Friday, August 25, 2017

AD&D and the OSR

My reading of late, Grognardia and other apparently shuttered OSR sites, has left me wondering what the current state of the OSR really is, and more particularly what the status of 1e is in regards to the old school movement today.

What seems clear to me is that the OSR seemed to trend towards two common grounds:

  1. Those games and communities that take their inspiration from the original edition of D&D.
  2. Those gamers who prefer to play some form of 0.5 or proto-AD&D.
By far the more active community is the first group. This group has created products like LotFP, Crypts & Things, Astonishing Swordsmen ... , and Adventurer, Conqueror, King. It has also had the strongest communities built up around the 0e clones such as Swords and Wizardry and Labyrinth Lord. However, the second has had a more diffuse community centered around extensions of 0e, basically proto-AD&D in the veins of Castles & Crusades, LL Advanced Edition Companion, and S&W Complete. Many of these editions and clones claim to be modeled not after a faithful rendering of the AD&D rules system, but rather as "how AD&D was really played back in the day." The only real exception to this last rule would be the OSRIC compatible supplements and resources which might be said to more closely rely on the AD&D rules per se, since OSRIC was built to mirror them. 

Unfortunately, AD&D has not garnered the kind of attention that 0e has as a rule, since most of the games mentioned above, with the exception of OSRIC were built from a 0e starting point. Even Castles & Crusades, which I think is awesome by the way, is a well pruned version of AD&D, cutting out most of the mechanically baroque rules native to AD&D. 

Whatever Gary Gygax intended for AD&D and the future of the game, and I have spent many miles of rhetoric in this very regard, AD&D was a distinct and unique form of expression of the game that seems little championed by today's gamers. 

We may find a post on Grognardia useful here. James Maliszweski pointed out the reason he didn't use AD&D was that to play the kind of game he wanted to play he would have to subtract from AD&D instead of add to it. He felt the idea of adding to a game much less psychologically restrictive for players rather than saying certain things in the rules weren't permitted in his game. While I agree with him generally, the games above prove that few seemed to play AD&D with the rules as the books presented them anyway. They were subtracting without knowing it. Some of the things that often get left out are: surprise determinations, full initiative rules, spell casting times, material components, weapons vs AC, weapon speed, even gender and racial ability limits, and class level limits just to name a few. Now, not all of these were regularly ignored, but some more than others. They were subtracting without even knowing it. But, I still get James' point. 

I also think, in the interest of "getting at the roots" of D&D we all went back to OD&D, some even to Chainmail and the Fantasy Supplement, and found the freest expression of old school in those fertile grounds. I think that's fine. I find a lot of appeal in those early pulp filled days myself. However, It was not the game I played. I played AD&D. It was the culture from which I hailed, and for me, the true expression of what D&D was supposed to be. 

Now, admittedly I also played without certain rules, but have come to a new appreciation of these rules and why they are the way they are. But there is more to AD&D and the OSR than just those rules themselves--of which I will have more to say in future posts--but I tend to judge that the OSR did not serve AD&D as well as it did Original Dungeons & Dragons and even the Classic D&D set (Holmes/Moldvay/Cook/Mentzer RC). 

Actually I think OSRIC comes closest to the high point of truly serving the AD&D community and it exploded onto the scene in 2008 and was fading by 2012 (again, another topic). But whatever the OSR is now, and I see it now as a small semi-professional publishing niche for designers mostly selling to each other, it is not doing a lot to serve AD&D. Yes, there are a number of people playing a form of AD&D, mostly AD&D lite, or proto-AD&D, but that group is better served most of the time by the 0e OSR crowd instead of AD&D.