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D&D 1E Seriously contemplating an attempt at a retro AD&D


Victoria Rules
You need the three core rulebooks and I would highly recommend Unearthed Arcana; don't use everything, and I can't even really recommend specifically anything, but you should at least read the book and make a conscious decision about each component part.
Hard to make those conscious decisions without knowing the system well, however, and the OP is coming in new.

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For the PHB, DMG, MM (though I have the first one, an old copy from the ‘70s that my father-in-law gave me), and UA, should I find TSR-era printings, or are the WotC rereleases superior?


Staff member
For the PHB, DMG, MM (though I have the first one, an old copy from the ‘70s that my father-in-law gave me), and UA, should I find TSR-era printings, or are the WotC rereleases superior?
I don’t remember WotC releasing reprints of AD&D books, but if they did, they’re probably in better condition.


How inconvenient
With regard to the old-school “hack-and-slash” dungeon I mentioned upthread, you may well find that there's precious few about for “novice” players with 1st-level PCs and DMs trying to get a grip on the game – at least as far as any “official” contemporary publications are concerned. Indeed, I can’t really think of any off the top of my head but I’m sure others can provide them.

A solution for this phenomenon can be using the map for the example dungeon on page 95 in the DMG. Then, after the players have created their PCs, you just inform them that they find themselves on some stairs leading down and that a room seems to be at the end of it (room 1A on that map).

When the party get to the room, you tell them its dimensions and where the exits are, and then roll dice on “Table V. F: Chamber or Room Contents” on page 171 in the DMG to determine what’s in it. If the result is 1-12 or 18, you just tell them that there's nothing in the room and it’s on the to next. The table is pretty self-explanatory, so, if monsters and/or treasure, tricks/traps, or simply treasure are indicated, just refer to the relevant tables on the pages that follow and then to the MM as applicable.

A couple of notes.

1) A result of 13-17 leads you to the “Dungeon Random Level Determination Matrix (d20)” on page 174 in the DMG, where you have to roll dice to determine the “level” of the monsters encountered and then stat them out using the info in the MM.
You'll see that this allows for the party to run into “third-level monsters” on their very first outing. Although the notes under “Monsters Encountered Adjustment for Relative Dungeon Level” on page 174 (ah, yes, by the way, welcome to High Gygaxian) do mean that the maximum number of ghouls and giant lizards in this case will be two and one, respectively, neither isn’t very likely to end well.

There's a couple of things you can do to deal with this “problem”.

First, you can just let things happen and see where it gets you, accepting that PCs dying en masse is just part of the game. Of course, this will at least in some part depend on whether your players are willing to accept that their PCs are dying all the time. However, without going into this phenomenon too deep, there is a certain “method to this madness”. First, it’ll force players to think differently of their PCs than they may have until now, which will rather be to their advantage for what lies ahead in their 1E career. Second, in my experience, many players will find that the ever-present risk of dying adds to their excitement and, if you’ll forgive me, an “unforgettable game experience”. Third, also IME, many players will find that they will develop a strong bond with those of their PCs that do survive to get to the higher levels, which leads to all manner of interesting dynamics.
In this light, it wasn't at all unusual for players to run multiple PCs simultaneously to increase their chances of survival.

Second, since you’re all only trying to get acquainted with the mechanics of the game, you can just decide to roll again using only the “1st-level” monsters table – or use only this table to begin with.

Third and perhaps obviously, you can simply ignore encounters you think will lead to too many dead PCs - just another empty room. This is also true, for example, for encounters you think may be too complicated to stat up in a jiffy, such as NPC character parties and, say, 49 berserkers.

2) Doing things this way will lead to sessions some of you may not recognize as D&D sessions. There’s gonna be lots of rolling dice, paging through books, trying to figure out and implement rules, and more rolling of dice on your part. However, you may consider including the players in this process. Let them roll the dice, let them consult the DMG – perhaps even the MM. This way, all of you can get to grips with how the game works at the same time, and it might even lead to new DMs being born. I suppose you could see these sessions as multiple “sessions zero”.
Similarly, since the encounters are gonna be as big a surprise to you as they will be to the players, you can roll up your own PCs and have them be part of the party on their first descent into the…, um…, upper depths of the earth.

3) Although you should peruse the rules for awarding XP under “Adjustment and Division of Experience Points” on page 84-86 in the DMG to learn that XP is not only awarded for defeating monsters but also for treasure gained (and, of course, just to read some more High Gygaxian), it’s probably best to ignore most of what is written there, if only during your sessions zero. The tables starting on page 196 in the DMG give experience values for monsters in the MM and you’re probably best served to just hand out the XP mentioned there.

