Sunday, December 16, 2012

Which D&D do I Play?

I've spent quite a few months now busier than I've wanted to be and sadly short of gaming. What little time I did have I spent reading gaming material--usually late at night by lamplight when the house was finally quiet and my long days drawing to a close.

I'm an old grognard--sometimes more stubborn than I would have imagined. But when it comes down to gaming, you might as well play what you love, what you have fun playing. I've spent long and many posts deliberating upon this matter. Many and varied are the games on the market these day that a gamer can choose from, but when gaming time is precious it certainly makes sense to focus on what you love.

I grew up gaming AD&D. I came into the hobby in 1981 at 12 years of age. The three core AD&D books had been released, and the world had already experienced the White Box and 3 Little Brown Books and their supplements, and by then two rewrites of the original rules: Holmes and Moldvay Basic. I was introduced to the Advanced books and admittedly a bit overwhelmed by it all. I didn't even pretend to understand all that was in the books, but I had played a few sessions and I understood the basics fairly well.

I mean the premise of the game is super simple. You need very few stats to create a character, and most of the time it takes 10 minutes or less to scratch one out on notebook paper. And GMing isn't that hard either. I started GMing by my 5th or 6th session. Now maybe I was an exception, but this game seemed made for me and I took to it like a duck to water. I don't think I really was though; because thousands of other people were experiencing the same thing I was all over the Nation and in fact the world. You needed very little else but your imagination, some dice and a few tables.

Now, I say this not to make some plea for classic old school gaming again, I've done that plenty of times before on my blog. No, I do it today, because it seems to be back on my mind again. I started our game club again, and we are playing AD&D. That is what I know and what I grew up playing. But a funny thing is happening. This has happened to me before, with our last long term OSRIC game. The more I get into the rules the more I realize that I prefer to ignore them. I've been rereading them as part of a project here on my blog, and I'm sort of stymied. I mean there are some real gems in the AD&D rules. But I'm also increasingly finding that I really don;t need them all, or I might have done them a little differently. Now, this is not really a critique of those rules, but a realization that my play is a lot simpler than AD&D as written implies.

And other little things that I sort of have ingrained in my D&D genetics like 3d6 order for ability scores. Things that AD&D began to expand and extrapolate upon. This became clear to me as I wrote another email to my brother on the nature of difference between old school and modern games. I'm more old school than I might even have thought. Even though I came to the game in 1981 after AD&D was out and taking the world by storm; I actually played a sort of modified basic game. Which makes perfect sense when one thinks about it. D&D was written as a game with those original little books. The game itself hadn't changed much. Everything else in the AD&D universe was just window dressing. You didn't need all that stuff to play the game.

The two things we probably did that were different was use the different ability adjustments in the PHB and separate race and class. I mean there were other minor things that came up, but we ignored far more than we used; we didn't even really start looking up rules questions in the hardback books until after years of play. We simply made things up when we had question arise that we couldn't answer--we were too busy playing to be bothered by such interruptions.

I've come to this realization before, but have been hot and cold about allowing myself to embrace it. After all I'm an AD&D player aren't I? But am I really? Again, a conversation with my brother required that I be honest with myself. What sacred cows do I hold onto but never worship at? In other words, what things do I hold onto as necessary, but never even use in my own play--indeed prefer not to use in my play? And what sorts of things do I embrace but that are just the first step towards a rule proliferation race to power inflation.

Because let's be honest, and call a cow a cow -- the current iteration of D&D is the power apocalypse. It's what happens when we allow this crazy power curve to run unhindered to its logical conclusion. And I know I want no part of that.

And though I wax philosophical now, I find it funny that when I started this blog I called it Classical RPG Realms. just because I considered my age of gaming the "Classical Age"; when without knowing that the style of gaming enshrined in the Moldvay / Cook and Holmes versions of D&D would come later to be known as Classical D&D. The very style of play that was closest to my own play. Synchronicity is a funny thing, aint it?


SpookyOne said...

Great post.

My long ago D&D group learnt the game through the Basic Rules boxed set. We started with the red books and then went onto the blue, with later material added from the Companion Set and the Masters. Our PCs finished at 7th level before we switched games. And yes, we did visit the Isle of Dread !

This initial gaming phase started around 1988. We eventually moved to AD&D (2E) in the early 90s but some of the very best experiences came from these simple rules.

One thing about the basic rules was that they were very easy to learn (either from reading the book or during 1st gaming sessions) and this allowed for an immediate, or nearabouts immediate, effectively run game ... centred on a good story of course!

And for those situations where there was no obvious rule, we could always roll below a relevant ability score, or make some kind of judgement; "roll 1d6!". We made things up as needed. The key aspect about the simple rules is we had a mechanic for fighting - hit tables, ability scores, stats for swords and different types of armour.

Later on we did move to AD&D because it allowed greater flexibility such that we had rules to run multi-classed PCs or include Priest kits, etc. But even though there were some differences the basic underlying system was the same. We still had to look things up, as normal, but we didn't find ourselves bogged down in any real way. At the core were the same basic mechanics and the storytelling.

I think that the old Basic Rules was, and still is, the best vehicle for teaching younger people the concept of D&D simply because it is not overloaded with details.

I honestly don't know how the 4e compares but it doesn't look like something you can simply learn in an afternoon and run.

ps. I don't know if you have seen this but my THAC0 Dragon 2E page has the stats for our Basic Rules characters. Some guest PCs are not listed here because the character sheets are missing. However, I hope to scan and put up the PC booklets that have survived (yes, we made booklets out of our character sheets). These will include cool cover art drawings.

Chris said...

Hey thanks SpookyOne! Great reply. It's funny, but even though we started with AD&D our group played a core game that was very similar to basic rules. And I find now that I am more familiar with AD&D rules that I desire to play a basic style game and not worry about everything in AD&D.

I don't know maybe I'm just older now and my brain can't handle all the complications. But I like just what you and Tom Moldvay said--the rules were meant to encourage creativity and improvisation, and that's just the wayu I prefer to play.

And I'll check out your blog too, thanks for the heads up and for stopping by.

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