Listening to old-timers describe RP in the 70s and 80s

Thomas Shey

Legend
I find it happens somewhat sooner, at the point where the PCs can afford to pay an NPC to cast Raise Dead for them.

That was unreliable on all kinds of grounds, including having the cash and a cleric of that level being anywhere they could reach. In the first case, keep in mind it wasn't uncommon when you lost someone, the group lost more than one.

Playing more than one at a time is highly recommended at low levels around here. :)

Its one of those things that back in day around where I played seem to go to one of two extremes: taken as a given, or considered a faux pas to even suggest.
 

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WolfByte

Villager
Since people are mentioning non-D&D fantasy games, how many folks actually preferred playing other fantasy RPG systems from the 70s and 80s? Our gaming group quickly graduated from D&D when we wanted to play a fantasy setting. So here's a list of 80s fantasy RPGs and the trope of dungeons...
  • RuneQuest: A visionary of a system, its Bronze Age feel, magic system, classless and skill based characters and concept of mythology is still powerful today. Dungeon diving was not so big a thing though you could go to the ruins of Pavis and Big Rubble for example
  • HarnMaster: is a more realistic and Medieval like setting. Limited magic and monsters are interesting. Dungeon romps not a thing
  • Pendragon: The first game I know of to have personality characteristics as game mechanics. Players didn't have magic, and magic was rare. Also more realistic and less fighting of supernatural monsters (unless you really did want to kill the Questing Beast). No dungeon romps
  • Middle Earth Role Playing: Tolkein, so nuff said. Not as many dungeon kind of encounters unless you went to Moria, or maybe some of the ruins of Mordor. I think there were more caves than dungeons
  • Role Master: very amusing critical hits tables. At first it didn't have it's own setting, so it depended on a homebrew world. I never wound up playing in its official settings, so I can't say much about dungeon diving
  • Powers and Perils: Highly detailed system that unfortunately only had like two supplements. Somewhat reminiscent of Runequest but with a medieval flare. I only played a handful of games, and I don't recall any dungeons from Perilous Lands though I could be mistaken
  • Ars Magica: was "what if all the myths of Medieval Europe were true?". Highly innovative game that mainstreamed troupe style play, and had/has one of the best magic systems out there
  • Warhammer FRP: perhaps the original "grim and gritty" FRP. I didn't play too much of this, though I liked all the character class options. Not sure how much dungeon diving is a thing in the setting
  • Man to Man: the direct ancestor to GURPs (so TFT -> Man to Man -> GURPs). This was more of a board/mini game than a roleplaying system, though it could be used for roleplaying. Stressed combat and came without a setting
  • GURPS 1st ed: not the first, but the one universal RP system that sticks out. Technically it had many fantasy settings, depending on which world book you got.
  • Palladium Role Playing Game: A kind of clone of AD&D. I only played a handful of games, but the setting books never felt like they were geared around dungeon diving.
Games I never played (though some I owned and have the rules for) so I don't know how much of D&D tropes they had.
  • Dragon Warriors: A UK designed game that I never got to play but it feels somewhat similar to D&D
  • Chivalry and Sorcery: I never played this, but did read the rules. Seems similar to HarnMaster above
  • Tunnels and Trolls: can't really say much on this since I never even read the rules/setting
  • The Fantasy Trip: the direct ancestor to Man to Man. Never played this one, though I bought the rules much much later when SJ Games re-released it. Seems more like a board game with some roleplaying attached like Man to Man
  • Talislanta: I never played this, though I had the rules. Lots and lots of different character races to play. Not sure if it was geared to dungeon diving or not
  • DragonQuest: never played this one and sadly the rules are no longer available to check out
D&D and eventually AD&D were our main systems in the 70's to mid 80's. There was a lot of modification of the D&D rules, though, through supplements and alternate rules like (The Complete) Warlock, Manual of Aurania, Arduin, and other LBB's. Dabbled in T&T for solo adventuring along with the Fighting Fantasy games books and played The Fantasy Trip for quick gladiatorial like games. Nothing really replaced D&D/AD&D until WFRP came along in the mid 80's and that was pretty much all we played until 5.0 came along. Several of us owned RuneQuest, DragonQuest, and Chivalry and Sorcery but as teenagers we found these systems to confusing at first glance to give them a real chance. The "realism" of Chivalry and Sorcery would occasionally come up or result in one of its tables being referenced but usually by older players.
 

Yeah, I don't ever remember playing that way. The game was quickly recognized as an RPG (stressing role) rather than a random dungeon generator. The gameplay was what created the great stories, so we tried to avoid rinse and repeat.

Back in the day we were as likely to play through a random dungeon as just roleplay our characters walking through the city streets or hanging out in the forest.

