Surviving A Dangerous Night Of Gaming With Original Dungeons & Dragons
  • Surviving A Dangerous Night Of Gaming With Original Dungeons & Dragons


    Last night our gaming group started a new game, dipping deep into the history of tabletop role-playing games we had decided to go for a game using the Original Dungeon & Dragons rules. The group has flirted around the edges of the ruleset with various retroclones over the years, but it has probably been a good thirty years since I've directly played the game. We had three players and the DM, and a night of adventure.


    We used the PDFs that are currently available through OneBookShelf, which are the "cleaned up" versions of the books that were made for the premium OD&D boxed set that Wizards of the Coast put out a couple of years ago. You can get the core rules, and we used Greyhawk because I wanted to play a thief and one of the other players wanted to play a druid, so that brought Blackmoor into play. There are a couple of little bits and pieces in Eldritch Wizardry, but honestly I don't think that it or the OD&D version of Deities & Demigods are as important to play a game of Original D&D as the three core books, and the first two supplements.

    Don't get me wrong, there are good things in Eldritch Wizardry (for the GM, at least). The monster lists were expanded by the various types of demons that have been central to the game (except for that period where the game tried to disavow demons and devils), but more importantly to the history of the game, Eldritch Wizardry features the official first appearance of the mind flayer in the game. There was a mention of the mind flayers in The Strategic Review, but this was their official appearance in the rules themselves.

    As a resource for the DM, there can be an argument for the use of Eldritch Wizardry. The new monsters are an important step in the game's evolution. However, the player-facing parts of the book, the introduction of psionics into the game, are a hot mess. Although I was a fan of games like Psi-World, and television shows like The Tomorrow People, I've never really liked to include psionics in D&D games. Their overly complicated presentation in the first edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons books (based strongly on how they appeared in Eldritch Wizardry) are probably what influenced my thoughts on psionics in the game. The payoff for using the rules in a game were minimal in light of the added complication, so a lot of people just didn't use the psionics rules. Thankfully, the rules have been developed into a better direction in successive editions of the game.

    I think that it is upon the completion of these five booklets that the game recognizable to contemporary gamers as Dungeons & Dragons as they know it. You don't get the thief as a class, which I think is a key part of Dungeons & Dragons as a dungeon crawling adventure game, until Greyhawk, and with Blackmoor you get the druid and the assassin as characters. Greyhawk is also the point at which hit dice and damage dice are broken out of "D6 for everything," and we start to see the various character classes take on their own unique shapes. Using just the core rules, you could often end up with a cleric who was a better "fighter" than the fighter themselves, and the changes in Greyhawk, primarily with the increase to using a D8 for their hit dice, meant that fighters could stand out from the pack in more ways.

    The flaw to using the "original" texts (while the OD&D releases from a few years ago did keep the original edition's art, they did redo the typesetting to clean things up) is that the organization of the books is haphazard. It can be difficult to find things in these books during play. During our session, each of us had a difficult time at different times finding things in the files (including the DM). In this way, 0E (as Original Dungeons & Dragons) retroclones like Chris Gonnerman's Iron Falcon rules are superior because of their better organization and presentation of the rules. Another nice thing about retroclones like Iron Falcon is that they take into consideration the rolling changes to the rules from the supplemental books, which means that the game is probably closer to what contemporary gamers think of as being Dungeons & Dragons than the core rules would do.

    This cleaned up approach, with better rules presentation, is what attracts me more to retroclones instead of the original editions of the games anymore. Instead of Original Dungeons & Dragons, I would rather play Iron Falcon. Instead of B/X D&D, I would rather play Labyrinth Lord. I don't really have much in the way of nostalgia towards these games themselves, so when I play them having the cleaned up rules really helps.

