Tuesday, June 7, 2022

D&D Edition Wars: Why CAN'T I Play a B/X Paladin?

All D&D
It's June and I have mentioned that it is D&D month around here. 

The natural question then is, "Which D&D?" All of them! "Even that one?" Yes. Even that one.

I was going through a bunch of material I need to review and Review (reading for my own benefit vs. a full review) and it got me thinking about a bunch of topics.  Should I play more Castles & Crusades? What should I do with all this Pathfinder stuff? Where did my copies of Dungeoneer's and Wilderness Survival Guides go? (seriously. where are they??).

This got me thinking about the various editions and edition wars.  I want to share the story of my first skirmish in the never-ending edition wars, but first I want to talk about the latest side battle in it and my point of view on this in general.

D&D Edition Wars

I am not sure if this will be a regular feature or not.  Typically I avoid edition wars and find them remarkably pedantic to be of any actual use. Don't like a particular edition? Fine. Don't play it.   BUT every so often something bubbles up that takes my notice and I want to comment on it.  The latest one comes to us courtesy of Stranger Things.

If you have not seen the new Season 4 of Stranger Things, please do. It is back to form and good drama.  Sure there are a LOT of characters now and no one is getting the spotlight for very long, but the last episode of Part 1 did a great job of tying together many of the seasonal arcs to set us up for the epic finale.  

They also get to play some D&D.  There is a bit where they deal with the Satanic Panic of the 80s.  I would talk about that now, but I have done that already and most recently back in April. So no real need for me to do that. But in the same milieu of edition wars we are getting some nagging from older gamers like myself complaining that Erica Sinclair's character should have been a Thief and not a Rogue. Well. That is technically correct yes. It was supposed to 1986 and the Rogue does not come into play until 1989. Lots of people are claiming this is a mistake.  Here is my point of view on that.

The Duffer Brothers did not make a mistake. 

Look in the very next scene of their game Dustin (played by the wonderful Gaten Matarazzo; seriously this kid is going to be a hell of an actor someday) drops lines about Vecna (the focus of their game and the season) having been destroyed by Kas. They already mentioned the lack of an eye and hand.  This is not deep lore to us, but to the causal viewer, it is.  And that's the thing. This show has to appeal to all viewers. Those that know D&D but mostly the vast majority that do not.  Here is her line.

"My name is Lady Applejack, and I'm a chaotic good, half-elf rogue, Level 14. And I will sneak behind any monster you throw my way, and stab them in the back with my poison-soaked kukri."

Remember the character is Chaotic Good (which we all understand) and supposed to be a heroic character.  IF she had said "Thief" it would not have the same level of understanding to the causal viewer as "Rogue" does.  Han Solo was a rogue. Robin Hood was a rogue. The normies get what a rogue is. A thief is someone who steals. Yes, yes, it has a different connotation in D&D but that is not the majority of the audience.  I posit that the Duffers knew exactly what they were doing. 

It reminds me of when my main character at the time was a Paladin.  I'd explain to others, who I was trying to get into the game, that my character was a Lawful Good Paladin. Which would ALWAYS be followed by "what's a Paladin?"  Eventually, I gave up and just started saying "Knight."  This is the same thing.  Also it is a nice segue into my next section.

Why CAN'T I Play a B/X Paladin?

The 80s were an amazing time for a lot of reasons. Even in my small home town there were multiple independent D&D groups and clubs happening all the time.  I got invited to a game by a friend one evening. This had to have been either very late in Jr. High I am guessing summer of 82 or 83.  In any case, I was going with my regular DM, he got to play for a change, and a bunch of people I never met. The DM called me ahead of time and asked if I would be willing to play a Lawful Good Paladin. I said sure! I was already playing a Lawful Cleric in my other game so this seemed like a good fit (and it was, but more on this).  Now is the time to be pedantic.  See I was playing a "Lawful Cleric" as in B/X D&D. My regular DM played AD&D and we ran our games as an unholy mix of the two. Not uncommon from what I know now and we had a lot of fun. My first experience with D&D was Holmes Basic and the AD&D Monster Manual.  My new DM just told me to bring my Expert book.

D&D Expert vs AD&D

Well...that was a mistake. I brought my Expert D&D book to an Advanced D&D game and you would have thought I had brought a D&D Coloring book instead with the reactions I got.  Thankfully my DM was still cool about it, even if the other players held their noses in disgust.  

