Monday, June 29, 2020

Chivalry and Sorcery can go on the pile next to Traveller.  I read it fifty times but I never actually played the thing. 

It turned out that Dungeons and Dragons was a Bad Thing because it wasn't rooted in history; even a dragon and an orc needed a social context. You can't have a knight-in-armour if you don't have a village of peasants to support him. The main part of rolling up a character in Traveller had been finding out what he did during his time in the army. All characters were ex-servicemen by definition. The main part of character creation in Chivalry and Sorcery was rolling for your Social Class. This guaranteed that 99% of characters were peasants and farmers and artisans and only 1% were permitted to bare arms.
There could be a goode game in which ye people of ye village pull together to save each other from ye dragonne; and even one in which they had to remember to plant ye crops and milk ye cows. But what ever were you meant to do with the endless charts and tables in the Chivalry and Sorcery rulebook? Magicians spent most of their time in their towers researching and reading as opposed to mucking about in dungeons. This may very well have accurately reflected the "real" life of the "real" medieval wizard but what was meant to happen when we all sat down round a table and started to play a game?
"There are rumours that ye Questing Beaste is stealing sheep on ye moors and that he lives in ye cave near ye castle. What wilt thou doest?"
"I shalt write a Scroll of Scrying" 
"Good: roll on ye dice in six months time to see if ye succeedeth." 
"I shall maketh a pair of shoes."
"Roll a dice on ye shoe making table to see if if ye suceedeth..."
I may perhaps not be remembering all this entirely accurately. 
Chivalry and Sorcery was, in fact, another game which grew out of the wreckage of a huge postal campaign, and was never really meant to be played round a table like Dungeons and Dragons. It was an economic game in which the players filled out forms about what the various wizards, knights, peasants and cheesemakers on their estate were going to do over the next twelve months, and the referee calculated the results. "You have a fine crop of turnips; you have a few pieces of gold; your knight has travelled the country and successfully righted three wrongs." The retrofitting of it into the Dungeons and Dragons mould left everyone very confused indeed. 

Villains and Vigilantes worked better. We actually played Villains and Vigilantes and had a good time. It was technically the first superhero game. It had an idea in it which I still like and which everyone else hates: namely, your character in the game was YOURSELF, as YOU would be if YOU had superpowers. YOUR day to day life provided YOUR secret identity; some dice throws determined YOUR super-powers. 
"What if Andrew Rilstone, fourteen year old Comp School Boy in Norf London, woke up one morning with the powers of the Incredible Hulk?" could have been a fun question to build a game around. But it is only fun if he is allowed to rampage around East Barnet, demolish the gym block and stick the P.E. teachers basketball in some anatomically impossible bodily cavity. As a grown-up referee; I could have run that kind of a game. It would either have been a grimdark psychodrama in which everyone explores their super-heroic side. Or else I would have to create a sort of Silver Age cartoon-strip analogue to the "real world". (What would East Barnet look like if it had been drawn by Jack Kirby? Bobbies on penny farthing bicycles and haystacks as far as they eye could see?) Either way, I would have required a pre-determined roster of heroes and villains based on other "real" people in the community. If the Green Geek is really going to try to smash the school to pieces then the referee has to have a super-powered football team available to stop him; or at the very least a Local Police Officer armed with a Blue Lantern Power Ring. 
The writers of Villains and Vigilantes were never terribly interested in that aspect of the game. The scenarios they published were all bog-standard adventures about super-villains with world-domination plans set in made-up comic-book universes. 

