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AD&D: Why We Train

I don't know how much Gary thought about the training system, or whether he used it himself. I don't know if he did the math or just slapped it together. In the world of BTB, we do it because the philosophy is: play the game as written, with good intent, attempting to understand each rule before casting judgement. That is, attempt to find the spiritual aspect of the rule. The anagoge of the thing in the way it was meant to be.

Whoa, you say. Ease up on the serious.

Yeah, but if you don't search for nuances in the machine, you will never understand how it works. Taking pieces from the machine to form your own machine is fine. But this is not what this blog is about.

Put it another way. I am not scavenging parts. I am applying Bondo where I must, to the quarter panel perhaps, to smooth that line, to restore beauty that might have been. In this I find pleasure like any necromancer must: upon seeing dry bones stir, rise and snap to; not into an agglomeration or Frankenstein's monster, but to the form they were meant. The necromancer caws, for he has not brute forced the grave. He has seduced it. Coaxed it open. And it is not a golem, but a RESURRECTION!

Here is something true: rather than staying on the sidewalk, many people will cut the corner over the grass. That is why the grass is dead. The benefit to cutting the corner is that it saves you two seconds of time and/or reduces the irritation of the extra steps. Some would argue that the price you pay is in making the corner ugly. Others will tell you that it doesn't matter.

There are MANY rules in AD&D just like this. So many, in fact, that they are like blades of grass. And whether you roll over and kill them on your way, you WILL get where you are going: to the adventure and the combat and the treasure. Saving the grass is not a big deal, after all, compared to the busy lives of people. This is just a game and I'm in a hurry and so forth. And I am NOT belittling that choice. I am not the Defender of the Grass, who will stand at the corner and demand that you stick to the sidewalk. Nor will I state that these blades are sacred.

When you disagree with me, I will like your post.

But here is a truffula seed (for I am the Lorax) or rather here is a foray into the implications and mechanical repercussions OF one of those blades of grass at the corner. I leave you to extrapolate how the same nuances might apply to other marginalized or insignificant rules and what might distill from choosing to use them at your table.



Here is the formula (DMG p86):

Current PC level x 1,500 GP = Weekly Cost x 1--4 weeks.

Example: Pinhead the Assassin does a piss-job at being an assassin (in the DM's eyes) and is awarded a rating of "P", meaning he must train for 4 weeks. Pinhead will become level 5 at the end of training. Therefore, training will cost him 24,000 GP.

24,000 GP (in AD&D) = 24,000 XP.

24,000 XP happens to be enough to advance a 1st level Assassin straight to level 5 AND put him within 1,000 XP of 6th level.

"Ha, ha! Anthony. You see! The grass is not worth saving!"

"True," I reply, "that there are dandelions among the blades. I don't blame you for feeling they are unworthy, especially when you are already pressed for time."

But it gets worse:

Once a PC reaches Name Level, the costs go up for everyone who's not a fighter class:

Cleric: 2,000 GP / Level / Week

Fighter: 1,000 GP / Level / Week

Magic-User: 4,000 GP / Level / Week

Thief: 2,000 GP / Level / Week

At Name Level (small reprieve) you aren't training under anyone; you are good enough to train yourself. But...oh boy...Bards get to pay tuition amounting to 50% of their treasure share PLUS 1,000 GP per level. Does that make them poorer than Paladins? Quite possibly!!!

"Hold on, Anthony, are you still advocating for this system, or burning it to the ground?"

I'm acknowledging there are dandelions. Be patient.

First, rather being shocked by the amount of gold and positing that it's both impossible AND that you have a brighter idea, consider the implications of the rule in abstract form. That is, what does it imply about 1st edition AD&D that the cost of training is meant to be so CRAZY? What are you not understanding?

The most obvious, of course, is that since GP = XP the game needs to find treasure sinks for all that money. The rule is attempting to deprive the PC of her hard-won riches in order to incentivise further adventuring with treasure as the primary lure.

[Please let's not go down the rabbit hole of why gold should NOT equal XP and why scripted storytelling with human motivations should supplant the grind of treasure seeking in a sandbox.]

One blade of grass at a time.

If you are surprised at the amounts suggested for training, it means you are probably used to your DM telling you about a magnificent pearl necklace with pure gold clasps, hung with a single blood-drop ruby of such luster that it brings tears to all of your eyes. And then, when you take it to town and sell it, you get 200 GP for it.

Well, my bard is opening a pawn shop, retiring from adventuring, and I myself am either taking up another hobby or finding a different campaign.

Treasure empowers characters. This frightens many DMs. It means the PCs can buy things and go places. It means they can hire people. And it means they don't have to stick to the carefully scripted adventures penned by bad DMs. In the old days, we didn't have scripts. We had motivations that vied for attention. And we let the players decide what to pay attention to, where they wanted to go next and whether they wanted to save the kingdom or torch it. Lots of treasure empowers the characters to make these kinds of choices. So your takeaways thus far should be:

  1. Old school gaming must quickly put large amounts of coin into character's hands. Else how COULD they level up?

  2. Old school gaming quickly finds ways to part characters from their riches.

  3. Old school adventures therefore should have a LOT of treasure.

  4. And old school leveling is designed as a sink for a portion of that treasure.

Ok, Anthony, but why not just tax them 50%, or cut the number of XP needed for each level in half, or...

