Friday, November 21, 2008

Haunted House

Over at Monsters and Manuals, Noisms boggles at the "irrational hatred" of the Second Edition of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, which he sees as a form of "intellectual perversity." I largely agree with him that most of the scorn heaped upon 2e has very little to do with its rules, which are, by my lights, insufficiently different from those of 1e to matter to most players. Likewise, 2e is supremely backward compatible; with a few exceptions, nearly everything in 1e products can be used with 2e without much difficulty. So, quibbles aside, from a purely mechanical standpoint, 2e isn't an objectively bad game. I happen to prefer some of the baroque curlicues of 1e, but not enough that I could logically argue their superiority over the simplifications that replaced them.

That said, I still don't find 2e to my liking. Taking only the core rulebooks -- the entirety of the 2e line is another matter and one, I think, much more objectively worthy of derision -- I find myself thinking thoughts similar to those I have about Tom Moldvay's Basic Rules. 2e is an extremely clear, well-designed game that adopted a broader but blander palette of "colors" in the pursuit of mass market sales and popularity. This resulted not in a bad game but in one that feels "hollow," like the house of a deceased personage of importance that, while still an impressive piece of architecture in its own right -- and one probably more accessible to outsiders now that the old guy is safely in the grave -- is devoid of its animating principle.

Of course, that's exactly what 2e was: Gygax-less AD&D. The extent to which one dislikes 2e, I suspect, has a lot to do with how much Gygax one likes in one's D&D. Me, I prefer heaping helpings of it, as I've said elsewhere. But if you found the Dungeon Master a bit annoying, his purple prose embarrassing, and disliked seeing his eccentricities elevated to Holy Writ, you probably see 2e as a "better" version of 1e. I find the notion of a "better AD&D" tautologous; we already have the best AD&D possible and it's the one I have sitting on a shelf right above my computer as I write this entry. However, not everyone feels that way. For a variety of reasons, some valid, some vapid, 1e isn't and never will be the best possible version of AD&D for all players. It's an opinion I find hard to credit myself, but I do understand the sentiment that animates it, because it's probably not unlike the sentiment I feel when I boggle at some of the dislike for AD&D's excesses I hear OD&Ders complain about.

Gary Gygax casts a very long shadow over the came he co-created. For good or for ill, his presence lingers even still. I think it next to impossible to understand the history of this hobby without understanding Gary and the influence he wielded. So many of the debates and controversies that still plague the hobby are echoes of those in which Gygax was involved in the past. His thoughts, opinions, and decisions are still very much alive. Alfred North Whitehead famously said that "The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato." In a similar fashion, the RPG tradition consists of a series of footnotes to Gygax.

51 comments:

  1. 2e is Gygax-less AD&D in comparison to 1e, but when put next to 3e or 4e the influence of the Dungeon Master is still apparent. I'd call 2e Gygax-lite AD&D, not Gygax-less; like one spoonful of sugar in your tea instead of two.

    For a variety of reasons, some valid, some vapid, 1e isn't and never will be the best possible version of AD&D for all players.

    I think the best possible version hasn't been published and never will be. The strength of D&D is that it can be all things to all people if they tinker about with it enough - there are as many best possible versions as there are gaming groups.

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  2. I was just reading that same blog post not two minutes ago...

    I cannot fathom why people want to draw a strong dividing line between first and second edition. They are complementary, the latter supplementing the former.

    It is one thing to not like the style, the art, or the design direction the game went in, but this has absolutely nothing to do with the rules of the game.

    In my opinion, if there had never been a second edition, the game would have still gone in the same direction.

    Of course, I like second eiditon, so i would say that. :)

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  3. Personally, I love AD&D 2E, but just the core books, and with some 1E adjustments.

    Why?
    My "beef" with AD&D 2E boils down to two things.

    1. Rules bloat. Not just the optional rules in the core books, but really...the metric ton of additional splatbooks driven by the need for a corporation to fill coffers (opposed to a smaller company largely hobbyist-driven trying to simply create a cool game). This I think drove D&D further from it's "core values" as much as...

    2. Emasculation of the game by removal of "distasteful" subjects like demons and devils and a shift towards more "heroic" roleplaying versus just roleplaying what you want in settings you want.

    Some folks will argue that previous editions showed a preference for "morally ambiguous" play. I don't agree: I think the choice was always there as far as playing whatever you wanted. There was no preference at all, anything was okay.
    The difference in MY eyes was that in 2E there was a shift towards a preference of heroic play, more of a four color style of play.

    Coming from this perspective, where previous versions showed no favor either way, and newer versions show a bias towards one side of the ethical spectrum, it's easy to see where people get the idea of AD&D 1E and OD&D etc favored the morally ambiguous. Especially when you factor in the influences (and lessening of those influences)...but those were influences only...not the game, and not the rules. The game itself (IMO only) was "neutral" in this respect...allowing freedom to do what you want in a way that D&D has never seen again.