    The session of the game went better than we expected actually. The character creation phase of things was…interesting. Of the three characters, the "hardiest" of them had only two hit points. The other two characters had one. The DM did throw out a lot of options for what our characters might want to do going forward. If you haven't played in a sandbox type of campaign, the idea is that the game's "story" develops in an emergent style, rather than a linear style like with many published adventures. This does give more flexibility to the DM, as many adventure paths tend to not survive interaction with the player characters.

    To be honest, I didn't expect that my one hit point character would survive the evening, to the extent that I didn't even bother to name my character calling him thief. When pressed in game, I had my character explain to a sheriff that the reason why he was named "Thief" was similar to those cultures where children are named after diseases, or calamities, as a way to keep those things from happening to them. The sheriff was skeptical about my character's explanation.

    Our characters spent a lot of time in the local inn scavenging for rumors and things to do. There were cool sounding rumors, like a necromancer being in the vicinity, but ultimately it seemed too dangerous to our overly fragile characters. We ended up deciding upon a raiding party to raise some money via the sheriff's bounty on goblins. We found an enclave of goblins, and through a combination of luck and planning, we managed to survive the encounter. Knowing that my character would likely die in any sort of close combat, I instead picked the short bow as his weapon. A couple of lucky hits, combined with the bonus for a thief's surprise attack ability, allowed my character to pick off a couple of the goblins, while the fighter and druid dispatched the remainder.

    The fighting was nerve-wracking for us, because we all knew that if the rolls were reversed, that our characters would be the ones who would be dead on the forest floor. This demonstrates how you have to approach combat differently in OD&D than you do in other editions. One complaint about Original Dungeons & Dragons is that player skill is more important than the capabilities of the characters. I think that this can definitely be true, particularly in the case of low level OD&D characters. You cannot approach a fight in OD&D in the same way that you might in more recent editions of Dungeons & Dragons. You can't just keep throwing a character against a conflict until something breaks in Original D&D like you can in more recent editions of the game. Trying that approach will just lead to dead characters. There are enough dead characters littering our previous campaigns to demonstrate this point. The DM does have to work a little bit harder in OD&D to keep player knowledge from having a dramatic impact on the game, since it is a part of the game. If you're used to playing more recent games you might not be used to having that line between good and bad character knowledge, and if it is something that you're not used to having to deal with as a GM it can cause headaches as everyone gets used to the differences in the styles of play.

    Ultimately it was a good night. Everyone had fun, and the characters managed to survive their encounter with the fictional game world. Will they survive the next session? Who knows. Like I said earlier, none of us expected to have our characters survive this first session. But we played the game hard, and we played it in what we thought was a smart way, and that helped us, and our characters.
    Comments 31 Comments
    1. murquhart72's Avatar
      murquhart72 -
      If you peruse http://odd74.proboards.com/ you can find TONS of views and advice on how this version of the game is best played. Even if you don't play it often, the forums can be quite an eye-opener of experience and history.
    1. Olgar Shiverstone's Avatar
      Olgar Shiverstone -
      So, were the Chainmail combat rules used?
    1. Random Bystander's Avatar
      Random Bystander -
      There is an old video game, Crusaders of Might and Magic. It is essentially a linear hallway with plot progression. The plot itself is has a few twists, but you will probably see them coming from a long way off. And yet, it is a game I have completed more than once, for one simple reason:

      The monsters are out to murder you. They do not wait patiently. They do not "take turns". They do not deliberately miss on the first attack. You gain no damage or armour bonus when your health is low. They will gang up on you and slaughter you like a fish in a barrel if you give them a chance, even at high levels.

      This means that combat is always tense, always a matter of split seconds... And always exciting.
    1. jedijon's Avatar
      jedijon -
      Tell me more about this "good player knowledge" vs bad - and how that's more prevalent in this edition?

      I'm used to the idea of metagaming. I'm unfamiliar with, having never played, this edition. I'm interested in what you mean, and can't yet picture how a player's knowledge of monster names, habits, or even statistics could vary through different systems of rules.

      ?

