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The Game: Advanced Dungeons and Dragons 1e
The Publisher: TSR Games
Degree of Familiarity: None whatsoever
Books Required: As is a running theme with D&D, both the Player's Handbook and Dungeon Master's Guide

Something quite strange happened on the way to the circus. By which I mean the pub. It was a couple of weeks ago, on our way home from a wander up to Homebase to get some picture frames. As stereotypical a Sunday afternoon as one could want: I had just finished a pint of Hurricane Jack, we were waiting on a stack of onion rings or something similar that we intended to rebrand as “Lunch”, and I got the Urge to check out the local charity shop.

It’s a good charity shop. I’ve found all manner of gaming books in there: Ars Magica 4th edition (which I had, sold, had again, sold again, got in PDF, then forgot about for roughly ten years), the Heavy Gear corebook—hell, I have to remind myself that I don’t like high-crunch fantasy heartbreakers or I’d be down another fiver. But this time, I found something I knew I had to pick up. With a copyright date of 1978, no less. The first edition Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Player’s Handbook and Dungeon Master’s Guide, along with the first Fiend Folio.

I have no particular love for D&D. I’d not played any edition before 3.0, and that was far better at being the engine for a video game than it was as the basis of a roleplaying game. Worse, it spawned the D20 system, a horrible mess that few publishers bothered to properly divest of board-game trappings and even then it wasn’t good unless it was so stripped-down as to be unrecognisable: True20 and various Microlite games almost get there. But this is the first edition of AD&D. It’s a piece of gaming archaeology, and on that note alone I had to pick it up, if only to see how far we’ve come.

For those keeping score? We’ve come a long way, baby.

Creating the Player Character
After the preface, the PHB moves straight into the section on Character Abilities: Strength, Intelligence, Wisdom, Dexterity, Constitution, and Charisma. Only then do I realise that 4e is the first game that includes the means of generating Abilities in the PHB. Here, I’m told that the DM will let me know what method we’re using.

Since I’m my own DM, I open the DMG. Wow. To say that this book is disorganised is like saying that the Pope has been known to defecate in copses (to met a mixaphor). The contents page breaks everything down with headings and subheadings, but in the book itself the text is all sans-serif, with almost no difference between any level of heading. Keywords don’t jump out at you, they’re obfuscated. For nothing else, it makes me long for the high-crunch weirdness of AlphaOmega, because those guys know design like nothing else.

Flipping through the pages, I note that yes, there is a discussion on dice probabilities on the first page, including demonstration of linear/bell curves (with handy graphs). Please note that we’ve not got to the mechanics yet.

Character Abilities
Right. Five methods for determining ability scores. 4d6 drop lowest, 3d6 twelve times choose the highest six, roll six sets in order and pick the highest of each, and roll up 12 sets of 6 and pick the highest. I choose option 2: generate 12 scores, pick the 6 highest, and assign them as I will.

Normally, I’d turn to random.org to generate my scores, but as these books predate the web, I’m using good old-fashioned six-siders. With a flick of the wrist, I’ve got 14, 9, 13, 10, 8, 9, 11, 15, 12, 11, 11, 15. Putting them in order and dropping the lowest six, that’s 15, 15, 14, 13, 12, 11. Right, back to the book. Oh, bugger…

See, both races and classes have limitations on stats. While the racial prerequisites get stated explicitly in a table, class restrictions are not. And, oh fuck, this includes different strength maxima for male and female characters. Definitely a product of its time. Paying attention to the wording in the book means I can whip up a table of requisites, so I can work out what classes I can go for. No wonder AD&D character creation has a reputation for taking fucking ages. More fun: what’s the minimum Dex for a Ranger? Normally, when not stated, it’s a 6, but 6 is only listed as the minimum for Magic-Users; other classes don’t get a look-in. Though that’s the only table where this is the case… it’s hard work, and I need to check my numbers twice. Why the hell couldn’t classes get the same summary as races?

EDIT: Okay, now I’m reading the class descriptions, the stats are spelled out. But it’s still not tabulated anywhere. Back to the plot. What there was of it.

Race and Class
For reference, the four core classes are Cleric, Fighter, Magic-User, and Thief. They have a pattern of needing one 9 (Wis, Str, Int, Dex in order), one 3 (Dex, Int, Str, Wis in order), and 6s elsewhere. Oddly, the book states that characters without a couple of 15+ stats are likely hosed—I’m paraphrasing, due to Gygaxian description. Each class also has sub-classes: Druid, Paladin, Ranger, Illusionist, and Assassin. The Monk is also available, and the Bard’s kicking around in an appendix. Subclasses don’t get the benefit of having one stat at 3, and often require multiple high stats.

Anyway. With that stat spread, I can get any of the four core classes. Paladin is out (as I don’t have a 17), as is Illusionist (no 16), and Monk (only 2 15s). I can scrape my way into Ranger, Assassin, or Druid. Assassins are level-capped for everyone but humans and half-orcs, Druids likewise for half-elf and half-orc, and Rangers are level-capped half-elf and human only. Also notable that only dwarf, elf, half-orc, and halfling give racial trait modifications.

In order to explore where some of my common choices come from, I’m going to make a human Ranger, who in this edition is a bit more like a commando. I assign scores as follows: STR 15 INT 13 WIS 14 DEX 11 CON 15 CHA 12. This gives me derived features; I note only those that are above or below normal.

