Tuesday, June 5, 2012

AD&D Players Handbook: Special Reference Work

First, a comment on the absolutely iconic drawing by David A. Trampier. Much art of the AD&D game was done in black & white. So much so that what is commonly called old school art is presumed to be black & white. This is silly of course, as there was very effective color art in that day too. I assume that black & white was used for ease of printing and cost, but there may have been other reasons. However, once the choice is made black & white conveys a tone that color does not. And this tone has been passed on to many old school players. In doing a little research online, I came across lots of reasons why artists would choose to use black & white as opposed to color. One comment by a predominantly b&w artist caught my eye, however: "Replacing The Need For Color With Your Soul". And that said it all for me. The art, like the title page of the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Players Handbook, captures something in me. It is evocative. It has much the effect of Shakespeare dramatic use of taking down the third wall. First it's circular frame is as if we are looking through a window into a realm that resides within the pages of this book we are about to read. The wizard sits in an obviously idyllic, and adventure beckoning scene. He is a wizard, right? He somehow reminds me of Alice and Wonderland and the hookah smoking caterpillar. Which evokes all sort of strange emotions in me as well. Magic is weird and strange and, well mind altering. Is this game like that? And he sits atop a six sided die. Like the thousands I've rolled to make the PCs and NPCs that populate this fantastic world I'm about to enter. Again the third wall is broken. The setting is surreal because of the die, and it makes me realize the game is some sort of a gateway, an entry a window and portal to another world. Now, I'm not saying you can't get such things if a color picture. But almost all artists agree color can be a distraction. It's eye catching, but not always soul catching. In black & white, the untrained eye, like mine, can fill in the lines with what is in my mind, my imagination and in my soul.

Which speaks volumes about how I feel about this game. Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. Even today, after thirty plus years of looking at that picture, it still carries me away. Touches something inside me. Something very real, and very magical.

Reference works are defined as "a book or serial publication to which you can refer for confirmed facts. The information is intended to be found quickly when needed. Reference works are usually referred to for particular pieces of information, rather than read beginning to end. The writing style used in these works is informative..." Which is a tad different from a reference book. Reference books refers to reference works in libraries that are for in library use only. Reference work implies that it is to be actively bought, owned and used for personal reference. Not sure that describes the AD&D Players Handbook (PHB) perfectly, but it fits. Which explains maybe why lots of people haven't actually read these works from cover to cover.

I've been frustrated lately by those who frequently comment on modern gaming forums asking questions, debating rules and critiquing systems in ways that show a complete ignorance of the foundational rule set of their own hobby. I here call AD&D the foundational set, as the original edition was much less well organized pre Moldvay/Cook/Marsh. And even then was a looser, and less defined game. Gary Gygax here sets out all of the problems faced by gamers up to that time, and gives answers to those dilemmas or reasoning why things are the way they are. This "Special Reference Work" is exactly that. Filled with facts and answers to those persistent gaming questions that many think were never answered. If they'd only read the work, they would have known. For in this "Compiled Volume of Information For Players of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons" we will find that very thing and much, more more. We will encounter the very spirit of the game brought to life those 40 years ago.

So as the first installment of my complete reading and commentary of the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons rulebooks we will start with the Players Handbook. It was the second published in the line, the Monster Manual being the first. But I will save consideration of the the Monster Manual, Fiend Folio and Monster Manual II for after the PHB and Dungeon Masters Guide. It is my later intention to do the same for the Deities & Demigods, Unearthed Arcana, Wilderness Survival Guide, Dungeoneers Survival Guide, and Oriental Adventures. But the most thorough treatment will be given to the first two: the PHB and DMG.

So you can expect from my blog over the next several months a personal commentary on these works, as I am today doing for the Title Page itself. I think there will be many gamers who find this not only interesting and useful, but enlightening. My hope is that other modern gamers will take heed as well, for many of the bugaboos and quandaries they think they have so excellently solved were actually addressed in the original works themselves. From time to time I will also be referring to the work by Gary Gygax entitled Roleplaying Mastery, in which he outlines many of his thoughts on game design and on what constitutes good RPG play.

Some might take issue with what Gary did, dismiss his work as passe', or out of fashion, or simply primitive in light of all our modern gaming production. What a pitiable stance to take. Do we say the same of Einstein? Of Newton? Of Michelangelo? Of Charlie Chaplin? No. Gary Gygax was not simply a plodding newbie in the world of gaming that we have outgrown. He was a master. A Master of the Game, and of game design. In the works we shall consider together I assert that this is so apparent, so clear, so undeniable that all the new redesign of games under the assumed name of Dungeons & Dragons have been but a footnote on the grand work that he accomplished.

1 comment:

The Angry Monk said...

I just wanted to thank you for doing this. I always find your blog enlightening, but I am especially looking forward to this series. I really appreciate the time you're taking to go through each book.