Thursday, May 17, 2018

D&D - The Cartoon (Part 3: Old School Combat)

I'm going to give myself about 45 minutes to blog. We'll see how much I get through.

Close to four years back (!!) I started a series of blog posts (or, rather, intended to start a series) about the old Dungeons & Dragons cartoon. For various reasons and distractions, not the least of which being my life in Paraguay, this trailed off rather abruptly (you can see my prior posts here and here). Lately, I've been thinking a lot about the series again, mainly due to my daughter's love and fascination with the show (my, not so much). Enough so that I thought I'd get back to it.

Why not?

My first thought, interestingly enough, is how well I think the show actually models the game. All right, all right (I hear your snorts of derision)...NOT with regard to theme (the "quest for home" isn't anything like the standard quest for treasure and prestige), but in modeling game play. Much more so than what I used to think; however, you have to read between some of the lines with regard to censorship of a children's Saturday Morning Cartoon.

For example, no one was ever going to show characters (even adult ones) butchering orcs and spilling the blood of bullywugs on screen. That kind of animated violence (even in decades past) was reserved for the cinema, if at all. The original Johnny Quest (created in the 1960s) featured a lot of shooting, explosions, and killing of "bad guys" but no blood was ever shown (certainly no results of bloody hand-to-hand fighting) and, besides, JQ was created for an older audience and originally broadcast in a Prime Time time slot. So no "D&D show" made for kids was ever going to feature a dude disemboweling some opponent with a battle-axe.

Even so, remember the abstract nature of D&D combat. PC makes an attack roll. If successful, make a damage roll. Deduct damage from "hit points." If HPs reach 0, opponent is defeated.

All of these things are open for interpretation. What a successful attack looks like...and what a defeated opponents looks like...doesn't have to be gore-splashed bloodletting affairs. We might like them to be (I know I do), but recognize that the narrative color applied to the role-playing is almost entirely an arbitrary choice, and generally of the DM. I can be lazy and say, "You swing and hit the guy; he looks badly hurt." I can instead say, "Your feint leaves him wide open allowing you to bash his blade towards the ground and drive the point of your sword into his thigh; blood gushes from the wound as it appears you've nicked an artery."

But I could also say, "Your magic club strikes the ground in front of your opponent, throwing up rocks and dirt as he's knocked to the ground. He looks at you with fear...looks like he's had it."

Recognize the television show...defeated creatures (driven away, sealed in caves by rockfalls, or whatever) almost never return to trouble the protagonists. No, there are no corpses left strewn about the scenery, but they're as good as dead for all the trouble they cause later.

"But the cavalier doesn't even use a weapon!" Look, here's the thing I've come to think (as I re-watch these old shows): the Dungeons & Dragon cartoon is based on the oldest editions of D&D (even if it is pulling a lot of creatures from the then-newly-released Fiend Folio), if not B/X. Regardless of the character's "titles" (which, as far as I can tell is nothing but the name a player might scribble at the top of their character sheet), here's how I'd break down their classes:

Hank (plays "Ranger"): Fighter
Bobby (plays "Barbarian"): Fighter
Eric (plays "Cavalier"): Fighter
Sheila (plays "Thief"): Thief
Diana (plays "Acrobat"): Fighter
Presto (plays "Magician"): Magic-User (we'll get to him in a separate post)

In both OD&D and B/X, the default damage for any type of attack is D6...doesn't matter if you're using a two-handed sword or a dagger. Or a magic quarterstaff or "lightning bow" or bashing with a shield. Now, I do tend to look at the game through an OD&D (0E) lens because of the fighters multiple attacks against creatures of 1 hit die or fewer (Hank, Bobby, and Diana tend to do this a lot), but I can easily see this as a house rule 'ported into a B/X game, along with the various AD&D monsters. The B/X morale and reaction rules would seem a large part of the show.

All right, that's all my time at the moment. Perhaps more later.

We all do D6 damage.


  1. Your post just gave me some serious Mandela Effect, my dude. I always remembered Eric's shield as having a horse head on it, rather than a griffon's. (Or whatever that is) In fact, I remember joking with friends (when we were older) that Eric the Cavalier didn't have a horse, but he had one emblazoned on his shield, at least.

    Your post also got me thinking about running games for kids, which seems to be a growing thing in the hobby with kid-friendly offerings from Monte Cook (No Thank You Evil) and the like. When I was ten, I had no compunctions about savagely murdering orcs and goblins (and very human bandits and pirates), but I'd read posts about kid-friendly games and wonder how the parents would deal with the sheer amount of dismemberment and murder that your average D&D party got up to in their adventures. Well done, sir.

    1. I've been thinking a lot about gaming with kids lately, both because my own children are getting closer to the right age and because of others folks I've been meeting.

    2. My son (10) and two other players' daughters (11 and 8) play in my 5E game. I avoid the graphic descriptions of violence because of them, but it doesn't make any difference in the fun.

  2. Have you ever see "Record of Lodoss War" anime? That is clearly based on B/X. :)

    1. I have NOT seen Record of Lodoss War, though I've heard its name mentioned more than once (cannot remember WHERE I've heard it...).

      However, this is the first time I've heard it is based on B/X. I'll have to look for it.

    2. Well, watch the first couple of episodes and tell me the main characters are not a B/X Elf, Dwarf, Cleric, Fighter, and Thief, and Magic-User. :)

  3. The script of the final, unproduced episode is a good read if you can find it out there on the inter webs

  4. Back when I last had a gaming life, I thought of running a campaign using the anime characters 10 years after the series ended, where they had all given up hope and drifted apart in the realm. Speaking of, The Realm was an old black and white comic that had the same conceit of kids warped into D&D world, but with lots of blood letting and NSFW scenes.

    1. @ Tedankh:

      You might want to check out Venger Satanis's (short) RPG "Crimson Dragon Slayer." It may be exactly what you're looking for as a system.
      ; )

    2. Indeed. Thanks for the mention, hoss!