How To Play AD&D 1E

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This was shamelessly stolen from a post made by "Nagora" in the DragonsFoot Forums. I think it describes the intended play of the game so well that I felt it belonged here as well.




AD&D was apparently envisioned as an episodic game of adventure scenarios. Campaign play was not seen as a record of daily life around the town or the castle. In Zak's phrase, the game was supposed to be about the interesting days. The "meta-turn" seems to have looked something like this:

   Move the calendar forward until all the characters who desire to adventure together are available.
   Deduct upkeep costs @ 100gp per level per character or henchman.
   Adventure!
   Award xp
   Determine time needed to prepare each PC for next adventure:
       Anyone taken to <1 hp: 1 week's bed rest.
       Anyone wanting to heal up: variable up to a month.
       Training: variable: up to a month/4 weeks. Pay for training.
       Scroll preparation: 1 day per level of spell. (This may also cover the time taken to put spells into spell books).
       Potion preparation: 1-10 days
       Research poison manufacture: 20-32 weeks
       Poison preparation by assassin: 1 week
       Sage consultation: 0-40 days
       Spell research: 1 week per spell level or more
       Enchant an item: 3-10 days
       Recovery from making a +3 sword: 2 weeks (plus actual making time)
       Casting Legend Lore: up to 12 weeks
       Holy water fount construction: 4-10 weeks
       Henchman recruitment: 2-8 days
       Simple spy mission: 1-8 days
       Recovery from severe infection: 3-7 weeks
       Buy spell components - DM's discretion depending on component.
       etc.
   Repeat

As you can see, magic users have a lot of calls on their time at higher levels. The point about the list of time-related activities is that they were not intended to be role-played. They're just numbers added to a calendar in the DM's campaign folder.

What happens if a character is occupied and there is a desire to go adventuring (whether for some time-related reason or cash-generation)? You play your main character's henchman. The concept of the henchman is, IMO, tightly related to Gygax's vision of time as an important resource in the game world. A character with two henchmen can do three things at a time: cast legend lore, spy, and prepare scrolls for example, depending on the class and level of the PC and NPCs. This is a serious advantage over the lone character.

Healing is a slightly odd one because of the existence of PC clerics. The rules on healing in AD&D are quite harsh. Firstly there's the requirement for a week's bed rest if taken to under 1 even if cure spells (other than heal) are applied. Secondly, hp return quite slowly initially, although a month will suffice for all damage, and a CON bonus doesn't apply until week 2 of healing. Exactly where UA's death's door spell fits in is unclear but at third level it implies a continuing intent that negative hit points are a major knock.

The end result is exactly what Gygax wanted to take from the source material: a set of adventures punctuated by major cash drains and "mundane" activities not worth detailing by play - research, rest and recovery, training and so forth.

When the time element is ignored or, just as bad, overly applied things come apart quickly from this grand plan.

When campaigns start to play every moment of every day (a particular temptation in city settings, IME) then the training rules and upkeep costs almost immediately look wildly out of place. A 10th level Cleric might expend 100gp or more per day on their own and their henchmen's upkeep. The question immediately springs up as to what the hell on? In the intended play sequence even this level of expenditure can be brushed off with a vague "oh, churchy stuff - new vestments, repairing the roof, alms for the poor, buying virgins for Saturday's mass" etc. In the hyper-detailed campaign this is hardly workable.

Similarly, training seems quite odd - it's massively expensive and actually quite quick most of the time. The "slow" rationale that it represents just a sort of synthesis of what the character has learned on adventures sort of works but the immediate problem of giving huge amounts of gold to a specific NPC really comes to the fore. Again, something that could be hand-waved is in your face and demands to be dealt with without in any way becoming more interesting.

I would like to point out that training to "level up" is about more than just draining PC's of money and resources.  It can
provide an opportunity to interject the how's and why's that PC's acquire new spells, learn what are and how to use magic 
items and other level related things.  It overall can provide a "time out" for the PC to bring all loose strings together 
before moving on at a new level. -BB

The time needed for the mundane things also becomes a huge drag. No one really cares about the details of casting enchant an item. So things that BtB take a lot of time get dropped, or at least are dramatically sped up to get them out of the way.

Paradoxically, this sort of play becomes indistinguishable from the campaign where time is simply ignored and everything happens in a sort of endless "now" - seasons never pass in either, whether because the DM never moves time forward or because it takes so long for time to be played out that it passes interminably slowly. The only thing that moves time forward quickly is an actual adventure and, possibly, the training period at the end of that if the DM still applies that rule (many simply allow leveling up on-the-spot).

