An Education in First Edition

Edit: Several readers have correctly informed me that the game I played was actually BASIC Dungeons & Dragons. My use of “First Edition” throughout the post is incorrect, but I decided to keep the language because comparing “First” to Fourth felt more logical. I hope the distraction is minimal; the difference in language should not affect the themes in the post.

Before taking up 4th Edition in 2009, it had been over 15 years since I played Dungeons & Dragons. I have vague memories of playing old modules like Horror on the Hill but forgot the specific mechanics of the game. So I was eager to travel back in time when my DM recently suggested that we play a session of First Edition. We played Palace of the Silver Princess, and it was an eye-opening experience for me both as a DM and player who is accustomed to the rules and pacing of 4th Edition.

My Magic User died with his proverbial lone bullet in the chamber.

The surprises began with character generation, and continued throughout the entire day and night of gameplay with my Magic User (who died, and whose capabilities are nicely summarized by d20monkey above) and then Fighter. Our party suffered numerous deaths while exploring a much greater area than we could ever hope to do in a 4th Edition session. Below, I discuss my experience traveling back in time to play First Edition, and how returning to D&D’s roots have updated my view of 4th Edition.

Character Creation

The first thing about First Edition that is immediately different is the process of character creation. Instead of relying on the online Character Builder, the player is left with a single sheet of paper and a few d6′s. There is no opportunity for min/maxing as each of your six stats are determined by a single 3d6 roll. Sitting down to start a character, I had to roll my stats first and then choose the most appropriate Class to fit the results. It seems to be the opposite way in 4th Edition for the vast majority of character creation – decide on your Class first, and then generate stats that best fit your desired build. There is no such freedom with First Edition!

The First Edition Character Sheet

As you can see on the character sheet above, my stats are laughable by 4th Edition standards – Strength: 8; Intelligence: 11; Wisdom: 9; Dexterity: 7; Constitution: 9; Charisma: 11. I did not generate a single 3d6 roll over 11, and my best fit for class was Magic User. It should be noted that there are no Races in First Edition. In terms of additional components of character creation, I had to roll 3d6 (x10) for the amount of gold I could spend. Thankfully, I had a good roll and was able to spend 160 gold, which allowed me to buy daggers, flasks of oil, the ubiquitous 10-foot pole, wolfsbane, torches, rope and a mirror. The Saving Throws and “To Hit” Roll Needed are all based on the six generated stats. Finally, I got to choose a single spell (I went with Sleep) that could be used once each day, which is what the cartoon from d20monkey so eloquently illustrates above! My Magic User, Xavier Nen, was ready to enter the Palace of the Silver Princess.

Leathality

Characters in First Edition are fragile, and my Magic User was no different. He began Level 1 with a whopping 3 Hit Points. Since Magic Users cannot wear armor, any attack directed at Xavier was likely to hit him, and the subsequent damage would likely kill him. He spent the first few encounters well behind the tanks in the group and threw the occasional dagger, which rarely hit. Xavier waited for his big moment to cast Sleep while attempting to find good situations to use flasks of oil to set bad guys on fire. It turned out, he waited too long.

While I took a bathroom break, which lasted perhaps 90 to 120 seconds, Xavier went from tucked behind the front-line fighters to dead. I walked back into the room and learned that Xavier died. I’m still not entirely sure how it happened since Xavier was cowering behind other melee party members, but apparantly a zombie broke through the line and killed him. The two hours or so I played as Xavier were fairly boring; the adventure was interesting (more on this in a bit) but my options were incredibly limited. I previously created a monster-style Stat Block for my Level 12 Rogue. For this post, I wanted to create a Stat Block for my Level 1 Magic User. As you can see below, the options for Xavier were nonexistent. I was somewhat glad he died because it meant I could roll up a different character.

Options? Nope.

I rolled another PC and had stats that were a fairly decent match for Fighter. My new Fighter, Id, was dumb as a stump but could at least rush into battle with plate armor, a greatsword and attempt to kill things. It was fun to be in the mix of battle after a few hours of hoping I could stay out of the way and waiting for the best moment to cast the lone daily spell in my arsenal.

