Oct 15, 2010

Not So Self-Explanatory

The description for Ship Captain appears on page 22 of Vol 3 The Underworld and Wilderness Adventures. This is what it says:

Ship Captain: a self-explanatory role.

Hmm, I don't think it is particularly self-explanatory. The description for Seaman says "All ships must be manned by a crew of Seamen under a Ship Captain". Unfortunately nothing is explained about what happens if there is no Ship Captain. I fully understand the spirit of making it up as you go along, but in this case it could have been tied into the Command Control rules on page 32. Perhaps it would affect morale, or in times of trouble (like a storm, a monster encounter, pursuit, or navigation) to not have a Ship Captain.

There has been some discussion on Grognardia about the venerable Sage's Advice column in Dragon magazine. Rereading the LBB I can see how a need for a column like Sage's Advice came to be. It's unfortunate the 'rules lawyer' mindset was so prevalent (I remember it being that way too in middle school), but the LBB's certainly do lead to a great deal of confusion by their generally poor organization and scant explanation. So much is assumed, and I think those assumptions were probably overwhelming even for the hardcore wargaming crowd at the time.

Of course looking back at those books, it is charming that OD&D was so rough, and have just enough description to light the fire of imagination. The ambiguities lend a tremendous amount of mystique, and I have little doubt helped the popularity of these great little books.


  1. Without a captain the crew drinks all the rum on board and passes out. When they come to they desert the ship to search for more rum.

    In all seriousness, without the captain as an authority figure, all discipline would quickly dissolve and the crew would descend into squabbling and would soon dissolve.

  2. Ships are complex things with many lines and usually more than one sail (even though some may be very small). There are a lot of moving parts, and some things have to be changed very quickly to react to storms and the like.

    A small ship (with a crew of perhaps five) could get away without a captain so long as they are used to working as a team.

    A democracy looks like it would work, but deliberation takes too long to react to weather.
    A captain is the AUTHORITY, because the captain's speed of decision can mean life or death.

    If the crew does not trust the captain, believing that they would be thrown needlessly into peril, they will mutiny.

  3. all good points, shows what a great missed opportunity this was. Even just a brief consideration conjures up cool gaming opportunities.