I expect more folks will be exploring older editions of D&D as the D&D Next speculation builds, and in anticipation of the promised play-testing sometime later this year (or early next). The re-issue of the original AD&D core books this spring/summer practically calls for it. So cue the announcement from the local gaming store that a DM has stepped up to run a monthly 1st Edition Greyhawk game. Now, I am an old fan of the World of Greyhawk – but specifically from the original presentation in 1st Edition AD&D. I had most of the box sets and modules based in Greyhawk up until the advent of the Greyhawk Wars meta-plot, after which I kind of lost track of events and situations. So in my mind, Greyhawk will always be stuck in those early days, which means this is an opportunity to revisit the imagined lands of my childhood. I remember when my best friend in grade school showed off the original Greyhawk maps, and we gleefully recognized names and locations alluded to in some of our favorite modules. Later, when I got the first World of Greyhawk boxset, it gave actual map coordinates for many of those same adventures, which brought a sense of depth to the world. All of which leads this campaign idea to be just my sort of thing.
Yesterday I had a chance to meet with the DM, Scott, at the game store and make up a character for the campaign, which is scheduled to start in May. There were four of us, Jason (one of my Thursday night group), and Scott’s son and girlfriend. Supposedly more had expressed interest, but that’s who showed up for this ‘preview’ session. Scott had brought two copies of the Holmes Blue book rules (an original, and a better condition copy from the Silver Anniversary box a few years back). He also brought a 4-page list of changes and adjustments to the Holmes rules, which brought back memories of our long-term Thursday night DM, Dennis, who had produced over a hundred pages of changes and customization covering just about every aspect of 3.X, from races and modifiers to adjustments for every class. Dennis’ game was fun, but it could be trying at times trying to figure out all the differences. And yes, the though there were only 4 pages, the changes for this campaign seem almost as broad, though since we are dealing with only few classes and just the beginning few levels, they are still concise. Many of the changes were additions to bring in aspects of actual 1st Edition mechanics, such as some of the ability score modifiers. Even then, though, there were modifications from what is found in the hardcover PHB. So on one hand, this is shaping up to be a true old skool experience, with house rules modifying and extending the very D&D I learned from in the late 70’s, the Holmes Blue book. On the other, it is a trend I will have to monitor to see that it doesn’t interfere with my fun at playing (my) original D&D again!
Ability score generation consisted of 3d6, in order, with one 4d6 for whatever ability you thought might be your prime requisite. I missed that the order of rolling was important at first, and arranged my scores to make a magic-user, as usual. But I discovered the son was already prepped with a m-u that just needed finishing, the girlfriend had an elf fighter already mostly made, and after rejiggering my scores back in rolled order, discovered with a 17 Wisdom, cleric might be my best choice of class, instead. I had some decent scores, considering the method of rolling, with a low of 7 for Strength, and the high of 17 for Wisdom, with some 14s, a 12 and a 15 in Int to round it out. Fortunately the custom rules didn’t penalize me overly for the 7 strength, but benefited me with bonus spells for my cleric’s wisdom so I could start out with a few 1st level spells rather than waiting for 2nd level as per the Holmes rules, for my first spells. And considering the DM indicated with meeting once a month for 5 hours or so, we might take 6 months or more to go up a level, it would have been a long wait!
After filling out the rest of my sheet with minor bonuses due to my higher-than-average abilities (such as a +1 to missile fire and -1 to AC due to my Dex) it was time to choose my race. For a cleric, the choices were pretty much human and.. human. The DM was limiting the number of demi-humans in the party to one per type, and with the elf already taken, Jason took his very intelligent character with a good Dex and went with a halfling thief. So at least all the basic roles are accounted for, if no one else ends up joining us.
Next we rolled for starting money (3d6x10) and both Jason and I lucked out with 140gp and 150gp respectively. The DM Scott had played with the prices a little, but the money worked as per Holmes (though we were warned left over money would be translated to electrum pieces as a standard, and prices would fluctuate in the future, so the idea was to spend all you could now). He also allowed us to pool our money, so after outfitting his thief, Jason lent me enough to get plate mail as a 1st level cleric! That plus a heavy shield and my Dex meant I was starting out with an AC of 1, or 0 against missile fire! Not bad, if I recall correctly. And I think I do, as we ended the session with a mock combat against a group of 4 goblins.
The combat was pretty fast, especially compared with 4th edition, with initiative based on Dex, with a roll-off when there was a tie that couldn’t be resolved otherwise (because of encumberance, etc). The magic-user went first, and loosed his one magic missile. Being old D&D, he actually had to roll to hit, and he missed and was relegated to darts for the rest of the combat. One change the DM mentioned he would make after our mock combat, which was meant to showcase the rules in practice, as well as verify the viability of the characters, was to change Magic Missile to be an autohit from now on, like it is in later editions of D&D. I’m for that change, especially since it’s about the only trick a first level magic-user has, and he can only use it once. We may come to regret that when we start going against evil magic-users, but time will tell.
As for the rest of combat, there were several bad rolls on both sides, which dragged it out a little longer than it could have, and resulted in both the thief and magic-user getting wounded during the battle (as the goblins in back aimed over the fighter and cleric to attack those not in melee and the thief totally missed his Hide in Shadows percentage!) before the goblins finally succumbed to our attacks. A quick Cure Light Wounds from the cleric healed the magic-user to his full 3 hit points, while the thief was left with half his normal range at 2. The characters were declared as viable, and plans were made for our first real session in about a month (because of conflicts with tournaments at the store, and the busy schedules of the players).
I am looking forward to this, though with some trepidation. One of the last things our DM stated was that he was planning to have the campaign world advance in real-time between our meetings, so a month at a time between adventures. Which also meant he expected us to make our way back to civilization (or at least safety) at the end of every session. And if we didn’t, or thought we did, but stopped somewhere treacherous, he would randomly roll up encounters for us between sessions. I’m not sure if he actually meant it when he said we could end up dying between sessions, since that sounds a little crazy to me. Even if we do get bonus experience for these ‘encounters’, which he hinted at. I’d prefer to gain experience and live or die by my own choices and rolls, thank you! So this particular development will have to be closely watched. Still, I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt until it comes into play. Until the first casualty off-screen, so to speak.