As my campaign has gone on (yet another) unintended hiatus, there are a few things I've been wondering about the structure and style of it. I've tried to do a sandbox campaign, but the players are so used to "story" campaigns that I have had to throw in a few more linear settings for them to explore. I've tried asking the players what they want to do, and gotten no useful response, forcing me to assume what they might want to do, and whipping something up to fill that space. Then, come game time, one or two of the players all but refuse to do the thing that I prepared for them to do.
I shouldn't be surprised, but I am frustrated by it. First, they refuse to tell me what they want to do; second, they say "no" to every option that I have spent time preparing (in some cases, several hours of time). As for what one player in particular actually wanted to do, I still have no idea; and now, the point is moot, as the player in question has dropped out of all of my campaigns due to this unsolvable conflict between DMing style and playing style.
(I should elaborate on this in a later post - and I probably will - as this is getting way off topic.)
Anyway, another issue that has cropped up is that my DM skills - as far as rules mastery are concerned - have grown rusty due to disuse. In the last abortive session of my 2e campaign, I had to stop several times to look up pretty common rules. Were I to have more interested players, I would simply delegate some such duties to them. Unless I can get back into a situation where I'm running 2e every other week (if not more often), I cannot keep up my usual "flow" without the players meeting me halfway. Some of them are mild powergamers, so I just need to convince them to brush up on the rules in between sessions - or even during sessions, as this would be a far more productive task than simply watching magical-girl anime or playing Heroes of the Storm while I'm trying to run a game. Heck, this is the exact reason that I gave one of my closest friends - who was also, at one point, one of my most loyal and consistent players - a copy of the Player's Handbook for her birthday.
I realize that some may be reading this and scoffing at my lack of skill. AD&D 2nd Edition, if run without most of the optional fiddly rules (as it is at my table), is not that complicated. Certainly not as complicated as 3.5 or - Gods help you - Pathfinder. And indeed, as I hinted above, when I'm at the top of my game I can wrangle it rather effectively. But in the face of player disinterest, lack of preparation time (mostly my own fault), and frequent interruptions, I can't stay afloat.
I've been preparing a contingency plan for both possible outcomes to this situation. If I can gain the commitment of enough players - players who are willing to help me, and each other, keep the game moving efficiently - then I'll stick with 2e. But if not... well, that's where it comes down to a tough decision.
There are three basic options I'm looking at. B/X (my perennial favorite iteration of D&D) has a lot of advantages: character creation is fast, combat is fast, and its deadliness belies its newbie-friendly nature. In fact, I recently ran a second round of "Drunk D&D" for three players: one who has played in a few sessions of my campaign; one who has previously played in a D&D Fast Play Game (run by me); and one who was both completely new to RPGs, and had completely failed to understand the concept of pen-and-paper RPGs. This third player was also the most drunk out of the three.
On the spur of the moment, I retrieved my "trusty" laptop, bought some cheap six-siders on a grocery run, and helped everyone roll up their characters and write down their information on blank printer paper. Running them through a Fast Play module, they played fairly smart, the drunk newbie (playing a cleric) got to use his Turn Undead ability, and they narrowly escaped with their lives before they got to the boss. Little experience or treasure was gained (although the fighter managed to sell an ancient dagger she grabbed from the skeletons for 5 gold pieces), but a grand time was had by all. I was especially proud of them because I did not fudge in their favor, except by invoking my table rule of one re-roll per player per game, and extending it to the DM as well (this resulted in the thief being injured in a pit trap, rather than immediately killed).
This, to me, illustrates why I love B/X. It's simple enough for complete neophytes to pick up in a single short session, yet challenging and deep enough to keep veterans on the edges of their seats. The downsides are the extreme lethality and the limited selection of classes; this is one reason I've been wringing my metaphorical hands over it, as one of my players (and closest friends) has a druid character that she's very attached to.
The second option available to me is Basic Fantasy. I like it, always have; it's based on B/X and has most of its simplicity, while having many optional supplements to add things (like druids). But the supplements present another problem: supplement bloat. If I allow the Druids supplement, why not the Gnomes supplement? Or the Half-Humans supplement, or the Necromancers supplement, or, or, or...
(And it doesn't hurt that every single one of the four or five variants on the bard class for Basic Fantasy sucks... although the jester class, which swaps out inspiring songs for demoralizing taunts, is something I've been wanting to try out in its place.)
The third option is original D&D. This one has the issue of supplement bloat as well, and I've looked for a compilation of all of its Supplements into one book that didn't have to modify things for the sake of the OGL. Fortunately, Mothshade of 3d6, Traps and Thieves recently came out with something that solved that problem right away, and I realized some things I hadn't before - like the fact that half-elf druids in oD&D are technically allowed without houseruling. The problem with oD&D is that the rules are pretty vague and incomplete, which would require me to either have a binder full of houserules or mix-and-match from other editions.
So, if I convert the campaign, I'll still have to do a lot of work. But at least B/X is small enough that it's okay for the entire burden of knowing the rules to fall on the DM; after all, it's a lot less headache to flip through 128 pages over two books than 500+ pages over three books.