Monday, April 16, 2018

Divination In My Games: Part I - the Good Old Days

There is a nice post on Divination spells over on Greyhawk Grognard:

On Divination

Divination spells are one of those areas that saw very different use in the old days than in more recent play.

Toady, let's talk the Good Old Days.

Good Old Days

In my old days of playing mostly AD&D, from 4th grade until sometime in High School, divination spells were almost entirely unused.

Some of this was a function of our age and interest - we wanted spells that did cool things like blow stuff up, create or do things you need right away, or heal. Combat, direct utility, and recovery from combat.

Part of it was how we played - I can't remember anyone ever trying out these divination spells. Too much chance of failure, too much vagary, and too much dependence on a fellow elementary school (or junior high school, or high school) kid to interpret in a way that's helpful.

The fact that we very often played games where people had read the modules and knew what to do probably didn't help any. You didn't need to figure out that puzzle door or guess the answer to the riddle, you knew it. You knew where things were. You just had to survive getting there - difficult enough when you have the answers. It's like we'd all pre-cast Contact Other Copy of the Module and knew that Blackrazor was down this hallway and not to stick our heads into the mouth on the wall in the Tomb of Horrors. And if you hadn't read the module you'd ask people who'd played it before.

In a way, that's cheating, but in another way, it was just an alternate form of getting the answers. In play, you'd throw Commune and ask the DM who is roleplaying your god. Out of play, you just went and found the answers without casting the spell.

We also didn't really see what they were for. One of my current players downplayed the value of casting a divination spell in a session because, "It doesn't matter what's beyond the door, we're going to open it and go through anyway." I can argue against that in a lot of ways, but it's fundamentally logical. It's like scrying the inside of a present you intend to open - you're committed to the course of action, so the time spent getting foreknowledge isn't helping make a decision.

At the same time, I think the way the spells were presented didn't really lend them to getting used. Like so much of AD&D, they're just there with the expectation that the players and DMs will figure out what to do with them.

Given that I learned when I was 9 and 10 years old, mostly from playing with players my age or a bit older, that didn't happen. It wasn't instantly clear what to do with those spells. There wasn't really any guiding material that said, "Oh, yeah, Divination spells - this is how you figure out really opaque puzzles in the game, or figure out where to go next when you don't have a clue. The DM will help you along in those cases but only if you do it through in-play actions like casting these spells!"

So you almost never saw Divination spells used.

(On a tangent, you rarely, if ever, saw Charm spells used due to arguments over how they worked, no one summoned animals or monsters or elementals, and those demon summoning related spells didn't see any use.)

I do see a lot more Divination in my more recent games - maybe not to the extent that they'd get used in D&D by the original players, but more than I saw in the past. I'll write more about that tomorrow.

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