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B/X D&D…Why were the good old days so good?


Grubby Smelly Gnome
Validated User
After a lot of thought, I think I’ve decided that my next venture in gaming is going to be a full return to B/X D&D. This time, rather than focus simply on the simple streamlined rules, I decided to try and capture that elusive “good ol days” feeling. Rather than plunging into this venture without any though, I’ve been contemplating and analyzing this for a while (so bear with me if this thread begins to ramble). In a way I just want to talk about this, bounce ideas off of likeminded people, share old stories, and get some additional input on what made those early days of gaming with B/X (or another similar game) so good.

Now some people are already pressing “reply” to utter some profound statement about “nostalgia” so let’s just get this out of the way before we get started. Yes, there are always elements of nostalgia whenever you remember something fondly (especially when you are remembering all the way back 30 years). But I can honestly say there was more to it than that, and that’s what this thread is about. So let’s take the notion of blind nostalgia out of the equation for this thread.

Now, I have to admit, I had an advantage over a lot of gamers in that my tutor was my (3 years) older sister, who was much smarter and more creative than I could ever hope to be. I probably wouldn’t have gotten into gaming without her, and would have never been able to gronk that Basic D&D rulebook by myself without her teaching the rules to me.

My sisters adventures where head and shoulders above the concept of most published adventures of the time. Her primary focus wasn’t on dungeon crawling, killing monsters, getting treasure, leveling up, and all that. I think a lot of people these days (with the “old school revolution” movement tending to support this idea, which I tend to see as a sort of “bad” thing) think “old school” gaming is about nothing more than this. Yes, her adventures did include all that, but what made them different was that they provided situations that gave us a chance to create memorable scenes.

Oddly enough, I think the main thing that led to such great adventures were that they were terribly underdeveloped. An encounter in one of our dungeons might be written down as: “Goblin thief, pretends to be friendly and waits for a chance to steal (AC 5 HP 3 Dagger 1d4)”. That same goblin might end up becoming a long time companion and friend, developing his own unique personality.

The question is how to capture that sort of random plot development again? These days I tend to over think when I write an adventure (I generally write up complete adventures even for personal use). I think of the most obvious courses of action, I predetermine how a NPC or monster would react to most situations, and I make notes on other possibilities.

With all my players being long time gamers, I find it almost predictable to know what they would logically do in most situations, thus taking away that spontaneous randomness that used to occur in those old underdeveloped adventures.

Of course, another potential problem is that of character development. In these old games character personality and development was key to the feel of these games. Characters barely had any stats on the paper, so they were defined by being unique and interesting. Newer games, with their complete rule and laundry list characters, tend to make personality second to stats. You can’t really fault GMs or players for this, it just seems to be the nature of the beast. With rules for everything even the most interesting ideas or role playing are often reduced to a roll of the dice, which is based off of some stat, skill, special ability, or item. This becomes a problem when running a game for players who have become used to this. Now they have this first level B/X fighter sitting in front of them and they see nothing but a piece of paper with barebones stats. Creating a personality out of thin air seems to take so much longer than it did in the old days, and often feels forced.

Above and beyond the elusive “feel” of the game I want to capture, there are several elements I’ve abandoned long ago. I’m wondering If I can use these again and make it as fun as they used to be.

Rumors: “The forest to the north contains a hidden ruin (false).”
I think everyone remembers the random rumors they used to get when looking for adventure or clues. This is something I dropped a long time ago in favor of purposefully placed rumors and clues. I’d really like to include these without them leading on too many wild goose chases…or might that be a good thing in itself?

Wandering: “There is nothing of importance in this hex.”
Do you remember when you would start on a blank sheet of hex paper with the base town in the middle of the page. You knew the fortress of the beast was out there somewhere…but where? You would go from hex to hex mapping out each terrain feature. Sometimes you would find clues, sometimes you would find little side adventures. This is something I long abandoned as a “waste of time and effort” since half of the things would never be found. I really miss that crazy randomness though.

