Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Samurai

This post is a follow-up to my previous post. I vented my frustration with WotC and their anemic attempt to design a character class (the samurai) in a way that captures the appeal of the archetype.

In this post, I will present my version of the samurai, and try to explain my rationale for the design choices.

This careless treatment of the Samurai is nothing new.
In the 3E version of Oriental Adventures, the samurai was technically identical to the standard fighter, but granted an "ancestral daisho," a +1 set of katana and wakizashi. While I appreciate that this approach gives the player and the DM freedom to interpret the samurai, it's pretty damn lazy, and practically pointless.
Also, WotC should perhaps have known better than to still be using the term "Oriental" in 2001.
The original Oriental Adventures from 1985 can get away with it.
Oriental Adventures 1st Edition.jpeg

The AD&D version lavishes detail on its conception. In addition to a Samurai class, it has 2 additional classes which covers other aspects of the Samurai mystique.
The Bushi class represents an impoverished samurai or ronin, who dabbles in banditry and relies on brute force. The Kensai focuses on sword-mastery. The Samurai-proper adheres to the code of bushido and has features which account for the social situation and cultural refinement expected of a respectable samurai.

This level of grittiness seems to be intended to serve a campaign in which multiple players want to play "samurai," but want to distinguish their characters. In fact, the Oriental Adventures are probably best played as a separate,  entirely Asian-themed campaign, rather  than as an add-on to the typical Western motif.  
(To be honest, it is more natural-sounding to say Oriental than "Asian-themed.")
Asian-Themed flavor?

For the purposes of this post however,  I will be treating the Samurai as a single class, and attempt to roll the various aspects of samurai-ness into a single class, suitable for interjection as a foreign element into an otherwise Western campaign, alongside the paladins and the Vancian magic-users.

I agree with one of Mike Mearls' statements. To paraphrase; a samurai is a member of the warrior class from feudal japan. But how can you have a Japanese warrior if we are in D&D and there is no Japan? So we do have to take the samurai out of proper context to put it in D&D. The trick is to define the samurai outside of that context.

The European Knight in Shining Armor has a fantasy surrounding it. The mystique of the Knight has a lot to do with moral values such as loyalty and chivalry and faith. In reality though, medieval knights were probably more like gangsters. Chivalry was an invention to curb their less admirable qualities. In my BS opinion as an armchair anthropologist, the warrior class of a feudal society is the warrior class of a feudal society. So historical samurai were a mixed bag like any other cross-section of society. So what is the fantasy of the samurai?
It should go without saying that here I am discussing the fantasy and not the reality.

Let's face it. As Westerners, our ideas about Samurai are informed by popular culture. Kurosawa movies like the Seven Samurai depict a certain pathos and hard-fatedness in the life of a samurai.
While we're on the topic, y'all know this Classic Western is a scene-for-scene ripoff of Yojimbo, right?
Another big influence is the Book of Five Rings by Musashi. Musashi was a famous duelist who is said to have fought over 60 duels in his life, yet managed to die at a respectable age of cancer.  His gimmick was that he used both wakizashi and katana when everyone else was just using the katana with both hands.
The Bo5R is an eclectic work containing advice about life as a samurai, descriptions of how to fight in Musashi's signature style, zen-like musings, and general advice on how to keep your shit together. I once heard something about how corporate executives fetishized it along with the Art of War as a treatise on winning, and thus Bo5R entered Western pop culture.

One thing clear from both Samurai movies and Bo5R is that being a Samurai is a mental game. The battle is won first in the mind.  I think this has a lot to do with the religious background of the samurai. Zen and Buddhist thought emphasizes introspection and self awareness. "Mindfulness" is a virtue in Buddhism. By contrast, if you ever read any medieval romances, it becomes clear that neither the characters or the author are very deep thinkers.
The mystique of the knight has to do with external relationships; to Liege, to Christ, to Lady-fair, the mystique of the Samurai (and the monk) has to do with the relationship to self. The martial skill of the samurai is rooted in discipline and self control.

