The unsolved problem of Combat in Dungeons & Dragons

I had been thinking for pretty a long time about making a series of posts devoted to the intricacies of D&D's combat.

What i am interested mostly in is the different schools of thought that have always existed, showing that D&D (and AD&D) combat system are unsolved problems as of now, and that different players and dungeon masters are entitled to use different approaches to combat, depending on which philosophy they abide by.

My main intention is to show lesser-known combat systems that have (in a sense) been forgotten and that i maintain are superior to others.

To begin with, an hidden gem from the past, an alternative combat system for D&D from 1979.

I think several game masters around the world have always used this instead of the "official" method.

I admire the profoundity of Mr. Sapienza's detailed analysis, he had visions in his mind.

To see FULL SCREEN images, right-click and the choose "open link in new tab".

Highlighting all the 32 classes of Arcanum: the Beastmaster

One of the most delightful aspect of this old fantasy rpg is the multitude of classes available. It's gorgeous to read all the features of each one, i find it so inspiring.

So,let me show you this wonderful alternative to AD&D back in the days (1984) (see here).

 The image below is just an experiment for now, i'll try to put a sort of full screen image for each class later, if this project arouses enthusiasm or any kind of interest.



OSR as a rudimentary science

So this that I am about to tell is fortunately an old story but it popped up out of my mind because recently I was emotionally involved in the situation. The account of what happened is as follows: the other day i realized i would probably never come to have and hold a copy o fan old ultra rare fantasy rpg that i have been after for some time.
The story goes like this: I wanted to bid on that item on ebay, but apparently someone was smarter and faster than me and got that copy before me as soon as the seller slightly lowered the price of the item.
Then I sent a private e-mail to one of the Acaeum members that I know owned a copy for sale. He said to me he no longer have that copy and that he sold it not long ago.Not only that, because in the past he managed to track down the original author of this game and he bought from him all the remaining copies and he re-selled them over the years.
Now, keep in mind that there are really 100 copies of this game floating around in the globe, not one more, because one hundred were printed back in 198_
So, to sum it up: no one currently has a copy to sell me, and you have to take into account that no one ever saw a copy of this old fantasy rpg of niche on ebay before some Acaeum member bought the few remaining copies and started re-selling them. He knows for sure that there are just more or less ten copies left and all of them were sold.
Now, I know a fellow collector who actually owns a copy (and he lives in my country) but he is not willing to sell his copy to me, let alone scanning it for me (he would totally ruin and destroy his copy if he tried to do so). So the only chance could be that I went to him with a good camera and took pictures of each single page.
You could utter at this point: why such craziness? Why bother?We are not talking about the last remaining copy of OD&D! It is certainly not worth spending all this suicidal effort to get a glimpse of this, which was in the end simply a collection of someone’s OD&D house rules back in the day
Imagine now that a malevolent genie removed all the extant copies of Rolemaster from existence, and that he cast a spell aimed at deleting from our brains all the memories of that game’s mechanics and rules, but that he left just two things behind :the proof that such a game once was available and –consequently- our awareness that some people chose to play that instead of D&D for reasons unknown to us.
Now, let’s assume it’s year 2050 A.D. People around the world have been scholarly studying the development of fantasy rpg history for quite some time.
We know, for instance, that Holmes (creator of D&D basic) was influenced by Warlock combat system before writing his work. We can presume that Arneson was influenced by Richard Snider (creator of “Powers & Perils”) because they both wrote together an old fantasy rpg named “Adventures in Fantasy”.
We still don’t know if Gygax thoroughly read “Chevalier” and borrowed ideas from it in 1976 when Ed Simbalist met him. All these examples to show that there have always been many relations and influences –many of which still to uncover- since the beginning of the hobby.
The above-mentioned scholars now realizes that they cannot have access anymore to this game called “Rolemaster” and feels at a loss. They only know that it was an alternative to the renowned “Dungeons & Dragons” which started it all.
Now, change the name of Rolemaster with the name of the game I was writing about in my story and you will end up pretty much with the situation I experienced in the last weeks, when I realized I was cut out from the chance of ever getting a physical copy of this piece of history.
So, what was inside this game remains a matter of perplexity. What was its content, why someone felt “compelled” to switch to it after having played the “original” fantasy game can only lead to speculations on my part.
Does this is tantamount to a damage to the OSR? 

I suspect only a few would respond in the affirmative to this question. Many would dismiss this as a false problem. We can simply ignore and skip this, such a fantasy rpg with such a tiny following simply had not an impact on fantasy rpg history considered as a whole, otherwise we would remember it and still have plenty of copies floating around.
So, no real damage was inflicted to the OSR. No need to worry.
As it is easy to guess, my personal position is of another kind.
I maintain that we should feel more or less as if we were studying the development of the English language-from its Anglo-saxon origin and suddenly discovered there is a terrible gap because many documents are lost and we cannot re-build the development of the language.
On the contrary, the discovery of an obscure fantasy rpg, especially one that was purposedly intended as an alternative to original dungeons & dragons should sound (in the ears of the truly devoted scholar, at least) more or less like the discovery of Nag hammadi papyrus books parchments.
All this led me to ponder about the current state of the OSR, where we are, especially what we really know until now, what is our corpus of knowledge?
The answer I saw appearing in front of me was flabbergasting. I visited the rpg encyclopedia to count the old-school fantasy role-playing games which have never received any kind of treatment on blogs and forums.

