Friday, June 19, 2009

The Ogre and the Cliff

Like a lot of D&D players out there, I had drifted away from D&D, and gaming in general, sometime in the late 2E era. I ran a very enjoyable campaign in late 1996 and early 1997, but after that, moves and lifestyle changes ended my gaming. I still picked up Dragon whenever I saw it at a bookstore, three or four times a year. I kept abreast of the hobby, even though I missed the so-called “2.5” Player's Option series. I followed with mild interest the wind-up to 3rd Edition, and, truth be told, I liked a lot of changes that were on the way.

Several of the changes I liked because I had run my last few 2E games with them, that is, no racial class restrictions or level limits, 3E-style sorcerer arcane spellcasting, a unified ability bonus table (just like the 1981 Moldvay set), ability scores for monsters, etc. It looked like, at the time, that Monte Cook, et al., were on the same sheet of music as I was. So it was, in late summer of 2000, I walked into The Game Preserve in Bloomington, Indiana, after seeing a handbill for a 3rd Edition demo game. “Let's see what this baby can do” was my attitude.

The DM was a nice enough fellow, and he handed out pregenerated character sheets. I later learned that these were the “iconics.” I got Krusk, the half-orc barbarian. I wanted to take the combat system for a spin before anything else, and a fighter-type seemed the best character to play in order to do that. I glanced over the sheet as he explained Base Attack Bonus. Simple enough, good man, let's play! (Although I didn't like the fact that my bow only shot once a round. I'd been shooting two arrows a round since 1980!)

I don't remember the adventure, except for the last encounter. I do, though, remember liking the defined battle grid, but being confused about Attacks of Opportunity. I'm pretty sure the DM didn't get it either. Really, though, not knowing the ins-and-outs of the system, I pretty much played like I learned to in 1980 with my cousin Mike and the Holmes Basic set – the same way I had played and refereed for twenty years: the DM describes the scene, the player describes his actions, and the DM adjudicates the result. In 2000 I wouldn't have articulated it thus – the realizations about the philosophical underpinnings of my gaming style would not happen for years (more on that later, though).

The last battle was with what the 4E crowd would call a “solo”, a lone ogre versus a group of first-level PCs. We battled a bit in his cave, near the edge of a cliff. Sovelis the ranger was down. My PC Krusk flew into his berserk rage. With my boosted strength, I charged the ogre, trying to push him over the cliff. That didn't work. I tried to leverage the ogre over. That didn't work either. A little perturbedly, the DM thumbed through the DMG and PHB, looking for a rule to cover my unorthodox tactics. Finally, the next round, I just pulled the greataxe off my back and killed the damn thing after two 1d12+4 hits.  

Frankly, I would have rather have thrown the ogre off the cliff. It was easier on the rules, though, to just fight. It seems obvious now – the rules were too dense, trying to cover every eventuality. Rather than rely on DM rulings, on common-sense adjudication, the rules called for, well, the rules. I walked away from that game a little irritated – not at the DM, but just vaguely annoyed. I did, though, walk away from the game with a newly-purchased set of the core rules. I love tinkering with systems, and I was looking forward to tearing into the game and seeing what made it tick.

I later learned of “Bull Rush” procedures and grappling rules. They blew, though. The game would slog down and become unbearable when these rules were invoked. Attacks of Opportunity – these too – many combats throughout the next few years seemed to revolve around AoO's, either provoking them or avoiding provoking them.

This is not not say that I didn't play in and run some very enjoyable games with 3E and 3.5. I did. But, every time the system annoyed me, every time the multilayered density of the system's attempt to codify and define everything frustrated my personal style, I thought back to the ogre and the cliff.

It's now well into 2009, and I've got some work to do. That ogre isn't going to throw itself over.


  1. Amen.

    Looking forward to more!

    BTW, what's that fantastic head shot in your profile?

  2. Welcome! The photo is of a Clark Ashton Smith sculpture, called, I believe, "The Hashish Demon." I started this blog a month or so ago (but didn't post anything aside from a couple of in-jokes for my friends) and I searched through my hard drive for a good picture that would be striking even when very small. Viola! The Hashish Demon!