Tuesday, September 6, 2011

"It's okay, Gary sent us."

Way back in my early years of D&D, I started with the red box Basic Set.

Page B28 had an Example of Combat. Here's a small excerpt of the party encountering some hobgoblins. The party consists of four 1st and 2nd level characters . . . their fifth member having died in another example further on.

Silverleaf steps forward with both hands empty in a token of friendship, and says "Greetings, noble dwellers of deep caverns; can we help you?". Just in case, Silverleaf is thinking of the words he must chant to cast his spell [Sleep]

[snip some stuff about reaction rolls]

The largest of the hobgoblins shouts, in his language, "Go away! You're not allowed in this room!"

"It's okay, Gary sent us," Silverleaf answers.

"Huh?" the hobgoblin wittily responds.

The DM rolls a new reaction roll with no adjustments. The roll is a 3; the hobgoblins charge.

Picture me reading this as a nine year old. The editor of the book is a guy named Tom Moldvay, and even his name isn't on the cover. Who wrote this I wouldn't even have known.

So who the hell Gary was, I didn't know.

This only became funny years later when I connected the "Gary sent us" to Gary Gygax. By then I was playing AD&D and hobgoblins were Lawful Evil and no Good or Neutral player would never have negotiated with them.

A few things strike me about this example, years later. Things I'd like to see emulated in my Dungeon Fantasy play:

People negotiate with intelligent creatures. Not just bribes tossed to hungry monsters or a sword dropped to discourage a rust monster from eating your armor. They talk to monsters to try to avoid combat.

There isn't a big emphasis on slaying things for experience points. By the time I got to playing in a big way, and understood things like how to gain levels (we had a few guys at first level until it seemed like second level seemed appropriate) . . . we knew that you killed every freaking monsters you ran into and looted it. A properly "done" dungeon was empty of anything alive that was worth XP. The idea of exploring further and conserving resources by trying to deal with intelligent creatures who obviously won't be wealthy never even came up. The fact that this encounter netted the PCs nothing much beyond some information and a dead PC shows what could happen in combat.

Prisoners are taken and spared. I'm trying to remember last time that happened and it wasn't a group of lawful mercs that the PCs didn't want to kill to avoid pissing off other mercs. Everyone else got Black Company'd and had to dig their own graves. Heck, the example says outright that the Sister Rebecca "tells Morgan [Ironwolf] that a Lawful person keeps her word" - to evil humanoids!

So yeah, Gary sent us. He sure did, but as a kid I missed the joke and as an older GM we got away from "get some treasure out of this hole!" and moved to "kill everything we can to gain levels." Shame, that.


  1. Getting out alive should be experience just the same as slaying a monster. Perhaps increasing negotiating skill (+1 charm).

    I always have problems with games, movies, etc where the hero (you) have so much of an advantage over the opponent. If you make it so a player only has a 50-70% chance of survival in a violent encounter involving sharp objects, players will start to think twice about earning those experience points. Those experience points look less meaningful when you lose a limb to infection from a troll bite.

    Opponents of course should be just as fearful of violent conflict, hence the Gary approach becomes even more powerful.

    It would be interesting if games played into this sort of mode. Imagine an rts game where no matter how many times you clicked, your small contingent of men will not make that suicide charge you need to disrupt your enemy supply line. You character in GTA just refuses to walk into the mob boss hide-out with just a baseball bat.

    I guess it wouldn't jive with our vision of what a 'hero' is and how we want to view our alter egos. We want to take on the demons of the dungeon with no experience and a rusty dagger and without consideration to what those demons thing about the whole situation.

  2. I wasn't really considering giving a bonus to negotiation skills. What I'm considering more of is:

    - telling players outright this is possible.

    - removing any incentive to kill for the sake of killing (NO experience rewards for killing something that you could have negotiated with instead)

    - emphasizing the expenditure of real world time and in-game resources that combat consumes.

    I already play in a system that makes combat a potentially one-way street to a crippled and maimed character. But if you feel like negotiation never works and there is punishment for doing so (cost in goods, long-range cost from retribution or backstabbing) and no benefit (you need to kill them to get stuff) you'll take that risk anyway because it doesn't seem like you have a choice.

  3. Reaction rolls also mean sometimes it's the monsters who start talking first -- like in the example. I very much think that's a large part of injecting negotiations into the game: show the players how it's done. (Ie. by talking.)

    1. That's eventually how my first in-game negotiation started - the hobgoblins started to talk to them.


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