Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Archaic Game Material: Experiments in Basic D&D

I have been playing D&D for a long time. I only played Basic a few times, having started with AD&D in earnest. With all the talk of a fifth edition in the works, and the re-release of the old AD&D core books I thought it might be interesting to see how the Basic edition feels to my ever-changing sense of "what is Dungeons & Dragons?" So, I was fortunate enough to find some guinea pigs to do a little old school D&D via Skype. It was very bare-bones. We rolled actual dice instead of using a chat device, we rolled up characters as per the rules (3d6 down the line), and tried to stick to everything that seemed clearly stated.

My players were Shon Richards and Kirin, who had a Cleric and Dwarf respectively. If you are unfamiliar with Basic D&D, demi-humans were classes rather than races. Humans can be Clerics, Fighters, Magic-Users, and Thieves, while all Dwarves are Dwarves, Elves are Elves, and Halflings are Halflings. Demi-humans are essentially multi-classed. I created a small-ish dungeon delve (all Basic adventures are assumed to be indoors, save The Keep on the Borderlands for some reason). I'll do some details of the game play in a later post.

Mechanics were slightly different. Initiative is rolled with a d6, either for party/monsters or individually (we decided on the former), and apparently the DM rolls all damage. This second part was not written clearly, and I had never heard of the DM rolling player damage. We decided to have players roll their own, as damage is part of the fun. It was also awkward that despite having a Cleric, they get no spells until 2nd level, so the party had no ability to heal damage. Lastly, there are no skill rolls for many standard actions such as listening or smelling.

That last bit brings up one of the most common complaints about new editions. While currently fourth edition is the "there is no role playing" whipping boy, I certainly remember similar arguments against third edition. The lack of certain mechanics, particularly skills, does raise part of the role play aspect that I have perhaps neglected, which is the need for the DM to role play. Not just monsters and NPCs, but the environment. When Kirin's Dwarf wanted to smell down the available halls at an intersection it was not something I had prepared for. When listening at a door I had to decide what was going on beyond it and what could reasonably be heard. There was no "listen" or "perception" check to roll. The characters could neither succeed greatly, nor fail miserably. Also, no one could say "I hear better than you" and do the listening (had their been a Thief in the party, he/she could have), so ultimately neither the DM nor players could hide behind rules. Role playing is perhaps more than "my character is ____."

Now, I fully went into this experiment with the notion that it would prove that love for old editions is pure nostalgia, and that going back to them would feel silly. I was wrong. It was quite enjoyable. I did at times pine for skill checks in certain instances, and I do like using miniatures, but in the end it was a fun time. Will I ignore fifth edition? Probably not. I do, however, hope to keep up this game in the Basic rules until the characters reach 3rd level and move on to the Expert rules. After that, who knows? Maybe into AD&D again? A tour of the past, free from assumptions. Having a good time with friends is what it is about, regardless of edition.

No comments:

Post a Comment