Earlier today I was shown some word clouds
pulled from various D&D manuals. I found them very interesting,
so I went out and created a few of my own -- one for each major
iteration of the D&D rules.
For those of you unfamiliar with word
clouds: They're a way of analyzing a body of data -- in this case, the
text of the core rulebooks for D&D.
& Dragons (1974)
Basic Dungeons & Dragons
- Rules Cyclopedia
Dungeons & Dragons (1st Edition)
Dungeons & Dragons (2nd Edition)
& Dragons (3rd Edition)
The thing I find interesting about all of
these word clouds is their fundamental similarity. From generation to
generation of the game, the same major words pop out consistently:
Spell, Level, Character, Damage, Magic, Creature.
Of course, these gross similarities gloss
over countless differences. And I can understand that, for some people,
those small differences can be huge and insurmountable obstacles.
(There are, after all, still people who argue that the thief should
never have been added as a class in the Greyhawk Supplement.) But I
think the lineage of the game is clear and constant.
And then we come to 4th Edition:
& Dragons (4th Edition)
And suddenly everything is different.
I think one can end up hyper-analyzing the
differences in ways that are not particularly illuminating or
enlightening. (For example, does the prominent "GP" in 3rd Edition's
word cloud indicate an obsession with treasure? Not really. The
individual creation costs listed for every magic item in the DMG is
most likely responsible. Similarly, one could probably put together a
fascinating -- but ultimately pointless -- analysis of the relative
size of the word "character" in each edition.)
But what strikes me about the 4th Edition
word cloud -- compared to the others -- is the substantive and nearly
complete shift in prominent terminology.
If, in previous editions, we're looking at
the difference between five card draw, Texas Hold 'Em, and seven card
stud, then I think with 4th Edition we're looking at the diference
between poker and gin.
Of course, this isn't
anything I haven't said before. But I thought these word
clouds were an interesting and different way of looking at the
difference between D&D and 4th Edition.
The PCs spent the night in the jungle,
eating acrid centipede meat and narrowly avoiding some curious stirges.
Shortly before dawn, Cruhst the Cleric heard a large party of some sort
moving about in the clearing near the ruins. He crept closer, but it
was a moonless night and he couldn't make out more than vaguely humanoid shadows
The next morning, Nichol groggily regained
consciousness and the party decided to return to the ruins.
When they reached the tree-breach in the
building, Veera and Warrain pulled themselves up and peeked inside.
They weren't pleased by what they saw: Eight hyena-faced humanoids, a
minotaur, and a dog-faced humanoid (which they termed an "anubis") were
lounging around the stairs, clearly keeping some sort of guard.
Warrain threw a sleep spell at
them. The eight hyena-faced humanoids dropped like rocks, but the
minotaur and the anubis were still on their feet. Warrain cursed. He
and Veera both dropped to the ground and ran back towards the other.
From behind them, they could hear the
minotaur shouting in Ancient Thracian (which, happily, Warrain could
understand): "TREACHERY! KILL THEM! KILL THEM ALL!"
Warrain and Veera quickly explained the
situation to the others and Warrain suggested that they run for it.
But, instead, they stood there and debated.
The minotaur came running out of the
building, loping up the side of the slanting tree and leaping down into
the meadow. The injured Nichol and Warrain hung back, but Cruhst,
Ghaleon, and Veera charged the minotaur.
The minotaur lowered his head, speared
Cruhst through the chest, and threw him to one side like a ragdoll. The
motion carried him between Ghaleon and Veera, who both swung wild and
missed. The minotaur whirled toward them. Nichol took the opportunity
to come up from behind and stab him.
Unfortunately, Cruhst's death was only the
beginning. Although they inflicted some remarkably grievous wounds on
the minotaur, Ghaleon was knocked unconscious and then Warrain failed a
saving throw against a sleep
spell hurled by the anubis magic-user (who had climbed out onto the
tree himself). Veera and Nichol didn't last much longer.
Total Party Kill.
OF A TPK
The dice did not like this group.
First you had the truly abominable rolling
for hit points. In a group with a total of 5D + 3 hit points, they
ended up with only 12 hit points. (The average result is 20.5 hit
Then there was the random encounter: There
was a 60% chance that there would be a random encounter in that
particular building. The encounter was rolled on the Gnoll Patrol
table. I rolled a 6 on 1d6, generating the worst possible result: 8
gnolls + a special.