      Now, if you told me [for example] that one game has a monster manual (mindflayer, ac 21, likes to dominate other creatures), and another game featured procedurally generated threats on demand...well you could tell me anything and I'd believe you.

      Except for cyborg gamers and an AI DM.

      Because everyone KNOWS they don't have pencils in the future.

      Although I hear they're better than pens in space...
    1. Kobold Boots -
      Quote Originally Posted by jedijon View Post
      Tell me more about this "good player knowledge" vs bad - and how that's more prevalent in this edition?

      I'm used to the idea of metagaming. I'm unfamiliar with, having never played, this edition. I'm interested in what you mean, and can't yet picture how a player's knowledge of monster names, habits, or even statistics could vary through different systems of rules.

      ?

      Now, if you told me [for example] that one game has a monster manual (mindflayer, ac 21, likes to dominate other creatures), and another game featured procedurally generated threats on demand...well you could tell me anything and I'd believe you.

      Except for cyborg gamers and an AI DM.

      Because everyone KNOWS they don't have pencils in the future.

      Although I hear they're better than pens in space...
      Speaking only on my own experiences

      Player knowledge of monsters is a big deal when:
      1. One bad encounter can kill a party (same in all editions)
      2. Hit points are very low and character abilities are very basic ( more likely in earlier editions )
      3. An evening's event could be very short. One or two encounters

      So if the vibe of the game is "this is dangerous" and not "we'll blow some healing surges and be ok", then knowledge of the world is huge and experience of the DM in dealing with player tangents is very important. When playing 3E and later editions it's very rare for me to drastically change monster stats beyond HP. When playing 2E and earlier editions, I would more routinely change monster stats and develop storylines around how the ecology is different and why.

      If a character would have first-hand knowledge of something (favoured enemy) due to experiencing the particular beastie in game, then perfectly fine. But if that knowledge would not exist in game, then I wouldn't want the group to have it. Flavor.

      Seems like there was way more need to make sure that things were happening either "in-game" or "out-of-game" when speaking at the table too.. but that's not relevant to the basic reply and probably just a matter of table culture.

      KB
    1. Ralif Redhammer's Avatar
      Ralif Redhammer -
      When I last ran an OD&D session, I limited it to the first three books (I actually loved the “all weapons do 1d6 damage” part) as I had already run a 1e campaign.

      I’ll agree that the original books would be tough to understand without knowing what came after – it was very easy to fill in the gaps that way.

      Anyway, we had only two character deaths, but it definitely required smarter play rather than brute force with abilities and powers.

      Would love to run another session of it sometime.
    1. Random Bystander's Avatar
      Random Bystander -
      It should be entirely possible to play later games in an earlier style when it comes to the threats... Or, in the case of 3.X, challenge. Specifically, challenge rating. A CR of 1 is expected to deplete a small amount of resources (about 20%) for a party of 4 PCs. Left unstated is that said PCs are expected to be ones that fill the classic roles of Cleric, Fighter, "Thief"/Rogue, and "Magic-User".

      We then have 4 creatures facing 1 creature. Doubling the number of creatures adds +2 to the CR. So, 4 creatures facing 4 creatures is a CR +4 encounter. CR +4 encounters are rare. CR +5 encounters are very rare. We may then derive that in 3.X, a challenge equal to the party is rare, and a challenge sizably more capable (~+40%) is very rare.

      Then, to backtrack to older editions of the game, where PCs were expected to die during the early levels, we set 1 CR = 1 PC of an equal Character Level. The acquisition of spells to raise the dead, or the resources to pay for same, account for the diminished lethality of later levels.

      Thus, a party of 4 PCs can expect to face, for example, 4 orcs, or 8 goblins, in an average encounter. Negotiation, strategy, tactics, logistics, and the better part of valour then become much more important.
    1. Kobold Boots -
      Quote Originally Posted by Random Bystander View Post
      It should be entirely possible to play later games in an earlier style when it comes to the threats...
      No one said that you couldn't - kthxbye.
    1. Lanefan -
      Quote Originally Posted by Random Bystander View Post
      It should be entirely possible to play later games in an earlier style when it comes to the threats...
      To a point, but nowhere near to the extent posted in the article.

