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Once upon a time, in a place… well, not all that far away…

There was a game that everyone played, and it was fun.  There were arcane and mysterious terms used like: THAC0, Saving Throw, Exceptional Strength Score, Non-Weapon proficiency, and was accompanied by the clatter of odd-looking little plastic chunks.  They were young men and women sitting around tables in conventions, the corners of restaurants, dining rooms, living rooms, and college student unions.  And they seemed to have a damn good time.

This was a game that most people don’t even think of any more: Advanced Dungeons and Dragons.  Specifically, for me at least, it was first Basic Dungeons and Dragons, then First Edition Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (AD&D), and Second Edition AD&D.  You see, I picked up the hobby on the year it transitioned from the First to Second Editions.  It was great.  It was frustrating at times.

For instance, back then, you rolled for your stats.  3d6 (that’s three six-sided dice) were rolled an, tallying up the roll, then placing them in order for statistics.  If you got a 14 or a 15, you were hot.  If you were lucky enough to get a 16 or a 17, you were fricking amazing.  And if you got an 18… half the time, people thought you cheated.  The other half of the time, they were in awe of you.  And what was better… if you were a fighter, paladin, or ranger, and got an 18 in your Strength score, you got to roll percentile dice to figure out even how much stronger you got to be.

When you got into combat, and rolled initiative, you rolled 1d10, and added the speed of your spell or weapon.  The lower your number, the quicker you acted.  Then when it got to your turn, you had a THAC0 score, or To Hit Armor Class 0.  You see, back then, Armor Class ran from 10 (no armor, average dexterity) to -10 (damned dragons) and beyond.  So what you did, is you took your THAC0 score, and rolled 1d20 (one twenty-sided die).  Then what you do is you subtract your roll from your THAC0 score, and it told you what Armor Class (AC) you hit, and told your DM that.

If you got hit by a spell, you rolled another 1d20, and compared it to a value on your sheet.  If it was equal to, or greater than, you “saved” versus the spell.  You would do this against poisons, paralyzation, the breath of dragons, and more.  You were good enough to take a diminished form of the effect.  And there was so much more… Weapon Proficiencies, Non-Weapon Proficiencies, old school Psionics, monsters with Morale scores…

And it was great.

I mean it.  I look back on those games and realize what is now missing from my gameplay.

A sense of accomplishment.

Seriously.  Back then, when you got to the end of the combat against the red dragon, or the Balor… it was something noteworthy, and it felt like it.  Your magic-user (cranky old gamer term for what the whippersnappers call Wizards now) had cycled through all his best spells, and was trying to come up with creative ways to use the last ones.  Your cleric was running low on cure wound spells, and damned if your fighter wasn’t having a hard time trying to get past the iron-like scales of the great beast.  And when you cracked off that last hit point of the creature, when your DM looked at you and said, “With that last battlecry, the dragon rears up its head and gurgles before falling limply to the floor.  The beast is dead,” it felt like something.  It felt like true victory.

There was a sense of accomplishment if your character made it to level 8 or 9, and your DM let you start building your own keep.  You became an emplacement in your campaign world.  No longer were you just Venrad the fighter, or Indira the itinerant mage.  You became Lord Venrad, the Black Eagle, or Indira the Grey, Arcane Lady.  And it was sweet.  It was something worth remembering.  You created your own spells, made your own magic items… and you loved how creative you could be.  Not only did you think outside the box, you blew the shit out of the box.

I was sitting here recently, thinking about gaming and the fun times it brings, and I realized that I have not really LOVED the game the same way as I used to since about 2000.  That is the year that Third Edition came out.  And as much as I enjoyed the game, it’s update to 3.5, and even the new fourth edition of the game… it never came close to those feelings of accomplishment I had during those second edition days.

It’s not that the new games suck; I am not writing this to downtalk the new games, necessarily.  What I am here to say is this: the old games made you earn your victories.

Seriously, they did.

I remember so much more about my second edition days.  Sitting in the BC3 union for Gaming Guild nights.  Hearing stories about Rat’s jester-rogue, White.  Bringing my friend Brett and Tina into the fold, alongside John, Wade, Bill, and more.  I remember the games we had in my backyard in the summer, with Dennis Whalen and I switching off duties as DM.  Phil Angert, Jason McCormick, Julie Geibel, and more of us playing through adventures as the breeze blew through.  All-nighters at my friend Jason Blatt’s house, alongside Todd, Brian, Joe, Ryan, Vern.

And it isn’t just nostalgia.  It’s not just looking back on good old times.  It is remember that feeling of accomplishment when we did something that was a true milestone.  Taking on Mick the Firebug as Folcan DelUrlar, Phil as Cyrus Trelborn, at my graduation party.  Folcan being speared on the end of Mephistopheles’ military fork while defending New Red Mead alongside his lover, Elikkan Nel’Shazz, and living to take the bastard down.  Running the game for Alex, John, and Walt, wherein they ran around like madman, never getting into a combat for a six hour module, as they tried to take care of an inn for a friend.

You see, we valued those times and victories.  It wasn’t about getting the module in, trying to get as many encounters done in as short a time as we could.  It was about having fun, and making memories.  We worried less about not having one stat at a 16 or higher, and worried more about making sure our character had a good backstory, and was fun.  We worried less about making sure we squeezed the absolute most out of everything, and spent our in-game money on things like bottles of wine, musical instruments, and outfits with style.  Flavor.

Those were the times.  And I am here to tell you this: you can still have them.  Pick up the old editions, play them.  Or even with your new editions, change things.  Get rid of the point buy system.  Roll dice for statistics.  Take what you are given.  Roll for hit points at each level.  There wasn’t the same idea of game balance back then, that people want now.

It was a bitch to level a wizard.  Even a figher could be a pain in the ass to get up there.  And every level accrued was like a notch in your belt.  It was a conquest, dammit.  And it was remembered.

I started writing old second edition modules again, and I am going to be running some of them at the conventions and gamedays I go to.  I am going to be offering them to friends, instead of the usual.  And I am going to try to bring back a renaissance, a return to the style of gaming of days gone by.

Because back then, we accomplished things.

What do you think?


One Comment

  1. I say go for it. I only wish I was closer so I could join in the fun. We had a very creative bunch. It’s not just the game, it’s the gamers. You have to be willing to be creative and not let the game do all the thinking for you.

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