Categories
D&D OD&D Tabletop RPGs

Agreement, rough edges, and combat as sport vs. war

This post is a round-up of three things that crossed my path and grabbed my attention, all RPG-related.

Gygax on agreement

I found this fascinating 1975 Gary Gygax quote over on The Acaeum:

Dave and I disagree on how to handle any number of things, and both of our campaigns differ from the “rules” found in DandD. If the time ever comes when all aspects of fantasy are covered and the vast majority of its players agree on how the game should be played, DandD will have become staid and boring indeed. Sorry, but I don’t believe that there is anything desirable in having various campaigns playing similarly to one another. DandD is supposed to offer a challenge to the imagination and to do so in many ways. Perhaps the most important is in regard to what the probabilities of a given situation are. If players know what all of the monster parameters are, what can be expected in a given situation, exactly what will happen to them if they perform thus and so, most of the charm of the game is gone. Frankly, the reason I enjoy playing in Dave Arneson’s campaign is that I do not know his treatments of monsters and suchlike, so I must keep thinking and reasoning in order to “survive”. Now, for example, if I made a proclamation from on high which suited Mr. Johnstone, it would certainly be quite unacceptable to hundreds or even thousands of other players. My answer is, and has always been, if you don’t like the way I do it, change the bloody rules to suit yourself and your players. DandD enthusiasts are far too individualistic and imaginative a bunch to be in agreement, and I certainly refuse to play god for them — except as a referee in my own campaign where they jolly well better toe the mark.

Looking at the last 40-plus years, at all of what’s come after that quote D&D-wise, this quote is mindblowing. So many things that have become commonplace assumptions in many RPGs are gleefully and confidently disregarded in this paragraph. I love it.

1975 was still salad days for D&D — the era of OD&D, and of this quote (also Gygax) from the afterword to The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures (emphasis mine):

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?

I love that ethos as a GM and as a player. It’s directly at odds with the existence of supplements (and many other aspects of the RPG industry, including some of the books I publish) and other books I enjoy, though, so I’m also always torn about how it applies in practical terms. But as a foundation and a navigational aid, it’s one of the principles I like most about old-school RPGs and gaming in general.

Maliszewski on rough edges

I’ve spent quite a bit of time mulling over this excellent GROGNARDIA post. Back when I first read it, it didn’t sound like what I wanted out of gaming. Nowadays, I couldn’t agree more.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want every session of my D&D campaign to come with guaranteed fun. That may seem odd, but it’s not. Most of us, I think, if we’re honest, understand that we like rough edges — we need rough edges. Something that’s too smooth, too formulaic, especially in the pursuit of entertainment, will wind up producing its antithesis.“

Looking back on my best gaming experiences, they often had rough edges — and maybe those were integral to making the overall experience richer. To get the alchemy that makes gaming so exciting, you have to accept that sometimes lead just stays lead, and not everything has to be perfect.

Combat as sport vs. combat as war

I remember seeing this thread about combat in different editions of D&D going around (and around) a while back and never clicking on it. But a year or so ago, when I finally read it, it changed my understanding of D&D. It articulates things I’d previously thought about in a nebulous way, but could never have put into words this clearly.

Here’s a few excerpts from the original post by Daztur:

Without quite realizing it, people are having the exact same debate that constantly flares up on MMORPG blogs about PvP: should combat resemble sport (as in World of Tanks PvP or arena combat in any game) or should it resemble war (as in Eve PvP or open world combat in any game). […]

I think that these same differences hold true in D&D, let me give you an example of a specific situation to illustrate the differences: the PCs want to kill some giant bees and take their honey because magic bee honey is worth a lot of money. Different groups approach the problem in different ways.

Combat as Sport: the PCs approach the bees and engage them in combat using the terrain to their advantage, using their abilities intelligently and having good teamwork. The fighter chooses the right position to be able to cleave into the bees while staying outside the radius of the wizard’s area effect spell, the cleric keeps the wizard from going down to bee venom and the rogue sneaks up and kills the bee queen. These good tactics lead to the PCs prevailing against the bees and getting the honey. The DM congratulates them on a well-fought fight.

