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Arcane Threats

With a word, a wizard launches a barrage of energy blasts at a horde of foes charging her. The foes drop dead, and the wizard surveys the scene with a condescending smile. Elsewhere, a wizard incants a ritual that imbues a staff with great power, and then uses that power to lay waste to a village of farmers. Someone once wrote, "with great power comes great responsibility," and that is especially true of the arcanists who seek that power. But what does a society do when the wizard proves irresponsible? This month's hooks consider some threats posed by arcanists, just in time to use with Arcane Power.

The Buried "Brother"

The man digging on the side of the road is certainly a curious sight. It looks like he has been at it for a couple hours, judging by the size of the hole. But he looks frustrated and unhappy. As you approach, he lets out with a choice epithet and throws his shovel at the ground. Then he seems to become aware of your presence. "Please forgive my outburst, friends. I am at my wit's end and consumed by frustration."
During the next part of the conversation, use passive Insight against the man's Bluff check (Bluff skill 11 + one-half level) to see if they sense that something is not right with his story. Before you read what's next, be sure to make up some land features that a clue* would point to.
"It's my brother, Klassin. He was kidnapped from our family lands a week ago. The kidnappers wanted a family heirloom relic for his return, which I gave them. I love my brother. They said that he was buried alive in an underground tomb and gave me a clue* that led me to this place. I know there is not much time, so I started digging as soon as I got here. But I have not reached him yet. Maybe you could help?"
Possible Motivations
1. This guy is spinning a story. He's really good at it, but he's lying.
2. He's telling the truth, sort of. Someone is buried here, but it's not a brother. It's a rival wizard from whom this guy wants to steal a valuable artifact.
3. His brother is buried here, but not dead. This guy trapped the brother Klassin in the tomb years ago, and he now needs something from the brother to save the family lands.
4. This guy is telling the whole truth, even about the kidnapping. Successful Insight checks just reflect the idea that his story is very improbable.
Story Elements
Select or generate story elements from this table.
1. Klassin is a wizard whose tomb is located here. It is far underground, and the speaker above does not know the exact location of the entrance, so he is looking for it. The tomb is filled with traps set to keep out intruders, because family magic items or a powerful evil artifact were placed in the tomb for safekeeping.
2. Klassin is either alive or undead (same difference really) and is prepared to defend his tomb. These defenses include teleporting in creatures through a portal that is located in the tomb (in case anyone really needed the aforementioned magic items or evil artifact, of course).
3. The speaker is a rival or enemy of Klassin's, and he seeks whatever is in the tomb for his own. He just needs some help with the traps and defenses.
4. The speaker is actually Klassin's brother, and he needs to get into the tomb to safeguard the magic items or artifact. He does not know how to use the portal (if there is one), and forgot the exact location of the tomb. Why the strange story? Maybe it's true as well.
5. The tomb has been taken over by a devil or dragon or other powerful creature, and the body of Klassin has been destroyed or consumed. The PCs and the speaker have to deal with the new occupant, and possibly traps from the old one, before finding the truth.
6. Perhaps instead of a tomb, the PCs and the speaker break into a network of subterranean caves that lead to the encounter described in Use This Book Tonight: Draconomicon. The real tomb could be connected to the caves, or just inside a separate cavern right nearby. Finding the real tomb could be quite complicated without magic.

When Halflings Balk

The PCs are in a tavern, restaurant, or local gathering place when someone comes in with the news that the halfling caravan stopped near the woods three days' journey from town, and it refuses to move any farther. They just refuse. People begin speculating.
If the PCs ask around, they can find out that this caravan is operated by the Jinzlinni halfling family, and they are known for being reliable in arriving at destinations on time. They carry both trade goods and special packages for most of the people around here, and they have never failed in their work.
If the PCs go to the site of the caravan's camp, they find that indeed the caravan has stopped and looks like it is not going anywhere anytime soon. Wagons are unhitched, tents pitched, and somewhat permanent fire pits dug. Halflings move about the camp as if this was their final destination all along, with almost no regard for the arriving PCs initially.
Story Elements
Select or generate story elements from this table.
1. An evil force from the forest dominates the caravan leader, and it is forcing her to stop here. Perhaps coming here at all was part of the domination, so that the caravan could carry something for the evil force.
2. The caravan halflings are very much afraid of something in the woods. Perhaps they fear demons, or treants, or a necromancer of great power and her undead army of treants. The road goes through the forest, so the halflings must continue, but they have not gathered their courage enough to do so.
3. The caravan is carrying a powerful wizard who is about to engage a rival in the forest. The halflings have been told to wait seven days while the wizard battles his foe. The wizard is in the forest searching for or engaging his rival when the PCs arrive.
4. The caravan leader has been possessed in the night by a spirit vampire, and has no interest in carrying goods but does have an interest in subjugating or feeding on the halflings.
5. The caravan is camped on the spot of an ancient graveyard, and on the night that the PCs arrive some ghosts arise to convince the halflings to move.
6. This area is disputed land between two orc (or other humanoid that makes sense) tribes, and they are going to war to resolve the dispute. Guess where?

