I have consistently second guessed myself while I run (A)D&D games for my group about which version (or retroclone) I like better for play. I range between the simplicity and adaptability of S&W Whitebox and the complexity and completeness of 1st edition AD&D (sometimes including “Unearthed Arcana”, but rarely anything later). Sometimes I decide a particular retroclone looks like it'll be good for what I want to play- I just started playing S&W Complete for instance, or I'd really like to play “Lamentations of the Flame Princess” (and so would a couple of my players) sometime soon.
I guess what it comes down to is that I like the adaptability of the early edition stuff based on OD&D and it's semi-gonzo SF additions to our standard fantasy fare. I like the simplicity and lower power level of OD&D, B/X and their clones. I have written a few rules sets now using S&W and B/X as a template. However, something in my head keeps dragging me back to 1st edition AD&D (or Labyrinth Lord+ Advanced Edition Companion- more on this later). I suppose it's because that's my old default. When I was just starting to play AD&D was just arriving on the scene and B/X wasn't quite here yet (I actually started with Holmes Basic).
Now, the power creep/edition (larger HD, more powerful magic items, more special abilities) is what pulls me away from AD&D towards OD&D or B/X. The absolute familiarity with (and perhaps even mastery of) the rules set is what drags me back. My D&D formative years ran from 1980-85ish, AD&D OA makes it under the wire, and UA slips a bit in sometimes, but my core system has always been PH, DMG and MM.
I guess the power creep is something I never noticed before the 3e era, probably because my default system was 1st edition and I never really looked at it objectively compared to the Holmes Basic and Cook/Marsh Expert sets. 2Nd edition was largely the same as 1st, only with a lot of inconsistent or unused (I am looking at you weapon vs. AC) rules being either tossed or overhauled. With this in mind, perhaps I should be playing either LL-AEC or straight 2nd edition AD&D, but I can't fully commit to either of those systems because I know 1st edition, with all it's warts & weirdnesses, it's Gygaxian purple-prose (a feature, not a bug- it immeasurably increased the vocabulary of pretty much everyone I knew), I have it practically memorized, even after all these years and anything I don't have memorized I can find in seconds in the book- no lengthy searches or game stoppage, and I know how to house rule it without breaking it in any way. Plus, I own multiple copies of all the books (including the premium reprints I got cheap on Ebay). I have given away complete core sets to my players that don't have them (another feature of Ebay- when I feel I am running low on extras for my table, I can usually find them really cheap there), and each of my kids has gotten a complete core set+ OA. My wife came with her own set.
But then I think about sub-classes, particularly Fighter sub-classes, which irritate me; why should a Fighter not be the best at fighting? Every other sub-class loses something, or at least fundamentally changes something, from the core class to make up for gaining their new abilities, not Rangers or Paladins though, so what's up with that? It's not that I hate the idea of Rangers and Paladins, and I get that it's harder to get the stats to be one of them and that they level slightly slower, but they still make better fighters than Fighters do, and that's what irks me. I don't take issue with creating a new subclass for the purposes of playing exactly the character class that you want to play even, I've made them in the past and I probably will again in the future. I am pretty sure that was the impetus behind the design of every AD&D sub-class. Think of them as customized class options for your role-playing needs.
Now, Labyrinth Lord +Advanced Edition Companion is a game that plays functionally identical to my experience with 1st edition AD&D, my only real problems with using it as a go-to system are that I already own multiple copies of AD&D and it's B/X based, which means that I need 2 rulebooks and have to ignore a bunch of stuff from the first.
I guess what was trying doing here was get all of these stray thoughts down where I can see them and mull over my options, what it has, apparently, done was talk myself into running 1st edition AD&D again, with the option of using retroclone ideas as house rule options. Thanks for reading, I am still open to suggestions and differing opinions, because I will, most likely, go back and forth on this for the next day or so before I run something for my oldest daughter Ashli and her boyfriend Rae who are coming to visit this weekend.
Now some other stuff that's been on my mind- if you were going to run a single adventure for three to five players and had access to pretty much every adventure published by TSR for Holmes Basic, B/X, BECMI and 1st edition AD&D what would you run? I am missing a few from the end of the era, but I have most of them. I was thinking something tournament style, that'll give the group focus and a sense of urgency, plus they won't have to worry about losing a beloved character because these types of modules usually have a bunch of pregens included. I was also thinking something a little higher level, because we never get there in campaign play and I think that they might enjoy playing characters at level 9+ for a change. Not The Tomb of Horrors though, that's a straight out meat-grinder and I've seen parties with all experienced players die in the entryway.
