Monday, March 23, 2009


As one project races towards completion (I hope to have something to announce by the end of the week oh no I've jinxed it), and another looms large after that...

I stay off of message boards for the most part these days. I find that blogs make it easier to filter out junk. If a blogger appeals to your general tastes, you read him. If not, you don't. On message boards, you've got to learn half a million names and figure out what each is all about through a patchwork of topics, and then topics you're interested in get siderailed by people you wouldn't piss on if they were on fire, and...

Yeah. For the most part when it comes to gaming now, I just read the OD&D board, the blogs on the right when a topic seems interesting (more interested in reading theory and history and facts and opinions on the day's topics than about people's games), and (because I love a good car wreck and I find myself disagreeing with almost everything written there by everyone, top to bottom, and it's a deadly oppressive atmosphere to boot... like a meta-gaming 1984 netLARP. It's fun looking into bizarro world...).

The big advantage of blogs is you don't have to be considerate of other people. is my house as far as I'm concerned, and if I want to lean back and put my muddy shoes up on the sofa while scratching my balls, I will. That's what it's for, really.

I'm thinking of all of this because, well, Dave Arneson just threadcrapped me. Which is fair enough, I know I've probably threadcrapped my fair share on boards, and probably far more than I realize (since I really don't intend to do such things unless it's just ridiculous). But I have experience with how celebrities are treated and how they react to criticism... mostly on music boards. Musicians join message boards where their praises are gloriously sang, and then leave in a huff (decrying the rampant negativity) when someone dares criticize the smallest thing they've done. They don't address criticism and don't want to explain themselves to a critic. They just want to bask in the sunshine radiating from the asses of their adoring public. Then all the other posters, who enjoy having the musician there to witness their fellating, get mad at the guy who drove Mr. Prissypants away and then it's just a mess.

I have no idea if Arneson would react this way, but I don't feel like dealing with the drama if he does.

But I do fiercely disagree with everything he said, and I'm going to address it here, in my house. Listen if you wish.

Arneson's quote:

As I have said many times before. Work with what works for you. But be very aware that this adds complications and draw you and your players away from the real treasure, THE STORY. Always remember too that the PLAYER WOULD actually not know the monster stats etc. The have to learn them the hard way Maybe you pack train is loaded down with hundreds of obscure scrolls and tomes. Mine weren't.

"Roll the dice and I will tell you you hit!"

Where to begin?

Work with what works for you is about as non-useful as non-advice gets. It doesn't answer any question and actively suppresses discussion if you're not sure if something would for you in the first place. I'm asking because I don't know, right? And as if someone was in danger of dumping something that did work for them?

But that's nitpicking, because when this "advice" is given it feels like it's a reflex action of message board response (or a disclaimer along the lines of IMO where someone neuters their own opinion) and not really something people think too much about when they say it.

But be very aware that this adds complications and draw you and your players away from the real treasure, THE STORY. I can be uncharitable and say that this sounds like sour grapes that I might be using an only-Gary book with the version Arneson co-designed. I could be rather inquisitive and ask how exactly a fresh set of creatures to add variety to the creatures in the OD&D books might add complications, but then he might be thinking that the Greyhawk multiple attacks/variable damage system adds complications as well.

I could rip apart "THE STORY" as something to be treasured, as such a thing can not be safeguarded or drawn to or away from without destroying the very essence of why I play (to discover the story, not to write it!), but that's a fairly dead horse in this community. Although if we go along with the assumption that the story would be compromised by using the Monster Manual with OD&D, I'm still completely at a loss how that would happen.

If he really does mean that a slight mechanical complication of multiple attacks, or having to eyeball AD&D stats to OD&D (like old-timers, and surely after 25 years of gaming I may lay claim to at least that title, don't have constant experience eyeballing AD&D-Mentzer-2e (and back) conversions) really does damage the quality of plotline that the referee is supposed to be presenting to his players... well then... wow. And not a good wow. If that's the case, then I suppose we should be glad that the other half of the authorial duo took stewardship of the game.