      The three PCs in the poster's party have a combined total of 4 h.p.; and this in a system where you die at 0. Each of them is a true one-hit wonder, killable by a determined housecat should it be so inclined. (well, maybe the 2 h.p. guy could put up a fight...) Later editions as written simply can't match this.

      Starting with 3e all D&D characters now have either max h.p. at 1st level or some other jump-up such that they can usually survive at least one non-critical hit from something. These guys can't, which leads to...
      Negotiation, strategy, tactics, logistics, and the better part of valour then become much more important.
      ...this.

      Lanefan
    1. Ed Laprade's Avatar
      Ed Laprade -
      Luck has as much, if not more, to do with surviving at low levels as skill of any kind. When one hit can kill you, characters die often. (I lost at least a dozen characters due to spider bites back in the day. And waiting to name characters -other than Joe, Joe2, Joe3, etc.- was quite common. If a character got to 2nd or 3rd level, he got a name.)
    1. Koloth's Avatar
      Koloth -
      Played a modified version of OD&D at a KC convention last Spring. Brought back memories of my first games in college. One big difference between OD&D and 3.x and later is the penalty of level drain. OD&D drains were permanent baring some very hard to obtain high level magic. Depending on character progress toward the next level, a drain could cost nearly 2 levels worth of XP.
    1. Random Bystander's Avatar
      Random Bystander -
      Quote Originally Posted by Lanefan View Post
      To a point, but nowhere near to the extent posted in the article.

      The three PCs in the poster's party have a combined total of 4 h.p.; and this in a system where you die at 0. Each of them is a true one-hit wonder, killable by a determined housecat should it be so inclined. (well, maybe the 2 h.p. guy could put up a fight...) Later editions as written simply can't match this.

      Starting with 3e all D&D characters now have either max h.p. at 1st level or some other jump-up such that they can usually survive at least one non-critical hit from something. These guys can't, which leads to...
      ...this.

      Lanefan
      You are correct in that it takes two swings to down a 3.X PC. However, that is trivial to fix, by requiring either a roll for hit points, or backwards-extrapolation of the alternate rules for average HP gain per level. With an average Fighter 1 having 7 HP, a single longsword swing of 1d8+2 stands a 37.5% chance of dropping the PC to "dying". By saying "trivial to fix", I do not mean to imply that, from this perspective, there is no problem; the existence of a fix logically states the existence of a problem.

      With regards to creatures dying at 0 HP in earlier editions, this is an abstraction to avoid uncomfortable questions of "do we slit the dying orcs' throat, or provide medical care?" Most people who play 3.X house-rule that back in, often without thinking about it, and have only PCs and some important NPCs actually encounter the "dying" state.

      It is entirely correct that earlier editions were deadlier, or more deleterious to characters, in other ways that would be considerably harder to fix.

      Quoting only part of the post leaves the implication that the unquoted text is irrelevant to the discussion at hand, which is not true in this case.
    1. Lanefan -
      Quote Originally Posted by Random Bystander View Post
      You are correct in that it takes two swings to down a 3.X PC. However, that is trivial to fix, by requiring either a roll for hit points, or backwards-extrapolation of the alternate rules for average HP gain per level. With an average Fighter 1 having 7 HP, a single longsword swing of 1d8+2 stands a 37.5% chance of dropping the PC to "dying".
      With 2 two of the PCs in this 0e game having 1 h.p. each, a single anything swing that does any damage at all stands a 100% chance of dropping the PC to "dead".

      By saying "trivial to fix", I do not mean to imply that, from this perspective, there is no problem; the existence of a fix logically states the existence of a problem.

