Old People Playing Old Games
January 16, 2012 9:48 AM   Subscribe

I'm planning an old-school 1st Edition AD&D gaming session for April. I haven't played AD&D, or tabletop gamed, for nearly 20 years. I still have all the materials required to set up and play the game with friends, but I'm worried that I'll be under-prepared for the session. Do you have any suggestions for ramping up?

I've taken a quick look through my material, and for nostalgia's sake, my prospective players have agreed that we should go through the Giants-Drow series of modules from TSR.

If I recall correctly, the real difficulty of 1st Edition was its archaic nature, particularly in that you have to have inside knowledge of where to find the proper tables and whatnot, but otherwise it was fly-by-the-seat of your pants gaming, just like the other editions. For some reason, I still remember that on page 85 of the DM's Guide are the XP tables. /sigh

Perhaps that could be ameliorated through the use of a simplified THACO system borrowed from 2nd Edition, or something along those lines?

I have technology available to assist me, and all of my players have laptops/tablets/smart phones that we could leverage to bring a heightened awareness to the proceedings.

I was thinking of starting up a Wiki installation for the wireless LAN, and working through backgrounds for the characters and surrounding area on that.

Any other ideas that will assist me? My birthday is the 10th of April, and if I could do this for my birthday, I'd be pretty happy with it, but I'd hate to have it stumble to a complete halt while I realize that I've forgotten how to run a simple combat.
posted by thanotopsis to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (6 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I'd say the number one thing to consider is that you didn't have all those tools or rules master 20 years ago, and you still had a good enough time to want to recreate the experience. I'd try to keep electronics entirely away from the table if at all possible. You don't need them for D&D, and they can be mood breakers.

The key to good DMing in 1st edition is to listen to the players, give them some shot at succeeding at whatever they want to do, and keep the game moving. Tell wild stories. Embellish.

Another source for the same viewpoint: Old School Primer.

You could always ask the same question at rpggeek.com, rpg.net, enworld.com and get a thousand more opinions.
posted by meinvt at 10:02 AM on January 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

If I recall correctly, the real difficulty of 1st Edition was its archaic nature, particularly in that you have to have inside knowledge of where to find the proper tables and whatnot

A DM screen (here's one for 1st edition) can help with this by putting the most important tables right in front of you.

I have technology available to assist me

If you go this route, make sure your sources are a) off-line so internet connectivity and speed are not an issue b) thoroughly bookmarked or indexed for quick reference and c) searchable, ideally.

Any other ideas that will assist me?

Don't roll or otherwise come up with random encounters "live." Pre-roll them and put together the necessary monster stats, loot, miniatures, etc. Even if you aren't planning any such encounters, have at least a couple of encounters "in your back pocket" in case your players take the story off the rails (and away from your meticulously pre-planned scenarios).

Run through the whole session in your head, making sure that there's adequate time to hit all the plot points and/or combats that you have planned. Make sure you have a little extra worked up in case the players run through it more quickly than expected, but also make sure you have a couple of different stopping points in case things go slowly.

It will be helpful if everyone has seen each other's characters (or at least a description of them) and is also already familiar with how the game will start. You can still repeat the meet-up scene, but if they've already seen it then they'll be in the right frame of mind from the beginning.
posted by jedicus at 10:03 AM on January 16, 2012

First, I tip my hat to you. I still have the two core 1st edition manuals and I've often dreamed of such a thing.

Second, I'd treat this like your first run at a whole new game system. That is, forget that it's D&D and pretend its entirely unknown. I'd have someone sit down with me and do a dry run: they act as the players and you two step through all the work you'll need to do on the game night. You'll figure out where you waste your time (digging for tables you needed to bookmark, wasting time doing certain piles of rolls that could be automated on a website, etc.). Once you know where the kinks are, you can decide which you'll suffer through and which you need to work around.
posted by introp at 10:03 AM on January 16, 2012

Amusingly, I just popped into Ask MeFi as a break from planning for my Pathfinder game in a week or so. I am a major believer in the idea that the game mechanics (PF, 4e, 1e, whatever) are not nearly as important as the DM, or the players' approach to the story.