Spirits Released

In a dark room far beneath the earth, a shaman intones the words of a ritual designed to grant access to a locked tower. The keys to the tower, spirits bound by the tower's owner, must be called forth from their prisons and coerced into opening the door. Otherwise, the door would not open and not allow magical access of any kind. Even teleportation is not possible, as the shaman's allies found out the hard way. The words reach a climax and three translucent beings come forth from statues at the door. The shaman smiles, and then begins a different ritual. As the words are spoken, he realizes his mistake. The three spirits flee through the walls and disappear. With a curse, the shaman and his allies pursue.
A few blocks away, a group of adventurers sit in a tavern enjoying their evening. Without warning, a translucent being emerges from the floor, seems to look around, and then dives into the body of one of the adventurers (to hide, not to possess).
Story Elements
Select or generate story elements from this table.

About the Author

Robert Wiese has been playing D&D since 1978 after he watched a game played in the car on the way home from a Boy Scouts meeting. He was fascinated, and delved into this strange world of dragons and magic and sourcebooks. Years later, he was hired to edit tournaments for the RPGA Network, and from there progressed to running the network after his boss was assassinated in the great Christmas purge of 1996. Times were tough, but he persevered and brought the RPGA into a shining new era. Eventually he met a girl who liked to play D&D too, and he left Renton for the warmth and casinos of Reno, Nevada. Now, he works in the Pharmacology department of UNR studying mouse foot muscles and the effects of RF emissions on same. He spends as much time as possible with his wife Rhonda, son Owen, and newborn daughter Rebecca.

Five Ways To Speed Up Combat

Lets face it, turn-based combat can be slow. However long you spend taking your turn, you’re waiting three or four times as long for the next one. Here is a list of game-hastening guidelines I recommend every DM issues to their players.

Announce end of turn

When you’re finished your turn, announce “turn end” or “that’s my turn over”. This saves time and avoids confusion. In particular it lets the next player know that you won’t interrupt his turn with an “also”, such as “Also, I want to make a move action” or “Also, I want to draw a weapon as a free action”.

Take your turn immediately unless interrupted

As soon as the player directly before you in initiative announces “end turn”, begin yours. Don’t want for the Dungeon Master to call your name. If something should interrupt the normal initiative order, such as a new monster entering combat or an ability used out-of-turn, whoever introduces it should call “interrupt”. It’s it’s quicker to call “interrupt” when something happens then to wait for the DM to sanction each turn.

Decide actions on the previous player’s turn

Take note of who’s in front of you in the initiative order and decide your action on his turn. As soon as he declares his end over, announce that action. This saves other players from waiting while you think. Your turn is for doing, not thinking. It’s possible that your action will be invalid by the time your turn arrives (the guy before you might kill the monster you wanted to attack), but more often than not this will speed things along.

Roll ahead of turn

If the Dungeon Master allows, roll your dice ahead of time. This method is absolutely vital in high-level D&D third edition games, where characters might roll fifteen or more dice per turn. Be honest and don’t “mike the dice”, a cheat where an unscrupulous player rolls ahead of time and re-rolls on his own turn if it misses.

Use an egg timer

For chronically slow players, use an egg timer set to thirty or sixty seconds. Each player has that amount of time to decide their actions, or else forfeit their turn.

