Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Size Does Matter

As there often is, there's a nifty little thread at Original D&D Discussion about the page count of roleplaying games over the ages. Of particular interest are the statistics provided for the various incarnations of old school D&D:
  • OD&D (LBBs only): 56 full pages (112 half-sheets)
  • OD&D (LBBs + 4 supplements): 183 full pages (366 half-sheets)
  • Holmes Basic: 48 pages
  • AD&D 1e (PHB, DMG, MM): 470 pages
As you can see, there's a huge jump there between even OD&D in its fullest form and AD&D -- nearly three times as many pages. I've stated before that I adore AD&D; I keep my copies of its three Gygax-penned rulebooks on my shelf right above my computer where I write this. I frequently refer to those volumes for insights into many issues pertaining to the game.

Yet, I can't deny that those books are unnecessarily ponderous. Even though I used most of its rules back in the day, I'm not sure much was gained with the added complexity of AD&D and I know much was lost, in particular the free-wheeling, open-ended nature of OD&D. Part of the appeal of games like Swords & Wizardry and Labyrinth Lord is that they're so compendious, a virtue long since bred out of the descendants of OD&D.

14 comments:

  1. B/X -128
    BECM - Well, Basic was 64 + 48 (largely due to the PI format of the first book) and expert was 64. I don't have the other two handy and can't find them online but they were probably 64-96 (being two two book sets if memory serves) so call it 368 at the outside.

    RC- have no idea but I'm fairly sure no longer than BECM

    So even at its most expansive the D&D line never quite caught up with AD&D1.

    As a reference:

    C&C(PHB and M&T) - 256 so if they ever get their ref manual out (which I currently doubt) we're looking at 384, still short of AD&D1 (unless its double sized then we get 512).

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  2. "RC- have no idea but I'm fairly sure no longer than BECM"

    The Rules Cyclopedia clocks in at 304 pages.

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  3. One of the things Gygax always said in his later days, for instance on ENWorld, is that a good referee should pretty much know the rules and not have to reference the books at all. I think that ideal is much more achievable when you embrace OD&D - the AD&D rules put too many points of nuance in there that just lead to argument. With OD&D, particularly the combat system is what you make of it.

    I still read the DMG for ideas and thoughts, but I can't say it's a core part of any actual gaming that I do these days.

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  4. I’d say you got roughly three things in those books:

    1. The guidelines
    2. Lists of stuff
    3. Explanation

    The thing about oAD&D is that it did add to 1, but it also had a lot of 2 and 3.

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  5. "One of the things Gygax always said in his later days, for instance on ENWorld, is that a good referee should pretty much know the rules and not have to reference the books at all."

    I can see how the 'incomplete by design' nature of OD&D would lend itself to this ideal. Nothing ensures a DM knows a system inside-out more than parsing the meaning of implied rules and having to hack and houserule to match personal taste.

    In a way it fits the Maker's Bill of Rights ( http://makezine.com/04/ownyourown/ ) ideal of "If you can't open it, you don't own it".

    Tinkering with the rules and implied setting is how we make D&D our own. OD&D totally endorsed that. Later iterations of the game...not so much.

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  6. My opinion is that AD&D is not inherently any more complicated or standardized than OD&D. What it does have is simply a crushing load of more content. Yes, that makes it harder for the DM to run.

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  7. The thing about oAD&D is that it did add to 1, but it also had a lot of 2 and 3.

    The funny thing is that, while I like much of 2 and 3, I feel now that they'd have been better off as magazine articles or even supplements rather than as integral to the main rulebooks.

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  8. What it does have is simply a crushing load of more content. Yes, that makes it harder for the DM to run.

    The presence of so much material does present a psychological hazard to the referee. Had AD&D been structured differently, its relative lack of complexity might have been more apparent. As it is, lots of people still see it as being unnecessarily baroque, myself included, when the fact don't completely hold up under intense scrutiny.

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  9. The funny thing is that, while I like much of 2 and 3, I feel now that they'd have been better off as magazine articles or even supplements rather than as integral to the main rulebooks.

    Yeah. Traveller was pretty good about that. 1 in Books 1 to 3. 2 in many of the supplements. 3 in Book Zero.

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  10. Hm. It would be interesting to do a page comparison between editions without taking into account:

    (1) Monsters
    (2) Spells
    (3) Classes
    (4) Races

    The theory being that adding more options within these categories is not necessarily adding bulk to the actual rules of the game. (You could take AD&D and strip out all the monsters, spell, classes, and races that weren't found in the original OD&D and still have a completely playable game. In fact, someone could observe you playing that game and -- unless you told them that you had limited the size of the menu -- they would have no way of knowing that you were doing anything other than playing 100% by-the-book AD&D1.)

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  11. The difficulty is that there’s often not a clear line between the “lists of stuff” and the guidelines. Classes, spells, and monsters do get more complex in AD&D than they were in D&D.

    Still, I agree, it would be interesting to see the numbers.

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  12. I ran off the players' portion of Labyrinth Lord for my kids and gave them each their own PH. We had dabbled a bit with 2e but I gave up on that finally. My son looked at the new PH I gave him and asked "where's the rest of it?" It was only 60 pages.

    He had barely been introduced to 2e but was already convinced that "bigger is better" and really resisted.

    However, in the past month he's had ten times as much fun with LL as he ever did with 2e. And so has dad.

    I honestly believe (and have since the days of the original Unearthed Arcana and the Dungeoneer's Survival Guide) that there is an inverse relationship between page count and potential for easy fun.

    Maybe the quicker references to the rules speed things up and make it seem like more is happening. Maybe quicker combat keeps everything flowing. Maybe the DM has to put a little more into it because he can't just read off a table. Maybe the players do too. Maybe you don't take it quite so seriously because it's "just a simple version of the game."

    Or, maybe, it's all of that and then some.

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  13. The difficulty is that there’s often not a clear line between the “lists of stuff” and the guidelines. Classes, spells, and monsters do get more complex in AD&D than they were in D&D.

    I also think that, the more rules there are, the more likely readers are to interpret that to mean that those rules are necessary to play, at least initially.

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  14. I honestly believe (and have since the days of the original Unearthed Arcana and the Dungeoneer's Survival Guide) that there is an inverse relationship between page count and potential for easy fun.

    It sure seems that way sometimes.

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