Posted by : David Guyll January 23, 2012

In light of a looming edition, others are giving older editions a shot, so I figured I might as well subject mine to them as well. Partially because I wanted to see if there really was anything about them that I actually liked, partially because the only edition that some had played before was 3rd. So scraping from the bottom barrel, we started with OD&D, including the adventure In Search of the Unknown.

They managed to get through the first hall, swing a left, and run into an auditorium where they were gang-raped by six kobolds. The game ran roughly a half hour, and most of that was me rummaging through pdfs trying to figure out descriptions and rules (I guess I had heard that doors had a variable chance of being stuck or some shit).

Ultimately, their final opinion was that they "fucking hated it", though I found elements of the play style to have some positive aspects. Let me break it down.

The Bad
My complaints have largely not changed in execution: the classes are very cookie-cutter and "samey", and the premise of going through bizarre dungeons to loot the place for gold because it somehow gives you XP seems very "video-gamey". The rules were not really complete, and I found myself having to keep a copy of Swords & Wizardry on hand to compare and contrast rulings. Basically, it was a fucking hassle and I felt like that I could have done a much better job if I had just made up rules the game myself (which for all I knew I was).

The players were likewise displeased that their characters had changed from competent heroes to paranoid murder-hobos. When you are able to take a few hits before going down, the game is not as swingy; you can get hit by something and usually have a chance to react to it, as opposed to instantly dying. With the characters having between 2-3 hit points each, the odds were better than half that they were going to die in one hit (and almost certainly the first encounter).

The other downside was the rolled attributes. Having complete control of your character, being able to play what you want and how you want is appealing. Personally I would rather use the Gamma World system (rolling for not directly-important stats), or at least have rolled stats be an option rather than the standard.

The Good
For the first time since I ran D&D, one of the players used a mirror to peek around corners. He also used a 10-foot pole, a practice which largely well out of use at some point in 3rd Edition. I think it was more of a nostalgic kick than anything. The player didn't particularly care for it, stating that he only did it because he was afraid of getting randomly killed by...well, anything. To be fair that mind-set made things seem more immersive, I guess, as I would imagine people going to plunder their first trap- and monster-infested tomb being pretty damned paranoid.

The other perk was how quickly combat could start; you just roll a d6, highest goes first. Since everyone can really only make what amounts to a "basic melee attack" it is more of a factor of if the monster you want to hit is within hitting range. They largely did not care for this, as they felt it stripped away any variety and tactical decisions that could tip the odds in their favor; getting bonuses to hit, keeping the kobolds away from the magic-user, etc.

Something that was kind of a plus was the kind of a lack of minis. With no real tactical decisions to be made, terrain to be utilized, or opportunity attacks I could basically just describe the room, let them tell me what they want to do, and have them roll. The real plus was that if a monster popped in the room there was no delay between rolling initiative and setting things up, which in practice kind of drains the suspense.

Would I Play Again?
Heeell no. Not enough variety when making a character, not a lot of note in in terms of advancement. In its favor the lack of hit points helps lay on the paranoia really thick, but honestly I want players to make characters with backgrounds and personalities and go through a story. While I could tack on houserules to make it easier for them to survive, the end result would look more like 3rd Edition without feats, at which point I might as well be playing at least 2nd Edition. Hell, why cannot they re-release 2nd Edition instead of 1st?

Anyway, next week we are going to give 1st Edition and Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun a run. They will be 5th-level, so we'll see if we can eke out another 10 minutes of game time with this one. :-P

{ 13 comments... read them below or Comment }

  1. Interesting post. I find grognards who use later editions feel overwhelmed by options and rules they see as robbing them of chances to be creative, while young uns like yourself are underwhelmed by the puniness of 1st level old school characters and lack of kewl powerz. I'm a grognard who has given 4E and 3E a chance and think that they are totally different games and gaming experiences, and that reducing them all to 'D&D' is a recipe for disappointment. Old school is all about the long journey from zero to hero, while newer games are about instant gratification - neither is better, just different approaches. I think you were pretty even-handed with your analysis, but I would suggest you prepare the adventure and know the rules better, otherwise you are just promulgating a self-fulfilling prophecy (i.e. old school rpgs suck). Give older games a chance and even if you're not converted, you'll be able to steal enough ideas and DMing techniques to make the effort worthwhile.

