Friday, February 12, 2021

Oe Read Through: Part 5 -- D&D Volume III (Continued): The Underworld and Wilderness Adventures


Page numbers reference the Premium editions unless otherwise noted.

What is this?

I am reading my way through original Dungeons & Dragons, having started with the 1972 printing (2nd edition) of Chainmail, and specifically the fantasy chapter therein. I have no agenda or desire to be thorough; I'm literally just commenting on things I find interesting; hopefully you will find them interesting too.

Hex Maps

One of the age old questions is "What is the perfect size for a wilderness hex?" It's right up there with "Pointy-top hex or flat-top hex?" (Aside, I have done several polls on this and a clear majority prefer flat-topped.) Gygax's original preferred scale was "the greatest distance across a hex is about 5 miles." That being said, in 1975 he published an article suggesting a 1-mile hex, so the above comment might have been specific to the Outdoor Survival board (see previous post). 


Gygax goes so far as to include encounter tables for Deserts/Arid Plains that represent Barsoom, with Red/Black/Yellow/White Martians, Tharks, Apts, Banths, Thoats, Calots, White Apes, Orluks, Sith, Darseen. This adds to numerous references to make ERB's Mars series, arguably, the most referenced work in D&D. Even more than Tolkien (despite references to hobbits, balrogs, and such). Clearly Gygax was intentional about this inclusion. Under Other Worlds, Gygax says "Mars is given in these rules, but some other fantastic world or setting could be equally possible" (24).

Mass Battles

Gygax still leans on Chainmail in Oe for resolving mass combat and prefers miniatures on a field of 4' x 4' minimum and ideally 6' x 6' (25). But he notes that one could use paper counters and a hexagon or staggered-square board. I've been thinking a lot about how one might add mass battles on a reasonably sized hex map to Old School Essentials and have been working on some rules for that. Stay tuned? Anyway, Gygax covers command and control, naval battles, etc. All in frustratingly erratic detail, to be sure, but enough to perhaps get people going. 


This is one of the most important paragraphs in the whole series, to my thinking, and it is the final paragraph as its section title indicates. The Afterword. Gary's final thought (emphasis added by me):

"There are unquestionably areas which have been glossed over. While we deeply regret the necessity, space requires that we put in the essentials only, and the trimming will often have to be added by the referee and his players. We have attempted to furnish an ample framework, and building should be both easy and fun. In this light, we urge you to refrain from writing for rule interpretations or the like unless you are absolutely at a loss, for everything herein is fantastic, and the best way is to decide how you would like it to be, and then make it just that way! On the other hand, we are not loath to answer your questions, but why have us do any more of your imagining for you? Write to us and tell about your additions, ideas, and what have you. We could always do with a bit of improvement in our refereeing" (36).

This is pretty clearly a different Gygax than we see a few years later, as he is issuing the AD&D books. After a few years of answering rules questions and commenting (disparagingly) on others' interpretations, he tried to tighten down and codify D&D in a way that some feel killed the spirit of openness in the game. 

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