After reading Greywulf’s posts about High Speed D&D (30 levels in 30 games), I really started thinking about how to run it with earlier editions.
The basic idea is to run a game of D&D where the characters level up at the end of each single-session adventure. After 30 games, these epic heroes complete the uber-quest and “win”. It gives the players the chance to get the feel of the game through every level of play as well as allowing it to cover a major story arc over under a year of gaming. As a fan of long down-times between adventures (I like to run with a minimum of a season between adventures, often a full year), this appeals to me. Of course, wrangling it to B/X is going to take a bit of work.
4e seems perfect for this setup because of both the tier system and the magic item level and treasure parcel system that can be stripped down into a game of ‘player’s choice’ instead of placed treasure parcels and we can simulate the magic items themselves becoming more powerful as the characters do (or as Greywulf suggested – as the physical manifestations of the characters’ power & will). No more churning through +1 and +2 swords and then throwing them away when you get the +3 sword – unless you really want to find something different and cool in the dragon’s hoard.
The game stops being about treasure hunting, but about whatever story arc the game is meant to pursue. While this may be the antithesis to the sandbox game, I play enough sandbox games that I enjoy a story-arc driven game also.
For games where the classes were somewhat balanced by their XP tables, obviously the first thing that has to change is the rate of leveling up. Instead of giving a level at every session, we’ll need a flat XP amount. Further, as a B/X fan, I would probably run this for 12 levels, not 30 – 3 months of weekly games and then end it (or more likely for our groups a full year of monthly games). Getting to level 12 for the average character (the fighter) takes 600,000 XP. In fact, I think I’ll just use the fighter as the XP progression for the game. So each game the fighter levels up, and other characters may or may not, depending on the XP tally.
With the chart on the right, the elf hits his level cap of 10 for the last session, the dwarf hits level 11, the cleric level 13, the magic user level 11 (getting his first and only level 6 spell in time for the final game), thieves level 12, and the poor halfling of course hit his level cap at the beginning of game 7.
The real issue here is magic items. Treasure is easy to calculate as a character would have gathered about 80-90% of his experience through gold and riches along the way, and probably spent about half of it on “stuff”.
But how do you handle magic items?
The simplest way is probably a chart of “plusses” that you get at certain levels, but that system may work for weapons and armor, but doesn’t work for miscellaneous magic items, staves and so on.
Maybe each character gets one item from the Basic rules potions & scrolls lists at the end of game 1, and so on. But there would still have to be some DM calls as to what is appropriate. For instance there is a huge value disparity between a bag of holding and gauntlets of ogre power in a game where getting as much stuff out of the dungeon as possible has less importance when compared to the adventure.
The final option would be to pull out the old 1e or 3e DMG and use the magic item value charts there, and give the players “money” to spend on gear (sticking to what’s available in the game system you are running) between games as their characters and their equipment becomes more potent.