Thursday, May 12, 2022

The AD&D Ethos

 Ethos: the characteristic spirit of a culture, era, or community as manifested in its beliefs and aspirations.

I am, at this point, getting very close to past blog posts, so forgive the overlap and redundancies in an effort to get at a presently salient point. 

The AD&D game has an ethos distinct from the previously outlined ethos of OD&D AD&D. That is, the original D&D game plus supplements which included much of the AD&D rules, but retainined the high degree of rules light, flexibility and devil-may-care creative attitude that embodied the earlier game. 

Now, please note that I am not the authoritative voice on the ethos of anything. This is my take on the ethos of the game. If it resonates with you, great, take it for what it's value truly is: a harmonious voice to your own. 

But if the original way of playing AD&D-like games had an ethos, one which many seem to be hearkening back to via the OSR, there has to also be an ethos of AD&D itself. An ethos that transcends those who bought the books, said they were playing AD&D, but had little recourse to prove they were playing the game in terms of actual rules. In other words, if their game was subject to an audit it would be clear they are not playing an officially sanctioned game--as if there truly was such a thing. Which brings me to a very valuable point in this discussion of my interpretation of AD&D ethos. 

Game auditors might not be such a bad thing!

Bear with me. The ethos of what I would consider an AD&D player is one who bought the rhetoric of the early Gygaxian pronouncements in Dragon magazine that the AD&D statement of the rules was to be the final arbiter of what is and what is not AD&D. And that those who chose to stray from its boundaries were not playing AD&D. Whether this Gary-speak was for purely financial purposes, for wresting IP from the hands of any other claimants, or simple assertion of absolute control of product identity we bought it.

For us there was a brilliant white tower flying TSR pinions in the 1980's and from that tower proceeded forth the law, and the law was AD&D. Well, it was B/X also, but we concerned ourselves not with the clearly lesser rabble that played beneath us with a children's toy. (Please know I'm being satirical here--B/X was every bit as valid a D&D product and as creative, possibly more so.) But this was clearly a part of the ethos: that the rules were important. Many a debate at the cafeteria table was settled by reference to and mastery of the AD&D rulebooks. Particularly the holy trinity of the MM/PHB/DMG. Any other source was of somewhat lesser value. The closer it got to Gary, the more we gave it credence. 

I wholeheartedly realize this may have been farcical. In the sense of there being far more practical factors driving the rhetoric. That, if we had actually sat in one of Gary's games we might have been shocked by how liberal he was with his own rules. And the reflections of vast numbers of OSR adherents today have come to this same conclusion. Even conversations with luminaries such as Frank Mentzer and Tim Kask, both agree AD&D is not the game they reach for when they go to play. Mr. Kask has clearly painted the problems AD&D caused for the hobby in terms of generating the dread of all DMs everywhere, and evil killer of fun--shudder--the rules lawyer.

But that was the ethos. That is how we saw the AD&D universe. We would have never said we "weren't playing AD&D" bitd. That was our game and if someone pointed out to us an error were would have corrected it. Now, we were all obviously aware that we weren't using weapon AC modifiers and speed, but truthfully, I and most of the guys I played with weren't quite sure we understood them. We also had trouble with surprise--most of the time we just jumped to initiative. But if someone could have explained these things to us, we would have at least felt like we should be using them. 

In the excellent podcast GrogTalk, one of the show's hosts, James, made this very point to a guest on the show. That their group considered canon to be what TSR put out, and that other resources were considered of lesser validity and certainly not canon. He describe the way they viewed pronouncements and product from TSR as sacred in regards to what the game was and was supposed to be, and that the rules were there to be followed when questions came up. The echo of this sentiment, I think, confirms that it was not just me who felt this way. 

As much as my memory is valid about such things, this was our gaming world. And this ethos is clearly a part of what AD&D was for a certain segment of gamers who came into the game about the time I did. While it includes other things, many of which coincide with earlier and later games, this sets it apart from what came before it. 

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