Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Every Holy Symbol is Holy to SOMEone

When I was a kid, I loved AD&D, pure and simple.

Really, to deny it would be totally absurd; it was, hands down, my all-time-favorite game, role-playing or otherwise. I would rather play AD&D than pretty much anything else.

Note: I am specifically talking about ADVANCED Dungeons & Dragons, 1st edition..not B/X not BECMI, not OD&D, not 2E. And when I say “as a kid,” I mean up until age 13 or 14, although usually when I use the term I mean “under the age of 25.” As in “kids these days wouldn’t know good [insert whatever] from a smack upside the head.”

ANYWAY…when I was a YOUNG kid, AD&D was the Be All and End All of fun things to do. I know that most of my readers have felt this way about SOME edition of D&D in the past, so we’ll just move on to the next part of the post.

One of the Big Main reasons I loved AD&D so much was how DARK and BADASS it was (you can see why 2nd edition and BECMI was fairly antithetical to this love). After all, here was a game in which you could play capital-E EVIL characters. How cool was that?

I mean, right there in the Players Handbook we find the ASSASSIN character class. Wow. Forget the fact that the assassin, AS IS, is a totally awesome archetype. Heck, forget the fact that the assassin is exactly the same as a thief except better (with the addition of poison, disguise, and auto-kill abilities). Forget all that…here is a character with a required “Evil” alignment.

None of this Palladium pussy-footing around, ‘oh, this cool class is recommended as an NPC villain ONLY' bullshit that I hated SO MUCH (back before I was all about mass discarding of intrinsic rule systems).

DM says: Okay, what’s your character?

PLAYER: I’m a half-orc assassin! I’m Chaotic Evil!

DM: Um, you realize that your companions are good, right?

PLAYER: Are you saying I can’t be an assassin? It’s a core class! Gary says it’s cool!

DM: (*sigh*) Yes, you’re right.

Actually, this exchange is more likely to occur with today’s AD&D/OSRIC players than back in MY day. If someone wanted to be an assassin (and evil) more power to him! You don’t have to keep any more of an eye on him than on the party thief, after all. Actually, it’s the PALADIN that seems the “odd-man out” in your normal Old School dungeon crawl…for a guy who says he doesn’t care about treasure, he sure ends up doing a lot of killing and looting of monsters!

I’ve noted before but I’ll mention again, in my old campaigns NONE of the players would have been caught DEAD playing a goody-goody Paladin. Zero. The first time I ever met a guy who played paladins (and that’s ALL he played…hi, Alex!) was in 1997, and while he was only a year younger than me (born 1974), I believe he had been introduced to D&D through the 2nd edition, possibly Mentzer’s BECMI. You know…one of those editions where TSR assumed you wanted to play some sort of “hero.”

As if there was anything heroic about putting humanoid tribes to the sword in pursuit of gold.

ANYWAY, as I said, I used to like AD&D better than anything else, and part of this was the “Evil” option that was included with the game…Chaotic EVIL, Lawful EVIL, UNHolyWord, UNHoly Symbol, UNHoly Water, Detect Evil and Detect GOOD, etc.

Now...well, I tend to think all this is absolute over-kill. And unnecessary. And redundant padding.

After all, isn’t “evil” in the eye of the beholder? Certainly B/X would say that with Detect Evil being more of a “detect danger.” And holy symbols? Well what’s holy to one guy is unholy to another. If I’m a Chaotic cleric that worships satan, my sacred symbol is still “holy” to me…it’s only “unholy” to you goody-good Lawful types out there. And I’m sure my cleric would find your blessed Crucifix to be decidedly “UN-Holy.”

Holy and Unholy are simple matters of semantics and perspectives. Same with an assassin. If my character murders someone, I AM an assassin (that is the definition of “assassination” after all). If I get paid to do so, I’m a paid assassin. If you want to play an assassin with thief abilities, roll up a thief character and kill people for money. Hell…in B/X you can be any alignment you want and still do this (you know that bald Hit Man character from the video game that’s working for the Church? Or “good guy” assassin James Bond? Call ‘em both “Lawful” in alignment).

Now, there are no “half-orcs” (or half-humans at all) in B/X play, which is actually how I prefer things…in my opinion, other humanoids are non-human species, completely alien to humans and should NOT be able to interbreed. ‘Cause if you have some sort of Xanthian Ecosystem (c.f. Piers Anthony) then why no half-dwarves or half-gnomes or (*shudder*) half-trolls? I mean that would just be consistent, right?

All right…don’t want to get too far off topic. The point of the post (as much as I ever have one) is the same as my usual rant: you really don’t need the complication of AD&D to run a cool-ass fantasy game. I think the original LBB rules gave most everyone what was needed to adjudicate a game within a virtual, imaginary fantasy world. B/X simply cleaned-up and straightened out those Little Brown Books. AD&D codified and systematized one man (Gary’s) particular vision on how to run that fantasy world…but I’m not sure I agree anymore that his vision is the best. I like my own vision, thank you very much.

I’ve grown up…and in doing so I’ve grown beyond “Advanced” Dungeons & Dragons.


  1. Your argument reminds me a lot of why I hate alignment in games. Why would anybody choose to be evil when they know that they're going to go to evil-hell and be horribly punished, and that people can use magic and detect them?

    If we could use technology today to detect shoplifters, for example, there wouldn't be a single person shoplifting. At all.

    I'll get into it more, later. Your posts are inspirational to me, you know.

  2. @ N. Wright:

    RE Shoplifting: Haven't you ever seen Les Mis?

    I actually like the idea of alignment as an over-reaching cosmic force...or something behind the scenes. I just prefer it (these days anyway) a little more abstract: Law, Neutrality, and Chaos. It works a bit better with my actual world view (that's another post for another time).

    I'm glad you find it inspiring! That is very cool for me!
    : )