So here it is. Starting with the standard fighter as a template, but without specific adjustments for a particular edition:

Alignment: Samurai may not have a chaotic alignment. Most samurai observe a code of honor. And as a result of their social position, they will tend to favor the status quo. Also, their combat abilities depend on a disciplined and well-ordered mentality which cannot be supported by a chaotic perspective.

Weapon specialization; Samurai are professional hereditary warriors, and favor martial weapons while disdaining "peasant" weapons. They will not be proficient in clubs, staves, maces, axes, slings, flails or any weapons which are adapted from a farm implement or tool such as sai or bill-hooks. They also disdain the use of sheilds,  or "civilian" weaponry such as rapiers or blackjacks.
As a result, they focus their training on weapons appropriate to a professional warrior: swords, daggers, spears, glaives, bows, crossbows, firearms and unarmed combat. They gain a bonus to attack with these weapons equal to their level in Samurai, divided by 4 and rounded up.

Danger sense: Samurai discipline themselves to be in-the-moment and are difficult to surprise. frightening to peasants. They gain a bonus on any perception rolls that might prevent them from being surprised or ambushed. This bonus is equal to half their level in Samurai, rounded up. This does not apply to finding or spotting traps.

XP bonus: When one samurai kills or defeats another in a duel or stand-up fight,  the winner gains twice the XP for that combat. Samurai constantly compare themselves to eachother, and their  reputations proceed them.

Honesty: Because of their earnest mentality, samurai has a penalty of -2 to all bluff or disguise rolls. On the other  hand, they are also more difficult to put one over on, and gain a bonus of +2 to sense motive.

Frightening to peasants: A samurai is set apart from the lower classes, and will never be able to shed the mein of a samurai, which is frightening and impressive to peasants and serfs. Samurai will gain +2 to attempts to coerce or intimidate peasants.

So there you go. We have some features which are meant to portray the refined combat style of a samurai, and a few more to help depict their social situaton and relation to the rest of the world. It may stand out that I didn't include anything about having a lord or a daimyo. But I wanted that part to be optional, not mandated.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Hasbro ruins D&D.

Listen to this shit.
(In a nutshell, Mike Mearls describes his grand conception of The Samurai in D&D. And it's nothing but lukewarm diarrhea. He is very excited and pleased about this attempt to re-package the samurai as a fighter variant. They have dismantled everything remotely interesting about playing a samurai or what that might mean, and reduced it to a mere temporary buff. Because apparently this is what the fanboys want)

This is the public, official version of Satan's Game. And people are paying money for it because they don't know any better.

Now I don't mean to make too much personal slight here; at least no more than a person deserves for having bad ideas about how to play D&D. I'm sure Mike Mearls is a nice guy who loves his family and who pays his taxes. He's clearly very intelligent. You can tell because he has a solid perspective on what The Seven Samurai is about, and he can hardly compress his train of thought into words.

But holy crap, did he say this is what the Forums wanted?? So WotC is now designing D&D by focus group. And an internet forum is like a focus group, except you don't have to pay them.

He says that people want to use the word samurai to describe their character. What an odd way to put it. It is clear to him that people don't actually mean they want to play a noble born warrior from feudal Japan. So what the shit is a samurai if not that? I also wonder why this is clear to him. Was it made clear by people in the forums? Or is it so clear that he just assumes it?

So at WotC, the approach to designing a Thing begins with taking the Thing out of the context which defines the Thing, and imitating the comic book or movie version of the Thing. Whatever that means.

As an aside, he makes clear that they use the same approach with the Knight. According to Mearls and WotC, the knight is another thing that people say they want to play, but they don't mean it.

Mearls clearly knows about knights and samurai: That they swear fealty to lords, and that they are elite because horses and armor and weaponry are expensive. But he throws these aspects out the window when designing the class according to the insights from the unpaid forum members.