So I rolled on the Specials table... and got
a 6 on 1d6, generating a result of "reroll twice on this table". I then
rolled the two hardest opponents on the table.
in OD&D, it turns out, don't have any spells at 1st level.
means there's no magical healing. You would think this would be
significant, but since everyone pretty much died the first time they
were hit, it wouldn't have made much difference.
Tactically, they knew the minotaur was bad
news. The shouldn't have tried to engage it in the first place. Having
engaged it, they should have followed Warrain's advice to run or tried
to lay some sort of ambush (instead of standing out in the open and
talking about it).
The entire foray (exploring the building,
going down and fighting the lizardmen, coming back up, and fighting the
minotaur-led gnolls) took about 20-30 minutes of playing time.
A few of my players were ready to toss in
the towel at this point, but the rest of us talked them into rolling up
a new set of characters and trying it again.
When Nichol didn't return to civilization,
his explorer's journal was sent to his son and heir, Karl. Karl hired a
group of mercenaries and treasure hunters to accompany him into the
jungle, hoping to discover the fate of his father. (This was my way of
avoiding the need to generate fresh rumours on the Rumour Table.)
Karl was accompanied by the witches Reeva
and Trust, a halfling fighter
named Thalmain, and Fientar the Cleric. (The witches were just
magic-users. Reeva, as you may already suspect, was run by the same
player as Veera. It should be noted that, with this second group, a
huge premium was placed on getting the best armor possible. Getting hit
was directly equated to being dead, so heavy emphasis was immediately
placed on not
This time the random 1d8 roll determined
that they would be approaching the ruins from the southwest. As a
result, they ended up practically stumbling over a short, squat
of gray-black stone that was hidden within a small copse of trees. A
rusty gate on one side of the building led to a narrow flight of stairs
that plunged down into darkness.
(I kinda regretted that they stumbled over
this second entrance to the dungeons. It would have been nice for them
to return to the first building they had explored, since (a) I'm
sadistic and (b) the minotaur had ordered that the heads of the
previous PCs be placed on spikes in the clearing in front of the
building as a warning to others.)
Thalmain made some efforts to get the rusty
to open quietly. When that didn't work he started trying to remove the
hinges, but at that point Karl (like his father before him) got
impatient and yanked the gate open
with a hideous screeching noise.
They lit a lantern and headed down. The
stairs bottomed out at a deep chasm. A rope bridge extended across the
chasm. Karl inspected the bridge closely -- ascertaining that it was of
recent construction and in good repair -- before starting to walk
Half-way across the bridge, a spear came
flying out of the darkness. It impaled Karl through the chest. He
(Nichol had a Constitution of 9 and survived
his first brush with mortality. His son Karl, on the other hand, only
had a Constitution of 6 and died instantly.)
Thalmain and Trust fired blindly (and
ineffectively) into the darkness. Thalmain then got the idea to light
one of his arrows on fire so that they could see what was on the other
side of the bridge. The arrow soared over the head of a
broadsword-wielding guard dressed in plate armor who was charging
towards the bridge. Eerily, the guard's eyes were solid black.
(The black eyes were my reaction to this
passage from the rules ("Monsters & Treasure", pg. 5):
...it is generally true that any
monster or man can see in total darkness as far as the dungeons are
concerned except player characters.
I thought this was rather silly. I felt
there needed to be some explanation of this discrepancy. And thus the
followers of Thanatos were given their ebon-eyed visage.)
Reeva tried to use her dagger to hack
through the ropes holding up the bridge, but she was too slow. The
ebon-eyed guard sliced open her back as he ran past her off the bridge.
She collapsed in a pool of her own blood.
The others rallied, however, and quickly
killed the guard without suffering any additional injuries. Worried
about possible reinforcements, they grabbed all of the bodies (the
guard, Reeva, and Karl) and dragged them back up the stairs and into
the jungle. There they stripped the plate armor off the guard,
discovered that Karl was dead, and dressed Reeva's wound.
AND BACK FOR MORE!
They heard someone approaching through the
thick foliage of the jungle. Drawing their weapons they waited
A dwarf walked out of the trees.
This was Jorgen, son of Karl, son of Nichol.
He had been sent by his grandmother to find his father.
"Okay, we have some bad news for you..."
Jorgen, of course, was the the third PC of
the night for the player of Nichol and Karl. His ability scores were
absolutely abominable: 9 Strength, 8 Intelligence, 4 Wisdom, 14
Dexterity, 5 Constitution, and 7 Charisma.
While she was waiting for Jorgen to be
introduced, the player asked for another character sheet so that she
could roll up her next
character and "speed things up a bit". She was clearly embracing the
lethality of old school play.