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  2. (Just to note before getting into my actual response, I prefer the "old school"/rules-lite style over the "new school" style, so my comments may seem biased, but I'll try to make them as neutral as possible.)

    First of all, if you want players to make characters with backgrounds and personalities to go through a story... have them come up with backgrounds and personalities for their characters and then use a module that isn't a dungeon crawl to take them through.
    That problem doesn't have anything to do with rules.

    The thing that I find odd about your post though is that you guys feel that there are no tactical decisions or terrain to be utilized.
    Personally I find that those things are what make up old school combat, granted that the tactical decisions will mostly be made pre-combat (at least when we've played in the past), instead of during combat.
    And terrain features... jumping on a table, swinging from a chandelier, pushing down rocks, pushing over wagons etc. all stuff that easily could happen in an old school game to swing the combat in either direction.

    Also, running straight into any battle, thinking that you can win, usually means you're going to die in an old school game. Old school isn't fair, you have to use sneaky tactics to win.

    Here's something to read before you run your 1st ed game: http://www.lulu.com/product/file-download/quick-primer-for-old-school-gaming/3159558
    It gives some food for thought, and while it's meant to be for old school gaming, quite a bit of it is suited for RPGs in general.

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  3. And something I forgot to add to the end of my last response:

    If there's something you find you enjoy with old school gaming, try bringing it into your new school games, it might make them more fun. And vice versa of course. :)
    Whatever game you end up playing, just enjoy it, we're all in the same hobby after all. :)

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  4. @Tedankhamen: I disagree that having options inhibits creativity. To me existing options—including page 42 in the DMG—make it easier to inspire characters or provide benchmarks for trying other things. I also disagree about the instant gratification and long journey bit.

    I did try to read the rules, but I was looking at the /original/ booklet, which is a disorganized mess. I ended up having to reference a clone that I had heard was “very close” (Swords & Wizardry) to the original. Mind you the rules were not the main issue, especially not for the players; their issues were the lack of hit points and diversity.

    As it stands there really are not any rules or concepts that I would use (though plenty of instances that I would apply houserules from later editions to). Well...finding a way to turn combat quickly “on and off” without losing the tension was an appeal, but I did that just fine in the 4E game we played immediately afterwards without much difficulty.

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  5. @Ibl: ”(Just to note before getting into my actual response, I prefer the "old school"/rules-lite style over the "new school" style, so my comments may seem biased, but I'll try to make them as neutral as possible.)

    First of all, if you want players to make characters with backgrounds and personalities to go through a story... have them come up with backgrounds and personalities for their characters and then use a module that isn't a dungeon crawl to take them through.
    That problem doesn't have anything to do with rules.”

    It does, though. Being one hit away from death makes it difficult for a player to want to bother investing. Think about it: they show up with a few paragraphs of background for a character they really, really want to play and…BAM, dead. This is even worse in later editions when you had to get lucky to play a certain class. Oh, wow, you finally get to play a paladin? Try not to die, you might not get the chance ever again.

    “The thing that I find odd about your post though is that you guys feel that there are no tactical decisions or terrain to be utilized.
    Personally I find that those things are what make up old school combat, granted that the tactical decisions will mostly be made pre-combat (at least when we've played in the past), instead of during combat.
    And terrain features... jumping on a table, swinging from a chandelier, pushing down rocks, pushing over wagons etc. all stuff that easily could happen in an old school game to swing the combat in either direction.”

    Those things never really came up during my 2nd Edition games (or 3rd, for that matter). The other problem is the efficacy of them hinged largely on the DM running it. Looking through a few OD&D modules I don’t even recall seeing advice or examples for those sorts of things. Personally I feel that 4th Edition better encouraged the creativity by providing numerous examples of benchmarks for resolving attempts and effects.

    “Also, running straight into any battle, thinking that you can win, usually means you're going to die in an old school game. Old school isn't fair, you have to use sneaky tactics to win.”

    I get that, and I don’t mind that. Well...I want the characters to be able to do so without "usually" dying. I mean, sometimes players need to be able to charge into a horde of monsters and be heroic. What I /do/ mind is that if the players don’t know certain things that it could almost guarantee death, with little to no room for error or experimentation.

