Thursday, January 29, 2009

Excellent Gygax Quote

Shortly before the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Masters Guide was published, Gary Gygax wrote an article in The Dragon in which he discussed the differences in approach and presentation between the now-complete AD&D system and OD&D (which Gary simply calls "D&D"). As a historical document, it's a very intriguing article, because it suggests a relationship between the two games that clearly never came to pass, with OD&D eventually morphing into something very different than what is described in this quote:
The D&D game will always be with us, and that is a good thing. The D&D system allows the highly talented, individualistic, and imaginative hobbyist a vehicle for devising an adventure game form which is tailored to him or her and his or her group. One can take great liberties with the game and not be questioned.
There are many reasons why the version of D&D described in the quote ceased to exist, at least as far as TSR was concerned, but it's a shame nonetheless. I suppose there was simply an insufficiently large market for this vision of OD&D. Had there been more demand for such a beast, I don't doubt TSR would have supported and promoted it. What an alternate universe that would have been!

21 comments:

  1. Fun could be had with that quote.

    "The D&D system allows the highly talented, individualistic, and imaginative hobbyist a vehicle for devising an adventure game form which is tailored to him or her and his or her group."

    Can the blame for its decades-long disappearance be laid at the feet of a company then targeting untalented, unimaginative, trend-following hobbyists for which houseruling is untenable?

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  2. OD&D as a spiritual predecessor to the SRD perhaps?

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  3. Hmmmm, interesting. I remember being taught the game (D&D) from the old white box "Collector's Edition", but the DM doing the teaching was gleefully holding up the brand new AD&D Monster Manual and Player's Handbook he had picked up at GenCon that year (around 1978). The impression he gave us, which he claimed was all over the con, was that AD&D was "better" than regular D&D. So, the edition wars really have been around since the beginning.

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  4. Can the blame for its decades-long disappearance be laid at the feet of a company then targeting untalented, unimaginative, trend-following hobbyists for which houseruling is untenable?

    The first three seem a little too uncharitable, but the last is certainly plausible. Some folks can't be bothered to come up with their own rules and some can't agree on those rules with their group.

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  5. There is a fault line that divides the talented, imaginative gamers from the mediocre but it runs through both OD&D and AD&D and not between them.

    It is a pity, in this little community, that modesty, taste and fellowship prevent an explicit examination through examples of good and bad house ruling by DMs and good and bad play.

    The essays Gygax went on to write in 1ed AD&D stand alone in insight and judgement. Most OD&Ders will have read every word and their campaigns are probably more pared down AD&D than pure reenactments of a '74 style game.

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  6. Chris: Gods yes. This is exactly what I believe.

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  7. Can the blame for its decades-long disappearance be laid at the feet of a company then targeting untalented, unimaginative, trend-following hobbyists for which houseruling is untenable?

    That's probably a bit unfair, since, despite it all, AD&D is still a product written for a hobbyist audience and includes tons of ambiguities that require active engagement by both the referee and his players. I don't really think it was until the 3e era that the elimination of ambiguities was elevated to a virtue in and of itself rather than a practical necessity for "organized play." Mind you, I think the whole processes by which the post-OD&D editions were created were fundamentally flawed, so perhaps it's inevitable that things would wind up where they are today.

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  8. So, the edition wars really have been around since the beginning.

    To a certain extent, yes. I don't really recall there being as much acrimony between OD&D and AD&D enthusiasts back in the day, but I'm sure it was there, especially as TSR became more "corporate" in its actions in the early 80s.

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  9. It is a pity, in this little community, that modesty, taste and fellowship prevent an explicit examination through examples of good and bad house ruling by DMs and good and bad play.

    I'm not sure it's been prevented so much as simply not done in great depth. In part that's because, for many people hereabouts, it's all still theory. They don't have a regular group of players interested in OD&D. I'm lucky in that I do and I've been posting about it to give some idea of how it's been going and the problems I've encountered. I expect others will follow suit -- some already have -- and then we might see more of the kinds of discussions you mention.

    Most OD&Ders will have read every word and their campaigns are probably more pared down AD&D than pure reenactments of a '74 style game.

    That's certainly my preferred form of OD&D, because I get the best of both worlds.

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  10. On the upside, there's a growing movement and market for it now? Better late than never? ;3

    Maybe it just needed a nap --

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  11. That article of Gary's (and that quote in particular) helped me decide to write my Carcosa supplement for OD&D rather than for AD&D.

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  12. I've been posting about it to give some idea of how it's been going and the problems I've encountered

    Yes. I can't get enough of photos of other people's gaming tables. Lead figures, dice, pencils, graphpaper, rulebooks, cake and cups of tea all in an unaffected snapshot of lived-in disarray.

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  13. By way of reference, James' quote is from Dragon #26, June 1979, article p. 28 (quote is the last main paragraph of the article).

    Just last week I blogged about Gary's observations around the Holmes Basic set and AD&D, which he basically replicates in the middle of this Jun-79 article as well. As I said I'm skeptical of some of EGG's claims now.

    EGG's claimed advantages to AD&D in this article are primarily (1) Standardization, "Because the integral features are known and immutable, there can be no debate as to what is correct... Players can move from one AD&D cam-
    paign to another and know at the very least the basic precepts...", and secondarily (2) "Conformity to a more rigid set of rules also provides a better platform from which to launch major tournaments as well."

    With (1) Gary calls out specific examples like "wizards using swords", and "fighters doing criticals for double damage", as being contrary to the very essence of AD&D, such that no one could imaginably do that and claim to be playing AD&D. But obviously that did not happen.

