S1 Postmortem & Errors

Here's a secret I've never told anyone. When I get done DM'ing a game session, I walk away with my mind running over everything I screwed up. I think that's healthy -- I'm trying to find areas I can improve on.

The other thing is that I do think it's important to keep the gaming session at a lively pace. If we're uncertain about a rule, I absolutely think it's better to for the DM to make some decision -- almost any decision -- and move on, rather than flipping through a rulebook. I'm hugely grateful that the players in my 1E Tomb of Horrors game really cooperated and trusted me on this score. At least once they did hit on something I had wrong, and were willing to let it slide and have the game proceed anyway. (And I try to do the same when I'm a player. In the past I've had players who wouldn't be able to play this way. I suppose it helped a bit that most folks aren't that familiar with 1E rules in the first place. I wish I'd had more time to brush up on the rules myself, but other work took priority the week before.)

So for the first time ever, here's a public airing of my dirty laundry as a DM. The following is stuff that I just screwed up or remembered wrong on the fly. Some is minor; I don't think anything was a real game-breaker. Not included here are intentional house-rule changes, interpretations, or adjudications that I knew I was bending for the sake of saving time or game flavor. (A future blog might discuss those separately, and how they worked out.)

(1) I allowed the elven thief to take a bow, when that's actually prohibited to thieves in 1E. (They can only use slings for missile weapons -- you need to be a fighter to use a bow.) I don't think missile combat ever happened, so this had no actual effect.

(2) The fighter wanted to take an exotic pole arm as a weapon (very much in the EGG 1E spirit; specifically, a "glaive-guisarme"). I forgot to adjust his AC when he did that, giving him full benefit of a +2 large shield throughout the adventure. (DM shakes fist!)

(3) I forgot about the encumbrance benefit of magical armor. Depending on where you read it, magic armor should be half-weight or totally weightless. I overlooked any version of the rule and added the whole normal weight in anyway.

(4) I failed to get some bonuses to saving throws added in, as from Wisdom or rings of protection. I put the extra bonuses on the character sheets but forgot to tell the players that they had to add those in a separate step. (I was rushing and didn't take time to add them in advance.)

(5) I forgot about high-level fighter multiple attacks. Everyone was making just 1 attack/round, when the fighters should have been making 3/2 or 2. Actually, it took me almost an hour after the game to locate the damn table in the PHB, so it was really good that I didn't waste time mid-game looking for the same thing.

(6) I forgot that all the magic blades in 1E (magic swords & daggers) cast dim light all the time.

(7) Infravision is only ruined by heat, not magic light (DMG p. 59). I was nixing the elf's infravision in the area of a continual light spell, and I guess I shouldn't have. Also, I was asserting that it takes 1 turn (10 minutes) to switch back-and-forth, and I see now the rules say it's just 2 segments (about 12 seconds)! The wizard player caught me on this one, and he was right.

(8) I was overly strict about actions within a round. I was calling an end to a whole round if someone switched weapons, or pulled out a scroll, etc. Truthfully, that doesn't entirely make sense with rounds that are so long (1 minute, or even 30 seconds as I play it). This was one area where if I'd had more time to brush up on 1E I might have corrected myself. I was recollecting an example of melee where actions are enforced like that (DMG p. 71). The problem is, the examples occur in short surprise rounds that only last 1 segment (6 seconds), and so are necessarily a lot more restrictive. There's a section immediately before it that's counting parts of an action in segments, and clearly allows throwing oil, grabbing a potion from a pack, and then drinking it, all in one round. So although my ruling kept rounds snapping by quickly, I guess I should try being more liberal in any future 1E game.

Mea culpa!


  1. Congratulations on running S1 and DMing again. Sounds like a great session. I wanted to say that I too take this approach post session, and often kick myself for trangressions I made during the game. I'm normally more guilty of forgetting or leaving out details of the dungeon or individual encounters. While this does disappoint me at times, I always fall back on one aspect to gauge how well it went...did the players have fun? I think you know the answer to that one. It's always healthy to learn from your mistakes, but you've got the most important aspect covered.

  2. I've always let thieves have short bows (and composite short bows) and light crossbows. This lets players be effective "bandit" or "scout" type thieves without using the bandit NPC class from Dragon Magazine. The sling is fine and good with peasants and such, but not much use against armored opponents with bows getting off two shots per round to your one... Robin Hood's Merry Men would have been mincemeat without bows.

  3. I think I enjoy post mortems like this more than a recap of the adventure itself. Thanks!

  4. Great job running the game - I ran S1 as a Gary Gygax Memorial Game also!

    FYI - Unearthed Arcana expands the thief weapon options to include shortbow - so you're safe!

  5. Wow, that's actually interesting about Unearthed Arcana giving thieves use of the shortbow (among other things). I always thought the expanded list just added new weapons from UA, not some stuff from the PHB in addition.