During the adventure, multiple PCs died and often in less than interesting ways. Players routinely start Level 1 with less than 6 Hit Points, and many monsters would cause 1d8 or more damage on a hit. The math is not in the players’ favor, and player death in First Edition is expected by everyone. As a result, it’s difficult to feel terribly connected to your character in a meaningful way.

Pacing

My sense of timing in 4th Edition has developed over the course of two years as a player and DM. During a single gaming session, which for us is anywhere from five to seven hours, the number of combat encounters that can be squeezed in is quite limited. During our First Edition session, the party blazed through approximately 15 combat encounters. Additionally, the party explored over 30 rooms spread out across a ground level and basement of a huge palace. The pace of play is significantly faster in First Edition when compared to 4th Edition.

The reasons for the difference in pacing are primarily related to combat. As discussed on this blog previously and many others, combat in 4th Edition slows down because players and monsters have an array of choices to make each round. Also, the rounds in First Edition are able to be calculated at once. For example, each member of the party could declare their attack and target and the actions were reconciled at the same time. Each player did not need to wait to act “in order.” This type of combat management is simply not possible in 4th Edition; later on in the article, I will discuss why.

Story

The setup for Palace of the Silver Princess is interesting. The following text is taken from the module’s Wikipedia page:

The module has been described as a low-level scenario, which involves the legends surrounding a ruined palace, a white dragon, and a giant ruby. The player characters encounter evil creatures that have taken over the palace. The plot of Palace of the Silver Princess revolves around a country frozen in time by a strange red light. The only seemingly unaffected location and the apparent source of the glow is the royal palace. The adventurers must restore the flow of time and save the country.

The players are brought together at the entrance of the palace and must explore numerous rooms from that point. The adventure takes a variety of turns that do not appear to be linked to one another. Over the course of a few hours, the party battles with goblins, zombies, fire beetles, spiders and a deranged humanoid – all in the same floor or two of the palace. The monsters do not appear to be connected in any way; the adventure seemed nonsensical and haphazard.

Granted, our group did not complete the entire module, but each room felt like it dropped out of a different module by 4th Edition standards. For example, the three-to-five encounter-series design is typically composed of monsters from the same “family” of creatures. It would be rare for a party to fight goblins, zombies and fire beetles in three consecutive encounters. Perhaps all First Editions modules are not as nonsensical as Palace of the Silver Princess, but the lack of internal logic and plot were noticeable.

Applying Lessons to 4th Edition Gameplay

Playing First Edition was fun, but other than playing the game again as a novelty, I would not want to leave our 4th Edition campaigns. No edition is perfect, and I’m sure each edition has their individual merits, but I walked away from our First Edition session with some ideas for how to integrate good components of the early days into 4th Edition gaming sessions.

Character Creation

The dynamics of Character Builder encourage players to maximize their most important stats by sacrificing others that are not as important to a given Class. I am guilty of this as well as I decided at the beginning of the character-creation process that I wanted to play a Rogue. So I used the point-buy system to load Dexterity as the highest stat; it would be slightly silly to allocate the stats in any other way.

It’s also been my experience that character creation rarely occurs at the gaming table. I just welcomed two new players to my campaign and they prepared their characters in the days leading up to the adventure. Not only are characters optimized, but the composition of the adventuring party is often optimized. When new players join the group, a common question is, “What does the party need?” If the party does not have a big-bad tank, then the next player to join the group is likely to be asked to create a Defender. There is an expectation that the composition of the party will be optimized to have a balance of Roles. The level of optimization, which is simply built into the character-creation process, is one reason why DMs have a challenge in terms of posing a significant challenge to players.

One way around this is to strip away the inherent optimization that comes with character creation in 4th Edition. DMs and players could return to die rolls to determine beginning stats instead of using the point-buy system. Players could be invited to roll the stats for their character first, and then choose their Class. The average results of 3d6 will be 10.5, which would result in miserable stats – as witnessed by the stats above for my hapless Magic User. The DM could allow the player to roll 4d6 and take the best three results.

