Prepping Ptolus

It’s been just over 34 years since I first encountered D&D. I can think of few things that have changed my life more. It got me interested in reading fantasy again at a time when I was slowly drifting out of it and it led indirectly to my involvement with Games Workshop and my present career.

In a world where World of Warcraft exists, it’s hard to convey exactly the impact that getting involved in D&D had back then. A generation and a half has grown up with access to movies with astonishing special effects, video games and the Internet. To me though playing a role playing game was like discovering that magic wardrobe with a gateway to Narnia. It was a portal into worlds like those in the fantasy novels I grew up reading. It, to use a phrase not quite current at the time, blew my mind.

Soon I was getting involved in playing and then creating and running dungeons. I spent a lot of time drawing huge mazes on vast sheets of graph paper and modifying systems to better suit my view of what a fantasy world should be like. This was before Advanced Dungeons and Dragons codified the whole system legalistically. There were still huge gaps in the rules that had to be filled with improvisations. There was some training here in the basic math of game design. I learned harsh lessons in audience feedback and storytelling which served me well even to this day. I like to think I learned to describe a character or evoke a place swiftly, with a few telling details.

Eventually, as many people do, I became dissatisfied by the lack of realism and flexibility inherent in the original D&D design. I tried lots of other systems. There was Runequest where I discovered that I preferred the world of Glorantha to the percentile-based, limb lopping combat system. There was Chivalry and Sorcery, a truly baroque set of rules with a cluster of interlocking magic systems so dense you might as well have been reading a real grimoire. It would have made more sense.And there were many, many more. Eventually I settled down with Champions, the forerunner of the Hero system for a decade or so.

Over the years, I watched the rise of White Wolf and the fall of TSR. I designed a role playing system (Waste World) and worked in the industry myself.

I enjoyed the return of Third Edition OGL D&D and played a fair bit of it. I could never quite get into Fourth Edition. I thought the designers did a great job on it. It just was not D&D as far as I was concerned. Hey, conservatism from a long-term gamer, who would have expected that?

Also I dislike role-playing systems intended to sell me add-ons. If I want to play a miniatures game, I will play a miniatures game. If I want to play a board-game I will buy a board-game. When I play a role-playing game I am still looking for that magic portal to another world. I don’t want things that distract me from the story I am in by focussing my attention on the table top. I felt that with Fourth Edition miniatures went from being optional to essential. Since I have worked in the industry I understand the economic benefits of selling add-ons to your core audience. It just does not provide the basic experience I am looking for in a role playing game.

My own preference at the moment is for Pathfinder. It provides what I think of as the D&D experience. It’s basically a refined version of the Third Edition OGL rules. I am familiar enough with the way the system works that I am comfortable modding it. Since I won’t be using minis, I am heavily modifying the rules for attacks of opportunity.

Using a Third Edition variant has the great advantage of letting me use Ptolus. I have wanted to play in Monte Cook’s mega-setting since I bought it five years ago but somehow I have never found the time. I have finally decided to do it anyway. So as of tonight I am starting to run the basic campaign within the book. I am looking forward to it. Last week we did party creation. We got the usual motley assemblage of half-elfs, half-orcs and halflings, not a human in sight. It’s going to be interesting seeing how this party gets on in a city that is majority human.

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Comments

  1. Michael Mooney says:

    The last line interests me – I’m reading Neal Stephenson’s “REAMDE” just now, and he’s the first non-fantasy writer I’ve read since George MacDonald Fraser to worry about how to get through a city of Chinese people while being obviously caucasian.

    I hope you give your players extra EPs for the old two halflings/one coat gag.

    Yrs faithfully,

    Grimm Olsen.

  2. Jeff Veit says:

    Ahh the memories of D & D. To this day I can’t recall a game that has enthralled me to such a degree..not even the MMOs of todays internet based fantasy games! For me, the game lost its allure when they proceeded to come out with Advanced Dungeons and Dragons 2nd edition, which was about the time, the games creater, E. Gary Gygax, had left TSR. I felt at that point TSR had swapped quality for profit, and with Gygax’s departure, had lost its heart and soul. Regrettably my old group wanted to play the 2nd edition, I stubbornly refused, citing it as an unnecessary expense, since I had already spent a pile of money on all the first edition books. Thus ended my much enjoyed “D&D Marathon weekends!” I still however have all of the 1st edition rule books sitting on my bookshelf, in triplicate in fact, awaiting the day when I introduce my children to the game.

    • I don’t think there is ever anything to compare to those first early games of D&D where as a player you didn’t actually have a clue what was going on. I was boggled by it. It really was a life changing experience for me. The closest i have come in gaming was my first few weeks in World of Warcraft. That had a similar sense of wonder and of being transported somewhere else. I wish I still had my old White Box D&D. I do have a first generation version of Empire of the Petal Throne somewhere!

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