She was less than happy, however, to
discover that her next
character (Herbert the Elf) would have had the best ability scores
of the night: 13 Strength, 15 Intelligence, 17 Wisdom, 9 Dexterity, 12
Constitution, and 10 Charisma. He also ended up with 7 hit points (the
And thus the joking began: Dwarves, it was
theorized, were cursed. That explained all the bad ability score rolls
for Nichol, Karl, and Jorgen.
More importantly, how had Jorgen even found
them with an Intelligence of 8 and Wisdom of 4?
"You hear noises approaching
"Okay, quick. Kill him now before you see
him, then I can just switch over to Herbert."
But no, Jorgen would live and Herbert would
(for the nonce, anyway) be shelved.
Jorgen, however, quickly earned the nickname
of "Wheezy" -- his low Constitution leaving him with a horrible case of
asthma and a slightly arhythmic heart. It turned out that Jorgen, son
of Karl, son of Nichol was -- like all dwarves -- the result
of horrible inbreeding. Dwarves, it turned out, bred in their
underground warrens like rabbits. The tunnels were packed full of them.
Which is probably why Jorgen was pushed out the front door and sent on
his way. ("Go find your father!" "Didn't he just leave like an hour
ago? For god's sake woman!" Cough. Cough. Wheeze.)
Okay, you probably had to be there. But by
the end of it, we were all nearly dead from laughter. I could scarcely
Reeva woke up before dawn with a stiff and
scabrous back. The rest of the night passed quietly and, in the
morning, they headed back down the stairs.
Two more guards had been placed at the far
end of the rope bridge. But Thalmain and Trust kept them harried with
missile fire while the rest of the party rushed across the bridge and
engaged them. In short order they were dead.
It turned out that the guards had been
standing duty outside of two large wooden doors. Jorgen
grabbed his 10-foot pole and jammed it through the handles of the
doors, barring them shut... And just in time, too, as someone tried to
open them from within.
"Dmitri! What is it? Are you all right?"
Jorgen tried to bluff them: "Everything's
It didn't work. Everything within fell
quiet... too quiet.
Jorgen grabbed one of the broadswords the
guards had carried and jammed it through the handles, taking back his
10-foot pole. Then they kicked the guards' bodies over the edge of the
chasm (they head a splash and a sickening crunch from below).
They headed off in a different direction,
crossing over another rope bridge through a chasm where they were
harried by giant bats. They eventually reached a chapel guarded by more
of the ebon-eyed guards.
These guards they killed, but not before
Jorgen, son of Karl, son of Nichol was brutally cut down. (And with a
Constitution of 5, he wasn't getting back up.)
Proceeding into the chapel they found a
sacrificial altar hidden behind some black drapes. Bound to the altar
and gagged was a prisoner: Herbert the Elf!
And that's where we ended the session. It
was a weeknight and people were beginning to wear out. We'd
gamed for about 4 hours (including the 45 minutes or so spent on going
over the rules and creating characters at the beginning of the night).
Opinions of the evening were split.
The final PC death tally stood at 7. (It
would have been 9 without the Constitution-based survival checks I was
making.) After the TPK one of the players very visibly checked out of
the game -- it seemed like they just couldn't be bothered to care any
more. The player of Nichol/Karl/Jorgen/Herbert -- while providing some
of the best entertainment of the evening with her spontaneous
explanation of dwarven mating habits -- was becoming visibly pissed off
by the end of it.
(As she later put it, "An entire dwarven
family was destroyed tonight.")
Another player later summed up their
impression by saying, "OD&D = Death + Math."
Everyone else seemed to enjoy themselves. At
least one of the players seemed eager to continue playing through the
scenario. (Given the mixed reactions from the others, I doubt that will
happen. But we'll see.)
From my perspective, I would have liked to
see the Caverns of
Thracia get a little more thoroughly explored. But on the
flip-side, there was something extremely rewarding about watching the
dungeon slowly assume that old school aura of terror/respect.
The players were also slowly learning (or
re-learning) classic dungeoncrawling skills. They went from
more-or-less barging straight ahead to taking a gradually more cautious
and clever approach.
also like to take the opportunity to say that the spontaneous coining
of the name "anubis" for the dog-faced humanoid they confronted was
probably the highlight of the evening for me. It just felt like the
perfect Old School moment -- like the first time someone referred to an
illithid as a "mind flayer" and the name stuck or something -- and I
could easily see myself statting up a race of dog-faced anubians for a
Rules mastery also plays a role in the
success of a session. I was certainly struggling in several places
trying to figure out how to handle certain things. (And the poor
organization, layout, and wording of the rulebooks certainly didn't
help matters.) I was beginning to find my groove towards the end and I
wouldn't mind running a few more sessions in the Caverns just to get a
feel for what it's like to run OD&D from a position of having
really internalized the system (however kooky it may be).
have to, once again, beat down the temptation of trying to rewrite,
codify, and re-organize the rules into something more useful. It would
certainly make the game (much) easier to run, but it would also kill
something vital. Decoding the rulebook is part of the experience here.
