Getting some Old School in!

I was invited to join a monthly AD&D 1st edition group this past weekend, and I was pretty eager to join. The last time I even touched my old AD&D books, which were wonderful hand me downs from my older bro, was about ten years ago. That was a brief campaign, played out almost daily for a month, and hardly by the rules as written. After that, it’s pretty much been d20 and forward.

The opportunity to join this group was exciting for various reasons, the biggest being the excitement of playing with a new group. It’s been a long time since I was “the kid” of a group; the gentleman running it was twice my age and the other two players were pretty close. That’s awesome in my book, however, since my fondest memories growing up involved playing with much older players. The other aspect luring me in was that these gentlemen quit buying new books around 2nd edition; the AD&D 2e books they keep on hand to possibly comb some alternate rules out of, but aside from that they are the old school. They hadn’t been influenced with newer editions, hadn’t kept track of fads or followed any communities or forums. This is a group of guys who have been playing together well over 20 years, in some cases since they were in high school, and aside from the occasional cons or meet ups have hardly had any outside contact with the gaming world. They showed a little bit of surprise to hear that there were even other gamers, none the less a community in our small rural area.

So, for me, this was a chance to relish in “Old School” gaming in its purest form.  These are guys who, as some might say, never “drank anyone else’s Kool-Aid” in terms of how their games are supposed to be played. Let’s see how different it REALLY is to how us youngsters in the kiddie pool play….

Character Creation:

When I found out on Saturday that the group was meeting the next day, I was informed I was to be rolling “around a 5th level character.” I went ahead and rolled stats where one of the guys could witness it, using the alternate method of rolling 3d6, six times, per stat and taking the best roll. I had a lot of 9’s in there, but thankfully my character came out with a decent range of abilities across the board. I smiled hearing I got to roll for Comeliness as well. After the dude left, it dawned on me:  “Oh crap, levels are different per class….”

The next day I was able to get an XP (I mean, exp.) value to play with based on the highest exp. rating in the party, and coming out with a Dwarfen Fighter/Thief, level 4/5.

This was cool, because I ended up recycling a concept based on a Warhammer FRP character I experimented with (a Dwarfen dock hand), and thought the “Fighter/Thief” combo worked perfectly for that.  I must confess: I also wanted to use a Thief because it was a class that had some semblance of  “skills” and I wanted something that didn’t look too naked to my fragile, New-School mind.

I will say though: MAN, do I miss character creation being this easy.  I think that’s why I took joy in rolling up pre-made characters for Dark Heresy: It’s kind of nice just rolling the dice and slapping things down quickly.

Game Play:

I was introduced to the campaign with an explanation that we were hired hands on a large caravan, and a few days out from the last town. It was night time, and suddenly we were under attack. Chaos ensued as boulders, flames and ice blasts fell from the sky and slaughtered those in camp. I was the only player not running multiple characters (it’s a small group, so I can understand the necessity). One of the players announced his characters were putting on their armor and running out of their tents to see the carnage. The DM smiled, and said “realize that plate mail can sometimes take up to an hour to ready yourself in.” I made a mental note: DO NOT SHORTHAND DETAILS. Where in my groups I’ve become so used to just short handing things like putting on armor, drawing weapons or readying equipment…these guys seem to be a bit heavier into the details than I’m used to.

The scene continued to play out, and I was left kind of dumbfounded. Okay, maybe I was distracted by the two copies of the 1st edition screen he had, but when I did snap back to attention I was wondering when we were going to be given a turn to react. It dawned on me: he was playing the scene out in real-time, so to speak, and as long as we stood there slack jawed and not saying anything our characters weren’t doing shit. I immediately popped up that my character, being Chaotic Neutral, would just fend for himself and flee into hiding until he had a better comprehension of the battle. He smiled, rolled some dice, and I managed to live. Phew.

As the game progressed, we realized our caravan was being assaulted by three Dragons, all of whom were much bigger than we were comfortable with taking on. One of them, maybe. All of them? Forget it. When the massacre was over, and we realized our numbers had been horribly reduced, we fled into the mountains hoping to find some cover from the encroaching blizzard and to stay out of the dragons’ path. As luck would have it, we came upon a strange door, of a craftsmanship the likes we had never seen. We managed to slide the door open, and enter into some kind of strange fortress. When the DM revealed a handout picture of one of the doors we found inside, my head fell to the table. I had never played nor read it, but I figured out we were in S3: Expedition to The Barrier Peaks.

