Friday, April 19, 2024

OD&D As a DM Instruction Manual

I've never really read through the OD&D books thoroughly. I only have them in PDF, and I've mostly just looked at sections here or there as a reference. I've referenced Men & Magic and Monsters & Treasure a lot more than I have The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures. So today, I went through that fabled 3rd volume and took some notes on what it covers, and how. This is in regard to my previous post, suggesting that I take a look at how well each edition acts as an instructional guide for new DMs. 


Dungeon Design -- notes on how to create your megadungeon, including lots of examples of ways to screw over players and make it a true labyrinth. 

Distributing Monsters & Treasure -- fairly similar to later editions, with notes on how to restock/expand/modify your megadungeon to keep things fresh.

Movement -- The exploration rules: movement and resting, finding secret doors, dealing with regular doors, traps, listening, and vision/light. 

Underworld Monsters -- rules for encounters: distance, surprise, wandering monsters, avoiding encounters (most monsters usually attack, but reaction rolls for intelligent ones).

Example of Dungeon Play

Wilderness -- the map needs castles, ruins, the Dungeon, a home town. Town adventures briefly mentioned.

Outdoor Survival -- explanation of how to use that map for unplanned/impromptu wilderness adventures, Castle Encounters explained in much more detail than in BX/BECMI/RC.

Referee's Map -- explanation that you can make your own map (but no advice on how), which can be useful for domain game play, and rules for hex-crawling and filling in a blank player map while exploring.

Movement -- all movement rates by hex (later listed as assumed 5 miles vertex to vertex!) per day, terrain penalties from Outdoor Survival. 

Wilderness Monsters -- rules for encounter distance, surprise, getting lost (a bit out of place), wandering monsters. Name level NPC wandering monsters are given more detail than in BX/BECMI. 

Evasion -- pretty similar to what's in BX/BECMI

Castle Construction -- not so different from BX/BECMI, but there is a note suggesting adventures defending a stronghold from incursions by monsters/enemies. 

Specialist NPCs -- what you'd expect, types, job descriptions, prices

Rumors, Information, Legends -- suggestions for developing rumors, and rules for players paying to find more information

PC Upkeep -- 1% of XP (per month I assume) needs to be spent on daily living. 

Baronies -- No more upkeep, now you get income. It suggests 2-8 villages within 20 mile radius of stronghold. There are notes on making improvements that may bring in more income/population, but no rules on how to manage that. 

Angry Villagers Rule -- because torches and pitchforks are fun!

Other Worlds -- go crazy with the campaign world

Land Combat -- AKA mass combat, use Chainmail

Aerial Combat -- use counters/minis on map, modified Chainmail rules, pretty extensive!

Naval Combat -- while this also has Chainmail suggested for man-to-man action, the ship combat rules in BX/BECMI derived from this, but this is more extensive. Includes swimming/drowning rules, water monsters, etc.

Healing Wounds -- natural healing at 1 hp per day, but not on the 1st day of rest!

Time -- keeping time for the campaign: assume 1 week per dungeon delve (including prep/recovery time), 1 day per turn wilderness exploring, 1 week real time is 1 week game time for 'downtime activities' or inactive PCs. 

Instructional Value: 

While I did learn a few things, and get some ideas for incorporating a bit more complexity to TS&R by reading through this (something I should have done years ago!), I don't know how well this booklet does at explaining how to run a game. It does give plenty of details for preparing the dungeon (less so for preparing the wilderness or town/city adventures, and even less for high level domain play). It explains some systems in detail, others are just glossed over or hinted as possible. 

There isn't much philosophy or explanation of the Why of game play, just a focus on the How. There is also zero guidance on actually putting together a group to play, dealing with problem players, etc. Maybe Gygax assumed experienced wargamers didn't need this sort of advice. 

My take is that if I had been given this box set as a kid, with the preparation to game I'd gotten from things like Choose Your Own Adventure books and things like the D&D cartoon, I could have made some decent dungeon adventures. But without Chainmail and Outdoor Survival, much of the rest would have been fairly useless to me. 

Still, it's not as obtuse as many people claim it to be. Most of the rules confusion I think comes from various vagaries in Men & Magic, or incomplete notes in Monsters & Treasure that again assume you have Chainmail. I found The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures to cover most of what's needed, if explanation is a bit short in many areas, and the organization is pretty good overall. 

I can definitely see why TSR thought that the various Classic D&D box sets and AD&D were needed to help explain the game better, though. The rules as written assume experienced wargamers, not newbies. As such, it's a decent rule reference but not a great instructional text.

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