Basic D&D and Party Conflict

April 3, 2010

One of the biggest hurdles in successful D&D play has been whether a group can coordinate on the role of conflict within a party- is it something that shouldn’t happen, something that should happen only in terms of color (ala Gimli vs. Legolas), or is it a focal point of play?

Having had a chance to look over both Moldvay and Holmes Basic D&D recently, it’s really interesting to note how early the problematic elements were included in D&D – as these two were the introductory books for a lot of folks.

Both versions note that thieves sometimes steal from their own party. Since gold = xp in these games, it sets up a lot of problems. Usually characters run to a limit of stuff to buy after a point, so gold as gold isn’t the biggest issue- it’s gaining XP. Not only does this give the thief player incentive to do this, it also doubly rewards as thieves have the easiest time leveling up- their levels take the least xp to go up – making it easier to gain better skills to steal more.

The second issue is that both versions also include prescriptive alignment rules- they explain what characters of certain alignments are supposed to do- without anything in the way of what kinds of negotiations are expected or how people of such different expectations are supposed to get along. (Games like Dogs or Burning Wheel include social conflict mechanics to allow players methods to negotiate these issues). Moldvay even includes the classic issue of two characters arguing over whether they should kill helpless foes in a play example. The issue is dodged when the pro-murder player backs down… but the tension is left there.

It’s pretty sad to see how early these issues were embedded directly into the text of play, though it is useful in understanding how these problems became widespread.

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