    So with those two firmly in mind (and countered in how we played) we loved AD&D 2E. It can be argued that we really played more of a 1E game. I tend to think of it as playing AD&D 2e in a 1E manner.

    Tomato/ Potato
    ;)

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  4. I never quite understood the venom that was heaped upon 2nd edition, but I believe that this was primarily because I was on my way out of the D&D scene just as the first Player's Guides began to clog the pipe. My impression of the core rules were that they we more streamlined versions of 1st edition, which I found to beneficial.

    The outcry regarding the demon & devil name change alway struck me a rather silly, but then again I've never felt the need to adhere completely to the party line laid out by TSR (or WoTC or Hasbro). So I just chugged on with my 1st edition books.

    Since I've returned to the hobby, I've embraced 1st edition again for reasons that I think Jeff Rients summed up in one of his recent posts: "I much prefer the dynamic tension of a system with moving parts that don't quite fit together." I sometime find a need to "de-clunkify" some of 1st edition for ease of use during the design phase, and when that occurs, I have no problem looking to see if 2nd edition greased the wheels a bit in that regard.

    But, in the end, I'm playing 1st edition, with a few bits of 2nd edition (as well as Moldvay/Cook, Labrynth Lord, and ODD) thrown in as well. I just call that damned thing AD&D and move on.

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  5. For me, 2nd Edition is the best version of AD&D - as long as you discount the glut of books that were released after the core three. The rules are clean. They are absent the Unearthed Arcana ridiculous classes and races. Much of the 'broken' spells, etc. from 1E has been cleaned up. 2E also has my favorite version of the Monster Manual.

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  6. It's obvious that there's much more to a game than its rules. So obvious that it's painfully ridiculous to point it out like I'm doing. Compare sitting at your favorite ballpark on a warm summer night with a footlong and an overpriced plastic cup of Budweiser to sitting at home reading a book of batting statistics.

    Are the "Zebbed" AD&D rules terrible in some sort of hypothetical hermetically-sealed isolation? I would say no.

    But they're also as nothing in such a context, so why bother considering them in such a way? It's beside any kind of meaningful point.

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  7. I think the best possible version hasn't been published and never will be. The strength of D&D is that it can be all things to all people if they tinker about with it enough - there are as many best possible versions as there are gaming groups.

    This is why I don't get edition wars. The best version of D&D (or any game IMO) is the one you love enough to house-rule and run for your group.

    Discussion over editons of a game is one thing, even if differences arise, but Kanly? Surely, we've gone over the deep end if the rhetorical knives come out.

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  8. I would dispute your contention that the 2E AD&D rules are "well-designed" in the same manner as the Moldvay B/X rules (or most other rpgs released in the last 30 years). In fact, I don't think they were really "designed" at all -- 2E AD&D is the inertia edition, keeping most of the original (Gygax/1E) superstructure because it was already in place and familiar, but making various changes and additions around the edges not with any particular discernible logic, reason, or plan (which, like or hate the results, both 3E and 4E had) but rather just because "it seems right" or "people asked for it."

    The result is an utterly incoherent mess of randomly cobbled together subsystems, vestigial hold-overs from an earlier era that no longer serve their original purpose {signifiers that have become divorced from what they originally signified), and, of course, a lot of instructional and flavor text that as at odds philosophically with the actual rules it is illustrating and explaining (the flavor text (and illustrations) favor an antiseptic, family-friendly "epic high fantasy" world in the manner of Terry Brooks (or Dragonlance) where the PCs are Good Guys fighting against the Big Bad, but the rules they accompany are still mostly about killing things and taking their stuff in dungeons...).

    Of course, ruleswise the 1E AD&D rules are every bit as chaotic and cobbled together as 2E (even moreso), but they were cobbled together under a specific, singular aesthetic vision, which is what's completely missing from 2E. The unifying vision that ties everything together in a way that makes sense was gone, replaced by, essentially, nothing. There was no unifying vision for 2E except "stick with what works" and "fiddle with things around the edges that people either complained about or asked for." The entire 2E era at TSR (at least until WotC came in) was entirely bereft of vision and direction. Pure inertia, pure drifting. It wasn't just that Gygax wasn't steering the ship anymore, it was that no one was steering the ship. Zeb Cook wasn't the auteur of 2E AD&D (which is to say that 2E doesn't seem to reflect his "soul" or personality in any discernible way), he was just the guy assigned to write up the rulebooks.

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  9. To me, the problem with 2e isn't any single thing. It's an agglomeration of a huge number of small problems. Any one of these could be house-ruled away, or ignored, or played differently than the non-rule advice says to ... but when taken all together, their combined weight is huge. I won't list them, because the laundry list would sound like an attempt at a comprehensive attack, when actually every one of my problems with 2e could be house-ruled away - the problem is not severity of weaknesses, it's quantity of them.

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  10. Is AD&D2ed bland and "hollow" when compared to first edition? Yeah, but that was largely the point of it. You were expected to flavor it and fill it up yourself, to make it entirely your own. A lot of the Gygaxian flavor was stripped out of the core books, but it's not exactly difficult to put it back in. Hell, the two are virtually interchangable.

