Old editions never die

As members of the Maxminis.com roleplaying community would know (and they well might be the only ones who read these musings…), I recently bought a bunch of second-hand AD&D 1e adventure modules. (The full list can be found in this thread).

I started playing D&D back in 1982 or so; details are rather fuzzy this far away. In particular, I was introduced to both AD&D and the Moldvay edition of Basic D&D at almost the same time. I’ve always had a soft spot for the Moldvay Basic set. I consider it the best and clearest introduction to D&D there has ever been. The later Mentzer sets were too cluttered for my liking, and left out the explanations of a few points (like what “Name” level actually meant). Tom Moldvay’s edition taught me the true basics of D&D: creating characters, adventuring, and designing adventures.

While I was reading the Basic D&D set, I was also fiddling with AD&D (1st edition). What AD&D had going for it was a vast array of options that Basic D&D could only dream of. There weren’t just the Fighter, Magic-User, Cleric, Thief, Elf, Dwarf and Halfling to choose from, but Assassins, Monks, Rangers, Paladins! Races were separated from the classes, and so you could play a Gnome Illusionist/Assassin if you wanted to! (I did once. Not the most successful of my characters!)

AD&D also had a greater array of adventure modules. Basic D&D had B2: The Keep on the Borderlands, which remains one of the great adventures, but AD&D had the Giants, the Slavers, the Descent into the Depths of the Earth, and – my favourite adventure series of all time – The Desert of Desolation.

I was young. And, I didn’t have the luxury of a regular gaming group. My brother and I would play D&D together – on occasion – but it isn’t the same thing as having the five or more players you really need for the true D&D experience.

Eventually, a friend of ours at school set up a group. Eventually was quite a while later, as far as I can gather. It must have been 1989, as I seem to recall using various AD&D 2e rules when creating my character. There were four of us, and we started on a classic (and huge) campaign. The original plan was to play through the Temple of Elemental Evil, Scourge of the Slavelords, Queen of the Spiders and then proceed through Bloodstone Pass and end up as rulers of our own kingdom. Along the way, a few additional adventures were added into the mix. So, between Temple and Scourge, we managed to play Sabre River (a little known module for the Companion rules, modified downwards in difficulty!) and the Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth.

However, after running the Scourge of the Slavelords, the group broke up. I had taken my character, Meliander Corthan, a human magic-user, from 1st to 12th level. I had greatly enjoyed myself, but it was 1990. We were starting university. I DMed my brother’s character, Brunak – a human fighter (or barbarian) – through Five Shall Be One and its sequel in 1991, and that was pretty much the last gasp of the campaign.

We’d used a combination of 1st edition rules and 2nd edition rules along the way – mostly 1e. And the adventures had been pure 1st edition fun.

It’s now about 14 years later. My current campaign is based on that original campaign, though – necessarily – with different characters and players. Every so often, Meliander or Brunak turn up or are referred to. And, strangely enough, the legacy of 1st edition is still very strongly with us – and the legacy of the Moldvay edition of Basic D&D.

I create my own adventures for the campaign, but I also use pre-made adventures, either from Dungeon Magazine, or from my stock of old D&D adventures. A couple of years ago, I ran the whimsical (and deadly) Gygax classics of Dungeonland and The Land Beyond the Magic Mirror, adapted for the 3rd edition rules. My players had a ball – especially when their characters found a set of the D&D rulebooks in a library! (They spent some time after that questing for the Mystical d20, that could slay dragons!)

The campaign is now back in the City of Greyhawk, and I’ve given the players a selection of adventure hooks. They can explore the ruins of Castle Greyhawk (WGR1: Greyhawk Ruins, a 2nd edition module; although I’ve also got my version of the dungeons), or they can visit Maure Castle (Dungeon’s revamp of WG5: Mordenkainen’s Fantastic Adventure, originally a 1st edition module). Or they can get involved in various other intrigues (my own inventions).

So, the creations of earlier editions are still very useful in my games today. Thus, one reason I’m very happy with my new purchases of 1st edition adventure modules.

However, another reason I’m very happy is that I also picked up a copy of the Expert D&D rules as edited by Dave Cook with Steve Marsh – the companion to the Basic D&D set I originally learnt from. (When I bought Expert D&D back in the day, it was the Mentzer edition.) This edition makes a much better fit than what I had back then – it also is, to my eyes, to be clearer, though it doesn’t deal with everything that the Menzter edition deals with.

It also makes me want to try running a basic D&D campaign. Why? Well, there are different assumptions that are made. Although there are fewer options for character building, the game is quite as fantastic as what you get with 3rd edition. Treasure hunting becomes more a rationale in itself (because you get XP primarily for gold recovered!), and it seems somewhat more light-hearted. (As opposed to both AD&D and 3rd edition).

Those who know the D&D series of adventures (as opposed to the AD&D adventures) will probably have noticed that: there’s a different philosophy behind them.

There’s also the interest of seeing what my 3.5e players make of it all.

Meanwhile, the three N-series adventures I picked up pull me in the direction of running an AD&D campaign! Picking up a set of AD&D character sheets also makes such more attractive. (The five N-series adventures were allegedly written for Novice groups and DMs).

In particular, I’d love to run N1: Against the Cult of the Reptile God. It is highly regarded by many, and would prove a fascinating diversion from the regular campaign and RPGA sessions I run. I believe that it was run as a precursor to the original AD&D campaign that Meliander and Brunak played in, but only between the other two members of the group; I’ve never experienced it myself.

The Acaeum lists about 200 “coded” adventures and supplements for D&D, AD&D and 2nd edition; I have slightly under half of them. Would I like them all? Absolutely! However, time and money will prevail – I am very happy, however, to have increased my collection by the dozen or so products I just picked up.

Although I will remain with 3.5e for the foreseeable future as my system of choice, there are things about earlier editions of D&D that remain attractive to me, and one of these days I’ll try them again – and the experiences will enrich all of my D&D play. The games aren’t that different, after all, and good DMing is important to all of them.

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