A return to die rolls for beginning stats would increase the level of tension during the character-creation process. Character creation would go from a player calculating the most optimized character of a given Class to making the best of stats generated from rolls. The players would likely have more difficulty with combat since their attack bonuses and defenses would not be as high.

While this may help to balance 4th Edition so DMs do not feel so overwhelmed by an optimized group of players, the players are likely to dislike this approach. I speak as a 4th Edition player when I say that I like building a character that is effective and do not want my character nerfed! But I encourage DMs to think about altering the character-creation process in 4th Edition to make it less strategic for players and more random.

Lethality

Much has been said about increasing the lethality of 4th Edition, and there has been no stronger voice than the individuals behind Fourthcore. Those behind Fourthcore wished to increase the level of difficulty and chance of death for players in 4th Edition. In addition, the lethality of monsters has been increased across the board since Monster Manual 3. Damage for each attack has been increased, and there are many monster powers that feature Second Failed Save death outcomes.

It seems that DMs have been granted a greater license – both by the online community and Wizards of the Coast – to increase the threat of death in 4th Edition. There are now templates for DMs to increase the threat level of their campaign. Using monsters with updated damage outputs and powers in addition to deadly traps that feature Save versus Death outcomes are two excellent methods to return back to the First Edition level of fear players had when traipsing through a dungeon!

Pacing

First Edition combat runs faster than 4th Edition, and the two editions are not even close. I have attempted to increase the pace of combat in multiple ways to increase the speed in 4th Edition. Initiative order is visually displayed on the table and players are informed about who is next to act to ensure they are aware their turn is coming up. However, the dynamics of 4th Edition combat make increasing the pace difficult.

For example, I have experimented with “skipping forward” when one player seems to have finished his or her turn. For example, a player may declare a minor, move and then use a standard to attack a monster. While reconciling the attack and damage rolls, I have alerted the next player up that they can start their turn. However, this has backfired more often than not. Players have expressed discomfort when someone else is taking actions before their turn is over. Players have completed their alloted actions only to declare the use of an Action Point while the next player is acting; the Action Point has invalidated the next player’s action since the monster the next player would have been attacking is now dead because the first player used an Action Point to deal more damage and kill it.

Player actions cannot happen simultaneously because combat in 4th Edition is much more tactical than First Edition. I have attempted to increase the flow of combat with simultaneous actions from players, but after experimenting with it, I advise against it. However, the DM can set the pace in other ways. Keep things moving by roleplaying when characters are taking too long (“The villain taunts you as you fumble with your sword.”).

Perhaps the most effective thing to do to increase the pace of combat is for the DM to model the type of behavior they are looking for from their players. DMs should know the monsters’ powers well, and execute actions rapidly. A prepared DM can take monster actions in less than 30 seconds; it may also help to take all monster actions at one point in the Initiative order.  If a DM is taking minutes to take monster actions, then the players will follow suit.

Story

The lack of logic in the First Edition module I played was a distraction. I am a player in the published Scales of War campaign by Wizards of the Coast and that story – while quite linear – is coherent. I run a homebrew campaign and I feel satisfied with the tools available to me to create a clear story with interesting monsters to face. However, there are lessons to be learned from First Edition.

I left the game thinking that I should spend more time on exploration in my campaign. Typically, a dungeon I create would include several rooms with monsters and the links between those rooms would often be ignored. Previously, I rarely fleshed out a dungeon to contain interesting rooms that are simply there to add flavor and additional backstory. One piece in the Palace of the Silver Princess I did enjoy was our party entered many rooms that featured statues of workers and other inhabitants of the palace. The implication was that something was roaming around the palace and turning things into stone. As a result, our party was hesitant to enter rooms and turn corners in hallways; we were using a mirror to investigate any corner before moving forward!

My take-away was to increase the level of tension involved in exploration in a dungeon between combat, skill and role-playing encounters. Use “empty” rooms to tell a story about your villain or the previous inhabitants of the dungeon. Use those areas to increase tension and foreshadow the type of monsters the party may face in the future.

