Thursday, April 24, 2008

Good Calls for AD&D

Here's the last of my debriefing notes from the session running AD&D Module S1 3 weeks back now. I hope I can make sense out of this, let's see:


Good Calls On My Part
(1) Using weapon speed factors/casting times just for initiative ties. That added a nice a little occasional spice in the round of actions. Not much logistical overhead, but kind of surprising, and a nice little detail for those who chose light weapons or low-level spells. (I would also have used weapon-vs-AC adjustments if they'd fought NPCs in armor, but that didn't happen. I think that would be okay occasionally, with the AC adjustments printed on my screen.)

(2) Occasionally using a battlemap and miniatures. I had considered making up preprinted maps for the whole dungeon in advance, but that would have been overkill (and taken away attention from the published illustrations). Using the miniatures for standard marching order was actually a big help and very intuitive.

(3) Not making pregenerated characters and using DMG Appendix P instead. At first my players were surprised by this (I think one sort of gasped and said "What, no pregens?"). Appendix P was very nice and quick, since most stuff (including magic items) is determined by pure die rolls, players didn't get bogged down in analyzing options. We rolled for level as suggested, d4+10 for S1. I let all spellcasters have complete free reign in spell selection (ignoring any chance-to-know-spell percentages). We had a completed level 11-14 party in about 1 hour.

(Truth is, S1 includes a list a pregens, but they'd need to be transcribed to character sheets, they don't have hit points, there's a complicated recommendation for number-of-players-determines-which-PCs-to-use (which I couldn't know in advance), and I ran out of time the prior week to deal with it.)

(4) Ignoring the thief's "Remove Traps" ability. This was an unexpected thing that occurred spontaneously -- there's almost no reason to use a "Remove Traps" die roll. When you're dealing with the environment very concretely, it becomes obvious whether a found trap can be bypassed or not. Poisoned button? Tap it with a sword or pole. Pit trap? Hold it shut with a driven spike. Collapsing ceiling? No way to hold it up -- maybe just trigger it from afar with a rope. That was all very satisfying. It avoids eye-rolling arguments I've seen in the past about "I missed my roll but I can't just smash the poison lock off with a mace?" and stuff like that.

(It's ironic that the OD&D appearance of the thief had a "remove traps" ability but no "find traps" -- that got added later with AD&D. After this session I'm convinced I'd rather just ditch the former and use only the latter.)

(5) Correctly calling that thieves can't find magic traps. (That's confirmed by DMG p. 19). This also ties into the previous point -- a thief can only deal with a trap that you have some concrete way to describe the physical interaction. You don't get caught in the 3E-ism of a thief removing a magic trap and having to come up with some wild, abstracted explanation for how they can detect & disarm it (with no guidance from the rulebook).

(6) Ignoring the level-limit table's ability score notes. PHB p. 14 has a table of class level level limitations for demihumans (which I'm perfectly fine with as a balancing technique). But the real drag is the big list of notes under it that modify all the numbers downwards for changes in ability scores. Ugh. So I decided to ignore those notes and just use the number directly in the table (giving a little boost to any potential demihuman PCs). That's a nice streamlining, I think.

(7) Using rulebooks on a laptop. This worked a bit better than I might have guessed. It certainly cut down on the bulk of books I used to carry to game sessions (I still brought one PHB to hand over to the players). Searching for monsters & magic items became a snap (they usually have unique names in AD&D). Searching for spells worked significantly less well (they usually have generic names; try searching for "heal" and you'll run into it dozens of times in the text before hitting the spell of that name).

(8) Ignoring weapon proficiency specifications. That seems to add no real benefit to the game, and I'm glad to streamline them out.

(9) Disallowing regaining spells during the session. I picked this up from someone online who'd also run S1. If you try to rest anywhere during the session, demonic nightmares haunt you and can't regain spells. This surprised the heck out of my players, but it really made things run more crisply. They had to budget their spells and dig down into lower-level resources they might not have otherwise used. I'd really like to use this in almost any limited-time session of AD&D from now on. (I assume this is how AD&D tournaments were always run. Anyone know if there was an official ruling on this, or was it just an unstated shared assumption by everyone involved?)