In particular, i focused my attention on the lack of information and on the lack of a common-shared knowledge about a particular fantasy rpg of the past.
Whenever i realized an absence of information to be gathered on the world wide web about a particular old-school game, that game could be part of my list.

I was impressed to see how many osr fantasy games are still virtually unknown (the case where you can't find any information on the web apart from its title and a very vague description usually amounting to two or three line of text).

From the point of view of a youngster who feels attracted to this hobby and is eager to gather information about old games he never saw personally because they were published much before his birth- and who is consequently taking his first steps in this hobby, thinking the internet will be able to help him...there is a disappointing end waiting.

This is why i say OSR (nowadays, in 2013) is a rudimentary science, it is much less than a fragmentary corpus of knowledge.

This i call penury.

Do anyone is concerned with the poverty of our knowledge in the hobby we state we love and are involved in?

Nowadays, in 2013, after almost 40 years from the first fantasy rpg, the situation is as follows: no way of finding those info on the web, no way of LEARNING.

The process of learning is hampered.

Let's see:

 No information at all anywhere. They just revel in mocking this, but i can tell you there's more than meets the eye.

 Little info. Thanks to a blogger it is now available again, but what you can download is just a portion of the rule system.

 No information at all.

Unbelievable, almost no info at all. Just a pair of posts on Zenopus archive.

 No information anywhere.

 No information anywhere.

 No information anywhere.

 No information anywhere.

 No information anywhere apart from an interview on ToT and recently on my blog as well.

 No information anywhere.

 Kabal and Nimolee: no information anywhere for both of them. Again, for the former they are used to mocking it but the same thing i wrote for Sof applies here as well; for the latter, unbelievably no info despite the fact this was (as Warlock) a direct alternative to OD&D back in the day.

No info at all. People usually tend to think that this game is just folkore/historical and not fantasy but this is wrong. It's just another old fantasy-mythological rpg we know nothing about.

 No info anywhere.

 Little info on some forums.

 No info anywhere. Exactly the same that i said about Warlock applies here.

 Until recently, no info anywhere. Thanks to Thoul's paradise blog, now we have a sufficient knowledge of this game (an alternative to AD&D).

 AFAIK, just one post on the www, some cursory chatting on rpg.net forums if i recall correctly. Unbelievably, because it was a direct (and much praised) alternative to AD&D.

Again, no info anywhere until recently. Thank you Thoul's paradise one more time.

For at least 14 osr fantasy games (see above) there is a complete lack of knowledge (Bifrost, What price glory,, Daemon, Spawn of fashan, Nimolee,Mega fantasy rpg,Phantasy conclave, Castle perilous, Element masters,Vikings & Valkyrs, Archaeron game system, Kabal, Sword’s path:glory,Melanda.
In other cases a partial knowledge (Arduin, Chivalry & sorcery, Rolemaster, Powers & Perils, Fantasy wargaming, swordbearer, Lands of adventure, and others). 
Zorin greystarr, Arcanum, fantasy wargaming, High fantasy recently and not-so-recently received some kind of written treatment.
So you understand why i say that OSR is not a science in this era? It is not tantamount to a science?
Fantasy role-playing games history is still an uncharted territory.


Beasts, men & gods (1980)

So, somehow i missed this post at Grognardia.

I know this old fantasy rpg (see here),  though i never had the chance to play it.

Of particular interest to me is one of the comments left at the above-mentioned blog, where you can read:

"I remember the game fondly.  It is not "just another D&D clone."  It has the best combat system of any fantasy RPG I've ever played, and it's not a darned thing like D&D.  The magic system is less wonderfully unique, but still has enough change from D&D I find it insulting to call it a clone."

So i grabbed my copy of Pegasus magazine, issue #8 and i realized that even back in time this obscure fantasy rpg got a quite positive review, as you can see:

So, first of all, thank you Vault keeper (where are you now? it seems your blog vanished) for bringing this game alive again for our generation!

All this makes me want to try to play this game, after so much hesitation.

Not everyone knows that there exists just one single BIG adventure module which was published for "Beasts, men & gods" and it's called "Ice Tower of the frozen wind".

I own a copy of this module, and in the meantime i decided to begin sharing the synopsis (but i'll write more about it in the future).

And do not forget to order your copy of this obscure fantasy rpg here!


Chivalry & Sorcery hard-to-find articles by Ed Simbalist

While i don't hide the fact that i regard Ed Simbalist as the king among kings of the fantasy rpg hobby (and consequently C&S as the Summum bonum among old fantasy rpg's),   i must admit this one that i'm going to share with the world today is one of the most precious and cherished piece of material that i own.

It is a scan from an old issue of "Underworld Oracle" fanzine (May 1978, see here for details).

What you can find inside may well generate a flame or a profound debate among OSR scholars and fans, it is easy to guess.

Ed Simbalist speaks and writes here with an open heart, and says all that he thinks.

You can find here his ideas about why D&D cannot rival C&S, his developmental thoughts about his game, his ideas about what fantasy is and should be, and much much more.

I think this article sheds light on many old topics and should be studied and pondered carefully.

I'm going to share others hard-to-find articles by Simbalist in the future, some coming from Alarums & Excursion fanzines as well when he used to have his personal column.

As always, in order to see these scans in all their glory (fullscreen), do not just click on them but instead right-click and then choose "open in new tab").

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