Episode 38: The Grand 1E vs B/X Smackdown!

Zock-Bock-Radio Episode 38

A lingering theme in our english language episodes has been the puzzlement of host Settembrini over the B/X and OSE crazes, given his fondness for AD&D 1st Edition. The time of reckoning has arrived, OSE-Module-Writer, B/X afficcionado and RC-DM Prince of Nothing steps up to defend the Basic family. We go through minute and sweeping differences, alleged beginner friendliness, the myth of the complicated wargame, mischaracterizations of 1e and theories of why Basic D&D remains the go-to strain in the wider OSR.

With Settembrini and the Prince of Nothing.


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13 Kommentare

  1. Well done gentlemen, highly entertaining. And what stamina.
    The simplifications in B/X are sometimes unhelpful, and spells are a good example. As you both pointed out, there should be limits/costs on some of the most useful. Also in the descriptions, 1E seems a clear winner when you consider the progression of Phantasmal Force/Improved Phantasmal Force/Spectral Force as it moves from visual only, adding some auditory effects, and finally full noise plus thermal: now one has more tools to adjudicate how effective that illusionary fireball is. I like using these spells in combinations, e.g. fireball then spectral force, dig then phantasmal force (of no pit).

  2. Enjoyable episode.

    One niggle: Settembrini misrepresents how OSE handles action declaration in combat. One page 130 of the OSE rules tome, it says spells and movement in melee (i.e. retreats) should be declared. In Moldvay, on B24 (also X24), it says under Defensive Movement „A character who wants to use one of these forms must say so before the initiative roll for the round.“ On X11, under CASTING RESTRICTIONS, it says „The caster must inform the DM that a spell is being cast and which spell will be cast before the initiative dice are rolled.“ In other words, OSE does not add things that aren’t in Moldvay & Cook. In fact, I am pretty sure Norman’s intent was to offer a retroclone that is as close to the original text as possible. I have my own issues with the OSE phenomenon – mainly how it commodifies a hobby that I like most of all as a refuge from consumerist capitalism – but I think this particular jab was ill-informed.

    Finally, a request: I am intrigued by the club Settembrini keeps talking about. It would be great to maybe get an English-language episode some time that discusses how your club was set up, how it works, etc. for those of us who have ambitions to do similar things in other parts of the world.

    1. Thanks for the close listen and the feedback! My reading of the combat example in B28 reinforced my impression that you are supposed to decide on actions when they come up. Including spells, as the player in round two (upon warned by the DM) switches his action after losing initiative to drawing a weapon. I did not check X before making my statement.

  3. Great show, as usual. „Smackdown“ is an apt description as this was far more a mauling than a duel between equals.

    [not saying that Prince isn’t proficient in his own sphere, but B/X proper isn’t the same as the melange of Basic systems and clones with which he plays]

    But most quibbles aside (I have a few) I found the it to be quite thoughtful…and amusing/entertaining…discourse. I’ve listened to the whole podcast twice now, and found at least a couple of your insights to be quite intriguing.

    RE wargaming as a key to innovation/understanding:

    You’ve brought this up in earlier episodes and you’re not totally off, but I think your theory needs to be tweaked slightly. The key to innovation and richer game play with regard to AD&D is, I think, effective world building, but the latter is (perhaps) best served in MANY regards by a study of historic warfare. Wargaming (at least the non-fantasy kind) does just this…it attempts to model real world operations, logistics, and strategic considerations with game-worthy systems and rules. My most recent foray into AD&D play has been accompanied by heavy doses of reading and research into both western history and ancient warfare (so often, sadly, intertwined) and the results have been spectacular as far as MY level of engagement and energy and endurance for real world building…and this has, quite naturally, spilled over to my players at the table.

    RE generational differences (discussion beginning at the 3:34 mark):

    I think you’ve hit upon a really valuable insight here; there is something to be said about how/when our entry into the hobby occurs and its part in our foundational assumptions.

    I found Prince’s casual sexism to be both obnoxious and misguided, but perhaps he is just Dutch? Not sure, but my personal experience with women gamers and who such gaming (classic D&D and/or AD&D) appeals to is quite different from his assumptions. True, I haven’t found the murder-hobo/dick posturing/juvenile male-isms to be as intense/prevalent in women as in men (though it IS there…plenty of ladies just want to blow shit up) but the energy and effort I’ve seen brought to the game…especially DM elements like world building, adventure design, etc…is generally equal or even greater from the female gamer.

