Combining the Best of Old and New School

As I’ve mentioned previously, I’ve been running a first-edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons game for my son and his friends. Scheduling issues for 6 people, four of whom are kids, has been a bit difficult, so we haven’t played as often as we’d like. We’re working on establishing a regular routine, though, so things should smooth out over the summer.

For the first adventure, I wanted to showcase one of the most famous adventure modules ever written for D&D. Yes, I’m using B2: The Keep on the Borderlands. This adventure was packaged with Tom Moldvay’s “Basic D&D” boxed set in 1981, and it was the first adventure ever played by a whole generation of gamers.

However, while B2 is a classic, it’s not perfect. Many people have found that the adventure tends to be pretty deadly and completely unforgiving of mistakes by new players. The tight cluster of beginner dungeons with much deadlier areas means that going in the wrong cave entrance can result in a complete wipe out of a whole party.

In addition, as the adventure proceeds, it can become a bit of a grind. By the time the players are ready to tackle the evil cultists, they may have already lost interest in the caves and moved on to other adventures.

So when I selected B2, I knew I wanted to make some changes, but I also didn’t want to put in a ton of work on this campaign. One of the reasons I chose AD&D as the game to run was that I know it really well and I would be able to run it with a minimum of prep, especially as I don’t get that much free time and I try to spend most of that writing my novels!

That’s where a more modern adventure came to my rescue.

Rescue at Rivenroar (Wizards of the Coast has made a free PDF of the adventure available for download here) was an adventure published in issue #156 of Dungeon Magazine for D&D 4E. In that adventure, a bunch of goblinoids attack a town, steal a bunch of treasured historical items, and kidnap some villagers. The PCs are hired to go rescue the townspeople and retrieve the items.

I think this is a great adventure, and it worked wonderfully when I ran it using D&D 4E. But one of the elements that I didn’t want to push in the kids’ first adventure was a time limit. So I removed the kidnapped villagers and left in the recovery of the historical items. But I also kept the background of the Rescue at Rivenroar adventure—a powerful hobgoblin named Sinruth is trying to build a new hobgoblin army and the raid on the town was just the first step.

So now I had a starting premise and some background for the villains. In my campaign, the goblinoids raided the town, the PCs helped fight them off, and then the town council hired them to track the remaining goblinoids back to their lair and recover the stolen items.

But now, returning to B2, I decided that the module might work better if it was spread out a bit. So instead of having all those lairs within shouting distance of each other, I decided that the hills in that area were riddled with ancient—and abandoned—Dwarven ruins that are now inhabited by these goblinoids. As various tunnels have collapsed or been damaged over time, it has created separate clusters of rooms that could be used as individual lairs.

So I started off in B2 with the cluster of dungeons D, E, and F. Dungeon D is a series of rooms filled with goblins, Dungeon E is just one large room with an ogre, and Dungeon F is filled with hobgoblins. Further on in the hills, I placed Dungeons B and C, which is the main orc lair. Dungon H—the bugbear lair—is in another location in the hills. And Dungeon K is where the main hobgoblin Sinruth and the evil cult that he serves resides, and this is located deep among the hills and is the hardest one to find.

The historical items stolen from the town have been separated out and given to the various tribes of evil humanoids, so that the PCs will need to visit each dungeon in order to recover all the treasures. This will most likely lead them into a final confrontation with Sinruth and the evil cult.

And among the treasure in the final dungeon, the players will find links to a local evil druid who lives in the area (thus giving them a hook to The Sunless Citadel adventure that was published for D&D third edition). Further, since I’ve placed the Temple of Elemental Evil in the region and there is starting to be activity around there, the PCs will find some evidence among the treasure in the final dungeon that the evil cult is also allied to a greater evil temple somewhere in the area. This way, I’m foreshadowing the eventual activity the elemental temples will take, and it gives the players a sense that there’s something bigger going on out there.

So the first adventure is a combination of module B2 (Basic D&D) with Rescue at Rivenroar (D&D 4E) leading to ties with the Temple of Elemental Evil (AD&D 1E) and a hook relating to The Sunless Citadel (D&D 3E).

There are so many good adventures available for the Dungeons & Dragons game, from every edition since the beginning right up until the most recent, that a DM has an immense amount of resources he or she can use to put together the ideal campaign for his or her players.

In this case, the first adventure in my campaign is a great combination of both old and new school, and the kids are having a blast.

Have you used adventures from earlier or later editions in your D&D campaigns? Did you hack them apart and combine elements from different adventures into a new creation? Did you use them whole-cloth and just convert the monster and treasure stats? Tell us about it in the comments.

Why are you using THAT edition?

I’ve written previously that I’m running an Advanced Dungeons & Dragons game for my son and some of his friends. And since then, a number of people have asked me why I’m not using the current edition of Dungeons & Dragons. Their arguments generally revolve around a) the books are in print and available, and b) the support.

I’ve also said before that I’m not interested in getting into edition wars. They’re pointless and stupid. If someone likes a particular edition of a game more than another, then their choice is the right one for them. No one should argue that their choice is wrong. And they shouldn’t argue that anyone else’s choice is wrong, either.

There is this strange belief that roleplaying games are like technology—that a newer version is automatically going to be better than a previous version, because there are “advancements” in game design.

Now I’m not going to argue that there haven’t been advancements. A lot of people have spent a lot of time thinking and talking about roleplaying games, and now there are all kinds of games, in practically every genre, using a whole host of game mechanics that didn’t exist at the dawn of this hobby. The “advancements” allow a greater range of players to find a game that works best for them, focusing on the things that matter to them, and giving them a chance to find that sweet spot where their group can maximize their fun.

But none of that means that the older games aren’t as good as the new ones. That they should automatically be replaced by the games that come later.

For example, when the third edition of Dungeons & Dragons came out, it was a game that played very differently from AD&D. It had many different rules, and those rules changes caused players to interact with the game in a different manner. It was still recognizably D&D, but was also a different game. Was it better than AD&D? Was it an abomination (as some people literally call it)? Neither. It was just another game of D&D.

When 4th Edition was released, it made even greater changes to the rules. The developers took feedback from player surveys and incorporated that information into the design of the game. Again, it was recognizably D&D—despite what some very vocal internet people howled loudly—but it played differently. And yet, all the tropes of D&D were still there in recognizable form, with some new ones were added.

And now 5th Edition is out and it’s tried to recapture the feeling of older versions of D&D while still retaining many mechanics of 3rd Edition. Some people feel that it is the best edition ever, while others feel that it is bland and plays poorly.

But that’s okay. Because if you prefer a different edition than the current one, you’re covered. The rules for every older edition of D&D are available for purchase in electronic form, and now Wizards of the Coast is making them available as print-on-demand.

Even better, the OSR (Old School Renaissance) movement has created clones of many of these older versions of D&D that allow people to publish settings, adventures, and rules supplements.

So, bringing it back around to the main arguments against me using AD&D as the edition that I’m running for the kids:

  • The books are available both in print and electronically
  • There is a great deal of support still being made

Personally, there are things about Advanced Dungeons & Dragons that I simply like better than the current edition. I like all the various subsystems—it gives players a chance to use all those funky dice. I like simple and quick character generation—it makes character death less of a big deal. I like the great danger at early levels—it provides a specific play experience and adds a level of tension that I think is fun. I like the great power at higher levels—it provides a changing play experience and lets the players feel like heroes. And I like the fact that I know the game so well that if I do run into a problem, I can fix it on the spot with a moment’s consideration.

These are the reasons I picked this edition of the game for this campaign. It’s not a perfect game, but it is the perfect game for me. And if the person running the game isn’t enthusiastic about the rules being used, the campaign will suffer. I’m more than enthusiastic, and I can’t wait until our next session.

What is your favorite edition of D&D? I want to hear about what you love about it (not what you don’t like about other editions). This is not the place to crap on other games, but to share your enthusiasm for the granddaddy of all roleplaying games, regardless of the edition you prefer. Share your thoughts in the comments.

Which Forgotten Realms? All of them!

Later today, I’m going to be starting a new Dungeons & Dragons campaign with a bunch of kids aged 10-12, including my son. When I was planning this game, I considered a number of different system, including various editions of Dungons & Dragons, RuneQuest, the Omega system (found in the excellent Atlantis: Second Age), and the very well designed Shadow of the Demon Lord.

playershandbook8coverUltimately, I settled on the first edition of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. There were a number of reasons for this choice, but I’ll go into that in another post.

The second thing I had to decide was where I was going to set my game. Some of the campaign worlds I considered included Athas (the world of the Dark Sun setting), the amazing Ptolus, Pathfinder’s Golarion, and the world of Green Ronin’s Freeport.

But ultimately, I chose the Forgotten Realms.

There are, of course, rabid fans of the setting, and major detractors. It seems as if the Forgotten Realms is a setting that people either love or hate.

frcs-1edBut it is a setting I discovered with the original grey box campaign set back in 1987 and one that I’ve enjoyed ever since. I’ve run countless campaigns in the Realms, and flipping through the various books always gets my imagination running.

There is so much to the Forgotten Realms, however, that it can overwhelm a DM when trying to plan out the early stages of a campaign.

I was helped out when planning my campaign, though. I knew I wanted to run the original adventure The Temple of Elemental Evil, a rather large adventure originally published in 1985 as an expansion of Gary Gygax’s The Village of Hommlet adventure from 1979.

t1-4toeecoverSo my first step was to figure out where to set the Temple. The adventure as originally published was set in the world of Greyhawk, a setting that has been around even longer than the Realms. But the Realms has so much written material that it can be difficult sometimes to take a place on the map and do your own thing with it without contradicting some other published book.

Luckily, I don’t really care about that kind of stuff. I like the Realms because of the material that is available to me as a DM, but I’ve never felt the need to adhere to canon just because TSR or Wizards of the Coast published a book.

It’s my game, so it’s my setting.

While the original village of Hommlet is a great place, I decided to take an existing village in the Realms and use that instead of the village as presented in the original adventure. In my campaign, the village of Loudwater is where my campaign will begin.

Loudwater is located just south of the High Forest, and not very far from the Sword Coast. And I’ve been itching to return to the Savage North for a long time—the last three D&D campaigns I’ve run have all taken place in the Moonsea region.

The next thing to consider is when to set my campaign. In the Forgotten Realms, that’s a real concern.

If you are at least passing familiar with the Realms, you know that the timeline of the setting keeps getting moved forward. With each new edition of Dungeons & Dragons that has been published, the Realms timeline has shifted so that the changes inherent in a new rules set could be reflected in changes in the setting.

What this means is that countries have change, gods have changed, organizations have changed, and major NPCs have changed.

And it’s even worse, because every era has had some fantastic stuff going on that I want to steal for my game.

Luckily, I happen to have the excellent Grand History of the Realms. Originally compiled by a fan of the setting, it was purchased and published by Wizards of the Coast as an amazing reference for major events that have taken place in each year of the setting.

Consider that the original grey box version presented the Realms in the year 1357 DR, the AD&D second edition Forgotten Realms setting moved that up ten years to 1367 DR, the third edition advanced the timeline again to 1372 DR and progressed it through 1376 DR, the fourth edition jumped ahead a hundred years to 1479 DR, and the current fifth edition started in 1484 DR and has moved to 1489 DR.

So more than 130 years of history have passed in the official timeline of the Realms through the editions of the game.

But since I was going back to the first edition of the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons game, I wanted to jump back to an earlier time as well. In fact, I decided to jump back to before the year of the original boxed set.

pool_of_radiance_coverartI’ve gone all the way back to 1340 DR. This was the year of the old Pool of Radiance computer game, set in the city of Phlan. The events of that game probably won’t affect my campaign, as my players are unlikely to head for the Moonsea on a whim, and I’m far enough in advance of the Time of Troubles that I don’t need to worry about that timeline and consider if I want to include it in my game or not.

However, the one problem is that there are a ton of interesting things that happen later on in the setting. In fact, they happen so much later that there’s little chance they will ever come to pass in this game.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t use them.

In particular, some of specifics from the 4th edition campaign guide to the Realms are fantastic. And since the setting is over a hundred years in the future, anything I take from there isn’t going to cause me headaches later in the campaign. These include:

  • The Red Wizards of Thay: Thay is an interesting land and a spawning ground of great villains. It’s gone through some changes as the game has gone through editions, and in the years of the fourth edition, the kingdom was ruled by a powerful necromancer. This is my favourite version of Thay, and it gives me a chance to have Red Wizards allied with all manner of undead creatures.
  • The destruction of Neverwinter: The city of Neverwinter was famous for the hot springs that run through the city, keeping it from freezing in the winter. A nearby volcano was the source of the heat, powered by a vastly powerful primordial being of fire that was magically imprisoned under the mountain. A group of villains released the primordial, and the volcano erupted, nearly destroying the city of Neverwinter. Now the city is a battleground for multiple evil factions.
  • The Abolethic Sovereignty: I’ve always considered Aboleths to be really cool monsters, and the Abolethic Sovereignty is an amazing idea. The presence of their great flying city warps reality and is filled with huge, ancient elder aboleths that alien to the Realms.

But most of those elements are for later on in the campaign. The kids are starting with brand-new, first-level characters. They are going to be presented with a few low-level adventures to give them some experience with the rules and their characters, and then I’m going to introduce the Temple of Elemental Evil.

I’ve got a lot of plans on how to make that mega-adventure more exciting and interesting, and I’ll be posting some of my ideas here as the game progresses.

But the kids will be here shortly and I’ve got a little more prep to do.

Have you ever set your game in the Forgotten Realms? Where did you set it? What year (in-setting) did you start with? Tell me about it in the comments.