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Back in Black
“Simpler and Better,” Part 1 of 2
by Kenton Kilgore
In re-starting (or should that be, “starting anew?”) my 1st Edition AD&D campaign, I wanted to fiddle with the rules to make the game itself better and easier to play. Why? Well, “better” because some parts of 1e AD&D were, frankly, lame. “Easier to play” because I’m a busy guy, my veteran players are just as busy (if not more so), and as for my new players, some have only played 4e, some have never role-played at all. The graybeards aren’t going to have time for anything too complicated, and the newbies won’t get it.
To many gamers, “better” and “easier to play” are contradictory objectives: how many times have you heard a 40K lifer complain that every iteration after 2nd Edition has been merely a “bland, dumbed-down version for kids?” They can’t possibly imagine that a game that’s uncomplicated can be any good. I argue the opposite: any idiot can make something more complex than it needs to be—what’s difficult is making something easy to use, yet enjoyable.
Thus, in retooling the game for my group, I adopted the motto “Simpler and Better.” I looked over the rulebooks—specifically the Players Handbook (PHB) and the Unearthed Arcana (UA)—and made a number of changes. First, I’ll discuss the changes I made to make my home version of AD&D simpler; in the next article, I’ll describe what I did to make it what I feel is better.
Races. The PHB gave AD&D players the option of humans, half elves, high elves, wood elves, hill dwarves, gnomes, halflings, and half-orcs. UA added grey elves, wild elves, valley elves, dark elves, mountain dwarves, grey dwarves, and deep gnomes; it also had some stuff to flesh out the differences among the various types (Hairfoots, Stouts, and Tallfellows) of halflings.
That’s a lot of choices, but so what? How many varieties of elf do you need to have in a game? Are there really that many differences between grey elves and high elves, or between wood elves and wild elves—and could anyone besides Robert De Niro portray those in a role-playing game? I think not. Hill dwarves vis-à-vis mountain dwarves—aren’t we just splitting hairs? And unless the DM was running an Underdark campaign, you probably didn’t want to play somebody (dark elf, grey dwarf, or deep gnome) that’s allergic to something as basic as, say, sunlight. Having a lot of choices isn’t all that when the choices are bad (Drow as PCs? Srsly?), trivial (the aforementioned halflings), or never used (did anyone ever actually play a svirfneblin? Me, either).
For my new campaign, I’m keeping the races to:
Why no half-orcs? Because it’s been my experience that half-orc player characters (PCs) can be trouble: they don’t get along with other demi-humans, especially elves (which most of my current players favor); they usually have low Charisma scores (which don’t help when dealing with non-player characters); and some gamers view playing a half-orc as a license to be a dick—particularly if the half-orc PC is also of evil alignment. So “no” to half-orcs, and, by the way, “no” to evil PCs: if you want to play a tusked extra from The Two Towers who gets his jollies by pulling wings off pixies, you can game with some other DM.
Classes. The PHB presented clerics, druids, fighters, paladins, rangers, magic-users, illusionists, thieves, assassins, monks, and bards; the PHB also gave options for psionic characters. UA gave us cavaliers, barbarians, and thief-acrobats; it also expanded material for druids and rangers, and gave rules for fighters specializing in weapons.
First to go from my new-and-hopefully-improved campaign were cavaliers and barbarians: once you have those, coupled with paladins and rangers, why would anyone want to play a plain-old, “boring” fighter? In my new campaign, if you want to be a “cavalier,” buy some plate mail, a horse, and a lance; if you want to be the next Conan, get some chainmail and a big axe. But either way, you’re still a fighter and not some hyper-specialized subclass.
Once I got rid of cavaliers, there was no more fiddly “weapon-of-choice” rules that UA had saddled paladins with. To keep them in line with fighters and rangers, I let them use the weapon specialization options presented in UA. There—that was easy.
Thief-acrobat? Assistant Jungle Guide Patrick Eibel used to play one back in the day: I think the character pole-vaulted all of once in several years of gaming, and he never tight-roped walked, either. Monks? I thought they were more suited to an Oriental Adventures setting, so out they went. Psionics? Too weird, too sci-fi, and too much hassle.
So for the new campaign, the classes are:
As far as multi-classing, rather than the complicated lists of combinations that the PHB and UA gave, I ruled that, within certain limits, a demi-human can pick one main class (cleric, fighter, magic-user, or thief) and one other main class or a sub-class not of the same class as the main one. Thus, cleric/fighter is fine, cleric/ranger might be okay (depending on if the demi-human in question can be a ranger), but cleric/druid is not okay. Nor can anyone combine classes with bard: a bard’s a bard, and nothing but a bard. Details to come in next month’s article.
Other Stuff Simplified
Encumbrance. In the new campaign, I’ll only be counting each PC’s armor, shield, and heaviest weapon, reasoning that pouches, sacks, torches, rope, etc., add minimal weight and bulk. If PCs are carrying lots of weapons, arrows, coins, etc., then I’ll factor that in for encumbrance.
Experience. I’ve never required PCs to train between levels, and I’m not going to start now. Training is strictly done OTJ (on the job).
The Moral of the Story, or How Any of
This is Applicable to 40K
Given that 40K definitely has hard-and-fast “rules” instead of AD&D’s squishy “parameters,” there’s not much that you or I can do to make the actual playing of 40K simpler. However, you can still apply the “simpler” principle if you’re introducing someone to 40K. For example, there’s no use in going into minutiae and telling your new gamers about every variant of Space Marine army out there (“You could play Salamanders or White Scars or Crimson Fists or Imperial Fists or Space Sharks or Howling Griffons or Silver Skulls or Blood Ravens or Raven Guard or Angels of Vengeance or…”). Limiting the discussion to Ultramarines, Space Wolves, Blood Angels, Dark Angels, and Black Templars is probably more than enough choice for a newbie. If they want to learn more about Space Marines, they will, in good time.
Similarly, you don’t have to go into detail when describing the 40K universe: folks who aren’t yet (or never will be) hardcore fanboys like you and me don’t need to know about the Adeptus Mechanicus, the Adeptus Arbites, the various Ork klanz, or that there used to be these guys called Squats. Whenever I explain the 40K setting to non-gamers, I tell them, “There’s the human empire, protected by the Space Marines and the Imperial Guard; there are Chaos Space Marines, who used to be good-guy Space Marines but turned traitor and are now trying to destroy the empire; and then there are various aliens who fight the empire, the Chaos Marines, and everyone else.”
Next time, I’ll discuss how I made
what I consider to be improvements to AD&D.
More Black in Black
Posted June 2010
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