Nowadays of course people talk about their B/X days with pride and fond memories. Especially me.  But that was a contributing factor to me not picking up the BECMI sets when they came out soon after.  I was all in on AD&D from that point on.  No "kiddie" D&D for me! 

That was the first salvo in what I would later come to know as "The Edition Wars." There were many skirmishes between the Basic and Advanced folks back then. Nothing major, I can recall though.  The next battle was fought over the fields of "Unearthed Arcana" and then the "Proficiency Battles" connected with Dungeoneer's and Wilderness Survival Guides (seriously, where the hell are mine??) 

I still have my Paladin from that game. He went on to great glory in the Bloodstone series. I would also roll up my own paladin later, he was the son of my B/X Cleric. 

Now thanks to the OSR scene I have a lot of options to play a B/X Paladin.

B/X Paladin

If Johan II was my Advanced D&D Paladin and son of D&D Cleric Johan I. Then maybe I need to make a Kara Foke II as an OSE Paladin, son of Kara Foke that AD&D Paladin I played so long ago. 


Rob Barrett said...

B/X was always my jam (I was less excited about BECMI, largely because the Companion, Master, and Immortal sets did not appeal to me).

Happily no one in my town cared about the B/X and AD&D distinction. If I was running a game, it was B/X. If Scott was running one, it was AD&D.

Ruprecht said...

I think the Duffers figured people that didn't know the game might take it wrong somehow if they had the black girl call herself a thief and dodged the issue.

JB said...

I’m a purist at heart…I always have been. Or maybe I just have a syndrome/phobia around “getting stuff right/not being wrong.” Once I figured out there was a difference between B/X (where I learned to play) and AD&D (which we stumbled into piecemeal), we very deliberately excised all the former to focus exclusively on the latter.

These days…well, I’m still a purist. But I recognize that one can find gold in LOTS of places (not just different editions, but different GAMES), and it’s possible to adapt those things (with a little effort) to whatever system suits one’s fancy. AND I think folks that have managed to do that consistently over time are some of the greatest GMs around (and I do not count myself among them).

Your anecdote re “edition wars” is interesting but wasn’t my experience…the gamer folks I knew were (I guess) just damn ignorant or uncaring…or the editions were close enough that it didn’t matter. It wasn’t till college (circa 1990) that I started seeing snobbishness between editions: “basic” versus “advanced,” AD&D versus “second edition.” And personally I thought it ALL was cool (I loved those old Mystara gazetteers)…just so long as you were playing the systems with the stuff for which they were designed (I was still a purist, you see?) and not just mixing them in eclectic fashion.

I’ve grown since then.

All that being said…dude, your Stranger Things justification doesn’t hold water. Dropping lines about Vecna and Kas is aimed squarely at the Uber-nerds…and any Uber-nerd can tell you that there were no rogues before 1999 and definitely no Chaotic Good thieves in first edition (maybe 2E…I’d have to check).

Would have been better and cooler for Sinclair to come in with “I’m a 14th level BARD, bitch” which would have worked across all editions. Or why not a fricking ranger? Kids are talking about how they can’t beat the DMs final session without Lucas’s character and you’re bringing a “rogue?” Why not something with a little more beef? Shit, if you’re just going to go off-book call her a sorcerer or a warlock with an eldritch pact. Be a little more intimidating, for goodness sake!

Nah. A wasted opportunity. And a mistake.

Unknown said...

And hadn't Gary published the first "Gord the Rogue" book at that point, so he was already calling his iconic Greyhawk thief a rogue, even if it would take a while for that to catch on?

Rogues were also one of the core classes in Tunnels & Tunnels. Some referees used to borrow classes and rules from other class-and-level games (Arduin, T&T, C&S, etc.) all the time. Given they mention critical hits on a 20, a common variant not approved by TSR but railed against in Gygaxian editorials in the DRAGON - we can easily head-canon that they're playing a local variant... Can't actually recall any group in the early 80s I gamed with that wasn't.

I seem to remember a White Dwarf magazine review or article c. 1979 that complained that "neutral good" thieves in 1st edition made no sense (and it doesn't) and instead the rule should be that thieves can be "any non-lawful alignment" I promptly adopted that one! I'm sure other people may have done so as well.

Tina Noire said...

There wasn't a mistake made in referring to a Thief as a Rogue to my eyes. Or even any pandering to an uninformed audience. The Thief achieved name level and was referred to as a "Rogue" or a "Master Thief". At least that was how I took it.