Monday, November 1, 2010

Riddles in the Dark

In my previous post I stated that The Hobbit had a major revision in 1951. Tolkien altered "Riddles in the Dark" to be more in line with The Lord of the Rings. What I neglected to do was to note where one could find the original.

There is a website and two books that I would direct you to:

The website has a comparative layout with the original on one side and the revision on the other. So if you are simply curious you can see line by line how the chapter was changed.

The first book is The Annotated Hobbit. This is a pretty neat version and does contain the original chapter, albeit in a very long footnote. The size of the book makes it good for bedside/fireside reading and it contains a lot of little treasures.

The second book(s)is John D. Rateliff's History of The Hobbit. This magnum opus is a crowning work of scholarship. So much so that some of the footnotes have footnotes. Granted it does not reach a House of Leaves absurdity, but be warned.

Any of these will undoubtedly shed some light on the original vision of The Hobbit in 1937 should you desire it. However as things have changed, it is interesting that while The Hobbit can be viewed without The Lord of the Rings, the reverse is not true. As a work the prelude to The Lord of the Rings will always be The Hobbit.

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Hobbit 1937

Sometimes I think that if blogs in the OSR sphere were like rock bands GROGNARDIA would undoubtedly be the Led Zeppelin. It has staying power, and harkens back to older roots but presents them in a new way that is really approachable, and still rock and roll. If this is true then Jeff's Gameblog is the Jimi Hendrix of OSR blogs. This blog does things that other blogs would find difficult to pull off. Jeff plays with his tongue, pulls in weird riffs and techniques and influences no one thought of before, and then proceeds to light his gamebooks on fire. Other blogs take these ideas and run with them in a little tamer way, building out the lesser known band equivalents of blogdom. Perhaps I am the Whitesnake or Motorhead of OSR blogs, who knows.

Whats important is how I am ripping off Jeff today. Recently Jeff has been talking about the what if of Star Wars never having a sequel. What does the movie tell us about the star war world before it really got developed with contradictions and exposition in later movies. I want to ask a similar question of a just as influencial property: J.R.R. Tolkein's The Hobbit.

As an intellectual property goes Middle Earth has a lot of similarities with Star Wars. The initial product was ground breaking and really changed the game. Both have estates that are very defensive of their IP. And both have creators that retconed their work stating that it was all part of the original vision.

The Hobbit had a major revision that did not get published until 1951, almost fourteen years after it was originally published that changed the "Riddles in the Dark" chapter to better align the story with the oncomming Lord of the Rings. So... set the Wayback Machine for late 1937. The Hobbit or There and Back Again is the only Middle Earth story. That's our primary source for today's exercise. There arn't any secondary sources. Given this material, what do we know about Middle Earth back then that no longer holds true under present concepts of Middle Earth canon? What is as-yet (for '37) undefined? What can we extrapolate? Here are a few initial thoughts:
  • Gandalf is just a wizard. Not an angel in disguise. Just a wizard. He has an enemy called the Necromancer who is also just a wizard. Anyone can be a wizard with enough practice. What about that Necromancer? He made the Greenwood into Mirkwood. That means that there is evil wizardry about.
  • Gollum is an honorable creature, and not obsessed with loosing his ring in a game of riddles. He is not obsessed with a ring that can turn him invisible. Man, thats character. Guyges and I certainly don't have character like that.
  • Elves are not always really nice. No Legolas means that the wood elves can be mean bastards. Elves make magic weapons.
  • Orcs don't exist. Never heard of em. All we got here are goblins.

This awesome panorama comes from David T. Wenzel at

Friday, August 27, 2010

What is best in life?!

Some say "Saving the princess, slaying the dragon, and stealing the treasure..."


OSR says "Slay princeses, Save treasures, Steal dragons."

Monday, August 16, 2010

My Final Thoughts on 4e

It has been long enough and I have played the game enough to really talk about it now. So here are my thoughts on 4e. As if all of you asked.

I think in some way the OSR is really just a big arrow pointing to the fact that the system's inherent flaw is the system's own modularity. Though I don't think that the OSR is self aware enough to really realise it. We (the OSR) keep coming back to how rules light/simple/free form/whatever the old school games are. But we don't see why we keep coming back there. When we look at the lineage of AD&D and its successors we see something that we don't see. Our minds pick up on it but in an intuitive way rather than a frontal lobe sort of way. Like the art experts in Malcolm Gladwell's "Blink" with a glance we know something is wrong, but we can't really explain it.

