Top 5 Songs About Death, a Laura's Dad Tribute List

On the sixth month of our AD&D campaign, here's what I'm glad I did, and what I wish I did earlier.

Jack Black in High Fidelity (2000).

You might ask, "David, you said you were going to write more. What happened to ramping up the blogging?" It turns out adding a third weekly session to our campaign means I'm literally just gaming all the time. I'm writing scenarios, rolling treasure hordes! Along with my Japanese studies (over 1 year now), learning a new programming language (Rust, which I will write AD&D tools in), and reading D&D content, I barely have time to waste. On top of that I've been reading some Appendix N so I don't have to be a fucking poser anymore.

Huh, I guess I kinda do have time, I just haven't managed it well enough. Thanks guys, this was really helpful!

Charlie Brown sitting at Lucy's psychiatric help booth.

Also, a bunch of characters died recently and I needed to prep some new scenarios. Ghouls, man. Expect them.

Anyway, what I want to share today is are two lists of reflections. Our campaign is now in its sixth Earth month (and nearly the second game year). Seven months ago, I had never run AD&D before. Everything could have gone really bad, but fortunately the only people who have truly suffered are the dead characters, and the living ones. Just like Gary intended. Nevertheless, I have bullet points to share with you, which I will expand upon in future posts, and thereupon return to this post to bless it with additional hyperlinks.

As was the case in High Fidelity, I will not order these lists.

Five things I wish I did earlier

  • Started a (DM-only) campaign wiki. I now use Obsidian to keep a markdown, git-backed wiki of everything – scenarios, maps, magic items, monsters, PCs, NPCs, timelines, locations. Everything.
  • Allowed characters to go on hiatus. With an open table, some players took more initiative than others "activating" new characters in their stable when their current characters weren't suited to or available for an expedition on a certain date. Players (understandably) weren't comfortable telling other players to play X, or not wait until Y was off 0 HP bedrest, and so on. Then, I think the upkeep and disease/parasite checks stressed a couple players out a little. I have since updated our rules to have a character accumulate no more than 1 month of upkeep and disease/parasite checks if they aren't used for anything for one in-game month (no research, training, movement, nothing). I want to encourage players to have a stable, not penalize them for using it. I do not allow pausing loans, hireling/henchmen costs, or domain upkeep.
  • Helped arbitrate some decision-making. Not wanting to involve myself in the rightful domain of players, I remained silent for a long time while players debated their goals for a session, planned for an overland battle, or considered how to resolve some problem. I realized after a while that it would be good to participate a bit more. Not to give an opinion, but to provide additional info or hurry things along. There were times where situations could have been made more clear or in-world context could have been provided. There were also times when a time limit would have been helpful. "Decide in the next 10 minutes or we'll roll for it." One challenge of an open table is when people are getting to know each other, they don't want to be bossy. But the game demands it.
  • A/T/S/M/D/L table. Six key stats you should have in front of you for each character at all times are AC, AC Type, how many opponents their Shield can block, Movement speed in inches, chance to open Doors, and chance to Listen and hear noise. I started with A/T but expanded it over time to these six stats. I now keep them in the character spreadsheet so I can just ask for any changes at the top of a session. You should also note any dexterity bonuses to AC (so you can remove them during casting and charging), and bonuses to surprise. Put a shield shape around shield numbers, a box around the doors number for the routine door-openers, and a circle around the listen number for the routine listeners.
  • Read modules and module reviews. I wanted to start the campaign as though I was in the 70s and didn't have other peoples' scenarios to reference, and since I hadn't looked at any old-school modules in over a decade this was pretty easy. In some ways this was good I guess. There were many strong epiphanies had. But I think overall, adventures would have been better had I read Bryce's and Prince's review standards, read reviews, and studied some good old modules.

Five things I'm glad I did

  • Continually developed a campaign document. I have a document all my fellow players have access to. It originally contained group rules (e.g. no real-world religion/politics), deities, month names, festival days, and our one rule change (no sex-based ability score caps for classed characters). Now it's expanded to contain a huge list of rules clarifications, procedures, and other useful info for players. If i did it again I would also version control this with git. Instead I've just downloaded it weekly.
  • Tried by-the-book AD&D before changing anything. We still haven't broken from BTB AD&D really, other than the sex-caps rule. Turns out, the game works if you follow the rules. And it's pretty fun. So fun, in fact, that we continue to follow the rules.
  • Grew the campaign bottom-up. Following Gary's advice in the April 1975 issue of Europa (which the Gygax 75 challenge was based on) was one of my best decisions. We started with a town, a small-scale map, a dungeon, and went from there. I have a continental map now but it's largely a blank slate.
  • Tracked characters in a spreadsheet. Knowing what characters are up to and what date they are on is critical. This is partially also a regret, because it turned out that only keeping track of the character's current date was not good enough. I should have kept a more detailed historical timeline of past activity.
  • Read the rules. I read through every rule in the core books before playing and if I hadn't I would not have been running the same game. As I've said before, you cannot extrapolate from other versions of D&D and assume you know how AD&D works. It's another beast.

Coming soon™️, more details on these points, as well as some posts about topics I've been messaged about recently. A few people have asked me questions about AD&D and my responses to them ought to be converted to posts.