      With regards to creatures dying at 0 HP in earlier editions, this is an abstraction to avoid uncomfortable questions of "do we slit the dying orcs' throat, or provide medical care?" Most people who play 3.X house-rule that back in, often without thinking about it, and have only PCs and some important NPCs actually encounter the "dying" state.
      0e as written doesn't have a "dying" state. You go from fine at 1 h.p. to dead at 0 h.p. It wasn't till 1e that we got the (very widely used IME) death at -10 option.

      It is entirely correct that earlier editions were deadlier, or more deleterious to characters, in other ways that would be considerably harder to fix.
      But that are still fixable. Putting level loss into 5e , for example, would be a trivial add; as would putting in save-or-die effects and taking out "save ends" as a duration in favour of fixed lengths of time. Doing away with 5e's various death saves and going to a 0e dead-at-0 or even 1e's dead-at-minus-10 is also trivially easy to do. Then random-roll h.p. at every level and you're more or less good to go.

      Lanefan
    1. R_Chance's Avatar
      R_Chance -
      Well, Blackmoor gave us the Assassin and the Monk. Eldritch Wizardry introduced the Druid. Unless senility has set in... *sigh* Now, I have to go check...

      *edit* And I'm not senile. Good thing, I have too much grading to do tonight. Of course, if I forgot about it...it would just be waiting for me tomorrow.
    1. Random Bystander's Avatar
      Random Bystander -
      Quote Originally Posted by Lanefan View Post
      With 2 two of the PCs in this 0e game having 1 h.p. each, a single anything swing that does any damage at all stands a 100% chance of dropping the PC to "dead".
      Your statement regarding hit points does not contradict my statement regarding hit dice.

      With a base weapon damage of 1d8 (Longsword) and a hit dice of 1d8 (Fighter), the odds do not actually change.
      Quote Originally Posted by Lanefan View Post
      0e as written doesn't have a "dying" state. You go from fine at 1 h.p. to dead at 0 h.p. It wasn't till 1e that we got the (very widely used IME) death at -10 option.
      ...Yes? I never said it did. What I did do is explain the reason behind that abstraction, and point out that, with regard to "monster deaths", most groups already play with "0 is dead" in 3.X.
      Quote Originally Posted by Lanefan View Post
      But that are still fixable. Putting level loss into 5e , for example, would be a trivial add; as would putting in save-or-die effects and taking out "save ends" as a duration in favour of fixed lengths of time. Doing away with 5e's various death saves and going to a 0e dead-at-0 or even 1e's dead-at-minus-10 is also trivially easy to do. Then random-roll h.p. at every level and you're more or less good to go.

      Lanefan
      I never stated it was not fixable. I stated that "...[it] would be considerably harder to fix." In addition, I contend the following points:

      1) Putting level loss into 5e is not a trivial change, considering the number of monsters that would have to be changed, and the spells that would have to be changed or re-introduced.
      2) Putting in save-or-die effects is not a trivial change, considering the same.
      3) Again, changing that many spells is not trivial.
      4) Agreed.
      5) Good to know we agree here.

      Confused - And dropping it.
    1. Hussar's Avatar
      Hussar -
      Quote Originally Posted by Kobold Boots View Post
      No one said that you couldn't - kthxbye.
      That's a bit on the aggressive side don't you think? Not sure what Randombystander said to deserve that much hostility. "kthxbye" indeed.

      Sounds like you folks had a lot of fun. Back in the day, we just ignored the whole "random hp at 1st level" and gave PC's max. Probably the first house rule we ever made. Just got sick of blowing through characters like Cheetos.
    1. aramis erak's Avatar
      aramis erak -
      Quote Originally Posted by Random Bystander View Post
      Your statement regarding hit points does not contradict my statement regarding hit dice.

      With a base weapon damage of 1d8 (Longsword) and a hit dice of 1d8 (Fighter), the odds do not actually change.
      An "Unsupplemented OE D&D" fighter has 1d6+1 HP, not 1d8, adjusted by ±1 for Con. So, 1 to 8 range, vs Sup I d8-1 to d8+3 for 1 to 11...

