Saturday, November 20, 2010

Reading Dragons at Dawn Part I

After a few weeks which have been far too hectic I'm going to steal some spare time and start to put down some thoughts and impressions from reading Dragons at Dawn. Dave Arneson and his Blackmoor campaign have fascinated me for a long time and I have used concepts from his campaign in a few of my own. Also, Ken St Andre and Dave Arneson are two of my main source of inspiration for starting this blog. I was very excited when I first heard that Dan Boggs was going to publish his recreation of the rules used during the very dawn of our hobby. Let's dive into it.

Look and feel
The first thing I noticed was the font. For some discernible reason Mr. Boggs decided to use a non serif font for the main text. For the life of me I can't understand why he choose that font and the one column layout. It's harder to read than necessary and the font also looks quite ugly.

Since I once found a very cool disclaimer once in a game (I think it was Chill) about any likeness to persons living dead or undead being coincidental, I these days read the small print on the first page closely.

"Authors are encouraged to create derivative works for use with this product" and "Any number of print or electronic copies of this product ... may be freely made by any purchaser of this product for their own use and for the temporary use of any players participating in a Dragons at Dawn game"

How about that? This Boggs fellow is apparently a man with the right attitude. Those two sentences alone made me very positive to this work. Even if the font was a bit harder to read than necessary.

Introduction and designer notes
In this section Boggs makes it clear that his intention with D@D is to present a piece of gaming archaeology. The intention is to capture Dave's original style of play, the rules behind the D&D rules so to speak. I think it is kind of essential for this kind of play to have a loose framework whereupon to base referee rulings. In this case it will be by necessity, since much of the lore have been lost. It's very interesting that a manuscript from the communications between Dave and Gary have been unearthed and have been used as a source for this game together with the Judges Guild First Fantasy Campaign product, and interviews with the players of Dave's campaign. This is as good a picture as we are ever going to get of the FFC. It makes me giddy just to think about.

Now, I do which some parts of that heritage had been handled better. The notes Arneson left are sketchy and the same must be said of most other sources. That makes it twice as interesting to know when the author of D@D have added some glue, and when the sources are coherent enough to be presented as is. In some places it's explicit, but I'd have liked to have had, say, notes in sidebars about how well this or that is covered in the source or had to be cobbled together. That being said, this is a gold mine and should have been published ages ago!

Points of divergence
Quite early in the book you understand that this is not your regular D&D game. Already on page 3, in the glossary section, you are told the regular unaided healing rate, one HPV per day. Those of us who remember reading the Basic D&D set and searching for rates of natural healing in vain will smile upon seeing that.

Since the game developed quite a bit as the Blackmoor campaign went on, there are actually two sets of rules in D@D. The first is the Basic Game where the levels are few and the classes even fewer (Warrior or Wizard, just like in T&T), and the Expanded Game with more classes. The magic is also different in the two rules.

In T&T 7th ed. the designer tells you that unless you have modified the game you have not really played T&T. In this game you have to. I imagine many readers will look at the Basic and Extended game and cherry pick parts they like the most. At the minimum you have to decide to just go with the Basics.

One thing I found very interesting was the notes on cooperative and competitive play. When the Blackmoor campaign started, some players were playing bad guys. Just like when you have a miniatures battle you have two sides. To put that up front makes you realize that this is a game where you must leave all preconceived notions of how the game works behind.

There's more to come
Since I don't like over long posts I'm going to break here. There will be more. Next up are the stats, six of them and they are not like D&D, and the classes. See you next time.
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