My original plan for the Sunday night campaign was to run it using 1st edition concepts with 4th edition rules. I backed away from this somewhat since it’s more useful for me to see Essentials classes in play and to experiment with encounter design, but I’m still very much interested in running a game that looks a lot like more like AD&D. Since folks like lists, here are 20 things you might use to shift game play back toward a classic feel.
1. Ability Scores
Make “generate ability scores” your first step in character creation. Roll 4d6 six times, dropping the lowest die result for each roll. Sum the remaining dice and assign the scores to the six abilities. Sum the ability modifiers. If you don’t have at least a +5 bonus, throw out the scores and roll them again.
Restrict the racial choices to the following list: Dwarf, Elf, Gnome, Half-Elf, Half-Orc, Halfling, and Human. I recommend using the Essentials versions for theses races since the elf can now choose Intelligence or Wisdom. Until the Essentials gnome appears, make Charisma the anchor ability and offer a choice between Constitution and Intelligence for the second ability.
Restrict the class choices to the following list: Assassin, Barbarian, Bard, Cleric, Druid, Fighter, Monk, Paladin, Psion (as a shout out to the old psionics rules), Ranger, Rogue, and Wizard (you can get the illusionist by playing a mage or choosing the orb of deception feature from Arcane Power).
4. Secondary Skills
Rather than use backgrounds, each character rolls a d% to determine his or her secondary skill. If you have the 1st edition DMG, the table is on page 12. If you don’t have it, then simply have each player choose an occupation. During game play, when a character would make a skill check related to his or her secondary skill, the character gains a +2 bonus to that check.
Use the classic alignment system: lawful good, lawful neutral, lawful evil, neutral good, neutral, neutral evil, chaotic good, chaotic neutral, chaotic evil. If you really want to go nuts, simulate the alignment language by granting characters a +2 bonus on interaction skill checks (Bluff, Diplomacy, Intimidate) when interacting with creatures that have the same alignment.
Leave armor alone. Returning to the old armor options is a bit too tricky for these purposes. Instead, replace hide armor with studded leather armor or ringmail. Scale armor also includes splint and banded. These are flavorful changes only.
Remove all superior weapons from the game. Make the bastard sword a military weapon.
Remove all items from the adventuring gear, food, drink, and lodging, and mounts and transport list. Replace them with the 1st edition equipment list. For more robust options, consider using the 2nd edition list instead.
In addition, be sure to track food, water, and ammunition. Remember, if a character uses a close or area attack using a weapon, the character must have one piece of ammunition for each target in the area.
Finally, use the following rules for light sources.
Candle, tallow: Dim light out to 1 square. The candle burns for 1 hour.
Candle, wax: Dim light out to 2 squares. The candle burns for 1 hour.
Lantern, bullseye: Bright light in a close blast 7. All squares within 2 squares of the bright light are filled with dim light. One flask of oil burns for 4 hours.
Lantern, hooded: Bright light in a close burst 5. All squares within 3 squares of the bright light are filled with dim light. One flask of oil burns for 4 hours.
Torch: Bright light in a close burst 3. All squares within 2 squares of the bright light are filled with dim light. A torch burns for 1 hour.
7. Experience Points
Characters gain experience for defeating monsters, succeeding on skill challenges, and completing major quests as normal. In addition, PCs gain XP for finding coins, gems, and art objects, gaining 1 XP per gp found divided evenly between the players. This results in faster advancement, so DMs should hide and guard treasure.
8. Advancement and Training
When a character accumulates enough experience points to gain a level, the character stops gaining experience points until he or she spends 1 week training with a higher-level character. Training costs 10 gp per level.
Dungeon Masters should place a greater emphasis in exploration. Hide treasure, clues, and other information in the environment. The characters should examine their surroundings to search them out.
I mentioned this before, but it’s worth mentioning again. Make monsters meaningful. Reserve the strange and terrible creatures for bigger and important encounters. True monsters such as displacer beasts, chimeras, manticores should be rare and strange. Once you use such a monster, avoid using it again. For most combat encounters, use humanoids—standard races, goblins, orcs, and so on.
11. Unconventional Solutions
DMs should reward unconventional solutions to problems in the game with success. Let clever game play and preparation work. For example, if a player opts to pour ink all over the floor as a makeshift ward and there are wandering monsters about, when the player comes back to the area, maybe you describe footprints left in the ink.
You know my loyalties to Greyhawk, but any classic D&D setting will work. I heartily recommend the Known World (Mystara) but without the stranger elements that crept in over time. If you can get your hands on it, the Mystara Monstrous Compendium Appendix is chock full of strange monsters from the BECMI days. Throwing these folks into your games can really bring about an old school feel.
Embrace the Great Wheel Cosmology. The new planar arrangement is cool and all, but 1e demands the bizarre and overly complex. The planes should consist of the following:
The Prime Material Plane: This correlates to the natural world.
