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General An Appreciation of David "Zeb" Cook


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Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Wow, it just dawned on me he also worked on these two classics ...
It's funny, because even though I only skimmed his tremendous and varied body of work, those were two things I specifically called out!

"Arguably the best, simplest ruleset for D&D was B/X. Everyone remembers Moldvay, but Zab wrote the "X." But that's not all; anywhere you look, from Star Frontiers (Alpha Dawn) to Conan you see Zeb credited."

:)
 

Jack Hooligan

Explorer
It's funny, because even though I only skimmed his tremendous and varied body of work, those were two things I specifically called out!

"Arguably the best, simplest ruleset for D&D was B/X. Everyone remembers Moldvay, but Zab wrote the "X." But that's not all; anywhere you look, from Star Frontiers (Alpha Dawn) to Conan you see Zeb credited."

:)
It's true...you did! I guess I got wrapped up in the Taladas discussion in the following post....
 

The edition you first come to D&D has an enormous influence, no doubt. If someone said, "hey, do you want to run a BECMI campaign," I'd be all in.

The Bond I grew up with was Roger Moore, but my mom made sure that my brother and I knew that Sean Connery was the true one. I still think that, after the brooding brute of Daniel Craig, we need a return to the slick and charming, sometimes silly Roger Moore-style Bond.

I tend to think D&D editions (and the designers associated with them) tend to be a lot like Bonds; people will always have a strong attachment to the Bond they grew up with, and while they can learn to appreciate (or even love) the current Bond, or a past Bond, there will always be that unshakable love for Roger Mo.... um, the edition you started with.
 


ZeshinX

Adventurer
I'd be interested in learning more. 2e has always struck me as the least well designed version of D&D (Zeb Cook's hands were tied there admittedly) because it's a mismatch between a game that was designed for gritty dungeon crawling, a DMG that tries to point you to heroic fantasy, and an XP system where killing monsters is the only type of XP the party shares leading to a much more murder-happy game than even 1e. And Planescape, while a great setting appears to me to be an even bigger mismatch between rules and setting than the rest of 2e.

I'd be delighted to find out that I was wrong and that there's more to learn - but could you tease out some of how he was a great designer rather than just listing some of his products please.
My perspective, for what it's worth, is he managed to show the scope of what D&D can be if you put some imagination and even just a little effort into it. Granted, 2e has a LOT of warts in terms of mechanical design, it's very rough around the edges and it can seem contradictory at times...but it highlights, to me, the endless possibilities of imagination. That was always present in D&D, but Cook really helped to illustrate that.

It's not perfect, but it doesn't have to be. It's enough to show it's possible. He's not unique in that of course, but he certainly stands out given his body of work and how much variety exists within that body for a single ruleset.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
The edition you first come to D&D has an enormous influence, no doubt. If someone said, "hey, do you want to run a BECMI campaign," I'd be all in.

The Bond I grew up with was Roger Moore, but my mom made sure that my brother and I knew that Sean Connery was the true one. I still think that, after the brooding brute of Daniel Craig, we need a return to the slick and charming, sometimes silly Roger Moore-style Bond.
I don't think we can ever go back to a "camp" James Bond.

It's hardly a new theory, but it's been pointed out that after Austin Powers, you can't tread that line anymore. It's a shame. The harder part is that, TBH, it's really hard to deal with the ... more problematic aspects of Bond from the past. The things that differentiate him from just another Jason Bourne/Ethan Hunt character (the drinking, the womanizing, the gambling, etc.) .... haven't aged that well.
 

Kobold Avenger

Adventurer
2e is the edition I started on, so I know what it's like when the system doesn't completely work out mechanically. Still, I think it was certainly the best edition for campaign settings in general.

Not familiar with Star Frontiers, but I do know that a bunch of the Star Frontiers races eventually ended up in Spelljammer under different names.

Planescape which is still my favourite, did have some weird story/game issues over Rowan Darkwood (the Factol of the objectivist faction The Fated) being a Ranger in the questionable requirement that one had to be of a good alignment to be a Ranger. That character was very heavily tied into the metaplot of the setting later on.

Looking into Zeb's other credits it includes Amazing Engine, which is quite obscure for things by TSR. I'm unfamiliar with that system, but it looks like TSR did try to make a bunch of unique settings for RPGs using that system.
 

Jack Hooligan

Explorer
2nd edition is where the bulk of all the cool, unique settings were born. I think there's only been one since then...Eberrron?
 

