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Saturday, January 26, 2013

David Hargrave's Experience System (AA)

The Arduin Adventure. Often overlooked, it defined its time.   Let's fast forward to 1980 from the earlier 1970s release of AG I - III.

I know I previously said I was going to talk about experience and how it was handled under the Compleat Arduin (CA) but let's make a quick stop by the Arduin Adventure (AA). Often overlooked, it was the first cohesion of Arduin into a fuller game system. David Hargrave's look into experience was much simpler in explanation though he maintained the previous chart as a guide for newbies to his game. Here, it was explained like this:

“Experience is what all people accrue as they proceed through life. This is what we learn while doing “our jobs” and “coping” with different situations. In the game, this is shown by a character’s ability to better himself, fight, evade, etc. as he gains experience levels (EL).

Each character will gain one experience level (EL) for each five adventures completed (through fourth level). Thereafter it takes 20 adventures to gain each additional EL. Later on you can use more precise “point value experience systems”, such as the Arduin Trilogy has, for a more detailed awarding of experience.”

In the intervening years between the release of AG I and the publication of the Arduin Adventure we see a change in accounting. Gone is the idea of placing point values to action, items and experience and in is a focus on the experience of playing, the making of each game session important to the advancement of a character. You can still employ it, as mentioned above. By and far not revelational now but then it was a vast departure from the norm. It also made sense. It was a path David Hargrave started on but was one that was carried forward when some of his fans and personal core group took up his banner and completed the CA in his name.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

David Hargrave's Experience System (AG)

I meant to get this out earlier but life, as usual, put forth a different set of options. I'm also doing this backwards, since I posted it out the Google+ community first and then gave it a home here too.  I suffer in the organization department, what can I say.

Anyway, this is a part II of a look into David Hargrave's (DH) design of Arduin Grimoire. For those familiar with his work, he built on the release of the DnD Basic Set, even though he maintained he had developed along a very similar theme independently. He cited his experience with chainmail as a mainstay to back up this idea as well as his exposure to gaming theory and tactical practice while in the army. I'm not sure I'm very convinced of that, given the path his original grimoires took but it was his stance. Some of it I'm sure was sourced from his legal disputes with TSR at the time. In the end, it really doesn't matter though it makes for an interesting historical point.

My look today is at DH's look at experience. He discarded the experience for gold concept immediately; so much so that he made it a point to put it right up front in AG I. In fact, his opening paragraph goes like this: “In the Arduin Universe, the ability to advance to higher levels is based on earned merit and not on the acquisition of treasure. Therefore, points are given for many reasons but NOT for gold or other treasures. After all, it is the act of robbery, not the amount stolen, that gives the thief his experience.” He then goes on to give a chart as a guideline for situations that would provide experience. For anyone not familiar with the old charts, it was...interesting at times. Each profession had a different experience requirement to advance. One would need 1750 (Thief) to make EL 2 while another night need 6500, like the Assassin. His approach is commonsense to our current sensibilities but back then he was straying from the canon – worse, publishing it for others to follow!

If you glance at the chart, you'll see he strongly enforced the experience behind the experience, if you catch my meaning. Death and dying were, to his eyes, a powerful experience. An important fact, given the high lethality of Arduin. In turn, it provided the greatest rewards, as evinced by the experience chart. So, in turn, did like dilemmas and character changing events: reincarnation, lycanthropy, curses that morph you into something else, sex changes, etc. In fact, if you follow along you'll see that being a sole survivor of an expedition came close to the top, being considered of equal to acquiring the mightiest of artifacts (Satan's own pitchfork!) and beating out defeating in single combat demi-gods and greater demons. Followed by defeating in single combat any creature four times your size, performing spells of tremendous import, and like things. Seeing the trend? This page was probably one of the most overlooked ones in AG I by newcomers. DH laid out a different schema for advancement, one that rewarded actions and experience. It wasn't unique nor was that its purpose. It was, however, a part of his game and endorsed heavily. It opened the door for role play and inventiveness, since being creative and involved was rewarded. The chart provides a guide as to how DH saw that occurring. He wanted to move things from the “I go kill or loot that thing” and into the realm of “I do <insert awesome stuff>”, which is probably contrary to anything the casual spectator of the game would think. Most people saw the fluff and craziness and missed the genuine deep seated thoughts underpinning it. Like remapping experience into something more commonsense. Ponder on the chart again. Normal activity is rewarded: figuring out traps, conundrums, and riddles, even if you blow them (oops, poisoned again!) or miss an opportunity because you thought the rainbow peaks was a reference to the Courtesan of the same name instead of the Prismatic Mountains. In fact, just being involved and getting hurt reaped a rewarded or doing the dangerous and uncalled for acts. This was extended to a reward for doing tasks not everyone cared to do, like being in charge (party leader anyone?) or to fighting a rearguard action, being Horatio at the bridge, or being the one to takes down the BEM at the right moment.

