Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons - sort of a review

So as I mentioned previously at long last I recently acquired a range of AD&D books. I have at this point read a great deal of the Players Handbook and Dungeon Masters Guide. I cannot claim to have read them in their entirety.

I'm not sure it is possible to read these books straight through. I am also not sure it would be possible to learn the game from scratch from them. While they are chock full of fascinating play tips, design notes, and other commentary, they lack the coherent explanatory framework that say, second edition or the Rules Cyclopedia have (they are my counter examples because they are the books I own). Both books seem to have been assembled at random. That being said, if you already know how to play D&D it is quite straightforward to look up rules on specific topics and to find a deep and thoughtful explanation of why the rule is what it is.

I also find it interesting how clear the wargaming roots show in these books. As a sometime Warhammer player things like random resolution of targets in mass melee and the one minute combat round stand out to me as perfectly sensible rules if you want D&D to accommodate or at least be compatible with unit scale wargames. Not to mention a choice between measuring in inches, hex, or grid combat. Or of course abstract combat, but there are an awful lot of rules for modeled combat. I would wager that Gygax had in mind something like what I've settled on for Pathfinder - abstract combat when it is simple, modeled combat when it is complex.

Now that I am thinking about it, I am not sure why D&D has moved to a grid, it seems like it would be more sensible to measure or to use hexes. Maybe it is to simplify things in the dungeon.

Back to the topic at hand: It may be a good thing I started playing with second edition. I had no older gamer friends to teach me the game. I did not know what the game was supposed to look like before I started DMing. The second edition rules did a very good job explaining what exactly all of this was about. The AD&D core books are inscrutable. Until the Player's Options and revised core books were published, none of the enormous bloat of second edition changed the fundamental character of the game (whereas by all reports - I do not own it yet - Unearthed Arcana destroyed the nature of AD&D). The second edition supplements were just useless (I should know, I have a decent sized collection of them). As a young player it is very hard to be discerning about what is good and what is bad - anything official is seen as good and required.

That being said, if I were to play AD&D now I think I'd be more inclined to play first edition (actually in reality I would probably use OSRIC, I don't want to pass my ancient books around the table). Why is that? Grognard group-think? Social shaming about my nostalgia for second edition?

I actually think it is the greater detail of first edition. Second edition is largely a streamlined version of first edition. There are some superficial changes but in terms of core rules the only differences seem to be areas where second edition reduced or removed rules - a good example being henchmen. There are extensive rules on how to acquire henchmen in first, second basically says roleplay it. Other than those sorts of things (and the slightly different list of races and classes, oh and the whole demons and devils thing) THEY ARE THE SAME GAME. This makes me wonder why the generally "rules light" OSR people have such loathing of second edition. In the core rules (excepting nonweapon proficiencies, which is one of three skill options) second edition is a substantially simpler game than first.

Can anyone explain that?

(side note: does anyone else find it weird when they see 3E adherents referred to as Grognards on the internet? 3E drove me away from the game for a decade, and I'm only 30).

1 comment:

Brendan said...

It is true that the core is pretty much the same game, with some of the emphases changed and better organization. I still have a lot of affection for Second Edition. I think the OSR scorn comes from the fact that 2E was also the dawn of the spatbook and an increased focus on character build options.

To some people "not 4E" is the definition of grognard. I know, strange.