Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

The Emergent Fantasy World of AD&D

Tam Robinson is a babe.

I’ve been tough on the players.

I just had no interest in running a game featuring kobolds and goblins like happens so often when you run Keep on the Borderlands by the book. But you know, with three healing spells at first level for each cleric, high powered rangers and paladins holding things down, and with enough money in the game that the fighting-men can afford plate armor now… hoo boy, they can hold their own up against some pretty tough opposition. Tougher opposition means bigger payoffs– a tradeoff that seems quite satisfactory, at least when the players are winning.

The magic-users are kind of hysterical. Gone are the predictable Sleep-tossing special weapons units of my B/X games. We really are seeing a lot of weird stuff crop up in play: Spider Climb, Burning Hands, and Read Magic have been the spells that been used so far in the game. Such off the wall spells! The players are one spell scroll away from fundamentally changing the balance of power between the classes, but even if they do they still have to make the “chance to know” rolls to get the good stuff. Spell books and spell components add yet another limitation to the magic-users. Magic is strange and weird and mysterious again!

Meanwhile one cleric is very, very close to leveling up. Several others of the tough guy types are maybe halfway to second level. Another good haul could could cause characters to take a break from adventuring in order go take care of their training requirements. Guys that drop to zero or less hit-points miss out on both the big scores and the experience.

The effect of finding significant treasure last session can’t be understated. I had worked up new rumors and new NPC’s for the tavern but nothing else mattered the moment that a significant treasure haul was discovered. Talk about having a motivation for your characters! It was so intense it was palpable.

And the collision of the wandering monster tables with the encumbrance rules made for a surprisingly elaborate scenario– one that came out of nowhere, really! Weird magic-user spells combined with relatively elaborate morale rules added a lot of color to stuff that would have been a little more predictable under B/X.

The game has its own internal logic and it sure does assert itself quite strongly. My desire to create a sort of auteur type monster setting is overruled by the capriciousness of the dice, the rapaciousness of the players, and eclectic specificity of the rules. (And on the player side, my smart aleck spin on the AD&D half-elf begins to look ludicrously out of place.) As I revise my rough notes for the game, refresh and restock areas, and ponder what is needed, the AD&D game begins to shape me much more than I anticipated.

The rules are ponderous, sure. But once the essence of the game is extracted from the manuals, I have to say… it sure does work. AD&D is alive. It is packed with gaming insight. Random tables like the city/town encounters matrix are a godsend, solving longstanding game design problems with just a few rolls of some percentile dice.

Most of all, Gygaxian wisdom brings a depth, breadth and scope to your game that is far richer than the stories that you might think to impose on it. You can do a lot worse than take a chance and see where all of this stuff leads.

3 responses to “The Emergent Fantasy World of AD&D

  1. MishaBurnett April 11, 2020 at 3:16 pm

    “Emergent Fantasy World” is a good phrase for it. We didn’t start with a campaign world, we started with the books and some dice and a pad of graph paper. Roll up some PCs and make a dungeon and just do it.

    Then, as more stuff got added, the world emerged. The players cleared out one dungeon, okay, it’s time to draw up another. Like the idea of a ruined city of an extinct race, so you put one in. Want some sandworms? There, we’ll stick a desert over in that blank part of the map. And the Green Martians can have their city on the other side of it.

    I never stayed more than one session ahead of the players and frequently less than that. My worlds were assembled piecemeal from whatever I happened to be reading or watching the week before the game. I remember making up a swamp on the spur of the moment by dumping all of the slime and mold style monsters into a region and sticking a city of lizard men in the middle, inventing a lizardman priest class on the fly.

    D&D was designed to be modular and open-ended. You can stick whatever you want in a world and bash the rules to make it fit. Kind of like rebuilding an old American Harvester…

  2. Pingback: Sensor Sweep: Hammett, Hernstrom, Heinlein, Haggard – castaliahouse.com

  3. Pingback: Sensor Sweep: Hammett, Hernstrom, Heinlein, Haggard – Herman Watts

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