    I don’t like that. I want them to be daring, get into trouble, become overwhelmed, and be able to learn from it. Having like, 3 hit points allows a negligible margin of error. Seriously, there was a HUGE paradigm shift from wary to paranoid because odds were a single hit from most anything would take you down.

    Since we are running 1st Edition next week, I’ll go ahead and browse through the book. I am more familiar with 1st Edition having run lots of 2nd Edition, and after their experiences with OD&D things will probably go smoother.

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  6. Greatly enjoyed this. I'm a relatively new player (3.5 onwards), but the stuff about where the game came from never fails to fascinate me.

    3 hit points for everyone! And people wonder why the game was so obscure!

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  7. Oh man, I could write so much about this but I try to be brief.

    It seems to me that you started with wrong expectations and got disappointed. "In search of the unknown" is for Basic D&D - not OD&D which really is a mess. It's from a time when even wargames didn't have rules and they published a wargame that's kinda roleplaying game when they didn't know what roleplaying games are really. Basic D&D would've worked much better since it was written to be understandable (dunno if it succeeds). I use it even today with my daughter. Also, why not just use the Swords & Wizardry rules?

    You really are a murder-hobo in the beginning since levels 1-5 are basically part of your character creation. The game is not about wish fullfilment but medieval fantasy where you play as a human in a weird but real-ish world. You don't begin fantastic or strange or half-demon or lightning coming out of your eyes and escalate the world to match that. Also, the gold you manage to steal from the dungeon is a measure of your success, so you get XP for it. I'd say killing hundreds and hundreds of monsters is way more video-gamey (and that's what you do in videogames nowadays).

    In general I think D&D reflects the popular fantasy of its day which is why OD&D is the fantasy wargame, AD&D feels more like a Sword & Sorcery story and 3rd edition high fantasy. 4e is a mixture of video game wish fullfilment, power fantasy and anime.

    "Hell, why cannot they re-release 2nd Edition instead of 1st?"

    Because 1st Edition is a classic, still played today, retrocloned several times and very similar to the beginning of 2nd Edition. In its later days 2e is a mess with tons of splatbooks and optional rules and plays a bit like 3e but bad. Idk if anyone's ever even bothered to retroclone 2e. Some of its settings are great though.

    For smoother but retro gameplay I suggest you try Lamentations of the Flame Princess (available free from its site) with the adventure Death Frost Doom. It's a horror survival adventure with strong atmosphere. There are several good adventures made just for the system.

    I also successfully ran the Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan (from 1979!) with LoTFP last summer at a con - it was a blast. It's a great escape-from-a-dungeon module with lots of exploration, tricks and traps.

    If you want something closer to 4e but still retro-lite/elegant, try Dragon Age RPG which doesn't use miniatures but has a super good stunt system which allows you to throw guys around, disarm them, and where wizards get to be flamethrowers. There's some modularity to the character building so the archetypes won't look samey.

    I could even send you the pdfs.

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  8. @Pekka

    “It seems to me that you started with wrong expectations and got disappointed. "In search of the unknown" is for Basic D&D - not OD&D which really is a mess. It's from a time when even wargames didn't have rules and they published a wargame that's kinda roleplaying game when they didn't know what roleplaying games are really. Basic D&D would've worked much better since it was written to be understandable (dunno if it succeeds). I use it even today with my daughter. Also, why not just use the Swords & Wizardry rules?”

    Having played the edition of D&D that game with Escape From Zanzer Tem’s Dungeon (was that Basic? I think it was Basic in some form) and lots of 2nd Edition, my expectations were pretty much on the mark: I figured that the characters would get killed off pretty quickly, and in that regard the game did not disappoint.

    I used In Search of the Unknown because somewhere, something indicated that it was for OD&D. I guess I could have used another adventure, but I suspect that things would have gone pretty much the same way. Mind you I am not faulting Basic, 1st Edition, or 2nd Edition for any issues that we experienced, though I suspect many of the problems—low hit points, lack of diversity and complexity, and instant death effects—will continue to mitigate the fun factor as we progress through later editions.

