Saturday, June 27, 2015

Is AD&D Combat Any Easier?

After trying to wrap my brain around the Hackmaster combat system, I can;t help but wonder if the AD&D combat system is any better. Of course the way I remember it, it was way better. But the way I remember it was not the way AD&D combat was actually played by me, my friends or those I knew.

Back in the day we held combat something like this:

  • Your party ...
    • Opens the dungeon door ...
    • Turn a bend in the trail ...
    • Is startled awake to see ...
    • Comes upon ..,
  • A group of "baddies"
    • Surprise was intuitive. If somebody got the drop on you they got to act first before you rolled initiative.
  • Everybody roll initiative!
    • We used individual d6s for a long time, until 2e when we started using d10s because we misunderstood the AD&D time keeping system. We thought there were 10 seconds in a combat round and your number on the die was the segment / second you acted in. Not as recommended in the book, but it seemed "more fair" to us.
    • We also used Dex modifiers to initiative until we found out that wasn't quite right
  • Highest went first, ties went simultaneously.
  • Roll to hit VS AC and apply damage as necessary
  • When everyone was finished with one initiative round we rolled for initiative again and ...
  •  ... rinsed and repeated until one side or the other was dead, ran away or surrendered. 
That is not AD&D combat. 

I could outline it here, but if you are interested, and it is quite interesting check out the following excellent documents:
Now, some would say that this is a moot point. The way I played AD&D back in the day, was a perfectly acceptable way to play AD&D. Why muck it up with all these "rules". Well ... because I'm an adult. The last time I played AD&D, well actually OSRIC, was when I advised the Junior High Role Playing Game Club. We played for about a year, until I realized we were "missing" a lot of the rules. This realization came about as I found discrepancies between the OSRIC document and my First Edition books. This led me into deeper rules exploration, actually taking the time to read the books and understand where we were not doing things right. We eventually abandoned OSRIC, admittedly due in no small part to my confusion and frustration, and went to Pathfinder. It wasn't any better than 3.5--very rule heavy.

So, yeah. I am an adult. I actually read rulebooks now. Much to my own detriment and that of my players. I'm sort of like that. Something also make me sort of "itch" when I know we are playing a game without really following the "rules" of that game. But I also know that the more rules heavy a game gets, the more frustrated I become--cite 3.5, 4e and Pathfinder as cases in point.

So this all made me conflicted. Here I was, loving the tone and feel of the Hackmaster dialogue and rhetoric, absolutely love it mind you. And recalling the glory days of yore spent playing AD&D sort of "made up as we went along" and realizing I can't play either one with a very clear conscience in the way I like to play--without so many freaking rules! I even spent 6 hours last night creating two, count 'em TWO Hackmaster characters! Alright, I was half watching back to back movies with my kids, but still! That too, I find somewhat frustrating. I mean we used to take hours creating characters back in the day, but lots of those hours were spent drawing character portraits, writing backstory, creating his coat of arms, drawing his armor, creating genealogies, etc. etc. We didn't need that much time to roll up a character! All it took was:

  • roll 4d6 drop the lowest in order
  • Choose a race--apply modifiers, record racial abilities
  • Choose a class--write down any special class abilities
  • Choose alignment
  • Roll HP
  • May need to pick spells
  • Roll for Gold
  • Equip character
  • Name her and add details if you desire

Sure, I'm certain as I get used to character creation it will go faster, but will it really go any faster than Pathfinder or 4e did? Blargh. I could create a PC in less than 5 minutes back in the day, and it usually took 15. 

What all this is doing is making me realize why I chose Castles & Crusades several years ago to play with my own kids, and why I so often default to it when I play. Rosetta stone of gaming or not, it is fast, light, flexible and story-oriented. And I am assuming it is the same reason I find 5e (D&D Next) so intriguing. 


boris jang said...

Yeah I feel the same way.
Hackmaster combat seems too complicated as AD&D.
I always think that the best RPG is AD&D and hackmaster is so nice.
But I sometimes feel that there's a lot of rules.
Whenever I feel like that, I get BECMI out of my old box. After a moment, a sense of relief flooded over me.

Chris Jones said...

Me too Boris. The elegance of Classic D&D is a marvel to behold and a pleasure to play.

boris jang said...

I've been keeping an eye on your blog very pleasantly, Chris.
Your writings so inspiring and interesting.
There's something, profound in your blog.
So I hope you write on the blog steadily.
I'm grateful for that.

SpookyOne said...

The most popular post at my AD&D rules page (THACO DRAGON) is titled, "Set Up and Play D&D in One Hour: The Advantage of the Old BASIC Rules Game"

I wrote on the post that for novice groups it is very easy to run a BECMI game.

Our group played the BECMI game first for many years and then converted to AD&D (2nd ed.) - for more complexity. When playing AD&D we initially (and often) used first Edition Modules, like The Temple of Elemental Evil, and used encounters out of the 1st Edition Book of Lairs. For our group there was no fixed line between either edition of AD&D.

We also ended up playing 1st Edition Forgotten Realms modules like Pools of Radiance in a separate campaign, again with 2nd Edition characters. We could have chosen 1st edition PCs if push came to shove, but after switching from BECMI we where happy with the 2nd Edition options.

Anyway, even though we were playing AD&D we still made new (to RPG) players go over the BASIC Rules: Players Handbook (BECMI) because you could more easily see the composition of the game in terms of core character classes, weapons, AC, hit tables etc.

My view is that if the system becomes too complex it becomes more difficult for new people to get set up and therefore hinders them becoming actively involved in the story telling side of the equation. If there are too many things to remember when running combat (like a myriad of special moves) young players, the 'less nerdy', or inexperienced players can become confused or feel sidelined.

My old group liked to run things on-the-fly, so not having a specific rule, or special move, was not important. We could usually work things out. The DM estimated how hard something might be. We would make the character make a dexterity check, or strength check, with varying levels of penalties. We would guess how many rounds of archery fire could be engaged before the charging Ogres got to melee range. Sometimes actions were ruled as not being possible due to the circumstance (like none of the PCs could move a wedged boulder).

One AD&D character I had was a Ranger called Rab. Usually my combat moves with this character were pretty straightforward. However, on one occasion whilst on horseback, our small low-level (3rd) party (Ranger in Studded Leather/Cleric in Chainmail/Thief) encountered two armoured Knights on horseback who charged us with their Lances. Rather than run we stood our ground. The Knights were searching for our party, and we considered they were elite soldiers of the same level as we were.

The Cleric cast Hold Person on one Knight that worked while I decided, on a whim, to charge the remaining Knight. I intended to parry his Lance with a dagger, and use my Ranger's Longsword to counterstrike the Knight (Rab had horseriding proficiency). It was crazy, but the DM ruled I could try with large penalties. In the end I remember rolling a 19 on the parrying move (I normally would not parry anything), and then rolled a 20 with my Longsword (which, in the game I played was a critical hit for double die damage). The sword damage, plus the falling damage, put the Knight out of action.

Thanks for your recent posts! I really enjoyed them !

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