Tuesday, May 8, 2012

AGM: Basic D&D and the Fragility of Life (#DnD)

As we continue our adventures in Basic Dungeons & Dragons I am starting to realize why it gets so little play compared to Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. It is rough out there for a Basic rules adventurer!

First off, you start with a d4, d6 or d8 for hit points, depending on your class, plus/minus any constitution modifier. Again, at 1st level cleric cannot cast spells. Basically, you just have to survive as best you can. Second, unlike later editions, 0hp equals dead. At 1st level, most everyone is a "one-thump chump."

Granted, we are trying to play by the rules as written. I forget what the by-the-book rules for AD&D death and dying were, but certainly remember there being house rules, such as 0 equals unconscious, -10 equals dead, or the highly generous negative constitution score equals dead. When 0hp equals dead, you need to examine how you play in ways that differ from modern editions.

Last night we played with my almost-awesome elf who had a whopping 6hp and AC5, with a strength bonus to boot. Of the five adversaries we fought, I killed four before being taken down by the last man standing. I was fortunate enough to require two wounds to die, but it was vastly disheartening. The cleric had already died, and I was looking at having a quite successful first go, and a strong chance of reaching level two. It all came down to luck of the dice, and sadly that luck was not on my side.

So, changing the way you think about the game in regard to quick and often merciless death of player characters goes for both the players and the dungeon master. Personally, I am not used to fleeing combat. Fourth edition often has me feeling like a teenager full of cocaine, in the "nothing can stop me" train of thought. My elf should have fled the combat when his partner died and he was down to 3hp, but my modern sensibilities said "fight on!" "Live to fight another day," is the rule, it seems, to a successful Basic D&D character.

As for the DM, there is a reason there are random dungeon generators and wandering monster tables. There is also a reason you do not typically do a campaign in Basic D&D. The amount of planning a DM can put into a single, small scale dungeon crawl can be all in vain when the entire party can die in the first room. There is a reason that The Keep on the Borderlands is the best known Basic adventure module. First, it saves the DM from having to remake everything every time there is a total-party-kill, but also because it is a relatively partitioned module. There is the novice character's Kobold cave to start in, and things get progressively more difficult, not to mention rewarding, as the characters' progress in level.

Last night was out third installment of Basic rules, and we have yet to complete an adventure. We have only had two characters "on the map" both times, but at first level the idea of a balanced party is pretty pointless. Still, it is fun, and luckily we are old gamers who know death is part of the adventure. If I ever get a character to second level, I will dance a jig.


Shon Richards said...

It is interesting after years of player empowerment, I abhor the idea of running away. We had a few good chances to flee and the idea just seemed too alien to consider.

Darius Whiteplume said...

Well, in 4e it is nearly impossible to die, so my characters have always laughed in the face of death. You get to go negative half your hitpoints before kicking off (or three failed 10-or-better d20 rolls). Cockiness is part of the heroic attitude. I could not see Kimber fleeing. He was sure he had that last guy. [drat!]

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