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Back in Black
Dead" on a Reagan-Era Game by
Well, no, actually. AD&D was—and still is—a really good game, and I’ve always thought it was a shame that I had to drop it because life got too crazy-busy for a long time. But life has calmed down, I have a batch of young, novice players (not just coelacanths like me), and the time is right for a revival. Submitted for your consideration, then, are several very good reasons I have for starting a new campaign.
AD&D was my first love. And like all first loves—the first girl you kissed, the first car you owned—you never forget them. Before AD&D, I played board games and card games, but AD&D was soooooooooo much cooler (no, seriously)—and much more engrossing—than anything else. I fell in love with AD&D—I got all gooey about it a few years ago—and that led me to other games, like MERP, Shadowrun, Stormbringer, Marvel Super Heroes…and a sci-fi/fantasy game played with miniatures (and set in the grim darkness of the far future) that you may have heard about.
Like the beer at Delta Tau Chi, AD&D don’t cost nothing. I bought the books, along with several modules, gaming aids, and all the funny-shaped dice, back in my salad days and held onto them. Getting the materials I needed to start again was as easy as going out to the garage and digging around in some boxes. “Zero” is a lot less than whatever it would cost to purchase and learn a new game system or, say, buy another 40K army (ahem!).
Bonus: I have, on CDs, the Dragon Magazine Archive—Issues 1-250 of the best gaming magazine EVUH (yeah, I’m dissing you, Mr. Hideously-Overpriced-Collection-of-Ads-and-Filler-Calling-Itself-“White Dwarf”).
I know AD&D forwards and backwards. I’ve always enjoyed dungeon-mastering more than playing, so when I got the hankering to start back into AD&D, I was strongly inclined to run the show. A few years back, I tried to start a 3e D&D campaign, but it was hard to teach new players and run the game because I wasn’t that sure of what I was doing in the first place (the added complexities of 3e didn’t help, either).
In contrast, I started playing 1e AD&D back during Ronald Reagan’s first term in office, in the Paleozoic Era: the rules are practically encoded into my RNA. For example, to this day, I remember that the experience points table for determining how much a monster is worth is on page 85 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide. I don’t have to look up the armor class of chainmail (“'What is AC 5?' Alex”), how many electrum pieces are in a gold piece (2), how much a broadsword does vs. Small and Medium targets (2-8), or that a sling has a fire rate of once per round.
Furthermore, kobolds come 40-400 at a time, have 1-4 Hit Points, are Lawful Evil, and are, by the way, surprisingly lethal, even to high-level characters. Trust me on that last one; if you take away nothing else from this article, remember this: “Kobolds kill.”
1e > 2e > 3e > 4e. As I mention towards the tail-end of my mash letter to AD&D, 1e, though not perfect, is vastly superior in many ways to any versions that have come after it. Whyzzat? Because 1e was written by the Greater God of Gaming, E. Gary Gygax, who understood game balance, valued simplicity, and never forgot that games are meant to be fun. And for those of you 40K players who like your games “dark” and “edgy,” perhaps you ought to find some of the old books and take a peek inside: there was plenty in 1e that was not puppy dogs and rainbows, and I’m not just talking about the nude illustrations (although, to be honest, I was good with those).
I disliked 2e because it purposely set out to defang AD&D: getting rid of demons and devils to appease fundie Christians—I mean, come ON! It’s not like the whackos who said AD&D was “Satanist” were going to buy the product anyway, so TSR should have just given them the finger and preserved the integrity of the game. Second Edition also got rid of some classes (such as the barbarian and the cavalier) that I liked (ironically, now, more than 20 years later, I agree with nixing them).
Second Edition had some good ideas executed poorly: a prime example was spell specialization for mages. “My character specializes in abjuration spells”—“abjuration?” Really? How lame is that name? Somehow, that’s not nearly as cool as saying, “My character is a pyromancer.” And as much as people liked to bitch about the 1e barbarian being unbalanced, some of the 2e supplements—one for every class and race, even humanoids, with “kits” that let you min/max characters—got stupid really quick. It didn’t take long for 2e to favor power-gaming at the expense of role-playing.
I tried Third Edition. I really did. I bought the new books and helped write up some characters and tried to run a few adventures…and the whole thing felt like a video game. All the treasure was in gold pieces; everyone needed the same experience points to go up in levels; and level advancement was much, MUCH faster than what I was used to. If your 3e PC had 21,000 experience points (xp), they were starting 7th level: in contrast, 21K xps made a 1e druid or thief 6th level; a fighter, ranger, illusionist, or cleric only 5th level; a paladin or magic-user only 4th level (1e barbarian? With 21,000 xps, you were frickin' 3rd level).
If certain aspects of 3e were made too easy, some of it was much too hard, such as the bewildering array of feats and skills and powers, etc., etc. And like any recent video game, 3e placed heavy emphasis on “realistic” (read “complicated”), combat: free actions, standard actions, partial actions, flat-footed, attacks of opportunity, threatened areas, refocus, readying, 5-foot step--what happened to, "I roll, I hit, the dragon takes 7 points?"
And 4th? Pfft. The only resemblance it bears to 1e is the name. I knew I wasn’t going to like it when I flipped open the 4e Player's Handbook and found old favorites like druids and gnomes and bards replaced by eladrin and warlocks and tieflings. Not to worry, though, because those classes and races that got left out of the first book—and many, many more than you would ever need—can be found in the 4e PHB 2 and PHB 3 in what is doubtless a never-ending stream of supplements to fatten Wizards of the Coast’s bank accounts. And, of course, the emphasis on super powers and complicated combat just escalates—hey, 4e is competing with World of Warcrap for your money, you know. Ugh. I’m sure many, many people like 4e, with all its noise and whirling parts and flashing lights and oh-so-kickass artwork, but it’s not for me.
No, you can call me a dinosaur and a gaming Luddite and a stick-in-the-mud, but I like 1e best. It’s simple to learn (I’ll talk more about that some other time), it’s easy to play, and in being so, it’s more fun—and not just to cantankerous old farts like me.
Recently, I had one of my nephews, who plays 4e, over to try 1e. I was worried that he might think it was primitive and boring. Actually, he loved it. You know why? Because, as he said, it’s simple and easy, and he could concentrate on role-playing and problem-solving and paying attention to the story line and having fun instead of trying to remember “a whole bunch of stuff that you have to do to play Fourth.”
As we used to say back in the Eighties: “totally.”
Catch you next time…..
More Black in Black
Posted May 2010
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