumer with the sort of options that they demanded. Fourth Edition had to come about because Third made quadratic wizards and linear fighters (whatever that noise means) and had these incredibly archaic holdover rules that no one really wanted anyway!

This edition is different though. Unlike every previous version of Dungeons and Dragons that has ever been produced this edition is proud of where this hobby came from and makes an effort to show both old and new players that they should be too. This pride begins on the title page where this beautiful disclaimer appears and is re-emphasized throughout the later document:
Disclaimer: Wizards of the Coast is not responsible for the consequences of splitting up the party, sticking appendages in the mouth of a leering green devil face, accepting a dinner invitation from bugbears, storming the feast hall of a hill giant steading, angering a dragon of any variety, or saying yes when the DM asks, “Are you really sure?” (Mearls, pg. 1)
This disclaimer isn't just a string of silly events that only hold meaning to older gamers; it's a beautiful statement on the shared nature of this hobby. Everyone who has ever picked up a pair of dice and played the game has made the glorious mistake of splitting the party. It almost always ends in death or misfortune but some of the best memories you will have from playing this game will come when you've made that mistake. It's a universal move that has been described in countless blog posts, gaming backroom stories, and even in song.


The green devil face is one of those iconic moments from the Tomb of Horrors that continues to be one of those memorable moments that stays with you for years after you've explored the dungeon and is talked about even today by players who have made it far enough within that wicked module to know what happens next. It's been celebrated and mourned since it first appeared at Origins in 1975.

Green Devil Mouth by Erol Otus


The invitation for dinner came from the module B2 Keep on the Borderland. In this iconic adventure the players enter a bugbear lair and find a scene that courts both disaster and player ingenuity:
". . . The group of bugbears is not numerous, but what it lacks in numbers, it makes up for in strength and cunning. There are signs beside the entrance cave in kobold, orcish, goblin, etc. Each says: 'Safety, security and repose for all humanoids who enter - WELCOME! (Come in and report to the first guard on the left for a hot meal and bed assignment.)' . . .” (Gygax, pg. 19)
Storming the Hall of the Hill Giant Steading is a reference to another classic module, G1 Steading of the Hill Giant Chief (which is the first part in the larger Against the Giants module that's available for purchase now). This module was part of the classic G, D, Q series of modules that formed a larger omni-campaign that sent thousands of players across the surface world and down into the depths of Underdark for the first time. And this particular part of the adventure sets a bloody tone for what follows in the series because in this room lurks a fearsome group of monsters that would easily decimate many prepared groups - let alone those fools who rush headlong into danger without care for the consequences of their actions. 

Cartoon by Jason Bradly Thompson (source)

The last two warnings in the disclaimer are actually just sound advice that never gets listened to no matter how many times it happens. So let me provide those new players with some solid advice: do not anger dragons, for you are tender and taste delicious with ketchup; and whenever you hear the Dungeon Master say, "Are you sure," the correct answer is "Hold up, let me think about that," as bad things are about to head your way (which is when I usually go ahead because it's more fun).

If these nods towards the past were all that existed within the Basic Game then it would be nothing more than window dressing and should be forgotten entirely. Luckily, as will be discussed later there are far more examples of Wizards showing off how much we have to be proud of in the past of this hobby and how much we have to look forward to as well.

Introducing the Role-Playing Game

The next four pages of the Basic Game are designed to introduce new players to the idea of playing a role-playing game and if you've never been involved in one before than this section will be incredibly valuable to you. Yet I will caution you that the example of play that appears in this section is incredibly brief and won't give you all the answers in how to play. That was intentionally done by the Wizards of the Coast design team.

Why?

Most examples of how to play either present the game in a manner that doesn't reflect how it's actually played or it establishes a standard of play that may not be actually possible when you're sitting down with your friends to play the game. Luckily there are some great examples of how to play the game - with actual players and Dungeon Masters - available today that you can find on YouTube, RPGMP3.com, and through countless other podcasts.

Perhaps the most popular series that showcases how to play Dungeons and Dragons is the Penny Arcade Dungeons and Dragons Games. While they are playing the Fourth Edition version of the game the basics are still there: the player creativity and complete rejection of the Dungeon Master's desired goals; the humor; and most importantly the fun. The video below has the entire series from the very first all audio games to the most recent episode with Morgan Webb at PAX this year (see D&D Live Game at PAX East: Guest Player Revealed for more).