Final Thoughts

I thoroughly enjoy playing 4th Edition, but there are lessons to be learned from previous versions of Dungeons & Dragons that can improve the experience for players and DMs. For critics of 4th Edition, I think it’s a good idea to revisit the problems in previous editions and realize that modifications were implemented for a reason. Whatever edition you play, enjoy it with your gaming group and make it the best game possible for the people in attendance.

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About The Id DM

The Id DM is a psychologist during the weekdays. He DMs for a group of fairly loyal and responsible PCs every other Friday night. In the approximate 330 hours between sessions, he is likely anxious about how to ensure the next game he runs doesn't suck.
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37 Responses to An Education in First Edition

  1. Quirky DM says:

    Nice comparison. I remember the old days of D&D well. Yes, many modules had nonsensical creatures living side by side. It was like you dropped the Monster Manual on the floor and put in whatever monster the book fell open to.

    One thing I’ve been experimenting with is a point-buy/rolling technique:
    1. Choose your race and class.
    2. Point buy whatever stats you want. Points may be saved for step 4. Players should point buy 2 stats to 16+ (after racial adjustments) to fit with their class decision or have a real good reason outside of hoping to get lucky.
    3. You may roll 3d6 for any stats at 10 or less. (subtracting 1 or 2 for 9 or 8, respectively, to a minimum of 3)
    4. Use any leftover points to increase your stats. Stats less than 8 can be bought at a 2:1 ratio.

    This method lets players have good stats in what’s important (because what’s the point if you’re not) and then let the dice fall where they may for everything else. You get to play an effective character and the rest of the dice make sure you’re not a replica of the same ability distribution each time. You should get a more interesting array then you’d otherwise get. Just don’t roll dice for anything you can’t handle getting a 3 on (like Constitution) unless you have points put away to raise it back up!

    • The Id DM says:

      Thank you for the suggestions! I think DMs and players should experiment with the character-creation process to determine if they can make it more interesting and dynamic rather than ensuring you get the best character possible.

  2. As I mentioned on Twitter, I think one thing that 4e still really needs is an infusion of _exploration_ as a major aspect of the adventure. This really hit home playing a 4e version of Rahasia.

    • The Id DM says:

      You were the first to point out my misuse of “First Edition.” Instead of going through to change the entire post, I included a brief note at the top of the article explaining the error. I appreciate the feedback.

      One of the key things I took away from playing the BASIC module was the pace of exploration. It will be something I attempt to incorporate into my campaign.

  3. The only thing I would say about the Coherency of the Palace of the Silver Princess; is that since you have not completed the module, you don’t have the full understanding of why the monsters are there or the full logic/reasoning behind the module.

    ******SPOILER****** the monsters are drawn to the palace due to the evil nature of the gem, in this regard they are “charmed” more or less to take up residence in the palace as guardians. Such is the nature of the magic behind the gem… Think of the ring in Lord of the Rings, from which this module obviously draws some of its inspiration. The Gem is responsible for freezing the “good” inhabitants, and luring minions of evil in.
    So there is some logic to the story, in a fantasy / magical sort of way. Most of this becomes apparent as you enter the second floor and interact with some key encounters. For reference the party just entered the first room of the second floor, so much of that information is in front of you.******SPOILER*******

    Secondly, while lethality that night was high, a typical first edition campaign is actually chalk full of returning to town over the first few levels. PC’s in a traditional first edition campaign know to rest up after a battle or two when folks are injured. In a one shot night campaign, we just press on.

    Character empathy as you notice isn’t really there at level 1. But if you ask a level 5 first edition character (who’s played from level 1) how much he likes his character I would put that empathy significantly higher than in 4E. As a player, I could lose my 4E wizard tomorrow and not really be empathetic about it at all. Bringing a first edition character up though the levels is something usually to be proud of, whereas in 4E its almost expected.This as you pointed out is a nod to lethality.

    I think you would find that second edition has a great deal in common with first, while 3.5 starts to bend toward 4E. It’s definitely very interesting to look at the changes over time.

    Good post.

