When I started playing D&D in 1982, we were young, naive, and enthusiastic. We took on every dungeon with glee and even fought a few major figures like Orcus and Tiamat as I recall. But it wasn’t “Old School” then — it was just playing D&D with friends every weekend we could get together.
By the time I got to college, I was a bit more wary. We were still playing D&D, but chose to play with characters that had “3,000,001” experience points. We played monsters such as umber hulks and thri-kreen. We embraced “last stand” scenarios where we cast Haste and allowed characters to die of heart attacks and old age due to rapid aging after firing off a machine gun blast of hundreds of arrows into hordes scaling the walls.
We even played fast and loose with alignment. One friend had a cleric who would animate the creatures we killed in a dungeon. We had a horde of zombies we’d send ahead of us, tromping through the halls to trigger traps and find more enemies. He even cast Continual Light on the head of a zombie so we had good light to watch the action. Eventually all that was left was the head… and we rolled it down the hallways in front of us until it too was destroyed.
Now I look back on my first decade of D&D and wonder what happened to that creative free thinker. 🙂
As I’ve become older, I’ve become less childlike in my approach it seems. More “analysis paralysis” and less “what the heck, let’s go for it!”
And, as Vince has pointed out recently, there might be some side-effects of newer editions. I know from my own perspective, I fall into the trap of rolling a die vs. role-playing.
If you roll a Perception check, it kind of short-circuits the need for asking more critical questions. If I roll a check and beat the difficulty for the roll, I will be spoon-fed some description rather than problem solving as my character would have to do.
Compare these two approaches:
GM: You peer down a long, dark hallway with 10′ ceilings. The flickering torch you hold only hints at what might be only a few feet away. What do you do?
Player: I roll a Perception check. I get a 23 (Perception skill is 6, plus a die roll of 17).
GM: Treading carefully, you discover a small pressure plate only a few inches from where you are standing.
Player: I roll a Stealth check and use my Thieves’ Tools to disable the trap. I get an 18.
GM: With your tools and a few moments, you think you have it figured out when it seems to shift of its own accord. Somehow you triggered the trap and the floor gives way beneath you…
(Older Edition like Mazes & Perils)
Player: I get on my hands and knees and look at the floor. I get the feeling that this hallways is too quiet and there might be a trap.
GM: What are you going to do?
Player: I will carefully tap on stones in a broad pattern in front of me to see if any of them have a slightly different sound than the rest. Usually that indicates that there’s something going on there.
GM: Sure enough, you find a stone in the floor that doesn’t sound like the others.
Player: Ok. I’ll carefully blow around that stone to see if there’s any kind of gap I can get a dagger into.
GM: Yup. You find a small gap just wide enough to slip a blade into. Go ahead and roll your Find/Disable Traps roll.
Player: Ok, I got a 33 (on a percentile dice) and needed to roll a 25 or lower.
GM: Unfortunately with your intense concentration you created a ton of sweat, as you slide the blade into the gap between stones your grip slips and you depress the button with the hilt of the dagger.
The floor gives way beneath you…
Which way is more interesting and involving for the player and the GM?
I know personally I’ve fallen into this trap myself. I had a period where I played very little (for about 6 or 7 years) and have had to re-learn many things. D&D 3/3.5e, 4e and 5e are definitely more skills-happy than the version I played in 1982. Sure, it was 2e AD&D but we did more role-playing than roll-playing with the system — at least until combat came around.
So I’ve become lazy.
And that has been difficult to overcome in 4e as a player. Everything is so roll-intensive, I just kind of sleep-walk my way through playing some of my characters. Sure, combat gets interesting with the tactical side and power-heavy system in place, but it’s far too easy just to say “I use my Investigator’s kit and Investigation skill” or work through a skill challenge with roll after roll — and then learn what we learned from the GM.
This is a place where working with Mazes & Perils definitely has made me rethink some of my current approach to roleplaying.
I’m not saying that you can’t do an Old School approach with newer editions, but I think the multitude of skills and powers in later editions definitely makes it easier to take the lazy approach.
What do you think?