You had one job!

It begins at another post, Finding a game in there, which muses upon “fire-axing” Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, first version, published 1977-1979. Briefly: using the rules as best as possible or practical, but for a subset of the content, disallowing various classes or concepts from the start.

I’ve already registered a session at Lincon, in May, so I decided to try it now for fun and to arrive at rules decisions and some useful materials. As a start, I’ve settled upon something not exactly as described in that post, but close.

  • Half-elf, half-orc, or human
  • For the demihumans, multi-class using Fighter, Cleric, Thief, and Assassin, subject to race restrictions and noting that Thief-Assassin isn’t possible. These start at four levels of experience, i.e., 2nd-level in each
  • For humans, use two-class with any two of the listed above, starting with 1st in one and 3rd in the other. (possible only with very high scores)
  • Light setting material involving a sprawling shadowy fantasy city and two mega-churches, one for Law and one for Chaos

To be clear: there aren’t any magic-users or gnomes or paladins or whatever else in play. It’s not in “D&D world.” Actual elves and orcs don’t mingle with humans, so they’re not in play much if at all.

It’s probably important to remind you that half-orcs, in this construction, are passing for human and don’t have tusks or green skin or any of that jazz; they just look like skeevy people.

Character creation

I met with Erik, Helma, Filip, and Milo for character creation, using this sheet.

You may be surprised at how many things which may appear to be some kind of innovation or tweak on my part are actually textual. For example, the twelve-roll method for rolling abilities comes from the DM Guide, one of four methods provided there.

First point first: we are having a really good time as people, with one another, evident from the start during our meeting to make the characters. Here’s Helma’s character Hazel, a half-elf chaotic neutral fighter-thief.

… and Filip’s character Alexian, a half-elf chaotic evil fighter-assassin [which incidentally was a rules error, as that race/class combination is not allowed, but I caught it too late and we went with it].

… and Erik’s character, Marden Krown, a half-orc lawful evil cleric-assassin, drawn by Erik himself!

Here are their character sheets. Unfortunately I cannot find those original Judges Guild AD&D sheets anywhere, so we are forced to use B/X sheets, edited for proper saving roll categories and supplemented by notes. Helma’s are included in the above file as they are on the back of her sheet; the others have notes elsewhere.

My preparation for session 1

given the characters, established church presence, came up with the box as a nice “and here you are in a mess” device.

roamed around maps and fixated upon “watery shore” for some reason

As I went through the Monster Manual seeking 4th-level-ish candidates for play, I paid some attention to watery creatures, so hit upon sea hags, lacedons, and, given the abandoned shoreline concept, smugglers, for which, bandits. I decided Milla wanted to trade the box to a sea hag at this abandoned shoreline area of the city, in return for letting smugglers deliver stuff to her there.

Session 1

Our starting session included Erik, Helma, and Filip. It’s not recorded, so I try to summarize it here. The later sessions are all recorded and I’ll add them to the playlist as I finish editing them.

I call special attention to the evident delight around the table when I let them know that objects have saving rolls.

Here’s the sheet that I composed afterwards and you’ll see us use it in session 2. I’ll probably do a Musing about it later. (this file is slightly upgraded from the one we used)

At this writing, we’ve played four sessions. The second finished this little adventure or at least scenes pertaining to the box theft. Sessions 3 and 4 brought in Yaroslav and Milo, respectively, for a more city-centered adventure and a pretty full room.

Ten minutes musings

Reporting on play is one thing and reflecting upon a text as complicated and distorted as this one is another. I’ve set myself a standard format for thoughts on the texts as such, on rules or details that I like or don’t like, on my applications for this game and whether they were good or not. Each is about ten minutes per topic, and I begin them as text posts or video posts at the Patreon, then edit or re-shot them for inclusion here.

Historical text and context

Here’s my useful chart for D&D publication history, mainly to show how isolated this version is. Its textual content was, I think, overwhelmed during the 1980s by additional material like Unearthed Arcana, The Wilderness Survival Guide, the A, L, and N adventure series, and Dragonlance. It was both demonized culturally, so became unavailable in many parts of the U.S., and bowdlerized in response, thus basically eclipsed. It was then entirely eclipsed by the Williams purchase and the publication of AD&D 2nd edition, which I consider to be an entirely different rules-set. Historically, also, its rules seem to have contributed less to perceived hobby D&D-ness than B/X has.

The effect for this text makes it very difficult to discuss. Even if people have it or played somethng as it sat on the table, it is typically a talismanic object to them, or doctrinal in a faith-based sense. They may have memorized bits of it and consider those sacred, but their sense of “the rules” is an amorphous mass composed of supplemental texts, other texts entirely, non-self-aware design at the table, and received wisdom.

