Friday, June 16, 2023

AD&D Training

Another "Friday fun post" extravaganza...that I have about 50 minutes to write before I need to pick up my kids (last day of school). 

*sigh* Why do I get myself into these things?

[actually, I know the reason. Playing, running, thinking about, and discussing Dungeons & Dragons is about the only thing that keeps me somewhat sane these days]

Over at the Pedantic Gaming discord server, there was a little bit of a 'back-and-forth' over a statement or two made by moi regarding AD&D training costs in which I wrote (in part):
I do not fault a person using the training costs...they function fine. They become less necessary (or easier to fine tune) with strong world building. Doing away with them completely withOUT the world building, however, can lead to collapse...which is one of the reasons Basic games (B/X, RC, BECMI, etc.) are not suitable for long-term campaign play without extensive modification/addition.
This as an addendum to the fact that I don't use training costs in my game these days.

Naturally this led to some pushback from some and (amusingly) others coming to my defense from inference that I was using Gygax's stipilation (p. 86 of the DMG) that "training must be conducted under the tutelage of a character of the same class and profession...the tutor might possibly accept some combination of gold and service for his tutelage, at the DM's option" to justify that Little Ol' Me was still playing By The Book, RAW, and simply tying players into NPC factions/organizations through "service."

Nope. I just don't require training for characters to advance in level. When they earn enough x.p. they get the new level, new abilities, new hit points...just automatically.

As this will no doubt cause consternation to some, I thought maybe I should take a moment to elaborate on the WHY of my excising this (fairly fundamental) part of the Advanced D&D game.

A while back (August of last year) there was a lively discussion at Princes blog about the various "upkeep" costs foisted on AD&D players; at the time I wrote the following, specifically with regard to training:
Anthony Huso is as big a proponent of Rules As Written as anyone on the internet, and even he has modified training costs…he uses the same rate, but in SILVER pieces, rather than gold. For me, I’ve tried running training As Written, I’ve tried using it with (Huso’s) silver mod, I’ve tried running it with ONLY for characters wanting to learn new spells or special abilities, and (at this point) I’ve dispensed with training costs completely. 
Here’s the thing about AD&D training: it’s not really about sucking $$ out of the players’ coffers. Let me repeat that: TRAINING IS NOT A MECHANIC FOR SUCKING MONEY OUT OF THE PLAYERS. Especially as characters progress in level, training costs become MINUSCULE compared to the amount of treasure coming into the party. 

Training costs exist to SLOW THE PROGRESS OF THE CAMPAIGN. Advanced D&D is designed for the “long haul” campaign. Training draws out game play by 1) extending the length of time PCs explore/experience low levels (as they have to acquire enough treasure to level up), and 2) by forcing PCs to experience periods of inaction (i.e. taking them out of active play for weeks while training).

Why do we want to enforce periods of inactivity? Because it is assumed the game will still continue AND SO the player with the missing PC will have to CREATE A NEW PC FOR ACTIVE PLAY. Why is this desirable? Because it keeps the game “fresh” for the player! Playing a cleric for some dozen+ levels is likely to get tiring…but when the cleric has to train that allows the player to break out his/her halfling thief or elven fighter-mage! As the campaign goes on, MOST players will develop a stable of different characters…some favorites and foundational pieces of the campaign, some just to be played for a lark now and then. AD&D is designed to be played in the LONG FORM…and training rules are one of the things that help this go.

Why don’t I use “training costs” in my own game? Because I don’t need to at this point in time. My players are young enough that EVERYTHING about the AD&D game is interesting (and difficult) enough to keep them enthused. They’re also dying a lot and thus creating new PC types so they’re getting lots of chances to play different things…but generally, 6 months SEEMS like a super-long time for a kid of 11 years, unlike a 30/40-some year old adult. At this point, I’m not interested in “slowing down” the game play…I’m making up for lost time (the years when I didn’t have an AD&D campaign going).
And this remains my stance. However, I'd like to elucidate even further:

My campaign is just that: an on-going campaign. While I seed my game world with various "dungeons" cribbed from published adventure modules, I'm not running the thing in truly episodic fashion (i.e. you go to a dungeon, 'complete' the adventure, then go to the next dungeon). Instead, my players live in the campaign world. There is "adventure" between every dungeon, within every town and village, on the road, etc. just as a matter of existing in the imaginary environment. My game is always "on;" it doesn't focus on the highlights of a delve, players are under no (out-of-game) geas to participate in an adventure, and they can leave adventure sites at any time. Likewise, the PCs are free to podunk around in a town or wilderness section as much as they want, exploring the world...though, as a DM, it is my job to offer hooks and incentives that are enticing enough they don't linger over-long.  And fortunately, players being players, they tend to bite at ANY adventure hook...because, in an Advanced game world, PCs are always short of money and looking for the next "big score."

