Saturday, August 24, 2019

Going (Not Growing) Old

My wife's been out-of-town the last few days and I've taken the opportunity to show my kids a bunch of films they've never seen: The Secret of NIMH, The Wizard of Oz, and The Dark Crystal. I started showing them The Pied Piper of Hamelin (1957), but the blank-verse used in the dialogue proved very distracting and weird for them.

These are some of the "kids films" of my youth; films of fantasy and death and subtle humor. They weren't rated PG-13 for bad language and excessive explosions. They weren't filled with especially silly or crude humor. The concepts being discussed weren't especially shallow repeats of morality that most grade schoolers already know by heart; and they're fraught with tough choices and hard life lessons.

Look at the opening scenes to The Wizard of Oz. Almira Gulch comes and takes away Dorothy's dog, ostensibly to have it destroyed by the sheriff for biting her. This is not some twirling mustachioed villain who the audience knows will get her comeuppance for being under-handed; this is a woman with a mean streak, a legal claim, and the influence (due to owning "half the county") to exercise her will. The Gale family has no choice but to give in to her demands; what's more she's RIGHT...the dog did bite her, Dorothy admits her own fault in the matter, and the girl is now forced to face the CONSEQUENCES of her negligence. That's a tough lesson to learn, but it's true to life, too.

Contrast this with, say, Moana, where her disobedience suffers no consequences but is instead rewarded. We celebrate her courage and adventurous spirit, even while giving her no real choice of action (what, she can stay on the island till everyone dies of starvation?).

I know, I know...that's all apples to oranges. And anyway, I'm not trying to fire up another rant about how everything sucks now and why can't we go back to the "good ol' days" (whippersnappers!). Really! MY POINT (such as it is), is that I wanted to share some of the motion picture stories from my formative years with my children, and was pleasantly surprised at how much I still enjoyed them and found in them a depth and complexity I hadn't really expected...mainly because they don't seem to make movies like that anymore.

[yes, yes...there are still good children's movies being made, even of the "dark fantasy" variety: the Maleficent film of 2014 comes to mind, though I didn't find it especially subtle. 2008's WALL-E was also better than most, though perhaps overly slapstick]

My wife sometimes gives me grief for wanting to "re-watch old movies," and often becomes hesitant when I want to show the kids something that they have the slightest trepidation about being "creepy" or "scary." That's why I took the chance of her being gone to screen these films...I didn't want her to add to the trepidation or (worse) give in to the children's complaints. "We don't want to watch that! Can't we just watch Incredibles 2 or Lego Ninjago (for the fiftieth time)?" No, dammit! Getting Diego to watch The Dark Crystal was like pulling teeth, and he spent an inordinate amount of time attempting to convince his sister that it was too scary for her, based on his nervousness of the Skeksis.

Of course, they ended up loving all the films (and wanting to re-watch them) and telling mama on the phone later how they'd watched all these great movies and now she needed to see them, too. Sometimes, I guess, papa is right about this kind of shit and maybe one day they'll come to trust his judgment from the get go. Maybe. And maybe there's something to "old stuff" that's actually kind of cool and not-so-terrible after all.

Which, of course, is all preamble to talking about AD&D. One of my readers (Grodog) hipped me to Anthony Huso and his blog, The Blue Bard. Mr. Huso appears to be a much more accomplished, creative, and interesting person than myself. However, that alone does not inspire nearly the envy in my heart that his gaming does: the guy is a dedicated and devoted adherent to Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (first edition).

And it's not just "lip-service AD&D;" apparently a man after my own heart, Anthony attempts to run run AD&D as By The Book as possible...and he's having a great time doing it. His story is pretty damn amazing: he jumped back into gaming in 2014 with Pathfinder. After playing it for eight months and finding that "It sucks balls" he forced his group to adopt the original AD&D system, costing him one player while gaining two new ones. They've been playing it bi-weekly ever since, and loving the hell out of it.

In order to run AD&D as written...something that even Gygax was purported NOT to do...Huso studied his ass off learning and memorizing the texts (the DMG and PHB) and then went about creating his own spreadsheets and DM screens to enable him to run the game with little fuss and muss. He's brought little to the game in terms of "house rules:" slightly changing movement value per segment in order to enable easier miniature use, simplifying weapon vs. armor adjustments to not be armor dependent, reducing spell components to their simple cost in gold (as a resource expenditure), and slowing down psionic combat (so that PCs don't get gaffled by psi-monsters out-o-hand) seem to be his main changes.  Most everything else he runs RAW.

And running the game RAW he finds it preserves the integrity and (system) economy of the game, allowing for a deeper experience with meaningful character choices and dramatic, enjoyable gameplay.

That's fantastic. Hell, it's inspiring. I'm, disappointed? Disgruntled?...when I read or hear  some player or blogger who purports to run and prefer AD&D but can't be bothered to learn and/or utilize its inherent systems. group was doing that back when we were 12 and 13 years old, and we didn't even have computers in those days (certainly not ones you could take to the table). Yes, we'd make mistakes...or find some previously overlooked bit of minutia scattered through the pages of the rulebooks...and then learn from those mistakes and incorporate that minutia.

I've been playing B/X the last many years (in part) because I wasn't interested in dealing with the crunch of AD&D, not because I couldn't or didn't have the ability to do so.

Anyway, his blog posts on the subject of AD&D are worth a read for those interested in that particular edition...I've already taken the time to read most of them more than once. As I consider how to best "advance" my own gaming agenda, I have a feeling I'll be using The Blue Bard as a reference and example of some of the possibilities of a truly old method of play.


  1. Replies
    1. @Justin:

      Just let me get the kids back in school. That's next on the project list.

    2. Kew, I can let you wrangle the kidos

  2. Your story of old, awesome movies and kids nowadays and sceptical wife resonates with me. I have to tread carefully.

    Willy Wonka and Pee Wee's Big Adventure were fine, but the girls don't care about Star Wars and borderline scary movies are a no-go. Beastmaster! This October I want to screen the original Ghostbusters. Tentacles crossed...

  3. I am looking forward to your explorations into AD&D. I've never had the patience with Gygax's prose to delve into the game in the fashion you propose, and I chalk that up as a personal fault of mine; doesn't mean it is something I don't want done. I do. And I think the game deserves it, too.