Nerdery! Size in D&D 4e

The physical scale of latter-day Dungeons & Dragons is screwed up, of course. The purpose of 'wandering monster' tables is to simulate (however imprecisely) the wide overlapping hunting/foraging/cavorting ranges of creatures the size of cheetahs, wildebeests, elephants, and whales (never mind humans). The idea that a dungeon would be 'stocked' with creatures is believable only because everything about the situation is fake: monsters, magic, and especially dungeons themselves.

Silly example: in the recent D&D 4e adventure Pyramid of Shadows (H3), the PCs encounter 'quickling runners,' creepy little gnomes with razor claws and big front-facing predators' eyes. In a single six-second turn a quickling can move 24 spaces (120 feet) and make two melee attacks, or move 60 feet and 'shift' (i.e. move untouchably, dodging all attacks) another 50. Quicklings can maintain this speed as long as combat lasts, i.e. they can go even faster in bursts - indeed a 'double run' moves a quickling 28 spaces or 140 feet per turn.
In the Pyramid of Shadows adventure, these creatures live, are always located, in a vine-filled square hedge maze roughly 80 feet on a side. Like hogs on a farm, or caged cheetahs. The terrain makes for interesting combat, no question, but jettisons even the barest pretense of 'naturalism.'

Of course the titular Pyramid is a diabolical interdimensional prison and not a nature preserve, so it's not meant to be a natural habitat, never mind a faithfully-rendered one. But the conceit extends to all D&D products. In our world, the greater a creature's footspeed, the more use it gets out of expanses of flat terrain, where distance between it and predators can grow (effectively) without bound. Not so in D&D.

Everything the adventurers fight, in nearly every published adventure, is effectively caged. It's a little...stupid.
D&D is in part a goofy pulp-fiction 'simulation' of medieval combat with a bit of magic thrown in, and as its reliance on chesslike tabletop miniatures movement has grown, it's grown less effective as a chase game. Well, that's a choice, maybe a smart one - and certainly necessary: the new edition places more premium than ever before on tactical maneuvers and precise battlefield positioning (it's got the most detailed D&D combat engine yet and to my eye the best - at once more complex and more streamlined than its predecessors). But the assumption that physical spaces in the game are primarily battlefields tends to limit the cinematic scope of the proceedings a little. Tabletop games don't handle scrolling terrain, I know; and yet who wants to fight a dragon with a 30-foot wingspan in a room fifty feet on a side? Cinema's greatest dragons appear in the recent film Reign of Fire, which nails the staging of human/dragon combat: vast open spaces, improbable speeds, the total absence of any comforting human scale. Combat might take the PCs miles away from one another on dragonback, etc.

That vastness is hard to simulate on a chessboard but it's one of the most important methods by which the awestruck 'zero-to-hero' feeling of low-level fantasy roleplay is achieved. Ever played the video game Shadow of the Colossus? Its chief innovation is to make the (few) monsters themselves into battlefields - the player must climb hundreds of feet into the sky on the legs, arms, back, shoulders, and head(s) of rampaging giants in order to find their weak spots. The feeling of dread and awe is overpowering. D&D should induce those same feelings. Its genre (pulp fantasy) demands all kinds of excess, which can easily be undercut by the mechanical comforts of movement and combat rules, or the physical boundaries of the game table. The D&D bestiary should be grand. It should be fantastic.

Size makes a difference. (Deny yourself the comfort of believing otherwise, kiddo.)

Simple notion: next time you play, use the entire game room as the battlefield. Shelves as rocky outcroppings, tables immense mesas, candles for geysers of inexplicable flame; chandeliers become great floating castles, books are house-sized standing stones leaning precariously against one another. Fling the characters to different sides of the room, so that the players are standing together but the characters are on opposite sides of town, and play out a single encounter, the camera following one piece of the action and then another, with all the PCs' energies devoted to meeting in the middle, right on your gaming table. Forcibly remind the PCs and their players just how small they are, just how big the world is. If the D&D 4e conceit of 'points of light' - outposts of civilization separated by vast wilderness - is to carry any weight, you can't be afraid of the 'vast' part. Nor the 'wild' bit. Give them monsters they can't possibly outrun or outfight, stone walls so high their tops can't even be seen, lakes that stretch to the horizon. (Oh, and a boat made of their friends' bones.)

