Sniffing the Flowers in No-Man’s Land

The concept of “Edition Wars” never really struck a chord with me. I started my D&D life with Moldvay/Cook, and then bolted on all the cool stuff from AD&D (classes, races, monsters, spells). I later went to 2nd edition AD&D, ignoring anything I didn’t like and using the things I thought were cool (kits – at the time – being one of them). In 3rd edition I got tired of all the rules and hour long combats that would have taken 10 minutes in older versions of the game and ultimately abandoned it, but I never hated it and there were things in 3rd edition I thought were pretty clever.

And so it came to last Saturday night, when four of my daughter’s friends – aged 17 to 22 I think – gathered around my dining room table to learn D&D. To be more precise, they wanted to get their own game going, but since none of them have ever DM’d, and they knew I was a D&D-er from way back, they wanted to see how I ran a game. My daughter asked me if I was willing, and I was, and so the date was made.

Just a few weeks ago, I had started another D&D game because the wife of an old friend (and D&D player) wanted to try the game out. This game also included my daughter (who had played a couple times with me when she was younger), my friend (as I said, an old pro) and our wives, who had never really played. For this game, I decided to use Moldvay/Cook D&D for two reasons. The first is that I had just bought vintage boxed sets of both and wanted to play with my new toys. The other reason was that I wanted to use a game with few options and few rules so that people could ease into the game playing aspect without being overloaded with rules and regulations. We’re now three sessions in, adventuring in Jeff Rients’ Under Xylarthen’s Tower and I’ve only killed three characters … all of them belonging to my buddy, the most experienced player at the table.

So, having just successfully launched a game for novices with Moldvay/Cook, I figured that would be the best way to go with this new group. But then a complication arose … the kids had all gotten together (no including my daughter) and rolled up characters. With what version of rules I asked? D&D 5th Edition. Hmm.

The problem was that I didn’t have 5th edition and, frankly, I wasn’t going to get it. Nothing against it, but I just didn’t need another version of D&D and I didn’t have time to learn those new rules. I could have nixed the characters and required people roll up new ones for the session I was going to run, but I hate to quash youthful enthusiasm. I could have converted the characters to B&T, but since I knew they were ultimately going to play 5th edition I wanted this training session to be as useful to them as possible. My ultimate solution – I decided to wade into the No-Man’s Land between editions and cling to the faith that D&D is D&D and I could make these different editions work together with absolutely no preparation on my part.

It worked!

What did I end up running? I ran Michael Curtis’ Stonehell dungeon, which was written for Labyrinth Lord with my Blood & Treasure rules behind the DM screen and characters created in 5th edition D&D, except for my daughter, who ran a valley elf fighter named Moon Unit done in B&T. And – I want to stress – I went in 100% cold, with no knowledge of 5th edition other than the fact that lots of people think it’s pretty close to traditional D&D.

How did I handle the rules clash? If I was rolling it behind my DM screen, I was using a blend of Blood & Treasure (surprise, skill rules, saves) and a little old-fashioned D&D (listen at doors checks and reaction checks). If the players were rolling, I let them use what was on their character sheets, sometimes interpreting it through an old school lens. The first thing that took me back was the presence of more bonuses and higher ability scores in 5th edition than in old school games – not a shock, though, since I had played 3rd edition. To make up for the stronger fighting ability of the 5E crowd, I decided to bump monster Armor Classes by 2 points, and I rolled d10 for their hit points. This was after it looked like the characters were going to cut through the monsters like a hot knife through butter. After I made the change about halfway through the session, the fights got tougher and more fun.

I allowed the 5th edition healing rules and death rules to function as-is. If we were playing by old school rules, I killed three characters (including my daughters), two of them with a zombie who rolled really high on damage and who had as many hit points as he could have. Boy, did that zombie scare them. Since we used the new death rules, nobody died – which is fine. I’m not a killer DM, and hey, just getting knocked out scared the crap out of them and made the fights more fun.

The only hurdle I’m not 100% sure how to handle is XP. By 5th edition’s character XP chart, it seems like the group would advance very quickly through levels, making Stonehell too easy for them quickly. The group wants to stick with me as DM for a while longer and they want to explore the dungeon, so I need to keep it viable. For that reason, I think I’m going to use Blood & Treasure’s XP system, which they can then translate into 5th edition’s XP values when I hand over the DM’ing to the player who is planning to become the new DM.

So – moral of the story. Do not fear different editions. Though I can’t speak for 4th edition, which was a departure from the norm, I can say that different editions can work together IF … and this is important … IF you don’t care about getting things perfectly right from a rules standpoint, and just want to have an enjoyable, engaging, exciting game. Work with the players to make a good session, regardless of the rules, and you’ll all have a good time.

Oh – and I found an online character creator that allowed me to turn my daughter’s B&T elf fighter into a 5th edition elf fighter in about 5 minutes, with the exception of picking a feat or feats.

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