Widely reviled, the 15-minute adventuring day reared its ugly head with the advent of 3rd edition. Since then, designers have tried various solutions to fix the “problem”, with varying degrees of success…
These fixes mainly seem to involve giving the PCs more abilities–including at-will powers–so everyone’s always got something to do and can adventure longer before having to rest.
What they have all missed, however, is the root cause of the problem.
Older editions of the game (up to 2nd edition) handle time in a markedly different fashion to later editions. The 1st edition Dungeon Master’s Guide talks a bit about how long it takes to do certain actions.
A quick perusal of the text, gives these examples of actions that take a turn (ten minutes):
- Map and casually explore a 20 ft. by 20 ft. area.
- A party should rest at least one turn in six.
- A party should rest for a turn every time they engage in combat or other strenuous activities.
- Thoroughly search a 10 ft. by 10 ft. area for secret doors.
- Moving and mapping 90 ft. (assuming a move of 9’’).
Similarly, these actions take one round (one minute):
- Quickly check a 10 ft. by 10 ft. area for secret doors.
- Search a door for traps.
- A round of combat.
- Listen at a door.
So, for example, if a party moves 90 ft. while mapping and listens at a door before breaking in and slaying the hobgoblins within after five rounds of combat almost 20 minutes of game time have elapsed. If the party then rest (as they should after combat) before searching the room another 20 minutes pass. One encounter has lasted longer than most 3rd edition delves! In 3rd edition, the same set of actions would take about one minute (give or take).
Different Beasts, Different Styles
Now, of course, 1st edition and 3rd edition are very different beasts. Both are excellent games, but they each have a different play style. In 1st edition, careful exploration and resource management is often the order of the day. In 3rd edition adventures are much more “cinematic” and fast paced
But that’s not all. 1st edition has several more advantages in regards to longer adventuring days (while ironically individual characters are much less capable in terms of abilities, damage potential and general endurance). These advantages include:
- Dungeons Were Bigger: Dungeons were bigger in 1st edition. Many dungeons had dozens if not scores of rooms set out over multiple levels. Most 3rd edition dungeons are considerably smaller. (See Speed of Advancement below). The sheer size of the dungeons meant adventurers would spend longer underground poking their noses into places they don’t belong. As I’ve said before, the adventure B5 Horror on the Hill is an overlooked classic. In just 32 short pages we get an extensive wilderness area, a large above ground ruin and three (!) dungeon levels comprising in total 100 or so encounter areas. Imagine trying to cram all that into a 32-page 3rd edition or Pathfinder adventure.
- Dungeons Had More Empty Space: Older dungeons always seemed to feature a decent amount of unocccupied rooms. Here the PCs could rest, search for forgotten treasures, hide from wandering monsters and more! This was exploration play in action. With an increased focus on combat and “cinematic” action the inclusion of such areas in later editions has faded—deemed boring or a waste of space by designers.
- Smaller Stat Blocks: Compare and contrast the relative sizes of stat blocks in 1st and 3rd edition. 1st edition stat blocks are tiny compared to their later brethren. You might not think this is a big deal—but when viewed against the dual terrors of page counts and print costs the relative size of stat blocks is tremendously important. While this is a problem for all monsters—even lowly orcs and suchlike—the sitution is even worse for more powerful monsters and classed NPCs. If you are lucky enough to own a copy of Undermountain, get it out and flip through the setting book. It contains an immense amount of information. Now imagine adding 3rd edition or Pathfinder stat blocks. Suddenly, the books becomes much, much bigger (and I expect wildly impractible to use or tremendously expensive). With adventure page counts not really changing over the years, this simply means the size of the featured adventures has shrunk.
- Speed of Advancement: It takes longer to level in 1st edition. In 3rd edition, as a rule of thumb, if you face and defeat 12 opponents of the same CR as your level you go up a level. Thus, you don’t need particularly big levels (or dungeons) to level up. In 1st edition, the opposite is true—levelling requires much more play, particularly when you consider the average size of a 1st edition party. (This is one of the reason I’m using the slow advancement track in my own megadungeon, Gloamhold, as I think slow advancement provides a much richer, story-driven experience).
- Bigger Parties: 3rd edition and Pathfinder work on the assumption of a four or five-person party. Most 1st edition groups were considerably bigger, which gave the adventurers more options. If someone got badly injured, or ran out of spells, they could simply rotate to the party’s rear rank and let someone else deal with the dungeon’s denizens. Holding torches, watching the rear and generally keeping an eye out for sneaking enemies are all important in 1st edition; in 3rd edition not so much.
Is a Hybrid Possible?
I’ve played every edition of D&D and AD&D going, and I’ve enjoyed pretty much all of them. Annoyingly, I find, though, I like some facets of 1st edition more than 3rd edition (and vice versa). I love the d20 mechanic—I think it’s simplicity is genius—but I also enjoy the more “realistic” feel of 1st edition. The more I blog about Old School games and Gloamhold the more I wonder if it is possible to marry the two so you can play Old School Pathfinder.
A hybrid, Old School Pathfinder game would be brilliant and one I’d play in a heartbeat. I fear, I don’t have the time or resources to create such a game but I might put together an Old School Rules Supplement for use with Gloamhold. Although the Gloamhold Campaign Guide will be editionless (as much as humanly possible) the play style’s the thing and there’s not much point creating an Old School megadungeon without Old School rules!