Mapper: “The room is 20 foot square, with a door in the center of each wall.”
How long has it been since I made the players map from my description instead of drawing the whole thing out on 1” scale graph paper or making 3D terrain? Probably 25 years. In my mind, this is a cool element of the game that I miss…but would it add to the game or simply be time consuming, boring, and monotonous?

Rations & Stuff: “OK, subtract 2 days rations while you are healing.”Remember when you used to keep track of things like rations, arrows, and how many hours your torch has been burning? Do you remember how important it was not to delve too deep into the dungeon, least you get hurt too badly and not be able to get back out before you could replenish your supplies? Somewhere along the line, it was decided that this wasn’t fun. It certainly added a different dimension to the game, and lent to that feel I miss. Again, one must wonder if re-introducing that to a game will bring back some of the fun?

Healing: “You hole up in the room for 2 days and get back 4 hit points. You are out of rations and the goblins have been checking the door every few hours. You can hear them talking in gruff voices in the adjacent chamber.”
Finding a safe place to rest for a few days, or going back to town used to be a major part of your adventure. This is another thing we seem to have drifted away from. In most D&D words, clerics and healing potions are around every corner so you can just “get on with the game”. Did anyone ever stop to think that healing IS part of the game, and can actually be a tool to make the adventure more interesting and exciting?

Light: “There is s sudden gust of wind in the cavern and your torch goes out, plunging you into darkness!”
Light sources are another one of those things that used to be major, but has become one of those things that gets a hand wave now. Everyone has some magical light source, or lanterns and torches that burn forever and don’t impede your ability to fight while holding one in a hand. I remember being terrified of running out of light wile down in some dark dank dungeon.

Again, just tossing around thoughts for the sake of discussion. By the time I get around to doing this, I want to have cemented exactly what I’m going to do and how I’m going to accomplish it.


Registered User
Validated User
I've been thinking somewhat about this. I think it was (at least for me) that we were not getting caught up in "builds" and what feat or power we're working towards. We just interacted with the world and the NPCs in it. I notice that new players will do this more when they begin playing, it's about the story and less about the mechanics of the game. I also see this more when we take a new game for a test drive, and have not gotten a grasp of the mechanics.


Red-eyed dust bunny
Validated User
Re: B/X D&D…Why were the good old days so good?

Rumors: “The forest to the north contains a hidden ruin (false).”
I think everyone remembers the random rumors they used to get when looking for adventure or clues. This is something I dropped a long time ago in favor of purposefully placed rumors and clues. I’d really like to include these without them leading on too many wild goose chases…or might that be a good thing in itself?
Why do they have to be wild goose chases?

Sure, a few will be flat-out wrong. Most will be a bit off. But they're plot hooks, potential adventures that the players may or may not follow up on. Even if there isn't a ruin, there might be a bandit's hideout, a dragon nesting in a great tree, or some other encounter.

The plot hooks are more a way to give the control back to the players. Throw out a half-a-dozen, and let them decide what they find most interesting. Let them set the tone and pace of the adventure, and by their choices you learn what kind of adventure they want to have.

No rumor should ever result in: "You spend three days looking around. Nothing's there". At the very least, random encounters can spice things up, and creatively used should lead in new directions. A tribe of goblins, but why are they here? Who did they steal from? Is that idol of some import to a religion with a temple over thataway?

Sure, a few will be grossly wrong. But all rumors should lead somewhere, even if it's a trap and they all end up shackled on a galley heading to the continent of Fire and Iron. Just get them to choose which ones they'll follow before the end of the session, so you have time to whip up an answer before the next.

Jack Daniel

Relative Entropy Games
Validated User
I was hanging out at my FLGS yesterday, trying to get a game of B/X D&D off the ground. As I was asking around, trying to rustle up some players, occasionally someone would be interested, but then they would ask what edition I was playing. "Zeroeth," is my typical response to this question, since most folks aren't aware of the distinctions between classic D&D and Advanced D&D. It's easier to say "0e" than to explain that I'm playing by the '81 or '83 iteration of red box Basic Set D&D.

