Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Not the Problem that Needs Solving

Has anyone else been watching Game of Thrones lately?

I was watching the most recent episode ("The Long Night") a couple evenings ago which features the climactic battle/showdown between the majority of the (still living) cast of characters and the Army of the Dead (a hundreds of thousands strong horde of zombies supported by wight-like officers and a some undead monsters). And as I was watching, I was thinking to myself, which characters would these be in Dungeons & Dragons? And I broke it down something like this:

Beric Dondarrion - fighter (with a flaming sword), Sandor Clegane ("the Hound") - fighter (with high strength), Dolorous Edd - fighter, Tormund Giantsbane - fighter (with high strength), Samwell - fighter (with low strength), Brienne of Tarth - fighter (with high strength), Podrick - fighter, Jaime Lannister - fighter, Lyanna Mormont - fighter, Melisandre (the Red Woman) - magic-user, Gendry - fighter, Ser Jorah Mormont - fighter, Grey Worm - fighter (with high dexterity and strength), Arya - assassin, Theon Greyjoy - fighter (with high dexterity), Jon Snow - fighter, Bran Stark - fighter (or psionic, depending on system).
Just a fighter

Daenerys, Tyrion Lannister, Sansa Stark, and Ser Davos Seaworthy don't really fit any of the standard adventuring classes. In 3rd edition terms, the first three are nobles and Davos is an expert, but I really dislike this kind of "classing everyone" thing. I'd rather code Tyrion as the NPC monster class "Noble" (of the 2-3 HD variety) and everyone else as "Normal Humans," though I could see Daenerys as a re-skinned 1+1 HD Elf/Targaryan (only spell known: fire resistance, which still has to be prepped and cast, and only once per day).

Just a fighter
Jon Snow is NOT a ranger...while rangers appear to be a part of the GoT setting, it should be remembered that neither Jon, nor Sam, nor Dolorous Edd were made members of that order; all three, in fact were made "Stewards" of various sorts. This is kind of like telling a player, "sorry, you don't meet the minimum ability scores" (in Jon's case, it's a lack of Intelligence; for Sam, it's a low Constitution). One could use a halfling re-skin to model Tormund's "wildling" class (in fact, I might post an example of what this would look like sometime), but it's not super-necessary...heck, he could simply be an NPC berserker (like the monster of the same name) if you don't see him as a player character.

Another fighter
Anyway, how many different character classes is that? Three? Four? Certainly there's not much that distinguishes most of these characters from each other in terms of "class" or skills or abilities or even backgrounds (most of them come from nobility). And yet all of these individuals are very distinct from each other: not only in terms of appearance, but in behavior, motivation, and action. Some have evolved and changed (sometimes drastically) over the course of the series; others (like Tormund) are more or less the same as they've ever been, though perhaps with a different allegiance and/or "alignment."

When I see the type of rich tapestry that can be created from such basic and non-unique archetypes, it's really difficult to convince me there's much (if any) need for an elaborate character creation system in my fantasy RPG. Something as simple as B/X (or even OD&D) works just fine...maybe AD&D if you want to add some "realism" (like different weapon proficiencies) and extra "crunch" (combat adjustments based on proficiency, weapon vs. armor, and speed factor). But anything more detailed, more micro-manage-y, more video game-like, is SOOO unnecessary...and, in fact can detract from the immersive experience of the game being played.

Him, too...though might
roll D10s for hit dice.
'Course, I already knew that...it just got emphasized watching that GoT episode.

I am SORELY tempted to do some sort of write-up of these various characters in terms of some type of OSR system (OD&D or B/X). But for the most part, it's so easy to do so (for anyone), the phrase "why bother?" pops immediately into my mind. Maybe instead I'll do a quick write-up instead of house rules for a GoT specific campaign (similar to what I did with Krull)...then I won't have to argue things like who's stronger between Tormund, Brienne, and the Hound (hint: they're all in the 16-17 range).

However, please don't expect a lot of hot and heavy posting the next week or two...after (barely) getting through the April A to Z challenge, I kind of want to take a breather from the regular blogging.  Just a little.

Later, gators.

11 comments:

  1. Oddly len lakofka put out a number of alt classes in his diplomacy gaming zine in the 70s. I remember Flaming sword was a spell or power of a Pyromancer class. The followers of the lord of light might be quasi cleric-mage pyromancers.

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    1. Sure. However, I think it's easier to say the Red Priest gave Beric a flaming sword when he converted to the "religion" of R'hllor. He doesn't display any other pyromantic abilities, as far as I remember.

      The blade itself probably only functions for a follower of the Lord of Light (like an intelligent blade)...hence the devotion of the character and adherence to the tenets of his faith.

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  2. While I see your point, I disagree with it. It may be enough for these characters to be different in appearance and character and motivation, but they are characters you passively watch on a screen, and therefore that is all you interact with. Characters you play in role playing games you interact with actively. They are not only defined by appearance and character and motivation, but also by how they mechanically interact with the game. And therefore mechanical differences can become just as interesting and satisfying as those other differences. All this - of course - in my opinion.

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    1. Interesting, since to me, JB's thoughts prove his point. I think that gamers who are used to a more crunchy, defined rule set tend to lean more on their specialized classes and skill lists, even for non-combat and social interactions. Not saying that is wrong, or bad, but it's not for me.

      I too see that the vast majority of the GoT characters are just fighters - armor, swords, no other specialized skills or magic. Different backgrounds perhaps, but nothing that needs to be mechanically defined. Brienne, Tormund, Grey Worm or Oberyn - their differences come down 100% to how they are played. That being the case (IMO), good old simple" B/X does the job just fine.

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  3. This is a perfect example of why I don't like D&D for emulating Medieval Fantasy.

    I constantly hear fellow gamers saying they wish their campaign was like Games of Thrones. That sounds great...shall we serve up a party of fighters with very little to differentiate them then? I find it highly unlikely that this would please most Dungeons and Dragons fans.

    D&D, I have always felt, is excellent at emulating D&D. It is not especially good at modelling the literature, media, and sources that inspire it.

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    1. The thing that differentiates all those fighters is the way their character behaves & the choices they make. In other words, the role playing.

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  4. Samwell Tarley strikes me as more of a cloistered cleric, or a western-style monk/friar. Maybe Sam is a 1st level cleric, with no spellcasting ability yet?

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    1. Or an NPC sage of some sort, given he's not particularly good with that sword.

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  5. "hint: they're all in the 16-17 range"

    No, they all have 18 STR. On 3d6 in order, 1 person in 216 has an 18 STR. There are millions of people in Westeros, and the characters you mentioned are among the 10 strongest adults in the 7 Kingdoms. Even if you go with AD&D 18/% STR, 1 person in 21,600 has 18/100 STR, so all of these characters have 18/100 STR. Which one is the strongest is beyond the resolution of the simulation.

    I just finished a big analysis of ability score distribution using the ACKS level demographics info. 18s are less impressive and more common among adventurers than most people want to admit. 18 STR is "high school athlete" not "Conan".

    Also, The Hound, The Mountain, Brienne, Hodor, Robert Baratheon, and Strong Belwas (from the books) are not D&D humans. They all have giant blood, which in most editions would make them a different race with a STR bonus. In 5e, they would probably be goliaths. OSR D&D doesn't model that kind of thing, though.

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  6. The Gauntlet has been using Beyond the Wall to run a Game of Thrones inspired game. The Noble background sets from "Heroes Young and Old" basically gives you everything you need to differentiate characters.

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