Monday, September 29, 2014

Old D&D editions and clones - D@D

The second of the old D&D editions and clones is Dragons At Dawn. I find gaming archaeology to be a fascinating subject, and the very dawn of the RPG hobby is that Final Frontier before we go into the Great Beyond. Naturally a game that tries to reimagine how Dave Arneson's game looked like in the years before D&D would pike my interest. Does it hold up?

My first thought is, who in their right mind would lay out a book all in a non serif typeface?


The book starts with classes, traits and XP tables for the different classes. It's kind of the way you expect it to be done, with the focus being on how to get a character ready for adventure and then you get into rules systems and how to set up a game. Interestingly enough, this game that has as its express intent to model the early game of Dave Arneson before D&D, is sometimes just as quirky and jumbled as OD&D is sometimes accused of being. You would think it should be presented in a more ordered fashion, or modern if you like. If you wonder what I mean by that, I might give as example that the XP tables doesn't mention that you reset XP after each level. That is mentioned much later in the book, in the section about how you get experience. Why is that much later in the book anyway?

This book is by intent trying to be faithful to a source that in many is no longer around, so it's maybe natural that it sometimes feel disjointed. The author actually say it demands to be house ruled. But, I still wonder a bit about the presentation.

The second half of the book, after characters, lists equipment, monsters and how to run a campaign. There are some interesting ideas in here, with random events for the campaign year and magic spell preparations that takes months! Just like OD&D the bigger picture is part of the game.

How does it feel having read it once more? Well, I like the quirky character classes with their unusual abilities. I like the magic system which is based on physical components, more like alchemy, and also the spell point system. But, here is also where one of Dave Arneson's stupidest ideas really makes me cringe. You see, magic is always touched by the alignment of the creator, and if you touch a magic item of a different alignment than your own you will suffer some bad effects. If all magic is powders, potions and "technomagic" gear in the style of Tekumel how can it have an alignment? If it's some other planar energy it is easier to grasp, but since this kind of magic is kind of like misunderstood technology, how can it have an alignment? I mean, a laser pistol? I guess the defenders of the alignment curse will figure out some explanation...

Do I want to play this game? Yes, I want to. The combat rules where the characters feels more like toy soldiers than any other role playing game and might run away if you fail a morale check, does it work? Yes, I like it. The saving roll system where you on the spot and depending on the situation rolls against a stat, does it work? Yes, I like it!

This game is so different from any other D&D game I at once become intrigued. Also, the combat system makes more sense that D&D ever did, and I really like some things like the negative AC of an undead being matched to the amount of bonus you need on your weapon to hit. Stocking dungeons and other adventures using Protection Points, which you then "buy" up as HD when stocking and restocking is cool. Having to spend your hard earned treaure to get XP for it is also a fabulous idea. There are some really elegant design gems in there.

Even though the idea of more retro games made me sigh, reading Dragons At Dawn once more makes me perk up and want to run a game, like it's 1971 once more...
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