    The main criticism of AD&D2e that I have is that the openness left the door wide for the idiotic rules bloat that followed, not to mention the virtual dozens of bad campaign sets. If I never see another Forgotten Realms product again, it'll be too soon. And we won't even discuss Red Steel.

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  11. I've never read the 2e DMG, and the PHB only once, but I have to say that the 2e MM is my third or fourth favorite nonfiction (in the sense of not telling a fictional narrative, that is) book of all time, and my favorite D&D product ever. It's just brimming with ideas.

    I agree very much with Zweihander's point, and the Dune reference just solidifies my appreciation of his post.

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  12. As with OSRIC, mechanical differences become more apparent when the rule sets are side by side; mixing PHBs in a game could produce confusion! Some 2E changes to classes, level limits, and so on messed with 1E expectations. The very inclusion (in both those works) of so many rules in the basic players' text -- as opposed to a Dungeon Master's volume -- is a notable departure that may shape the mode of play one might learn from them.

    Foster's observations are (as usual) spot on. The 2E advice and "flavor text" right in the PHB and DMG (i.e., setting aside supplements) sure seem at odds with the essentially familiar rules. Arbitrarily to separate that from the line of products that followed is to ignore common themes that to this day tend (YMMV, natch) to distinguish 2E and 1E play.

    I appreciate the "user friendliness" of both the newer texts, but prefer OSRIC. I once thought of switching to 2E because of local availability of PHBs, but as Matt put it, the combined weight of issues in the end weighed against that.

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  13. Oh, yeah -- how about HackMaster? I don't mean so much in terms of the forthcoming new version in contrast with the current, as in analogy of the latter with 2E versus 1E.

    I agree that fierce animosity is unwarranted and counter-productive, but so is too much glossing over of differences.

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  14. AD&D 2nd is merely 1st ed made legible, organized, and capable of being digested by someone who isn't a supergenuis or had someone else teach them the dang thing.

    It nudges AD&D out of its low fantasy roots into middle fantasy, though not so much as to actually matter. (I prefer middle fantasy myself. Superheroic LOTR movie heroes are a bit too much, but easily killed guys living a swords and sorcery endless Vietnam war is equally as meh to me. And if I really wanted to do those fantasy styles, Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay or Runequest is far better suited to low fantasy, and Tunnels & Trolls is better at handling high.)

    But as many people said the best version of AD&D is the one you like the best. (Even if it happens to be 3.x or 4th. Just don't expect me to play it!)

    I like my massively house ruled version even though I haven't actually tested it in action.

    But best in print AD&D would be either Castles & Crusades or Rules Cyclopedia.

    EGG was the Godfather, but a TON of his rules were really really bad and dumb.

    Heck of a lot of charm to it. Of course the same can be said of Kevin S' work at Palladium.

    Cept way fewer people consider his game rules to be good.

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  15. I think the best possible version hasn't been published and never will be. The strength of D&D is that it can be all things to all people if they tinker about with it enough - there are as many best possible versions as there are gaming groups.

    I sympathize with this sentiment, but I'm still reluctant to be quite this tolerant :) For me, AD&D is quintessentially a Gygaxian thing; any attempt to replace even a little of his voice and vision from the game is going to make it an inferior kind of AD&D.

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  16. In my opinion, if there had never been a second edition, the game would have still gone in the same direction.

    That depends on who had been in charge in this alternate history. Gygax himself had plans for a second edition and they differ quite considerably in several areas from what TSR did in his absence. On the other hand, there is much in the extant 2e that has roots in Gygax's later design work, so the rupture is not complete by a longshot.

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  17. Much of the 'broken' spells, etc. from 1E has been cleaned up.

    I think, right here, we have a good example of the difference between those who prefer 1e and those who prefer 2e. I simply don't accept the notion that there are "broken" spells in 1e. There are some that causes issues if, as referee, you don't like players being able to do certain things, but that's not the same as their being "broken."

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  18. The entire 2E era at TSR (at least until WotC came in) was entirely bereft of vision and direction. Pure inertia, pure drifting. It wasn't just that Gygax wasn't steering the ship anymore, it was that no one was steering the ship.

    I think this is a very good summation of post-Gygax TSR and it cuts to the heart of my problems with 2e: its flavorlessness.

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  19. I have to say that the 2e MM is my third or fourth favorite nonfiction (in the sense of not telling a fictional narrative, that is) book of all time, and my favorite D&D product ever. It's just brimming with ideas.

    Whereas I despise the 2e MM for its specificity. It's better than the 4e one, but that's small praise.

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  20. But they're also as nothing in such a context, so why bother considering them in such a way? It's beside any kind of meaningful point.

    The problem is looking at second edition in this context and then dividing it from first edition, which also existed in the self same context. It is the context that should be examined, not the edition.