Finally, although I am not at all familiar with the OSRIC rules many folks mention above, I understand that all these rules do is present the 1E rules in a manner that is much easier to work with, which may well be good thing. However, if you haven’t already done so, you may well want to consider the magic of immersing yourself in High Gygaxian and the rewards it can bring. In the words of a wise and above all notorious liquefactionist:

Finally, while I will continue to joke about High Gygaxian, 1e had the perfect marriage of of form to function; the act of reading and understanding the game introduced you to the idea of something new and mysterious. It was impossible to delve into the baroque and contradictory language of Gygax without starting to feel the stirrings of something greater just waiting for you. The language invited you not just to play, but also to create.

And rewards there will be.

EDIT: + "a"
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How inconvenient
(...) Avoid Unearthed Arcana at all costs until you become much more familiar with the system; a lot of stuff in there is outright broken, and you'll need to know what to prune and what to keep.
:). And there may well be literally some pruning to do.

One other rule to largely ignore if you can is Gygax's combat initiative system. Replace it with something of your own; even if you think yours is worse, trust me: it isn't. :)
Agreed. Roll for initiative, modify for weapon speed factors and monster size, possibly for Dex, is probably the way to go. Or even just roll for initiative and be done with it.

B2 Keep on the Borderlands is the classic "first adventure" (and it too comes with a home base, that being the keep).
True. Different rule set, though, it being BD&D, which could complicate things for novices and initials sessions.

N1 Cult of the Reptile God is also a good starter adventure, as is...
Yup. The village is among the "classic three" as a base of operation for exploring some nearby dungeon for initial sessions. But, just like T1 and L1, you might want to postpone the various plot lines until you've got a basic understanding of the rules and the PCs can take a hit or two.

A good sequence IMO would be U1, U2, Bone Hill, A-series (well, A1-A2 anyway), WG4 Temple of Tharizdun, G-series.
Absolutely. Temple of Tharizdun is arguably a must somewhere down the line of any Gygax-based Greyhawk campaign. S4 comes to mind as well in this regard. And I suppose WG4 could link to Robert J. Kuntz's ultra-classic Bottled City and even To the City of Brass while you're at it.


How inconvenient
They did in like 2012, when they were trying to win back people from PF.
At least the reprints are cheaper than the real thing, although I suppose better-priced versions of the originals can be found. Not quite sure whether the reprints are exactly like the originals, although I think I've read somewhere that the PHB reprint doesn't even include (all of?) the official errata published at the time, so your probably OK there.

A thing worth noting is that the game, to the contrary of later editions (including 2e) assumes a rather strict "reward cycle": adventure->get treasure->train to level->adventure. The cycle IS the game, in a sense.
Getting treasure is the main objective; killing monsters is highly inefficient, XP-wise: it only nets less than 1/5th of the overall XP, so if the players know this, they will strategise accordingly (most of the time it's really not worth killing monsters by risking life and limb).
The PCs get experience for magic items, but if they sell them without using them, the XP they get is higher because of the sale GP value (which is often quite a lot); this extra money may prove vital to train, so the players may have to face some difficult choices. Some classes have specific limitations w.r.t. treasure; this doesn't mean they don't seek it, it's just that the use of treasure drives their roleplaying (which in turn is assessed by the DM, which in turn impacts how long and how much it costs for them to train; good roleplaying of a class has a direct, quantifiable impact on advancement, not some "bennies" for entertaining.)
Also, when creating characters, don't forget that there are no dump stats; Charisma may in fact be the most valuable of all, as it dictates how easy it is to get hirelings (always important!) and henchmen (a rare commodity) and their loyalty, and influences the reactions of NPCs. Forget the idiotic dice-based, bard-related shenanigans of 5e.
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Whizbang Dustyboots

Gnometown Hero
Another thought:

If your game includes life-draining undead, you might want to fiddle with that as well. While it was VERY effective at instilling fear & loathing, the level draining system could dramatically slow play down. Players had to essentially “deconstruct” their PCs on the fly to figure out what afflicted PCs could still do.

In 3.X, I contemplated replacing level draining with using the game’s fatigue mechanics. It worked conceptually and still had meaningful, scary effects for all classes. And there fewer character changes involved, so it was less likely to significantly slow gameplay.

Alas, 4Ed was released before I had a chance to playtest it.
The Monster Overhaul has a sidebar with alternatives to level draining that's worth checking out. The simplest is just applying an XP penalty to make future levels harder to achieve. Still a potential character-killer, but it doesn't grind play to a halt as everyone figures out what their character is still capable of doing.

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