(Never mind that having a fealty relationship or economic concerns make great motivations for adventures and are generally solid plot devices.)
At least better plot devices than frickin' Amnesia.

Mearls knows that there is something interesting about the samurai persona. But this whole nebulous thing somehow gets reduced to a temporary buff to attack and HP. I guess this is what they got out of the forums.

"Hey guys. What makes an interesting adventure to you? What makes a game of D&D better?"
"We like it when our characters hit stuff and don't die."
"So you mean an honest-to-goodness tactical challenge?"
"No. Just higher numbers to add to a dice roll."

Mearls finishes by getting really excited: Something about how the use of a temporary bonus will cause the player to cathartically identify with the fighting spirit of the samurai.
Does he really believe this? Are there people who play D&D who are that simple?

"Ok guys. So how big do you think the temporary bonus should be?"
"Oh, really big. The numbers stand for my immersion in the game. The more bonuses, the better the game is."
"We knew it all along! This is going to be the best version of D&D ever. Let's make some youtube videos!"

Jesus. As best I can figure, the reason for this kind of crap is that D&D is not owned by people who care about D&D. Wizards of the Coast is a subsidiary of HASBRO. The same company that owns My Little Pony and keeps licensing Transformers movies. We have to call it a Spirit Board now because the Ouija board is trademarked. Shepherding the refinement of the table top RPG is not their priority.

It grinds my gears.
In my next post, I'm going to present a samurai class of my own design. I don't even care about samurai or plan to include them in any adventures in the future. I just want to show that it can be done better.

Monday, October 2, 2017

I tried 5E too.

Admittedly, I took a long break from this blog. I had a lot of life-changes over the last couple years and didn't have the benefit of being around my accustomed people. But I still got a little gaming in.

In this interim, I got a chance to try Fifth Edition. it was only one session with a group that I dropped into. But it was a good chance to look at the rules and make a character and try the rules.

In short, here are my impressions. Let me restate that 3rd Edition is my main basis for comparison.

1. Mechanics: The system is essentially the D20 system. But the mechanics are significantly unified and streamlined. Good.

2. Power levels: Characters are both more powerful and harder to kill. I think the power-creep has gone to far. But certain aspects make sense.

3. Forced roleplaying: There are actual mechanics meant to inspire "roleplaying." They suck. Maybe they are a necessary crutch for some. I don't know.

4. Me hating other people's fun in a petty sort of way: Exotic character races and bizarre prestige classes are normalized and made mundane and thus irrelevant. This contributes to power-creep and to a blandification-of-the-weird. It legitimates the sort of self-indulgence which I find to be in poor tastes.

Like 3rd, 5E has us rolling a d20 and adding a modifier to beat a Difficulty most any time we need to ask a question of the universe (aside from damage rolls.) The difference is that the classifications of different sorts of rolls has been pared down, lending to more simplicity.
For instance, saving throws and skill checks are both simply "checks." I like the elimination of Saving throws as a separate category. In 3E, all saves had to be classified as either Fortitude, Reflex or Will, modified by Constitution, Dexterity or Wisdom respectively. This gives an odd extra value to those ability scores. It may have balanced out these states, but it was hardly elegant.

Skills remain. But their sheer number has been pared down.
(Skills are a sticky wicket when you are designing a system. ie. shouldn't someone with Profession:Sailor also be able to Use Rope? Or if you are trained in Medicine does that mean you know about medicinal herbs, or how to operate an fMRI scanner? Medical tricorder? And can you perform dentistry in a pinch? Should the system count those as separate skills? Wouldn't that be a little too gritty? Personally, I think a strong system should account for widely different technology levels and their interaction, which necessitates a more complicated system that one where Pre-Industrial Iron Age is the default)
Anyways, 3E had like 30, 40 different skills, not counting the unlisted ones which count under Profession or Craft. It errs on the side of being too finely parsed. 5th takes this down to about a dozen and is better for that.
Also, rather than having an allotment of skill points, and a to-hit bonus, characters are either Proficient in an action, or they are not. Proficiency in a field grants a proficiency bonus, the magnitude of which goes off a character's level. Whether the proficiency applies to a craft or a weapon, the bonus is the same. It's simple. But it makes sense. My gripe is that a character's skills are more or less locked-in at character creation, and there's  little room for customization or shoring up  weak skills along the way.
Also the proficiency increases in chunks every 4 levels or so, rather than incrementally with each level. Why? Not sure I like that.