Combat as War: the PCs approach the bees but there’s BEES EVERYWHERE! GIANT BEES! With nasty poison saves! The PCs run for their lives since they don’t stand a chance against the bees in a fair fight. But the bees are too fast! So the party Wizard uses magic to set part of the forest on fire in order to provide enough smoke (bees hate smoke, right?) to cover their escape. Then the PCs regroup and swear bloody vengeance against the damn bees. They think about just burning everything as usual, but decide that that might destroy the value of the honey. So they make a plan: the bulk of the party will hide out in trees at the edge of the bee’s territory and set up piles of oil soaked brush to light if the bees some after them and some buckets of mud. Meanwhile, the party monk will put on a couple layers of clothing, go to the owl bear den and throw rocks at it until it chases him. He’ll then run, owl bear chasing him, back to where the party is waiting where they’ll dump fresh mud on him (thick mud on thick clothes keeps bees off, right?) and the cleric will cast an anti-poison spell on him. As soon as the owl bear engages the bees (bears love honey right?) the monk will run like hell out of the area. Hopefully the owl bear and the bees will kill each other or the owl bear will flee and lead the bees away from their nest, leaving the PCs able to easily mop up any remaining bees, take the honey and get the hell out of there. They declare that nothing could possibly go wrong as the DM grins ghoulishly.

So much of what I enjoy about older editions of D&D and dislike about 3.x and 4e, and what I enjoy about sandboxes, is neatly encapsulated in the sport vs. war analogy. I’ve returned to it many times over the past few months, and I wanted to make sure it was archived here on Yore for future reference.

Categories
Tabletop RPGs

Where to buy old gaming books and RPG products online

I buy most of my gaming books online, but there’s not much of an art to finding new, in-print stuff. Old, out-of-print books, on the other hand, are fun to hunt down. There are added complications, like condition, rarity, and perceived value, that make things interesting.

I collect gaming books, but I don’t collect for value and I don’t keep my books pristine — I buy them to use. I look for tight bindings and non-crushed boxes, but apart from that I don’t get too fussy about condition — if it’s going to bump around in my backpack, who cares if I need to tape the corners, or if it’s got stuff written in the margins?

I also don’t view collecting old RPG books as a competition, and I hope this post helps you find something awesome! Here’s a rundown on my favorite online haunts for old gaming books, including six options and tips about each of them.

Noble Knight and Wayne’s Books

These are my two go-to stores for OOP gaming stuff. Both Noble Knight Games and Wayne’s Books grade products accurately, ship promptly, pack orders extremely well, and offer great customer service. Shipping rates are reasonable, too.

The condition thing is big, too. I pass up lots of stuff elsewhere that might be perfectly good because the seller doesn’t do a good job telling me about it, and Wayne and NKG absolutely nail condition ratings.

With respect to value, both stores know when they’ve got something that’s worth some money — you’re not going to find a rare book on the cheap. For my personal level of price sensitivity, Noble Knight’s prices for rarer books often feel too high.

Both stores typically offer what I consider good prices on non-rare stuff, and since that’s usually what I’m after that works out nicely. They also both get new stuff in all the time, and I usually make a point of browsing around every month or two. (I hide my wallet when I do this, but it doesn’t seem to help!)

I’ve been happy with 100% of my orders from both stores, and I highly recommend them both.

Ebay and Amazon

In my experience, Ebay and Amazon (paid link) both tend towards either very high or very low prices for old gaming books. Amazon has the further complication of automated price-adjustment bots used by some third-party sellers, which jack up prices based on other sellers’ prices and result in what should be a $10 book getting listed for a thousand bucks.

Both are good options, but I don’t trust either of them as a snapshot of what to think a book should be worth. Searching closed auctions on Ebay is a great way to see what the market is willing to pay, though.

I tend to like Ebay best when I’m willing to wait patiently for a good price. I set up a search to notify me when new matches are listed, and I lurk. I generally ignore auctions, and stick to Buy It Now listings.

With Amazon, OOP stuff is always going to be from a third-party seller. I flat-out won’t buy a book that doesn’t have at least a few specific condition notes in its listing; big charity bookstores are the worst offenders here, using the same description across all their items.

Wayne’s Books also lists on Amazon, and I can usually tell when a listing is his: The write-up is detailed and accurate, and the price is fair. Noble Knight has most of their stock cross-listed on Ebay, too, but I usually just go direct.

Lastly, feedback is king. I only buy from folks with good feedback, and I’ve had very few problems over many, many years of shopping on Ebay and Amazon.

Gator Games and The Hit Pointe

When I can’t find a book at the four sites above, I try Gator Games and The Hit Pointe.