    I agree that OD&D is a cluttered mess, and while I could have used Swords & Wizardry the point is to go through all the editions (or most of them, I might try out Basic but will probably not go into Expert etc). For us OD&D fails. We are going to try 1st Edition on Friday or Sunday and see how it holds up.

    “You really are a murder-hobo in the beginning since levels 1-5 are basically part of your character creation. The game is not about wish fullfilment but medieval fantasy where you play as a human in a weird but real-ish world. You don't begin fantastic or strange or half-demon or lightning coming out of your eyes and escalate the world to match that. Also, the gold you manage to steal from the dungeon is a measure of your success, so you get XP for it. I'd say killing hundreds and hundreds of monsters is way more video-gamey (and that's what you do in videogames nowadays).”

    If being able to bash someone in the face with a shield and hit “really hard sometimes” is fantastic, then I think our standards differ quite a bit. And given that OD&D specifically mentions that you can start as a dragon, your claim does not hold a lot of weight. Mind you there are quite a few classes and races that are pretty out there (more in 3rd Edition), but if you want to limit everyone to fighters, clerics, and wizards then the only difference is that you start out more competent.

    Wish fulfillment? Sounds like a previous comment about instant gratification, and I don’t buy it. Is this because 4th Edition (and even mostly 3rd Edition) lets you build the character you want to play, instead of leaving it to chance? Is it because it is harder to be killed off by the first thing that hits you (as well as for DMs to accidentally kill a player)?

    I am genuinely curious where this mindset springs from. As far as I am concerned I could drop 4E characters into the dungeon and tell them to try not to die.

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  9. “In general I think D&D reflects the popular fantasy of its day which is why OD&D is the fantasy wargame, AD&D feels more like a Sword & Sorcery story and 3rd edition high fantasy. 4e is a mixture of video game wish fullfilment, power fantasy and anime.’

    Aaand we are back to “4E is like a video game and anime”. I almost had to do a double-take to make sure I wasn’t on Paizo’s forums. Seriously?

    “Because 1st Edition is a classic, still played today, retrocloned several times and very similar to the beginning of 2nd Edition. In its later days 2e is a mess with tons of splatbooks and optional rules and plays a bit like 3e but bad. Idk if anyone's ever even bothered to retroclone 2e. Some of its settings are great though.”

    Given that they are only going to reproduce the first three books…what is the problem? Checking 1st Edition and 2nd Edition, the latter looks better organized and easier to read, as well as has WAAAY better art.

    “For smoother but retro gameplay I suggest you try Lamentations of the Flame Princess (available free from its site) with the adventure Death Frost Doom. It's a horror survival adventure with strong atmosphere. There are several good adventures made just for the system.
    I also successfully ran the Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan (from 1979!) with LoTFP last summer at a con - it was a blast. It's a great escape-from-a-dungeon module with lots of exploration, tricks and traps.
    If you want something closer to 4e but still retro-lite/elegant, try Dragon Age RPG which doesn't use miniatures but has a super good stunt system which allows you to throw guys around, disarm them, and where wizards get to be flamethrowers. There's some modularity to the character building so the archetypes won't look samey.
    I could even send you the pdfs.”

    This is not an exercise on trying to find a new system, as 4th Edition still does everything I want it to. Everything. Well…unless you are counting homebrew content. Anyway, the plan is to go through each edition and see what we like (if anything) and do not like. Mostly I am doing this because some other people are doing the same thing, and I want to weigh in my experiences. OD&D really game us nothing, but 1st Edition is better organized and has a bit more diversity, so we’ll see.

    On a similar tangent to Dragon Age, I have been picking up other games to see what they have to offer. So far I have gotten Exalted, Legends of Anglerre, Black Crusade/Dark Heresy, and Dresden Files. Exalted and Dresden have further reinforced my preference for games that give you full control, and I am also digging how they let you fine tune certain aspects of your character.

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  10. "I figured that the characters would get killed off pretty quickly, and in that regard the game did not disappoint." AND
    "Aaand we are back to “4E is like a video game and anime”. I almost had to do a double-take to make sure I wasn’t on Paizo’s forums. Seriously?"

