So I’ve been thinking after my last post about levels and power gaming.
One of the biggest differences between OD&D and AD&D was that levels in OD&D tended trowards the significantly lower, this changed significantly when the B/X/C/M/I (shortened to “B/X”) rules came into place and D&D turned into a power game the likes that AD& could never even envision (at least until the later stages of 2E). I suspect that this is the reason why I tend to furrow my brow when folks start talking about level/power creep in AD&D and go on about the purity of D&D – I came in really just after the end of the real OD&D era and the beginning of the AD&D and B/X eras (e.g. Late Golden and the prime-time of the Silver Age).
But I had two major groups that I interacted with, mine (that I DM’d for) and SD’s (that he DM’d for and I played in). Out of SD’s group there were a couple of other DM’s who played on-and-off (mostly off, I joined the group after SD had graduated college and folks had kind of drifted off getting jobs and the like) and there was a fair amount of cross talk about campaigns and “how to do things.” Plus, then of my players ended up starting his own group.
All of these groups did sandbox play in self-generated worlds. Some of us experimented with things like Oerth or Faerun and whatever the Judge’s Guild World was named. Yes, modules were used as often as they came out, but pretty much people invented thier own adventures and there was the usual mish-mosh of rules and rules systems (Chaosium’s games were a favorite to steal additional rules and magic systems from). If you gamed regularly, there just weren’t enough modules out there to use. Plus, and this is the point I was wandering too – the modules were just too damn easy for the most part, at least for the level ranges that were suggested for the higher ones.
As much as the G & D series is beloved and full of all sorts of fun – our experience was that a well-run group of 6-8 players who had advanced through play and loaded for bear could pretty much get through them at around 7th level of so, not the nine or so 9th-10th level characters that are suggested. And this was done with the DM’s in question usually boosting up modules a bit with tougher takes on the monsters.
SD’s world, by the time I stopped playing had characters that had topped out at around 10-12th level. There were a couple that were higher, but this included the fact that people had worked their orginal characters up to that level. In my game the highest level characters averaged around in the 8th to 9th level – though there were a couple of notable exceptions that I’ll probably talk about in a later post.
In both worlds, characters power ended up being less about level and more about who they knew and the relationships they had built with the people and institutions of power – and knowing how to use what abilities and magic they had to the best effect. The character’s were the movers and shakers, the “Young Turks” of the game world and they acted accordingly.
One of the things I’m not so sure about some of the talk coming out of the OSR is that it seems to equate “high-level” (certainly a relative term on a campaign by campaign basis) with “Monty Haul” and I just can’t get on board with that. It doesn’t make any sense to me and just seems reactionary bluster in the wake of the OSR against anything vaguely 3E-ish with character ability bloat.