Gator just lists most stuff as “used,” but they’ll happily answer questions and give you a more specific condition rating if you ask. The stuff I’ve bought from them in “used” condition has been just fine, so I don’t ask anymore.

The Hit Pointe has a quirky and clunky website, but they occasionally have stuff I can’t find anywhere else. I always email them to see if something is actually in stock before I order.

Neither store is a go-to, but I’ve been happy with my experiences with both of them.

When in doubt, Google

If I don’t have a good idea what an old book is worth, I Google it. If I want to see if there are stores tucked away in the dark corners of the web who might have something these six sites don’t, I Google it. When I want to know why something is special, I Google it — and more often than not, I wind up reading an old GROGNARDIA post, so I should save some time and remember to just start there!

The Acaeum and Wayne’s Books RPG Reference are both great resources for figuring out if something is supposed to have maps or counters, which printing you want, etc. Googling a book usually pops them up pretty quickly, too.

And that’s it! Six sites and a bit of enjoyable research usually gets the job done for me.

That said, I guarantee I’m missing or overlooking other great options. If you have a favorite haunt or two, or tips to share, I’d love to hear about them in the comments!

Categories
Books Reading Appendix N

Other Appendices N

Since I first posted about Reading Appendix N, I’ve been pointed to several similar reading lists that are either contemporary with Appendix N or related to it in some other way. None of them are additions to Appendix N — to date, Gary’s 2007 additions are the only ones I’ve found — but they’re all interesting for their own reasons.

The first two were written by Gary, one predating Appendix N and one written much later; the second two were written by Tom Moldvay and Steve Winter, respectively. Let’s start with Gary’s two lists.

Dragon Magazine, Issue 4

Published in 1976, this issue of Dragon came out three years before Appendix N, and it’s essentially a proto-Appendix N. Squished into one corner of a page showing recent fantasy miniature releases, it lists 22 authors and roughly 30 specific titles, all of which appear in Appendix N — with one exception: Algernon Blackwood. I’m not at all familiar with his work, but he was apparently a writer of supernatural tales; he’s on my mental list to check out (in 2014 or so, when I finish reading Appendix N…).

In all other respects, this list is a subset of Appendix N. There’s no similar list in the original edition of D&D, nor in the Holmes edition, so I believe this list in Dragon #4 may be the first D&D reading list. As the foundation of Appendix N, it’s a neat little piece of D&D history.

Mythus Magick

Mythus Magick (paid link) came out in 1992, 13 years after the DMG and Appendix N, and it offers up considerably more author recommendations but no specific title recommendations. Instead, Gary emphasizes particular authors as his favorites. There’s a huge amount of overlap with Appendix N authors on this list, as this excellent Grognardia post breaks down. (That post also includes the full list.)

About half of the authors are new (not included in Appendix N), and many of them are folks I don’t associate with sword and sorcery, sword and planet, weird tales, or the other kinds of books represented in Appendix N — Margaret Weis and Anne McCaffrey, for example. Gary also lists himself, which makes me smile.

The Moldvay Basic Set

The 1981 D&D Basic Set (paid link) — the “B” in the edition often called B/X — came out in 1981, just two years after Appendix N, and it includes one hell of a reading list. While this one is by Tom Moldvay, not Gary, it is in a D&D core book and it’s roughly contemporary with Appendix N.

What I like most about Moldvay’s list is that it’s broken down into categories: young adult fantasy, young adult non-fiction, adult fantasy, short story collections, and non-fiction. Given that B/X D&D makes a great gateway product for young adults and teens, devoting about 40% of this list to books aimed at them is an excellent idea. Of the four reading lists in this post, Moldvay’s is my favorite — and it’s huge, with roughly twice as many authors as Appendix N.

Star Frontiers

Star Frontiers (paid link) came out in 1982, three years after Appendix N was published. It focuses on science fiction, of course, and it’s a neat list in its own right.

It includes non-fiction as well as fiction, which I like, but I mention it here largely because there’s some overlap with Appendix N in terms of authors: Poul Anderson, Fredric Brown, L. Sprague de Camp, Philip José Farmer, Andre Norton, Fred Saberhagen, Jack Vance, and Roger Zelazny all appear on the Star Frontiers reading list.

Other Reading Lists

Lots of other gaming books include reading lists — GURPS books, for example, are justly famous for their killer bibliographies — but these four lists stood out to me because they have some connection, be it strong or weak, to Appendix N. They all look like they’re worth exploring, assuming the 100-book Appendix N reading list isn’t keeping you busy enough!