It’s D&D, Jim, but not as we know it.

So these past days I’ve been looking at the old Basic and Expert rules for Dungeons & Dragons to get some clues how I can incorporate dungeon exploration and wilderness travel in a Barbarians of Lemuria game. There are rules for that in D&D 3rd edition and Pathfinder, but they seem incredibly fiddly, tedious, and just plain unfun. So I started to look further out and oldschool D&D really seems to have had a quite strong emphasis on it.

It might simply be because of the kind of stuff that personally interests me, but it always seems to me that most people who write about RPGs on their websites are people in their mid-40s to mid 50s who started with really ancient versions of D&D when they were 10 and stuck with it, while I am one generation later and only got into RPGs when I was 16 and D&D 3rd editon was released. What I have seen of dungeon crawling always seemed pretty dull and pointless, because I always demand for strong stories and roleplaying. But reading other people talking about their really oldschool adventures of dungeon crawlings, it all sounds much more exciting and fascinating. It made me want to learn more.

I had been looking at Advanced Dungeons & Dragons before, but never really got much useful out of it. I am very familiar with the AD&D 2nd edition and the D&D 3rd edition and also reasonably familiar with AD&D 1st ed. and D&D 4th ed. Now I started actually taking a lok at the Basic and Expert sets, and it all just feels very different. Familiar, but definitly different. So I went ahead to learn more about this other version of D&D, and there seems to be quite a lot more about it than I ever expected. Now obviously I don’t know even a bit about the larger history, how it was perceived at the time, who played it and how, or even how the game really feels when you actually play it. A lot of what I am going to write here will be inaccurate, misunderstood, and perhaps even flat out wrong. But I think there are probably quite a lot of people out there who don’t know anything more about Basic D&D than I did and I just feel like sharing some of those interesting things I discovered and learned over the past days. From one noob to other noobs.

Continue reading “It’s D&D, Jim, but not as we know it.”

XP for treasure

One oddity of AD&D 1st edition that had always seemed nonsensical to me, is to give characters XP not only for defeated monsters, but also for the value of treasures they bring back with them into town. Why do that? Picking up stuff that is lying around does not make you better at fighting or casting spells. And in those games I’ve been playing the most, treasure is there to be sold so you can buy better equipment and magic items. But in campaigns of a more oldschool leaning, there frequently are no more things for sale, which you don’t already have by 2nd level. So why bother with treasure at all?

Very often, and probably most of the cases, defeating an enemy also gets you treasure. But you can also defeat an enemy and not getting any treasure (because he doesn’t have any). And you can get treasure without defeating an enemy!

That’s what makes XP for treasure relevant. Sometimes an enemy can’t be fought, or the risk is regarded as just way too high. But if you can find a way to get his treasure while avoiding him entirely, you still created a clever solution to a problem. Which is rewarded with XP. Even in a game where money has no practical use, treasure still serves as a measure of your accomplishments. When you return to town, the treasure you bring back with you is your proof for your deeds.

You can’t make the player feel the comforts the money of the PC can buy him. And it’s extremely difficult to really play out the benefits of good clothing and a fancy house. To the character, being rich has great value and benefits. And when the chracter sees a golden idol, it is luring him with expensive wine and crocodile skin boots. But since comfort does not carry over to the player, XP can serve as a substitute lure. Instead of dollar signs in the players eyes, it’s saying “XP”. What matters is the emotional response.

When the GM describes a golden idol with ruby eyes on a pedestal, the player should think “I really, really want this. I hope there’s a way to get it without getting killed.” In other games like D&D 3rd edition and later ones, the player will want to have it because it can be traded in for magic boots or enchanted armor. So there is no need to add the additional lure of XP.