Anyway, here’s the follow-up post:
I don’t have a solution to the issue at this point. But having identified what the issue is, I have some ideas, and I’m currently working on them and looking at adapting ‘em to D&D Mine (my personal version of D&D). And no, none of the ideas involve playing a different system or “boosting” the starting levels for B/X D&D characters.
Here’s the deal, folks: I am familiar with other games. Ars Magica, for example, and Pendragon, too. I have read The Song of Ice and Fire RPG and I’ve played Amber Diceless, as well. These don’t work for my purposed for a number of reasons. I suppose I could enumerate them all, but it would seem like a lot of bashing of these particular games and, fun as that might be, that’s counter-productive. And anyway, they’re good games: Stormbringer was a lot of fun (I played the 1st edition extensively) and can certainly be played on a variety of “levels,” but it works best for a very specific setting and method of play…and I’m looking for something a bit more generic, or rather "setting neutral."
And let me put to rest any thought that I’m one of those dudes who only plays D&D or only considers a single system for my “fantasy sword-swinging” RPGs. I know there are folks like that out there, but I’m not one of them. There are a lot, A LOT, of good things going on in the D&D rules…especially with earlier editions. My D&D Mine has a lot of deconstructed D&D concepts in it, but a lot of folks who read it would say, “That doesn’t resemble the D&D I know!”
As for simply starting characters at 3rd level (or higher!) or adding a bunch of bonus HPs to ensure survivability…that’s just a patch, folks. So why are there rules for 1st level characters then? I mean, you might as well just say 1st level has the same ability as a 3rd level character, right? Ugh…just never mind. 1st level is 1st level, and this is not (just) about adjusting/addressing effectiveness.
Look, I have some mechanics in D&D Mine that will allow me to address the issues of effectiveness in context of objective. I would share it here (I might still sometime), except that it only works in light of me converting the whole game to being D6 based (and, no, not in the West End Games’ sense of “D6”). I think (I’m not 100% sure…maybe 70% at this point) that I can make that part work.
What’s more important, and what is the tougher deal, is fixing…or rather “breaking down and recreating from scratch”…the advancement system of D&D. Because reward mechanics influence behavior…and the current method of reward, while excellent for Stage 1 exploration, blows chunks for Stage 2 and Stage 3.
Let me give you some examples of what I mean. We’ll start with adventure module I4: Oasis of the White Palm. This adventure was widely published so many will be familiar with it, but for those who aren’t the scenario goes like this: the player characters are forced into the Desert of Desolation on a search for some brigands (or something). Along the way they end up accidentally releasing a demonic force. By the end of the three module series (I3 through I5) the demon is defeated, the curse on the desert broken (transforming it back into a paradise) and all the PCs hailed as heroes.
I4 is the middle module of the series. Whereas I3 and I5 mainly feature large dungeons, I4 provides a mystery, a damsel in distress, a thriving desert civilization/town (the titular Oasis), intrigue, and several small dungeons. There’s A LOT of different avenues of pursuit by PCs in I4 and it is not out o the realm o possibility for players to ignore the story/plot at hand. I mean, here’s a town where you can settle down and live if you so choose…start up a business, hire yourselves out to locals, change your name and identity if you wanted, etc. You could throw in with the Bad Guys or start your own competing faction in the town (hypothetically)…and even if you succeed at the “main scenario” of I4 there’s nothing that really compels your characters to continue on to module I5 except the base assumption that your characters don’t like the desert and want to get the hell out of there by completing the over-arching quest.
Basically, it’s a great adventure and wide-open to a number of different possible actions; if it was a fantasy novel, one could see how characters might approach it with little or no worry about collecting treasure. However, as a game, Oasis of the White Palm is a flat, 1st edition AD&D adventure…which means characters receive experience points for collecting loot and killing (“defeating”) opponents. Not for exploring the landscape. Not for surviving the desert. Not for making alliances with the various nomad tribes. Not for doing anything interesting in the Oasis (unless that “interesting” thing involves killing and looting). Regardless of anything else going on in the adventure, the MOTIVE for player characters is “to get paid” period. The only creativity encouraged is creative methods of getting gold.
This issue comes back regardless of whether this is a sandbox world or adventure module and (for the latter) regardless of the difficulty level associated with the adventure. Examples of low-level Stage 2 Exploration (B2, N1), or mid-level (X1, I4) or high level (D3 or Q1) all bog down because of the driving goal established in Stage 1 exploration: Find treasure. Kill monsters.
Here’s the formula I’m working with as my basic paradigm:
Reward for Exploration = XP Gained = Level Advanced = Increased Effectiveness in Exploration.
What is wilderness exploration all about? Finding gold and killing monsters? Sure…in the current paradigm of D&D. But what else COULD it be about, if we removed the standard reward.
- Finding a new place, or opening new territory
- Meeting and greeting or scouting or killing a new culture, tribe
- Uncovering mysteries or secret history of an area or region
- Surviving hostile environmental conditions (swamp, desert, arctic, etc.)
- Opening trade routes (by land or sea) and/or escorting traders
- Climbing a mountain, exploring a jungle, sailing a sea
- Surviving “the road”
- Learning the politics of a region, and making friends/allies
At high levels the same types of wilderness objectives apply to more dangerous and stranger “wilderness” environments: for example, the Vault of the Drow (D3) or the Demonweb Pits (Q1). If the goal of the game was NOT “to acquire gold and kill monsters” how much time do you think individual adventurers would spend in such a hostile wilderness without allies or safe havens? How much time might they instead spend, trying to survive and explore or reach their quest/scenario objective instead? And shouldn't they be rewarded for doing so?
I think they should. A character who has "sailed the seven seas" or plumbed the depths of the ocean floor or climbed Mount Insanity or met exotic tribesfolk in the darkest jungles or visited the surface of the moon should show a marked increase in confidence and swagger...regardless of whether or not the character killed anything or found any treasure while there. A character that has explored the wilderness...who has participated and survived adventures...will be mored hardened (fighters), wiser (clerics), more knowledgeable (magic-users), and probably gained in resourcefulness (thieves) compared to the person who hasn't traveled farther than their home village...even should said village be on the edge of a "mega-dungeon."
Please note I am still talking about experience points here: XP as a measurement of success and accomplishment is a great mechanic for a fantasy adventure game. Much more so (in my opinion) than, say, Chaosium's "increase in skill percentage" (which is just a different method of doing the same thing as old D&D, by the way, save that it is more granular, piecemeal, and clunky. It still only addresses Stage 1 development). It is also much more appropriate than, say, White Wolf's "XP gained for showing up/learning something/role-playing award;" the point is to still reward player characters for their appropriate actions (i.e. for facing challenges), not just for showing up and pretending to be a character. Experience points are EARNED in old school games...on risk of painful (character) death.
Anyway, still working out exactly what to reward and how much (in terms of XP), but it's coming along. Now that I'm back in town for the foreseeable future, I plan on doing more play-testing of D&D Mine and will certainly check the revised advancement system. Of course, I'm going to have to re-do the adventure (which, as I said, is set in a damn setting-based mega-dungeon).
[oh, by the way...please note that the above applies in the main part to Stage 2 types of exploration. I have some very different ideas regarding Stage 3 but they're for a different, future post...this one's gone on a bit long...]