4e is a marvel of mechanics in the tabletop rpg business. Each piece is simple, elegant, almost self explanatory, and modular. That is the beauty of the system. It really works well (in that all the parts work together) and lends itself to an "evergreen" marketing format. However I think the major flaw that everyone knows is there is that it is modular.

For comparison lets look at cells. These things are generally in a biological sense fairly simple. They do one job. Examined on their own they have their functions and have a purpose of working with other cells. Just a few cells working together make a simple system. This system can be documented and fairly well understood. But each time you add a cell you increase the complexity of the system until you have a very complex system like the human body. Though I would not say that 4e is as complex as the human body I think the idea here can be understood.

The more pieces you add, the slower the game must become because the system becomes more complex. The amount of information needed to play the game will easily exceed the body of knowledge known by the players. And I think this is what the OSR has discovered and not really articulated: when the amount of information exceeds the body of knowledge at the table the game will slow down because people need to look up or explain a rule or more importantly an exception to the rule. In 4e the rules at the table increase as the characters progress. This is because the abilities offer exceptions to the general body of rules and thus must be treated as rules in and of themselves.

The older format of RPGs embraced by the OSR is small and compact enough so that the information needed to play does not outstrip the body of knowledge sitting at the table. This is probably a result of necessity informing design as in its birth D&D had to be able to be sent in the mail. Now days page count is not really limited. Whereas OD&D simply had the rules of the game and spells to add complexity, 4e (along with 3e) has the rules of the game, character ability exceptions, skills, feats and spells. All of these interact together in different ways increasing complexity and outstripping player knowledge. Given that 4e has many more classes than its predecessors the explosion of rules interactions is mind boggling. This is what makes 4e so complex, slow and in the end at higher more invested levels harder to play. It is a beautiful, well made and very complex game. I think the OSR sees this and opts out to something that can carry the same story with less work.

I've Got Something to Say...

Its better to burn out than to fade away!

But if you must burn out or leave "the scene" or the renaissance or the revolution or whatever please just leave your blog up. Just say, I am done, see yall, and leave it there. Turn off comments for all your posts and let us at least use it as a resource.

I posted this because I just noticed something-
Welcome back to the presses ChgoWiz - your blog was missed...


Sunday, June 27, 2010

Live After Death!

In my house rules for Labyrinth Lord I have created a new rule called "Live After Death." It was inspired by Heroes of Horror (and Iron Maiden, of course). Anyone looking at the previous post will see that I have finally found out where I saw the inspiration- in the sections called Balancing the Scales, Coming Back Wrong and the Resurrection Mishap table. I think the suggestions there are easily the best part of the book. I encourage people to track down a copy. The stipulations of extended time, the price of another life in exchange, special locations, provide great ideas for a campaign. But the one that has the best swords and sorcery feel is the idea that the magic is not perfect. The way I use it is that this can happen its a risk - always. So now when the spell is cast my players roll on the table below. I have not used the idea in balancing the scales yet, but the chance of coming back wrong just seemed, well... right. So here it is, a simple 2d6 chart that spices up those Labyrinth Lord Raise Dead spells (with a cool retro metal name to boot):

Live After Death
2 No, really, that’s not Bob: A demon possess the body- exorcism will return to dead state.
3 Better off Dead: Oops, such a fine line between raised and animated… character now undead of HD corresponding to current level.
4 Chains Attached: The character is back to achieve one thing as if under unbreakable quest or geas spell. When done the character dies, forever.
5 Alignment Change due to fear of death.
6 Normal
7 Normal
8 Normal
9 Alignment Change due to seeing and understanding the truth.
10 Strings Attached: As if under unbreakable geas/quest. Must complete.
11 Crossed Wires: DM switches 2 of INT CHA or WIS
12 Wait, that’s not Bob: wrong soul- re roll INT CHA and WIS

Scream for me Long Beach!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Need Help Finding an Alternate Raise Dead/Resurrection Table I lost track of

A while ago- It must have been in the days of WFRP2 and Heroes of Horror- I found a really cool resurrection/raise dead chart that allowed for weirdness around said spells. That is it made them way more interesting. The gist was these spells could go wrong. I thought that the chart was the resurrection mishap table in Heroes of Horror, but now that I have had a good look a it I realise I must have been reading something else! One distinct feature that I remember about the chart was that it for sure had the entry where a completely different soul is returned to the new body. Another was that the guy was back yes, but he did not get to stay. Sort of a "the crow"scenario- what he is working on is important enough to allow him more life but when its done so is he.

Anyone remeber this thing?