D&D General Why is "OSR style" D&D Fun For You?


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Hussar

Legend
Heh. I knew I wasn’t the only one that homebrewed “claws of adamantine” and “ruby lenses of the cyclops”. :)

One of my earliest campaigns featured a player playing a son of Kord using rules from Dragon Magazine. So it’s not like playing Demi-gods was unheard of. The material was in Dragon.
 

Simple monsters
Not what you were talking about, but I do appreciate monsters derived from mythology (werewolves, giants, dragons, vampires, skeletons) and reality (bears, wolves, dinosaurs). I think the “core identity” monsters like Owlbears and Gelatinous Cube are OK too. But the self-referential “rules build” monsters like half-dragons annoy me, and seem more common in not old school.
 

Still, to my read, if you compare a 1st level Basic character with a 1st level 5e character, the latter has a lot more resources at their disposal (i.e. on their character sheet) to mitigate challenges, will level up more quickly, is less likely to die (death saves), and might be playing through a module that focuses on balanced encounters and moving the characters through rather than player skill and lethality.
Fair. I’ve tried to think how 1st level in 5e compares to AD&D 1e. I’d say it’s in the range of 2nd to 3rd level, with unlimited cantrips and short rests being literal game changers making it hard to compare.
 

Thomas Shey

Legend
Actually, that sort of thing happened all over. It just so happened that the West Coast scene included fanzine fans, so things were chronicled.

I've heard indications that things were very different in the Northeast at least, and got the impression it was different around Lake Geneva (though if you're who I think you are, you'd know about that better than me).
 

Mannahnin

Scion of Murgen (He/Him)
I think they are kind of expected at mid to high level AD&D. My experience as a PC and DM in long running AD&D campaigns both using modules and homebrew was that many PC spellcasters got them at various points.

Rods/staves/wands are only 5% on the random magic item generation chart in the 1e DMG and about 2/3 of the RSW subchart so reduced even further, but AD&D cranks out a number of items per module/adventure and from the generation charts for loot and in long campaigns you do a bunch of modules and fight a number of monsters with loot.

In the 32 page G1-3 by Gygax there are three wands to be found by adventurers and two of the three pregen PC Magic Users start with attack magic wands.

You only need a single 80 charge (lowest number of charges if generated from the DMG charts) wand of frost or fire or whatever to have effectively at will area of effect attack magic for a good while.

Mid to high level AD&D and B/X Expert is a lot different than low level AD&D and B/X Basic.
Definitely. Judging both by the modules and by his comments about devices and wands in the initiative rules, Gygax clearly expected wands to be fairly common and relatively standard tools of mid to high-level M-Us. And judging by the modules, for lower level ones to occasionally find depleted wands with limited charges so they could get some of the fun too.

I have never based the assumptions of my game on that game's published adventures. They are at odds with the actual rulebooks remarkably often.

Honestly, I've never used published adventures for any system as anything other than material to be repurposed for homebrew campaigns. As a result, I just don't see them as indicative of how a game is meant to be played. Rather, the rulebook itself provides that guidance.

Which sounds like you are actually discounting what the books say. I would argue that if you find that the adventures are at odds with the rulebooks, then it's more likely your interpretation of the rules is not the same as the game designer's interpretations. The only way that published adventures would be at odds with the actual rulebooks is if the writers of the adventure didn't understand the game. Considering the scrutiny that most modules face, I find that a position I don't really agree with.

That's why I do struggle in these conversations though. For example, you'll often hear about how old school games are very low magic items. Your fifth level character was lucky to have a +1 sword. But, then I look at the actual play examples in the books and the modules written by the same people as the rule books, and they are absolutely chock-a-block with magic items.

Which then spins off the argument - "oh, well, players don't find the treasure that's in the adventure, it's well hidden". Which spurs actually looking at the written adventures and realizing that nope, most of the treasure isn't hidden (although, yes, some is). Most of it is not only very easy to find, but, often really obvious as well - magic swords do glow after all; that potion or scroll isn't really all that hard to figure out that it's magical.

Now the argument is, "Oh well, modules don't count. I never used them and modules don't actually follow the rules". That's a pretty bold claim from someone who says they don't actually run modules. I would like to see some pretty strong examples of modules not following the rules before I'd buy that.

Yeah, I've noted before that I, for the most part, didn't do anything but use the tables from the book when determining whether magic items were present and what general types they were back in the day (I might have had the sub-tables with some very odd things on it, but for the most part whether you were getting a magic item and whether it was a scroll or a weapon was pretty much by the book) and there were tons of magic items in play after a while.

