Saturday, July 7, 2012

A Cornucopia of AD&D Goodness

It was my intent some weeks ago to go page by page through the AD&D books and comment on them as I go. Well, two things threw me off track. One was a real world matter--job promotion, lots of stuff going on there; the other was my growing commentary on almost each and every sentence of the DMG. I mean I hadn't gotten much past the table of contents and I was already stacking up my own pages of commentary. Exactly how was I ever to finish this if my thoughts ran on ad infinitum in response to each phrase Gary wrote down?

Well, the project deserves continuance, so I'm picking up the threads here. I'm not sure I'm gonna go about this like I have been or not. I don't know if brevity or expansiveness is best. So here I take a step back. I'll quote each area that struck me, and try and give a sentence or two of my thoughts in relation to these quotes from the original works. See, the real problem is that the words of the AD&D canon have so much to say, directly and implied to the current modern gaming world that we really should all go back and read the works for ourselves. I suppose I'm coming at it from the perspective of a lover of these works, and an avid aficionado of the AD&D game. Others, not so partial might not find the depth I inevitably uncover, but ah well--not everyone appreciates the Classics.

So without further ado, I present thoughts from the Table of Contents and the Preface to the Dungeon Masters Guide.

Table of Contents
  • Note that the Table of Contents is laid out in exactly the same order as it is in the PHB. And that this order is intentional as a work of reference as mentioned before.
  • Appendices and Tables are also clearly laid out and listed in the ToC as well
  • The claim has been made that the organization of the material in these works could have been better, but actual use of the ToC shows how good this organization was for the first edition of a reference work.
  • If you jump ahead to the preface he addresses this issue by saying he had done his best. He was breaking new ground with this work and extending it like it had never been done before.
Preface
  • A rare view into the building of a game by the designer himself.
  • Paragraph 2 makes the astounding claim that these works are the last and ultimate authority among a very creative and opinionated bunch ie gamers. 
  • The need for uniformity in certain rules
    • In class expression
    • In abilities
    • In problem solving approach
    • That treasure and experience are held near a mean
    • All in order to avoid Monty Haul or Killer Campaigns
  • "With great risk comes great reward"
  • "Intelligent play will give characters a fighting chance of survival"
  • The DM is considered to come first, as he invests the time and retains mastery over the campaign
  • Players, however, come in a close second and have a great responsibility for the success or failure of a campaign
  •  The rules set down herein are "parameters" not strict rules
  • What Gary is setting down and explaining in his preface is a rationale for the choices he's made for his rules. And that this is the most loosely stated structure he could make and still give just the level of complexity required to "conduct a campaign ... of the game 'world'".
  • By the time he wrote this preface Gary and his fellow gamers had over 9 years of gaming experience. D&D had exploded onto the hobby scene and they had seen just about every manifestation of gaming problem occur and be resolved to one degree of success or another. In other words he had seen it all before, faced it and addressed it. It is folly and at the boldest hubris to think we are so much smarter than he and the early designers were. 
  • He is essentially urging us to live with the level of unrealism and what some have called wonkiness because these are "essential to the system". Recall that he said AD&D "was a project which involved varying degrees of my thought, imagination, and actual working time over a period of more than a year and a half." And, I would add, much, much more play than that. Gary knows what needs to be in the system and doesn't make these choices arbitrarily.
  • Two of the most common charges, attacks or complaints in fact are answered by Gary in this very Preface:
    • Why class restrictions?
      • "in order to give a varied and unique approach to each class when they play, as well as to play balance."
    • Why race restrictions?
      • "because the entire game would be drastically altered if it were otherwise."
  • AD&D is carefully engineered to give a certain type of gaming experience. Screw with certain aspects of it and you change the whole game. The whole experience is different. And we wonder why so many old schoolers are dissatisfied with later iterations of the game.
  • Everything "in the AD&D system has purpose."
  • Either we believe him or we do not.
  • Yet he also notes that a DM can bend just about everything in the game. And he urges us to "Read the work (or both works if you are a DM) through and assess for yourself what AD&D really is."
  • The "true guidelines" as he calls them are the most minimal foundation for a "superior D&D campaign." Assuring us that all else has been left out as superfluous.
  • Gary was always thanking the fans for their contact, support and questions. Gail his widow has also stated Gary loved it when fans would express thanks to him and D&D for inspiring them in their college studies, professions and life callings. His thanks at the close of his preface speak as much to that as anything.
Rest assured that Gary did not develop AD&D in isolation. It was his ultimate expression of the game. But as mentioned earlier he had faced all of the common problems known to gamers today. Alternate methods had been theorized, playtested, rule changes experimented with, different ways of doing things attempted. Gary knew what worked and what didn't work in order to achieve the Spirit of what AD&D is. Notice that Gary didn't say or imply that AD&D was different for whoever plays the game. Clearly there is AD&D and NOT AD&D. The rules he included by and large encompass that. This is something Gary returns to again and again in his work Roleplaying Mastery; that there is Spirit unique to AD&D and changes to the system must be undertaken carefully or else you will be playing something that is not AD&D.

It is within his preface, written once his trifecta was finally complete, that he urges us to read and play and discover the Spirit that is AD&D. My question for you is: Have you found it or have you lost it?

5 comments:

Black Vulmea said...

Well said.

Drance said...

Looking forward to some AD&D love! Even though I prefer the C&C version of AD&D these days, there's something magical that happens to my soul when I see those old books!

Chris said...

Thanks guys, it's always enlightening to return to the source, eh?

Dragoon21b said...

Just for starters let me say thanks. The the gaming community and to RPG's on the whole can only benefit from a trip back to the well spring. I think the biggest difference between "Classic" AD&D" and the modern editions is a matter of depth and style. Sure AD&D was quirky and the mechanics were over engineered, but it had an enduring style that was built to last. The more modern stuff is all slick, glossy and highly disposable.

Chris said...

Couldn't have said it better myself Dragoon 21b. Thanks for stopping by.

Chris