    POSSIBLY because there ARE „barriers to access“ only the solid enthusiasts bother showing up?

    I don’t disagree that AD&D has its roots in the wargaming hobby and wargaming has traditionally been created (and dominated) by men. But to me, this isn’t a sign of asymmetrical interest so much as asymmetrical ACCESS. Wargaming grew out of military groups…groups that for the most part excluded women from their ranks until very recently. The idea that this makes for evidence of demographic appeal of a particular pastime (when the demographic is forced) is laughable to say the least.

    I grew up playing D&D in the early 80s…one of those 9-10 year olds with a B/X set and the usual shyness/awkwardness around girls. However, I had the great fortune to have parents whose friends had only daughters my age, so there were many times I was forced to interact/play with members of the opposite gender (and vice versa) outside the seething cauldron of hormones and insecurities that is the elementary/middle school classroom…and as I discovered their interest and enthusiasm for D&D, they were invited to join and game with my male classmates with whom I would have otherwise been left in isolation and (quite possibly) toxic testosterone.

    I can recount many tales of (male) gamers I met later in life who did not have the same good fortune in their foundational days. It definitely colored their perceptions of the gaming hobby.

    An interesting exercise might be to investigate the number of female designers whose names appear on adventure modules over the years. My initial impression is that there were far more in the EARLY days of TSR, then in the later days (when all those 12 year olds were growing up and entering/dominating the industry). Certainly the Hickmans are a prime example of a duo with roots in the 1970s college tradition.

    Anyway…good show, thanks for taking the time to record it (and in English!). Appreciate the discussion.

    1. I do not understand the need to rationalize and anecdotalize around what is self-evidently true but we must be patient with victims of social constructionist indoctrination. Mr. Becker has been a knowledgeable scholar on my blog and a good person and I ask that he be forgiven this outburst, which must have been brought on by some sort of evil spirit or exotic radiation.

      I could have fought much harder, but my heart was not in it. B/X is a fine introduction to DnD and its quick onboarding and lower barrier of entry will ensure its popularity but the more advanced versions are the truer, more versatile expression of the game. Once the change has been made from one to the other generally people do not go back.

  4. Settembrini,

    I dig your podcast. I would love it if you made some more English episodes. Perhaps have BX Blackrazor or Grodog on? Discuss some favorite modules and great play reports or something?

    It would be great to hear an episode with Huso or maybe EOTB or Zherbus or Ben L from Mazirians Garden

    Thanks for a great show.

  5. Ich habe kürzlich endlich Zock-Bock-Radio #38 zu Ende gehört — mein erster Podcast überhaupt und dann gleich vier Stunden. 8-o Ein paar Kommentare und ein längerer Exkurs zu meinem Projekt *Im Reich der Nibelungen*:

    Mein Herz schlägt derzeit für S&WCL, so dass ich im Moment wohl eher auf der ‚Basic‘-Seite stehe (oder ist das die ‚Original‘-Seite?).

    3W6-der-Reihe-nach bei B/X finde ich, in Verbindung mit frühen und hohen Boni und vor allem verkrüppelnden Mali persönlich auch nicht schön, aber genau wie niedrige TP und Tod bei Null kann man das leicht ändern–und weil Hausregeln bei (älteren Fassungen von) D&D allgemein üblich und leicht in das modulare System einzubauen sind, sehe ich das auch als legitim und nicht als unlogische Verteidigung nach dem Motto „Kein Problem, denn du kannst es ja ändern.“

    Ich finde es viel schwieriger, für alle Kreaturen N° appearing, % in lair usw. zu ergänzen. Gerade Kampfmoral vermisse ich bei S&WCL oder Complete schmerzlich und greife dann schon mal zum Monster Manual!


    Eine Stelle hat mich nachdenklich gemacht…

    Du beschreibst das Phänomen, dass manche Leute Angst vor den weit(er)reichenden Möglichkeiten mittel- oder hochstufiger Charaktere haben: Sinngemäß sagtest Du: ‚Oje, bitte bloß kein Fliegen-Zauber! Und Teleport, das ruiniert mir die Kampagne!‘. Ebenso schön und leider plausibel witzelte Prince ‚Am besten kriegen die erst gar keine Pferde!‘

    Tja, da sind mir schon einige Ähnlichkeiten zum meinem derzeitigen Ansatz aufgefallen, denn ich finde mich tatsächlich unter jenen wieder, die D&D einhegen (wenn auch weniger bzgl. Magie), damit sie auf leicht zu navigierendem Terrain verbleiben…

