A 4E player & OD&D

Wherein I comment on the discovery of OD&D by a 4E player and DDI contributor.

First, here are the relevant blog posts, in chronological order:

  1. From OD&D to Playtesting New Editions… and Back Again
  2. OD&D and the Challenge of Pleasing Everyone, Part 1
  3. OD&D and the Challenge of Pleasing Everyone, Part 2

It’s always interesting to see the reactions to OD&D from players of later editions.

Here are some quotes interspersed with my comments.

With five PCs (one charmed) and 10 Nixies, the result was a TPK. And yet, we were all laughing and having a blast.

Remember that thing about DM control? The PCs came to underwater, in an air pocket in the Nixies’ lair. After some fun interaction they allowed the PCs not to serve them for one year, and instead they had to go to the Temple of the Frog and end the threat.

Now, that might sound like he was being a pushover DM (there was, after all, a TPK), but I actually find myself enjoying the development. As a referee myself, I don’t like undoing PC death, but if I had decided beforehand that the nixies were just trying to subdue (even if before meant as I was rolling up the encounter at the table), I would have felt better about it. What a great lead-in to Temple of the Frog though: servants of nixies for a year.

Ian of the Going Last podcast, largely held to be a cheese monkey, cast Charm on my hireling. He then told my hireling to kill himself. Checking the rules, they had not yet added the errata to stop this. Ok, I figured I would let this one happen. Now Ian asks about XP. Sure. They get 100 XP, plus 100XP more for his equipment (since in these editions you get XP for gold). Well played.

I think this is pretty clearly against the spirit of the game, which gives XP for treasure recovered and danger faced.

My feeling is that 4E creates these big set-piece combats that are often inside rooms and consume a big part of a play session. Because of that, we lose all the other bits (the exploration, the movement, the empty rooms we still search, etc. The dungeon ceases to feel extensive, mysterious, holistic, ecological. Those other bits end up being important to the experience.

I couldn’t have said it better.

All damage was a d6, which led the players to have fun with unarmed attacks, throwing a crossbow bolt by hand, and other silly things that still do d6 damage on a hit. In general, combat was more descriptive.

An important assumption of OD&D, in my mind, is that unless otherwise stated things work relatively realistically. This is the wargaming context at work. In other words: I don’t think the rules suggest that a thrown crossbow bolt should be considered a weapon. There’s nothing wrong, of course, with running a cartoon game where thrown pebbles also do 1d6 damage, if that’s how you roll, but nothing in the rules compels such an interpretation. Taking a crossbow bolt and plunging it into an enemy’s eye? Cue Heath Ledger Joker voice: “Now we’re talking.”

(Why is it that 4E’s powers, so descriptive in nature, don’t result in players being more descriptive? I would love to see D&D Next find a nice balance between robust options and imagination.)

I have definitely noticed this in my 4E Nalfeshnee game. I think that is in part because many of the powers are just not very describable. Many seem out of place; a particularly egregious example being the bard power war song strike, which just becomes ridiculous ofter one or two uses (it is an at-will power). Also: perhaps player description has an inverse relationship with power description. In fact, I would argue that we can generalize this. Description and flavor are a fixed quantity. If the setting and rules supply more, the players (including the referee) will supply less.

no level is suitable for the rooms with 250 guards

Here I strongly disagree. This area is suitable for any level as an obstacle. Remember those scenes in the original Star Wars on the Death Star with the battalions of storm troopers? Han et al sneaked around. Same thing. The idea that everything should be fought head-on and killed is one of the more pernicious RPG trends (actually, I blame video games more than 3E and 4E).

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