(10) Suggesting that the party pick a leader. That's mostly out-of-favor in modern gaming, but my players instantly picked up on it and were pretty happy with it. My explanation was that this wasn't to be lorded over anyone, but that if things started to lag indecisively, I'd go to the leader to make a call about where to go next. That worked out well (even though it was rarely used).

(11) Making sure to ask for items-in-hand as the party entered a particular area.

(12) Calling 1E magic-users "wizards". Nobody minded using that term in the 1E context. Frankly, that's what Gygax should have called them originally. I even had extra cover here because in this case all the magic-users were name level, and hence officially "wizards".

(13) My general 1E rule fix-ups (house rules) for movement, encumbrance, initiative, surprise, attacks, saving throws, and ability checks. We were all really happy with these minimally streamlined mechanics. If you like, you can download this document I use: www.superdan.net/download/ADDFixUp.doc


Random Observations
(1) AD&D is very tangible, concrete, and tactile. The equipment, gear, tactics, and situations in AD&D seem very familiar and easy to describe and use in a shared fantasy. For example, the extra statistics for weapons include length, weight, speed, and space required. That's a lot more reality-based than 3E abstracted type, crit range, and crit multiplier, say. It's easy to know what a lantern, rations, or a 10' pole are (texture, size, smell, etc.). Increasing fantasy elements makes it increasingly harder to communicate between players (like 3E's tindertwig, thunderstone, tanglefoot bags, or 4E magic food something-or-other). The same can be said for traps, spells, combat maneuvers, etc. I like that.

(2) Some good ideas in AD&D are listed above (weapon speed factors, AC adjustments, thieves blocked from magical traps, using a party leader, etc.) Bad ideas would include -- limited weapon proficiency specifications, the class level limitations being minutely modified by ability scores, weapon damage by size of target, etc. The "chance to know spells" rule is really a holdover from OD&D Supplement I, and doesn't totally make sense anymore in the context of AD&D where you start with a very small spellbook and add to it over time. Those are all examples of complications that don't adequately payoff in the game, and could be easily streamlined out of consideration.

(3) One thing that frustrates me a bit is that the old classic AD&D modules, although originally used for tournaments & conventions, definitely don't fit into standard 4-hour convention time slots. It would nice if they did, to work with more mature players getting together less frequently. Presumably they must have bulked up the original versions for campaign play (which can be seen explicitly in the A-series modules but not most of the others). In this last session, it took us 7 hours to get through 12 encounter areas (1.7 areas/hour, or about 7 encounters in the course of a standard 4-hour slot).

(4) Most folks think of AD&D as having broken multiclassing, and that everyone should always multiclass. But the interesting thing with the high-level game is that all of my players specifically avoided multiclassing so as to avoid the class level limitations. Every character was single classed. Almost all were human, except for one elven thief (the only class with no level cap for demihumans).

(5) I was perusing the DMG when I ran into some text on detect evil. Sometimes you see these arguments about "Does detect evil detect standard character alignment, or only intense focused evil (possibly supernatural) intent?" I'd been involved in debates like this where I'd taken the position that the former was true in all original editions of the game, that the latter was a complication only initiated with 2E.

Well, lo-and-behold, there actually is text asserting something like the latter position in 1E DMG p. 60. If you go back and dig through the history, there's kind of a constant cycling on the issue. OD&D says it can "detect evil thought or intent". 1E PHB reads like it detects any evil-aligned creature. 1E DMG says it's "important to make a distinction between character alignment and some powerful force of evil". 2E goes back to focused intent. 3E goes back to any creature alignment. It's wacky, I tell you.