    You misunderstand me. I'm not making the un-argument that 4e is like a videogame but, like I said, the editions reflect the popular fantasy of their time. I'm looking this from through the lens of literature and drama.

    Expecting to the characters to get killed off quickly means you are trying to replicate the same type of drama in the game as you do in, say, 3e or 4e. Also, why not start from higher levels if you knew to expect the stuff you don't like?

    In OD&D/Basic/AD&D there's not necessarily an expectation that heroes can overcome their opposition or even harm them without exceptional effort.
    Late 2e and 3e is the 90s high fantasy story where people start humble, can achieve great power, but there's still some naturalism left and magic has implicit rules. In 4e PCs don't usually have to care about people-level stuff, can survive great dangers even as a starting character and magic is effect-based. Ie. you can teleport even at low levels not because traveling through dimensions is easy but because the effect is not "big". This is the way anime and many computer games present fantasy thus constituting popular fantasy. Pathfinder does the same thing too and is open with its anime-ness although the rules set doesn't support it as well as 4e. This is in no way a value judgment but just an observation based on my experience and knowledge on d&d, its history and literary roots.

    I suggested the more modern games (like Dragon Age RPG) since they capture the AD&D drama with of course better presentation. Software for making books and game design have come a long way.

    "Given that they are only going to reproduce the first three books…what is the problem? Checking 1st Edition and 2nd Edition, the latter looks better organized and easier to read, as well as has WAAAY better art."

    Dunno, I don't play AD&D but it seems to be a classic, whatever that means. I would prefer a modernized version of it but then again we already have several versions of it among the retroclones. If I want to capture the tension of exploration, survival and adventuring, I'd use DA or LotFP - and I do at con games.

    Currently I prefer Savage Worlds for my fantasy games since it captures the sweet spot for me. Characters are people-sized and can die in a car crash or from a single arrow, have to climb mountains instead of using spells to bypass them but start extraordinary and stay extraordinary. It's the Die Hard of fantasy (and other genres).

    - Pekka

    P.S. Btw, I don't know how I come off since English is my third language. I hope not too strident since I just wish to discuss and argue all D&D stuff. I think there may be something that has been lost in the development of the current rules - but I don't want to go back to the old deadly mess either.

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  11. “You misunderstand me. I'm not making the un-argument that 4e is like a videogame but, like I said, the editions reflect the popular fantasy of their time. I'm looking this from through the lens of literature and drama.”

    But nothing about 4th Edition makes me think of anime. If I look to Exalted, there are anime tropes there besides the art. 4th Edition? Er…it will take more than the /option/ to play extraplanar races (which were made official in at least 2nd Edition) and the ability to teleport a very short distance once every five minutes. I also do not see any of this as wish fulfillment. At worst, I would say that 4th Edition gives you a spectrum of genres to choose from; DMs do not have to allow all races, and players aren’t necessarily going to pick the oddball stuff just because.

    “Expecting to the characters to get killed off quickly means you are trying to replicate the same type of drama in the game as you do in, say, 3e or 4e. Also, why not start from higher levels if you knew to expect the stuff you don't like?”

    I was just running the module as it was intended. I did not pull any punches and let the dice fall as they did. I did not start the game at a higher level because my group has never played it before, and the adventure was slated for beginners. They should be able to pick up and play with little problem. I think both elements speak against the game; the learning curve of dying in the first encounter is a pretty steep lesson.

    That being said, in our 1st Edition game we are going to start out at 5th-level because the adventure I want to run recommends that range.

    “In OD&D/Basic/AD&D there's not necessarily an expectation that heroes can overcome their opposition or even harm them without exceptional effort.”

    Maybe in OD&D? I think it is stupid to force players to leave the dungeon or a week after each encounter to heal up. Really breaks the flow. However in 2nd Edition we were able to generally tackle encounters in a straightforward fashion. I cannot remember many encounters where we were forced to flee (though they did crop up). I think that both 1st and 2nd Edition evolved rules to better enable players to better survive /because/ of OD&Ds exceedingly frail characters.

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  12. “Late 2e and 3e is the 90s high fantasy story where people start humble, can achieve great power, but there's still some naturalism left and magic has implicit rules. In 4e PCs don't usually have to care about people-level stuff, can survive great dangers even as a starting character and magic is effect-based. Ie. you can teleport even at low levels not because traveling through dimensions is easy but because the effect is not "big".”

