Thursday, January 27, 2011

More Impressions - Labyrinth Lord

I have this unstoppable habit of spelling it LABRYNTH or LABIRYNTH.  I blame Sir Arthur Evans.  For many years, I devoured anything I could find on the ancient Minoans and Mycenaeans.  Good old Arthur, who dug up the palace of Knossos on Crete, felt that there was a connection between the "laBYRinth" of Minotaur fame, and the double-sided axe, or "laBRYs."  Other people thought he was stark raving mad.  You see my confusion - BYR vs. BRY.  Sir Arthur brought the word “labrys” into the English language.  It has haunted me to this day.

In a previous post, a reader mentioned that Labyrinth Lord had helped clear up past confusions with the classic game, echoing my initial experience with Proctor's work.  I wondered why that was.  Was it because the writing was just clearer? 

I pulled up a, er, up, copy, of both Holmes and Moldvay and read sections of them that corresponded with Proctor.  I can't say that one was clearer than the other two.  Holmes may have been a bit less concise, but Moldvay was equal in brevity and getting to the point. 

One factor that did strike me was layout.  Labyrinth Lord uses fonts and spacing and table format that is much more comfortable on the eyes and does not create a clutter that interferes with getting the data into my head.  It looks more modern with the standards that Word and HTML and Adobe has made us conform to.  Perhaps it's not better, but it's more modern and what we are used to.

A bit of thinking about it lead me to a theory.  The difference was me. The distance from 11 to 41 is a long one.  I didn't understand a lot about the game back then.  But honestly, I don’t think I gave them much of a chance.  I packed my bags and ran off to AD&D as soon as I could afford the hardbacks.  Then yeah, whammo.  AD&D was some tough stuff.  Rules that I didn't understand got rewritten on the fly into something that I and the other players understood and could work with.  I didn't try to make the game work as written.

Since 1981 I've run 30 or 40 different rule systems - and read a lot more.  With 4e I sat down and read and read and read the rules and discussed them with the players and we hashed them out until we were playing RAW.  For a whole year I refused to 'fix' any rule, since I wanted to know fully that I was running it right before I started tinkering with it.  When I did start changing things - rewriting monsters and adding critical hits power-ups and adjusting some magic items - it rarely felt okay.  I would change one thing and another part of the game would suffer.  It was like a house of cards with me scrambling around under the foundation trying to keep the mess from toppling.

Classic D&D was never sacrosanct.  Rules went in and out all the time, sometimes multiple times in a single session.

I took another gander at the DMG.  Back then it kind of hurt to read.  Thirty years later, old Gary still hurts my head sometimes.  Read NON-LETHAL AND WEAPONLESS COMBAT PROCEDURES.  No, really, read it.  Here, I'll give you a snip-it:

This is not me - just a radioactive zombie who looks like me.

"The base score on percentile dice is opponent AC value times 10 to arrive at a percentage chance to hit, i. e. AC 10 = 100%, AC 9 = 90% . . ."

Um, Gary, dude, I kind of get it, but why did you invent an entirely different game to slug some zombie in the face?  Playing with Gary as DM - sure - that would be completely awesome.  But an 12 year old trying to run a game like that?  Yeah, right.  Well, I guess it was supposed to be ADVANCED, right?

I thumbed through OSRIC to see if my bearings were straight.  Yeah.  They were.  Those rules are hefty.  It's not just a matter of how they are explained.  They sure are a THICK CHUNK to try and cram into your mind.

Labyrinth Lord is that simplicity that I rejected as a young man because I wanted to be and adult and be smarter than everyone else.  Cripes, I took physics and calculus for fun too.  I wanted to be ADAVNCED - even if I had no clue what that was.

Digging through the Advanced Edition Companion I see a completely different idea going on.  It's Moldvay with Advanced sprinkles on top.  Really – very similar to the way I used to play it.  I think that is pretty nifty.  It’s not just a Xeroxed clone.  It’s a clone of the spirit.

I need to find this Daniel Proctor guy and shake his hand.  I suppose instead, I can just Google him right now though.  If only he wouldn’t have called it Labyrinth Lord.  Something I could spell.  Like Crypt Commander.  Or Trench Titan.  Or Hole Hero.  But I Gary used tons of words I couldn’t spell either, so I guess nomenclature legerdemain is something game designers revel in.

- Ark


  1. Radio active zombie that looks like you. That's good stuff.

  2. @Whisk - Isn't it great how my son is shooting me in the head? Err, how my son is shooting the ZOMBIE in the head. Um, yeah. Okay, you got me.

    The Dallas Zombie Walk was great fun last year. A certain radioactive zombie was ambushed on film. The nasty little filmmakers put it on the internet here: . And before you say it - no - I'm not a spaz. I was . . . um . . . acting the part of a radioactive zombie who is a spaz. Yeah.

    - Ark