5E adds the feature of rolling with Advantage or Disadvantage. Basically this provides the DM a way to adjust for the situation and say "Ok, that thing you want to do will probably work because of such and such." or "Ok, you have some serious stuff working against you (like trying to sneak in heavy armor), but you can still attempt it if you want."
The subject rolls twice, and takes the higher result if there is an advantage, and the lower result if there is a disadvantage. This saves the DM from having to arbitrary modifiers on the fly. Arbitrariness is built in, but is less debatable. I think I like this mechanic.

Power Level and creep:
3E might be a little kooshy, but there's still plenty of room for players to feel threatened and vulnerable at low levels. 5E makes this even worse.
I played a fighter with an archery specialization. The fighter has an ability called Second Wind which recovers HP once, and recharges with a rest. It basically doubles a fighter's HP, creating what might feel like tension, until you remember to use the ability which heals you for free.
Another big difference is that magic users can use cantrips (0th level spells) without limit. This wouldn't be a big deal in 3E, where cantrips are spells like Read Magic or the one that deals d3 damage to undead. But 5E includes cantrips which deal d8 damage, at a distance without limit. This makes for a big increase in the damage-dealing for low level spell casters.
This buff for spellcasters seemed extreme to me. But in terms of damage capability, it's comparable to what a character with a bow might deal. And it makes more sense than in 3E where spellcasters are forced to double as crossbowmen if they want to remain effective without burning spells.
In a game which is essentially about fighting monsters, it makes sense if you want magic users to actually have something to do in combat. So I can't object too much.
I'm sure there are other instances of how non-combat classes have been turned into combat classes. but I haven't discovered them yet.

Forced "roleplaying:"
As part of character creation, 5E asks you to choose a "bond," "flaw" and "ideal" for your character. There are about six of each for each class and you are supposed to chose a trifecta to guide how you play the character.
The problem is, once you make these sort of details part of the game system, they become subject to a form of min-maxing; choosing what will hinder your character least and off the most benefit.
By mandating these elements of character background, 5E might discourage players from creating characters according to their own inspiration.
Also these books are by Hasbro, and have to be politically correct. So the options the basic rules give you are pretty boring. For instance, I had to invent a flaw for my character: "Dislikes women." I'll spare you the gory details of his his background story.
I can see how some players might need this sort of structure to introduce them to roleplaying. But I think there is more hindrance than help.

I'm a hater who hates fun.
I just think there's a sort of breakdown in the game when a player can say their character is a half-dragon with a horny lizard-head and a breath weapon, and there is an expectation that the character can walk into a town and an inn with the humans and the halflings and everyone will act like this is totally normal. At that point, the game has seriously damaged its potential for weirdness and wonderment.
And "dragonborn" are default playable race in 5E. Thus informing the "default" D&D setting.

Also, the character-customization which would have been handled through feats and prestige classes are rolled into class progression. (We never got into prestige classes anyways. Why bother when you can multiclass?)
This forced branching of character archetype only creates and illusion of an individualized characters, when in fact, the available paths have only been more strictly delineated,
All in all, I appreciate the mechanical simplification in 5E. But at the same time, it offers even more of the shallow, indulgent fluff that made me run to basic. With one hand, 5E caters to the player's desire for an "cool" character. but with the other, it creates limitations that hobble creativity.