      Likewise, all hits do 1d6±1 (+1 if Str 16+, -1 if 6-) without regard to weapon type.

      That level of lethality is absent mechanically in all later editions. Including "OE + Supplement I"

      Quote Originally Posted by Hussar View Post
      That's a bit on the aggressive side don't you think? Not sure what Randombystander said to deserve that much hostility. "kthxbye" indeed.

      Sounds like you folks had a lot of fun. Back in the day, we just ignored the whole "random hp at 1st level" and gave PC's max. Probably the first house rule we ever made. Just got sick of blowing through characters like Cheetos.
      We used minimum half... and still had a 30% or higher death rate at level 1.
    1. Koloth's Avatar
      Koloth -
      Another big difference between the early and later versions is character creation. Originally, you rolled 3d6 for each stat in order and were stuck with the result. A frequent house rule was roll 6 sets of 3d6 and allocate the results as you saw fit. Some generous DMs allowed 4d6 drop lowest. Compared to the point systems current systems embrace, early version characters were often flawed from creation. Coupled with the higher deadliness of encounters, probably one of the reasons so many 1st level OD&D characters became Orc snacks.
    1. rmcoen's Avatar
      rmcoen -
      Quote Originally Posted by Hussar View Post
      That's a bit on the aggressive side don't you think? Not sure what Randombystander said to deserve that much hostility. "kthxbye" indeed.

      Sounds like you folks had a lot of fun. Back in the day, we just ignored the whole "random hp at 1st level" and gave PC's max. Probably the first house rule we ever made. Just got sick of blowing through characters like Cheetos.
      Our college house rule was "75%". d8 = 6hp, d4 = 3hp. No rolling. Having popcorn characters resulted in very little investment in the characters, their relationship to the world, and in role-playing. We got silly caricatures, little commitment to the campaign (player attendance), and no care for the story. All of this we considered "bad", even the players that were primarily hack-and-slashers.

      On the other hand, 20hp 1st level 4e characters, with guaranteed 100% healing... that's too much the other way. We house-ruled in lasting crits -- hp damage from a critical hit heals at 1hp per spell level, or 1hp per level per day... and *only* when your "normal hp" are at max. so the 190hp level 24 fighter who took a "mere" 25-pt max-damage crit from the demonic black widow spider last session (2d8+9) [compared to the 50-70 the PCs dish out on a crit] had to first spend a full night getting to 165, then another day to get to 189, then get "topped off" with a healing word from the cleric. Getting healed right after the fight would have exhausted the priest's powerful magics, or taken about 2 hours of "healing word x3, rest, repeat.

      [The idea was stolen from Rolemaster - or Chartmaster, as we called it - and imperfectly bolted onto D&D.]

      But having characters with 8hp that die instantly... why develop a backstory? Or, as another poster said, "Until Joe8 hits maybe 3rd or 4th level, he doesn't get a name."


      Having said all that... in another thread, I noted that as a GM, I want something in between 0e's one-hit wonders (which does, I admit, lead to more thoughtful planning and care when approaching combat) and 4e's "I can't be killed, let me draft up a 6-page background..." I want well-integrated characters in an interesting-but dangerous world, where combat is *probably* going to favor the heroes, but death is always a possibility. Ever played The Witcher 3 on PC? Even at the end of the game, when you are a total bada$$ with awesome gear and lots of skill investment... four bandits and a brash attitude will get you killed!
    1. Kobold Boots -
      Quote Originally Posted by Hussar View Post
      That's a bit on the aggressive side don't you think? Not sure what Randombystander said to deserve that much hostility. "kthxbye" indeed
      One person's aggressive is another person's dismissive. Since you're asking my opinion, no, I don't think it's aggressive at all.

      Back on point: I'm glad the reviewer had a good time with the product. I'm a fan of the different editions for the different styles of play they align to.
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