Instead of abstracting out the hugeness of the fantasy world ('You cross the valley in two days, running into no trouble'), once in a while allow it to play directly into the square-by-square movement/combat engine of the game. Let the size be uncountable for a while; give the Bad Things room to take flight. One of the most nervewracking scenes in film history involves nothing more than an open field, a crop-duster, and a man in a suit. Give the folks that feeling. It might unsettle the simulation a bit, unmatch some numbers, flatten a battlefield or two. But it might also rekindle some of that feeling of humble awe that drew us to such fantasies as children. There are other ways, sure - always will be. Try 'em all, I say.

Old School vs. New School

I find revitalizing movements exciting until they degrade into fundamentalism. The initial excitement revs everyone's engine like a Spring cleaning spree! This opens up space and makes it more useful, but quickly devolves into a set of repetitive instructions that eliminate making messes in the first place. These repeatable instructions, these rules, seek to preserve the openness, but make the openness that of a museum: "Don't touch!"

One can honestly read about "old school" and predict only one outcome: fundamentalism. The reason why is rather simple. Rules are more tangible than the fantasy adventure, so the rules lawyers have something they can easily discuss as if it were representative of the actual game. The rules are, after all, titled Dungeons and Dragons. Whereas, what actually happens in them, fantasy, is not so easily measured.

In all honesty, I can, and have, used any rules to produce the magic of my campaigns, and in a certain sense, I have never played Dungeons and Dragons in my entire life span. When I was introduced to the game the rules were up in the air. The rules books gave the initiate a sense of the mechanics, like a script outlines a movie, yet can say nothing about the effect of the final performance or directing. Back in the day, the script/rules were under constant change in order to better accommodate the actors and directors. The rules were a tool that could be rearranged rapidly and easily, to greater dramatic effect. Thus, everyone in Lake Geneva had a different version of Dungeons and Dragons. In fact, when someone else put out a new rules set, we were often quite eager to borrow whole cloth to see how it wears. At one point I was probably judging Rob using half D&D, 1/4 Chivalry & Sorcery, and 1/4 rules I'd made up or borrowed from the dozens of games in which I was participating.

Tell me if it isn't true that this exact same openness to rules isn't still taking place right now, throughout the role playing community? One can only imagine the answer is “more so!” I can hear you all shaking your heads in agreement here.

We are a community of strong minded individuals that pleases in a shared experience, which we might not otherwise have if it were not glued together by our amazement! It is the power of fantasy that permits us to open each other’s minds and dance inside of them, not the rules. The idea of our revival is to win over more members to the movement in order to extend and gain its greatest wealth. We need to generate a broad appeal. This is not accomplished by walking away from the future and only investing in the past.

Calling it old school is immediately limiting. At best, what we share is a certain sense and feeling of the game that we wish to return to, but that's not possibly achievable by settling upon a set of rules that wasn't even used for longer than a snapshot in time by its creators.

The successful and enduring mechanic of D&D can be found in almost all of the other games descending from it. Frankly put, once you've played one role playing game, you're far past the conceptual learning curve of any other. This is not true in the realm of board games, where one must compare Stratego to Candy Land to Monopoly to the thousands of counters and 32 square feet of map for Drang Nach Osten. The core goodness is much smaller than OD&D. It’s a more basic pattern.

The coin of the role playing realm should be the world. When comparing rules sets, we’ve not yet realized that what makes one rules set better over another are its organic elements. Do the rules abstract excessively, or are the mechanics closer to how things would really work? In other words, if I can cast a spell called magic missile without learning neurology, I'm better off. This means that the mechanics in a role playing game should correspond to what's found in the world. For example, there should be rules for pounding spikes, not rules for abstract success given the ratio of strength to skill additionally rated by experiences with hand held tools. We want to pound this flocking spike now, for heaven’s sake. We do so within the game world, not within the rules set. We must then ask, do the rules take us too far out of the world in which we are acting?

Of course, the more basic the rules set, the more likely we are in the world. But the truth is, the more organic the rules set is to the world, the more we are in the world and not the rules books. It is only happenstance that we find ourselves more attracted to OD&D, simply because we can see the more simple kernel of its truth. We certainly cannot be attracted to it because it makes the play any easier! It was terribly incomplete.