I want to play a cleaned up version of this game, I've got 3rd Edition.
(4th Edition, of course, is a completely different roleplaying game
with no clear lineage to OD&D except its trademark.)
the other hand, it might be interesting at some point to take the
OD&D rulebooks and deliberately explore the path that wasn't
Whenever a rule leaves itself open to interpretation or whenever
Arneson and Gygax explicitly give us more than one option, take the
path that subsequent editions of D&D didn't take. See
what sort of game you end up with and then refine it from there. Call
it the D&D
Apocrypha if you like.
I've talked before about the peculiar
penchant for 4th Edition's designers to "fix" a "problem" by either (a)
it worse or (b) not
fixing it at all.
Mike Mearls is talking about a similar "solution" that didn't actually
get implemented for 4th Edition, but demonstrates the same inability to
solve a problem even when you're explicitly trying to solve it: I
can click through and read his entire blog entry, but allow me to sum
up. Mearls has two problems with resistances, both of which stem from
the fact that you'r better off NOT dealing cold damage to a creature
with resistance to cold damage:
(1) It creates a value disparity
between energy types if the DM predominantly uses creatures with one
particular resistance type. (For example, if there are lots of
creatures with resistance to cold damage, then cold-based spells are
devalued compared to other energy types.)
(2) It means that if
you're a in a cold-dominated setting (with lots of cold-based creatures
with resistance to cold damage), then you're better off NOT playing an
ice mage (since you'll have a bunch of cold-based spells). Mearls finds
this thematically inconsistent because he wants his Frozen North
populated with ice mages and his Sultry South populated with fire mages.
These are both absolutely true. (Although
I'll delve into the aesthetic sense of the latter a little later.)
Mearls then proposes two "solutions":
Instead of resistances, creatures would get abilities that would allow
them to negate damage from energy attacks of a particular type.
Basically these are still resistances, but you can only use them
against X number of attacks per encounter or per day.
of resistant damage, creatures would get bonus abilities when hit with
sympathetic energy types. For example, a cold-based creature hit with
cold damage might get an extra breath weapon attack or a bonus to AC.
The problem? Neither of these does anything to solve
the problems Mearls claims to be solving.
PART OF THE WORD "FIX" DO YOU NOT UNDERSTAND?
the root of the issue: The problems Mearls cites are emergent behaviors
based on the fact that a cold-based creature benefits from being
targeted by cold-based damage (even if that benefit is nothing more
than "I take less damage than if you'd hit me with something else").
Because the cold-based creature benefits
from cold-based damage, you're making it advantageous to use
non-cold-based damage on them.
Mearls' "solutions", of course,
still benefit cold-based creatures targeted by cold-based attacks. And,
as a result, the exact same emergent behavior results: You're better
off using non-cold-based damage against cold-based creatures.
with that being said, I will point out that both of the mechanics
Mearls proposes are, in fact, interesting mechanics. I can imagine a
lot of interesting uses for them: A membraneous
horror that reflects sonic attacks. A fire-infused
absorbs ambient flame, concentrates it in their translucent-skinned
stomach, and belches it forth. A frost-born behemoth that armors itself
with living ice.
They just don't do what
Mearls claims they do.
MAGES IN THE FROZEN NORTH
can also understand the thematic interest Mearls has in having ice
mages rearing crystalline towers in the Frozen North and fire mages
dancing on volcano rims in the Sultry South.
But if that's your
goal, then you need to explain why wizards in the Frozen North would
tend to prefer ice-based magic. I would suggest creating a system where
extreme environmental conditions encourage the use of sympathetic magic
types. (In other words, if you're on a glacier it's either easier to
use your ice magic or your ice magic is more powerful or both.
volcanoes are great places for fire magic. And you can strengthen this
association if you impose penalties at the opposite extreme -- casting
ice-based magic is more difficult near volcanoes; casting fire-based
magic is more difficult on a glacier.)
Without that kind of
sympathetic encouragement, it will never make much sense for wizards in
the Frozen North to specialize in ice magic -- for much the same reason
that it doesn't make much sense to turn your air conditioner on in the
middle of winter.