    Really? In Keep on the Shadowfell the characters are dealing with kobolds and a death cult on a “people-level”. Even Thunderspire Labyrinth deals with things on a people-level, though those people are in a kind of Underdark outpost. Pyramid of Shadows is more of a bat-shit dungeon crawl. Character likewise cannot generally survive “great” dangers, at least not without scaling them down. Really the difference is that unlike OD&D’s one-hit wonders, 4th Edition lets you get away with like…three hits. I do not think this is bad, because it allows players to get hit, see that they are hosed, and retreat, as opposed to being killed off.

    Relatively speaking 4th Edition characters start humble as well. Look at a OD&D fighter. They have a 50:50 chance of hitting monsters of their level, and can readily afford plate mail, sword, and a shield at level 1. 4th Edition fighters might have a slightly better hit percentage and can also start with heavy armor (though they tend to stick with scale). The main difference is that they have more hit points, but so do the monsters (who also deal more damage), and they have built in maneuvers that offer them a variety of choices.

    None of those options makes them seem super awesome, especially when you compare it to a 3rd Edition fighter. If you want to compare something even more close, the knight and slayer basically get a once per encounter “deal more damage” attack.
    Of all the teleporting races, eladrin can do it because they are the only ones that actually move between planes (stepping into the Feywild), while the rest use it to model the fact that they can move without getting attacked (shadar-kai turn into a wraith-like form, while shardminds break into little shards and reform elsewhere).

    “This is the way anime and many computer games present fantasy thus constituting popular fantasy. Pathfinder does the same thing too and is open with its anime-ness although the rules set doesn't support it as well as 4e. This is in no way a value judgment but just an observation based on my experience and knowledge on d&d, its history and literary roots.”

    Anime is all over the board in terms of genre and style, and computer games? Assuming we can include PS3 games that gives us Dragon Age, Castlevania, Skyrim, Prince of Persia, and God of War. None of these games seem “anime” or involve teleporting. Actually, Skyrim might? I think one of the dragon shouts lets you zip forward really fast. Again, when I compare the OD&D and 4th Edition fighter, the difference is mostly that the 4th Edition fighter has all of four maneuvers baked in (one for Essentials types, along with general things that a lot of people can do and any kind of off the wall things that they want to run by the DM).

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  13. “I suggested the more modern games (like Dragon Age RPG) since they capture the AD&D drama with of course better presentation. Software for making books and game design have come a long way.”

    Again this is basically an exercise to see what editions we like, and which has things to offer when the playtest rolls out. I have looked at a lot of other RPGs though for mechanics I want to crib, but it is starting to look like Next is going to be a kitbash of all editions without many new mechanics (which is a shame).

    “Dunno, I don't play AD&D but it seems to be a classic, whatever that means. I would prefer a modernized version of it but then again we already have several versions of it among the retroclones. If I want to capture the tension of exploration, survival and adventuring, I'd use DA or LotFP - and I do at con games.”

    At last a modernized version would be easier to read and a lot more playable. :-P I am surprised they aren’t attacking WotC and calling it a “money-grab”.

    “Currently I prefer Savage Worlds for my fantasy games since it captures the sweet spot for me. Characters are people-sized and can die in a car crash or from a single arrow, have to climb mountains instead of using spells to bypass them but start extraordinary and stay extraordinary. It's the Die Hard of fantasy (and other genres).

    - Pekka”

    I don’t want a game where players can die in one hit. I want the players to be heroes when the game calls for it, but not be paranoid that a single trap can insta-kill them. Again I just find it is too harsh of a punishing mechanic, and probably why later editions gradually packed on the hit points. I’ll give Savage Worlds a look, but I thought that was more of a modern thing?

    “P.S. Btw, I don't know how I come off since English is my third language. I hope not too strident since I just wish to discuss and argue all D&D stuff. I think there may be something that has been lost in the development of the current rules - but I don't want to go back to the old deadly mess either.”

    The main thing I noticed was that one of the players was using mundane tools. It had a nostalgic feel, but I don’t know if that is a good thing.

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