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D&D Old School

A character sheet for Ren Treesinger from the early 90s. Homegrown D&D.

A character sheet for Ren Treesinger from the early 90s. Homegrown D&D.

I spent a considerable amount of time in 2016 crafting campaigns for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition (D&D 5E) and one-off sessions for Fantasy Flight Games’ End of the World system. I had gotten back into D&D after a 15+ year hiatus when a group of adult friends invited me out for an all-day session of D&D 4th edition (D&D 4E). I was instructed to create a 8th level 4E character and was given a link to D&D Insider– an online tool that was supposed to make the task easier. This was October 2013. I hadn’t played D&D in more than 15 years and the D&D I was involved in back in them days sure as shit did not look like the D&D I saw when I logged into D&D Insider.

The 4E session on a stormy, snowy day in December 2013 was a test of endurance. 12+ hours in a basement with a bunch of guys I had only started to get to know through my work at ComicReaders Downtown. These were gregarious, jovial dudes– each one a business professional– with varying degrees of gaming in their collective histories. Great guys. But, man, 4E was not the D&D I knew growing up. The character sheets were complex. The fights relied heavily on miniatures and tactics. The plot involved a drug that was ravaging the city streets, turning addicts into gibbering fools who wanted to suck c*** for a fix.

That campaign plot obviously did not come from a Wizards of the Coast sourcebook and, truth be told, I probably never laughed as hard during a D&D session as I did that day. But that aside, I found 4E challenging from a new player perspective, especially since this here player spent most of his D&D years as a Dungeon Master (DM) and not a player.

There was no soliciting c***suckers in my D&D.

There was also no Armour Class (AC). That was too complex for us back in the late 80s when I was learning the rules.

A lack of focus, a lack of access to rulebooks, and a drive to tell stories rather than learn pages and pages of rules led me to create a stripped down, hybrid D&D that took rules I liked and did away with all the rest. From what I remember I only ever owned one D&D rulebook: Unearthed Arcana– the tattered broken-spine edition that followed me from North Bay, Ontario to Sydney, Nova Scotia and then to Regina, Saskatchewan where it now resides in a place of honour in the back of a basement closet alongside short boxes of comics, a dangerously overloaded shelf of graphic novels, 40K kits, and X-Wing miniatures stored in an industrial strength organizer that should be found on a construction site and not in a closet behind nerd shirts. The rest of the books belonged to my buddy in North Bay– Brent Y. Several Monster Manuals, a Dungeon Master’s Guide, and some miscellaneous stuff I vaguely remember. It was in North Bay that I started playing a lot of D&D, even going so far as to adapt my homegrown system into a James Cameron Aliens RPG, a post-apocalyptic survival RPG, and a system inspired by my love of action movies where the players were mercenaries. It was also here that another friend introduced us to Star Wars RPG– which I don’t remember playing– but somehow stuck in my mind so that I would eventually play it for a considerable period of time when the family relocated to Sydney.

Less than a year after the epic 4E session, D&D 5th edition was released and I got curious. Advance information suggested 5E was a return to “old school” D&D with less emphasis on combat tactics and more focus on storytelling. I was intrigued because the 4E session had piqued my interest in the forthcoming new release but had also unearthed so many memories from those countless RPG days of yore. I am now fully back into D&D. I own rulebooks. I’ve learned and use the rules, including AC. I’ve got an active campaign going with a great group of gals and guys. And, most amazingly, I now play D&D with my two sons.

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