There were several hundred people at this game store (I believe there was some big Pathfinder 2.0 Playtest event going on) and when people walked by and saw the sign saying ‘AD&D 1st edition Greyhawk’, with players like myself with a roughly 40 year old original Player’s Handbook, they frequently paused, said “wow!” and watched with curiosity. Although some of the mature people I gamed with had books that were clearly worn to the bone after 40 years of play, they were still in better shape than many of the 5E books that are being produced by Wizards of the Coast with their bad bindings and wavy pages.
Character Creation and Death.
I began by rolling up a character. Based on the stats I rolled, I didn’t qualify for some of the classes I wanted so I ended up choosing Magic-User. Magic-Users at first level have one spell. ONE. So you have to choose your equipment carefully, since that is what you’ll be using most of the time. It forces you to be creative and carefully consider what you want to do and how you want to do it.
Old school is also tough. One player lost a character tonight, and I understood they lost a character the previous adventure as well. In these games you always have to have a backup character ready, since you might very well witness one character death per game session. We are also not superhero characters, sometimes we have to turn back. We encountered a trap last night, and we couldn’t figure out everything out about it, so we decided it was best to turn around and try and find another route through the crypt. It is refreshing not being invincible, it makes you a better player when you have to come up with alternatives to solve problems.
Large Group and Swift Combat.
We had 8 players using 9 characters. That may seem like a lot to manage, but in old school games like this you don’t have mind-numbing amounts of actions to keep track of each round (e.g. attack action, move action, bonus action, reaction). Watch any modern Pathfinder or D&D 5E game, and try to find one that is able to keep track of their character’s actions for a round; they’re always looking things up and hemming and hawing as they try to decide what they can do. Combat takes f o r e v e r. In old games like this you do your one thing and move on, with only having to worry about doing one thing, you go around the table significantly faster. I think we managed to cover 3 rounds of 1st edition combat in the time it takes to do 1 round of combat in Pathfinder or D&D 5E. You can get so much more done in an old school game.
I know some of my modern gaming friends may be wary of rolling initiative every single round, but again, this keeps combat VERY dynamic and unpredictable, and it doesn’t slow down combat at all in an old school game. We spent the first 4 hours of the night doing an old-fashioned hex crawl (each hex was 5 miles) and we were fighting all the time, but it was swift and effortless. Managing 9 characters was easy, indeed, I will be adding a second character of my own next time, moving us up to 10 characters.
Creativity and Player Skills over Character Abilities.
Modern D&D since 3E is all about what is on your character sheet, it tells you what you can and what you can’t do. And the more rules you have, the more bogged down you get with looking things up or arguing over rules minutiae. More rules give you less options in my view, since one ability you have tells you the thing you can do as well as revealing all the things you can’t do with it. In a game with no feats and no skills (except for some broadly defined ‘secondary skills’), you can try anything and it relies on the creativity of the player. You want to try something? Bring it up and the DM makes a ruling. All the never ending feats people struggle to acquire in modern games you can simply try on your own in an old school game. You don’t need a rule telling you what you can/can’t do – just try it!
It was so refreshing to be a part of this. I’ll be gaming with this group twice a month. I also have a gaming group where I play 5E once or twice a month, and then I have my own Castles & Crusades campaign that I will be running. I can’t wait to bring in this open and creative old school element into my C&C game. People raised on D&D since 3E – and computer games – have a restricted view of what they think they can or should be able to do. Liberate yourself! Let your imagination and creativity reign! Go old school!