Yeah, not entirely, but I think Bond could go to a less po-faced, more light-hearted tone. The thing that gets lost in the following Austin Powers films is that the first one was satire, not just plain comedy.

Totally agree that past Bond has some ultra-sketchy moments. You could probably find just about every negative film trope in the history of Bond films.

I don't think we can ever go back to a "camp" James Bond.

It's hardly a new theory, but it's been pointed out that after Austin Powers, you can't tread that line anymore. It's a shame. The harder part is that, TBH, it's really hard to deal with the ... more problematic aspects of Bond from the past. The things that differentiate him from just another Jason Bourne/Ethan Hunt character (the drinking, the womanizing, the gambling, etc.) .... haven't aged that well.
Anyway, Zeb Cook... Star Frontiers was a fun game, though I never gave it as much time as Top Secret or Gamma World. The Isle of Dread definitely deserves its praise. Looking at it, in 1981, that it was an almost completely open-ended, non-dungeon crawl island, was pretty ahead of its time.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Anyway, Zeb Cook... Star Frontiers was a fun game, though I never gave it as much time as Top Secret or Gamma World. The Isle of Dread definitely deserves its praise. Looking at it, in 1981, that it was an almost completely open-ended, non-dungeon crawl island, was pretty ahead of its time.
Fun fact that I happened across the other day; Moldvay did the outer parts of the Isle of Dread, and Cook made the interior!
 


Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
More than many people realize. I recall an interview years ago where he said they wanted to use ascending AC in 2e, but decided they wanted it to be compatible with 1e even more.
The great thing about 2e is that, by limiting it, it was completely backwards compatible ... allowing a pretty decent legacy from 1974-1999. That's a good run!

The bad news is that by limiting it so much, it really limited the ability of developers to clear away any of the cruft that was accumulating.

But yes, he had to work within some pretty hard-coded rules given to him by the powers that be.
 

Sacrosanct

Legend
The great thing about 2e is that, by limiting it, it was completely backwards compatible ... allowing a pretty decent legacy from 1974-1999. That's a good run!

The bad news is that by limiting it so much, it really limited the ability of developers to clear away any of the cruft that was accumulating.

But yes, he had to work within some pretty hard-coded rules given to him by the powers that be.
I think their take to make it backwards compatible was the best choice myself. It cleaned up some things (1e is my favorite, but I like how 2e handled thief skill progressions, non weapon profs, bard class, and priest spheres). 2e was focused on settings and fluff and not nearly as much on actual adventure modules, so being able to play all the existing modules in 2e was a big deal.
 

The Glen

Adventurer
I did a list of the top 10 Mystara modules for a video channel. His name appeared on fully half of them. Tom moldvay appeared on the other half with them sharing Isle of dread.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
I think their take to make it backwards compatible was the best choice myself. It cleaned up some things (1e is my favorite, but I like how 2e handled thief skill progressions, non weapon profs, bard class, and priest spheres).
Yes on thief.
No on non-weapon proficiencies.*
Yes on bard.
No on priest spheres (I get the domain love, but tying it specifically into a deity and not a sphere is very much more in keeping with the ethos of the time, IMO).

*On NWPs, I just never felt that that they jibed well with the underlying system.
 

The Glen

Adventurer
Yes on thief.
No on non-weapon proficiencies.*
Yes on bard.
No on priest spheres (I get the domain love, but tying it specifically into a deity and not a sphere is very much more in keeping with the ethos of the time, IMO).

*On NWPs, I just never felt that that they jibed well with the underlying system.
I still hold that the rules cyclopedia had the best skill system for D&D. Quick and concise.
 

2nd edition is where the bulk of all the cool, unique settings were born. I think there's only been one since then...Eberrron?
Eberron, the Nentir Vale, the Wildemount. And unlike most of the 2e settings like Planescape or Dark Sun those work with rather than against the ruleset to the point that 4e Dark Sun works as if it was made for it.
 

Jack Hooligan

Explorer
Wasn't Dark Sun written as Brom's work arrived across the TSR desks? I feel like I read that they built a setting around his art. 4e probably had the benefit of being developed with plenty of lead time and around solid rules.
 

Wasn't Dark Sun written as Brom's work arrived across the TSR desks? I feel like I read that they built a setting around his art. 4e probably had the benefit of being developed with plenty of lead time and around solid rules.
Dark Sun was envisioned as a base for mass combat rules, hence the codename WarWorld, emphasis on psionics was added later and Be Ok definitely established the look of the world. Ironically BattleSystem never really took off, so the mass combat bit was dropped later.
 

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