In the process of exploring psionics, I've been re-reading my Dragon collection to see what bits of wisdom I could glean from its pages. There's actually a lot more about psionics in the magazine than you'd think, though clearly not as much as other topics. Naturally, I've been focusing heavily on issue #78, since it's a special psionics issue that includes several excellent and useful articles in its pages. Back in the old days, this was my Bible for using psionics in my campaign and I'll have some things to say about it later as well.
Serendipity seems to rule this blog, because yesterday I received an email from reader Bob Tarantino who pointed me toward a letter to the editor in an issue I'd just finished reading (#81 from January 1984). I read the letter in question, as well as its response by Dragon editor Kim Mohan, and noted it as something worth blogging about sometime soon. After I received Bob's email, I figure that that time is now.
The writer of the letter asked why Dragon didn't publish any "playing aids, modules, etc." for "the original rules or Collector's Editions," a clear reference to the LBBs. Kim Mohan's response, which I'll reproduce in full is interesting. The bolded sections are those I find particularly noteworthy.
The main reason why we publish virtually no playing aids or adventures specifically for the D&D game is that people generally don't contribute manuscripts on that game. And that’s because the D&D game doesn't really lend itself to expansion or variation like the ADVANCED D&D game does. As we’ve said many times before in many different ways, the D&D rules are more like guidelines and suggestions, and the AD&D rules are more like actual rules, of the unbreakable or unstretchable sort. In the case of the D&D rules, it’s difficult to suggest how to do something in a different way when there aren't any hard and fast rules on how to do it in the first place. The AD&D rule system is much more detailed and more specific to begin with, so altering it or expanding upon it is easier to do.There's lot to chew over in Mohan's reply, including the seeming contradiction of his having said, on the one hand, that "the two systems are similar enough" that a player of OD&D can just convert articles written for AD&D as needed and, on the other hand, that "the D&D game and the AD&D game are not structurally related." If one is charitable, I suppose what he meant by "structure" is that AD&D has definitive treatments of many aspects of play and thus is easier to expand upon coherently, while OD&D does not and thus harder to build upon in a non-idiosyncratic way. Even so, it's an arguable point, one that TSR's own early publishing history belies.
Although the vast majority of what we publish is written and designed specifically for the AD&D game, the two systems are similar enough that the ideas from an AD&D game article or adventure can be easily modified for use in a D&D campaign — which, we assume, is what people like Fred do a lot of the time when they can’t find articles or playing aids specifically designed for the D&D game.
People who prefer the D&D Collector’s Edition rules or the original D&D rules in the blue booklet are more or less on their own, because those versions of the game are not being actively produced or marketed any more. (By the way, I don'’t understand Fred’'s remark about the original rules being “more restrictive in many ways than the advanced rules.” I always thought the original rules were less restrictive; maybe this was a slip of the typewriter?) Even so, the ideas and suggestions in most of the articles in DRAGON Magazine can still be applied to “"Collector'’s"” games, if the players and the DM are looking for ways to add new ingredients to their adventures.
This is a good time to point out, for those who are still misled by the similarity in names, that the D&D game and the AD&D game are not structurally related to one another. Many of the rules concerning specific topics are vastly different in each game. It is not possible to translate a D&D campaign into an AD&D campaign, or vice versa, without losing an awful lot in the translation. Anyone who’'s ever given advice on this subject recommends simply scrapping the old campaign and starting fresh if you want to change games. If you‘'re playing cards and you want to switch from a game of hearts to a game of contract bridge, you don’t try to merge one game with the other — you pick up the cards, shuffle them, and deal them out all over again. Despite some basic similarities between the two games (they both use all the cards, they both involve taking tricks), they don‘t use the same rules. It isn‘'t possible to move smoothly from one game to the other while retaining elements of the first one. And so it is with the D&D game and the AD&D game: You can play one or the other, but if you try to play both you'‘ll be playing neither.
Far more interesting to me personally is Mohan's statement that "the D&D rules are more like guidelines and suggestions, and the AD&D rules are more like actual rules, of the unbreakable or unstretchable sort." Granted his reply was published at the dawn of what I call "the Silver Age," when concerns about the "official-ness" of rules became ever more important, but this line of thinking was present in the pages of Dragon for years beforehand, even if it was rarely expressed so clearly. It's a position I suspect that many of us who entered the hobby with either Holmes or Moldvay will immediately remember, particularly if you were, as I was, an avid reader of Dragon.
I offer this up in the interests of commentary rather than to make any particular point. Of course, I'm glad to see that my recollection of there having been a notion that AD&D was somehow made of "real," "unbreakable" rules isn't without foundation. It's definitely something that TSR promoted through Dragon and other publications, as was the supposedly stark difference between the D&D and AD&D lines.