Sunday, August 5, 2012

"Gems" of Research

As demonstrated by the recent poll, most readers of this blog are not familiar with Blackmoor.  Because of this, I will start with an overview of the first section of the book.

The first 13 pages are a mash-up of clerics and thieving skills (p.1); monk abilities and saving throws (p.2); monk followers, more about thieves including description, disguise and poison (p.3); mission costs and experience for thieves, monk and assassin experience and description of the monk (p.4); more monk experience and 50 words on Assassins guilds (70% of page 5 is an image of a mage); monk and assassin hit dice, the monk combat table and the assassination table (p.6); hit location (pp. 7-11, including tables for hitting "flyers," reptiles, insectoids, fish and snakes - the last obviously different from reptiles); weapon adjustments for attacker/defender height and weapon lengths (p.12); and finally a table of number of attacks/damage for monsters (p.13).

Let me pause and say that this truly underlines the blatant lie that is splattered over the original AD&D books, the one that argues that space is limited and the authors were forced to squeeze in what they could. It has to be understood that 4 pages of this book, from 56 to 59, are BLANK, with a heading for "Notes" ... because, as you know from being forced to attend school, paper is incredibly rare, as is any sort of binder-like thingy designed to hold paper. Nobody, anywhere, knows how to keep notes on something that we read in a place where we can find it, for as you know, in school we were taught to stick our thumbs up our butts, to get them good and wet for the teachers to suck.

It's absurd to try to cover these many subjects in six pages, and then to spend four pages on hit location.  It is very, very clear where the emphasis lies; the game rules are designed for COMBAT - but that is what makes those 50 words on the assassin all the more inexplicable.

Here they are, illegal and in toto:

"Assassins: There is no actual level above Prime Assassin, although there is power attained with the rank of Guildmaster. A character cannot be Guildmaster of more than one Assassins Guild. There is only one Assassins Guild allowable in any one locale (large city or area of about 2,500 square miles)."

And then, as I say, there's a picture covering the rest of the page.

My, this was incredibly important information that desperately needed to be said.  The game is certainly expanded by this intimate rule about Guildmasters.  The "power attained" is in point of fact described on p.4, making 10 words of the above redundant.  The "power" is that is that the Guildmaster can build a stronghold and rule a barony.  Presumably, this barony is no larger than 2,500 sq.m. - there must be a class of people out there whose job it is to measure baronies and adjudicate not the spot.  "SORRY, no, no can do, there are 30 acres here that are not allowable to Murdering, Hired Killers (everything must be capitalized, its a "Guildmaster" we're talking about here) ... so sorry, these will have to be taken away from you and assigned to another Guildmaster.  Yes, I know it sounds unfair, but as you are a Murdering, Hired Killer I'm sure you know that you will need to appeal to the local king in Triplicate on the Third Thursday of every month.  Thank-you!"

I know, I know, it's not meant to be exact.  But why 2,500?  Why not 2,800?  Why not 4,000?  I mean, I can see the logic for why you need three properties before you can build houses in Monopoly, but as rules go, this ad hoc designation about the amount of area that one Guildmaster can occupy seems a little unsupported.  What am I saying - I'm sure a lot of thought and research went into that figure.

After all, the rules say if you are high enough level, you must challenge the existing Guildmaster to a "duel to the death" - because among medieval killers, this sort of American West gunfighter approach to managing the exploitation of baronies was all the rage.  No one ever just moved into the neighborhood, set up shop, and competed for contracts until things got difficult.  Oh, wait ... western gunfighters weren't "Guildmasters," were they?  If were talking an American equivalent, we can use the forty or so competing mobster bosses carving up 1930's Chicago.  Let's see, Cook County, which is virtually all Chicago, is, let's see ... 1,635 sq.m.  Oh, that can't be right.  Hm.  I must be missing more of Arneson & Gygax's golden research skills.

What the fuck is with this barony thing, anyway?  Guildmasters hardly ever rose to the level of Barons, and when they did, they STOPPED calling themselves Guildmasters.  Baron had a bit more cachet.

Then there's that beautiful statement that a character can only be Guildmaster of one assassin's guild.  Now that really needed to be said.  Nevermind that I'd love to hear the story of how a character got to be the head of more than one guild, or particularly the one where the second guild was dying to have the character run it only to be turned down.  Guilds, you see, are like Prom Dates; there may be two girls who want to go to the Prom, but you can only take one ... sorry.