The idea of old school sounds to me like a well intended invitation to a retro dance, which seeks to honor the past. Right now I like the energy, the spirit, the intellectual endeavor, and the honest search for enjoyment that the movement seems to entail. However, I don't see anything new to adopt. I've been there. I'm hardly returning to it. I see no new ideas that would change my game. I have no reason to buy the rules. I knew them by heart in my childhood, but I’ve forgotten them on purpose, much preferring a D10 for fighter hit points over a D8. In fact, when I first encountered the phrase, “First Edition without its excesses,” I immediately thought, how about “OD&D without its excesses?”

If you want to go really old school, who's to say you shouldn't roll your character's hit points every morning when they wake up. So a fighter that rolled an 8 on that D8 yesterday may only start with a 1 today. Thus, the adventurers would need to consult with each other about how they're feeling before deciding to sally forth, or else wait until tomorrow. Does anyone really want to go back to that excess? It's how it was done for a period, and straight out of OD&D.

Frankly, OD&D introduces more uncertainties than most will realize. But folks don’t notice these differences because they apply what they already assume about the game to the rules set. OD&D isn't "D&D" anymore than 1st edition or 3rd edition.

And let’s admit it. Whenever we’ve been to someone’s game that intends to play exactly by the rules, we’ve quickly lost the enchantment of the evening, instead realizing we’re playing with someone that has very little understanding of what fantasy entails. The dim fact in these cases remains true: the DM can’t maintain consistency without recourse to the rules, therefore they also can’t adequately present the risk of chaos inherent in any conflict that fuels fantasy. Fantasy demands an imbalance if there is to be anything worthy of our rapt attention.

The game's essence is captured in the play. The proof for this is quite simple. We instantly recognize a suck-ass game when we're sitting there waiting to see who acts the fastest because we have to slowly figure out the dozen or so modifiers involved in the initiative system. Can anything be more ironic, waiting to see who’s not waiting?

It doesn't really matter what the rules say, too many rules and it's stupefying, not enough and you're assuming things. And what’s more, I haven't seen a single copy of D&D that fits my needs, because they are ALL merely guidelines. One could almost go as far as to say that a real and true fantasy campaign doesn’t have rules. It has only guidelines.

The chunkiest part of these guidelines would be the Action Resolution System (ARS), which would tend to seem mechanical, but which can be hidden using certain ideas as guides, such as class, rather than detailing out every single skill a character might have. Class is fairly organic, and while the idea of skill is also organic, a vast skill system such as one finds in roll faster (Role Master) is certainly not.

But even a most basic ARS is a guideline, since it can quickly be turned upside down on its head in a fantasy world. For example, a planar gate can transform strength into the force of one’s thoughts and intellect into the raw ability to hover in an amorphous, non-physical reality. How solid can any system be in such a place as magic rules? I’m more concerned with a DM’s consistency and ability to seamlessly lie than I am with rules in a fantasy setting. The lies of fantasy require convincing stories to hold them together, not a single, reliable mechanic. The idea of fantasy makes such a thing patently IMPOSSIBLE.

But what if a movement seeks to coalesce around guidelines? I can't imagine how that works. Where's the soul in that? Thus, there is an insecurity inherent in the idea of an old school movement. The strongest voices will tend to be the rules lawyers, those whose lack of imagination will succumb to fundamentalism.

Thus, while I am enjoying the feeling of the movement’s heart, I prefer to identify with the concept of the Old Guard, which implies honor, virtue, foundation, and generational preservation. I must refuse the term 'old school,' since I'm not part of a series of fads, not even if the succession of editions causes one to think in such terms.

Old school implies done and used, and anyone participating in fantasy is hardly that unless they embrace the limitations of the past, in which case they are defying the natural magic of the game's profusion and unpreventable advancement. And, magic is the one thing you cannot defy in fantasy without resulting in something boring and altogether unfantastic.

But are YOU really old school? Do you embrace the excessive limitations of OD&D? It doesn't even say how often you roll your hit points. Were you aware of that? Or, more likely, did you bring a core set of assumptions from your experiences with other gamers and editions to the table and simply didn’t notice how rudimentary and poor OD&D was due to these cultural aspects of the game that carry forward? A rules system is not a grail. It's a system that should be subsumed by the play of the game, not something we pride ourselves in using or are aware of on any level while immersed in a fantasy realm. I pride myself as a fantasist. How about you?

