Reading AD&D 1e Again for the First Time
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  1. #1

    Reading AD&D 1e Again for the First Time

    NOTE: I typed a long, detailed, beautifully written (IMHO ) post which I promptly deleted accidentally. I felt sick about it. So this post is a truncated version, which may actually be better in the end, since it will be shorter and more to the point. Brevity is the soul of wit, and all that.

    ***

    I have decided to spend the next several months (perhaps as long as 10 months or so) reading, studying, and re-learning AD&D 1e. I first played the game as a kid way back in 1980/81 at the tender age of 10. Naturally, we ignored most of the rules and went crazy doing all manner of things that weren't by the RAW. But AD&D 1e (along with GAMMA WORLD 1e and Moldvay/Cook B/X D&D) has always held a strong, powerful, place in my heart.

    Lately I've been reading the 1e AD&D DUNGEON MASTERS GUIDE (no apostrophe in 'masters' ) by the great E. Gary Gygax. As a 37-year-old veteran gamer I am truly reading this old book as if it were the first time; my adult eyes are seeing things my 10-year-old brain would never have noticed, and I am appreciating this magnificent book in ways that would have been beyond me as a kid.

    So here's the plan: spend 6-10 months just taking my time, no rush, learning the rules and doing fun stuff like creating character record sheets, etc. Run a few sample combats with miniatures to get the "feel" of the system. Then get out there and try to recruit players.

    Eeeeeek! I'm pumped.

    Now, your folks' feedback is important to me (which is why I'm posting this rather than writing it in a diary ) so let me close with three questions:

    1. The "one spell a day" thing about 1st and 2nd level magic-users has always bugged me about AD&D 1e (and for that matter, 2e). I just don't like the idea that the magic user has his one, lonely little spell which, once casted, renders him a weak, fleshy target until the following day. I remember that, as kids, we beefed up magic-users through a very nifty in-game process: the young 1st level apprentice was given a healthy heaping of scrolls and wands from his mentor as a "parting gift". "Use them wisely, and you may survive," he was told. Does anyone have any thoughts on this issue?

    2. In combat, why would PCs ever declare their action to be "set weapons to receive a charge"? Because as I read the RAW, it seems that actions in combat are declared BEFORE knowing what the monsters are going to do (thus giving a more simultaneous feel to things). But wouldn't setting weapons to receive a charge be the kind of thing the PCs would only do in RESPONSE to seeing the monsters charge?

    3. I can't envision how an assassin can work as a PC class. I remember reading an article David 'Zeb' Cook wrote in DRAGON to the same effect, that assassins, by their very nature, were counter-productive to the concept of a heroic, unified party. Does anyone have experience in making the evil assassin class workable within a party?

    Anyway, that's it for now. Watch this thread for more developments as I read AD&D 1e again . . . for the first time.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Simon Atavax View Post
    1. The "one spell a day" thing about 1st and 2nd level magic-users has always bugged me about AD&D 1e (and for that matter, 2e). I just don't like the idea that the magic user has his one, lonely little spell which, once casted, renders him a weak, fleshy target until the following day. I remember that, as kids, we beefed up magic-users through a very nifty in-game process: the young 1st level apprentice was given a healthy heaping of scrolls and wands from his mentor as a "parting gift". "Use them wisely, and you may survive," he was told. Does anyone have any thoughts on this issue?
    A few scrolls and perhaps a wand with a few charges should work ok. Remember that an AD&D Sleep spell is very powerful encoounter-ending bit of magic. Having the magic user not toss that out several encounters per day is a balancing factor. The magic user must be comfortable with being weak at first in order to achieve power. AD&D is not a game with balance that must built in on a per round basis.

    Quote Originally Posted by Simon Atavax View Post
    2. In combat, why would PCs ever declare their action to be "set weapons to receive a charge"? Because as I read the RAW, it seems that actions in combat are declared BEFORE knowing what the monsters are going to do (thus giving a more simultaneous feel to things). But wouldn't setting weapons to receive a charge be the kind of thing the PCs would only do in RESPONSE to seeing the monsters charge?
    A weapon set to receive charge can easily be used otherwise at short notice. The declaration of actions is primarily in place for spell casters.

    Quote Originally Posted by Simon Atavax View Post
    3. I can't envision how an assassin can work as a PC class. I remember reading an article David 'Zeb' Cook wrote in DRAGON to the same effect, that assassins, by their very nature, were counter-productive to the concept of a heroic, unified party. Does anyone have experience in making the evil assassin class workable within a party?
    If I remember correctly that article was written in defense of a 2nd Edition decision to get rid of assassins as a class. It was a cop-out to the real reason that the class was removed-it was the same reason demons and devils became "fiends"

    Anyhow, while I didn't agree with the reasons for removal at the time I can see why they should not be a class. IMHO its because thier abilities are too specialized to justify a separate class and nothing to do with counter productivity. Assassins skills are simply that. If those skills are used to simply make money then it can be evil. If those skills are used for the forces of good to take out evil priests, demons, ect. then there isn't as much disruption with good/vs evil although paladins will have issues
    To me its who you kill and why that is the moral question, not the tactics used to do it.

