AD&D: Fast combat makes quick adventures possible.

An oft-vaunted advantage of TSR-era D&D is that it lends itself to mildly faster combat than 3.X (in whiuch the interraction of feats and other factors can occasionally slow things down as the participants work out bonuses and other game mechanical effects) and substantially faster than 4E (where the implicit assumptions of the game lends itself to combat encounters turning into fairly involved grid skirmishes).

This was brought home for me in yesterday’s AD&D session, where I decided to run a brief and whimsical mini-adventure since one of the players was absent. (He’s one of these casual gamers who won’t take time out of his honeymoon to sit alone in front of a computer playing D&D online – what a dork!) I was actually able to make the adventure reasonably detailed and complete it within the session and toss in a quick but vicious combat.

To be fair, had I just thrown the players into a fight against 5 minions in 4E it would have been comparably quick. On the other hand, that isn’t how balancing encounters in 4E works. I’m not going to edition-war here and spout off about how running balanced encounters in 4E is the death of roleplaying – if I were running 4E, I’d be going for balanced encounters because I see the fun of 4E as residing in its detailed tactical combat and would feel that if I didn’t implement that in a 4E game I wouldn’t be delivering the best the game has to offer.

But equally, I wouldn’t try to run a one-evening adventure in 4E featuring a balanced combat unless I intended to have very little happening before or after it.

2 thoughts on “AD&D: Fast combat makes quick adventures possible.

  1. You’re underselling yourself there, honestly – we had a non-trivial bit of shopping, visited a dodgy tavern to and persuaded a thief to spill the beans, scouted out the hobbit district, ran into a personal grudge that turned into a mugging, fought off five muggers, interrogated the survivors, brought the grudge to the local Hobfather for resolution, observed a ritual pie-eating contest and the judgement of the gods on both participants, soaked up the atmosphere in his dive, talked to our missing suspect and watched him get himself killed fighting an orc. With a pretty heavy dose of roleplay and table talk along the way.

    Based on my attempts to play Keep on the Shadowfell, I’m pretty sure that in 4E the mugging alone would have taken an hour – KotS starts off with a kobold mugging which is basically equivalent, and that took four freaking hours, but in fairness it was everyone’s first time.

    Broadly speaking, perhaps you could say that in AD&D combat is part of the story, while in 4E combat is the story?

    1. Playing At the World makes a good point about how OD&D – and this is more or less true for TSR-era D&D and, for that matter, 3.X – shifts between three different modes of play, which can be broadly described as combat, exploration, and logistics. The different modes of play have different subsystems associated with them and work on different time scales. You could add chatting to NPCs to that too if you like, though a certain amount of IC conversation takes place during all the other modes.

      I think the revealing difference is that in previous editions there was an assumption that there’d be interesting stuff to see and do in all the different modes, whereas it feels to a lot of people that combat is far and away the dominant mode in 4E. This is probably a factor of the amount of time spent on it; if you run a very combat-focused game in any prior edition it’ll also feel as though combat is the dominant mode and the other modes exist only to support it. The difference may be that the toolkit 4E gives you feels (at least to me) like it would work best in a combat-heavy campaign, whereas in other editions a broader balance between logistics and exploration and combat feels more supported.

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