2011/06/03

OD&D: A matter of language

Although the past week has been pretty silent as far as postings go I have made some pretty good progress actually writing down more of the rules of 'The Fantasy Game'. Volume I is shaping up pretty nicely. While writing the rules I noticed a thing about the way the rules language has changed from the very early times to more current editions... in a way which to me takes away a bit of the flavor inherent in the ancient rules. I'm not sure if I feel this way just because English is not my native language or if there is more to it but today I would like to elaborate a bit on this observation.
While writing the rules I specifically noticed that many words being used in OD&D quickly seem to have dropped out of the gaming dictionary to be replaced by others. While this might not seem surprising and rather natural for a newly evolving game genre I find many of the older words to be quite charming and enticing as they help me to get into a peculiar mindset when trying to experience the early times of our hobby.

Below is a small list (that probably will grow while I dig deeper into the original manuals) of words I found particularly compelling:
  • There is no game master or dungeon master. It's just the referee. Which I like particularly as it also provides a feeling of the more challenge oriented style of games of he early days in which overcoming challenges was still the prime goal and roleplaying happened more by coincidence (which is not a bad thing if you consider the many famous and ancient characters from the very first campaigns). It also implies the rather tough atmosphere as a referee is much more an impartial judge than a dungeon master might be, the latter being tasked with creating a compelling and enticing story while the former primarily takes care of being an impartial judge.
  • There are no attributes. Instead the characteristics we have grown so accustomed to are called abilities. I already blogged about the difference in terminology and won't repeat myself here. BTW there are several other terms being used throughout OD&D (like categories which also is very interesting implying an even stronger connection between character classes and abilities than you might expect just from the prime requisite rules), but abilities is the term used most consistently.
  • Character classes had not yet been invented (as a term). Instead character types is being used. Personally 'type' seems to be less restrictive to me than 'class' (probably due to my Java  background and thinking of inheritance) so I again really like the older term.
  • Roleplaying is not yet an established term. Fantasy wargaming is the task of the day. In this respect I probably would prefer the newer term as wargaming for me is much too centered on the tabletop aspect. On the other hand the introduction of OD&D makes it very clear that campaigning is the real sweet spot of the game and so I am willing to live with this term.
  • Dice abbreviations had not yet been invented, so there is no d6, d8 or whatever. Most of the time the rules spell out to "roll six sided dice" or just "roll the dice" (which can be confusing at times for newbies as it is not always obvious that e.g. twenty sided dice where meant instead of six sided ones). But again I like the more unwieldy way of stating the rules instead of the more polished and more technical notation of later editions. Probably because right now I'm still heading for a "six sided dice only" game - I see the point that the use of many and variety dice pretty would cause this heavy handed terminology to become unwieldy and very hard to read.
These are the examples I managed to procure from roughly the first 40% of volume I of OD&D - more will surely follow. Why have I been thinking so much about those few words?

Because I feel that they create atmosphere (as far as OSR research goes) and help to get into the mindset of early games. Due to these feelings 'The Fantasy Game' will try to use the older and less well-known terminology as much as possible. That's why I am today rambling so much about it ;-)

More hints for "words of the ancients" are very welcome - I will not be surprised if I missed some as it really took some time to notice the ability/attribute difference at all, so accustomed is this writer to the newer terminology ;-)

(BTW: Image provided by The Forge Studios and created by Pawel Dobosz - used here with permission naturally)

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