So low magic item awards (which as noted, always would have on the whole hit fighters and thieves the hardest) may well have been a common style in certain circles back in the day, but if so it was because the books were being ignored, not because people were following them.

I think Voadam and Hussar and Thomas have the right of it here. The rulebooks show us some things with the tables, and the modules give us examples.

The modules aren't always 100% representative of what you get strictly following the guidelines in the rulebooks, but I think that's more a flaw in the rulebooks. The early rulebooks are incomplete and unclear in some places.

OD&D is quite clear that you are not expected to merely follow the tables for treasure and content generation in your dungeons, but are expected to "thoughtfully place" some interesting encounters and lairs and the most important hordes on each level of the dungeon, which are explicitly supposed to include some magic items and big-ticket treasures like gems and jewelry. Random tables are meant to be used for other areas for ease of stocking the rest of the level AFTER you've placed the most important and interesting bits.

The AD&D DMG is less clear about this, for the usual reason- when Gary wrote and Gary and Tim edited together the DMG they were still assuming that practically everyone reading it had already read and absorbed OD&D. This is why, for example, they also gave extra-complex rules for things like overland, air and sea movement, and fine details for ships, but not the most basic stuff needed for straightforward play. Or the same comparing the rules for diseases with the ones in Blackmoor. OD&D had already given the simpler, more playable versions of those rules. I think this was a design and editing mistake with AD&D, TBH. Which resulted in far too many of us ignoring the rules for ships and diseases entirely, and struggling unnecessarily with land and air movement, or just handwaving and kludging those rules.

I don't think the rulebooks actually conflict with the campaign-style modules like B1, B2, B3, X1, etc. I think the modules help us understand the rulebooks and their intent better.


Much as I sometimes roll my eyes at some things, you also have to remember how heavily published adventures early on were influenced by convention game expectations, and that was probably even true with adventure-series cases. That's worlds from the way a lot of home games of any stripe were done.
In the context of early AD&D modules - G, D, S, A, C1 and C2 - I don't think this is quite right.

In the minds of the designers at that time, there seem to be two different sorts of D&D play: tournament competition play; and Gygax-DMG-style campaign play. The modules exemplify the first sort of play; the rules in the rulebooks are written mostly to support the second sort of play.

From my reviews of the material there are both tournament modules and "campaign-style" modules. And we can see higher-than-the-treasure-tables-alone-would-give-us numbers of magic items in both. But if you bear in mind the "thoughtfully place some really valuable goodies" advice from OD&D, this makes more sense.

This is a different thing again, at least to an extent: the MM rules under the Men entry for magic items on high level bandits, pirates etc are reasonably generous, compared to the Treasure Table rules. And then there are the also-quite-generous rules in the DMG for magic items on NPC adventuring parties. That's before we even get to questions of module design.

And of course magic items are one of the most fun parts of the system, so it stands to reason that if there is any deviation from the stated norms, it will be in favour of more items.
Good point that some of the monster entries, and in particular the NPC party rules, are also more generous with magic items than the main tables.

But, again, we only have to look at the actual rules. Most lairs had about a 10-15% chance for 3 (ish) random magic items. A lair could be 300 orcs, that's totally true. But, it could also be 2 trolls. A single ogre counts as a lair. By the time you gained a level, you should have depopulated are rather large number of lairs.

The baseline for AD&D is more than ten magic items per character. That's why paladins are hard limited to 10. Thing is, a lot of people got this idea in their head that half a dozen magic items per character is shading into Monty Haul territory. But, it really wasn't. That was the baseline expectation. More than 10 magic items per PC. In a group of 8 (again, baseline in 6-8 players), that's about a hundred magic items between the group.

Fair enough, the majority of those would be consumables. No argument from me about that. But, even if only a quarter are not, that's still 25 (ish) magic items between the eight characters.
Yep. D&D characters are expected to have a bunch of items. OTOH Gary inveighs against Monty Haul play hard in his editorial voice in the DMG, which some of us took to mean that magic items were supposed to be much rarer than they actually are in his stocked dungeons.

So while Micah may see that as a contradiction, and that the modules are in error, I think the better and more functional way to reconcile the seeming contradiction is that Gary was complaining about even MORE generous campaigns, and ones in which items were never taken away or broken, as seems to have been a regular possibility in his games, judging by the item save tables, for example.