    Zeb Cook wasn't the auteur of 2E AD&D (which is to say that 2E doesn't seem to reflect his "soul" or personality in any discernible way), he was just the guy assigned to write up the rulebooks.

    Second edition was very much a "deconstruction" of first edition, and it is true to say that this left it without a true focus. I don't know that I would agree it lacked soul or was a failure in that regard; indeed, I consider it closer to OD&D than first edition partly because of the lack of focus and "tool kit" approach.

    My own experiences have been quite variable in that regard. I never saw or read a first edition rulebook until maybe 2002, but I did not perceive in their pages much in the way of significant differences in terms of philosophy or design. For me, it was more a case of "filling in the gaps".

    That depends on who had been in charge in this alternate history. Gygax himself had plans for a second edition and they differ quite considerably in several areas from what TSR did in his absence. On the other hand, there is much in the extant 2e that has roots in Gygax's later design work, so the rupture is not complete by a longshot.

    Perhaps. My meaning was that from 1985 onwards (and perhaps before, depending on your view of Unearthed Arcana) the direction was already apparent.

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  21. To me the notion that 2E is more open-ended or flexible than 1E is more evidence of its incoherence -- yeah, so lip service is paid to customization in the explanatory text, and there are some (pretty half-hearted) nods towards hard-wiring some options into the rules -- the specialist wizard and priest classes, and several explicitly "optional" rules included (NWPs, detailed encumbrance (IIRC), some combat options), but mostly the rules are the same very detailed, very specific, not really flexible or open-ended rules of 1E -- there are still arbitrary class and race limitations (class & level limits, demi-humans can multiclass but not dual-class and vice-versa for humans, wizards can't wear armor or use most weapons, rangers and paladins still have alignment restrictions, spellcasting is still Vancian, spells still have specific descriptions and effects (including specific material components) and are sometimes named after specific characters, combat rounds are still a minute long, hp and AC are still abstract, characters still improve by acquiring XP (even though the exact way they acquire them is a bit different), and so on.

    1E AD&D was specifically and unapologetically designed to encourage a high degree of uniformity in play (perhaps 80-85%). 2E pretends it's more open-ended and flexible (and is to a very modest degree), but mostly it's still AD&D and still assumes a high degree (perhaps 70-75%) of uniformity.

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  22. I strongly disagree with you. The number of optional rules in second edition is much greater than you appear to be acknowleding. Paladins, Bards, and Rangers were optional classes, as were all the spells (and probably the magical items, I forget now). The books were filled with optional elements; it really was a deconstruction.

    Sure, you can write it off as "lip service", but I certainly didn't in my early teens when I was first introduced to AD&D. We came in from the Mentzer basic set and used absolutely none of the optional rules in the first campaign we played (not even the spells or magic items, we made new ones up).

    Are the elements you describe "arbitrary"? I don't think so, but that is a rather longer debate.

    That is not to say that second edition had no problems, sure it did, but a pretence of "open endedness and flexibility" is not at all my experience of playing the game. Open ended and flexible play was exactly what it provided.

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  23. Like it or not, 1e had a darkly subversive air to it that scared the crap out of some people - kind of like late 60s psychedelia. 2e is like that psychedelia without the actual psychedelic drugs. Vapid prose that reads like a training manual. Zeb DID put his mark on it - a twee & mundane mark.

    And can I just add - the art really sucks balls.

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  24. Paladins, Bards, and Rangers were optional classes, as were all the spells (and probably the magical items, I forget now). The books were filled with optional elements

    You're right, I'd forgotten those things were marked as optional in the 2E rulebooks (not really surprising, since I haven't looked inside them in probably 15 years), but I'd still argue that merely marking existing elements as optional -- explicitly telling the DM he's free to leave things out (even though that was at least implicit all along in 1E) isn't really an increase in flexibility, it's just the illusion of such.

    To me, 2E's ostensible flexibility, saying essentially "you're totally free to customize the game by choosing a, b, or c," feels like Henry Ford's famous quote that you can have whatever color Model T you want, as long as it's black (whereas 1E says flat out "we're selling black cars -- you can have a 2 door or 4 door, but it's going to be black; if you want another color car, you'll have to buy it somewhere else (but you don't want to do that, because other colors are clearly inferior to black and black is the most popular color for a reason ;) ).

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  25. In my opinion: "Zebulon" kicked all Gygaxian tournamental crap (sorry for blasphemy, but it was relieve for me then) and with this single decision get 2E much closer to OD&D - not ONE man vision, but at least two of them. That's why 2E owns 1E on creativity freedom level.

    Sham posted interesting note on his blog, "What if?": "Less concern about standarized tournament rules and more kung-fu theatre". Yup - OD&D/2E no doubt.

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  26. 2e is like that psychedelia without the actual psychedelic drugs. Vapid prose that reads like a training manual. Zeb DID put his mark on it - a twee & mundane mark.

    And can I just add - the art really sucks balls.