    • The Id DM says:

      I avoided the spoiler in case we return to finish the module. :-)

      You make a good point that since characters are more fragile in earlier editions, those that survive a few levels create a stronger attachment with the player. I’m thinking of playing old videogames and how beating Super Mario Bros. 3 is much different than beating the original Ninja Gaiden. The feeling of accomplishment is completely different, but I’m not sure if I felt more “attached” to Mario or Ryu. That’s an interesting idea I need to think about.

      As an aside, I think you’re underselling your attachment to one Tiefling Wizard. What would you do about your avatar!?

  4. Great post – things I have thought about many times and haven’t put down on paper (or interwebs) at all – great job!

    *grognard ON!
    I’ll play the part of the old grognard here and let you know that you were not playing 1st edition D&D, you were playing Basic D&D. 1st Edition D&D is actually Advanced D&D. Basic D&D is wholly separate. I only really point this out because I am something of a D&D historian and Basic D&D is my favorite version.
    *grognard OFF!

    That is neither here nor there since your points are valid whether you played 1st edition or basic, so ignore me and revel in thh fact that this post was so fantastic!

    • The Id DM says:

      Sam,

      You are absolutely correct; I was using First Edition as a shorthand. Comparing Basic to 4th Edition throughout felt clunky. And honestly, the early editions are a bit of a mystery to me, which is why this post was good for me to write. Learning about the past can help me become a better DM in the present and future.

      Thank you for the feedback!

      • S'mon says:

        While you appeared to be playing (Mentzer?) Basic D&D – 3d6 starting gp, FIghter-1s in platemail, race-as-class – I don’t know how you could have had AC 10, the lowest AC in Basic is 9.

        Playing Basic at 1st level with death at 0 hp you generally want to steer clear of any class who can’t wear platemail & shield at level 1; and those are the same classes who get 1d4 for hp – Magic-Users & Thieves. Elves are best, then Dwarves, then Fighters; Halflings have great saves but 1d6 hp and limited weapon choice AIR. Clerics are weak at 1st (no spell) unless you are fighting undead, but AC2 with plate & shield is helpful.

    • Lazy says:

      I’ve been wondering about this for a while, maybe you’re the right person to ask/

      I was introduced to D&D when I was about 9/10 years old. I saw this book in our local book store, it was called the “D&D Cyclopedia” and had a worm like Dragon chasing a knight through a swamp on the front.

      From what I remember there were 7 classes in it, the normal 4 plus elf, dwarf and monk.

      What would you call that edition of the game?

      • First edition… Monk was not a core first edition class, but was introduced soon thereafter.
        Monk was one of the more interesting classes to play…. If you could live through the first few levels. It was arguably harder than a wizard to survive through them.

      • Lazy says:

        Done some checking- what I referred to as monk was actually “Mystic”

  5. Skaramuche says:

    I started DMing in 3.5, and moved on to 4th before coming back to Pathfinder, and now I’m experimenting with retroclones. Through all of that, I’ve never even considered using the character builder, or point-buy systems at all. 4d6 drop lowest, freely allocated, seems to me to be perfect for modern DnD–it’s not the rough, brutal unfairness of the old-school style, but it includes the unfairness, the randomness, that DnD is all about. I like 4th, but one of the biggest problems with it, seems to me, is that everything is hyper-balanced, hyper-optimized, strategized to death. DnD should be MESSY. Some characters should be better, in terms of numbers, because numbers aren’t what the game is about; thus, rolled stats. The player shouldn’t be clever in tuning the numbers and getting to roll the right kind of dice, the player should be clever in breaking the rules and having a good excuse for it, clever in making things up and following the Rule of Cool. Playing a character that ISN’T optimized, that you rolled shitty stats for, can be MORE fun.

    • The Id DM says:

      Hah, that is an interesting take. I agree that the process should be *messy* with a balance of fairness for players. I add that disclaimer because it’s not fun to play a character that is inadequate and cannot contribute to the party. For instance, playing the Magic User was boring because I could only sit in a corner and throw daggers, which were unlikely to ever hit something.

