The Good1. It was first.
I could dedicate a whole post (or blog) to my wonderful memories of First Edition. For many of us, it was our first experience with a role-playing game, and, in my humble opinion, D&D is still the best. I’ve experimented with other game systems, but I always find my way back to good old D&D.
I love the old adventures, some of which are shockingly old and shockingly deadly, and sometimes I wonder just how much nostalgia comes into play when folks say they like a particular old module. Was the Tomb of Horrors really the best “killer tomb” ever—or simply the first killer tomb that player ever experienced? Like the Tootsie Pop, the world may never know.
Drawing up a 9th-level character for a one-shot even couldn’t be easier. If it’s a fighter-type, deciding on equipment and magic items will probably take longer than actually rolling up the PC.
Likewise, adjusting bad guys isn’t anything to break a sweat over. Need a gnoll commander? Bump up his hit dice and hit points, give him better armor and perhaps a magic spear and you’re done. No fancy Excel sheets needed, thank you very much.
Mixed3. Total DM control.
For all the charts and tables, 1e left a great deal of power in the hands of the DM. There are no attacks of opportunity … unless the DM wills it. Criticals? Ask the DM. How are magic items created? Ask the DM. Special maneuvers? Say it with me now … ask the DM!
The game experience could vary wildly on the flavor of the DM’s home world or campaign style (something that hasn’t changed completely, but has lessened).
4. Plug and Play.
Don’t like a smaller part of the rules? You can probably pull it out and ignore it. Don’t like weapon speed factors—throw ‘em out! (Gygax did! He never played with them.) On the flipside, this led to a crazy quilt game of sorts, with various disparate parts that never seemed to be part of one seamless whole. Roll d20 for this, roll d100 for that, roll d6 for secret doors and surprise … it was dice chaos.
Ugly5. Weak spellcasters.
Gary Gygax’s master plan for spellcasters—mages specifically (or Arcane casters for you 3e folks)—was for them to start off the weakest but to ramp up their power level until they were the strongest character type in the game by 12+ level. It was a cool idea, having varied power progressions. Every 1e player soon learned that thieves raced through the early levels, whereas clerics and fighters were steady and sub-class fighters, monks, and magic-users followed their own, often slow, pace. Yes, cool concept. Trouble is, most players never reached 12th level or higher with their magic-users. Level advancement was slow in those days, and because mages were so damned frail they rarely lived long enough to cast fireballs, forget time stop.
6. Fighters were a bit too strong.
A part of this leads in from number 5 above, but the high number of magic items for buffing fighters and their higher number of hit points makes this the class to beat at least until 6th level or so. Unlike 3e, there are no penalties for wearing heavy armor so the “meat shield” theory is taken to the max here. Wear platemail, run for miles, and swim? Sounds good (unless the DM rules otherwise; see number 3). The addition of some powerful, no time limit/charge magic items—the girdles of giant strength come immediately to mind—could make an average fighter into a real killer too.
7. Poor pummeling/grappling rules.
I guess some things never change!