I had someone drop me an e-mail requesting a
quick overview of the various editions of D&D. In the context
of the Reactions to
OD&D essays, I thought it might be a useful
reference for people who are a little less familiar with the history of
If you want more details on the history of
D&D, the "Editions
of Dungeons & Dragons"
article at Wikipedia is a
pretty solid resource. If you want an exhaustive detailing of every
single change made between each printing of the early rulebooks, then
the Acaeum is an excellent resource.
The only important thing you need to remember
here is that D&D split into two separate games in
Dungeons & Dragons and Dungeons & Dragons
(with the latter often being referred to as Basic D&D or
The terms used below are not official, but
they are the most commonly used nomenclature in the fan community.
With the exception of the Rules Cyclopedia,
all of these games were sold as boxed sets.
(Original Dungeons & Dragons, White Box): The original edition
of the game designed by Dave Arneson and Gary Gygax, first published in
1974 as a boxed set comprising three volumes -- Men & Magic,
& Treasure, and Underworld & Wilderness
Adventures. These books would receive various errata in
subsequent printings (with the most notable change being the purging of
references to Tolkien's works following a lawsuit from the Tolkien
Estate), but remained substantially unaltered.
Edition (1977): Published as the Basic Set in 1977.
Eric Holmes is credited as having "edited" the book, but it's actually
a complete re-design and re-edit of the original game.
Edition (1981): A completely revised Basic Rulebook and
a brand new Expert
Rulebook published in 1981. Tom Moldvay is credited for
"editing" the Basic Set.
David Cook and Steven Marsh are credited for "editing" the Expert Set. (I'm
not clear on why Tom Moldvay is usually the only guy who gets credit
for this version of the game. But he is.)
(1983 - 1985): Comprising the Basic
Rules, and Immortal
Rules. (With the exception of the Expert Rules, these
boxed sets each contained two volumes -- one for players and one for
the DM. The first two sets are, once again, completely revised.) These
sets are variously credited as being "edited", "compiled", or simply "by" Frank
Cyclopedia (1991): A single-volume hardback which
collected the BECMI rules with minimal alteration (basically just
applying errata). However, the Rules Cyclopedia
lacked the rules for Immortals (which were published separately as the Wrath of the Immortals
In addition to these rules, a total of five
different Basic Sets were produced between 1991 and 1999 under the
names The Dungeons
& Dragons Game or The Classic Dungeons &
Dragons Game. These all differed from each other in
various ways, but all of them were designed to serve as "teasers" or
"primers" for the Rules
Cyclopedia edition of the game. So if you're considering
distinct iterations of the rules, they can be ignored.
DUNGEONS & DRAGONS
All of these editions were published as
three separate core rulebooks: A Player's
Handbook, a Dungeon
Master's Guide, and a Monster
Manual (the last of these under various titles, as
1st Edition (1977 - 1979): Designed by Gary Gygax. The
original Monster Manual
was published in 1977, followed by the Player's Handbook
in 1978 and the Dungeon
Master's Guide in 1979. These books were re-issued with
new covers in 1983 (which are easily recognizable due to their orange
spines), but were not revised. Also referred to as AD&D1.
Arcana (1985): TSR officially identified Unearthed Arcana as
a core rulebook. Since it included not only expansions but also
alterations in the game, it is sometimes referred to as the Edition 1.5.
2nd Edition (1989): The 2nd Edition was published in 1989
as the Player's Handbook,
Master's Guide, and Monstrous
Compendium. The re-design is primarily credited to David
"Zeb" Cook. In 1993 the Monstrous
Compendium was replaced with the Monstrous Manual.
In 1995, these books were re-issued with new covers and a new layout
(but no meaningful change to the rules). Also referred to as AD&D2.
Options (1995): Also referred to as Edition 2.5. Three
optional core rulebooks known as the Player's Options released in 1995:
& Tactics, Skills
& Powers, and Spells
& Magic. There was also the DM's Option: High Level Campaigns.
3rd Edition (2000): Released as the Player's Handbook, Dungeon Master's Guide,
and Monster Manual.
This edition was designed by Monte Cook, Jonathan Tweet, and Skip
Williams. Also referred to as D&D3 or 3rd Edition.
3.5 (2003): Revised versions of the 3rd Edition core
rulebooks. The revision team was Rich Baker, Andy Collins, David
Noonan, Rich Redman, and Skip Williams.
So, if you count the Unearthed Arcana
and Player's Options
as distinct edition, then there have been 10 editions of D&D: