Monday, August 8, 2011

Retro Review - Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1e

This is a retro review. I take a step back and review a game from the past. This is a review of AD&D, including the Player’s Handbook, Dungeon Master’s Guide and Monster Manual. Expect more nostalgia than critical review. Dedicated to Iain Shigeoka, my first DM. It’s rambling, and more just stream of consciousness as I relive the old days, it’s not a super in depth look at the game.

First Encounter: It was 1983, I was in 6th grade, headed out to the playground for recess (that was the year they made 6th grade an elementary school grade again.). I saw some of my GATE classmates, who I never really talked to at the time, with these books…I asked what they were doing, they said playing Dungeons and Dragons, I sat down to look at the Monster Manual and the rest is history.

Main Review: This was it, the big daddy at the time, there weren’t a lot of us playing it, but I dug in, and bought, my books. I remember spending hours upon hours making magic items, rolling up characters, making dungeons on graph paper. The rules weren’t perfect by far, but they were new and magical to my young mind. I remember playing Keep on the Borderlands at 6th grade Safety Patrol Camp (I played a Ranger). I remember in 7th grade playing a solo adventure as an assassin.

The stats were rolled with 3d6 in order, Strength, Intelligence, Wisdom, Dexterity, Constitution, and Charisma. You got what you got. I even remember playing a 5 ST Magic-user, and a 6 IN Fighter. Magic-Users were ultra fragile at 1st level with their d4 hit dice, as were monks; though they both became extremely powerful at their upper levels.

Multi-classing and dual-classing were very different, humans could dual-class, but only non-humans could multi-class. Fighters were the only ones who got percentile ST bonuses. I remember out of hundreds of characters I rolled up I had one Human Fighter that for real had an 18/00 ST, of course he ended up having horrible scores for the rest, 7 DX, 8 IN, stuff like that. I used the dungeon generation chapter in back of the DMG a lot.

There were class combos kind of built in, you couldn’t play a fighter/magic-user/thief unless you were an elf. The Dwarven Fighter/Cleric was fun. Race based level limits were kind of a pain, many races were limited to level 5 in some classes. But at least it wasn’t like playing an “elf” in Basic, I mean really you got a class also, not just a race with some magic abilities. (Though when I see Deedlit on Lodoss Wars I know she’s a BD&D elf.)

There were no feats, no skills to select (as a thief you got some skills, but they were static based upon level+stats). Saves were class based, but had far different categories. Fighters alone had multiple attacks per round. But it was nothing like today, no one got 7 attacks in a round. Hit Dice were based by class, but were a bit odd that you didn’t continue gaining hit dice every level, for example, fighters got 9 hit dice, then continued to gain 3 hit points per level beyond 9. So a 20th level fighter would have 9HD+33hp (+con).

The biggest meanest Dragon had about 120 hit points, which a 20th level wizard could easily trounce with a couple nice magic missiles (they didn’t get nerfed til 2nd edition.)19th level: 10 missiles @ 2-5 dmg each. Oh and magic, what I loved about the old edition, was the spell components. I loved organizing everything. Spell books, spells known, attempted spells that I failed to learn. That was fun. Wizards spells went to 9th level in those days, but Cleric Spells only went to 7th.

There wasn’t a lot of Role-play in the game for me in those days, lots of combat, and lots of rolls. I, as many kids were, was way more into stats and combat than serious role-playing, but that changed as I matured. Lucky for me, Epic Sean and Epic Ian both enjoy giving their characters personality.

There were THAC0 Charts, and Speed Factor, Certain weapons were better against certain types of armor. I used to love weapon speed and I have even tried to play with it in 3.5, but, unless everyone is will to take the extra few seconds each combat to calculate their weapon speed values into their Initiative results, it can be a pain.

I loved the monster manuals, and would spend hours (did I mention I was an only child?), going through the books, creating encounters, and just having a blast filling my dungeons with foul beasties. I believe around 14 is when I thought about ecology, and had a war between two warring factions of kobolds, in different parts of the dungeon, I still like doing that.

I remember wanting to make a 1e bard, never got a character to the proper levels. A Fighter/Thief/Druid (Bard)…Fun times, fun times.

Artwork: Epic! (Well in 1983 it was epic for a 12 year old.) Much of the artwork was humorous, who can forget the high level party vs. kobolds picture in "Rogue's Gallery". The early artwork was simple and black & white, and there wasn't copious amounts of it, but it definitely was epic!

Replay Value: Well it’s AD&D, I never played Basic D&D, So the Red Box, the White Box, they weren’t for me, I remember lots of modules. I still replay those old modules and I have done conversions and played conversions of the old modules many times over the years. While the rules have evolved the game is still around. I even toy with making a world where dwarves make horrible wizards, but everyone could excel at being a thief. I may indeed have to find an old school game to play some time.

Humor: There was humor in the Monty Haul games we played as kids, and humor in blasting a fireball down a thin corridor and watching physics blow the fire back on the caster, or the lightning bolt rebound in your face.

Dungeon Mastering: It was actually dungeon mastering, in the beginning there was very little outdoors play, just wandering through hall after hall avoiding traps and encountering room after room of random creatures. White Plume Mountain was one of my favorites of all time, Wave, Whelm and Black Razor. Endless crawls through dungeons galore. I remember the first time I ran Tomb of Horrors...my first TPK.

Family Rating: 9 and up, there’s some partial nudity in the monster manual, beware the bared breast, if you care about a bared breast, I don’t personally. I know lots do, I worry more about explicit violence than about cartoon nudity.

Price Tag: You can find these books used in various states, though Second edition is quite common, there are plenty of copies at Pair-a-dice last I looked, including lots of the Complete books.

Overall Rating: EPIC! This was my first, I’ll always have a place in my heart for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. I may have to find a game to play in some time.


Tune in for Next Month's Retro review of Shadowrun 1st edition.