The Ethereal Plane: This transitive plane surrounds the natural world. Insubstantial creatures exist in this plane and project themselves into the Material. When you encounter such a creature on the Ethereal, the creature loses insubstantial and phasing.
The Inner Planes: Break up the Elemental Chaos into the following discrete regions. Elemental Plane of Air, Earth, Fire, Water, The Para-Elemental Planes (Ice, Magma, Ooze, Smoke), the Energy Planes (Positive and Negative Energy), and the Quasi-Elemental Planes (Ash, Dust, Lightning, Mineral, Radiance, Salt, Steam, Vacuum).
The Astral Plane: This is the Astral Sea. It connects the Material Plane to the Outer Planes.
Outer Planes: These planes are where the gods hang out and include Abyss, Acheron, Arcadia, Concordant Opposition, Elysium, Gehenna, Gladsheium, Hades, Happy Hunting Grounds, Limbo, Olympus, Nine Hells, Nirvana, Seven Heavens, Tarterus, Twin Paradises. Bits from Feywild and Shadowfell might appear in various planes.
You can keep the standard gods or adopt the ones from the setting you use. Older settings had larger pantheons with many redundant deities. Use the domains from Divine Power to reflect a god’s particular Channel Divinity feats.
15. Magic Items
The game expects characters to accumulate magic items to keep their numbers straight. The inherent bonus system introduced in Dungeon Master’s Guide 2 works fine. Use magic items sparingly and only when their inclusion advances the story in a significant way. Consumable items are fine, but use flaming swords and cloaks of elvenkind sparingly. As a rule of thumb, each PC should get a magic item once every three levels.
Let the PCs use hirelings and henchmen. For hirelings, simply treat them as minions that grant a +2 bonus to one skill. For henchmen, use the companion rules from the DMG2. Henchmen should get a share of the treasure, usually 10 to 20%.
AD&D had a ridiculous number of languages and so you should expand the language table to reflect a more complex world. I’m not advocating you bring back pixie or green dragon, but I think you can get away with using more languages. Here’s what I recommend:
Some number of Human Dialects (spoken by humans and halflings)
Draconic (kobolds, humanoid reptiles, etc.)
Dwarven (spoken by dwarves)
Elven (spoken by elves and gnomes)
Elemental Tongues (Auran, Terran, etc)
And others for major races/civilizations you use in your setting.
Each character begins the game fluent in Common and his or her native language. The character then gains additional languages equal to Intelligence modifier (minimum 0).
When the PCs reach the paragon tier, they should be able to raise a stronghold reflecting their class. Fighters build castles, clerics temples, monks monasteries, etc. Don’t sweat the price. Just let the player do it. Along with the stronghold, the PC gains a number of followers (minions) to protect and maintain the stronghold.
I recommend using the following special rules for power sources. In order to use an implement power, a character must have proficiency with an implement and have the implement on hand. Furthermore, such characters must also be able to speak to use these powers.
Finally, I’d add scrolls as a new consumable item category. Below are some rules for scrolls.
Scroll Power: A scroll can hold one at-will or encounter implement attack power or any utility power that has the arcane, divine, or primal power source. The power to be scribed must have a level and it must not originate from a paragon path or epic destiny.
Using the Scroll: Any character who meets the following criteria can use a scroll. You must be of a level equal to or higher than the level of the power contained in the scroll. And, you must have a power source matching the scroll’s power source. If you don’t meet one or both criteria, you can still use the scroll, but you must succeed on a hard Arcana check using the power’s level for determining the skill check’s DC. If you fail the check, the scroll is ruined. If you fail by 5 or more, you also become dazed until the end of your next turn.
Resolving the Scroll’s Power: If the power is an at-will attack power or a utility power, resolve the power’s effects as normal, using your level and bonuses as if you knew the power. If the power is an encounter attack power, you must expend an encounter attack power of the scroll’s level or higher. If you do not have an encounter attack power to expend, you can expend a daily power of any level instead (though not a daily power from a magic item).
Gaining Scrolls: You can find scrolls as part of treasure or purchase them as you would any other consumable item.
Scribing Scrolls: You must have the Scribe Scroll feat. With it, you can scribe a scroll of any power you know. You must spend gp equal to the scroll’s market price in special ingredients to prepare the scroll.
You bind magic into the scroll to let you recall its power at a later time.
Benefit: You can create a scroll for any power you know.
Market Price: A scroll has a market price equal to 1/5 that of a magic item of the power’s level. If the power is an encounter power, double this price. If the power is a daily power, triple this price. For example, a scroll of scorching burst costs 72 gp (360/5 = 72), a scroll of fly costs 27,000 gp ([45,000/5 = 9,000) x 3 = 27,000), and a scroll of fiery bolt costs ([680/5 = 136] x 2 = 272 gp).