    Ich habe früher recht komplexe Kampagnen gespielt und auch geleitet. Erst hat ein Kumpel als SL alles Komplexe meisterlich im Hintergrund übernommen (und gemäß DSA-Idealen fleißig manipuliert), viel später habe ich das bei DCC geleistet (und zwar transparent und penibel korrekt mit geeigneten Prozeduren, z.B. für die Reaktion anderer politscher Fraktionen usw.). Aber derzeit ticke ich anders:

    *Im Reich der Nibelungen* mit seinen sieben magischen Gesetzen ist eine brutale Vereinfachung von D&D, die m.E. das Kunststück vollbringt, Ressourcenmanagement, Mietlinge, Charakterställe, Reaktionswürfe, sich dynamisch verändernde Abenteuerschauplätze, Allianzen mit Ungeheuern usw. zu *erhalten* — um den Preis, dass diese Optionen in recht enge Schemata gepresst werden, damit alles nur ja flott spielbar bleibt.

    Ein gutes Beispiel für meine Vorgehensweise ist das 2. Gesetz im Reich der Nibelungen: *Allein oder zu siebt.* In der Unterwelt oder sagenhaften Wildnis – ergo: im Abenteuer – muss die Gruppe aus genau sieben Mitgliedern bestehen (oder Reaktionswürfe werden nur noch mit 1W6 ausgeführt, d.h. die meisten Zufallsbegegnungen sind ungünstig gestimmt oder feindselig).

    Dies hat zur Folge, dass eine Gruppe von 4-6 Spielern für gewöhnlich 1-3 Plätze mit Fackelträgern und/oder Hunden auffüllt.

    Somit ist der Einsatz von Fackelträgern o.Ä. einerseits vorgeschrieben (damit wir diese Bereicherung genießen können!) und anderseits einfach & strikt geregelt (damit wir nicht zwei Stunden darüber diskutieren, ob und wie viele Fackelträger wir mitnehmen und ausrechnen, wie viele wir uns überhaupt leisten können und ob es nicht sowieso viel besser ist, zwei Dutzend Arbeiter einen Weg zur Grabkammer buddeln zu lassen).

    Ich glaube, ich habe meine Ziele mit *Im Reich der Nibelungen* erreicht … aber die Vereinfachungen stellen fraglos auch eine Verflachung oder gar Verarmung dar, gerade im Kontrast zu einer Grand Campaign mit AD&D.

    Ich halte meine Ziele für lohnend (und pragmatisch gesprochen: für meine Hauptrunde notwendig, da wir alle berufstätig sind, Kinder haben, z.T. nicht mit komplexen Regel klarkommen usw. usf.) und bin stolz auf mein Baby, aber ich sehne mich auch manchmal nach mehr Freiheit und Komplexität (allerdings jenseits der so weit verbreiteten Steuerung durch die Spielleitung). Bei DCC haben meine Spieler*innen einmal zwei Dutzend Arbeiter ins Dungeon eskortiert, um auf Ebene 3 ein paar riesige und wertvolle Spiegel zu demontieren und abzutransportieren. Das waren Zeiten!

    Danke für diesen Podcast — er hat mich einiges formulieren lassen, was mich schon länger umtreibt.


    So, jetzt aber noch ein bisschen mehr zu #38:

    Es ist wirklich Quatsch, dass man bei Mentzers *Immortal Rules* zur Gottwerdung zwischendurch alles aufgeben und wieder bei Stufe 1 anfangen muss. Das ist Angeberei mit nichts dahinter und hat nichts mit spielbaren oder gar getesteten Regeln zu tun.

    Dein Insistieren auf Kenntnis der Wurzeln des Spiels, also Wargaming, Diplomacy & Co, kann ich gut nachvollziehen, obwohl ich da selbst weitgehend unbeleckt bin. Aber was ich von Ethos, Komplexität, Kreativität und z.T. auch Regeln mitbekommen oder selbst erlebt habe (z.B. Diplomacys gleichzeitig aufzudeckenden Aktionen), ist ganz sicherlich relevant für unser Hobby und seine Weiterentwicklung. Deine Beiträge erzeugen bei mir Neugierde und Sehnsucht. Toll, dass du nicht müde wirst, eine Auseinandersetzung mit der Thematik zu fordern–und sehr vergnüglich, wie das Gurt-System den guten alten Prince als Dramaspieler entlarvt hat. 😉 😉 😉

  6. Sorry! I totally forgot that the podcast and the thread are in English and posted my response in German. *facepalm* Should I post an English version, too, or will anyone interested get by via DeepL?