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22 responses to “You had one job!”

  1. SESSION 2

    The video, of course.

    Helma nailed a bunch of thief abilities, which aren’t known for their generous probabilities. Conversely, Filip and Erik both failed assassination attempts twice, with special mention to the single victim in the second case, who had already failed his morale check. I like imagining the poor bastard escaping the magically-darkened room with holy cult daggers thudding into the doorframe around him. We might see that guy again.

    Erik provided a picture of Milla’s damage roll …

    I’ll provide some musings about how I determined the available treasure, but one of the rolled details was a preponderance of electrum coins in the sea hag’s hoard and also in the smugglers’ payload. I decided the sea hag has a curious preference for it and they came prepared accordingly.

    You might be interested in the experience points, which played out as follows. Remember, for multi-classed characters, you split the experience first and the classes then level up separately, as they have different totals. There are also nuances like high ability scores granted +10%, which I applied within the classes after the split, e.g., Hazel gets that bonus for the thief points but not for the fighter points.

    Hazel: 689 experience points from play, split 345 for Fighter and 344 for Thief. The Thief half gets +10%, or 34 more, for 378 total in Thief. Given that her initial build starts with 750 points already in Thief, she has to get 1656 in Fighter to get to 3rd level in that class, and only 123 in Thief to get to 3rd level in that class.

    Alexian: 619 experience points from play, split 310 for Fighter and 309 for Assassin. The build started with 500 already in Assassin. He doesn’t have any +10% bonuses, so that puts him at 1691 to go for 3rd level in Fighter, and 692 to go for 3rd level in Assassin.

    Marden Krown: 619 experience points from play, split 310 for Cleric and 309 for Assassin. The build started with 500 points in each class, and he has no bonuses either, so that puts him at 611 to go for 3rd level in Cleric, and 612 to go for 3rd level in Assassin.

  2. I have not yet watched the session reports, and will almost certainly comment again when I have. In the meantime, something stood out to me about your session prep. It was interesting to me that you looked through the monster manual for “4th-level-ish” candidates for play.

    Lots of people prep material like that, and it’s certainly implied by the original “crawl” structure of the game. But I wonder if you did or would consider trying something different: finding a creature or two that charmed you and building an ecology around it, without paying attention to level.

    In this case, of course, there’s no guarantee that the players will even stand a chance of conquering the place with their current resources.

    I should say that I am not sure how much support this approach finds in the text itself; the books go in a lot of different directions, after all.

    • I totally see your point and, in a lot of cases and for a lot of games, I’d do exactly as you describe. It’s a hard line in my mind, game by game: “Ah, this is one of those which require tuning encounters’ quanta at least somewhat to player-character quanta, or it becomes unplayable.”

      Your point about the criss-crossing or divergent views in the text, for this exact point, is absolutely on-target. That concept underlies most of the Ten-Minute Musings.

    • As a memory lane moment to forty-plus years ago, the text passages that I discuss here were central to my frustrations in play. People playing the game by then – so soon! – were patently unable to read or use the tables as I’ve described here. They “knew” how it was to be done, and how it was to be done was to find, get, and have a +1 Flame Tongue sword with 15 Intelligence and three primary abilities in addition to the flame tonguing, a few Ioun Stones, and a Sphere of Annihilation, chop chop, as well as, not long from now, either the Hand or Eye of Vecna so you can go searching for whichever it isn’t. By the time of publication, Gygax’s exhortations were not even a fart in that hurricane of play, and unfortunately for the few who did read them, they seemed mainly to absorb the negative portrait of players and the need to dominate every aspect of play so it might be any good.

      In the video, I did not quite land the point that page 120 in the DM Guide needed only one little phrase at the top left to remind the reader that they were supposed to arrive here via the treasure page, specifically p. 105, in the Monster Manual. That’s the specific information, which if you were already oriented to it, would be obvious, but if you were not, then the meaning of the following many pages is completely lost and it’s merely a grab-and-go dice-me-a-treasure fest.

    • I had no idea! I occasionally use some of AD&D’s tables, such as for encounters (2e, though), or online generators, such as for treasure.

      Creating a nice hoard always seemed to be the perfect use case for a generator, but time and again, the results were underwhelming. Now I understand why — even Treasure Type H doesn’t cut it; page 120 and its treasures-to-be-found when following a map is the way to go.