    I find it hard to disagree with this. I actually have a fondness for a lot of David Cook's work. He did write, after all, one of my favorite modules of all time, Dwellers of the Forbidden City, but he let me down on 2e.

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  27. To me, 2E's ostensible flexibility, saying essentially "you're totally free to customize the game by choosing a, b, or c," feels like Henry Ford's famous quote that you can have whatever color Model T you want, as long as it's black (whereas 1E says flat out "we're selling black cars -- you can have a 2 door or 4 door, but it's going to be black; if you want another color car, you'll have to buy it somewhere else (but you don't want to do that, because other colors are clearly inferior to black and black is the most popular color for a reason ;) ).

    An excellent analogy! A may steal it for a post.

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  28. In my opinion: "Zebulon" kicked all Gygaxian tournamental crap (sorry for blasphemy, but it was relieve for me then) and with this single decision get 2E much closer to OD&D - not ONE man vision, but at least two of them. That's why 2E owns 1E on creativity freedom level.

    I find it hard to credit the notion that 2e is closer to OD&D than 1e is, but I suspect that's because what many people see as 2e's "flexibility" and "openness" I see as vapidity and blandness. In my experience, most 2e lovers love it for the campaign settings, not for the game itself. I have a fondness for some of them myself, but I don't think a game designed to support more than a half dozen prefabricated campaign settings bears much similarity to OD&D.

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  29. All the classes (except for the cleric, fighter, magic-user, thief, and [oddly] monk) in Gary's AD&D Players Handbook are explicitly labelled as optional.

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  30. To me, 2E's ostensible flexibility, saying essentially "you're totally free to customize the game by choosing a, b, or c," feels like Henry Ford's famous quote that you can have whatever color Model T you want, as long as it's black (whereas 1E says flat out "we're selling black cars -- you can have a 2 door or 4 door, but it's going to be black; if you want another color car, you'll have to buy it somewhere else (but you don't want to do that, because other colors are clearly inferior to black and black is the most popular color for a reason).

    The method by which the later optional rules were created certainly suffered from this problem [i.e. you must use proficiencies to use these optional rules]. However, the optional rules in the core books are not built on that paradigm.

    I think there is some merit in the argument that second edition was straining against its self imposed limitations, but on the other hand, I don't think the idea was to make it "the one true role playing game", just to loosen up some of the perceived limitations (as illusory as they might be).

    There was no mandate to replace first edition with second edition; the main design considerations appear to have been 1) Accessibility, 2) Compatibility, 3)Flexibility.

    Second edition was more like Henry Ford selling you the parts for a Model T and some paint. You might end up with the same old black Model T he was selling eventually, or you might end up with something else, that was in your hands.

    I find it hard to credit the notion that 2e is closer to OD&D than 1e is, but I suspect that's because what many people see as 2e's "flexibility" and "openness" I see as vapidity and blandness. In my experience, most 2e lovers love it for the campaign settings, not for the game itself. I have a fondness for some of them myself, but I don't think a game designed to support more than a half dozen prefabricated campaign settings bears much similarity to OD&D.

    I find it difficult to see the distinction you are drawing here. If second edition was vapid and bland, then OD&D can surely be described in those terms.

    A lot of people talk about the settings, I was never really into them myself. However, if traditional gaming is about exploration of the unknown or fantastic, that is certainly what those settings were attempting to cater to. The novel lines and tie in supplements undermined that, for sure, but that was hardly an insurmountable obstacle.

    All the classes (except for the cleric, fighter, magic-user, thief, and [oddly] monk) in Gary's AD&D Players Handbook are explicitly labelled as optional.

    Indeed, and one of the things that second edition attempted to clarify was what was the "common structure" Gygax had envisioned as expected in any AD&D campaign.

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  31. I find it difficult to see the distinction you are drawing here. If second edition was vapid and bland, then OD&D can surely be described in those terms.

    It's the distinction between a game whose brevity necessitated leaving certain things unsaid and a game specifically put together to eliminate the distinctive voice and presentation of its predecessor. 2e reads like a technical manual; it's the product of a committee, whereas OD&D is clearly the product of actual human beings.

    A lot of people talk about the settings, I was never really into them myself. However, if traditional gaming is about exploration of the unknown or fantastic, that is certainly what those settings were attempting to cater to.

    They were? They certainly didn't feel that way to me. Instead, each 2e setting was, in its way, an attempt to "broaden" D&D beyond its traditional roots and focus. They were part of the reason why no one knows what D&D is about anymore, including many of the designers at WotC. Now, people seem to have it in their heads that it's a "generic" fantasy game, when that was never the case and all the settings, from Dragonlance on, have been an attempt to foist this misapprehension on the playing public. Sadly, it's succeeded.

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  32. It's the distinction between a game whose brevity necessitated leaving certain things unsaid and a game specifically put together to eliminate the distinctive voice and presentation of its predecessor. 2e reads like a technical manual; it's the product of a committee, whereas OD&D is clearly the product of actual human beings.

