So our gaming table is a mix of old school gamers and those that have recently been introduced to gaming by way of D&D 5E. This has led to many a game night ending with tales of those games of long ago. Then this last weekend we did a one shot dungeon crawl with the Moldvay Basic D&D rules.
Back in the day I owned that box set with the red cover Moldvay but when I finally found a group to play with, they were playing the original AD&D so I never actually played Basic or Expert or the others that followed though I continued picking up the series and always wanted to try that weapon expertise system. Despite certain difference between these editions but there was enough shared tissue that I was filled with nostalgia at the sheer brutality of the system from minimal spells and the mathematical curiosity that is THAC0.
Meanwhile, our newer players had varied reactions. Death at zero hit points (honestly, I can’t think of a table that didn’t have house rules on this), no critical hits, two of us starting at one hit point, and stats that ranged from 4 to 13 (luck of the dice!). The concept of mapping out the dungeon was apparently something we just didn’t do as much in 5E and though novel it was also tedious as we crawled our way, debating on spending ten minutes of our limited torch light to search for traps or to charge forward with a hasty prodding of the floor every ten feet. The idea of hirelings was nifty for them, as our table is usually pretty big and the use of an NPC to fill out the ranks was rarely needed. The dungeon crawl itself was very much done as a hit and run (or in one case, we got hit, lost the PC dwarf, and ran as fast as we could), fighting kobolds and stirges and taking what loot we could carry back to town to rest for our single hit point of overnight healing. If this were 5E, we would have been halfway to second level by the end of the night. In this case, we were more like 60 xp towards the goal of 1500 (for the cleric who could then get their single spell) or 4400 (for the elf because … well that’s how it was for a class that could cast spells and wear armor).
It really highlighted why 5E is such a good starting place for this new generation of gamers. There are plenty of games that offer extra crunch and rewards for deep knowledge of the mechanics, but for many that massive tome of rules is a barrier to play. Looking at some of the maps for 5E adventures, they really lacked the twisting and turning complexity of the older maps, instead focusing more on the encounters to be had in those spaces (4th ed. may have left more of an impact on design than we care to admit on that point). The hit point systems foster a better chance of surviving those lower levels while learning the system. The changes to multi classing and just experience points required being leveled across the board producing more a social contract of a party levelling together compared to the hodge podge of levels in an old school D&D party of replacement characters vs the veterans vs the wildly different XP required for each class. Spell casting is far more flexible now than it was then, no longer are low level wizards going for their daggers once their handful of spells had been expended or no longer relevant. And of course, the backwards concept of Lower AC being the best in the upside down world of THAC0 (To Hit Armor Class Zero) that takes some time to wrap your head around.
Overall, glad we did it and looking forward to some other retro RPG nights! Already we are talking about doing an Original Edition AD&D one shot …
Side Note – Vision Thing
One of our players has vision issues so it’s something we keep in mind for the games we play. She has a tool of a camera and a large sized screen and this has been extremely useful in sharing information with the table. In this case, we used it to display the mapping as it was being worked on. The graph paper lines were dark so we tried something different – highlighters. The visual contrast went pretty well, using yellow for corridors and pink for rooms and a handful of colors as needed. It’s a method I might use for some other games.