    • I think my inclination is the opposite: I like the Monster Manual method, with page 120 in the DMG as a rare, perhaps never-seen edge case. It meshes well with the situation-first aesthetics and system features scattered throughout. But playing this way means paying no mind to the long game of delving, delving, leveling, leveling, which is a big piece of the romance built into ineffable D&D/Jesus.

      This version, or (because there is no thing for there to be versions of), this publication is a mash-up of several not-quite realized role-playing games and arguably a bunch of kibble too. To play, a person must choose and finish designing one of them, which includes either treating aspects of the others as playable quirks or abandoning them entirely.

    • As far as I can tell, AD&D 2nd edition is a full de novo game of its own, owing most to Fantasy Hero, the TSR supplemental and RPGA material, and the play/design ideals of the mid-80s. I don’t think it’s any sort of version or development of the late 70s texts I’m using here, merely skinning it.

    • I occasionally use the encounter tables of AD&D 2e’s Monstrous Compendium for wilderness and naval adventure. The 1e Monster Manual has no such tables and – until I checked just a moment ago – I *thought* the 1e DMG’s are by level only, whereas I need by tables by biome (though I now realize that dungeon level *is* a kind of biome). Shows how little I know of AD&D…

    • Anecdotally, I had a similar reaction when I first read that section of the book. I didn’t really get why it was there, or if it was supposed to replace the treasure types in the monster manual, or what.

      Lucky for me, I had started with the 1974 publication, so I had already seen the parallel tables on pages 26 and 27 of Book 2. When I remembered that bit, I was able to understand the intent of page 120.

      There’s a great sentence under II.B. MAGIC TREASURE: “This random determination table needs no explanation.” What!

  3. It may seem obvious but creating the situation through the processes in the text, even with their quirks, is the intent of the game/ text. The proliferation of modules has skewed the intent of play. Others may have already gotten there but for myself, watching this, it is a bit of a newer revelation.

    • This text in particular has many faces, pointing in different directions and speaking in different tongues. One of them is clearly all about populated situations with many, even any possible interactions and outcomes, requiring a lot of character personality and player-driven activities and priorities. That’s the one I’ve chosen to play, with whatever interactions may arise with monster/treasure rules or experience points/levels.

      However, one could just as well select Appendix A in the DM Guide as the primary face and set to its procedures, from one corner of a sheet of graph paper proceeding to all the edges as well as down, down, down.

  4. TEN-MINUTE MUSING #4

    This video is about the poor magic-user, especially upon the publication of the Dungeon Masters Guide. They are so limited in resources and opportunity that I can’t see how anyone could ever play one, or for that matter, be a DM for magic-user characters, and have a good time.

    The fire-and-forget procedure was not the problem – that’s just a simple resource question and not particularly constraining at and over fourth level (as you know, my pick for a reasonable starting point for this game). Nor is the relatively poor armor class, which is basically a tactical consideration, hence “do”-able. The problem is all the probability-based blocking-off of even being able to have spells, and if you have them, to be able to use them.

    I didn’t have the time to include my often-stated point that in practice, this whole complex of rules was junked, or for older people, had been pre-empted by prior play-practices and ignored. If someone had been told at the outset, “Well, your guy simply can’t know/cast Sleep,” or later in play, upon reaching fifth level, not instantly discovering a Fireball scroll as if it had been placed here just for you, they would have flipped the table and flipped-off the dungeon master, with some justification.

    I am certain that no one played like this, and it’s clear from every published adventure and location-based scenario that the magic-users have the spells that they want to have. During my dialogues of the 1990s, when I sought a better understanding of just what people did in play, I was always able to ask a person who insisted that they played “real D&D” whether they used the spell system, and to learn that they had imported the procedures of Rolemaster or Fantasy Hero or imposed some sort of mana-resource instead, always neatly conceiving the import as “still” playing D&D. It’s also probably why, among the fantasy heartbreakers, not a single one recapitulates the D&D magic rules, even when they do so recapitulate entire other sections. Later versions of the game revised it heavily as well, especially 3rd edition and onwards, so that a first-level wizard is about equivalent to fifth-level in this version.

  5. Curious about your reaction to, and adaptation of, the initiative system. Obviously you’ve done away with the explicit use of segments, though maybe you’re still using them on the back end. If you are not, how is your use of “before” and “after” working in practice? Have you ever needed any more precise determinations?

    Is a round 1 minute long, or does its length vary with need?

    • I’m coming up to a discussion of these things, but I suspect it will require some re-orienting. I’ll talk about the minute as such, and I suspect the topic may persist through several discusssions, especially as others revisit the game at their own tables, much as with strike ranks in early RuneQuest.