    I think you are selectively reading the texts in question. Whilst second edition certainly has its "technical" moments, it also has its own voice. The two games are certainly presented differently, but I don't think the distinction you are drawing is sustainable.

    They were? They certainly didn't feel that way to me. Instead, each 2e setting was, in its way, an attempt to "broaden" D&D beyond its traditional roots and focus. They were part of the reason why no one knows what D&D is about anymore, including many of the designers at WotC. Now, people seem to have it in their heads that it's a "generic" fantasy game, when that was never the case and all the settings, from Dragonlance on, have been an attempt to foist this misapprehension on the playing public. Sadly, it's succeeded.

    I completely disagree with this view of the various campaign settings, given that I am following what you are saying. Each new campaign setting was a new place to explore, from Planescape to Al-Qadim to Dark Sun.

    Sure the multiplicity of settings dulled the focus of "Dungeons & Dragons" somewhat and one could argue that there was a "one size fits all" ideal going on, but it was all D&D exploration in diverse settings to me.

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  33. Whilst second edition certainly has its "technical" moments, it also has its own voice. The two games are certainly presented differently, but I don't think the distinction you are drawing is sustainable.

    It's been years since I last read 2e, so fill me in: what is the "voice" of 2e?

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  34. It's been years since I last read 2e, so fill me in: what is the "voice" of 2e?

    In my opinion, the voice comes over most clearly in Cook's foreword to the 2e DMG, and to a lesser extent the PHB. The voice of second edition is the voice of enthusiastic love for AD&D, coupled with a desire to tinker with it, share those tinkerings, and encourage others to do likewise in order to make the game their own.

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  35. But if you found the Dungeon Master a bit annoying, his purple prose embarrassing, and disliked seeing his eccentricities elevated to Holy Writ, you probably see 2e as a "better" version of 1e.

    You pretty much summed up my feelings about EGG, but I still didn't see 2e as a better version. I *liked* it overall -- 4e may be the first version of D&D that I don't like (still trying to separate my feelings about the changes to the license and the changes to the rules themselves) -- and I liked some of the streamlining and making the rules campaign-neutral. Still, I felt that a certain sense of possibility had gone out of the game. OD&D had a definite "anything can happen" flavor that 1e largely retained; 2e, right from the core books, gave me a sense that "*almost* anything can happen". I've never been able to pin down why I thought so. I long attributed it to the gradual move of D&D away from its wargaming roots; your notion that the game was moving away from its roots in fantasy literature may also have had something to do with it. Just my 2 cents.

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  36. @James
    It's been years since I last read 2e

    No offence, but that's problem most of you who talks innot-too-smart stereotypes manner about 2E here. Moreover - I saw similar stereotypical way of thinking about 3LBB. It's in good manner to tell: "Wow, it was great!" and then jump on WotC clones such as 3e+. Please, just read 2E anew with Philotomy's "Approach it fresh" in minds.

    1) 2E was designed for settings in mind

    Haha. Then what about all those new rules hacks in each box - why they weren't in corebooks? Moreover - most of these masterful worlds are hardly core AD&D at all (Dark Sun, Planescape, Council Of Wyrms).

    AD&D 2E was masterpiece - and one of the many reasons why was build-in "universality". Wanna Pulp? Here you go: Amazon or Barbarian kits or Tales Of The Cometh grand adventure. Wanna something more historical? Try Green Books! Wanna mega - dungeon? You'll not find it in earlier editions - but we made some for you: Dragon Mountain or Undermountain.

    Thats the not-only-Gygaxian Way of OD&D (I'm still talking about universal 3LBB - no such rubbish like I-V Supplements)

    Universality means (above else) screw tournamental and Gygax-only (Greyhawkian) vision. 2E is the same basic 3LBB Do-It-Yourself toolkit. Pale colors? Yeah, with lack of creativity and imagination placed only in dungeons is ultimately colorless.

    2) There were only two version od game that were aimed at specific settings: AD&D 1E (Greyhawk) and Red Box D&D (Known World).

    Both worlds are quite boring and their "charm" and "uniqness" is only that they were new then. Rose-colored glasses.

    3) All those rants about level limits, kicking demons & devils and so on.

    If you'll really read Cook's DMG, you will find advice: use older or remove all limits - do as you like!

    I know, I know - it wasn't tournamental. Heh.

    Demons and dark stuff - if most of you loves it, then why all those full of hipocrysy mumblings about Carcosa? Such attitude was called Nazism in history. Law And Order! Our Law & Order!

    4) Cook is great person - did really good job (under Dark Rulings of Lorraine W. it was an heroic act to clear all 1E unnecessary one-world vision shit from 2E). Planescape is one of the greatest masterpices in RPGs history. And so 2E.

    And to be honest - You, James, posted few months ago about two ways of D&D. D&D(3LBB) and 1E was separate visions (not only separate systems), 3LBB base is completely different than 1E.

    As historiographical model of "sinusoida of ages" [by doctor honoris causa Krzyżanowski - shortly: baroque against reinessance, classicism against baroque, romantism against classicism and so on] shows, 2E is more 3LBB in basic conceptions that 1E ever was.

