Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Counting D&D Editions

How do you count and categorize the different editions of D&D? I'm specifically talking about "official" (i.e. published by TSR or Wizards of the Coast) editions, rather than spin-offs, retroclones, and such.

Personally, I count 7 distinct editions (with sub-editions in parentheses):

-OD&D or 0E (Some might consider OD&D + Supplements to be "0.5E". Holmes Basic is hard to classify, but I sort of think of it as "0.75E" since it mostly seems to me like a clarified and abridged collection of OD&D rules, even if it was "intended" as a lead-in to AD&D or Basic D&D)

-Basic D&D...or, uh, "BE" or "BXE", I guess (I think of BECMI as "B.5E" and the Rules Cyclopedia as "B.75E")

-AD&D 1E (Some might consider AD&D + Unearthed Arcana to be "1.5E")

-AD&D 2E (I don't know enough about 2E to know if there's something that could be considered "2.5E", but I bet there is.)

-(A)D&D 3E (With 3.5E being a sub-edition and not a whole separate one on its own. If Pathfinder was an official D&D series published by Wizards of the Coast, it would probably be "3.75E".)

-(A)D&D 4E (With 4E Essentials perhaps serving as "4.5E".)

-D&D Next or (A)D&D 5E

So, to me, there are 7 versions of D&D that are different enough to be counted as "distinct," but I could see someone breaking things down much more particularly than that if they wanted to. For example, I don't see any point in considering 3.5 truly separate from 3E, but maybe some people would. If you wanted to get absolutely pedantic, you could even start splitting different printings of the "same" edition (e.g. the earliest and last printings of Holmes Basic) into different "editions" based on the smallest of fixes and changes, although I doubt anyone is really going to consider two extremely similar printings of the "same" book to be totally different editions or games or whatever.

I could also see someone grouping things much more loosely based on ease of conversion or other factors; OD&D, Basic, and 1E are all very compatible, and I think 2E is probably largely compatible as well, so you could argue that there wasn't a truly distinct, second edition of D&D until the "third" edition. You could say that pre-3E, 3E, 4E, and 5E are the only editions that are fundamentally different enough to be considered separate editions, or even separate games entirely.

So while I count 7 versions of D&D, I could see other people counting as few as 4 or as many as...geez, I don't even know. And of course, maybe none of this matters and it's all just hairsplitting, but I think that making some kind of distinctions could be useful (so players know what they're getting into when the DM says "Let's play Basic D&D," or "Let's play Fifth Edition,") as well as philosophically interesting to people like me who like to ask questions like "What is a game?" and "How many rules do you have to change before you are no longer playing the original game?" and "What separates a 'supplement' from an 'edition,' and what separates both of those from a different game?" If those kinds of questions bore you, that's fine, but I think the way we separate things, both linguistically and mentally, is pretty weird and confusing, and thus worthy of curiosity.

What do you think is the most useful and/or correct way to group or separate the various versions of D&D?

