16 Nov 2010

Stealing the Idol’s Eye

Blog 20 Comments

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.

2. Races

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.

3. Classes

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.

5. Alignment

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.

6. Equipment

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.

9. Exploration

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.

10. Monsters

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.

12. Setting

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.

13. Cosmology

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.

14. Gods

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%.

17. Languages

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).

18. Strongholds

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.

19. Flavor

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.

20. Scrolls

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.

Scribe 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).

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20 Responses to “Stealing the Idol’s Eye”

  1. Dan says:

    I would love to roll for stats once again… then again me and dice tend to get along.

    I like the scrolls concept a lot… what was reason from not having in 4th? the lack of actual spells? or did not want to deal with it at the time?

    I would think you need to cap this style game at 4 or 5 players, if you had more and added in the hirelings and henchmen it could suck combat back up to that dreaded hour/per.

    You know i like the idea of limited magic items, and XP for gold value of treasure you know that might be a way for me to speed up the progression in my game as opposed to my current version of “you level when I tell you, who needs xps”.

  2. Adam Ford says:


    Definitely keeping this article around in case I want to run it myself one day.

    And merely days ago, I was thinking about how power scrolls would work. Stop stealing my ideas! ;P

    One question though: do you have to expend a utility power to use a scroll with a utility power on it?

  3. robertjschwalb says:

    @Dan: I think ritual scrolls were intended to fill this niche.
    @Adam: My thinking is no. The cost is a sufficient expense for this. I might eat these words later, but yeah, I think it’s okay.

  4. Alphastream says:

    Sounds awesome. One thing I would add: Traps. Pre-4E always had traps, often all by their lonesome. With cunning (true story) you could convince players that checked traps carefully to stick their PC’s head in the one chest in ToEE that had the scythe blade trap, then watch even that player laugh as they could not believe this one actually had the trap they had feared for 5 levels.

  5. George Strayton says:

    Yes! This is very similar to how I run my 4e games (having played 1e since ’79 and switching over to 4e during the playtest phase), especially the emphasis on exploration, the xp for gp, and the “power” scrolls. I’ve created an Exploration Sequence sheet that we use in our games — it helps get non-1st-edition players up to speed quickly on this style. Anyone who likes this style and who’s in the Northeast the first weekend of December should come by AnonyCon (anonycon.com) where I’m running two sessions (Parts 1 & 2) of my 4e conversions of B4 THE LOST CITY and S2 WHITE PLUME MOUNTAIN. You can see how it works in actual play! (It’s fun!) Oh, and a direct link to the sheet (for anyone who’s interested) is: http://legendsandlabyrinths.wordpress.com/2010/11/11/exploration-sequences/

  6. Chris Vasko says:

    I will tell you I let my heroes roll for 4e and I am regretting it a little, they seem over powered, and can take on enemies 2 levels higher with ease, I watched all rolls so I know they are correct, but dang i feel like I need to attempt to kill them to give them an interesting battle.

  7. robertjschwalb says:

    @George–Very cool. Sounds like a lot of fun.

    @Chris–As SRM once told me: throw more monsters at them. Maybe rather than 2 levels above, just use more critters?

  8. Alphastream says:

    Cool stuff, George! (And Anonycon is a very cool con I heartily recommend). If you haven’t, check out what SRM writes on Hexploration on Neogrognard. I played with the concept on my blog within the Dark Sun setting. There are some neat angles possible with exploration, map travel, and 4E… all with a 1 or 2E feel.

  9. Chris Vasko says:

    @rjs I thought of that, but I didn’t want to slow combat down… however I see your point to double team and what not to make it more challenging in those respects…. consider it done!

  10. Chris Vasko says:

    I must admit to wondering what did happen to Greyhawk? And if the world we have been given as our “core” world is not Greyhawk, WTF is it? To be honest my biggest beef with 4e is it feels too magic heavy. I suppose this is great if you are in The Realms or Ebberon, but a lot of us prefer low magic settings. Also to me it feels like they are trying to turn every setting into Ebberon.

  11. George Strayton says:

    @ Alphastream — thanks for the heads up on SRM’s Hexploring. Very cool!

  12. Landon says:

    I totally love you for this. You captured the flavor of the game beautifully. In my current Greyhawk game, the characters are now 9th level, and have fought, other than animals and humanoids: one spectre, a vampire and a handful of his spawn, one chimera, a few gargoyles, two nightmares, a hag, and a small dragon. I think that’s it, other than worgs, orcs, humans, and a couple of ettins. Genuine freaky monsters are rare in my campaign, and I hadn’t anticipated how MUCH it would add to the “First Edition” feel. You nailed that one. I love this advice and will take it to heart when I experiment with 4e.

  13. Weekly Roundup – Big Week for WOTC Edition | Roving Band of Misfits says:

    [...] J. Schwalb showed us how to make our 4th Edition campaign feel more like a “Classic” D&D game.  While we [...]

  14. Links Roundup: 23rd November 2010 « Jonathan Drain’s D20 Source: Dungeons & Dragons Blog says:

    [...] Stealing the Idol’s Eye, via Robert J. Schwalb. How to make D&D 4th edition feel more like AD&D 1st edition. Interesting suggestions include using the AD&D equipment list, granting XP for treasure found, training to level up, strict light-source rules, and rewarding unconventional solutions. [...]

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