      But the flip side is my Dragonborn Rogue in 4e that has a +17 to hit (+19 with Combat Advantage, which happens almost all the time) could roll anything from a 7 and up and probably hit most monsters. Much of the chance has been removed from the equation. I *like* hitting monsters, but the system does seem tailored to the hyper-balanced approach.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

      • S'mon says:

        1e AD&D allows a lot more gaming the system than the version you played. In 1e darts have a fire rate of 3/round, so your Magic-User can be like a mini-machinegun & quite effective vs low-hp foes.

    • S'mon says:

      4e isn’t designed to support that play style though, not if your PCs have to fight rules-balanced encounters. Personally I like 1e AD&D with Unearthed Arcana best for that approach; I ran a chatroom game from 1st to 5th on Dragonsfoot and of them all the PC who did best was the guy who didn’t roll a starting stat over 12 (on 4d6 drop 1!)., He played a Fighter and the UA weapon specialisation rules (we used the OSRIC retro-clone) with ATT 3/2 and +3 to hit & damage still made him an awesome engine of destruction with his greataxe.

      Acquiring a sexy female Paladin girlfriend (also with weapon spec!) didn’t hurt, either… :)

      • The Id DM says:

        I need to find the rules for acquiring a sexy female Paladin girlfriend (with or without weapon spec) for my 4e Rogue! ;-)

        I’m sure every system can be “worked” to get the most out of characters and bend the rules a bit. In 4e, I have heard about “broken” combinations of powers, feats and magic items that make players and/or an adventuring party unstoppable. My players have informed me that the broken combinations were more prevalent in past editions. It must be an issue all game designers struggle with at some point.

  6. Ah yes, back when you played adventurers with limitations rather than superheroes in waiting. You’ve made me want to add AD&D 2nd Ed to my list of games for #PANRPG quarter (a month wasn’t enough for us) and go wandering around Krynn again.

    @Dungeon Maestro unfortunately I think that the reason for the random seeming monsters being explained at the end of the module doesn’t account for the fact that player buy in is harder to get back once you’ve lost it. I don’t think they really understood this in the early days of D&D (sweeping generalisation there, I’m sure a lot of designers did understand this). All it would have needed would have been an NPC near the beginning talking about how weird it is to find zombies and fire beetles in adjacent rooms and the players might have started thinking there was more to it than a flip through the monster manual. The weird mix of monsters is part of why they are here, not just something to do on the way to their objective.

    But then again when you only have 3hp the last page of the module isn’t at the top of your concerns ;) It’s certainly easier to tell a coherent story when you know the players are going to reach the end of it.

  7. Learning DM says:

    There has to be a reasonable middle ground between the two extremes of combat speed. I love the fact that in 1E you get more of a sense of being in a huge dungeon full of all sorts of interesting stuff. After even one night, there is a sense of accomplishment and discovery, and you might have seen 20 rooms or so. In 4E, that could easily take five or six sessions depending on how many combat encounters there are. Then there’s the issue of prep time; picking stats and a brief description of a room in 1E can be done on the fly. It’s harder to make a battle map, find tokens or minis, etc in 4E.

    I wonder if you could use a minion-only encounter in more of the 1E style. No rolling for initiative, no battle map, no encounter or daily powers, just basic or at-will attacks. Tell the players there are eight orcs, describe the room a bit, and let em start rolling dice all at once. I think you could make this work as an alternative to the “set piece” encounters in 4E.

    • The Id DM says:

      I think you could get away with that for a small fight. Perhaps the group is surprised by a goblin patrol or bandits along the road – something to spice up the night but not take up too much time. The issue I see – from the players’ point of view – is when they take damage. The party could get frustrated if they are taking too much damage because they are not allowed to use their big attacks that might clear out multiple enemies at a time. You’d have to have buy-in from the players so they consider it fair.

      You could use it as a story element, but when the party has to spend Surges or other resources, it gets tricky. How would you handle that issue?

  8. Eodrid says:

    I’ve often tried to infuse “Old School” ideas into my games but I’ve never actually run a Basic game. I might have to give that a try to really see how it plays. The playstyle you describe is what I think of when I think “D&D”–exploring a big dungeon, fighting masses of weird monsters. I’d prefer if the Magic-User wasn’t so useless at low levels, though.