Monday, September 25, 2017

Trys Basic/Expert: Fails

I found the set of Basic/Expert Dungeons and Dragons books on Amazon. This edition is also referred to as Moldvay/Holmes. It antedates Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, but isn't the same as the Original Dungeons and Dragons.

I wanted to try it because I had been reading a lot of OSR blogs. The odd gestalt appealed to me. It seemed darker and closer to the Appendix N roots of D&D than 3rd Edition, upon which I and most of the people I had played with cut our teeth.

3E was functional for us. But a few things bothered me. There was too much power creep. There seemed to be an assumption that each PC was "special;" worth writing a long backstory for and making a little sketch of, before the character had even begun play or survived a single adventure.
For a while, I believed that these character building exercises were well and good. But as I saw it in practice, I grew to feel that it tended to be awkward, and detracted from the basic challenge of raiding a dungeon and getting away with it.
At the same time as immersion and depth of character were emphasized in character creation, it seemed to leave the actual play of the game: The rules of AD&D reminded players that their characters were part of a demanding world; with Druidic orders and Thieves' Guild, and that characters were expected to hire henchmen and build strongholds. But these immersive elements were absent in 3rd Edition. The joke of describing PCs as Murder-Hobos exemplifies this shift.
Especially as new materials (official and otherwise) came out. The power creep and opportunities for mindless self indulgence grew. I thought it was in bad tastes, and I liked it better when we kept to basics.

Yes, 3E cried for improvement. But it turns out this is true of any edition of D&D.

The most obvious difference between Basic and newer editions is that player characters are much more fragile, and much less powerful. It is also much simpler to generate a character; a matter of minutes.  These fellows are obviously meant to be expendable.

This seemed the obvious antidote to the issues I had with later editions. My mistake was thinking hat everyone else would also enjoy this level of brutality.

Not only are characters weaker, but they are also less effective; even at things they should be good at. Players are actually hindered from interacting with the environment. Which means they are hindered from playing in the game I painstakingly crafted for them.
Thieves have pitifully low percentages to perform thiefly action, and the poor player can expect to fail rather than succeed. The restrictions on spell-casting prevent magic users from casually reading arcane inscriptions or detecting magic. Clerics at least have the comfort of being competent fighters, since they can't cast spells until second level.
So imagine me, hoping players will feel the thrill of being relatively vulnerable. But instead they are merely frustrated.

B/X awards experience for treasure recovered from dungeons. 1 gp = 1 xp. I was excited about this change. I figured it would create a very different, pragmatic playstyle.
Also, monsters are tough and will appear in quantities well beyond the capabilities of a 4-member party.  I figured this was alright. since the idea is to grab treasure rather than grpple with monsters. Except the characters were so incapable of interacting with the environment and the players were so discouraged that they missed most of the treasure!

One thing to be said about B/X is that combat moves quickly. Since there aren't a lot of feats or special maneuvers to calculate, players don't have to wait long between turns, and the round can go so fast that it kind of sneaks up on you if you're used to waiting half an hour for your turn to come around. Characters however, are low on hp. And a single round worth of damage can  easily destroy a low level character. Also, there are no rules for unconsciousness or saves vs. death or incapacitation,  so zero HP is dead.
With one game I ran, the party went from full to a sole survivor in two rounds. The survivor wisely chose the moment to escape. This dead-before-you-know-it thing might be "realistic." but it makes for a lack of agency which ruins the player experience.
What's worse, my instinct as a DM is to feel slight remorse,  and fumble around awkwardly, thinking of a way to save the character. Especially if that character's player is one of the more active or talkative of the group and their death hinders the narrative.

One attraction of B/X was that it was "simpler," ie. the rules were less extensive. But I found that we did not act more simply as a result. We still wanted to consider things like attacks of opportunity, or cover, or holding actions. We could not un-train ourselves from the things that later editions had conditioned us to consider.  