  7. It was thoughtless to post in German, so here’s an English version (via DeepL and a lot of clean-up, as the program doesn’t know shit about D&D):

    I finally finished listening to Zock-Bock-Radio #38 recently – my first podcast ever and four hours straight straight away. 8-o A few comments and a longer digression about my project *In the Realm of the Nibelungs*:

    I am currently enamored of S&WCL, so I guess I’m more in the ‚basic‘ camp at the moment (or is that the ‚original‘ camp?).

    I’m not fond of 3d6-down-the-line in B/X either, due to the combination of early and high bonuses and especially crippling penalties, but just like low hp and death at zero you can easily change that – and since house rules are common in (older versions of) D&D and easy to build into the modular system, I also see that as legitimate and not an illogical defense along the lines of „No problem, because you can change it.“

    I find it much harder to add N° appearing, % in lair etc for all creatures. I especially miss morale in S&WCL or Complete and thus reach for the Monster Manual at times!


    One passage got me thinking…

    You describe the phenomenon that some people are afraid of the far-reaching possibilities of medium or high level characters: You said something along the lines of ‚Oh dear, please no fly spells! And teleport, that ruins my precious campaign‘. Prince delightfully (unfortunately plausibly) quipped something to the effect of ‚It’s best if they don’t get any horses at all!“

    Well, I’ve noticed some similarities to my current approach, because I actually find myself among those who are trying to contain D&D (albeit less in terms of magic) to keep it on easy-to-navigate terrain…

    I used to play and run quite complex campaigns. First, a buddy masterfully GMed everything complex in the background (and diligently manipulated affairs according to the execrable precepts of The Dark Eye), much later I did the same with DCC (and was transparent and scrupulously correct about it, with appropriate procedures, e.g. for the reaction of other political factions etc.).

    But at present, I like to do things differently: *In the Realm of the Nibelungs* with its seven magical laws is a brutal simplification of D&D, which in my opinion achieves the feat of *preserving* resource management, hirelings, character stables, reaction rolls, dynamically changing adventure settings, alliances with monsters, etc. – at the cost of pressing these options into rather tight rules, so that everything remains super-playable.

    A good example for my approach is the Second Law in the Realm of the Nibelungs: *Alone or with seven.* In the underworld or mythical wilderness – i.e. when adventuring – the party must consist of exactly seven members (or reaction rolls are only made with 1d6, i.e. most random encounters‘ reaction is unfavorable or hostile).

    As a result, a group of 4-6 players will usually fill 1-3 party slots with torchbearers and/or dogs. Thus, the use of torchbearers or the like is on the one hand mandatory (so that it may enrich play!) and on the other hand simple & strict (so that we don’t spend two hours discussing whether to bring torchbearers, or how many, and calculating how many we can afford and debating whether having two dozen workers dig a path to the burial chamber would be more advantageous).

    I think I’ve achieved my goals with *In the Realm of the Nibelungs* … but the simplifications unquestionably also represent a kind of impoverishment, especially in contrast to a grand campaign with AD&D.

    I consider my goals worthwhile (and pragmatically speaking: necessary for my playgroup, since we all work, have children, sometimes can’t cope with complex rules, etc. etc.) and I’m proud of my baby, but I also sometimes long for more freedom and complexity (though without the typical GM control, i.e. railroading). In DCC, my players once escorted two dozen workers into the dungeon to dismantle and remove some huge and valuable mirrors on level 3. Those were the days!

    Thanks for this podcast – it made me put into words some things that have been on my mind for a while.


    Now a bit more on #38:

    It’s really nonsense that Mentzer’s *Immortal Rules* require you to give up everything to become a god and start over at level 1. That’s just empty posing and has nothing to do with playable or even tested rules.

    Your insistence on knowledge of the roots of the game, i.e. wargaming, Diplomacy etc., I can well understand, although I know relatively little about these matters. But what I have seen or experienced of the ethos, complexity, creativity and partly the rules (e.g. Diplomacy’s simultaneously revealed actions) is certainly relevant for our hobby and its development. Your posts make me curious and wistful…

    Rock on & don’t tire of calling for an examination of wargaming! Also, it was hilarious how the belt system exposed good ol‘ Prince as a drama player. 😉 😉 😉

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