Observations of Play Style Difference:

I don’t really want to go into more details of the events of the module (because, frankly, I’m hoping some newer players in time are forced through this regardless of edition.) But I did want to share my observations of differences between 1e and modern d20/4e play styles:

  • Initiative is probably the biggest difference. Instead of rolling individually once, and going in sequence, it was rolling as a group — us vs. them. We took actions all together, and then they did. We re-rolled every turn. I will chime in we were playing with an added house rule to this: Instead of weapon speeds, Ranged combats went first, and then Melee went down.  I also thought it was interesting that the group I was playing with would roll hand fulls of twenty siders at once, both for the multiple characters attacking as well as their multiple attacks. At first it felt a bit too chaotic for my tastes, but they seemed to handle it fine and it kept the pace moving. We weren’t using miniatures, although the DM did keep track of distances using the module maps. I was a wuss, though, and kept my multiple attacks on separate rolls for my sanity and book keeping.
  • Skills is another interesting difference. Of course, 1e didn’t have a Skill system like d20 or 4E, but playing as a Thief I did have an assortment of talents and skills. I think the biggest shock to me was when I announced my intentions to use a skill, such as searching for traps or picking a lock, the DM rolled the dice for me and would tell me how my character felt about it. Even with earlier edition stuff, I was kinda shocked to not roll my own skills. Not sure if that’s a rules as written, DM preference or whatever. I didn’t necessarily oppose the idea, since after all this meant I had no clue what was actually rolled and thus I was left wondering if I truly didn’t find anything, or if I missed something.
  • Lots of Arbitrary Rules Calls. Again, not a bad thing. In many situations, the DM would just roll d6’s and tell us the odds of something happening. For instance, during the dragon attack, he rolled a d6 for all of our horses, and on a 1 or 2 they were eaten. There was a lot of decision making made this way…sometimes in front of us, sometimes behind the screens. It’s a practice that is both scary and awesome to see in action. I’ve known players who would’ve hated such rules calls, and would’ve wanted some kind of statistical rules call from the books for that situation. At the same time, it’s nice to be cut free from the tenants of “balance and fairness” and just let the damn man running the game do his job.
  • Less nose ring pulling, more OH SHIT! moments. “Nose Ring Pulling” is a term from my brother’s groups that is on par with what others would call Railroading. Looking back at the session, there wasn’t really any nose rings pulled. What did happen, though, was that anytime we were fucking around we attracted the attention of the world around us. Nothing happened, unless we said it was happening. And if we didn’t say anything, the world didn’t hold still for us. Monsters approached, sicknesses and conditions kicked in, NPC’s pulled pranks on us etc. Not once did I hear “So, what are you guys doing?”

Definitely looking forward to next month, and the continuation into the Barrier Peaks.

Oh, and for those interested in drop counts so far:
1 Magic User/Thief, currently dead inside a bag of holding.
Barbarian, dropped once, still kicking.
Dwarfen Fighter/Thief, currently recovering from brain surgery a medic bot performed unto him. Scarred, all facial hair shaved.

6 thoughts on “Getting some Old School in!”

  1. My group has a lot of players, and when I’m DM-ing I get tired of asking them what they’re doing. I like that DM’s approach of making stuff happen when the players aren’t having their characters do anything. It sounds like a better alternative; it’ll take some practice to get into the habit, but I look forward to trying it.

  2. Love it!

    It sounds EXACTLY like the way I used to play. Arbitrary Rule calls (read the old DMG – there are tons of places it says “event occurs on a roll of 1 or 2), keeping the game moving regardless of what the players are doing, rolling multiple d20’s, even observing details…these are all things that are common to 1e and what – IMHO – made it great!

    It’s a shame my current group are all new to D&D. I had to introduce it to them via 3e because (and I hate to say this) it makes more sense than 1e.

    Anyway, glad to hear you enjoyed the experience! I miss the old game, but I still have the 1e books prominently displayed on my gaming shelf. I take them down every once in a while, flip through the pages, and chuckle at every instance where something was written in the margins, remembering clearly what happened for that particular gaming session. Good stuff!

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