      It’s easy to read segments, played sequentially, as the primary ordering device, which makes the minute-long round (and its initiative roll) extraneous. However, I think that’s a retroactive assignment of other systems onto this one, and I don’t think it’s fair to the procedures. I haven’t, for example, done away with segments at all, but I use them for what seems clear to me as their only purpose: when fine-grained “scoping in” is necessary as a tight-spot within a round, which isn’t very often.

      The “seems clear to me” is a critical issue. As a general point, I think Advanced D&D as a text presumes you are already playing contemporary D&D. It’s not introductory at all and doesn’t explain things like the combat round from first principles. It’s elaborating upon what the writer of the moment thinks you are already doing, possibly badly, but at least in the zone or sphere they think of as playing this game.

      In that context, the minute is indeed a minute as a first-principle, straightforward feature, and we don’t concern ourselves with accounting for the segments, because certain things are accepted as “filling in” however much of the minute happens to be available. Or to put it another way, if you were to observe along the way that all of our actions added up to 44 seconds, so what happened to the 16? – then your first-principles assumption that adding up the actions makes sense is shrugged off as misguided – they didn’t, they added up to 60, due to whatever justification you feel like, or none at all. We all announced what we were doing for the next minute at the start; now we assemble that minute. It’s the exact opposite of Strike Rank and has much more in common with the three-minute, even more abstracted combat round in Tunnels & Trolls.

      I’ve often said that I prefer not to talk about these things until a person has played quite a lot of The Fantasy Trip, specifically the original Melee and Wizard; Tunnels & Trolls, 5th edition; and RuneQuest (“first generation”, and not BRP). It’s merely a preference, though, and not very nice if I were to insist … but I hope you see my point. One must put aside the momentary, shooter’s-eye-view, sequential one-player-one-character-one-go model, because it merely a particular procedural profile and doesn’t need to be imposed upon any and every game for that game to make sense.

    • Please wait for my video about it before continuing. There’s more to it which allows for change-ups and this dialogue isn’t going to work.

    • Wait, I’m very confused now. I can’t tell what I’m responding to. Have you watched us play yet, or not?

    • These were meant to be general questions about your interpretation/implementation of the initiative system. (To which I would also add, does everybody on one side *always* go before the other side? There’s no situation in which actions might interleave?)

      When I wrote them, I had not watched the videos. Since writing them, I have watched the session 1 summary, which would have answered some of my questions, and I have tried to watch the session 2 videos but found the sound was too quiet for me to make out much of the conversation.

    • The sound is not low to any non-functional degree. I don’t think there’s anything you asked which isn’t evident in that session, and I’ll let it be the answer … not least because verbal answers have no intrinsic reason to be trusted, and they can turn into a fencing match.

      I’ll produce the combat-musing video as scheduled on my list of potential musings.

    • To be clear, I’m not trying to fence! I really am curious about how you’re playing the game, and how you’d evaluate its systems. I have preconceived notions about which parts are workable or not, but I’m not trying to push an agenda. The opposite, in fact. When I state my opinions, it’s because they are the ground on which I am working, and I don’t know how often my questions are intelligible without them, not because I want to hear you agree with them.

      I’ll try listening again, with headphones. Let’s let the topic die, then, unless I have more specific questions about some actual events in play.

  6. TEN MINUTE MUSING #5

    This time, about the values for character abilities, also called characteristics; as in, how they are generated, especially the big change that arrived for many of us with the Advanced D&D Dungeon Masters Guide. This might be a little trivial but it certainly occupies one’s attention regarding D&D … possibly unnecessarily, and, if it’s actually necessarily distinct from any other similar way to describe characters, not easy to explain why.

    I didn’t have time to mention the minor issue of their order: as I baked into my brain during this historical period, the proper D&D order is Strength, Intelligence, Wisdom, Dexterity, Constitution, Charisma; as differentiated from RuneQuest (Strength, Constitution, Size, Intelligence, Power, Dexterity, Charisma) and from Tunnels & Trolls (Strength, Intelligence, Luck, Constitution, Dexterity, Charisma). I don’t know what the intervening editions did, and for those I played a bit, they haven’t stuck in memory, but when I did get the 3rd edition in the early 2000s and prepared to play, I was irrationally a bit offended that the authors had got the ordering “all wrong.”

    I didn’t remember to mention Jeffrey Dillow’s High Fantasy or Dave Hargraves’ Arduin Grimoire, which present important late-1970s spins on the topic. High Fantasy ignores a profile/portrait of rated “amounts” and goes directly to effectiveness values which are used in play. The Arduin Grimoire uses, arguably tacitly, the same characteristics as D&D partly in pure defiance of the Blumes’ lawfare.

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