    My Grand Fifth Of Worst RPGs:

    1) hobby-killing & tournamental: AD&D 1E.
    2) definition of unplayability: Rolemaster
    3) how to screw great idea: I-V Supplements for OD&D
    4) all-and-nothing: Shadowrun
    5) Britney Spears pretends Bach: most so called retro-clones

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  37. Well, Jarl what can anyone say to that masterpiece of incoherence? If you were trying to write a manifesto that flaunted every logical fallacy known, you can stop now - you've done it. And probably more than you can ever know, now I think I understand what you see in 2E. LOL!

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  38. Kellri - on such marvelous level of argumentation as your above what can I say? My tooth ache... or snow is falling... or dinner is too hot. Now I know why AD&D 1E fans like you can be so nerdy & narrow minded ppl. ROFL!

    Long Live D. Arneson and Kung-Fu Theatre.

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  39. In my opinion, the voice comes over most clearly in Cook's foreword to the 2e DMG, and to a lesser extent the PHB. The voice of second edition is the voice of enthusiastic love for AD&D, coupled with a desire to tinker with it, share those tinkerings, and encourage others to do likewise in order to make the game their own.

    I'll have to go back reread these sections then, because, even at the time, that's not how 2e came across to me. I saw it as a paradigm shift away from Gygaxian pulp fantasy and loved it for that reason -- I was tired of that approach by 1989 and wanted something else, so I welcomed the change.

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  40. no such rubbish like I-V Supplements

    I think you undermine your position by statements like this. I am quite willing to concede that I might have been unduly harsh in my judgment of 2e, but it's more than a little ironic to read lines like this from someone arguing against One True Way-ism.

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  41. I'll have to go back reread these sections then, because, even at the time, that's not how 2e came across to me. I saw it as a paradigm shift away from Gygaxian pulp fantasy and loved it for that reason -- I was tired of that approach by 1989 and wanted something else, so I welcomed the change.

    I recommend doing so. Second edition has a lot of problems, and there are things about it I do not like, and things I prefer about first edition, but I do not perceive a paradigm shift in the writing, and my experience of the game is not very different from what I read recounted about first edition.

    I am uncertain what may account for these variable interpretations of second edition at this time, but I rather suspect that it has more to do with changes in the larger gaming environment than with what was communicated in those two initial volumes.

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  42. I say "writing" above, but I do not mean the writing style, but rather what was expressed in the text itself. Just to be clear. ;)

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  43. Interestingly enough, I always saw the OD&D --> AD&D1E continuum as "design by committee" and 2E as the effort that finally pulled all the rules under a unifying vision/philosophy.

    While Gygax wrote everything down (well, *most* things), early D&D was very much a group effort; his players were responsible for at least as much of the "vision" that animated the game as he was. One of the players thought it would be fun to play a thief--bam!, now there's a thief class. One of the players wanted mental powers--presto!, now there are psionic rules. Ask any of the old timers and they'll tell you this is exactly how the game evolved. Most of what later became core concepts were added in exactly this fashion and it's one of the reasons why the rules contained so many bizarre and inconsistent little subsystems all the way up through the original AD&D (and to some extent, even later). As you've often pointed out, James, the Thief class doesn't quite look like it was designed by the same person who designed the other core classes. The psionic rules (both the ELDRITCH WIZARDRY and the AD&D1E versions) certainly don't look like they were designed by anyone responsible for the combat and magic systems. Etc.

    Gygax barely made any effort to impose conistency on all of these subsystems when he compiled and expanded the OD&D rules to produce AD&D. In fact, he added even more unusual and incongruent subsystems. (Take a look at the odd and essentially unusable unarmed combat rules for a good example.)

    AD&D 2E, on the other hand, did a much better job of pulling the rules under the umbrella of a single consistent philosophy. There were still some incongruities on the fringes--but far fewer than any of the earlier versions of the system.

    Likewise, I don't see the same consistency in the general "tone" of OD&D and AD&D1 that you do, James. Yes, pulp fantasy was a strong influence on the game and Gygax's output. But there were lots of other influences just as strong. (Tolkien's influence, for instance, was enormous. Like John Rateliff, I just don't buy Gary's latter-day claims that Tolkien was only a peripheral inspiration for the game and/or his Greyhawk campaign.) Very few of AD&D1's spells and magic items strike me as "pulp" for example. Neither do elves, dwarves, gnomes, paladins, rangers, clerics and many of the other trappings that game had already accumulated pre-AD&D.

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  44. Oh man, don't go saying how Tolkien is an influence on OD&D. People will flip out and cite references forever how Gygax preferred more "pulpy" sources.
    ;)

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  45. Interestingly enough, I always saw the OD&D --> AD&D1E continuum as "design by committee" and 2E as the effort that finally pulled all the rules under a unifying vision/philosophy.