Still, I found that from all corners, any attempt to play TSR-era D&D was apt to be met with bare-faced derision. You see, most gamers would frame the question, "Are you playing 3.5, Pathfinder, or 4e?" And if you insinuate that you're playing something older than that, they'll nod and go, "Oh, 3.0? That's old-school!" At that point, I have to slap myself on the forehead and go, "No, even older." And the typical response I get after that is, "2nd edition?! Dude, you're boned. Nobody has the rulebooks for that anymore!"

My reaction was something like this: :eek: Because I was momentarily baffled by the notion that all the players might need books in order to play. But then I remembered what d20 System games are like. And so I gave up asking people to play, and I just set up my DM screen, threw my dice and some blank sheets onto the table, and I waited.

And sure enough, over the course of the next hour, three people wandered by, became curious, and joined the game. And in less than five minutes, we had three characters rolled up (3d6 in order, of course!), and an Elf, a Cleric, and a Magic-User were making their first foray into Quasqueton. One of the players was patently boggled at how fast character creation was compared to 4th edition, and they all had similar reactions to the sheer celerity of the combat encounters (which were already few and far between, given the fact that only a third of dungeon rooms tend to actually have monsters in them).

In short order, the players had gotten right into the spirit of things, needing almost no encouragement from me. They were exploring the dungeon from room to room and corridor to corridor in a very logical manner, mapping on the graph paper as they went; listening at doors, searching for traps and hidden spaces with concealed treasures; interacting with each other by talking in-character while they made plans or discussed the clues they'd found; and less than an hour into the session, they'd naturally developed quirks and personality traits for their characters.

It all flowed so naturally, so seamlessly, and I can't help but think that it simply would not have turned out that way if I'd been using a more complex rules-set with more emphasis on customized character-building or combat encounters.

So there you have it. It's ineffable. I can't really pinpoint why Basic Set D&D just works better for the kind of roleplay- and exploration-heavy games that I prefer. It just does. But thanks to the merits of an old-school game, I met three gamers yesterday, had a blast playing some retro D&D, and I've got a new weekly campaign off the ground.
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Shawn Conard

Registered User
Validated User
For me, there are two things that stand out: a sense of wonder and a sense of survivalist paranoia.

Things were mysterious and full of awesome, most of which was out of your reach. For now. In the mean time everything tried to eat you, or at least to eat all your stuff. And there was no promise that the fight was going to be even remotely balanced. Also, you had to search everything because half the treasure was hidden.

And while I dislike having to keep track of fiddly equipment related details these days (I use inherent bonuses in 4e, since I've even gotten tired of tracking magic items), I think I might be far more willing were there less to deal with in terms of character stats.


Registered User
Validated User
So there you have it. It's ineffable. I can't really pinpoint why Basic Set D&D just works better for the kind of roleplay- and exploration-heavy games that I prefer. It just does. But thanks to the merits of an old-school game, I met three gamers yesterday, had a blast playing some retro D&D, and I've got a new weekly campaign off the ground.
Totally Awesome!

We tend to forget that's what it has always been about.


Breakin 2
Validated User
Boy, this thread doesn't come at a better time, as I'm thinking about starting a 1e AD&D exploration style-game (similar to the West Marches campaign: http://arsludi.lamemage.com/index.php/78/grand-experiments-west-marches/ ).

You're list of what's important to that style of game is spot-on. I think you have a real danger though of players spinning their wheels if they can't find anything interesting going on. My memory of those early games was that a few people would take the lead, figuring out where to go, a few would kick back and read their comics until combat time, and finally, a few would completely check out.

I don't have an answer to that, but I thought I would bring it up as a danger.

Also, what about random encounters? Wandering monsters? I plan to use those liberally as the PCs go from hex to hex to hex.


Retired User
I think it was because I was in junior high school and didn't care about playing the game "right". It was completely acceptable to just make things up on the fly. And I had hours upon hours to ponder my characters, draw up maps, and just be creative.
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