    I would use assassin abilities to supplement the skills of the thief class and make a thief-assassin option similar to the thief-acrobat from UA.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Simon Atavax View Post
    3. I can't envision how an assassin can work as a PC class. I remember reading an article David 'Zeb' Cook wrote in DRAGON to the same effect, that assassins, by their very nature, were counter-productive to the concept of a heroic, unified party. Does anyone have experience in making the evil assassin class workable within a party?
    No, I agree with you. The only time I've seen an assassin used effectively was when I played one in a one-on-one game.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Fifth Element View Post
    No, I agree with you. The only time I've seen an assassin used effectively was when I played one in a one-on-one game.
    That, right there, is the reason to have assassins.

    A party of assassins leads to a similar type of game.

    Sure, it could be done with thieves, but...

  5. #5
    Quote Originally Posted by Simon Atavax View Post
    1. I just don't like the idea that the magic user has his one, lonely little spell which, once casted, renders him a weak, fleshy target until the following day. I remember that, as kids, we beefed up magic-users through a very nifty in-game process: the young 1st level apprentice was given a healthy heaping of scrolls and wands from his mentor as a "parting gift". "Use them wisely, and you may survive," he was told. Does anyone have any thoughts on this issue?
    If you want to beef up low-level magic users, giving them wands and scrolls is an excellent way to do it (not least because those are finite resources). I also allow "special effects", which are very minor cantrip-like effects related to any spells the magic user has memorized.

    2. In combat, why would PCs ever declare their action to be "set weapons to receive a charge"...But wouldn't setting weapons to receive a charge be the kind of thing the PCs would only do in RESPONSE to seeing the monsters charge?
    Not necessarily. I could certainly see PCs setting weapons against a potential charge before a charge actually took place.

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    1. It's a perspective and immersion thing -- for a 1st level magic-user, think of it as, essentially YOU in the dungeon, with no special skills or talents or equipment (except whatever Boy Scout or MacGyver-ish gear you may have thought to bring along -- rope, tinderbox, etc.) relying purely on your wits to survive and prosper. You can't fight these monsters -- you have to either trick them, befriend them, or run away from them. The same with traps -- if you get caught in a trap you're screwed, so you need to do everything you can to make sure that doesn't happen. Playing a 1st level magic-user is HARD because you have zero room for error -- the first mistake you make will almost certainly be the last -- but it's also fun, because it's the most immediate -- a 1st level m-u is the closest you'll ever get to actually playing yourself in the dungeon. And if, against all those odds, you do manage to survive, through quick thinking and probably at least a bit of luck, you'll feel better about yourself, that you beat the odds and actually accomplished something.

    2. In 1E AD&D if you're more than 10' apart there are on;y 2 ways to get into melee range: 1) charge; 2) spend a full round closing to melee range (meaning you can't attack and can't be attacked (unless someone charges you) until the next round. Therefore, if at the start of the round your opponents aren't in melee range then they're either going to stay disengaged (firing missiles or spells), charge you, or spend the round closing. If you think #2 is most likely, and you have a spear, you can set it against the charge and, if you guessed correctly, get first strike and score double damage if you hit. If you guessed incorrectly and the enemy stays disengaged then you've lost your action for the round (you could have fired a missile, charged, or closed instead); if you guessed incorrectly and the enemy closed normally instead of charging then both you and the enemy have effectively lost your actions for the round (you could have fired a missile or charged; if you and the enemy had both chosen to close with each other then it's a wash (though if you're using minis both should be placed in the middle instead of moving one all the way to meet the other)). It's a tactical decision, based on what you think the enemy is likely to do.

    3. Fundamentally you're right, and by-and-large the assassin class doesn't really work as a PC and would probably have been better relegated to NPC-only status, or at least labeled as optional rather than included as part of the default core. However, in a particular set of circumstances assassin PCs can work: as originally envisioned, AD&D campaigns weren't like what they generally are nowadays where the same 5 or 6 players get together every week to play the same 5 or 6 characters who've been adventuring together since 1st level and every time one of them dies he's immediately replaced by 1 new character, likely of the same class. The original assumed AD&D campaign structure was much more like the West Marches, where there was a fluid player-base not of 5 or 6 guys but of maybe 15 or 20, and the makeup of which players and which characters would participate varied from session to session. Sometimes you'd have 15 players get together for the 1E equivalent of a "boss raid," usually you'd get 3-6 players with compatible characters (and note that the most active players tended to have multiple characters so they'd always have someone available who could fit into a party with whatever other players were available -- different classes, different alignments, different levels), and sometimes you'd get 1 or 2 players off operating on their own. Some characters, and even some players, might well never overlap even though they're all in the same campaign. In a setup like this (and pretty much only in a setup like this) an assassin character can work -- he mostly operates on his own or with other evil characters, but occasionally he'll temporarily join up with a party of other adventurers who don't know what he really is -- perhaps "honestly" (functioning as a de facto thief) or perhaps with some devious ulterior motive -- to cheat, betray, or even outright assassinate the other PCs (the assassin character could very well have been hired, by an NPC or another PC, to do just that).