It goes on. Yes, he provided some incentive for acquiring magik items, not to mention spells and other things of note. It was the experience of attaining them that gave the XP, not the actually grasping. If it just fell in your lap, it didn't work. You had to overcome conflict to get there.

As a point, if you relook at the experience system and then consider that the lethality of Arduin was balanced by a couple of considerations. David Hargrave loved to be out thought. He outright challenged everyone to do so. His mantra, as spoken earlier was, “I can be out thought but I can't be out fought!”. He knew that the players, no matter their power or EL, could out fight the amount of danger, conflict and challenge he could muster as the GM. The only and in fact, proper out, in his eyes was to out maneuver and out think him. It was this thought that underpinned his encounters. On paper they were ugly and deadly. In reality, with a good GM (and he was) no encounter is an immediate auto death. That Ibathene you just ran into isn't really after you – its the wiggling BEM that crashed through the brush right before you sauntered along. Give it no grief and it will sail by. Or, it may just take a bite and keep on the trial of its original prey. Just because an encounter came along doesn't mean its always aggressive or right to a fight to the death. DH had a wonderful capacity to scare the pants off his players but he always gave them an out. If the players weren't being idiots he would even give it to them in bite sized increments if necessary.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

thoughts on David Hargrave Pt. 1

I originally posted this on Google+.  However, I wanted to make sure it got a wider distribution.  Someone had made a post about why David Hargrave employed so many secret doors on his maps.   Naturally it lead to some discussion.  See below.

Since this fits in one of the areas I was going to talk about, I'll start here. DH had a good eye for things. It went back to his time as a combat photographer in Vietnam. He also had an appreciation for the realistic side as well, though he didn't let it get in the way of having fun or for making something colorful and cinematic happen.

How does this apply to the question? Well, if you take a look at his design toolbox, DH employed secret doors like they are meant to be. Some are blinds; traps to draw the enemy in and delay, destroy or denude them. Others were fast routes to different parts of the dungeon, facilitating a hidden highway for the denizens (and sometimes intruders). What helps the person that lives there is easy to turn around on them – if you have the knowledge. Some were just whimsical; a play toward the fun side of gaming.

While DH was locked down to a certain mentality in some ways (all encounter rooms pretty much were cookie cutter in the regard of having a monster + treasure in a box, at least in his published works) he was flexible in others. He employed what he learned as a soldier in combat to situations and his eye as a photographer to add some realism to his games. If you look at the times, maps produced back then lacked rhyme and reason for their construction as a general theme – no architect would have made them in life! But they make great gaming tools and draw in the player, pulling them into a world where adventure perches like a gleaming jewel to be found.

What he added was the flavor of some realism, something a few might find odd to apply but its true nonetheless. If you study his maps, you'll see secret doors, sliding walls, and traps everywhere. When defending a perimeter, you design with the three D's in mind: 1) Delay. Slow them down, break up their momentum (they being the invader, of course!) and separate them if you can. 2) Destroy. Kill them, eliminate them for acting or neutralize their movement or ability to harm. This could be done in a lot of ways, not the least of which is using up their ammo (resources, in this case. Use all the mage's spells, all the party's healing, etc.). 3) Denude. Strip the enemy of their capacity for harm. This is where you target their equipment or capability. Inflict a wound on one so others have to carry or leave him behind, that kind of thinking. Add in destruction of weapons, armors, and resources and you get the thought. Its also the whimsical: change their gender, turn their armor to lead, and so on.

DH employed all these ideas if you give his dungeons a once over. On the surface they look chaotic. Its the point. Of course, they also didn't always fit the idea that sat behind but that's a different discussion. Caliban is my favorite to point out on that topic. I'll save it for tomorrow.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

RPG Community on Google+

As a companion to the blog we have a growing community over on google+ as well!

Be sure and join us there if you have an account. 

You'll find good company.