Tech: If you're plopping down with 1e, you should resist the urge to let your players use their tech at the gaming table. Even in my Pathfinder game, I have a rule that the only allowed technology comes from me. For my purposes, that really means two things: (1) an iPad with Penultimate, which I use to sketch ad-hoc maps and visuals when needed, and (2) my netbook.

For campaign management and in-game notes, I have really enjoyed using MyInfo; it costs a bit, but is the best information management system I've ever found. Johnn Four (who has a ton of great GM-specific advice online), wrote about it, which is how I tracked it down -- you can see his thoughts on the program here..

I keep a Google Spreadsheet with my session plans, as well. I break out each session, with notes on what plot events I expect to run -- usually, there are 3-5 "main plot" modules prepared, along with 2-3 "character-specific" modules and 2-3 "side plot" modules. Each module gets a alphanumeric designator ("MP2.1a", meaning Main Plot, Chapter 2, Module 1, Part a); these refer to longer, prose-based writeups in MyInfo which I can quickly navigate to on my netbook when we're playing, and which contain all the content I'll need.

Content - On Running Good Adventures and Campaigns: Know your players! The most important thing I've learned in being a DM is that you are engaging in a fundamentally co-operative social hobby, and it's your responsibility to do more than just drag your friends around and through the Epic Fantasy Novel That You Just Never Got Around to Writing.

With an older game like 1e, I would be very careful to set up explicit "module types" for each game night, aiming for a blend of skill-based encounters, role-playing with NPCs, and combat. Old-school AD&D was capable of all of these, and if you really want to capture the feel of playing it back in the 80s, you would do pretty well set up a home base, a dungeon, some wandering monster tables, and a plot that gives the group a reason to delve into that dungeon.

Watch your players as you progress. Some will really love being a junior thespian, digging into their motivations and conflicts; others want to beat on monsters, and will grin and lean forward during the combat sessions. Some want to primarily enjoy finding neat treasure, and love the idea of becoming gradually more powerful. Your responsibility is to provide a mix of challenges and conflicts, the rewards for which hit on each of these motivators in turn.

If you decide to go with something pre-written, Goodman Games has a "Dungeon Crawl Classics" line that might be pretty appropriate. Some of their stuff is even 1e-ified!

Feel free to PM me if you'd like to go more deeply into the GM-ing topic.
posted by ellF at 10:11 AM on January 16, 2012

I still DM AD&D games on a regular basis. Listen, here's your problem:

Did you and these friends play together in the good old days? If not, that "quick look through the material" will be your downfall. No two groups were playing the same AD&D in the good old days. Almost nobody read the rulebooks all the way through -- they jumped straight from Basic D&D to AD&D, only read the parts they thought had changed, missed other changes, and generally made things more complicated for themselves. All of those people play a personalized AD&D, full of house rules they remember as being the real rules.

(And people who started with AD&D? Usually misled on a bunch of key concepts by "gurus" who did what I just described.)

So, if a bunch of old guys who didn't grow up playing AD&D get together, they're each going to remember a different AD&D, "remember" different rules that don't exist, and make a general mess of things. You probably don't remember the game as well as you think.

You've got until April. Read the Players Handbook and Dungeon Masters Guide front-to-back now. Every page (except maybe the spells and magic items). Even the stuff that looks like rambling advice. Then, re-read the DMG's "Combat" chapter three more times. (If you don't see the glaring error in the 1E initiative system, you haven't read it enough.) Yes, the books are horribly disorganized, but the core of the rules make sense, and cover a lot more possibilities than most people realize. (Firing missiles in to melee? Covered, but not how most people house-ruled it. Distance between PCs and monsters at the beginning of an encounter? Covered, in case you need to know but forgot to plan. Chances of killing a sleeping opponent? Covered. Chance somebody notices you're using a poisoned weapon? Covered. I could go on.) You need a clear idea of in your head of what the rules do cover (and how) before you go making stuff up on the fly.

And grafting THAC0 into 1E won't make anything simpler. It's not very compatible with the way 20 repeats on each attack matrix (DMG, page 82).
posted by faster than a speeding bulette at 4:46 PM on January 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: For those favoriting this post, everything went very well, indeed, and now they're asking for me to host a campaign.

The best thing, I found, was a copy of the DMG and Player's Handbook scanned into a PDF and OCRd, so as to make them searchable.
posted by thanotopsis at 11:46 AM on April 8, 2012

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