In all truth, I've noticed that much of the conversation about the old school is inaccurate. Folks are digging up the original game and making assumptions about it that were not present in that time, and therefore they are working a subtle revisionism. A canon is being created, not found. The story is identical to fundamentalism, where you return to an alternate past composed only of those parts of the past that conveniently fit the desired interpretation of the past. You end up interpreting reality to fit with a literal interpretation. You end up with unreal limitations that had no place in the movement’s heart at the outset, but which take it over due to the nature of talking versus doing.

If we all adventured together, the rules lawyers would have less weight. They tend to be less likely to come up with innovative ways to play. They tend to focus on the rules. They become the priests of any movement depending upon mechanics. But that’s not a revitalization, since the life of the game is in the play. How does it play? Not, what are the rules.

What do you do to make fantasy happen and how do you preserve it and propagate it? Are those specifically rules questions? No.

What will truly preserve the game would be the embrace of a “new school” that finds what is best and propagates play the easiest. But this isn't possible if you term the movement old school and tend toward fundamentalist rationalizing.

Any successful movement needs robin hoods more than altars. We need to steal back what is good without worshipping its wealth as if it were the end all.


Eric makes very solid points here and those we have together recently discussed.

When it comes down to it, and as I've stated for years and years to hundreds of players and DMs, or even prospective writers and designers, if your players across from you (as a DM) are excited, are leaning forward on the edge of their seats, that you find them calling and asking you questions eager to play again, then you can be assured that the fantasy aspect of a game is being presented in such a way that the actual game rules meld into the act seamlessly. If that's "Old School" then that concept extends as far back and beyond the point of D&D's conception and to thousands of games which over hundreds of years have achieved that very effect, that of fun and enchantment winning out in a game.

That movements exist are unquestionable. That Old School movements seek to honor the perceived foundation of the game is also a truth. That DnD in its day was not a movement is also undeniable. It was an expression of design and one that was in motion. Constant motion. My confusion has risen while watching that same motion get codified into a realm where it slows down to its barest speed, which seems to predate the design event which has already transpired and which by course moved on with its intended motion. I find this image as contradictory as understanding what Old and New School are, as both seem only reactionary from two different POVs.
I couldn't agree more, Eric. I think you've put your finger on exactly what I find objectionable in "old-school canon" - that there was no such thing as a canon back in the day.

I cam from a gaming environment that grasped the game and ran with it to make it much more than the sum of its written parts. My much older cousin, who introduced me to D&D all these years ago, was running a T1-4 campaign that is still running to this day. They took the game and one of its module and made it their own. They plugged some bits of Greg Stafford's Gloranthan mythology, started a whole universe where sons and grandsons of the first characters follow in their ancestors footsteps, tweaked the rules, borrowed here and invented there... these are my "old school" origins.

I do not believe in a worship of OD&D on its own merits. I also witness the subtle revisionism you are talking about. What I personally see in this game, as well as you guys here, is a way to reach to what you called the spirit of the old guard and reach for the stars from this point onward.

OD&D is like a barter, a base for fantasy and enchantment. From there, anything's possible - anything ought to be!

I think we need all need to be more vocal about this risk of "old school fundamentalism". "Retro-clones", "old school mags" and "traditional megadungeons" constitute a reach for the spirit of the old guard, but it very well may stop there and just recycled ideas in a constrained environment, until people just get bored with it and move on to other, yes, fads.

I truly see this as a starting point that may provide opportunities to reach for other, different stars than the ones visited so far during the past 30 years of the game's evolution. New doors and possibilities might be open if we reach for them. If we don't, then we dishonor the very spirit we try to grasp.
Some quick clarifications:

Old school is an excellent descriptive term for identifying what people do, love or cherish after spending years doing it. It's highly useful.

But, there's also a movement afoot, which can be described as a revival, which I dearly appreciate. Using the term old school to identify that movement limits its appeal. How does the old school gain *new* members?

If there is something new about the movement, why not identify it as a new movement? It seems sensible to me. Besides, the new is inherent in any creative project, and this is intensified by the scope of fantasy.

Is embracing OD&D essential to the movement? That doesn't seem true to me. If the bare bones of OD&D appeal because they can be more easily tricked out and experimented with, then let's get right down to a full rules set that's based upon the FRPG kernel. But then, we're not so old school, now, are we?

But really, to do this, the idea of the fantasy world must be addressed, first.

