Why I Love Old-Skool D&D (OR: The 58-Year Old D&D Virgin)

So a few weeks ago, after much debate and discussion, we finally introduced my father-in-law to the intricacies of Dungeons & Dragons.  He's played World of Warcraft for several years, and he loves anything fantasy-related (I've often said he will read anything with a sword or a dragon on the cover), so he was long overdue to be initiated.  He's been listening to us talk about table-top RPGs for awhile (my regular gaming group consisting of his two adult daughters and their husbands, so he's heard plenty about it), and he's seemed plenty interested.

The question was, what to play?  We taught him to play Munchkin and Magic: The Gathering a few years ago, both of which he enjoyed but struggled with the rules (probably because we didn't play regularly enough, and to be fair, MtG has a lot of stupid fucking rules). We were unsure of asking him to join because our experience with MtG.  Not to mention we were playing 4E at the time, and I wouldn't wish that on anyone.  Still, I hated the idea that there was someone out there who wanted to play D&D but wasn't get the chance, so I kept bringing it up until my wife and the rest of the group agreed to play a game with him.

There was no chance in hell we were playing 4E, so I decided we should go WAY back to what I learned to play with, the Moldvay/Cook Basic D&D set.  It's simple, open-ended and (in my humble opinion) ridiculously fun.  I only have the book that came with the intro starter set, so I borrowed some material from Labyrinth Lord as well, but that's more than okay.  It has been many, many years since I played Basic D&D, and it seems I had forgotten exactly how fun it was.

It started off smooth.  I laid out the adventure hook, my players did their research looking for rumours about the dungeon, and we went right to work.  They learned that the goblins liked to ambush adventurers on the road, so they came prepared and snuck up on the goblins first.  The thief miraculously made her 10% Move Silently roll, masterfully creeping up behind the goblins without a sound, and then botched her attack roll (natural 1, FTW!).  The goblins hit her with two sling stones on the counter attack, killing her dead.

Yes, Virginia, characters CAN die in D&D, even from a measly sling stone.  And yes, this character was played by my wife.
It was all good.  She quickly rolled up a new character and was back in the fray before the battle was even over.  The party survived that encounter, snuck into the mine and stole some treasure.  There was only one more casualty in the process, the poor wizard (my brother-in-law) who thought it was a great idea to single-handedly face an ogre when everyone else ran away.  (To be fair, he actually hurt the beast pretty badly by dropping a heavy barrel on its head.  Unfortunately he tried the same stunt again, missed, and discovered that 1d4 hit points do not last long against a pissed-off ogre).

How did my father-in-law do?  Not only did his cleric survive, but he played creatively, and really got into the game.  He described his attacks, openly suggested bad things to happen when he botched an attack roll, and tried interesting and plausible solutions to in-game roadblocks to keep the adventure going (he was the one who alerted the ogre to their presence by tossing rocks down a dark tunnel, but still, he tried).

Seriously, I know it's hard, but just don't throw rocks at it.
 The best moment though, was when faced by the charging goblins after they killed the thief.  The wizard cast shield on himself and ran away.  The fighter turned to face the monsters, assuming the cleric would back her up.  Then, my father-in-law responded with the line of the night:

"I play dead!"

I gave him a surprise attack on the goblins once they got close enough.  I think it was more than worth it for the laugh we all got out of it.

Why do I love Old Skool D&D?  I played 4E for about two years, and never had half the unpredictable, fun and funny things happen that took place in just a couple of hours of Basic D&D.  When was the last time someone played dead, ran away, or even actually DIED in a 4E game?  I had a new player jump in making up fun stuff right off the bat.  Most new players in 4E spend their first several games just staring at their character sheets, paralyzed with all the words and numbers staring back at them, and wondering how to use them "properly."  In Old Skool, there is no "properly."  If you want your wizard to cast his only spell to shield himself, and then proceed to run away and avoid combat altogether, that is a perfectly valid set of actions.  In Nu Skool, you would call that "an inefficient use of character resources."

This is either the US Government's Economic Bailout proposal, or a 4E Character Sheet.  I can never be sure.
That's really not as much fun as "I play dead!"

(Before I get a bunch of comments bitching about me hating on 4E again, I just want to let you know that I have another column planned which will be called "Why I Love Nu Skool D&D."  Yes, like Sookie Stackhouse, I can have more than one love in my life.)

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  1. I would say that basic D&D is one of the best games to introduce a new player to the hobby with. It's a very simple game to figure out, and you can make characters really easily when your DM kills you.

  2. That is the sort of story I love to hear. Getting someone fresh into gaming and without any tears, blood, or broken bones (entirely unlike my first time).

    I've been thinking about doing the same thing with my father, seeing as he's a massive fantasy buff, and my plan was to use Labyrinth Lord as a starter, seeing as it's simple enough to learn in just minutes. Now, with the release of the newest version of Microlite74, I'm torn between two great games to try him out on for his first time.

  3. Awesome.  Love new players for just that reason, no preconceptions about what they should do based on class, tradition, or the system itself.

  4. CDGallant_KingOctober 05, 2011

    I think it's very important that players learn early that it's okay to die.  Once the player gets over the initial shock, then the DM can start butchering with abandon.

  5. CDGallant_KingOctober 05, 2011

    I had a huge bonus because he had played Warcraft quite a bit, so he understood the basic premise of a role-playing game.  Now we just need to find time to get in some more games!

    Labyrinth Lord/Basic D&D is super-easy to get a handle on.  Not familiar with Microlite74, but now I will have to go check it out. Thanks, Joe.  You keep lengthening my List of Games to Check Out.  It's getting almost as long as my List of Books I Meant to Read, which is so long that I will never be able to read them all (unless I live to about 140 years old).

  6. CDGallant_KingOctober 05, 2011

    I know.  People often fall into certain tropes and styles of play that even carry over from genre to genre and system to system.  They believe there are certain ways to play that are "correct" and certain characters that they "the best."  There's not actually anything wrong with that, but it's amazing to watch someone who has none of those pre-conceived notions, figuring things out for themselves.  It's the same reason I love training new people at work - they're alot more open-minded and eager to learn.

  7. I just ran a game for my mother's birthday. She agreed to try B/X D&D years ago, and through an unfortunate mishap, her character died; she never got over it. So this time around, I ran Old School Hack; less mortality, more "awesome." She loved it, and the group had a great time. She doesn't want to play all the time or even more than once every few years, but it helps understand what this weird hobby is all about.

    Thanks for sharing your story.


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