As time demands fade, henchmen and even hirelings cease to matter so much. The advantage of having henchmen is that the player can do more things per time period. If there is no time then that is no advantage to balance out the downsides of henchman upkeep, record-keeping, and relationships. So they get dropped.

I interject here that Henchman, Hirelings and other PC/NPC types are still valuable to the party of few players, giving them an 
opportunity to play in adventures designed for 4 or more PC's.  Their impact on the game can be varied and profound.  -BB

Just as henchmen no longer matter so much, neither does the impact of injury and disease along with the cost to the player of such things as pre-prepared scrolls or detailed information from sages or spies. Generally the first of these costs to go is the cost of healing.

Of course, PC clerics supply healing by the bucket load for the other PCs. I don't think this is intended to be the case. The rules certainly fly in the face of reality here and the cost of healing reflect an expectation that clerics don't dish out the spells for free. Cure light wounds costs 100gp from an NPC, and that's "based on characters of similar alignment and religion as the cleric requesting the service at the headquarters of the cleric in question"!

I've not done it, but I think the intent is that clerical healing is always subject to the deity in question getting something back from it. Obviously, on an adventure which advances the god's goals there's no real issue (although diametric alignments may raise some questions), but once back safely at one's home or stronghold? What's the deity's motivation to allow their power to boost healing of the party's fighter for free if he's just knocking around town wenching and getting drunk? Has he even paid a tithe of his gp gains to the church?

Basically, healing between adventures is assumed, I think, to be natural and slow BtB. Even PC clerics should be asking, on their deities' behalves, "what are you doing to earn this blessing?" and a lack of that question should be reflected in their performance rating. I am aware that this would be seen by many players as a pretty radical imposition.

Something else that suffers from ignoring time is the demi-humans with their level limits. Played as outlined above, time in AD&D passes quite quickly and I have had a henchman die of old age and PCs that reached their 70s. Without it, characters tend to be ageless. This means, of course, that demi-humans' longevity is of no importance and no advantage. Thus, the level limits become a downside with no upside. But when my 13th level fighter was retiring because of old age, my friend's 12th level dwarf fighter (UA rules) was still in the prime of life and would remain so for decades during which he could search for ways to exceed the limits a bit more.

Level limits for demi-humans is something of a topic.  While I think in terms of handling time, the above is correct in dealing
with character aging, The only reason for level limits existing for demi-humans is to push players to choose to play human 
characters.  Another reason is because many demi-humans outlive humans by spans of centuries, there is a desire to avoid 
introducing a 45th level Elven fighter into a fracas with even 12th level humans.  They could easily overpower the play system.  
Of course, that could be said of human PC's if they were to live long enough to gain such unlimited levels.  Once again pointing 
out how important tracking time is in the game.  -BB

I retired my character and started playing his daughter - who, due to time passing, was old enough to adventure as a cleric. families are a useful and meaningful consequence of the rules as written.

XP for gold is intimately tied into this system insofar as the design goal was that large amounts of gold would pass through the PCs' hands - in and out again - and upkeep is a major component of that design. For that to work, there has to be stuff that moves time along and thereby cost the characters money. Ultimately, they are expected to sink a major sum into a stronghold, enter semi-retirement and make way for the next generation.

Things developed after the rules were published, of course. Campaigns and characters lasted far longer than imagined. Where DMG/PHB expects characters to retire around name level (and demi-human level limits are informed by this assumption) actual play went on into the high-teens in some cases. UA addressed some of this but still represents a kludge IMO.

But mostly what happened was that DMs ignored the advice on DMG p37: "YOU CAN NOT HAVE A MEANINGFUL CAMPAIGN IF STRICT TIME RECORDS ARE NOT KEPT." I've ignored it at times, and many here have too. But it is indeed a keystone of the game design. Once it is taken out, xp for gp, training, upkeep, henchmen and level limits - all subjects which are repeatedly talked about here - breakdown in one way or another.



Continuing on from where Nagora left off, I would add that players have indeed played characters out beyond the levels printed in the core books. Because of this, The system has to be re-examined and issues such a s demi-human level limits need to be re-thought. This though should be done on a game by game basis by the individual DM's. To have truly limit-less demi-humans could indeed "crash" the system down the road. Some limits may be reasonably raised though according to the DM's anticipated highest level of play.

If, for instance, a DM can foresee him or her self, finding it within them to create what they feel are quality, fun and challenging adventures for PC's at about level 18, maybe 20 then they should consider allowing demi-humans to raise their limits to level 18 or 20 respectively. After that point, the DM could state that PC's at the highest level must retire/become NPC's (or SPC's in my game) mny humans may be near death due to old age by then, if not already dead. But those demi-humnas could remain active as NPC's and "living legends" for a long time to come.

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