When  I asked for input at the end of the game, I was told that the game suffered exactly because I had eschewed the narrative fluff that I thought was hindering the game.

I had the players roll their stats In Order, and build characters on this because I felt that this was the "Old School" way to do it. Supposedly, players will get the challenge of trying some thing new, or the thrill of playing against type. But in reality, most players have a type they enjoy. And they will simply play better if they can fulfill the role suitable to their temperament and playstyle.

I also omitted the awkward part wher the players meet and find common goals and get plot-hooked together. I said "You already know eachother, and like and trust eachother reasonably well. Now get to it."
I figured that a good character name would serve as the spark of life. But I made the mistake of printing off a random name generator, and my players used it to create meaningless names that they didn't have reason to care about..
I thought I was cutting fat, but it was more like kneecapping.
A player commented that the characters lacked motivation because we didn't go into  backstory or have a segment where we meet and introduce  the characters.
So it seems that the backstories and prologues actually served play more than I gave credit for.

But I can't blame B/X as written for that last mistake. I was copying a way that I had seen it played. Nowhere in an any official DMG has it ever said, "allow a segment where we can get a grasp of the characters and their goals. Wrangle them together, and unify their purpose. But once you've got that investment going, make sure that they don't just fucking die right off."

I don't think I'll be running B/X again.  It seems to stand as an intermediate step between war-gaming and the character-centric RPGs my generation is used to. Certainly, it was an improvement on whatever came before. But the brutal quirks of B/X D&D are easier to appreciate in theory than in practice.

Now I have to wait for the bad taste to leave my player's mouths.  

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

8 Days After

Rather than posting a bunch on fb, I've collected my thoughts on the recent election here.

1. People were hoping for the election to get over with so that we could get back to normal. The election happened, but social media is probably more toxic than ever.

2. Wow. That result was surprising. I was pulling for third party candidates the whole time, but I really thought Hillary would win. I didn't believe Trump could. I thought that his supporters were merely a highly-vocal fringe of the right wing; Fascists who are too dumb to know they are Fascists. (google Umberto Eco's description of Ur-Fascism to see what I mean.)

3. But a lot of people voted for him, probably not because they liked him, but because they Hated Clinton. And what's not to hate?

4. Goes to show; you rank and file Dems should have supported Bernie in the primaries. I'm going to take a moment to rub the noses of the all-along Clinton supporters in it. That's what you get for supporting the establishment, you gutless sheep.

5. Still, Clinton won the popular vote. People are talking about the failure of the electoral college.  I have doubts about the institution.  I was always told that its purpose was to prevent the "tyranny of the majority." It seems to have done its job and somehow left us with a tyranny of the minority. They said "every vote counts." But apparently not.

6. The fact that Trump is facing prosecution for rape next month will probably come to nothing. Money and power have a way of undermining justice and decency.

7. All my queer and colored friends are carrying on like they are about to be led to the box-cars any minute. It's a little dramatic. I'd like to think that any serious roll-back of civil rights couldn't happen at this point in history.

8. But I've been wrong. Perhaps they should do like Jesus said and sell their cloaks and buy a sword.  FYI. You can embrace your 2A rights without registering as Republican. 

9. You remember the bunker-building, ammo-hoarding hysteria that some right wingers were going through because they were sure Obama was going to impose martial law and send all the True Patriots to FEMA run Death Camps?  Some liberal elements are starting to feel what that is like.

10. Even a minimally critical review will reveal the tremendous hypocrisy of both Conservative and Liberal elements. Whatever indignity or smugness is going on now, the shoe was on the other foot 4/8 years ago. 

11. Trump is going to go back on many of his campaign promises and disappoint his supporters. This is because he is an oligarch. He was never one of the "regular, hard-working folks." who he appealed to.

12. Trump and his people are going to atleast undermine Civil rights, and continue the assault on the middle class and the environment. So his detractors will not be disappointed.