We are not here to change the rules, remember? We are here to understand them.

You cannot understand a rule in an isolated state. If I tell you that you must draw one less card each time it is your turn, you will not understand why until you know the rest of the game and the rest of the rules.

So it is. Here are some facts about AD&D that you might not know:

  • AD&D is lethal. This is intentional.

  • In AD&D you should own several characters, not just one. This is called your stable.

  • Your characters will die. When they die, you will be sad. But you will get used to it because

  • In AD&D the machinations of the world at large are often more important than even your highest level characters.

  • In a true AD&D campaign, you will see the world through the eyes of many different characters at many different stages of level progression, therefore

  • Being forced to play as character X this session, while character Y trains, or makes potions, or takes a three week journey to the capital to enquirer of the vizier whether...

You see where I am going.

The XP in AD&D is designed to slow you down significantly right around level 8. Prior to that, you're leveling all the time (assuming your DM's not a cheapskate). And when you hit level 8 what happens? Well, just like at every other level, you have to train.

Sometimes, if everyone is training, or if there are no pressing demands, we make abstraction of this time and move on (just as we skip empty segments during combat): "OK, it's three weeks later. Summer has faded and there's a crispness in the air..."

But sometimes, when there are pressing demands, character Y is forced to sit out for a session or two and the player runs character X instead.

There is so much subtle brilliance to this rhythm of play.

  • The highest level character cannot always be present; allowing others into the spotlight.

  • Players are forced to play different roles and learn different tactics, keeping the game fresh.

  • Players become vested in many characters rather than one, so that when one dies there is balm in Gilead.

  • Low level characters (rolled up to replace others that die off) often quickly catch up (within a couple levels) to higher level characters by using this system. If you doubt me, my players will vouch.

And finally there is the level cap. An integral part of what makes all the above work. Without it, you don't get the catch-up mechanic.

The system is not a check-list procedure that you follow precisely every time. Almost nothing in AD&D functions that way. You must apply wisdom on WHEN to make abstraction of the passage of time and when to enforce a sit-out. You must apply wisdom on WHEN to demand 1 week of training vs 4 weeks of training. These are your levers and switches for keeping the stables healthy, for steering player choices and for advancing not only individual characters, but also the beats of the campaign.

I have had, on several occasions, PCs who are on an adventure but who are capped (and therefore NOT gaining XP) for various reasons. Sometimes it is because they selected that character to go on the adventure when there was no time for training...knowing ahead of time that it would be a sacrifice but that doing so would increase the odds of success for all. Other times it was indeed because (in the early days) the party did not have enough money to level EVERYONE at the same time. In these cases, the party often chose to train those who leveled slower as a tactical choice. After all, they reasoned, the thief can catch up.

It has been my experience that level caps hardly ever harm low level characters who are trying to level. This is because, in practice, the players will actively choose to return home and train the lowbie rather than lose XP. And conversely, they are more likely to put up with the loss of 5K for their 9th level cleric in order to finish the dungeon and find more magic items. They know they are going to level when they get back so why not? What's 5K when I need 250?

And thus, logical human choices bring about surprising nuances that you might not expect. Level cap in particular, I feel, has helped greatly in allowing low level characters to catch up and normalize what would otherwise be spikes in level disparity.

One last comment I have is that the difference between a 5th level character and a 7th is not so great in AD&D: where all are fragile creatures and much hinges on initiative and other such rolls.

Still, we must tend to the dandelions.

Modification number 1:

My assignation of weeks is never levied as a judgement or penalty. Gygax (at least to a degree) enjoyed punitive measures, presumably among a group that raucously went along with them. I find less value in punishment and more in carrots, or sometimes in the perceived withholding of carrots. Therefore, when I tell a player that the character must train 4 weeks, while the other must train 1, it is under fictional justifications: the text in this manual is terribly smudged and/or it took a long time to locate. Perhaps training goes badly, there is a sprain. The tutor is ill. Your character is ill. etc. I throw these levers at my whim in order to steer (only marginally) the likely selections from the stables.

Modification number 2:

I keep the exact formula as above but I substitute SP for GP in the training cost. This is enough of a treasure sink and far more believable when it comes to narrating where the money went!

[As an aside: some of these notes were also discussed briefly over here.]

It should be noted that Gygax himself occasionally recommended suspending the need for training (see module S4 as an example) when the adventure was particularly long/grueling and offered no recourse for return to town. So again, the rules are to be applied not as a checklist but with wisdom.

Modification number 3:

I have found no good use for modifying the XP given to lower level characters traveling in the company of higher level ones. If the campaign is running as it should, the high level characters will either gain comparatively little from low-level dungeons [or] the low level characters will often be destroyed even when standing in the shadows of greater heroes. Therefore, I allow low level characters to attempt to power-level as tag-alongs. The lethality of my game makes it a risk and a reward at the same time, for players often DO need a replacement as the game marches on.

This blog post was specifically requested by a site member so I hope you will forgive any re-hashing I may have done.

And as always,

peace and happy gaming

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