271: Imagine Your Perfect Arcade Game

Imagine Your Perfect Arcade Game

Gaming groups around the country are playing Dungeons & Dragons using the old rules from the 1980s because of its concentration on imagination, and its do-it-yourself nature. Tavis Allison compares Red Box D&D to the greatest arcade game that you'll ever imagine.

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Yes, I was a Red Box-er myself. It really was well designed to teach the game, though I do wish that it (or one of the following boxes) had been better at teaching how to DM. For anyone I played with it was sadly all too arcade-like in that it was all about grinding out the points. Not until many years later did I understand all the potential for storytelling that the system contains.

The weakness of the old Red Box was the mechanics - the strength was how open it was to modification.

Some classes were all but un-playable unless you had open-ended role-playing. What's the point of a thief if you're being forced to grind through a combat-heavy dungeon? But open up the world to the possibility of strategic engagement, and suddenly the thief or combat-useless spells become a ticket to a completely different approach.

Sadly this put all too much pressure on the DM to handle all these possibilities, and that's the single point of failure of table-top D&D (and why computerized games are more successful): everyone wants to play and nobody wants to be the DM.

Very true, cefm. However by-the-book, DMs were supposed to use the Reaction table for monsters, which makes it far more likely that monsters will talk, scheme and otherwise engage with the players than simply attack.

Old School D&D's reputation as a hack-n-slash game is somewhat overstated, if you play by the rules. Of course nobody ever did! :)

They're guidelines, dammit, not rules! Heh heh.

I bet if I visited my parents this weekend I'd be able to find my old red box (and blue box if I was lucky to have not loaned it away). Good times. I was usually the DM and I was just a kid so I was pretty bad at it. I was one of those DMs that would try to keep everyone alive no matter how stupid they were. Once players figure this out, they seem to get even MORE stupid...

Hey fodder, I'd be happy to take those off your hands if you're not using them... :)

Interesting. It touches on something videogames, to me, lack - to instill the spirit to create one. The amount of aficcionados that want to become a creator in their media of choice is way too low in video games - between Velvet Underground and the Red Box there isn't a game that makes people want to create their own games. (Well, maybe Neverwinter Nights? I never played it so blah.)

It's strange because it blurs the line between the creation of a new thing and mere adaptions. Sure, there are plenty of modders out there, but to me enjoying a game so much you create a mod isn't the equivalent of enjoying a book so much you write your own novel - it's enjoying a book so much you write fan fiction for it. Sure, it requires some talent and can hone your writing skill, but you'll never get much acclaim, artistic or financial, for derivative work. But does this apply in this situation? To what point are Red Box players creating a new thing as opposed to merely building upon them? The question is even more complex when I think of all the myriad DIY DnD add-ons.

Even though I'm biased from my own experience. Lately I've been seeking a simple system to settle down on and run whenever I want, but my whole life I created RPGs from whole cloth. Can you imagine what a homebrewn RPG created by a console gamer looked like? It was a mashup of Final Fantasy and Pokémon with some very vague idea of what DnD kind of looked like and simple, basic RPG concepts being flung at the players' faces. I loved it.

Oh, look at me talking about video games and homebrewn systems when you guys want to talk about DnD. I'll go away now.

I started playing D&D (now known as Basic D&D or Original D&D back in '77 when I was 10 years old, in daily summer camp. The first time I played, I was enthralled. The second time, I asked to borrow the DM's book and read it around the pool (and read it for so long I sunburned my back!). Later that summer, for my birthday, I got the original Blue Box Edition.

image
This one.

Ah, for the days when "Elf" and "Dwarf" were classes as well as races, and clerics started receiving spells only at 2nd level! I can still tell you all about my first character, Zenobia, and how she got her two party mates killed at Keep on the Borderlands (they wanted to enter and sack it, my character was lawful, offered to take the last watch guardpost, and after they were in reverie, she ran to the Keep and warned them. When the elves woke, they decided my character had been killed and dragged off in the night. When they got to the keep and claimed to be "friend" when asked "Friend or Foe?", they got told "You lie!" and ballista bolted for their trouble.)

