Friday, March 30, 2012

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons - First Impressions

I have finally purchased for myself the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons rulebooks. Basically, the upcoming (and also delayed) reprint got me excited. Except that WoTC ruined my favorite game (in my ever so humble opinion). The thought of their abominable logo on my precious RPG books just irked me. So I got online and picked up the books I wanted.

Of course I have played AD&D before - 2nd Edition. I played a LOT of 2nd edition. A function of when I was born. I looked at those older guys who held on to the first edition as bizarre and unfathomable. "Why would you keep playing with your ancient books when you could have nice shiny new ones? It's the same game (just better!) dummies. This is IMPROVED."

My descent into the OSR was fueled by a desire to go back to 2ed. Of course when I started looking around I found out that nobody plays 2ed. So I bought a copy of the Rules Cyclopedia - which I fell in love with. Then some retroclones, which I also adore (and feel less worried about using during play - I refuse to treat my collected books as collectables, I bought them to play with and I'll be damned if I don't, but it is another thing to pass them around the table while everyone is drinking soda and eating salsa).

So now here I am, about to turn 30, and I am holding the AD&D books for the first time, reading the tiny font and inscrutable tables (all set in bizarrely huge margins) for the first time. Now, after a too-lengthy introduction, my first impressions:

Layout: while I find the look and feel appealing in some masochistic, DIY sort of way, I have to think that the corporate hivemind of TSR had to feel that the layout and presentation alone merited a 2nd edition. Not only is the font tiny and are the margins huge but there are tables in Players Handbook that make zero sense without reference to the Dungeon Masters Guide. This of course is explained by Gary Gygax because these books are intended to be a compilation of the D&D rules. The assumed audience in terms of layout is people who are already playing. That being said, there is tons and tons of play advice. There is much more about what the game should look like than in any of the 2ed materials. This is very much in line with the gradual shift from swords & sorcery to heroic fantasy. 1ed explains that adventurers spend much of the term in underground mazes because they are much safer than adventuring in the wilderness. Before beginning my career as a 2ed DM at age 10, I had played exactly once as a player. So I basically learned the craft from the 2ed DMG as well as Dragon, and Dungeon. I ran a lot of outdoor adventures. 2ed takes a "adventure everywhere" kind of tone. My early perception of the game would have been very different if I had started with these books.

At this point I really have only read the Players Handbook and it has only be a quick read so I will have to continue my comments in another post. However my first impression can really be boiled down to this:

While 2ed was a much more polished and well thought out game, it is obvious in retrospect that it also had a very different about idea what the game was about. While mechanically it is largely compatible with the first edition of AD&D than it is third, it is more spiritually aligned with the latter's vision of heroic fantasy.


Teazia said...

Very interesting observations. I myself was also first introduced as a 2e player. I have the 1e and 2e books and I can say you have some strong points.

The art and feel of a game are very important. Since you have the RC, go look for images of the Japanese RC (manga) and image how that would have colored your game if you had the books.

As late 1e led into 2e, late 2e led into 3e. I had an interesting revalation while looking at a best of art thread on enworld. Planescape art minus the Diterlezzi fey flair is basically 3e's dungeon punk feeling. 1e's text is a labyrinth, just like the expected game. Form meets funtion!

Since 2e is where you started check out the Myth & Magic game, it takes 2e in style and spirit and updates the mechanics to smooth out some of rough edges. It is fantastic IMO, free starter guides are available for download on the new haven games website.


Josh D. said...


I didn't know about the Japanese version, fascinating! I am not a huge fan of the manga/anime/whateveryoushouldcallit style honestly (it doesn't bother me, but neither do I find it appealing), but I think that it is really interesting that it exists. Product localization for pen and paper games!

Myth & Magic looks interesting but is actually the opposite direction of where I have been heading. The 2e that I was playing by the late 90's had been house ruled into something very closed to Labyrinth Lord with the AEC.