Friday, April 7, 2017

Are My Biases Showing?

In case you haven't been able to tell, writing about AD&D objectively is always hard for me. Inevitably, my biases begin to show, and it is clear I think or feel AD&D is a superior product to previous gaming iterations. On the surface that is fine, Most people are willing to allow me my favorite game, just as they expect to be afforded the same privilege. Problem is, when my rhetoric begins to imply that AD&D, or the age in which it reigned, was somehow fundamentally worth preserving. Because this implies that what AD&D and TSR during that age claimed is also true--that AD&D was a superior game and playing in its boundaries afforded players a superior experience, and that this built a stronger and better gaming community. Ouch. People seem to have a problem with that.

So, if in some way you've been put off or offended by my recent rants, well ... I apologize. Really, I do. I mean I'm not an idiot. I see the current state of gaming, and the popularity of next gen games like 5e. I also now clearly admit that the preference in the majority of games are for a high degree of personalization, customization, creativity, freedom and flexibility. Heck, it's the entire premise of 5e! Maybe I'll be left behind, but then again maybe I'm striking out on my own. The fact is I am not intending to offend as much as I'm attempting to make a case. And what case is that exactly?

That, although I had pointed out two entries ago what AD&D was, I now want to state that AD&D was not just a product protection, ownership and marketing move. It was what Gary had been developing for some time. It was the culmination of the game he had dreamed of. I don't think the vision sprang full blown from his mind like Athena from the head of Zeus, but I do think he felt like he was working towards something. In fact, if you read Gary's biography Empires of the Imagination, you get the distinct feeling that after AD&D was finished he was then free to go and move the industry in other directions. He had finally "done it". Had achieved what he had set out to do. And even the subsequent articles in Dragon and elsewhere that talk about the ideas for a second edition of AD&D were minimal, small changes at best--the game itself was already created.* But Gary realized it took a constant fight to keep the train on the track; and ultimately he lost control of TSR and AD&D and we have been reinventing varieties of 0e ever since.

Moreover, that there was something key in the presentation of AD&D that made it more than a concretized ruleset which DMs and players had to adhere to blindly. I think that is what Gary is referring to in his interview comments above. There were certainly more rules in 3.5 than 0e, just as there were more in AD&D. But in his estimation 3.5 had not preserved what AD&D was. Creativity and improvisation and DM control was still very much a part of the spirit of the AD&D. It was this dichotomy that caused problems later on. Exactly what rule increase broke the spirit of what was AD&D?  In issue #3 of Dragon magazine in an article entitled "A Plethora of Obscure Sub-Classes" The editor made the following comment,

"The authors of D & D have asked me to stress that none of the following [classes] are to be considered “official.” I feel that the purpose of THE DRAGON is to provide new ideas and variants, and have printed in the past and will probably print in the future things that I wouldn’t let in my own campaign; a great deal of them are superfluous and better handled by the DM. Be that as it may, I would like to urge caution and discretion in allowing the proliferation of weird sub-classes. All too often, they only make it harder for the DM, and are often too powerful to use as player characters. In the last TD, the alchemist was intended to be recommended as a non-player character, as are many of these. — Ed." [By the By, the Editor was Tim Kask]

Here we have a tantalizing view into the kinds of discussions that must have went on inside castle walls of TSR. I would have loved to have been a fly on those walls for the discussions that led up to this editorial comment. I can imagine it being about all the variants threatening to inflate AD&D with the "profusion of wierd sub-classes" among other things, and how that undermined what they were trying to do with AD&D. And the response from Tim possibly wondering what the hell he was going to fill Dragon with if he wasn't allowed to print the tons of submissions he was getting daily?! This last fact has been confirmed in Mr. Kasks recent video interviews about how he received lots of fan submissions for monsters, classes, magic items, adventures, art, etc. etc. But the real point here is that the "archetypes" that Gary had outlined in AD&D were not to be endlessly or needlessly elaborated upon. Which was a clue--just because it was in Dragon did not mean it was safe to put into the game, or useful, and certainly not for player consumption but rather judicious DM use and control. AD&D was to be a carefully controlled piece of work which allowed DM creation and design within certain boundaries. And what was official was limited to what TSR declared so. For how else could they ensure that tournaments, inter-campaign play, and consistency be preserved across the tens of thousands of players of the game? Otherwise AD&D would simply go the way of 0e. And in point of fact, by the time of 2e class proliferation was one of the first things to rear its head. and eventually explode into a a supernova which would eventually burn our AD&D altogether.

So, yes, its about preferences, but its also about making a point. Maybe I'm just the kind of person who likes to justify his preferences. Not sure about that. But when the very nature of your banana is that it claims to be the best damn banana around for doing what it was designed to do, a guy sometimes feels the need to explore that idea.

*Just as an aside here Joseph Bloch from Greyhawk Grognard fame has done a brilliant job of extending these thoughts of what changes would have been made in AD&D had Gary been allowed to create a second edition of the game. His work is also one of the few exaples of a gae that is built on a 1e fraework and not on a ore fundamental 0e chassis.