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

How to "Drakkhen" Up Your Next Adventure

I thought it might be fun to take what I did HERE and try it with other video games. This time we've got the 1989 gibberish-em-up Drakkhen. I played through the SNES version years ago because the game's incomprehensible freakishness intrigued me. I now pass some of that freakishness on to you, dear reader, in the form of a d30 table. As before, roll for something to add to your next adventure, or just pick something that fits.
  1. A long strip of ground covered in eternally glowing triangles. Actually a landing strip for dragons. If you step too close to any of these triangles, a dragon will abruptly fall from the sky with a crash (harming neither the dragon nor the landing strip, somehow) and start talking to you in an imperious but confusing fashion. It will claim to be some kind of elemental dragon god/royalty, and will probably want to send you on a quest and/or impart a dire warning. Assuming you avoid calling down the dragon's wrath or otherwise getting it to stick around, it will shoot straight back up into the wild blue yonder after a few minutes. (It might be more fun if a different dragon is summoned every time this happens.)
  2. A tombstone that turns into a giant black dog head if you touch it. Well, it might be a giant cat head; it's hard to tell. At any rate, it shoots lasers and it wants you dead. If you can either kill it or run far enough away, it will turn back into a tombstone, but that's easier said than done. If it is not disenchanted, the tombstone will still turn into a giant head every time it is touched, even if the head is "killed."
  3. A shark that lives in a castle moat. It loves to jump over the drawbridge and devour passersby in one gulp. It is unreasonably fast. Like, blink-and-you-miss-it fast.
  4. A constellation in the night sky wiggles maniacally before descending to the earth as a bizarre airborne monster to eviscerate anybody caught out in the open.
  5. A temple with a big sign on the front that says "ANAK." No one working or worshiping at the temple seems to be able to tell you why - at least not comprehensibly. Maybe it has something to do with the local rumors of a dragon-worshiping mystery cult. Maybe it's related to the giants who supposedly lived here long ago. Maybe it's an acronym. Maybe part of the sign broke off. Maybe it's a waste of time.
  6. The Shade of Doom. This shadowy figure (which looks like Icarus from the Henri Matisse picture) pulls itself out of the shadows on the ground like a swimmer emerging from an invisible pool. It shoots disintegration beams out of the red spot on its chest; getting hit might not kill you the first time, but it will certainly damage your armor at the very least. The creature's movements seem to be silent, but a clanking industrial beat can be mysteriously heard in its presence.
  7. "Normal" monsters that make uncanny sounds. A fire elemental that sounds like a person taking really loud, deep breathes. A giant spider whose every step sounds like a heavy boot on a hardwood floor, no matter what surface it walks on. Soon, you catch them moving in off-putting ways, too. A rock golem slides around as if on ice skates and sounds like clanking pans. A mummy does that undercranked head twitching thing from Jacob's Ladder and coos like a pigeon.
  8. A castle with staff members consisting entirely of dragon-human hybrids. They are servile to anyone who enters their master's castle unless their master explicitly orders otherwise (or at least that's how it seems at first). Most notable is the pudgy dragon-man in a loincloth offering free massages.
  9. A desert palace that can only be entered at dawn.
  10. A perfectly rectangular island, divided into four perfectly rectangular regions, each with a different climate.
  11. Wizards playing with antimatter.
  12. An elderly travelling merchant who regards jade as the only real currency. He'll trade and barter, sure, but he doesn't want any coins or cash unless it's jade. He also knows where the brand new inn/tavern is. If you go there, it's strangely crowded even though it's in the middle of nowhere, it only accepts jade currency, and it's so brand new that it's not on any maps and there aren't any signs up on the roads yet.
  13. The Shade of Love. Maybe someone tried to make some kind of love elemental or sex homunculus and it went horribly wrong. Maybe this is just what a succubus is actually like. Maybe some wizard, as powerful as he was pathetically misogynistic, pulled his own delusions about women and romantic love from his forehead, like Athena from Zeus, and cast them into the world in the form of this monstrosity. Maybe murderous ghosts have needs, too, you know? Whatever this thing actually is, it appears to be a giant silhouette-like womanly figure, bright pink instead of black, sticking out of the ground from the waist up. It constantly shakes and gyrates, and while its movements themselves are silent, it says "I love you!" over and over in a deafening voice (at all different speeds and pitches) and moans in ecstasy. Anyone who comes too close to it risks being overcome with a supernatural mixture of desire, awe, revulsion, and primal terror. Those who cannot fight these emotions find themselves acting against their own will in grotesque ways: spontaneously engaging in rituals of self-mutilation and self-abasement, attempting to embrace the Shade of Love (a bad idea), swearing to "protect" the shade and following it until death, flying into a jealous and indiscriminately murderous rage, killing themselves so that the Shade is the last and most beautiful thing they ever see, forming impromptu orgies/congregations, etc. Having no legs (or at least no visible ones), it glides along the ground, chasing one specific target at a time (seemingly chosen at random). When it catches its prey...well, have you seen the movie It Follows? The only time it does not pursue one specific person (other than when it is forced to defend itself from multiple attackers, which it only does if absolutely necessary) is right after it catches its latest "suitor" - it will spend some time "sated" and simply park itself in the middle of the biggest crowd it can find nearby, dancing and moaning and driving everyone lustfully mad, until it picks another target somewhere in the world to "court."
  14. A perfectly flat field punctuated by stalagmite-like formations of ice or rock. Polygons of ancient cement can sometimes be found sunken into the ground.
  15. Two doors, one labeled "Sn" and the other "Sc." The "Sn" door leads to a room with a green and yellow checkboard floor - any organic matter left in here for more than a minute will slowly begin to turn into tin. The "Sc" door leads to some kind of laboratory in which the entire floor is buried under at least a foot of clayey sand which looks to have poured from some hidden aperture in the wall - careful searching will reveal detailed notes regarding geological experiments which could be useful to scientist and sorcerer alike.
  16. A sandworm with a bad stomach flu.
  17. Unidentifiable lumps of quivering flesh trapped inside pots. Dozens of them are lined up inside huge stoves. Immune to fire and heat. Make horrible sounds.
  18. Doors blocked by "force fields" of red and blue lightning.
  19. Wireframe knight. Very pointy sword.
  20. A teleporter trap leading to a flooded oubliette containing a murderous water elemental. If you escape, other water elementals will occasionally attack you in the future, but strangely enough, only on dry land.
  21. A land full of people with names that are all extremely long, hard to pronounce, and spelled almost the same.
  22. A tiny kingdom with less than thirty buildings, but eight of those buildings are castles.
  23. A lake that magically increases your weight and saps your strength if you submerge even part of you body in it, making it extra easy to sink and drown.
  24. A palace covered in jagged ice with hot springs inside.
  25. Dragon-men and she-devils prancing around naked as jaybirds.
  26. A bloody sacrifice to a dragon in the middle of Stonehenge.
  27. Esoteric clues and riddles that probably don't mean anything, like "The color of hope is not always the sign of goodness." Red herrings, mystic mumbo-jumbo, passwords, or hints? Who knows?
  28. Bouncing segmented monsters that look like they belong in Space Harrier.
  29. Dragons who try to get you caught up in their "politics" and "courtly intrigue." Which is to say, their personal soap opera. A bunch of fancy-pants (or fancy-ceremonial-dragon-sized-armor) dragon princes and princesses aren't getting along, and what better way is there to work out family issues than by involving a bunch of primates as messengers and spies? The worst part is that between the unpronounceable dragon names, the way they all look alike to untrained human eyes, the constantly-shifting alliances, the rampant treachery, and the tendency of dragons to needlessly complicate things, it's hard to keep track of which faction is which. Unfortunately, a misstep can result in wholesale slaughter, since dragons take sibling rivalry a bit too seriously. Eh, what are you gonna do? Dragons gonna drag.
  30. A quest that, if failed, would result in the world getting taken over by dragons and almost everybody getting burninated. A veritable dragon apocalypse.
Some possible future entries in this series: Faxanadu, The Sword of Hope, Phantasy Star, Rygar, The Immortal, Crystalis, Final Fantasy Legend, Shadow of the Beast, and The Guardian Legend.