D&D brings back many wonderful memories for me, and I still have most of my early D&D stuff, from B2, Keep on the Borderlands, to B1, In Search of the Unknown. And who can forget the Tomb of Horrors, the module that led to hundreds of TPKs (Total Party Kills)?

capt.fodder:
They're guidelines, dammit, not rules! Heh heh.

Which brings me to a new quote for this

7th Sea Game Master's Guide opening paragraph:

The first rule of 7th Sea is there are no rules, the second is cheat anyway

Yes, it really says that right when you start reading it.

LadyRhian, I started with the Holmes Blue Box; my hat's off to you as a player of the original White Box! When you say you started playing at summer camp, was it part of the curriculum? There were & are some summer camps where that's the case.

The Random One, I think the casual game scene is a good place to look for people inspired to create their own video games. As with D&D, many of them are both derivative and retro; my eight-year-old is totally familiar with the NES pixel aesthetic because it inspires so many of the games we play after they're reviewed at jayisgames.com.

The way I think about whether we're creating a new thing when we play Red Box is in terms of genres. Some authors create stories that define a whole new genre, e.g. all detective fiction derives from Poe's "The Gold Bug". The stories we create in play are the opposite; we're working firmly within the conventions of a genre, and the D&D sub-genre can be as narrow and formulaic as the locked-room mystery. Still, within that framework people can and do create individual works of creativity. I see the difference between a genre story and fan-fic as resting on whether it uses generic elements, or appropriates specific ideas and characters; Star Wars is in the space opera genre, but because it invents Jedi to fill the genre role instead of telling stories about Lensmen it doesn't count as E.E. "Doc" Smith fanfic.

To translate that into videogame terms, D&D is a game genre like a shooter. The difference between two games within a genre, like Space Invaders and Galaga, comes down to the particular challenges you face using basically-identical mechanics. Likewise, you can consider the Red Box Glantri and Black Peaks campaigns to be different games because each feature similar gameplay versus unique foes set against a different backgrop.

Red Box sounds interesting
But I like more committed gaming
Normal 4E is good for me.

seydaman, is that a haiku? I'm not good with syllables.

There are plenty of people who play Red Box or other old-school RPGs in a committed, campaign style - for example, the Escapist's publisher. And D&D Encounters is a drop-in, low-commitment organized play program for 4E.

There's some relationship between the rules and the commitment level - a game that requires you to spend a lot of time making characters doesn't work well for drop-in campaigns, which is why Encounters encourages you to use pre-gens. And a system that has a lot of built-in randomness, like Red Box, also teaches you to handle unpredictable player schedules well.

But ultimately the commitment expectation depends on the group's preference, not their preferred system.

I played the original Red Box rule set and was a perfectly happy camper. The mechanics were spot on, as we didn't feel a need to rule-masturbate. Sure, we followed the rules, but they were straight forward.

The subsequent additions, 2nd, 3.5, etc. started making people more and more slaves to rules as people slowly started thinking that since an official book said so, that was the way it was supposed to be. Fun started becoming secondary to riding the rulebook.

No wonder the old set provided the most fun. Might just pick it up somewhere and start a new group.

Btw, the art for original D&D was a MAJOR reason why people got into it, at least the folks I knew. If it hadn't had the awesome art, no amount of "awesome" rules or mechanics could have saved the day. Dragons, warriors, sexy women, magic, bad ass monsters, all rendered to perfection by artists of the day. That's what drew people into it. The fun made them stay.

(Sure, some other games have been popular despite having crappy art or being very dry, but there's a reason why D&D really hit it big. Much of the same probably why WoW is so popular still. Epic imagery and easy to play.)

I started with the original wood print (later white) box in 1974. The Red Box doesn't carry the same weight of nostalgia and emotion for me, but the game does. It was, and is, pure magic. These days I've moved on to Pathfinder from 3.5 and I still love the game. A lot more rules now, of course, but I still house rule it for any number of things. I've never been a slave to the official rules although I'm sure a lot of players / DMs are... In the early game you put in as much as the "official rules" making you feel like a "co-creator" in a way that more current systems don't. Pathfinder evokes some of that with their large opwn play tests I think. Another reason it's as popular as it is I'd say.

 

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