Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Party Up Like It's 1976!

I played the original version of D&D, the one published in the little brown booklets back in the 1970s, for the first time last night. Even though I've played clones like White Box Swords & Wizardry the old game presents a unique experience.


We were using the reissue PDFs Wizards of the Coast released a few years ago. Those versions were cleaned up with a better typeface but they still use the same layout and art that the original booklets had. I thought we were going to stick to the first three books with the core classes of the cleric, fighter and magic user. One player wanted to play a thief, another wanted to play a druid and I don't see the point of standing in the way of a player's fun while DMing so we added the class info from books 4, 5 and 6. For quicker reference I was using one of the fan made single volume versions with a better layout and art. It included some rules from Strategic Review like grappling to fill in the odd blanks as well.

We needed to dip into Greyhawk for the thief class and the rules for the druid class is spread out across Greyhawk, Blackmoor and Eldritch Wizardy!

Character generation went well. Everyone rolled a good spread of abilities with some 15s and 16s balancing out the odd 4 and 7. When it came time to roll hit points everyone rolled a 1. All of them! The fighter starts with +1 to their hit die, so she ended up with 2 and the druid had a 15 Constitution so he also added +1 for a total of 2. The thief was out of luck with only one and refused to name his character until second level. When asked he called himself Thief. This led to some odd roleplaying, but he insisted that he was named that way because everyone from his culture was named after a calamity of some kind to keep them safe from it.

In play the old rules held up. As well as the rules work in play though, the organization is a total mess. It was clearly a "make it up as we go along" project over the two years the books were published. I'll be adding tabs to the pages I need the most before the next game!

Combat was easy to run, and with everyone doing 1D6 damage it made for some creative maneuvers rather than strategic weapon choices. One of my favourite moments came when our the player with the fighter said: "Damage is always 1d6 right? So it doesn't matter if I hit the goblin with my sword or smash him into the tree with my shield?" New DMs, the answer to 'can I smash the goblin into the tree with my shield' should always be yes!

Strategy featured high as the players used hit and run tactics to keep the advantage over their foes. Surprise is a great advantage and easy to achieve if you plan for it. Without the hit points to take a hit and keep fighting they planned for it!


For all their clever tactics, the group didn't manage to do much in the way of adventuring. Being afraid to take anything on in a straight up fight left them unable to commit to entering the only dungeon they found.

Most of the first session was spent getting the lay of the land and roleplaying in the town serving as the centre of the campaign. They started by entering the frontier town called Swan's Landing by river barge. They spent some time gathering and verifying the rumours they dug up and made a quick foray into the woods on the eastern shore of the large lake called the Deepwater to raid the goblins they heard were there. After surviving that they felt they needed to find some magic. That led them to track another adventuring party across the Serpent River to the west that disappeared about a week ago. Player skill made the difference here as they asked around and found someone who saw where the other party entered the woods so they could pick up the trail easily. Their other option was to accept a Geas from the local wizard and they weren't too keen on that.

The setting itself is a small sandbox with a few secrets of its own. Everything should shake out over time. We have plenty of things for them to mess with and otherwise destroy to get us well into the New Year. I'm looking forward to seeing how things change when we add the people who were missing and get into the wilderness adventuring the party is headed for now.

So much better than the original cover!

As a system I liked it. I have pretty much everything I need to run in those first three books and the rest I can easily make up or borrow from somewhere else. It's a bit quirky, with the miniature wargaming roots really showing, but it's not like that gets in the way. There's so little there, it's not like we'll break it by ignoring a rule or two.

The single best thing in the old rules is the 2D6 based table for initial reactions and the hiring. It made for some interesting role playing moments and gave Charisma a relevance it rarely receives in later editions. People say that system doesn't matter but the existence of that table caused one player to say: "Hey, in this edition we can talk to anyone and anything and it might work out, right? I think we need to do that all the time!"

The other thing I enjoyed was the titles of the supplements. Greyhawk, Blackmoor and Eldritch Wizardry all evoke a feeling of the fantastic in a way that something newer, such as The Black Hack or Dungeon World, does not.

This foundation RPG project is going well so far. Everyone enjoyed it and delving into the OD&D game should give our whole group a new perspective. If you are interested in how one of my players found it, you can check out their post here.