Side note: I think that use of items saves is one of the missing pieces in a lot of people's play. In my reading and study of old school stuff over the last fifteen years or so I've increasingly gotten the impression that Gary's style of game and intent was supposed to foster a certain "easy come, easy go" attitude to the game and to characters and their stuff. Swings and roundabouts. Reversals of fortune like in pulp novels. With treasures and with things like levels and ability scores, which could be instantly impacted by a monster or a trap or trick but equally easily could be boosted by a treasure, a magic fountain, or by granted Wishes which were apparently so common in early play that they necessitated a rule in the DMG that you could only raise an ability score to 16 using an individual Wish and that after that it required TEN WISHES PER POINT! Clearly Gary was expecting more common magic than a lot of us later came to expect as standard.


Not to mention B/X having no racial ability score adjustments.
Another side note: This is one of the design decisions I love about B/X. That demihumans aren't a tool for min-maxing by boosting ability scores. Instead they have min requirements to qualify for them. Which ensures that all Demihumans are at least above a certain min level in their key stats, but doesn't give them higher stats than humans just for being selected. And that demihumans DO have cool special abilities, but they pay for them with greater xp to level requirements right out the gate, rather than JUST by being level-capped later, at levels you might never even get to in an average campaign.

I'll freely cop to ignoring the treasure tables in the books. What put me off them almost on first reading was the way they handled coinage: that one type of monster would only ever (maybe) have x-number of electrum coins but no coins of any other type, while another monster would only ever have silver pieces, etc. This made no sense at all, and so I ignored those tables henceforth.

That said, my games tend to be pretty high-magic even by AD&D standards, in part because finding new toys is fun and in part because every now and then someone (or a whole party) will lose a big pile of magic in a meltdown after failing saves vs AoE damage.
I like the treasure tables, but I never had a problem mixing up the coin types a little for verisimilitude while maintaining the same values. Although I'm careful not to do TOO much swapping to higher-value coins, to avoid making the encumbrance issue too easy.

One of the things I dig about your game is the active use of item saves. That's an area you seem to be really hitting what I have gathered was Gary's intent.
 
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Mannahnin

Scion of Murgen (He/Him)
I thought there was a thread here a while back that actually catalogued the treasure given out in some of the more well known classic adventures.
This one?


There's also some great data on Dan "Delta" Collins' blog. Delta's D&D Hotspot. I can't access it while I'm at work, but if you google "delta's d&d hotspot subterrane surveys" you'll find some really good posts with hard numbers.
 

kenada

Legend
Supporter
One of the differences is that modern games let you construct a character, while games like AD&D and B/X had you literally rolling up a character. Once the dice had fallen, you had some choices to make, but the results of those die rolls had overwhelming influence on what you played. As time went on, more and more lenient, "construction" based alternatives appeared, from swapping two rolled stats all the way through point buy. And while there are certainly advantages to those systems, there is something about the direct simplicity of rolling 2d6 six times in order to find out what you get to play that is appealing.
By default, AD&D 1e used type I (roll 4d6 drop lowest, arrange as desired). The only editions not to use that method are 2e and 4e. 4e used a standard array by default. 2e changed type I back to the classic method (3d6, assign in order), moving 1e’s type I to type V, and added type VI as a form of point buy for ability scores.

It seems like players want good stats and prefer methods that let them have them. Even though point buy is common in newer editions, I don’t think that’s a new preference. Gygax mentioned that here when replying to a question about generating ability scores (see below). I think it’s interesting that 2e changed things back to the classic method. I wonder why? Nostalgia? Placating grognards? Did people even use that method or did they prefer the other ones?

in 1972 we all rolled 3d6, but later when AD&D made the stats more meaningful, players would keep rolling until they got more viable numbers, so then we switched to various systems--roll seven or eight times with 3d6 and keep the six best totals or roll d4d and throw out the lowest die.

After all, the object of the game is to have fun, and weak PCs aren't much fun for most players. Even fine role-players want characters with at least one or two redeming stats...
 

Reynard

Legend
By default, AD&D 1e used type I (roll 4d6 drop lowest, arrange as desired). The only editions not to use that method are 2e and 4e. 4e used a standard array by default. 2e changed type I back to the classic method (3d6, assign in order), moving 1e’s type I to type V, and added type VI as a form of point buy for ability scores.

It seems like players want good stats and prefer methods that let them have them. Even though point buy is common in newer editions, I don’t think that’s a new preference. Gygax mentioned that here when replying to a question about generating ability scores (see below). I think it’s interesting that 2e changed things back to the classic method. I wonder why? Nostalgia? Placating grognards? Did people even use that method or did they prefer the other ones?
I always found it interesting -- and heartwarming -- to interact with EGG here in his later years when he was so much more gentle and kind than his Sorcerer's Scroll persona.
 

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