I'm curious - if you seize all the property of a second guild, can all the people of that guild join your guild, so then it can still be ONE guild?  Wait, what am I saying?  That would mean owning more than 2,500 sq.m. ... oh well, maybe the extra land can be dumped in an estate sale.

We know assassins do not rise to be Barons.  We know two guilds under the same leader is really one guild.  We know organizations often have thirty or more groups or cells or departments who know nothing about each other.  We know assassins don't play by the 'rules' ... at least, not these kind of rules.  Already, right from the beginning, Gygax and Arneson were dictating restrictions on character behavior that didn't make sense, don't make sense, and have nothing to do with all the other cultural references we have to actual assassins.  Having written this book three years after The Godfather, they completely screwed the pooch.

Unfortunately, having written the sort of stupid paragraph above, Gygax and Arneson polluted the heads of children who didn't know any better, who have spent their lives reinterpreting 50 words as if there is a deeper, misunderstood meaning that isn't clear upon first reading (I believe they're called "prompts").  Thus we are stuck with these thoughtless, witless notes - half-baked ideas that proliferate throughout this book and the others, raised to the level of dogma by worshipping morons.

Better that there's a picture.  It kept G&A from doing more damage.


Black Vulmea said...

"Guildmasters hardly ever rose to the level of Barons, and when they did, they STOPPED calling themselves Guildmasters. Baron had a bit more cachet."

Baron can be used as a generic title for nobleman, in the same way that prince can refer to any monarch. Frex, the dukes of Montmorency were known as les premier barons de France.

From reading the rules, it's this usage of baron that I believe the authors intend.

Alexis said...

And that, ladies and germs, is what I mean by looking for deeper, misunderstood meanings. Seriously, are we to believe that G&A used "Barons" as shorthand to describe the Dukes of Montmorency, as B.V. suggests? Or might it just be possible that it is all bullshit, and B.V. must make it work in his brain, jamming that long square peg into his round hole until he tastes wood.

JB said...

I actually think the later addition of a "grandfather of assassins" by Gygax in the PHB was due to The Godfather, as it appears to me that such an individual (i.e. a ruler of all the competing crime, "guilds") only makes sense in attempting to model Don Corleone and "The Five Families" (or whatever). The figure certainly doesn't make sense in the historic assassin sect of the Middle East. I figure he (Gygax) simply decided to use the term "Grandfather" rather than "Godfather" so as to avoid a mental disconnect with the pseudo-medieval setting of the game.

Black Vulmea said...

"Grandfather of Assassins" is a reference to Hassan-i Sabbah, the "Old Man of the Mountain" who founded the Ḥashshāshīn and established their base of operations at the mountain fotress of Alamut.

Alexis said...

Black Vulmea,

"old man" does not necessarily translate to "grandfather" ... strange as it may seem, grandfather has tens of thousands of cultural references, and is not necessarily the one you specify. Moreover, in the film The Godfather, Corleone WAS a grandfather and is called that by children just before he dies. So, really, you're smarmy certainty is still more of you pulling it out of your ass.

The Hashshashin were not the only people murdering people in Europe and Asia - they just happened to be the ones whose name was used to describe killers. It can hardly be said by Gygax's day that everyone who used the word "assassin" automatically refered to 11th century Persia.

porphyre77 said...

Maybe not "everyone (...) by Gygax's day", but ODD was written by wargamers for medieval wargamers. So maybe familiarity with the subject of medieval warfare, the Crusades, and Hashashins was assumed.
(Personally, I always thought until recently that the Assassin class, with it's Guild system was, like the Thief, a tribute to Fritz Leiber's Lankhmar stories)

Alexis said...

Shit. My professors demanded 3,000 word essays and footnotes. Guess I should have explained to them how my familiarity with the subject proved all that was "assumed."

Bluebear Jeff said...

Somewhere in a box I have the "First Fantasy Campaign" by Judges Guild, which as I recall, is supposedly the original "Blackmoor" campaign.

I've never really looked at it, but I do have it . . . somewhere . . . in a box . . . somewhere.

How does this product match up with the "Blackmoor" supplement? Or does it?

-- Jeff