One thing that traditionally hampered our visions of what gaming was in the past is that this was all pre-internet. In the absence of communication and information (and I have been as guilty of this as the next person), it becomes too easy to assume that how we played the game was how everyone played the game back then.
 

MWLewis

Explorer
Despite all the later non game issues, you should feel regret at not having read Empire of the Petal Throne. I've read nearly everything for it. There is no setting to compare. It is the most compelling world ever created. Both Gygax and Arneson praised it highly.

Yeah, getting graph paper was hard early on. I scrounged a single piece and made my first level. None of my levels were even made on matching sheets of graph paper. It was not very pretty.
I played EPT at Davecon in April 2023. Run by Bill Hoyt, an original blackmoor player.
 

teitan

Legend
I think what we see being considered "how it was done" vs how it was done is a lot of rediscovery of rules in the DMG and learning about intent and people having vague memories. There was a lot of intent in the rules that not even TSR followed through on such as managing kingdoms as the end game for a character and the campaign continuing or the idea of 1 for 1 time being somewhat explicit for out of game time and a part of healing. I do remember my own group running multiple characters because of the slow healing and the DM telling us we couldn't use such and such character because their HP were too low and really, looking at the rules, clerics with magic were super rare. I didn't understand why. We did do a random dungeon once, didn't go well though as mapping was a nightmare. But we also played pretty OSR style, which is why I gravitate so hard to DCC and OSE over 5e or even 3.x now because calling for spot checks etc is really intrusive and ruins the verisimilitude for me. My players are all 5e players and they've adapted to and now prefer a more old school approach to the game. They feel like they have more agency as players even with the simpler characters.
 

James Gasik

We don't talk about Pun-Pun
Supporter
There's a lot of weirdness in how Gygax describes what play should be like in 1e that I never saw anywhere, like having one party member designated as a "caller", and all interactions between the other members and the DM go through this individual. Mapping almost always results in confusion, so I stopped asking my players to do it, and I never found an adequate way to track time in game- combat takes seconds, but searching a room takes 10 rounds?; even trying to track spell durations outside of combat is a huge hassle for me, lol.
 

Mannahnin

Scion of Murgen (He/Him)
There's a lot of weirdness in how Gygax describes what play should be like in 1e that I never saw anywhere, like having one party member designated as a "caller", and all interactions between the other members and the DM go through this individual. Mapping almost always results in confusion, so I stopped asking my players to do it, and I never found an adequate way to track time in game- combat takes seconds, but searching a room takes 10 rounds?; even trying to track spell durations outside of combat is a huge hassle for me, lol.
We used to do some old school mapping when I was a kid, but it was always kind of slow and annoying, and we generally phased it out. During the pandemic I played in a couple of campaigns online which did it, in one of which I was the primary mapper. It's still kind of slow, but I can see how it works once you get into a rhythm and onto the same page with the DM in terms of how things are described. Get a shared vocabulary and style of communication established and it gets easier and faster.

Having a Caller is also something I tried out a lot more in online play during the pandemic. A couple of the groups I played with had a casual procedure of electing one at the start of each session, another one we tended to default to one of the most consistent players. It makes a lot more sense when you have more than six players, especially when you've got 8+.
 

Mark Hope

Adventurer
My players are all 5e players and they've adapted to and now prefer a more old school approach to the game. They feel like they have more agency as players even with the simpler characters.
This is really interesting to read because I've had a player who started with (and still occasionally plays) 5e say this exact thing to me in the last couple days. He feels that he has far more agency in our 2e game than in the 5e games he plays. I would think this is down to how the DM allows the players to approach their characters in-game, rather than something based in the edition, but it was nevertheless interesting to hear that your players feel the same.
 

Voadam

Legend
Having a Caller is also something I tried out a lot more in online play during the pandemic. A couple of the groups I played with had a casual procedure of electing one at the start of each session, another one we tended to default to one of the most consistent players. It makes a lot more sense when you have more than six players, especially when you've got 8+.
I have enough problems with 3-5 players talking over each other in my online game (using Discord for audio), I can't imagine 8+. I would think it would be like work Zoom meetings where unless you have a really good reason to talk (presenting or directly answering questions) it is generally better to just listen so as not to keep things from moving.
 

Mannahnin

Scion of Murgen (He/Him)
I have enough problems with 3-5 players talking over each other in my online game (using Discord for audio), I can't imagine 8+. I would think it would be like work Zoom meetings where unless you have a really good reason to talk (presenting or directly answering questions) it is generally better to just listen so as not to keep things from moving.
Yes, I should have mentioned that too. Because it naturally counters the problem of people talking over each other in a group video or audio call, and imposes a turn-taking structure (DM and Caller during exploration most of the time, with individual people getting called on in an organized fashion), it really can work well there.
 

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