13. This is what happens when you let a reality-TV villain become president.

14. I think Putin could actually hornswaggle Trump into complying with a coherent strategy in the middle East. I joked before that we should be so lucky as to have a leader like Putin. Looks like I may get my wish.

15. You all need to get off the internet and go outside. Please look around, and notice that she sun is still rising and the grass is still growing.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Flame Princess/BX Skills

Looking at Basic has caused me to reevaluate my opinion of Lamentations of the Flame Princess.

Previously, I had difficulty running LotFP. partially because I hadn't taken the sheer lethality of Basic and clones into account.
I also felt that the skills were limiting and that characters were so unskilled that they could do very little. But I now think that I was missing something which cause it to seem that way.

Flame Princess offers only a handful of skills, as opposed to dozens, and I didn't see how they were supposed to apply to the variety of situatiosn I was accustomed to using skills for.

But it turns out that the selection of skills is simply a way to unify racial abilities, theif-skills and common dungeoneering actions into a single mechanic.

This helps to make the character sheet shorter. I get it now.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Doors in B/X

We finally managed to get together for a few hours of Basic D&D! It was my first time running or playing Basic. So let me relay my impressions:

Basic moves quickly. In a few hours of play, we had created characters, cooked a meal (IRL) and explored a good ways into a dungeon comprised of fairly complicated geomorphs.(we got through two of these squares and into a third before our luck ran out)
Perhaps this is because Basic stresses careful tracking of in game time and provides instructions for running the game on a turn by turn basis.
I've heard people comparing older editions of D&D to a boardgame, or saying that it is more like a boardgame. This is actually pretty apt. Turns are fairly structured and in this way are similar to the phases and turns that most boardgames are run by. I think this particular structure makes for sessions where a lot gets managed fairly quickly.
It reminds me of sessions of 3E, where even outside of combat, I went around the table on a round by round basis and things moved fluently.

And speaking of combat, it was as deadly as expected and advertised.
The session ended with two players very suddenly slain by gnomes. The lone surviving halfling  frantically retraced his steps out of the dungeon and added "the vengeful" to his name. 
This came up on an image search for "Total Party Kill." This image makes me think that the party maybe had it coming. Another part realizes that this is basically what my friends look like. 

Combat moves and the tides turn very quickly. The extremely simplified approach to initiative, and the fragility of characters lends to this. There is no need to mess with criticals or fumbles when a decent damage roll means rolling a new character.
I think it also has a lot to do with the simplicity of the characters themselves. Without a mess of spells, feats and skills to confuse the player, characters take very simple, punchy actions and their rounds are quickly resolve. And yet the application of teamwork and tactics did not suffer for this.

I used to say that if you have 5 encounters prepared to run, then you have enough for a night of gaming. But in Basic, you should probably prepare way more since things move pretty fast.

One thing that did bog down gameplay though was the doors. 
Roll 1-2 on a d6 or fuck you.

On Basic p. 21, it says that doors in a dungeon are usually locked or stuck. Stuck doors must be forced open by rolling on a d6.
What is the purpose of this rule?
Presumably, forcing a door would make a noise, alerting nearby monsters. So as soon as a door is forced open, any creatures in the next room will be alerted. But they might still be surprised if the party immediately attacks? 
But suppose the party fails to force the door. Even if they pile up to force it (not sure how to handle this) they might fail to open the door.
Well fuck. I kind of need them to be able to get through this door so they can explore the rest of the damn dungeon. So I said they could just wreck the door, but it would make a lot of noise.
And that's what I settled on. Forcing the door is less noisy and allows for surprise. Wrecking the door will ring the dinner bell.
If anybody has any ideas on managing door in B/X, please comment.

Even stranger, it goes on to say that these stuck doors open automatically for monsters. What?
I guess this must be one of those rules written for the sake of gameplay rather than consistency or realism. There seems to be a lot of that in Basic.