September 21, 2007

A Throwback Night

My current group of players recently decided to scale back our regular play, because of the ridiculous work schedules and family obligations we face. We were moving along nicely in Paizo’s third adventure path, Savage Tide, about half-way through the second adventure, when reality intruded and my one friend scaled back his involvement to a "once every 6-8 weeks" level.
The upshot is, after some discussion, we decided to truncate the AP and immediately switch to things that would require less continuity. I suggested we switch to “one-nighters” or adventures that were basically self-contained and could be resolved in 2 or 3 nights, maximum. We also decided to be totally flexible with regard to PCs, even using pre-generated characters and not forcing ourselves to stick with a set group given the long gaps between play sessions. It meant sacrificing much roleplaying, something we had actually tried to increase (we play a fairly tactical game), but it would be easier given the circumstances—more akin to a good boardgame but yet keeping the dice rolling, so to speak.

We normally rotate DM duties (each of us would take a turn for each slice of the AP), so I offered to DM for my overwhelmed friend. I needed something fast and dirty. It’s important to know that our entire group, small though it is, has been playing some form of the game for 20 years, so were all D&D veterans. I decided on a radical change of pace — 1st Edition D&D, pre-generated characters, with a random module selection decided the night off play.

I gathered the troops and labeled four modules with numbers 1 through 4. I selected classic modules I had at hand, that included pre-generated PCs, and that I thought were good. They varied wildly:

#1 Tomb of Horrors (yes, that Tomb of Horrors!)
#2 Lost Shrine of Tomoachan
#3 The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth
#4 Mordenkainen’s Fantastic Adventure (better known these days as Maure Castle)

Dice were rolled and it came down to #1 and #4. Discretion is the better part of valor, and they chose #4. I dragged out the PC sheets and ancient books including my 2nd copy of the Player’s Handbook, guts falling out, inner flap — we noted to our amusement — autographed by Gary Gygax in 1988 (almost a 20-year “antique”)!

As the night went on I was happily surprised … it was a great deal of fun. I fumbled with improvised Intelligence checks (no Spot or Search checks to be had), there were no attacks of opportunity (to the delight of one player), and combat was deadly.


At one point early on, the PCs entered a certain trapped chamber and Rigby the cleric was soon less one magic hammer … which led to bemused cries of “This is so Gygax!” (I explained it was more Robert Kuntz than Gygax, but the point was taken!)

In time, just before we broke for the night, the adventurers completed their sacking of the first level by reaching the area inhabited by the “Terrible Iron Golem” —those familiar with Maure Castle know exactly the heavy-duty critter I’m speaking about here.
Before the smoke cleared, Mordenkainen was prone, deadly poison flowing through his veins (DM liberty changed an instant death into a round-by-round struggle for life), and the troops were rallying to his aid at top speed. Yrag slipped on his ring of invisibility, grasped a special magic sword, belted down his precious potion of storm giant strength and ran to the attack. Bigby and Rigby swooped down on their magic carpet, Bigby blasting away with magic missiles, only to find themselves soon riding a carpet of ash to a rude crash-landing on the hard marble floor below, thanks to the golem's firey breath. Yrag tore into the golem ferociously and the golem responded by hovering above him and hurling its massive, poison-coated sword down at him…

Needless to say, Mordenkainen was rescued, the golem was felled, and the exhausted players filed out at approximately 3 am. The night was a good lesson that it’s good to be open-minded about editions in these “edition war” days, and that D&D—regardless of version—has always been a great game, despite its faults.


The session (which will be continued) helped clarify in my mind the things I prefer in 1st Edition or 3rd Edition, and how some things have improved at the direct detriment of other things. I hope to address these items in my next installment. Stay tuned!

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