    I wonder if using only Essentials classes in a 4E game could speed up combat. I gamed last night with just two PCs and it took a little longer than I would have liked because they were both very crunchy character builds with tons of options. I think if it had been a Slayer fighter and a Warpriest cleric (instead of a Weaponmaster/Barbarian and a Runepriest) it would have gone much faster.

    Glad to see some Old School meets New School discussion!

    • The Id DM says:

      Thanks for stopping by to read the article. I agree that playing Basic made me think about how I approach constructing 4e plots and encounters. The Magic User was boring to play, but I believe he’d be more interesting at higher levels. I’ve only had one Essentials character in my group and she did have fewer options. Fewer options results in quicker combat.

  9. Tourq says:

    The last old-school D&D character (1st edition?) I created was a gnome illusionist. I, too, had 3 hit points. He died in the first round of his first encounter when he was bitten by a brownie.

    Man, that was so long ago.

  10. Jonathan says:

    I recently took part in a game of Swords and Wizardry, one of the various free retro-clones available. I played an Elf running as a Fighter, and managed to avoid getting stabbed to death during the course of things. I was actually pretty intrigued by the low hit points, uniform damage dice, and the skill system (roll XD6 and try to get a lower roll than your stat). I’m toying with the idea of trying to adapt a few of those elements to 4e, but it’s probably not worth the effort.

    I would NOT want to play a Magic User. :P

    • The Id DM says:

      There are certainly some aspects from the Basic game I played that are worthy of incorporating into 4e. It does take some extra time on the DM side to prepare new wrinkles for the game, but I think it is worth it. :-)

  11. S'mon says:

    BTW I ran the orange-cover/free release B3 in then-new 3rd edition D&D 11 years ago; it worked fine and ran quickly. I mostly used the original monster stats converted though, some things like gelatinous cubes were much tougher in 3e.

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  13. Wayne says:

    Actually those readers that corrected you were wrong.

    While it’s true that you weren’t playing true 1st edition, you weren’t playing “Basic” D&D either, since no version of D&D was ever called “Basic”.
    You were playing the new version of Standard D&D that was partially meant to be an easier companion to 2nd ed D&D (kinda like how the Essentials set is the ‘beginner’ version to 4e), but mainly decided to screw some of the original designers out of their royalties…

    Anyway, yes it’s true that you bought your game in a red box set that said “Basic Rules” on it. But that box set was the first in a series of five: Basic Rules, Expert Rules, Campaign Rules, Master Rules, and Immortal Rules (all five rulesets were later consolidated into the D&D Rules Cyclopedia).

    While it is a common mistake to refer to the “Box Set Series” as “Basic D&D”, the term “Basic” is wildly inaccurate, at higher levels it is far more complicated than 2nd Ed Advanced D&D was.

    When WotC took over the brand, they decided to rebrand the game; they dropped the “Advanced”, went back to the standard D&D name, and created what they called Third Edition. Which is interesting and a bit of a misnomer, because Advanced had made it to 2nd Ed, while the Box Set still lingered at 1.

    Name/Numbering inconsistencies aside, it is interesting to me to see that they completely recycled the original red box concept into a 4e Essentials product:

    http://www.wizards.com/dnd/Product.aspx?x=dnd/products/dndacc/244660000

    So (by your fellow reader’s notions) I suppose we should start referring to the 4e Essentials line as “4e Starter”.

    -w

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  16. Darrell says:

    Yes, I am 10 months late to this party. Fine.
    Wayne is incorrect in his first paragraph; he botched that history check :). “Basic” D&D was not a response to 2e. I have played D&D since 1982 (magenta box). The red box version (1983) was when TSR (still led by Gary) really started marketing. And that was several years before AD&D 2nd edition came on the scene to kill creativity and increase revenue (because Gygax had been outmaneuvered and driven from the company).
    To be fair, Wayne did get the rest right. Technically, “Basic D&D” with the boxed sets was D&D; advanced (with PHB, DMG, MM, Deities and Demigods, …) was AD&D. We called it “Basic” as a nickname; you know, what your mates call you. And I believe him when he says that Cyclopedia was published for royalty reasons.
    In Basic, rolling up a character took all of 5 minutes. We took it for granted that each player would make 3-5 characters, about a dozen in the party. That’s a lot more attacks to go around. Even still, half (or all) of the party was dead before 2nd level. And yes, that included going back to town frequently to rest.
    FWIW, B3 – Palace of the Silver Princess was the worst of the Basic adventures – incherent and juvenile. Among the TSR staff it was referred to as Phallus of the Silver Princess. Oddly, it was the one written by a woman (Jean Wells). Some of the encounters and artwork were removed before publication, and other editting by Tom Moldvay.

    D

  17. Diego says:

    Some of the posts in this topic have been on my mind for a few years now.

    I was a DM since around 82 and it was my big fun in college in the 90s. Eventually life chased me down and dragged me away for 15 years or so. Last year I found some time to join a friends 4e campaign and I have found it is such a huge chore by comparison. The fun, creativity, and even the world story lines are less colorful and engaging as I remembered as a DM. One exercise in tactical combat in a 4 hour session per week is fairly boring by my perspective. When I was in college I would have 5-12 people waiting all week to play a campaign that went on for four years during college and also discussing all week their plans for the campaign on Friday and/or Saturday.
    I would have to prepare around 3-6 potential storyline encounters per session just in case the players moved that far along in the story and I kept around a half dozen “just in case” encounters that I saved for a rainy day. The players all had goals and stories of their own they wanted to build.
    As much more game time passed some of the PCs aged naturally and eventually switched to playing their own former npc “children” or even “grandchildren” and they began adventuring with some of the other players of the longer lived races.
    In that way they were more attached and engaged to their own characters story and were more also invested in their characters with a rich history. I have to say when the math caught up and one of them eventually died permanently it was equally devastating to the group as a whole. They survived their grief and moved on to greater adventures in the realm of faerun and many other dimensions and worlds.

    In this last year of playing 4e I have not seen any thing approaching such engagement.
    The turns are terribly long but I am not so sure its is the options as much as the limitations impressed upon the players by the cards in their hand. Having those at will,encounter, and daily combinations is way more limiting than having nothing but your wits. These are my cards and this is ALL I can do is an illusion we seem to fall for readily. Its the same illusion discussed at the beginning. ” I was bored because all I could do was throw a dagger”. Actually there is flaming oil, A bucket of water and a shocking grasp can be really nasty under the right circumstances, creative uses of rope, a juggling distraction, a magic trick, and even clever dialogue (Raistlin anyone?) might buy your fighter some time to make a good move, etc.
    The point is the imagination is nearly gone.

    I can barely recall my own player characters name and level and worse I do not even care.
    Some of the people are able to whimsically change their players characters from session to session. To me this shows they do not care about their player characters either.

    It saddens me to see how far my favorite game has fallen.
    I am not even sure why they call it a role playing game anymore because only you can play your role. Its not doled out to you by the woc character builder.

    I am considering running the old 2e moat house adventure on an off night to see if I can recapture any of that old magic.

    I do not know if that will help but I do not think it could ever worse than another pointless exercise in 4e tactical combat.
    Perhaps a step back is what is needed for some perspective.
    -R

  18. khovaros says:

    Hi, I was just shopping around for some old school character sheets and somehow stumbled across this post. I really enjoyed it. We actually under took a similar ‘back to basic’ endeavour with our group. I wrote a bit about it here: http://www.robotviking.com/2012/07/25/back-to-basics-old-school-dd/

    It was similarly lethal. I am now putting together a one-shot for my group to run through the Temple of Elemental Evil with bastardized 1e/3e/4e characters. I’m making pregens for them so I think the whole thing will work. Especially since its a one-shot and leveling up shouldn’t be an issue.

    I’m hoping it will allow for the breadth of exploration that you describe from Basic (TOEE is a big module for a one shot) with some of the tactical options of 4e as flair.

    Anyhow, great post. Now I want to go into the lost city again, just to see if I can survive.

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