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Saturday, October 13, 2012

Why D&D and the clones fail at Swords & Sorcery

Many people have said that D&D (and the various retroclones) are based on Swords & Sorcery. I call BS. Yes, it has some influences (such as giant snakes, giant frogs, and other crazy weirdness), but the general format of the game just doesn't work.

In swords & sorcery, almost every single story features one or two characters taking on their enemies, which usually involved some kind of insane mage or monster-god. Said character would have a tough time of it, but generally ended up stomping the bad guy and stealing the wench.

One thing that didn't happen in the genre was groups of people wandering around, fighting monsters. D&D assumes you will have at least four players, and generally one fighter, one thief, one mage, and one cleric. The cleric alone just doesn't work when it comes to S&S. "Good" mages were also extremely rare (Elric and the Gray Mouser are pretty much the only ones I know off the top of my head). Almost everyone else was a fighter or thief.

Having more than two, or maybe three, characters in the group is also pretty much unheard of, barring stories about some kind of battle the hero happens to be participating in. Until a retroclone actually addresses this in a decent way, the S&S vibe will be mere window dressing, at best.


McWieg said...

I think D&D is a crazy ass blender. It's just as based on Howard as it is Tolkien or Anderson or a bunch of other guys.

I'm of the mind that we don't really need a clone just to emulate sword & sorcery. I totally agree that D&D sucks at it if run straight out the box, but with a little tweaking:

The magic-user class can be restricted or done away with. (Or perhaps they have to multi-class as a fighter/mage or thief/mage and stick a level limit on the mage part.) Play with a small group, three or so players. Make the adventures more about getting to the mad wizard or monster-god. (Use the old xp for treasure rules; combat wasn't worth that much in older versions anyway.)

Dungeon Smash said...

Are there any strictly S&S-focused RPGs? I'd be interested to see one. I would imagine it would have to be a very different dynamic, with one or two players versus the DM and a much more focused combat system.

Jeremy said...

I dunno, it depends on how many people you are playing with.

Yes, adventure stories get unwieldy with more than a few people, so you don't see many of those. Even Doc Savage, where he started off with 5 assistants, basically was reduced to mostly just 2

But D&D was meant to be played with only 1 or 2 players, that's why there are henchmen.

John said...

Sword & Sorcery stories have typically only 1-2 protaganists because that's what works best in an action-paced short story, not because it's somehow a prerequisite to the genre. D&D is a different medium. Expect differences.

Dan said...

Dungeon Smash, Stormbringer/Elric from Chaosium does a pretty good job with S&S. It certainly can be run very well with only one or two players.

Hamel™ said...

IMHO D&D sucks at S&S for another reason: there's no mechanic for emotional elements.

Actually D&D is good only for old good dungeon crawling and few more.

McWieg said...

I disagree. I've done plenty of non-dungeon crawling with D&D and enjoyed it quite a bit.

Hamel™ said...

D&D is not the best in doing something else than dungeon crawling, because you can't win an Indy Race with a skateboard.

Anonymous said...

Excepting 3 years of high school, my 30-odd years of D&D have been overwhelmingly played with 1, 2 or 3 players.

And we never tried to distribute/represent a mix of classes, either.

Our D&D vibe was exactly what we made it.

Wasn't yours?