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In preparation for my return to AD&D, I’ve been reading the sourcebooks, but I needed a break. I wanted to get into the nitty-gritty, so I decided to read an adventure that seemed like a good candidate for running my first 1e game since 1982. Last weekend, I chose L1: The Secret of Bone Hill, because it’s low level and most of the people with whom I regularly gamed who also responded to my announcement said they weren’t familiar with it. It was the perfect choice, until I realized it wasn’t.
AD&D v. Modern Gaming
None of us want to turn D&D into A&A (i.e., attorneys and accountants). Tracking rations, encumbrance, the number of non-magical arrows you have, and the like gets tedious quickly, so modern D&D isn’t often played that way. (Of course, all my writings are giving my anecdotal experience. YMMV.) However, there’s a method to that madness, and I didn’t realize I missed it until I started reacclimating myself with 1e. The DM is expected to keep track of time (which is tedious) so that the players don’t constantly waste time searching every inch for secret doors, traps, etc. (which would otherwise make the game itself tedious). While I’m a big fan of passive perception speeding up these aspects of the game, I don’t like its consequences. I’ll be more specific tomorrow, but for now: Suspending your disbelief in magic and monsters for the sake of the game, if you’re not treating the game world like it’s a real world, then you’re not immersing yourself in the game world, and that takes a lot of the point of playing the game away from me.
Despite how much work it will be, my intention is to track time per the rules, which will inherently punish dawdling and unnecessary combats. That’s where L1 breaks down. It’s the consummate sandbox.
To me, a sandbox can be as innocuous as the DM refusing to spoon feed the players. The DM gives you your specific goal, but it’s up to the players to figure out how to achieve it. If the players have no idea how to start the rescue, it’s still up to them to ask those that could provide suggestions. If players have been playing the game for even a short time, they should know by now that a town constable exists. They should know that the town guard exists. They should know that the town has a mayor or other leader. They should know that there’s such a thing as sages. They should initiate contact with all these resources, rather than receive suggestions from the DM. This encourages the immersion in the game world that I like to talk about. Place yourself in the game world and pretend it’s real. No voice in the sky is going to shout down from the heavens, “Hey, go ask the mayor!”
However, L1 is the most sandboxy of sandboxes. It’s not just that players aren’t given the solution to their problem; they aren’t even given a problem. There’s no defined mission, which means that, by design, all the conflicts for the adventure represent picking exactly those fights that the game system discourages. That’s not a good way to get modern players to learn the system. It cuts against everything I’ve said above about my experiences on how AD&D differs from modern play. Unsurprisingly, L1 received a lot of bad reviews, and still does.
Obviously, the fundamental problem with running Bone Hill can be solved simply by giving the characters a specific mission. However, I want to approach the game as lazily as possible at first because I want to minimize the chances of running a terrible game. A good mission requires a bit more than, “Save the princess!”
For me, the only criticism that sticks, though, is one I’ve never seen mentioned: It goes into painstaking detail on what characters need to do to succeed, detect things, etc., mentioning spells and items to which characters of levels two through four won’t have access. However, I still want to run it.
Nostalgia can be a powerful motivator.
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