Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Thinking of what could have been...

"I think Orm the Strong would have given all his wealth for such a son as you - not that Ketil and Asmund were weaklings. And failing that, he must be glad indeed to see you joined with his daughter."

I think D&D's greatest fault is its taking influence in such a hodgepodge manner from all sorts of sources... but then focusing game play in a manner influenced by very specific sources.

For all the Tolkien trappings and the Lovecraftian vibe in places and the easily recognizable bits taken from dozens of authors, it's difficult to "get" D&D without having read Leiber or Vance or Howard. That's the core. Loot the place and be a magnificent bastard.

But of the people who have ever played D&D, who ever read Leiber or Vance? Or real Howard? Hell, as my post a couple months back showed, I'm still catching up and I've been playing this game for almost 25 years. Invariably though, whenever people read these guys... the light comes on. "Ohhh... THAT'S what it's all about." More Vance and Leiber, as Conan is pretty much in the public consciousness as a concept.

But what if some of those other influences had become "D&D Prime"?

Imagine elves that can't handle iron or steel. Or that the gods can be turned by any commoner invoking the name of Christ. A magical world that can't be seen by humans unless the magic creatures give them sight... but the humans are able to learn the ways of that magic just as well as the natives. Unbreakable oaths and an understanding that victory means death for the heroes and villains alike. Situations like those set up by the quote at the top of this post.

Or better yet, what if all of these influences had been factored in and made canon choices, by design, from the start?


  1. Imagine elves that can't handle iron or steel

    As much as I enjoy Tolkien and recognize his almost god-like influence over the genre, I find myself wanting something a little different these days too.

    Y'know, it's funny ... this topic is something I've been working on lately, including dwarves that have an adverse reaction to the sun (the whole Norse 'turn to stone' thing). In my current project, elves have sub-races that include a plethora (love that word) of fey creatures, hence the wrought iron/steel weakness.

    Actually, if you really think about elvish allergies to iron/steel, it tends to explain their preferences for archery, and when one considers elvish magics - wooden arrows could be rather formidable.

    However, arming 1st level guys with such nasties might not be a good idea - which is why flint/stone/gems/bronze (I love the gem option, myself - it suggest an economy with gnomes - lol) might be an option, or perhaps even specialized elvish gloves for handling/fletching steel arrowheads?!

    In any event, I completely support fiddling with the established core fantasy races - even if to simply retro-con them to be more as per folklore.


  2. Agreed. Something olde would feel like a breath of fresh air.
    Something to think about if I ever get around to running a Moldvay BXD&D game.

  3. I must admit, while I was certainly influenced once upon a time, I've spent longer as a DM than I have spent reading any fantasy fiction--in the long run, it ceased to appeal to me.

    At some point, writers and DMs ought to cut their own path. At some point, the only influence they need is their own imaginations.

  4. I agree with you up to a point. I think writers need to broaden their reading away from the genre they write; just reading fantasy does not do anything for you. Sort of like cross training. Likewise, a good DM should try their hand at multiple genres and systems at least once.

  5. Been reading Poul Anderson's The Broken Sword? It's one of my favorites, and I wouldn't hesitate to put it in my top 10 favorite fantasy works of all time. There is so much power and awesomeness in this story, more than enough to fuel an epic D&D campaign. I personally think a game like Runequest better captures this style of play.