1e to 4e: Bringing wandering monsters back into D&D

Random monster encounters played an important role in character advancement in early editions of D&D and in many video RPGs, as this assortment of random monsters for Nintendo’s Dragon Warrior game illustrates. Image copyright strategywiki.org.

While perusing some old .pdfs of legacy edition Dungeons & Dragons modules, I was struck by how common random monster encounter tables were in the old adventures, and was reminded of the prominence of random encounters in the rules themselves. The first edition (1e) Dungeon Master’s Guide had an entire appendix devoted to such encounters, and the 1e Monster Manual II included an index that grouped creatures from three monster volumes by terrain and encounter frequency, to make generating one’s own encounter tables easier.

I was also struck by how such tables are absent in every fourth edition (4e) product I’ve thus far seen.

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1e Campaign flashback: adventuring as ‘commoners’

Reading this post over at the Trollish Delver about common people (i.e., those without class, level or other adventuring skills) taking part in adventures brought back some memories about a first edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons campaign I ran about 25 years ago.

Of course, this isn’t an exact comparison; the original post over at Trollish Delver dealt with a game supplement detailing commoners for use in-game. It also reflected on how certain heroes of fantasy literature, like the hobbits in Tolkein’s trilogy, really had no adventuring skills to speak of but managed to accomplish amazing feats.

Our experiment was more of an accident, but it did create a style of game that was unique to any of the other games I mastered.

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Reverse engineering: using 4e adventure design techniques to create a 1e scenario

Author’s note: this is not an edition wars post. Trolls seeking to espouse one edition over another are invited to excrete their comments elsewhere, as they will be summarily deleted here.

While working on a future post, I had occasion to reference the first edition Dungeon Master’s Guide. The book had been undisturbed on the shelf for a very long time.

As it turned out, I spent far longer perusing the book than necessary. I stopped at most of the tables, at virtually every line art drawing, and at frequently referenced passages and monster statistics that, even after not touching 1e for the better part of 10 years, I could still recite from memory.

While I still play 4e when those rare playing opportunities arise – and 4e remains my system of choice, as it appeals to my inner wargamer while, in my own personal estimation, being a mechanically simpler game than any of its predecessors – reviewing the 1e DMG caused me to reflect on what 1e was that 4e isn’t – and the other way around. I found that I missed certain aspects of 1e, such as the variety of spells, magic items that are more than powered-up versions of their first-level selves and how successfully finding a secret door only told players that it was there, not how to open it. It was enough to make me want to run a 1e game to experience that sort of play again, and led to my decision to take up finishing an old 1e writing project that has patiently waited in a file folder these 10 years, now that my schooling is temporarily ended and work has calmed down somewhat.

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