Just a quick one.
A million years ago, Justin Alexander wrote a thing about dissociative mechanics in modern editions of Dungeons & Dragons. Justin’s a smart guy, and he says it better than I could, but the basic thought is that certain parts of the modern game feel very “game like” without a lot of fictional justification. Here’s your “daily power card,” and you play it. And it’s glossed a little bit with a fictional description that doesn’t really explain why you can’t do that more than once a day. In other words, what’s going on at the mechanical level doesn’t really have any pointers to or from the fiction.
(Vincent Baker had a whole bunch of things to say about the interaction of dice and fiction in 2009, collected here. Not necessary to the discussion, but there are some connections to the OSR along that line of thinking.)
Anyway, I kind of think Justin’s a little wrong about some of this. The Thief rolling d100’s to disarm a trap isn’t particularly associative; it’s one of the reasons people dislike the Thief class so much. But the Fighter is the Thief of fighting. Even the early days are full of sub-systems that don’t do much to immerse you.
Anyhow: this is what I like about early D&D class design, because looked at in broad strategic patterns, the classes are very strongly associative, even if the particular mechanics are not.
The Magic-User can only survive by anticipating the situations she will likely face, and then carefully selecting the right load-out for the mission. This is a difficult intellectual exercise, often resulting in trying to puzzle out how to make the best of a poorly-chosen spell. To do well, you’ve gotta play really smart.
The Thief is so hopelessly screwed, even in the things that he’s supposed to be good at, that in order to prosper you’ve got to play a super-cautious, extremely attentive, sneaky little bastard alert to seize every unfair advantage or momentary opportunity.
The Cleric fights well, has some great spells, dominates a whole class of monsters, has a terrific XP curve, and at the end of the game gets a castle at half-price. I don’t know if there’s a God, but certainly the rules of D&D are looking out for this guy.
The Fighter isn’t situational. She doesn’t need forethought, devious schemes, or the favor of the gods. She shows up; she’s tough; she can go all day without loss of effectiveness. Maybe she doesn’t go “nova” like the others, but she’s got the defenses and hit points to confidently slog through whatever the dungeon throws at her.
There are a lot of times when I think, “Geez, this game is a kludge of crazy ad hoc rules that nobody really thought through.” But when I look at this, I come away thinking that the foundation of the game was laid exceedingly well.
I’ll post the scenario I’m running at Recess in a few days