Monday, April 25, 2011

Reading Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Part 1

Okay, folks, here we go...the first post in my exegesis (as it were) on AD&D, first ed.  Enjoy, feel free to comment.  These types of things thrive on discussion.  We're starting with the Dungeon Master's Guide.

Also, I should note that I am only transferring my original posts from this thread on RPGNet, and not transferring the whole discussion over.  This is not because I want to silence the original posters, or because it wasn't a good discussion.  On the contrary; it was a great discussion and several of the responses made me change my views on certain aspects of the game.  It's just that the thread in question is monstrous in scope and I had to clip somewhere, so I stuck with the original posts authored by me.  Discussion can then begin anew, and I'll try to acknowledge where I've changed my views as I have the time.

So, now...on with the show!


Foreword: you know, I don't think any of us give Mike Carr the credit he's due. This guy's name appears inside almost every single book in the first edition, and he is credited as the "Games & Rules editor." It could be he's responsible for a lot more of first edition AD&D than we realize. Anyway, a brief but well-written essay on whether Dungeon Mastering is an art or a science, concluding that it's both, as well as a labor of love. I agree with that sentiment wholeheartedly.

Preface: Ah, here's the Gygaxian prose we all love and hate. Honestly, though, I am not finding the writing nearly as much of a plow as we all seem to remember. It's dry, yes, but these books are, first and foremost, rulebooks not tied to an individual setting. I do love Gygax's continual use of "milieu" and "milieux" to refer to campaign settings. For some reason it makes me crack a little smile every time I see it.

There's a common misconception that AD&D was designed to be cohesive, all-encompassing, and used "by the book." Here, right from the beginning Gygax explicitly states that it's impossible to even try to be all-encompassing, and that what this book aims at is presenting a framework, with a "mutable system" (DMG 7). It states that certain commonalities are desirable (the attributes have the same meaning, the races and classes are similar, if not the same) between different campaigns, for the sake of communication and transition between two different games, but stresses that not all of the rules or laws of any two game worlds will, or should, be the same.

Credits & Acknowledgments: This reads as good, but grim to those of us who knew what would come later. Dave Arneson is acknowledged and thanked, as are the Blumes. A name that we still associate with D&D all the way into fourth edition are to be found here as well: Skip Williams, who in my opinion should know better given the direction 4e is taking, but that's my bit of snark for this section .

Introduction: First thought: good Lord, how many introductory sections do we need?? Second, he states that the format of the book is "simple and straightforward;" I disagree wholeheartedly, but we'll get to that in detail later. For now, suffice it to say that I happen to think a lot of the misconceptions about how complicated AD&D was stem from the poor organization and presentation of systems in the DMG.

He discusses a bit more the position of DM as the "final arbiter" of the game, and stresses that the DM should know well the systems herein, not for the purpose of following them to the letter, but for knowing when to apply them by rote, knowing when to cut them entirely, and knowing when to modify them to fit his vision for his game. A bit more evidence against the "My way or the highway" mentality Gygax is unfairly credited for championing.

The Game: Here Gygax does state that AD&D is intended to fall more into the "Game" school of thought than the "Realism-Simulationism" school. However, his definitions of these schools of thought seem a bit different than our modern usages. He stresses that AD&D does not endeavor to simulate any kind of hard reality, but that it is a game for enjoyment. Nowhere does immersion enter into his estimation of simulationism vs. gamism, and indeed quite a few times throughout the text he's very explicit that players should become immersed in their characters.

Dice: Standard fare breakdown of polyhedral dice, what role they play in the game, and strangely, an explanation of bell-curve results vs. "linear curve" (sic) results. I suppose that in 1978 this wasn't as odd an inclusion as it is now, given that back then odd-shaped dice weren't the commonality that they are today. It's the first thing we see that's a bit anachronistic.

Use of Miniature Figures With the Game: Ah, now we get to the root of one of the biggest bones of contention between "grognards" and fans of post-3e D&D. Is AD&D a miniatures game at heart? Has it always been designed for the use of miniatures as an important (if not integral) element of the rules? Does it assume the use of such, and is combat complicated if they are not present? This section reiterates what appears in most AD&D books: miniatures are helpful and add color to the game but are not necessary for play. The rest of the book bears this out: whenever an instance requiring movement, mapping, tactics, etc., arises, the book includes what to do if you are using miniatures, but this always comes as an addition to the basic rules, which do not assume or require miniatures. This is in sharp contrast to the current edition of D&D, which specifically states in the text that miniatures are assumed and that if you don't use them, you're not going to get the "full D&D experience." The rationale for the use of the " sign is explained in the Player's Handbook, and we will address that when we get there, but it suffices to say that hit has little to do with actual scale on the tabletop, though such is taken into account.

Aids to Playing Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Mostly a continuation of the "miniature figures" section above, this talks about official AD&D hex paper, Dungeon Geomorphs, the official TSR catalog, etc. The most amusing impression I got from this section is that it's mostly there as an advertisement for the superiority of official AD&D stuff as opposed to that compatible but produced by competitors. Looks like not much has changed there.

5 comments:

  1. I enjoyed this thread on RPG Net and I am looking forward to seeing what sort of conversation happens here where the signal to noise ratio is a bit better.

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  2. If not as instantaneous...a note: I have comment moderation on here for only two reasons. One, so I can keep Asian spammers down. Two, so I get notification when someone comments. So if your comment doesn't appear right away it isn't because I've censored you. I won't do that unless I feel you're being outright abusive or trollish.

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  3. Reading right along with you ...

    1. I see it as Gary trying to have it both ways. While he encourages tinkering and selective rules application with one hand, he preaches standardization and the fine balance of the rule elements with the other. I suppose it's too much hindsight to wish that he'd flagged up "core" vs. "optional" rules ...

    2. I love the "players shall not read the DMG" paragraph, complete with sage fees and magic item raids for noncompliance (don't try this at home kids). Despite the dickish-GM posturing, it reveals assumptions about the initiation and mystery of the game completely lost by the time of 3rd Edition.

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  4. I disagree entirely with him trying to have it both ways. The later "one true wayism" of which he is often accused comes from an editorial in Dragon Magazine where he was specifically discussing tournament play. There is indeed a need to have a hard, established rules set for parity between conventions when you're talking about con and tournament play. That's usually what Gygax was talking about when he discussed by-the-book play. By all reports (many straight from the horse's mouth) he didn't use half the rules in the DMG himself, in his home games...

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  5. I am glad I saw your link to this on Facebook, Jason. While I have been a proponent of C&C the last seven years, I am using my AD&D books more for inspiration as I further bring my son into the hobby. As his C&C experience was minimal and still at an age where it was more about having fun than learning the game, I feel that now that he's approaching the age I was when I first started he should get rooted the way I was: with the Moldvay Basic Set, the Expert Set that followed, and AD&D. The DMG is in my reading pile of gaming books I am currently "co-reading" (read a section or two, switch books, and repeat).

    I look forward to the rest of this series, Jason - especially after such a wonderful beginning.

    Happy gaming,
    Michael

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