Consequently, PCs are often 'on safari' and nowhere near a place where one might find a tutor, training hall, "adventuring guild," or whatever when they come to a point of leveling up. If I'm running I1: Dwellers of the Forbidden City and the players have bivouacked in a ruined building while exploring the place, who is going to train them? If they are in the middle of the Desert of Desolation when they hit their level cap are they forced to remain at 4th or 5th level when the dungeons still remaining to be plumbed are increasing in deadliness all around them?

For my game (YOU don't have to do this), I have the take that experience points earned represent just that: experience. And when a character hits a breakpoint, their level has been longer is the character the farmboy getting pwned by a lone sand-orc (Luke Skywalker) but now a more capable character with a bit better fighting ability a few more hit points, the ability to cast stronger enchantments...whatever. Advancement always involves a period of rest and reflection (i.e. at the end of a game session), but I don't force the PCs to return to town to engage in weeks of training. As I wrote: training is a method of regulating the pace of the campaign. And, at this point, I want my campaign to continue moving along at a steady clip.

Besides which, my players have enough money issues as is...I don't need to suck their purses dry.

As a precedent for my take, I refer to Gygax himself in module S4: Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth, in which he wrote:
During the course of several games sessions, players may accumulate enough experience points to qualify for an increase in level. Because the caverns are so far from anyplace where characters can train, the DM may allow player characters to advance without prior training, provided that the quality of play has been very high...if you choose to allow player characters to advance in level without training, it should be because of their playing skill, and the special circumstance of this module. Advancement without training should be regarded as a reward for excellence, rather than as a normal part of the campaign.
Keeping in mind that S4 is no more "special" than say other extended adventure module (Gygax's own GD series, for example or I1 or I3-15), and that "quality of play" and "excellence" are wholly subjective measurements on the part of the DM (and, thus, arbitrary), I could take this as Gygax's implicit blessing to discard training altogether, regardless of his protestation that doing so shouldn't be a "normal" part of campaign play.

That is, I could take it that way...if I considered EGG's words sacrosanct. Which, really, I don't anymore (though I respect the hell out of him and [much of] his work). 

I run a fairly 'hard' least, by the standards of the last 30 years or so. No fudging. Characters die regularly (sometimes in droves). Adventures are not "toned down;" big rewards mean big dangers (and vice versa) and players are pushed to risk themselves if they want big scores. SURVIVING, in my game, is evidence of "excellence" and "high quality of play." And even when a modicum of luck is involved...well, for the most part my experience has been that players make their own luck. And welcome to it...the bad luck always comes around, eventually! I don't require player characters in my AD&D game to train. All "training" occurred long before the characters set off on their first adventure, when they were learning the skills that made them 1st level adventurers. "Levels" earned by PCs are a measure of how experienced they are in their profession. The characters aren't learning new skills...they're simply getting better at the skills they've already learned.

All right. Happy Friday, folks.


  1. I will take umbrage with the statement that B/X (or BECMI) is not suitable for long term play. The fact that 1e AD&D really functionally goes to the mid-high teens in levels (15-16), while BX goes to 14, and BECMI goes to 36, along with the domain rule in BECMI, and the lesser stronghold rules in BX, tends to disprove this. I don't think AD&D is so fundamentally different from BX-BECMI that 'long term campaigns' are better with it. All that tends to sound a lot like the edition elitism that was prevalent in the 80s about AD&D and "Basic" D&D. I will concede that AD&D provides for a more POWERFUL game experience (character wise).

    1. Having run/played a lot of B/X in the last decade-and-a-half, my conclusions are based on my experience. And, since I've written a "B/X Companion" for high level B/X play (and thus taking this particular stance is shooting myself in my own wallet), please consider that I have some thoughtful reasons for making such statements.

      The original Basic book was penned with the idea of providing an introduction to the (original) D&D game and (later) the AD&D game. The Moldvay/Cook/Marsh Basic and Expert sets were more or less the same except that they expanded the scope of that introduction (including wilderness procedures and higher level spells/abilities for more dangerous perils).

      The BECMI system was something first a reprint, it came to be its own product line for people who preferred it to AD&D (the Rules Cyclopedia is simply Aaron Allston's compilation of the BECM rules). However, while it provided ample rules for high level and (presumably) long-term play, there is little evidence that these new rules (the Companion and Master set specifically) were extensively play-tested, nor play-tested at all in true campaign play (i.e. play over time). On the contrary there is evidence (from interviews) that Frank Mentzer's own campaign was more of AD&D + his extra rules (including those of the Immortal set).

