Friday, September 12, 2008

Smart Money

In my ongoing quest to recapture the feel of old-school AD&D while designing the so-far unnamed dungeon, I’ve found myself looking back at some of the rules and tropes of the old editions of the game. I’m still trying to resolve my post-modern gaming instincts with the spirit of the original rules, meaning that I’m looking for the reasons why things were laid out as they were. What was the intent of certain passages of the rules canon? Why this why and not that? It’s easy to say that they’re there because that’s what seemed like a good idea in the quaint and wild-and-wooly days of yore, but I don’t think that always the case. Perhaps I’m just engaging in ret-conning if only to delude myself, but it stands to reason that if I can deduce a purpose for a rule based on what else exists within the books, there might just be a method to the madness.

With this in mind, I recently re-examined one of the more laughed at rules in the both the original D&D and the 1st edition AD&D game: money = experience.

By the original rules, every gold piece worth of treasure you managed to haul out of the dungeon was worth 1 x.p. This of course was the reason why old-school adventuring parties entered into foul, dank holes with a mule train and enough hirelings and henchmen to stage a Broadway production. More grunt labor meant more wealth being able to be recovered, which meant more experience.

I’ll admit that I laughed at the concept that money somehow made you smarter and better at what you did. I accepted it, of course, but when they eliminated this rule in the 2nd edition of AD&D, I wasn’t sorry to see it go. At last we could go about getting our experience from much more obvious sources like role-playing and thinking up good plans and strategy. My, weren’t we all so silly before they dropped this rule?

But now I’m beginning to see the logic behind it.

I came to this conclusion while pondering the combat system in the pre-3.0 era. As you may or may not remember, combat rounds were originally one minute long and you rolled a single time during that round to determine if your attack was successful. Of course, many players pointed out that this was ridiculous. “I can swing my sword more than once a minute. Why do I only get one attack?” they cried. What they were forgetting, and what had been pointed out many times, is that the combat round in D&D is an abstract representation of battle. That d20 roll does not represent a single blow, but rather a full minute of dodging and weaving, parrying, thrusts, and counter-attacks. A high roll meant you were successful in doing damage to your opponent during that minute. It didn’t, and was never meant to, represent a single attack. A fact which the D&D rules have since disregarded.

With this abstract representation of combat in mind, I re-examined the “money for experience rules” and things began to clarify. It is not the money in and of itself which is awarding you the experience. Rather the money is a concrete measurement to determine and reward the intangible worth of the planning, execution and out-right luck that went into gaining the treasure.

That 10,000 x.p. you get is not from the crown and ruby scepter you pried from the Cold King’s Tomb. That 10,000 x.p. is the reward for gathering the information at the tavern about the death trap in the Chamber of Maidens. It’s for remembering to buy more iron spikes than usual after the incident in the Kobold Kaves. It for using teamwork to distract the fire-breathing zombies that guard the Cold King’s crypt. It’s a way of assigning a quantitative number to a qualitative series of actions. Perhaps this has been explained in this way in the rules before and I just missed it. If so, then I solely blame myself. But if not, I think I’ve seen the machinery behind the façade and it’s now very clear to me why the experience points for money rule was included.

With this in mind, I’m now heavily leaning towards going back to this method of calculating experience for an adventure. Some can argue that the addition of rules awarding x.p. for good ideas and role-playing makes this rule obsolete, and I’ll agree that that school of thought does have its merits. I recently pitched my tent within that very camp. But now that I see the reasoning behind the original rule, I’m much more open to embracing it in my own game.

This is only part of the discussion in regards this topic. There’s another aspect to the “money means experience” rule that has been on my mind, but there’s a lot going on this week as you can see, so I’ll return to this in a week or so with Part Two, tentatively entitled: “What I Learned at the Orgy.”

1 comment:

James Maliszewski said...

Excellent post. I'm curious to read the next one now :)