Saturday, July 9, 2011

Why I like Advanced Dungeons & Dragons

Okay, so if you read my last blog entry you may have gotten the impression that I'm going through a rebirth or something. Well, no more so than I have several times since this blog started. Writing the blog has been very revealing to me. Revealing not only on the nature of the RPG industry and Dungeons & Dragons specifically; but also revealing of my own inner feelings and perspectives on why I play these games and enjoy them so much. I don't have all the answers by a stretch, if I did I would probably stop writing and shut down the blog. But the blog is still going strong. Stronger than ever. And it is somehow appealing to the rest of the RPG community to judge by the ever increasing stats. So it's striking a chord with some of you out there. And though it would be presumptuous of me to say what chord that is exactly, given the nature of my posts I could make an educated geuss. And my geuss would be that there are many of you out there that feel as I do. That at times you are confused by the current state of RPGs and that it's difficult at times to find your place. The hobby is so vast and at times diffuse that it is tempting to run to the brightest light still shining: Wizards of the Coast. And I wouldn't fault you for that. I did it myself for a time.

And if you were to find that that light is for you soft and accepting and you feel at home then I would wish you well and be happy for you. It wasn't for me. At least not in any permanent sense. I was still missing something and still set out to discover why and where it was. And as recent blog posts show, that place is and has been my home all these years: Advanced Dungeons & Dragons.

The problems with that are of course legion, but problems are just plot devices to move the adventure along and I can deal with those. I am dealing with those, even as they arise. One arose for me in my last blog post. The fact that AD&D in its day was an unpopular to 0e players as 4e is to the grognards. The same can be said for every edition that has yet come down the pipe and for a number of the new games written and even for the retro clones. There is always somebody who doesn't like something about edition or clone x, y, or z..

It was a harsh blast to have the curtain drawn back on the Master Gygax and see him in some of his unfavorable light that I alluded to in my last post. I admire the man more than just about any gamer I know. A close second is Dave Arneson, and to think that Gary may have used his game design to treat Dave unfairly also hurt. And it hurt my pride a bit to know that there are those out there who wouldn't consider me old school, because I play the "new" game AD&D and not the true, original "First" edition, 0e. Ah well, such experiences do, as they say (whoever those damnable "they" are), build character.

So I spent yesterday thinking about and surfing for sites dealing with Original and Basic D&D and their clones. And I can say without any rancor and without much doubt, that I don't like them. I mean, don't get me wrong. I really like some of their presentations, and the tone they are setting out to acheive. Lamentations of the Flame Princess just freaking RAWKS! And I still maintain that Matt Finch is a GAWD, and his Swords and Wizardry caters to the genre I love. The "Quick Primer to Old School Gaming" Matt wrote might as well be my bible. And I also found two supplements I have to have now: Matt Finch's Eldritch Wierdness Compilation  and Goblinoid Games' Realms of Crawling Chaos. And both of them are supplements for the basic edition--should I shudder? No, not at all.

No, what I'm talking about not liking is the rule structure. The mechanics of these games are so streamlined as to seem somewhat empty to me. I know that they are designed that way for a reason, they give the DM more power and authority in the game, and more creative freedom. But I personally don't see it. I don't see how the rules in AD&D restrict either of those factors. I know because it is the game I have played more than any other, and I've never felt that way while playing it. So is the accusation that later editions restrict creativity and freedom because they have more rules, true? I haven't found that to be the case. In fact I have found the exact opposite to be the case. Such games free me up to be creative exactly because the tidbit rules are already covered. And when I come upon something that the rules don't seem to cover clearly I can then fill it in. But such cases are much rarer than would obviously come up in what Matt Finch calls "freestyle" games. And that's not bad either. It's okay if that's what you like. I don't like it.

I think my trouble personally may have partly been in thinking, even subconsiously, that there is a one true way out there. Many people get that idea with my rhetoric because I argue my cases so vehemently. What I need to be cautious about is arguing for a preference. There are so many games exactly because there are so many preferences. And in-as-much as preference for games are like preferences for art there's no accounting for taste.

Did Gary create his tighter rule structure to control the game? Maybe, I can't say for sure, and Gary is gone so he can't answer for us. But he also may have been addressing a need that was coming in from the gaming community. So many questions were coming his way, via letter, phone and in person about how to rule on what; about what was right and wrong in the game; about why things worked this way or that; and about how they should rule on this or that issue. What he does in AD&D is provide those answers. He was filling a need as much as creating order. It just seemed that there was a need for some order and uniformity in the game. He provides us with that in AD&D. He is not restricitng us. He tries to tell us that he is not. He stills wants us to create, but his warning about changing the spirit of the system, is not perhaps to keep us from being creative, but from reintroducing chaos into the game order.

Just how true are all these assumptinons? I have no idea. I'm not sure there is a truth. I like AD&D because it provides the structure I need to create and play in the style I like to. I have never felt limited, despite what it might imply. So, can I then turn these same critiques to other games that I might not like? I think not. If I accept the limitations of my own preferences I must accept those of others. If your game works for you, more power to you. I am happy for you and for the hobby. There are many who like to play as I do. Many of them are playing more rules light versions of the game than I prefer to play. That's okay too. I'll just use their creative ideas under my chosen rule set. That's okay isn't it? Of course it is. As long as it's okay with my players it shouldn't stop the most important thing: The Game Must Go On!

And truth be told, as is always the case for me, I have come away with some really good ideas. Not the least of which is a continuation of my open source Hackmaster using the OGL. Second of which is Dark / Weird Fantasy AD&D. A good blogger by the moniker Carnifex points out that once again LotFP is recreating a new tone in basic guise. What if we were to try and create a dark/weird fantasy using the AD&D/Hackmaster mold? I'm still thinking about these ideas and maybe doing some actual brainstorming on them soon. So my once again excursion into the edition wars has not been a loss after all. I brought home some shiny new treasures to play with ... miiiinessss preeecioussssessssssss.


Ka-Blog! said...

AD&D 1st Edition isn't old school? Holy Frijoles. So the B/X and BECMI folks aren't either?

And as for the Gary disillusionment -- well, people change throughout their lifetimes. In some of the docs by him, we saw him with a looser view on house rules early in the life cycle of D&D then hardened quite a bit. Who's to say he didn't relax on that once more in his more private moments? And maybe in his last years he changed his view again on many things but was never able to relate them publicly.

We respect them for the effect their work had on us, and while it hurts to see our heroes as being less than perfect, it doesn't take away from their work.

Chris said...

Very true Ka-blog, very true. Thank you for your words. I know, figuring out who is what anymore is so much a matter of the gestalt. Gary didn't even use all the AD&D rules from what I hear. for example he wanted to scrap weapon speed b/c he never used it in his play.

Amidst all this all we can do is what really matters, Game on!

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