Class Features
On to class features. A Ranger starts with 2d8 hit points, but gets an extra d8 every level. This is in contrast to Fighters and Paladins, who have 1d10 each level. I roll 7, 5, and add 1 to each for Constitution (starting with two hit-dice is one of the major advantages of choosing a Ranger). 14 hit points isn’t bad at all. The character adds her level to damage rolls against “giant-class” enemies, surprises on a 1-3, suffers surprise on a 1, and can track overground with 90% chance to follow, with modifiers (and further rules for underground tracking). There’s lots of other bonuses at higher levels: at 8th level you get Druid spells; 9th brings Magic-User spells; 10th allows magic items pertaining to clairaudiance, clairvoyance, ESP, or telepathy and attracts 2-24 followers.

As for restrictions, Alignment needs to be Good, and we can’t hire anyone until 8th level. Also, no group can have more than three Rangers, and each Ranger can only own what he can carry or fix to her mount—at least until 10th level, when she can build a stronghold.

Interestingly, all Fighter classes can attack multiple times per round depending on level: for Rangers, that’s 1/round at 1-8, 3/2 rounds at 8-14, and 2/round 15+. That’s not the interesting part: against anything with less than one d8 hit die, all fighters can attack once per level per round. I think this is the genesis of minions, which other games call "extras" or "mooks". Another idea that's a lot older than I first thought.

Alignment
I know I need to make this character Good. For a change, I go with Lawful Good: I think they’ve become a Ranger in order to bring the laws of civilisation to the wild lands where monsters still roam.

Character Hit Points
Now, we have a discussion of Hit Points. Which is good because it points out that Hit Points are nothing more than luck, combat skill, and magical or divine protection. It also mentions that the DM may want to track HP, telling the characters only how they feel. Which is cool.

Establishing the Character
For some reason, I’m seeing this character as female. Natasha “Tash” Keshell. Yes, her father’s Lord Keshell. Yes, the one with the thing for spikes. Her mother smuggled her out of Arnheim when she was six years old. All she remembers of her life before then is high stone walls, spikes, and blood. So much blood. She grew up the apprentice to a stonemason in Blackheath, and acted as his proxy to the dwarves who owned the nearby mines. She grew up strong and smart, and was all set to inherit the stonemason’s business. One night, the warning horn didn’t blow to warn the town of a raiding party of monsters. Tash only just escaped with her life. The monsters took over both the town and the nearby dwarven mine. She fled into the night, dedicating her life to killing the monsters who took away her adopted home. She’s come to Netherwell to rest and recover.

Character Languages
I have three bonus languages from Intelligence. I pick up Dwarvish (from her backstory), Orcish, and Kobold (from tracking her foes). Tash can also speak Lawful Good. Alignment Language is a stupid concept, but it’s a feature that is there and can come in handy when interacting with NPCs of similar alignment.

Money
We start with 5d4x10 gp: 130gp A suit of scale-mail and a small shield does for protection and costs 55gp. At this point, I should probably choose Weapon Proficiencies—they’re not picked when choosing a class or anything like that. Rangers get 3. I quickly get lost in the tremendous amount of names for polearms. How am I supposed to know what a Lucerne Hammer or a Spetum look like, anyway? Anyway. Shortbow, hand-axe, and long-sword. Done. Purchasing one of each costs 31gp. Two dozen arrows is another 2gp. A riding-horse is 25gp. Saddle and saddlebags are 14. I’m assuming the bit, bridle, harness, and saddle-blanket are all-in. With 3gp left, I go for a week of rations.

From here, the book swiftly turns into a massive list of spells. Since we’re not creating a high-level Ranger, we don’t need to care. All of these rules have been in the first 40 pages. Spells take up the next sixty. That takes effort, man.

Miscellanea
Though I’ve made a character, I still think something is missing. Playing old D&D-based games introduced me to the bizarre idea of THAC0, and I wonder if it’s in this edition. I flick through the DMG, and come across the attack matrices. These are what would eventually become THAC0, which would then be discarded in favour of rolling high vs. AC. Fortunately, the Fighter/Paladin/Ranger table’s easy to cook down: d20 vs (20-AC), with +2 to the die on every odd-numbered level, or +1 per level if the DM’s feeling gracious. Since I’m a bit of a git, I’m not feeling gracious at all. And I was lenient with prices for tack for the horse. I’ve got my eye on me.

Also, saves. These are by class and level, so I note the starting ones now. All of these are d20 roll-over. I think that’s everything.

Tash Keshell, Level 1 Human Ranger
STR 15 INT 13 WIS 14 DEX 11 CON 15 CHA 12
HP 14
Armor Class 5
To-Hit 1d20 vs (20 - defender’s AC), +2/odd-numbered level
Saves Paralyse, poison, death magic 14; petrification, polymorph 15; rod, staff, wand 16; breath weapon 17; spell 17
Weight Allowance Normal 400gp; Heavy 700gp; V. heavy 1150gp
Open Doors on 1-2
Bend Bars/Lift Gates 4%
Languages Common, Orcish, Kobold, Dwarvish
System Shock/Resurrection 91%/94%
Max. Henchmen 5 (0 before Level 8)
Surprise 3-in-6/1-in-6
Damage Bonus: Add level to damage roll vs. giant-class creatures
Tracking: Overground 90% +2 per extra creature, -10 per day since creatures came, -25 per hour of rain. Underground (only if observed less than 30 mins ago), 65% -10 using a door or stairs, -20 using trapdoor, -30 uses chimney or concealed door, -40 through secret door.
Equipment: Scale mail, Small shield, Shortbow (2, 1-6), Long-sword (1-8/1-12) and scabbard, Hand-axe (1-6/1-4), 24 arrows. Light horse with large saddlebags. 1 week’s rations. (623 gp weight all carried)

 

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