Basic Dungeons and Dragons had included a single page of squared paper with a map of a dungeon on it but there was really no attempt to make it make sense. Four Goblins lived in Room A and Three Zombies lived in Room B and Room A and Room B were linked by ten foot wide corridor; but there was no suggestion that the zombies and the goblins would ever meet or quarrel or form an anti-dungeon explorer alliance. Their job was to sit in their respective rooms waiting to be killed. 
Dungeons didn't make sense, but they were fun.
And we couldn't allow that. 
The moral message coming out of White Dwarf was that if you were writing silly, irrational, zoo-like Dungeons, you were not a serious gamer. Of course, it might very well happen that you met a goblin or a dragon in a cave—that is where goblins and dragons live, after all. And castles really do have dungeons underneath them, and castle dungeons might perfectly well be inhabited by something not very nice. But the irrational dungeon was now forbidden. You had to brainstorm reasons why creatures lived together. You had to tell a story even if it was a story set in some caves. Monsters wouldn't just sit around with piles of treasure; they would hide it and try to take care of it. And anyway, why on earth would a goblin with a bag of gold be in a ten by ten room rather than out at the tavern getting drunk?
I tried. I tried to create living dungeons and ecological dungeons. Dungeons where bigger bad guys preyed on smaller ones; where the dragon could only carry on being a dragon if it had a source of food. My players got more and more baffled. Instead of fighting six goblins in a room, they would meet six goblins on their way from one room to another; or encounter six goblins in the middle of a fight with six dwarfs. So they ran back to the empty goblin room and took their treasure. So the goblins came and tried to get their treasure back. Which was an interesting reversal, I suppose. 
It still came down to roll to hit, roll damage, roll to hit, roll damage. 
It is never a good idea to take your symbols literally. Yes, of course, if you look at it from a certain angle, Star Trek is incredibly racist. One race are all scientists, one race are all traders, one race are all psychologists and one race are all warriors. On paper, the Federation is about all the different races in the universe living in mutual peace and understanding, but in practice humans are the goodies and Klingons are the baddies and that is the way things have always been.
But as a matter of fact [spoilers follow] Star Trek is not real. And the Vulcans and Klingons and Ferengi are a symbol set for talking about overly rational and overly war-like and overly greedy humans. 
Same with Tolkien. It's a wilful misreading of Lord of the Rings to say that Elves represent Aryans and Orcs represent inferior races: anyone can see that they are externalized projections of the potential good and the potential evil which everyone carries in them. And obviously, externalized projections of the human potential for good are white and rural, where externalized projections of the human potential for evil look Chinese and sound like East End Cockneys. 

It's complicated.
All fantasy worlds are ultimately concrete projections of a writer's psyche; some are better than others at disguising the fact. 
There is a great big door, usually in the side of a hill. "Ah, this must be the entrance to the dungeon" we say "We'll find what we're looking for here." It leads down into the dark spaces underneath the castle where all the nameless bad things are hidden, and the deeper you go the nastier and more nameless the things become: through night and day and in and out of weeks and almost over a year. And if you sneaked past your inner demons; or tricked them; or bound them; or killed them you emerged from the dungeon with shiny gold coins. But you didn't use those shiny gold coins to buy beer in the pub. They were in fact only metaphorical gold coins. They magically turned into experience points. And what do points mean? More hit-points. Lower To Hit numbers on the combat charts. More than one spell. You got bigger and stronger and more powerful which meant you could go deeper and deeper to where the dark nameless things were bigger and stronger and had even more gold. 
Sometimes, at the very bottom of the dungeon there would be an end of level guardian; a demon or a dragon or a demigod or something else beginning with a D. Not infrequently it had a captive princess, sometimes asleep and sometimes surrounded by a ring of fire so the final result of all your descending and ascending was to bring back a woman.
There are not two characters here; but only one. The aggressive male hero is one side of YOUR personality, and he has to go down, down, down into the burning ring of fire and find the other, feminine side of his personality which has been buried deep. That is why it became such a cliche that dungeons contained wise old men who could show adventurers the way when they got lost. Never young wise men; never old wise women. I suppose the Fighter, the Magic User and the Cleric represented Body, Intellect and Spirit. 

Knights represent aggression in stories. Princesses represent compassion in stories. In real life girls can be just as tuff as boys and boys can be just as soft as girls and everything in between. And girls can play Dungeons and Dragons just as well as boys. But on the whole they didn't.

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