So, I play in one 4E group and I DM another 4E group. Only two other players are in both groups, and over the course of the last year or so there’s always been references to previous D&D editions. Come to find out, only one other person had played first edition D&D in some form. So I decided to put together a night of BASIC D&D, old school, the way it was pretty much originally played.
For those who are hardcore or history buffs, the White Box is actually the first incarnation of D&D, and went through 3 printings (by my last count). In the late 70′s the magenta BASIC D&D box hit the shelves, and this is the version we were going to play.
For the module, I decided to pick a classic module which I owned but had never actually run for any group. Palace of the Silver Princess! It actually can be found in two forms. The Tournament module, and the DM tutorial module which runs the first three rooms of the module like a pick a path book. I owned the latter, so I went with it.
I had 8 players, all level 1, which is fine because Palace of the Silver Princess is designed for 6-10 characters levels 1-3. Which is a big change from 4E module design, and something which caught the players notice.
The first difference players noticed was in rolling up characters. We went “by the book”. Players roll 3D6 for stats, some of my players had NEVER rolled for attributes, having been raised on Point Buy systems. Secondly, stats are rolled straight down the line!!! Meaning your first roll is Strength, second roll is Intelligence, and so forth!!!! You should have seen the looks on their faces. Fortunately nobody rolled anything horrible, however nobody rolled an 18 either. I think we had one 17 and it was a fighter who rolled it for Con.
The next thing they noticed was they chose their class based on their stats. This was totally backwards to how they are used to doing things. That’s because with newer versions you decide what you want to play and make your stats to fit. In Basic D&D your stats, rolled first, determine what you can play. In some cases you simply can’t play a certain class, which usually pertain to the racial classes. By that, I mean, Elf, Dwarf, & Halfling are classes! You aren’t an Elven fighter, you are simply an Elf. The Elf class combines a little fighting with a little magic. The human classes are the pillar four, Fighter, Thief, Magic-User, & Cleric. In our group, we had a nice spread, 2 Thieves, 1 Magic-User, 1 Cleric, 1 Elf, 1 Halfling, 1 Dwarf, & 1 Fighter.
After choosing their classes, they all rolled 3d6 x10 for starting Gold. Which is standard and they bought their equipment. For those who don’t know, thieves can use ANY weapon!!! Imagine that? And Magic Users can only use daggers! Not even a staff. Clerics likewise can only use bludgeoning weapons. So there were a few raised eyebrows over those weapon choices. Likewise, there are only 3 swords, short sword, normal sword, and two-handed sword.
After buying equipment I informed them of their prime attributes and how this will affect their XP. For those who may have read my previous post about XP, first edition classes have separate xp tracks. For example, it takes 1,250 XP for a thief to hit level 2, while it takes 4,000 Xp for an Elf. If your Prime Requisite Attribute is 13-15 you also get a 5% bonus to all XP earned. If you have a 16 or greater you get +10% XP. Since this was a one-shot deal I wanted them to experience the level differences. So I was awarding 400XP per hour. At this rate they found it sort of mind-boggling that thieves would be level 3 before the Elf even hit level 2! Such is life in first edition.
The game went well, they learned that compared to 4E where you may make it through 3-4 encounters in a night, they were able to go through 20 plus encounters in a session; exploring about 35 rooms in the dungeon! BIG DIFFERENCE! Secondly, they learned the speed of combat. Initiative is very simple, the DM rolls a D6, one party member rolls a D6 for the party. The side with the highest roll goes first! If there is a tie, its simultaneous! To go along with that, individual actions are always simultaneous. Each player tells the DM what their character will do in the round, and then they all roll at the same time. Some lessons learned, were that 7 people can’t melee a large rat in a closet without getting in each others way. They learned that firing arrows at monsters who have allies attacking in melee can be dangerous to allies! No deaths, but several halfling sized arrows kept pinging off tanks armor. They learned that casting spells require spell casters to stand perfectly still; and lastly, they learned that it’s often better to over commit to a mob rather than fan out evenly and risk not killing any of them. They also learned that there are NO MINI’s!!! Holy cow! They were surprised that first edition didn’t operate with mini’s and tactical movement! They could map their dungeon, but mini’s didn’t serve any tactical purpose at all! Instead it was done by description and by the DMing telling them where they were.
