Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Warlock Week, Day One: How Complete Is The Complete Warlock Anyway?

Before I get into the nitty-gritty of what's actually between the covers of Balboa's The Complete Warlock, let's set the stage so we can understand a bit about the climate that this game (or "D&D variant," as it claims to be) grew up and was published in. Set the wayback machine to 1974, folks.

Wrong sort of warlock
This year, what with D&D's 40th anniversary, there's a bunch of talk about 1974 and for good reason. But what we see as "the beginning of D&D" and understand as "the beginning of the RPG hobby proper" (no, I'm not discounting Braunstein, I'm just pretty sure it was never published), was, as an outcropping of the wargames hobby, immediately beset upon by players and DMs (or Judges or Referees or whatever they wanted to be called) who liked the idea of the rules, if not the rules themselves in the entirety. These hobbyists had probably previously been wargamers (since that's the niche that TSR was built to cater to), and wargamers were, at least at the time, perfectly at home modifying rule sets to suit their needs for more content and "improved realism."

I'd like to point out that at this time, there were even major differences in the ways that the game's two creators played D&D, which is a function of the fact that it was difficult for Uncle Gary and Uncle Dave to sit down at the same table and work on the rules together. Dave's version of D&D ("the Blackmoor game") was substantially different from D&D proper and, if anything, D&D proper can be said to be a variant of Blackmoor.

Right, so, once everybody got their grubby little mitts on D&D, everyone started chopping it to pieces to make it into the game they wanted it to be. Okay, maybe not everyone. I'm sure there were people playing it RAW as best they could (just as I'm sure there were people playing CHAINMAIL or Diplomacy or any number of other wargames RAW), but plenty of folks decided to make it their own. One such group was the Caltech Gamers, who decided to edit the rules for clarity and, in some cases, to make some substantial changes, some of which would have lasting consequences and reverberations that would echo down in later editions of D&D itself. In many ways, The Complete Warlock became a bellwether for clarity and concision in D&D that often goes unappreciated by modern D&D scholars because it didn't come from Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.

A "D&D Variant"

Nope, still not right
The Warlock rules were originally published in 1975 in a wargaming magazine called The Spartan. I'm not a wargames history buff, so I can't say I've ever read the original article. Since it was an article and not an entire book, however, I'm sure that it's safe to say that this version wasn't nearly as complete as The Complete Warlock and the differences between the two are what earned the book the title of Complete. Anyway, Warlock (we'll call the '75 version "Warlock" as opposed to The Complete Warlock) was published as a "D&D variant," as would the later Complete Warlock. On the first page of TCW, it states that, despite all of the changes that TCW makes to the D&D system, it should still be considered a D&D variant and you'll need a copy of D&D to play TCW.

By today's OGL and d20 system standards, this concept isn't that surprising. However, please consider the other "D&D variants" that were making the scene back then.

Chivalry & Sorcery (published 1977) started its existence as Chevalier, a D&D variant focusing on medieval realism. RuneQuest (published 1978) started a lot closer to D&D than it ended up and it took Jeff Perrin (author of the remarkably important Perrin Conventions for D&D play) to remove the more D&Dish elements from RQ (class, level, xp, etc.). Here's the thing, though: each of these games started their existence as a D&D variant but somewhere in their development changed to become a fully separate game. Hell, even Arduin eventually became its own system (though I'm pretty sure that was the result of Cease & Desist orders that TSR used to hand out like candy).
Are you even trying?

But throughout all that, The Complete Warlock always remained a D&D variant.

Just like the OSR-fueled D&D variants of today.

This is one reason why TCW is important and still relevant. There's a reason why I might want to play Weird Fantasy rather than straight up BX or BFRPG or S&W (Whitebox, Core or Complete, take your pick; and this is just an example) and that folks keep publishing their own D&D variants and retroclones. Not even 4e was immune. When we look at TCW, we're looking at how the folks at Caltech played D&D in the 70's and, despite its differences from D&D RAW, still called the game they were playing D&D. Just like we're still playing D&D when we play Weird Fantasy or Crypts & Things or Heroes Against Darkness. It's not better because it didn't become its own game, it's inspiring because it stayed true to its roots despite moving away from them.

Next time, we'll start looking at just how far The Complete Warlock strays from those roots.