Focusing upon the rules will only eventually create a fundamentalist gap, not a revival. Why not just head that off now?

The term "old school" raised as a flag over fundamentalism is clearly more fitting than old school raised over a movement fresh with new ideas.
About the World First proposition:

The rules should be entirely bent on accommodating the fantasy world. For example, the artifice in 3rd edition that states you cannot run while blind is absurd. I've done it. You can run while blind. It can be painful. So the rules should be written with the possibility that blind running might be painful. A PC stating they will run while blind should not be met with a metaphysical impossibility. The rules in an FRPG should be concerned with action RESOLUTION, not action PREVENTION.

Let me refer to a very interesting passage in Matt Finch's Old School Primer, which can be downloaded here: Although I would express this differently, and find exception with pieces of the document, his effort here is exactly what I believe we should focus on more. The following quote gels well with worlds first, rules second.

"it’s not a “game setting” which somehow always produces challenges of just
the right difficulty for the party’s level of experience. The party has no “right” only to
encounter monsters they can defeat, no “right” only to encounter traps they can disarm, no “right” to invoke a particular rule from the books, and no “right” to a die roll in every particular circumstance."

(By the way, Matt is currently offering this download for free!)

In fact, the believability of a world is dependent on a fluidity that some rules systems simply don't allow. In 4E you would be more likely to come on a sign that says, "world under construction," which is exactly what Skip Williams did to our party back in the day. It is only when you embrace the rules as the substance of the game that you lose the ability to manifest the fullness of the world.

let me risk suggesting that major edition changes are cursed to produce this limitation. Thus, our move toward the original.

But, we could do better, by admitting the demands of a fantasy world and then conforming the rules to the world.

While you've got Matt's document open, his point on "rulings, not rules," was also keen on, IMHO.

Wizards of the Coast Fall 2009 Catalog

Wizards of the Coast Fall 2009 Catalog

Dungeon Master's Guide 2 by Mike Mearls, Robin D. Laws, and Greg Gorden
This core rulebook for the Dungeons & Dragons Roleplaying Game features advice and rules for Dungeon Masters of all levels of experience, with a particular focus on running adventures and campaigns in the paragon tier (levels 11-20). It includes advanced encounter-building tools (including traps and skill challenges), storytelling tips to bring your game to life, new monster frameworks to help you craft the perfect villian, example campaign arcs, a comprehensive look at skill challenges, and a detailed "home base" for paragon-tier adventures -- the interplanar city of Sigil.
Sept 15, 2009
224 page hardcover $34.95

Dragon Magazine Annual, Volume 1 Editied by Chris Youngs
This book collects the best Dragon magazine content from the past year into one easy-to-reference source. The articles contained herein provide exciting character options for players as well as inspiration and campaign-building support for Dungeon Masters. All of this material is 100% official and suitable for any D&D game.
In addition to the compiled articles, the book contains never-before -seen notes from the designers, developers, and editors that take you behind the curtain, offering a firsthand glimpse into the origin and evolution of each article.
Sept 15, 2009
160 page hardcover $29.95

Primal Power by Mike Mearls, Rob Heinsoo, Logan Bonner, and Robert J Schwalb
Take a walk on the wild side! This must-have book is the latest in a line of player-friendly game supplements offering hundreds of new options for D&D characters, specifically focusing on heroes who draw power from the spirits that preserve and sustain the world. It provides new archtypal builds for barbarians, druids, shamans, and wardens, including new character powers, feats, paragon paths, and epic destinies.
Oct 20, 2009
160 page hardcover $29.95

E3 Prince of Undeath by Bruce R. Cordell and Scott Fitzgerald Gray
This epic-level D&D adventure is designed to take characters from 27th to 30th level. In this adventure, the demon lord Orcus tries to usurp the Raven Queen's power over death using a shard of evil plucked from the depths of the Abyss. Only the world's most powerful heroes have the slightest hope of stopping him.
This adventure can be played as a stand-alone adventure or as the conclusion of a three-part series that spans 10 levels of gameplay.
Oct 20, 2009

Sinister Woods Dungeon Tiles
This D&D game accessory gives Dungeon Masters an easy and inexpensive way to include great-looking terrain in their games. This set provides ready-to-use, configurable tiles with which to build encounter locations. It allows DMs to build outdoor encounter sites with wondrous terrain.
Oct 20, 2009
6 double-sided sheets $9.95