    And with (2) I now think that OD&D is a better rules base for a tournament than more complicated systems. A complicated system provides more PC options over a longer time for campaign play. With a tournament you'd be better off with a simple, well-known set of rules that lets everyone focus on the specific player-centric challenge at hand.

    Re: Chris' comment, I do truly wish that it could have been specifically the core OD&D rules that had been specifically released under the OGL -- I think there would have advantages for all partis involved.

    It's interesting that as part of item (1) in this article Gary actually calls out: "The best feature of a game which offers real form, however, is that it will more readily lend itself to actual improvement... any flaws or shortcomings of the basic systems and/or rules will become apparent With D&D... a broad base can be used to determine what is actually needed and desired." And that's very much the same spirit of open-source development which inspired the OGL (and again didn't quite work out as advertised).

    Re: House Rules. From my perspective, I got into D&D at precisely the time AD&D was released and EGG was writing these articles. First, I'm just a little bit math-oriented and OCD, and it simply never occured to me to change "the rules". It did take 3E explicitly calling out Variants to open that possibility.

    But moreover, I was getting into a game where at this time, in this article I was being told things like this: "ADVANCED DUNGEONS & DRAGONS is a different game. Readers please take note! It is neither an expansion nor a revision of the old game, it is a new game... there is no similarity (perhaps even less) between D&D and AD&D than there is between D&D and its various imitators produced by competing publishers... While D&D campaigns can be those which... include a plethora of trash from various and sundry sources, AD&D cannot be so composed. Either a DM runs an AD&D campaign, or else it is something else. This is clearly stated within the work, and it is a mandate which will be un-
    changing... "

    For a long time, as the first and only person in my community who was learning D&D (and who didn't have any access to OD&D), I took these statements at face value, as outright absurd as they may look to us today.

    (Whew. Apologies for length, but I was just developing thoughts on this specific topic over the weekend.)

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  14. Can the blame for its decades-long disappearance be laid at the feet of a company then targeting untalented, unimaginative, trend-following hobbyists for which houseruling is untenable?

    It might be wrong but it feels so right. :)

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  15. >The impression he gave us, which he claimed was all over the con, was that AD&D was "better" than regular D&D<.

    I think it was Dana Carvey as Dan Quail on SNL circa 1990, when asked about the state of the country said proudly "Advanced Dungeons and Dragons is better than regular Dungeons and Dragons!"

    I'm using AD&D pretty successfully for my latest group, but seeing as I only use about 20% of the stuff in the DM Guide, I proudly consider myself as doing old school D&D.

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  16. What Gygax says here is the core of what I find wonderful about the hobby: being able not just to create, but to tinker.

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  17. I never really understood that I was a tinker when I first started to GM games on a regular basis about 11 years ago. I just read the rules of the game I played, and when I hit a roadblock, I just went around it, doing whatever I needed to replace or restate it in a way that would make the game easier for me to run and better for my players. My players never cared that "rule x" wasn't used word for word from the book, they trusted that I was doing it for our benefit, and if they disagreed they spoke up and we worked it out as a group.

    I never read this line from Gygax until today, but it's always reinforced what I find best about this hobby especially when it comes to the GM: That your favorite version of any game is the one that you're playing right now with that binder full of house rules and your head full of subsititutions. All of that talk about whether a game is "broken" or not, or which edition is the best is usually missing the magical forest for the trees.

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  18. "Can the blame for its decades-long disappearance be laid at the feet of a company then targeting untalented, unimaginative, trend-following hobbyists for which houseruling is untenable?"

    A. Hey! I was like 13. The Holmes box I started with was falling apart. The AD&D books were new and frikkin kool looking. And they were "Advanced" which is like.. better than "Basic" right? I ref'd soccer games and mowed lawns for half the frikking summer to buy them. So I'll firat allow my 13 year old self to answer you...
    "Shove it!"
    ;)
    Whew
    B.Now the 40 year old me will be more reasonable. Yes AD&D was targeted at a different audience than OD&D. A much younger audience. Middle, High School and college kids, who in the 80's started to have more disposable income than before. And that segment of the marketplace benefited greatly from a more portable and standardized rule set. With AD&D one could move from HS gaming club to local game store, across the country to college, all the way into adulthood with the same PHB, DMG, and MM. Would there be house rules? Sure, I don't think I ever played a game without some form of house rules. But with a larger framework layed out in AD&D, the house rules were fewer and easier for new players to digest (and less likely to cause friction amongst younger and more volatile gamers than the Grognard crowd).

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  19. That article of Gary's (and that quote in particular) helped me decide to write my Carcosa supplement for OD&D rather than for AD&D.

    Honestly, it's almost always a better call to go with OD&D, even if it's OD&D + supplements, because there's still an implicit understanding that the game is open to wider interpretation than is any of its descendants.

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  20. What Gygax says here is the core of what I find wonderful about the hobby: being able not just to create, but to tinker.

    Absolutely!

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  21. To a certain extent, I think the subject is peculiarly pertinent to devotees of the TSR brand. Other FRP gamers in my experience mostly took for granted that published material was to be folded, spindled or rejected out of hand as a GM's tastes dictated.

    Rolemaster was basically the opposite of OD&D: so many published options that an attempt to use them all would make for an unplayable mess.

    To this day, I can't recall ever personally encountering an RPG "canon" treated as some sort of Holy Writ -- except for those published by TSR or successor WotC. Even that was until recently rare, and largely confined to folks who played no other RPGs.

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