  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by T. Foster View Post
    Playing a 1st level magic-user is HARD...but it's also fun, because it's the most immediate -- a 1st level m-u is the closest you'll ever get to actually playing yourself in the dungeon...
    I agree with everything you said about playing a low-level magic user. I recently played one in a Swords & Wizardry game (playing is a treat for me -- historically, I'm almost *always* the DM), and loved it for all the reasons you describe.

    I did well through multiple excursions, charming men-at-arms to aid me, charming gate-guards to avoid taxes, sleep-nuking goblins all over the place, et cetera. Sadly, I did make a mistake, last session. I got complacent (and greedy) and walked up to look in an open chest, myself, without checking everything out, first. A giant tick dropped on me from the cavern ceiling and took me down.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Simon Atavax View Post
    2. In combat, why would PCs ever declare their action to be "set weapons to receive a charge"? Because as I read the RAW, it seems that actions in combat are declared BEFORE knowing what the monsters are going to do (thus giving a more simultaneous feel to things). But wouldn't setting weapons to receive a charge be the kind of thing the PCs would only do in RESPONSE to seeing the monsters charge?
    I assume you understand the mechanical reasons for doing this -- you can't declare after a charge, because you've already been charged by that point.

    I can see several in-character reasons for doing so:

    1. You have reason to expect that the enemy will charge. In this case, assuming you don't want to advance or charge yourself, might as well be ready. What is served by waiting until the charge has begun before readying yourself?

    2. Setting weapons may actively discourage a charge. If the enemy is readying itself to charge, and then sees you readying yourself to receive a charge and inflict hideous damage, they may rethink and cancel their action.

    3. You want to defend a position and maintain group coherency. Anyone without ranged weapons might as well provide themselves with the most defensible posture they can.

    4. You want to parley, but you also you want to have a defensible position, and display a strong posture. An enemy that understands the tactical advantages of readied weapons may be more inclined to treat you with respect. Especially if the group shows military cohesion and discipline as they run through their "Set To Repulse -- Forward" drill.

  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by SableWyvern View Post
    I assume you understand the mechanical reasons for doing this -- you can't declare after a charge, because you've already been charged by that point.

    2. Setting weapons may actively discourage a charge. If the enemy is readying itself to charge, and then sees you readying yourself to receive a charge and inflict hideous damage, they may rethink and cancel their action.
    Are enemies in fact allowed to do this? I don't have my DMG handy, but I thought I read there that Gygax instructs DM's not to change the action of the monsters based on what the characters decide to do. So, in other words, if the characters tell the DM "We're gonna set our spears hard in case they charge," and the DM had already (privately) decided the monsters would charge, he should have the monsters charge, regardless of what the PCs have declared.

    But I could be wrong. I'm reading the books for the first "serious" time since the early 80s.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Simon Atavax View Post
    Are enemies in fact allowed to do this? I don't have my DMG handy, but I thought I read there that Gygax instructs DM's not to change the action of the monsters based on what the characters decide to do. So, in other words, if the characters tell the DM "We're gonna set our spears hard in case they charge," and the DM had already (privately) decided the monsters would charge, he should have the monsters charge, regardless of what the PCs have declared.

    But I could be wrong. I'm reading the books for the first "serious" time since the early 80s.
    Could well be. I'm currently reading the books for the first serious time ever. In any event, they certainly couldn't change their action to something else. If cancelling a monster action is allowed, it would defeinitely mean giving up their actions for the entire round.

    Edit to add: I'd generally be inclined to charge any monsters that had intended to do so. I'd be most inclined to cancel a charge in a situation where the PCs were hoping to parley, and seeing weapons set against them might be enough to convince them to give it a try. Which, now that I think of it, is a situation where the DM is definitely expected to alter monster actions from their declaration -- if a monster that has declared an aggressive action has to follow through, success parleying becomes nearly impossible when you don't have surprise.

    Further edit: Although, I suppose you could consider a successful parley to be a PC action that cancels a monster's planned action.
    Last edited by SableWyvern; Monday, 3rd November, 2008 at 07:57 AM.

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