The Seven-Sided Die

Edge of Empire wrap-up

Posted Friday February 06, 2009 at 10:05 PM

Once I'd decided that I wanted to get away from a homebrewed setting to save big on prep time, I resolved to wrap up the Edge of Empire game as soon as the Forsaken Temple adventure concluded. It did mean that the characters only went through one "adventure" in the campaign, but it lasted us a few months of play time. The final session was excellent, and I had some take-away conclusions about AD&D once we'd finished.

I can understand where the "system doesn't matter" people come from. 1e is a very light system during play. (It's not actually a very light system, but being familiar with it means that it's very light during play. There's a distinction to be made here between a system's handling weight and its rules-knowledge weight that I won't get into now.) The particular rules we were using were irrelevant to most of what transpired at the table: moving around, talking to people, exploring corridors, freaking out at the eerie crucifixion—but I get ahead of myself. The point is that the majority of our play time could have been accomplished just as well with any other system, simply because we weren't appealing to the system for most of play. And, when we did appeal to the system it was to resolve searches and swords swings, and any system can do that, right?

Well, no. I can see where the "system doesn't matter" people would think so from that, but the 1e game felt different than 3e or 4e games I've played or run. When and how we engaged the rules and when we didn't were closely influenced by the system we were playing within. Beyond that I've already written about the importance of the rules, so I'll leave it at that.

It's odd to say that 1st edition AD&D is a light system because D&D has a reputation for long combats and complex characters, but it just isn't true in AD&D. Characters are simple (we levelled them mid-session because it was so quick), combat is super-abstract and there are no bloody miniatures to fiddle with, and any other task is either a single roll or resolve non-mechanically with common sense. I really enjoyed being able to get on with the game and ignore the rules until they mattered.

That said, it was a constant, low-level annoyance to only have stat checks to use to resolve certain things. For the uninitiated, a stat check is done by rolling a d20 and comparing it to the relevant stat, often Wisdom. If the roll is under the stat it's a success, but higher and still under is better. Penalties to the check are therefore +X to the roll, which is counterintuitive. I suppose that was cutting-edge rules-tech for 1982. Anyway, I did really enjoy appealing to common sense and player-described actions when they were searching things, since it makes the environment more the focus instead of the dice. And, I still think that skill systems aren't always a good idea. Stat checks are not a very good middle ground, though. I think my preference would be a system that had a skill system that pushed the fiction to the foreground when it was used. I rather like The Burning Wheel's intention first, task-resolution second philosophy for its resolution mechanics for that reason. I'll have to think about this problem more the next time I plan to run AD&D.

Using a variant XP system was wonderful. Advancement was pretty quick, with levels coming once every session or two. The players got the hang of defining goals for their characters pretty quickly, and it was very satisfying to see characters advance in a reasonable amount of play time. If we had been playing more often it might have been too quick, but as it was (with an average of just over three sessions per two months) it meant that the characters developed at all. After 6 sessions most characters were 4th level. There weren't very many goals that served as flags, but the few that did shaped much of the game. (This also makes me even more keen on The Burning Wheel, with its focus on using Beliefs, Instincts, and traits to shape the game.)

I started out with the assumption that gear and provisioning should be important, and it was to a certain degree. What the characters chose to bring with them to the Forsaken Temple was important, especially when they realised that they only brought one rope, and that it was still dangling from a tree above the ravine outside. I realise though that managing that kind of resource isn't nearly as interesting as the pressure created by a scarcity of a resource when you could really use it. When they were actually in the Temple I pretty much ignored encumbrance rules (even the streamlined house-ruled encumbrance system we used) and just kept an eye out for blatant abuses of that.  The stone head of a life-sized statue of Isis that one character hauled around in a bag (because they discovered that kissing it gave the gift of water breathing) was pushing it, but it never became a problem. I think in future I'll continue that habit and just eyeball it during most of play, the way encumbrance is done in The Riddle of Steel, and only make a big deal out of carrying limits when gear choices have a significant impact on later resource availability.

Finally, I hate—hate hate hate—the fire-and-forget magic that AD&D uses. A poke in the eye with a sharp stick would be an improvement, and there are even better systems of magic in other games that don't involve fire-and-forget spells or pointy sticks. (That said, I don't have a problem with proper Vancian magic the way Joshua describes it, but *D&D magic bears only as much resemblance to Vancian magic as a worn plush rabbit does to the [[Rabbit of Caerbannog]].) This is probably one of the larger points driving me away from 0e through 3e for my "default" fantasy gaming system. Since I'm disappointed with 4e for other reasons, this campaign marks the break between me and my longtime love of D&D. I still really enjoy the flavour and assumed setting of AD&D, especially 2nd edition AD&D, but I'll be realising it with different rules in the future.

I want to thank my players for bringing everything they did to this campaign. Y'all shaped it pretty much from the start, especially Rheall, whose druid inspired the creation of that world, and my wife, despite her having to bow out before the first session, whose character's initial goals created the so-very-interesting Forsaken Temple. I do hope to return there someday to clear up the infestation of Hell that you all innocently unleashed in it.

Comments (1)

Fallen Crowns campaign report, inagural session — The Seven-Sided Die

Sunday April 08, 2012 at 11:52 PM

[…] Loosely connected to the previous Edge of Empire campaign, this campaign takes place in the same world 300 years after the events of the prior one, long after the […]