(6) Finally, I have to salute 3E for one thing. It made me finally comfortable with asserting house rules, massaging the core mechanics, and creating high-level PCs for an appropriate game. I have just enough touch of OCD that when I was younger that I gave the rulebooks near-religious consideration, and felt that I had to incorporate all the rules exactly as written, and spend a lot of time ironing out any contradictions or gaps. 3E was really nice for flagging rules as explicitly optional or "variants" (something 1E books didn't do, even though Gygax would categorize a lot of stuff later as optional). This finally gave me the freedom to streamline AD&D and be comfortable in tinkering around with it. Although obvious to some, that's a big benefit to me. Hooray!

6 comments:

  1. "Disallowing regaining spells during the session."

    Did you let the players know about this up-front, or did they just discover the dreams when they occurred?

    This is an interesting point. My players do a good job of finding safe areas in the dungeon to camp. I think that's OK sometimes, but it has never felt right as a regular thing.

    "AD&D is very tangible, concrete, and tactile."

    True. It's almost as if Gygax is trying to get you to visualize and make ad hoc rulings based on that rather than always looking for a rule in the book.

    Too bad he bowed to so much pressure to put fiddly rules in so as to obscure that.

    "One thing that frustrates me a bit is that the old classic AD&D modules, although originally used for tournaments & conventions, definitely don't fit into standard 4-hour convention time slots."

    Yeah. The few times I have played in convention games, we never finished in the time allotted either.

    "3E was really nice for flagging rules as explicitly optional or "variants" (something 1E books didn't do, even though Gygax would categorize a lot of stuff later as optional)."

    2e started explicitly marking optional or variant rules. One of its redeeming qualities. It was both unnecessary and a good idea. (^_^)

    Unnecessary because--even if they didn't say it--there's no doubt that with any game you are free to change the rules as long as all the participants agree. (Even if the agreement is to let someone--like the DM--set the rules.)

    A good idea because, it makes this notion more explicit. Also, because it's nice to have the designers give you some guidance on some possible house-rulings.

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  2. Great post. Thanks for writing it.

    As for OD&D thieves, I believe the reason they have no "find traps" ability is because the rules already include provisions for any character being able to find traps. What it didn't include was rules for removing/deactivating traps. Instead, players were expected to come up with their own explanations/solutions to this. Obviously, some players didn't like this and thus the thief was born as a "bomb removal specialist." Gary said somewhere that he'd originally intended thieves to be primarily NPC henchmen/hirelings, but, as with so many things, it didn't work out that way.

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  3. "Did you let the players know about this up-front, or did they just discover the dreams when they occurred?"

    Hey, Robert. I did *not* let players know about this in advance, and they were definitely surprised by it.

    I think in the future (in a limited convention-like situation) I'd definitely like to lay that out as an expectation up front.

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  4. Lots of good observations here. On the "tournament modules fitting 4-hour time slots" issue, there are a few that do: C1 (The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan), C2 (The Ghost Tower of Inverness), and Frank Mentzer's R modules, all clock in properly. (I have run them myself to verify!)

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  5. Michael -- That's a great observation, thanks for sharing that! I'll definitely keep those C-modules in mind the next time I have an open slot for a classic tournament situation.

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  6. "Ignoring the level-limit table's ability score notes... that modify all the numbers downwards for changes in ability scores. "

    As a kid I tried to convince my gang to house-rule that the multi-classing limits should be based not on ability scores but the number of classes the character was pursuing. Thus a single classed elven fighter or magic user could reach 7th or 11th level respectively, while an elven F/MU would be restricted to 6th/10th, and F/MU/T would be 5th/9th/etc.

    The inspiration for this was the halfling fighter limitations; you had to have an 18 str to get to 6th level, yet halflings had a max str of 17. I even argued that there was precedence for this approach in the PHB description of clerics which states, I think, that only humans had unlimited potential because the other races were expected to be multi-classed and thus less focussed in teir advancement.

    But we were a bunch of hyper rules-lawyers back then, and while we blatantly ignored a lot of rules, altering a printed rule was another thing entirely, so I got shot down. I still think it's a better idea than the ability-based level limits.

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