      Yes...I am an elitist in regard to my edition preference, but not an elitist in the way of 80s players who derided Basic for being a "baby edition" or bemoaning the non-separation of "race" and "class." Basic sets (especially B/X) are a wonderful and (IMO) fundamental introduction to the basic concepts of Dungeons & Dragons.

      However, AD&D as a system is (generally speaking) descended from YEARS of play-testing and campaigning with OD&D, and is a codification of those rules (including Supplements and Strategic Review articles), with minor alterations based on real rulings at the table.

      Still, that's not the reason I stand by my statement. Here's the skinny: I've played AD&D into high levels of play over long periods of time...true "campaigns"...with no issues of functionality. The AD&D game works...and works well...over the long haul. AND I'd add that it's greatest strengths are only revealed with long-term play.

      And Basic sets...don't do this. I've tried. Tried with BECMI, years ago (in my 20s), because (as you point out) there is "evidence" that it was "designed" to be run from 1st to 36th and beyond. In practice? It didn't work for me. And maybe I'm a moron. But as a youngster (in my teens) I was able to run a perfectly functional long-term AD&D campaign that lasted into high levels and beyond. Me...the moron who likewise failed to take any of my later (playing in my 30s) B/X campaigns into high levels.

      In my experience, B/X really does tend to peter out around 12th level, if not before. The original campaign of my youth (before I discovered AD&D) got up around that: but we were punchy, Monte Haul DMs who didn't know our ass from a hole in the ground. I'm a bit more mature these days and I require a more refined rule set for my campaign play. AD&D is my huckleberry.

      Perhaps you've found ways to make Basic sets work for long-term play. I know others who've claimed to have done so (I haven't played in their games)...however I know they also tend to 'port a lot of AD&D rules into their games.

      For me? I just prefer to start with AD&D.

    2. I ran a several year BECMI Mystara campaign up to around 19th level, so BEC; it worked ok. The transition from adventuring to rulership, war and conquest was a notable feature of the campaign and the system. In some ways the lower power level of the PCs and most of the magic items aided long term play. I feel AD&D really only covers the BE part of BECMI; adventuring and small domains; the Companion set adds a lot for larger scale campaigning.

  2. I'm just hitting the high levels in my bx clone of choice. We'll see how it compares with my ADD experience. It does have excellent rules re: realm management, running guilds, creating magic items etc.

    I used the training rules in the ADD days of my youth. Haven't seen a need for them in my BX game, as there are plenty of other drains on coin and time, mostly henchmen, mortal wounds recovery, and saving up for troops, strongholds, and research.

  3. Never used them. I like to run games about sandbox exploring or ones with time pressure. Neither support training.

    For a mega dungeon crawl sure. They encourages downtown and time for the dungeon to restock.

    I think part of the resistance is that I can't remember a single module with training built in. The game says to do it but it's not shown in the examples. This is probably because they started as tournament modules.but no one stops midway through N1 to train.

  4. Where's your stance at a player advancing in level during an ongoing combat?

    1. That’s usually a “no,” for me. Perhaps it’s realistic to have the lightbulb go on for someone in the middle of a life-or-death struggle (certainly that seems cinematic), but I require some rest-reflection-breather period before awarding the level.

      That said, I’ve had characters earn a level while in a state of “zero hit points” and if their new hit die brought them to a positive state, I did not require them to take the (game stipulated) week of rest before adventuring.

  5. I've always disliked the idea of requiring formal training (besides the backstory stuff that explains how the character gained his first class level) because what do experience points represent if not on-the-job training? You've already raided the dungeon, killed the monsters, and plundered the treasure; what's this guy back in town supposed to be able to teach you? If he's so awesome that he can teach even seasoned adventurers new tricks, why isn't he out adventuring himself? We can only assume that being a trainer must be more lucrative than being an adventurer, so what's my character's incentive to continue sticking his neck out instead of setting up his own school?

    There's a case to be made for requiring wizards to have access to a library in order to level up, but I would treat it as independent research rather than guided study.

    1. That's where I'm at. It also posits a campaign world where there are all these trainers just waiting to help characters level up that feels a little too gamey to me. The only way I really like training is as an alternate way to earn xp - not so much for players but as another way to justify having leveled NPCs.

    2. Huh. Interesting. In my campaign, "leveled NPCs" are just...leveled NPCs. I don't bother justifying it: perhaps such individuals are just naturally talented, or have many years of practice, or were active adventurers in their youth or whatever.

      PCs are their own category of person (i.e. "adventurers") and are measured and defined in a particular way that may not (at least, not necessarily) jibe with other persons in my game world.