Also, I was thinking about other game systems recently, especially the ones like GURPS that pretty much mandate during character creation how you are going to role-play your character and that's one of those things I've never actually seen the need to have enshrined in rules. Some people think that alignment is unrealistic and too much of a straight-jacket to your role-playing, in my experience these are the same people that want to see at least part of your character creation include at least some options for deciding how you must role-play your character. GURPS has a bunch of these, off the top of my head I can recall codes and berserkerism and addiction as role-playing options that grant you some tangible character creation bonus with a few rules on how you must then play your character as a trade off. I am not a huge fan of point-buy systems in general anyway, I kind of like some randomness in character generation and I don't think all PCs should be created equal (but with the option for a master min-maxxer to really work the rules to make a Frankenstein's monster of a PC).
I am also not a big fan of skill systems, I never saw the point. The way I see it, if you want to do something, you ask your DM if it's possible and he figures out whether or not it's at all possible and then determines how it should work. I guess it helps if you have some sort of background, like the secondary skills in the DMG; although those work best for humans, those are some tables that could use a redesign based on a PC's race, the region they come from (or where the campaign starts) and maybe the general tech level. I guess they'd be best tailor made for every DM's campaign world. Not that I don't use skill systems where appropriate, just not a fan. This is likely because of 2nd edition AD&D's poorly thought out and ill-named Non-Weapon Proficiency system, which, while optional, was both over used and miss-used in my experience, all the while being extremely unnecessary. Yes, I realize that the 2nd edition system is a direct descendant of the 1st edition system which premiered in my beloved Oriental Adventures book, it's just that I am that contrary. Also, I hate that system and have eliminated it in my upcoming retroclone Samurai!, wherein I replace them with a set of backgrounds that grant you the ability to do certain things. But generally speaking, if you can give me a halfway decent reason why you should be able to do something, I usually let you. I base this on the fact that I can speak, read and write English, and to a lesser extent, French and Spanish. I can swim pretty well, do math (even some higher math) and all the other stuff I learned in public schools and just living in rural upstate NY. Usually, no matter how well I min-max a character, there is no way I can come close to what I could do even when I was a teen-ager, much less as an adult, and on top of all that, I am a pretty decent fighter, both armed and unarmed, and an ordained clergyman. That's right folks, I am dual-classed...
What about Henchmen, Hirelings, and other Retainers? I swore by them in the early days of playing D&D, not so much for the extra swords in the fight, but for handling the mundane stuff like carrying the light sources or acting as bearers for the loot we found, but we usually had a couple of “special” guys too, usually a Thief hired on to open locks and search for traps- oddly enough, even when we had Thieves in the party. You can't be too careful in the dungeon. Later, as the games started having more overland and wilderness type adventures, we started having people just for helping out with the horses (and staying with them while we went into dungeons) and some extra muscle to help out with guarding our camp. Now it seems like even the people I played with back in the day avoid them like the plague. I can understand (although not agree with) the notion that Henchmen are experience point and treasure leeches, but what about the ones that only get paid a pittance and don't get a ½ share of experience points? Plus it makes Charisma less of a dump stat if they are included in the game.
What's the deal with people not liking (A)D&D for more pure role-playing type game sessions? There's nothing stopping you from going all thespian with a D&D character, as a DM I actually will give an XP award or some other type of bonus as a reward for good role-playing, it's within my purview as DM. But some players insist that there is something inherent about D&D in particular that stunts role-playing. I don't get it. Sure D&D evolved from wargaming, and there was a certain wargame mentality to the role-playing by association. I don't hate that to be truthful, but I think that it is making less of the game than it can be. That said, there are some things that I can't stand to role-play like, say, buying equipment or any other mundane, somewhat boring task. Who wants to role-play mucking out stables or brushing down their horse? I don't, not as a player and not as DM; some stuff can be glossed over pretty easily and we don't lose anything by doing so. You probably want some real interaction the first time you meet the duke though, and maybe a bit when you are invited back for dinner. These role-playing vignettes are a great opportunity for mini-information dumps as a DM and I think that players and DMs alike should grasp the opportunity to try their hand at being more of a thespian. The exchange between DM and players there can lead to some really cool ideas for your campaign heading down the road.