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There And Back Again

3 February 2011 by

So our group has started a new campaign and gone back to playing AD&D; somewhere about 1.75e (as Richard calls it).  We’re using the 2e rules, but allow for character classes from the 1e Player’s Handbook, Unearthed Arcana and Dragon Magazines.  So, why go back to AD&D?

Last summer we started playing a 4e campaign, beginning with H1: Keep on the Shadowfell.  Having a pre-made module is essential to our campaign, as I don’t have the time to create my own adventures.  We made our way through the module, and it was rather enjoyable.  However, by the time we were finishing, we were by and large disillusioned with 4th Edition:

  • Combat seems to be the sole focus of 4e. Game mechanics such as non-weapon proficiencies (2e) or crafting skills (3e) are basically non-existent in 4e Core Rules.  These aspects of D&D have always been a large part of my games.  Additionally, the module had very little in the way of traps, puzzles or uses for the party’s skills.
  • Combat was extremely slow. This has been a major point of discussion in the #dnd Twitter world, and is a generally accepted fact.  A single encounter would take an hour or two, with much of the time spent picking which power to use (for both players and DM).
  • Combat is an exercise in micro-management. There are simply too many conditions to keep track of – Marked, Bloodied, Eye-bitten, etc.
  • Classes are so balanced they become homogeneous. Basically they all have the same mechanics wrapped up in different flavor text.  All of these Class Features basically produce the same effect: fighter’s “Combat Challenge”, thief’s “Hunter’s Quarry” paladin’s “Divine Challenge”.  Additionally, numerous Powers end up with the same or similar effects – all just with different flavor text (i.e., “Shift  >1 sqaures before/after attack.”).  None of the classes end up feeling different, and it appears to be done on purpose based on the fact that “Power” platform the new rules are based.
  • Everyone is expected to be a bad-ass of some sort. I’ve had a rogue-like character I’ve wanted to play (and attempted to play) several times.  He is a reluctant hero, much like Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit.  I originally created him in 2e using the Guide and Cartographer classes from Sages & Specialists.  The closest I could get in 4e was a Rogue.  However, he wasn’t the type of character who wanted to leave his foes “reeling from the pain” (Dazzling Strike) or make his enemy “howl in pain” (Torturous Strike).  The theme of character I wanted to play wasn’t a 4e character.

At some point I heard that Wizards had released 4e versions of Village of Hommlet and Tomb of Horrors to people who DM’d D&D Encounters.  Wanted to try my hand at these old modules I picked them up on eBay.  Village of Hommlet looked great, but where was the Temple of Elemental Evil conversion that should follow after?

Also, the reviews and discussions I read about Tomb of Horrors said that most all of the traps and puzzles had been replaced with combat encounters.  If I was going to play Tomb of Horrors, I wanted it to have the original feel.  If I was going to played Village of Hommlet, I wanted to be able to transition into The Temple.

So, why not 3e?  I really love 3e and 3.5e.  Look in the 3e PHB and you’ll find my name in the list of playtesters.  My group was the only “virtual” playtest group allowed during the 3e testing, and it’s great to see our imprint on that product in specific areas like critical hits and multi-classing.  I also met Dave Cline (creator of Alden Minor, and DM of the Hammers of Justice campaign) at a 3e demo that I ran.

At the end of the day, my group had decided that they wanted to play the old classic modules we never got to play while growing up.  Running a 3e campaign would mean needing to convert everything into 3e, something I don’t have time to do.

Additionally, there is a wealth of 1e/2e info already out there in the form of modules, books and a surprisingly vibrate online OD&D / AD&D community.  Many books are also readily available for relatively cheap on Amazon.com and eBay.

I have a stack of “classic” AD&D modules that I never sold, along with my core books and Dragon Magazine Archive CD-ROMs.  After picking up sets of the Encyclopedia Magica, Priest’s Spell Compendium and Wizards Spell Compendium, I don’t think I’ll ever need to buy another D&D book.  Conversely with 4e, I was still purchasing new books and paying for a yearly DDI subscription.

So, after marching along with TSR/Wizards for the last 20 years of AD&D development, I’ve decided to take a time warp back to where it began.  For as broken as AD&D ever was, it has a charm that I still yearn for.  And besides, I’ve got a stack of classic adventures I’ve yet to experience…

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