Draconomicon 2: Metallic Dragons by Richard Baker, Ari Marmell, David Noonan, and Robert J. Schwalb
Draconomicon 2: Metallic Dragons describes several varieties of dragons, including gold, silver, copper, iron, and adamantine dragons. It also introduces several other kinds of metallic dragons suitable for any D&D campaign.
This supplement presents dragons both malevolent and benign, and gives details on each dragon's powers, tactics, myths, lairs, servitors, and more. In addition, this book provides new information abut the roles that metallic dragons fill in a D&D game. Story and campaign elements in the book give Dungeon Masters ready-to-play material that is easily incorporated into a game, including adventure hooks, quests, encounters, and pregenerated treasure hoards.
Nov 17, 2009
288 page hardcover $39.95

Arcane Power Cards
Each deck of 100 cards includes all the powers from Arcane Power for each of the five classes featured in the book - swordmage, bard, wizard, warlock, and sorcerer, - plus a few blank cards for players to use for other powers.
(note: the catalog gives SKUs for 6 different decks - bard, sorcerer, warlock, wizard, swordmage 1, and swordmage 2 - as well as an SKU for the assortment display. thalmin) edit: theswordmage 1 deck is probably the Forgotten Realms Player's Guide deck, while theswordmage 2 deck would be the Arcane Powers deck.
Nov 17, 2009
$9.99 per deck

The Plane Below: Secrets of the Elemental Chaos by Ari Marmell, Bruce R. Cordell, and Luke Johnson
A hotbed of adventure opportunities awaits you in the roiling maelstrom of the Elemental Chaos - a plane of titans, elementals, genies, slaads, and demons. This game supplement builds on the overview of the Elemental Chaos presented in the Manual of the Planes game supplement and explores the tumultuous plane in greater detail. From the City of Brass to the githzerai monestary of Zerthadlun to the spiraling depths of the Abyss, adventure lurks behind every lava waterfall, across every icy battlefield, and beyond every raging lightning storm.
This game supplement describes the Elemental Chaos in detail, featuring key locations throughout the plane. It also presents a multitude of new monsters, mighty primordials, and powerful demons, as well as adventure hooks, encounters, hazards, and everything Dungeon Masters need to make Elemental Chaos a featured setting in their campaigns.
December 15, 2009
160 page hardcover $29.95

Star Wars
Galaxy at War by Rodney Thompson, Gary Astleford, Eric Cagle, and Daniel Wallace
Warfare is a common theme throughout the Star Wars saga. From the Clone Wars to the Galactic Civil War, soldiers have their work cut out for them. this supplement gives players and Gamemasters everything they need to run games or play characters in a war-torn galaxy. Includes rules for military units as well as new character options, new gear and starships, and a host of adventure hooks and campaign seeds that can be used to inject military flavor into campaigns of all eras.
Contains new content based on the popular animated series, The Clone Wars
Sept 15, 2009
224 page hardcover $39.95

Scavenger's Guide to Droids by Rodney Thompson, Sterling Hershey, Patrick Stutzman, and Rob Wieland
The Scavenger's Guide to Droids is the ultimate reference to droids across the Star Wars saga. With this guide, players and gamemasters will find tools to build their own droid characters, using templates from various manufacturers. New options for game play include talents, feats, equipment, modifications, quirks, and prestige classes for any droid character. This supplement also contains scores of new droids for Gamemasters to include in adventures and campaigns set in any Star Wars era, as well as tips for customizing unique droid models.
Nov 17, 2009
160 page hardcover $34.95

Axis & Allies Early War: 1939-1941
Tanks, aircraft, and infantry from the early campaigns in Poland, Belgium, and France will debut in this set. It will also include German and Russian units that fought in the furious opening battles of Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union. 50 figures in the set, 5 random figures per booster.
Sept 15, 2009

Star Wars Galaxy at War
This set features characters from The Clone Wars animated series. 40 figures in the set, 7 random figures per booster.
Oct 30, 2009

Monster Manual: Savage Encounters
This set features miniatures from the Monster Manual and other game supplements. 40 monsters in the set, 1 visible and 4 random figures per booster.
Nov 17, 2009