Some Old-School AD&D

17:45 Wed 30 May 2007. Updated: 08:50 31 May 2007
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This evening I played AD&D, roleplaying for the first time in years. I was dropped into an already-running campaign and given the character of an Illusionist/Thief (2/3) performer and jeweler Gnome (who was also apparently Jewish).

It was great. Just four players and the GM, and a traditional go-and-clear-the-undead-out-of-this-tower scenario, but with interesting twists and touches. For example, the group that hired our party were named after or involved in the worship of various sea species, such as lobster and crab. The priests of one of the sects spoke mostly in metaphors involving shells, claws, pincers, etc. That doesn’t sound like much here, but it served to add a lot of flavor (no pun intended) to the game.

One of the things that usually strikes me in playing this style of game is the absolute chaos that ensues in combat. Not many parties I’ve played with operate like the smooth, efficient, calculating, effective killing machines that you might expect. No, people get into the roleplaying enough, and are generally in sufficient disagreement, that group strategy is thrown to the wind and fights are just out-and-out brawls. Some party members can obtain tactical advantage by operating in cleverly opportunistic ways, but cohesive collective action is somewhat rare.

Naturally, if one were to play with the same people over time, one would hopefully develop this, but I can’t quite remember whether this tended to happen much in the campaigns I played in in the past. I think the GM would have to actively encourage it—which presents some problems, because you don’t want combat to become too easy if the group are too clever, or necessarily to have players treat all combat situations as MacGyver-style puzzles. But you do probably want to reward some creative/strategic thinking.

Thinking about this, and about the evening, just make me want to play more, and possibly GM a little. This is a feeling that I haven’t had very often in the last 12 years.

I wonder if I have the time, though, and also if I could find sufficient numbers of people in San Francisco who also have the time (and the same time slot(s), too), and sufficient commitment, interest, and so on. And whether I want to spend time on this rather than on, say, finishing my writing projects, or practicing MTG, or working on coding projects, etc.

If I could, though, I think I’d steal Niall Murphy’s idea of having a Wiki for the game world, and I would push for a collaboratively-driven world-building project, possibly off of some existing world, and see about doing rotating GMing, where a GM would get some number of slots (5-12, perhaps?) for a campaign, and then the next person would take over as GM.

I would probably use the AD&D class/level system, despite its many flaws, because it allows the types of campaigns to differ quite significantly. Early on, you have the low-level campaigns that probably cover a small geographic area, where the players have trouble dealing even with local toughs, where magic is weak and difficult, and magical items very rare, and then over time the power of the group rises so that they can influence their environments more profoundly—and also, quite importantly, their knowledge of their environment, and the game world, and the way the game world works, increases as well. I think that’s a key to successful long-running campaigns, the feeling of learning more and more (and, perhaps, creating more and more) about this shared other world.

I think that ideally this would involve tweaking the standard rules, for example altering which spheres/schools of magic are weaker/stronger in the world, what some of the higher levels of various classes get you, and so on, but without revealing these things in advance. So the players in a campaign that starts off with them at level 1 would only have vague notions of what they would gain by increasing to levels 2 and 3, so advancing to those levels isn’t just going up levels but learning more about the game universe. (This assumes that each successive GM is going to be consistent, so that if, for example, Necromancy is particularly strong in the first campaign, the second GM will respect this, and either continue this tradition or come up with a good narrative explaining why that might change. The key is perhaps the right level of predictability: the players have to be able to count on some of what they learn helping them predict what comes later, but there also need to be surprises—and, in fact, that’s probably a good rule for all narratives…)

All that definitely sounds like a lot of fun, but finding time, people, and energy also sounds quite difficult.

5 Responses to “Some Old-School AD&D

  1. Lev Says:

    Wow… I’ve encountered fantasy religions in the real world, but have never encountered real religions in fantasy worlds. I wonder if your character was one of the Gnomes of Zurich?

  2. Tadhg Says:

    Lev: I had that same thought myself, actually, about the Gnomes of Zurich (who are a playable conspiracy in the Illuminatus! board game), but no. But your response makes me think we need more crossover between religions in the realms. Perhaps a Crusade, to bring the Word to the heathens in unreal realms?

  3. Lev Says:

    Hah! Killing demons the Christian way! I love it. On that note, check this out: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/18789168/

  4. Tadhg Says:

    Hmm, so is this bad, because you can’t even get away from it online, or good, because the grip of religion will lessen as people do more picking and choosing? Doubtless both, and more…

    Incidentally, shouldn’t the characters in these worlds, if they’re so inclined, be engaged in worship of the programmer-gods who created the very universes they’re inhabiting? Now that would be an interesting religion to try to propagate out into RL…

  5. Jeff Says:

    Real world religions in fantasy games? Alright, I’ll take the challenge. You DM the campaign, and I’ll be in line to role up my Unitarian cleric.

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