This made it quite the exercise in improvisation and creativity. Unlike 4E where actions are very details, cut and dry, in first edition improvisation and creativity pay off. Instead of throw a flask of oil and then throwing a torch in the next round. They learned to create a molotove cocktail. They learned that 10′ poles have uses other than a walking stick. They learned that subdual is possible but more difficult to hit with edged weapons.
Some of the highlights of the evening, included my personal favorite, the suicidally brave fighter who couldn’t fight. One fighter who was low on HP put ona necklace which made him super brave and forced to charge into every combat. (curse). This, combined with low HP made the player feel a bit defeated. So in an effort to kill his character (so he could roll another) he removed his armor and weapons. Well, he decided to go after an idol in an underground cave and knock it over (made of clay) to destroy it, and undoubtedly get attacked by something. He was correct. A giant centipede hiding in the rubble attacked! Without any armor the Centipede hit. However Giant centipede’s don’t do any damage and only have a poison effect. The poison makes you nauseated for 10 days and unable to perform any physical activity. (other than walking, with assistance). LOL!!!! Now our suicidal fighter couldn’t even kill himself with his own sword! Ergo his next 3 combats he would stagger into the fray “I GOT THIS!” and lean on the enemies when he could.
Another highlight was the Magic-User who threw her one and only sleep spell and put 8 orcs to sleep! Very good use of a sleep spell and the party was all fired up! However the same magic user had drunk an ESP potion as well, and in another encounter a phantom warrior appeared when the party was trying to grab a floating sword. The warrior killed a party member in one hit, and the magic-user hears the thoughts, “I can’t believe I’m dead, I can’t believe he just hit me”. To which she states to the party, in a very serious manner. “Guys, I think I can hear dead people!”. After this happened again to another character, the Magic User realized that ESP doesn’t work on dead people. Her allies were actually under a spell and only thought they were dead. =)
After the night, I gathered some feedback. Mostly about the comparisons of first edition compared to the 4E they had been playing. Out of the collective 8 players, 6 players would definitely play again. The two who didn’t were the second and third youngest players in the group who mainly desired “more variety” in things to do. They felt that first edition was basically the same thing over and over again. Open door, fight monster/solve puzzle, move to next door. Not to argue too deeply but yeah, that’s really just D&D in general no matter what edition you play. I think their accustomed to having the card attacks, utility powers etc. Likewise, first edition really lets your imagination drive your attacks and combat decisions. I think one of them just isn’t really used to flexing that muscle at a gaming table, but likes to have the choices laid out in card form. Which is basically what 4E has done. That’s ok though, there’s a reason first edition evolved into second, and more visible choice is one of those reasons.
Most of the players really enjoyed the speed of combat, and search ability, noting how fast it went and how much they could get done. Secondly, most were surprised at how easily they could die!!!! Some even mentioned FourthCore was nothing compared to this. In total we had 10 deaths. One player died 3 times (poor halflings), 2 Fighter deaths, 2 Elf deaths, 2 Dwarf deaths, and one magic-user who never cast a single spell. =( But three players managed to navigate the night in one piece. Both thieves, and the Cleric. It wasn’t like everything was their fault though, when you have 5 hit point and mobs do 1d8 damage some of it is just bad luck. (granted they should have tossed the sleep spell then)
In all it was a great time. I very much believe that everyone should experience a first edition game in order to really gain an appreciation for where the game evolved from. In a way it may even give players an insight or an idea that could be useful for their home games as well. I think a good deal can be learned from understand how the game used to be played, why changed were made, and what changes should be un-made.
Anyway, they managed to finish about 70% of the module in one night, and from all signs it looks like most of them would like to finish it up and save the fair Princess Argenta! So we may have a sequel sometime soon! Many thanks to my players for giving me a blast from the past! I hope they enjoyed it as much as I did.