    Speaking only for myself, I use the phrase "design by committee" to refer to products that are a compromise between various other options. They're a way to split the difference rather than to single out a single approaches (or collection of related approaches) as "the best" one, in an effort to appeal to as many people as possible.

    AD&D, just like OD&D + Supplements before it, was certainly born out of a collection of different ideas and directions suggested and/or created by others in orbit around Gary and his Lake Geneva campaign. I don't think that fact means that there's no unity to the collection as a whole or a common sensibility that animated the disparate sub-systems and visions for the game. There's a tension there, to be sure, and it's always just on the verge of collapsing under the weight of incoherence, but it never does. Part of my beef with 2e, frankly, is that it's built on the presumption that AD&D was incoherent and I'm far from convinced of that. It was a mess, certainly, but a glorious one, whereas I see no glory whatsoever in 2e.

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  46. People will flip out and cite references forever how Gygax preferred more "pulpy" sources.
    ;)


    I don't think, even in his later years, Gygax would have denied that Tolkien had an influence over the development of OD&D and AD&D. He consistently cited them as such and it's obvious that he and Dave Arneson -- whose Blackmoor campaign is, if his own players are to be believed, much more influenced by Tolkien than was Gary's Greyhawk -- took much inspiration from the good professor.

    However, there's very little of the ethos of Tolkien or The Lord of the Rings in D&D. I don't think it's at all tenable to argue otherwise. Yes, there are ents and hobbits and orcs and Nazgul in OD&D (or were in earlier editions), but the foundation of the game is far closer to Howard and Leiber than to Tolkien. As I read him, it's against the notion that D&D was meant to simulate Middle-Earth that Gygax was railing, not that he didn't crib ideas from the novel.

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  47. Part of my beef with 2e, frankly, is that it's built on the presumption that AD&D was incoherent and I'm far from convinced of that. It was a mess, certainly, but a glorious one, whereas I see no glory whatsoever in 2e.

    I am not sure that is really true. As far as I can tell, first edition was not regarded as incoherent, but sometimes over complicated and difficult to access. I might be misunderstanding your meaning here, but it seems to me that this beef is misplaced.

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  48. I don't think you can safely say that 2nd edition was really a full move away from pulp fantasy, really, but a move away from the neccessarily pulp fiction of the "Gygax Editions."

    Picking up OD&D and AD&D 1e, it positively stank of pulp fiction. Which is fine. Which is great really. But if you didn't want pulp fiction for your immediate purposes, you had to strip out a great deal of that. Second edition was still strongly influenced by pulp fiction, but, in my opinion, sanded off the old veneer and left it up to the players and the GM to polish and adapt the rules in their favor.

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  49. However, there's very little of the ethos of Tolkien or The Lord of the Rings in D&D. I don't think it's at all tenable to argue otherwise. Yes, there are ents and hobbits and orcs and Nazgul in OD&D (or were in earlier editions), but the foundation of the game is far closer to Howard and Leiber than to Tolkien.

    Hi James!

    That's the part I just don't buy. I see at least as much Tolkien as Howard or Leiber (or any other author) in early D&D. John Rateliff neatly makes the case here.

    AD&D, just like OD&D + Supplements before it, was certainly born out of a collection of different ideas and directions suggested and/or created by others in orbit around Gary and his Lake Geneva campaign. I don't think that fact means that there's no unity to the collection as a whole or a common sensibility that animated the disparate sub-systems and visions for the game.

    A few examples:

    Don't the unarmed combat rules read like a sudden U-Turn away from the rest of the combat system?

    Why does the bard class--and just the bard class--require players to begin in another class entirely?

    Isn't the Assassination Table completely at odds with the very spirit of the game?

    Where on earth did those psionics rules come from?>

    Etc. Those are the sorts of things I have in mind.

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  50. That's the part I just don't buy. I see at least as much Tolkien as Howard or Leiber (or any other author) in early D&D. John Rateliff neatly makes the case here.

    An interesting read, if occasionally overstated. However, I do not think James' point is that the trappings of D&D were not influenced by Tolkien, but that the ethos of the game bears little resemblance to his work.

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  51. A few preliminary comments...

    (1) By default, I tend to talk about the “core” of each edition. Yes NWP appeared in late-1e, but unless I’m specifically talking about late-1e, I’m going to consider them a 2e feature. Unless I specify that I’m talking about the 2e supplements, a statement I make about 2e is aimed solely at the PHB, MC, and DMG.

    (2) 2e sans optional rules? I have little to nothing bad to say about it.

    (3) A criticism of 2e by me isn’t necessarily a praise of 1e in the same area.

    That said, here’s my beef with 2e: It had a lot of good ideas that just didn’t pan out. At least for me.

    NWP? If you’re going to add a skill system, do a better job than this.

    Specialist clerics? Building a specialist cleric is effectively building a class. Something that is hard to do well. Even though 2e did contain a class building system, it wasn’t much better than if you ignored the system.

    Specialist wizards? Again, a good idea, but the implementation just falls flat for me.

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