Always remember too that the PLAYER WOULD actually not know the monster stats etc. The have to learn them the hard way goes along with "Roll the dice and I will tell you you hit!" This is dick refereeing. Not to mention it burdens the referee with more secrecy and bookkeeping than necessary. When combat happens, I freely give out a creature's AC and damage potential. I don't care what the player rolls, I just need to know if he hit, and if he did, how much damage he caused. Often a player's combat turn comes up, "Nope, nothing this round," if it's the party against one enemy. I roll enemy combatant to-hit rolls and damage in the open, so players get that information. Sometimes I give away hit points when it's the end of combat and winning and losing is coming down to who gets the next good swing in.

Maybe that gives away too much, but I figure once you're actually in combat with somebody/thing, you're going to be aware of the basics real quick. You'll know when a foe is on the ropes and ripe for the kill. First level characters aren't the incompetents they are often made out to be. A first level fighting man is a veteran for crying out loud. And if something is standard enough to be in a published monster book (you now, standardized), I figure legends have gotten around. Especially if a player guesses the monster from a verbal description rather than "You see a troll."

Maybe you pack train is loaded down with hundreds of obscure scrolls and tomes. Mine weren't.

Maybe my pack train is loaded with a great variety of tools so as to give me as many options, ideas, and inspirations as possible without being limited merely to my own imagination.


  1. '"Roll the dice and I will tell you you hit!" This is dick refereeing.'

    It's an amusing line if you assume that he left out the word "if" on purpose.

    Player1: I rolled a...
    Arneson: You hit! Roll damage!
    Player1: But I didn't even tell you what I got!
    Arneson: Do you want to play in my game or not? You roll the dice, I tell you you hit. That's how it works.
    Player2: I'm picking the wizard's pocket. I rolled a...
    Arneson: You hit! Roll damage!
    Player2: Dude, I think the beard fumes are getting to you.

    Besides, that's hardly the most dickerly thing attributed to Arneson about his own reffing style. That award would have to go to the "chair and gun" line.

  2. '"chair and gun" line'

    I had to google this and found it in someone's sig on a Linux forum. Ha!

  3. He does not sound like threadcraping to me, just stating a friendly opinion you can leave or take.

  4. When I read Arneson's comment the other day, I found it odd as well.

    It didn't "fit" the discussion.

  5. It really doesn't seem to fit. He could be making a point about players memorizing stats from the MMI, but such an argument would more easily apply to the ones in the OD&D books. You'll be modifying (at least a little) anything coming out of AD&D.

    I have no issue with his preference that players learn "the hard way", and I don't think he's being a dick by not giving away the monster's stats the way you do. The way you describe handling combat is more open with info than any table I've sat at or run. Not to say that's a bad thing, but IME most refs/DMs run this particular facet closer to the Arneson end.

  6. Anything that reduces player knowledge with "Your character wouldn't know that!" is being a bit prickish, I think. I mean, it's one thing if you wander into a convention game and they happen to be running something you're familiar with, but in campaign play?

    I've seen everything from advocating magic-users who aren't allowed to look up spell info from the Players Handbook for a spell that they have in their spell book and memorized for the day to in-the-middle-of-combat stat escalation if players get "too smart" in dealing with a foe.

    I understand I may be a bit more open with such info, but I've seen a lot of others slam that info shut in ways that I feel treat the players like doggy poo. Arneson's "keep the players in the dark" statements sound like that to me.

  7. There’s too little info in this one little post to judge that. And as you’ve pointed out, there’s a whole range to how much info a DM gives out, and on what basis. I don’t change the monsters stats mid-stream, nor do I prevent the players from putting together a monster’s AC or damage range based on what they see and the numbers I give them in combat. (I also always let players reference their own spells and abilities during the game; for my money their characters would bloody well know how their own skills work). There’s too little to Dave’s statement here to tell whether he does what I do, or is actually pulling a shady move like changing stats mid-combat.