D&D General Of Archetypes and Angels

bpauls

Explorer
Last week, I realized we had recently passed the 15th anniversary of the release of "Angel Summoner and BMX Bandit", the hilarious sketch in the first episode of the British web series "That Mitchell and Webb Look".

Since this sketch caused a fair amount of discussion in the D&D community, I'm sharing my take on what martial/magic discrepancies at high levels mean in B/X D&D.

 

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Mannahnin

Scion of Murgen (He/Him)
A nice read.

I might quibble about the idea of Clerics being present as an archetype in sword & sorcery literature, rather than being an invention of Dave Arneson's, inspired by a combination of Van Helsing and medieval tales about Bishop Odo. :) But that's well-trodden ground.
 
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bpauls

Explorer
A nice read.

I might quibble about the idea of Clerics being present as an archetype in sword & sorcery literature, rather than being an invention of Dave Arneson's, inspired by a combination of Van Helsing and medieval takes about Bishop Odo. :) But that's well-trodden ground.
Thank you! I won't argue with your point about clerics. Priests and priestesses appear in Howard, but D&D gives them its own spin. Someone can play an "Hyborian cleric"-type character, but they need to bring a lot of the distinctives to the table themselves. The class description doesn't really evoke them as written.
 

While I grant some of your points here, I think this leaves out two key things that...don't actually sit so well with the "emulating sword and sorcery fiction" in the generic and instead look at very specific parts of it.

FIrst, high-level characters in general transition to a completely new paradigm of play. Domain management. And in domain management, Fighters get something no other character can really replicate. They, in effect, become feudal nobility. This is not seen in anywhere near all of sword and sorcery fiction, but it is seen in certain specific inspirational characters...like Conan the Barbarian (who, IIRC, crowns himself king) or John Carter of Barsoom (who becomes "Warlord of Mars.")

Clerics, Wizards, and Thieves also got domain stuff, but it was much more limited and certainly lower-power--Wizards in particular, who just get basically a safe place to rest up and prepare their spells from. That is an enormous part of how the Fighter archetype gets balanced with the Wizard archetype. They both grow to have immense power, but one is temporal and political, while the other is esoteric and spiritual.

Second, balance concerns still existed even in these olden days. There's a reason you had DMs frowning on the idea of "Monty Haul" campaigns even very early on; there has always been a concern about unearned power and characters being out of line. Many DMs contrived to remove that power in the past, which led to player resentment of tactics like "oh no, all your stuff got stolen while you slept!" or, worse, "you've been thrown in prison and all your stuff has been sold by the crown, now you have nothing but your skills and must start over!"

So, again, your point is valid that genre-specific archetype emulation was a prime focus of design in the past, and that D&D today has now moved to being more genre-neutral and thus changed its priorities. We just shouldn't ignore the things that both game-designers and, in certain cases, actual authors used specifically to create better power balance between the archetypes; and we shouldn't forget that balance concerns have existed for as long as there have been gamers playing games.
 

bpauls

Explorer
...high-level characters in general transition to a completely new paradigm of play. Domain management. And in domain management, Fighters get something no other character can really replicate. They, in effect, become feudal nobility. This is not seen in anywhere near all of sword and sorcery fiction, but it is seen in certain specific inspirational characters...like Conan the Barbarian (who, IIRC, crowns himself king) or John Carter of Barsoom (who becomes "Warlord of Mars.")
You make great points, and I agree with most of them.

There is probably a longer article (or even a series) that could be written about how D&D has changed over the decades--first by influencing video games, and then by being influenced by video games--in an iterative cycle that has increased the power of individual PCs, while somewhat diminishing team-based goals and the need for hirelings/retainers to strengthen a party. The last was really what prepared players for domain-level play and the use of actual armies to face regional/national or even existential threats.

Based primarily on my own experience, I question how much domain play actually happened. In my circles, it seemed most players opted for the alternative branch--getting the wizard to take the party plane-hopping, so they could go toe-to-toe with Demogorgan, Orcus, Tiamat, Anthraxus, or Asmodeus. I freely admit my experience is limited, and perhaps this was not the case with most groups.

I grant your fundamental argument, however--in early editions, "balance" was seen as something that encompassed the entire game, from lower levels to higher levels, and included an assumed change of play style. This was a different approach from the more recent (relatively speaking) focus on balancing the combat power of individual characters against one another at all levels.
 

S'mon

Legend
The BX line has a specific issue with high level Fighters in that they get very little offensive increase with level-up. In OD&D-AD&D line they huge numbers of attacks vs 1 hd or level 0 foes; in AD&D they also multi-attack at high level. In BX all they get is a slowly increasing to-hit bonus. No Conan killing two frost giants in a single combat round; the BX high level Fighter will be whittling them down over a dozen rounds!
 

bpauls

Explorer
The BX line has a specific issue with high level Fighters in that they get very little offensive increase with level-up. In OD&D-AD&D line they huge numbers of attacks vs 1 hd or level 0 foes; in AD&D they also multi-attack at high level. In BX all they get is a slowly increasing to-hit bonus. No Conan killing two frost giants in a single combat round; the BX high level Fighter will be whittling them down over a dozen rounds!
Thanks for the context. I do think the fighter class in B/X fails to properly capture the preternatural abilities of someone like Conan. If the designers wanted to stick to the "one attack per character, per round" rule, giving fighters monk-like special abilities as they leveled might have been a better choice.
 

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