The challenge and beauty of AD&D modules

After over a year of playing Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (first edition), I’ve had some really great gaming moments.  But I’ve also had to deal with reality.  Eventually nostalgia wears off and you realize why there were later editions of D&D.  Now don’t get me wrong!  AD&D is proving to be my favorite RPG!  But that doesn’t mean there aren’t some challenges along the way.

When it comes to AD&D modules, I’ve realized one distinct challenge paralleled by a remarkable beauty.  The challenge is this: AD&D modules are very dense.  They are (by and large) not easy to read.  Meanwhile I picked up Storm King’s Thunder for fifth edition and it was like reading a novel!  Not so with AD&D modules.  I’ve tried to read them “for fun” and it’s often not fun.  I read them, because I want to play the game.  As a DM, it’s the work I put in to have a successful, enjoyable gaming experience.  But I won’t call reading them fun.  That said, I did cackle with evil glee while reading Tomb of Horrors.  More on that next week…

That’s the challenge.  Just getting through them takes time and real focus.  But!  There’s one thing that I find consistently effective and beautiful in these modules–and it flows from their density!  It’s this: AD&D modules cultivate “living” settings that players can expand and own.  Many modern modules do the same thing, but I think we can learn a lot from these OSR modules and how they create living settings that allow players to shape them and make them their own.

As a GM, I know that you want to have a vibrant, engaging setting for your players to enjoy.  But where to start?  Creating a compelling setting is hard.  Trust me, I know!  My players have visited plenty of non-descript vanilla villages throughout their years of adventure.  But things have changed in my AD&D experience.  My players are now wanting their characters to take up residence in a local village, shaping it into their own place.  Where did that come from?  I’m convinced it’s one of the strengths of these AD&D modules.

Thus, regardless of what game system you’re playing, I think you can benefit from picking up one of these OSR modules and giving it a read.  Here’s how you can get the benefit out of them:

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Should you reconsider D&D alignments?

You’ve heard it said–maybe you yourself have said it:

“There’s no point to character alignments in D&D or any other roleplaying game.  It’s an unnecessary hindrance to players!”

Or if you’re a proponent of alignments, you’ve seen the eye-rolls from players and other GMs.  I mean, who really takes those kinds of rules seriously?  Should alignments even exist in roleplaying games?

Well, I am taking those rules seriously, as I play my way through First Edition AD&D.  And I’m not simply finding them tolerable, I’m actually really enjoying the rules on alignment.

As someone who played 4th Edition D&D consistently for about four years (and has even dabbled a bit in the last year, believe it or not), I’ve experienced the other side of alignments.  In the 4e Essentials book, Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms, alignment is discussed in this way:

“A character’s alignment describes his or her moral stance.  Many adventurers…are unaligned, which means they have no overriding moral stance. … Most people in the world, and plenty of adventurers, haven’t signed up to play on any team–they’re unaligned.  Picking and adhering to an alignment represents a distinct choice.

If you choose an alignment for your character, you should pick either good or lawful good” (Mearls, Slavicsek, and Thompson, pg. 43).

As I’ve played 4th Edition, my experience has been that 4e alignment rules functionally led to no alignments at all.  Which is fine!  I just think it’s an unfortunate drift from their original function.  So why were alignments originally written into D&D?  And how can their rigorous use  actually benefit our games?

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Why and how I’m playing First Edition AD&D

You might be wondering why a guy like me would be playing First Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons.  And yet, here I am in 2017 playing AD&D more than any other tabletop RPG.

It’s strange especially now!  In my opinion, tabletop roleplaying is going through a bit of a renaissance.  5th Edition D&D is drawing new players in and old players back.  The success of sites such as DriveThruRPG makes independent games readily available.  And beyond that, the vast variety of games available simply makes it a very fun and fertile time for tabletop roleplaying.  So, yes, it is odd that I would go back and play AD&D 1e.

Since has recently seen an upward spike in new readers, I thought I’d give you a more clear and comprehensive on the when, why, and how of my current AD&D project entitled, Chasing the Dragon:

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My first time playing AD&D

Last Friday, I played AD&D for the first time.

Well, kind of.  You know I’ve been the DM before.  But this time, I was a player…you know, controlling a player character.  One of the players from Hommlet offered to run us through U1: The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh, which is proving to be a mysterious and very fun module after only a first session.

It can be hard for a GM to slip into the player’s seat and allow someone else to take over.  So what did I learn from this experience, which I’ve had a few times before?  How can a GM become a player with ease?

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Mediating conflict at the gaming table

On Tuesday, we explored the four different kinds of conflict that can arise between players at the gaming table.  But that’s the easy part!  Any Tom, Dick, or Tenser can start a fight.  The hard thing is knowing (a) how to fight fairly and (b) how to mediate when fighting doesn’t go so well.

Our gaming groups are ideally groups of friends, sitting around the table (digital or physical).  And because of the nature of friendship, we all have a responsibility.  For the player, it is their responsibility to fight fair and to seek reconciliation.  For the GM, it is their responsibility to facilitate that process when necessary.

Here’s how you can do your part: Continue reading

When fights break out at the game table

You may have thought (like I did) that my last article was the final volume in my series on online gaming.  Clearly, you and I were both wrong, for it appears that this comment of mine stirred some questions:

I’ve found it hard for players and GMs to fight fairly online.  I’m not sure what it is about the medium, but it tends to go poorly. … Reconciliation — fighting well — makes a game group better, but it’s hard work.  And if we want our groups to last, we need to be able to fight well.

In response to this sentiment, a thoughtful reader asked some challenging questions that made me think more deeply about this idea.  It will take at least two articles to respond, so I’ll only deal with his first question today: “In what circumstance would players actually fight at the gaming table?”  I can identify four types of fights that can (and frequently do) emerge at the gaming table.  If you haven’t seen these before, I can almost guarantee you will: Continue reading

Should you game online or in person?

All good things come to an end.  Campaigns end.  Gaming groups disband.  Even online gaming groups come to a close.  After two and a half years of GMing my online 4e group, our campaign ended.  We disbanded for several reasons.

First, the story had come to a close.  It had many twists and turns.  It had a deeper and more complicated mythology than any campaign should have.  But most importantly, the characters reached a point of resolution and redemption.  And that really was the goal of our story.

Second but more primarily, we disbanded the group because online GMing was beginning to wear on me.  While online GMing has its pros, it also has its cons.  I’m not referring to limitations that can be overcome or the simple temptations that come with the territory.  I’m talking about unavoidable characteristics of online GMing from which I needed a break.  I could handle it for two and a half years, but then I needed a hiatus for these reasons.  I needed to bring my game back home. Continue reading