Basic Dungeons & Dragons 5e v0.1
Part 1 (pgs. Cover - 2): Learning About Role-Playing Games
Part 4 (pg. 10): The Problem with Experience

Works Cited
Gygax, Gary. Keep on the Borderlands. Lake Geneva, WI: TSR, 1981. pg 19. PRINT

Mearls, Mike and Jeremy Crawford. D&D Basic Rules. Renton, WA: Hasbro, 2014. Cover. PDF

21 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. I'm already happy. Thanks for giving the origins of the disclaimer. It does a good job of addressing the Old-Schooler with Easter Eggs, but is jst vague and funny enough for any D&D player to get. And if your new to the game? Hopefully this will get you excited to learn the bits yet also shows the fun playful side of this great game.

    p.s.I always loved that Picture of the adventuring group showing off their Dragon kill. And I always imagined that the DM had the Mother Dragon in his notes waiting to unleash her vengeance on these poor proud saps.

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    1. I'm glad you're enjoying it!

      "p.s.I always loved that Picture of the adventuring group showing off their Dragon kill. And I always imagined that the DM had the Mother Dragon in his notes waiting to unleash her vengeance on these poor proud saps."

      Me too! Ever since I first saw it it's been the thought bouncing about my head.

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    1. It really is the most fun, don't you know!

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  4. First, thanks for a great post, and for embarking on a detailed review!

    Second, LARRY ELMORE ART ON THE 5E STARTER SET LOOKS GREAT! A dream come true for me!

    Third, I think splitting the party became a deadly decision for gamers across the world not just because there's safety in numbers, but because it means more work for the DM!!! Seriously, how many of us who have run games have gotten pissed at players making us do the extra work of dealing with multiple groups of characters? When the party splits, suddenly you have to run your session like a TV show or a movie that is cutting back and forth between difference locations! COME ON, MAN! Being a DM is tough enough. Now you guys want to go all these different ways at once?! You're killing me!

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    1. The point of my third item above was this: since DMs were getting hit with split parties and getting pissed, they then started PUNISHING players by throwing more monsters, traps, etc. at them! "Oh you want to split the party, eh? Ok then! Oh, look, one group has encountered a young dragon, and the other bumped into 2,000 orcs! Roll initiative, folks!"

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    2. It shouldn't kill the DM, it might kill a few PCS.

      old post on splitting the party: http://aeonsnaugauries.blogspot.com/2009/10/split-party.html

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    3. See my experience with splitting the party came from running large groups where I would have them split off into two, three, sometimes four smaller groups of four to five players and still having to run for them. Lots of fun all around (and lots of work for me). Still, I enjoyed the hell out of it!

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    4. Y'know splitting the party is so ubiquitous in D&D, I'm designing some mechanics to make splitting the party fun & profitable -- not to mention easier to manage.

      I'd explain it here, but it works because of a whole bunch of integrated mechanics working together -- so it'd almost be easier to play than explain. Still working on the bugs of course, but I think it'll be nice one day to sit back and say, "remember when we used to worry about splitting the party?" :D

      --Dither

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  5. At least the book holds up for the first couple pages. ;)

    --Dither

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    1. I downloaded the basic rules because... you know, duh... and for some reason I remember skimming through combat and noticing that grappling looked complicated again. It's one of those things I "check on" in games, 'cause of my experience with 3e. Have you used 5e grappling yet?

      --Dither

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  6. Nice write Charles, as always on the piece! :)

    I especially liked the part where you have made ​​the connections between the disclaimer and the old modules. Very quick-witted! ;)

    Ah, to be honest I much prefer the cover of Elmore that you have chosen instead of the original.

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    1. Yeah, it would have been nice if they had found a way to put an actual cover on the thing . . .

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  7. This was really a great read. Keep it coming!

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    1. Thank you Chris, I really appreciate that!

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  8. Good analysis. I really enjoyed discovering this patch of Easter Eggs upon download. The paragraph is a grade example of insider codetalk. Roughly translated: "This new edition is for you Old Schoolers, too."

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