Saturday, August 7, 2010

Interesting Quotation

(I have a bunch of posts to make today, but they'll likely come later in the day, as I have to catch up on emails, comments, and other matters after being unplugged yesterday)

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.

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.
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.

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.

22 comments:

  1. It's weird seeing AD&D talked about as a complete, cogent set of rules. I guess it's more that than OD&D, but the approach I've always taken to it is as a HUGE collection of possible rules which can be mixed and matched to taste. Certainly, going by other AD&D players I know, that doesn't seem too odd an interpretation.

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  2. The bit about all of the work that would go into converting from one rules set to the other is particularly amusing. Scrap an entire campaign? Come on, it takes about a minute to figure out what to move around or change from AD&D to or from O/B-X D&D. If I can convert a Gwar or a Blondie song into a D&D spell or item in twenty minutes I don't see the logic in having to scrap a B-X game because you included githyankis and githzerai. Breathe, take 2-3 minutes to red the Fiend Folio entries and the each monster's special abilities and bang! It is really a painless process.

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  3. The asserted amazement at OD&D being more restrictive is kind of funny. Obviously it has fewer races, classes, spells, monsters, magic items, etc. If a player comes to OD&D and says, "I want a gnome illusionist with spectral force and a dagger of venom", the by-the-book answer is, "We don't have any of that stuff."

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  4. Sorry, James, I don’t agree that there is anything there to chew over. I think these articles in TD (regarding the difference/compatibility between D&D and AD&D or the officialness/unstretchability of the latter) were ridiculous then and are ridiculous now. I can’t believe they are still brought up, as they still seem to have a divisive influence on the Gygaxian fanbase. --Falconer

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  5. I can’t believe they are still brought up, as they still seem to have a divisive influence on the Gygaxian fanbase.

    What does that even mean?

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  6. Yep, this is the stuff that drives me nuts about 1E AD&D - loaded with bloat and fiddly bits most people ignore - and pushed onto the market as the be-all, end-all final word. Any sane person house rules the heck out of AD&D. I find it more intellectually honest to stick with OD&D and B/X in the first place where the DIY mentality was encouraged.

    But responses like Kim's show how TSR really was the WOTC of their day - separating the game lines to distance AD&D from the 1974 copyright and then peddling AD&D via marketing-speak as the final word in D&D gaming to further turn OD&D into a stepchild. It's an unfortunate piece of the TSR legacy.

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  7. Here are my thoughts:

    1) There's a little matter of perspective here. In 1984 (and earlier) I don't believe people were looking at these games as "tool boxes" the way 21st century players do. People made house rules out of NECESSITY when a particular situation wasn't covered. People playing OD&D probably DID feel the LBBs were restrictive (they weren't thinking 'wow, how can I use this very loosely written game to MAKE MY OWN FANTASY WORLD,' something many of us today salivate over). I know that in 1984 I was much the same way...I like AD&D BECAUSE it was so comprehensive...and yes, we did NOT believe that some rules were OPTIONAL unless specifically written to be that. When the UA was published as the first official non-monster rulebook for AD&D since the PHB ad DMG, we adapted it as an update and replacement of earlier rules (like unarmed combat, racial restrictions, sub-classes of main classes). We did not dispute its authenticity or "canon-ness." It was a game, game's had rules, rules were meant to be obeyed.

    The TSR think tank of the day (sans Arneson) may have had a similar concept of "game" and "rules" (rather than "potential imaginary setting from which to create all sorts of games"), and from that perspective, the reply makes perfect sense to me. It's unimaginative and inside the box thinking, but we've had a lot of concept-bashing since then.

    Whether some recognized this as a way to better commercialize the product and make more money...well, that's a different discussion.

    2) This article, coupled with my 21st century perspective is what makes me feel that A) the B/X edition of the game is the greatest and, B) that B/X is the real inheritor of the Little Brown Books. For me, in my maturity with years of gaming experience, I see the benefit of a game that does not have unstretchable and unbreakable rules...it's what I WANT in an RPG to better show off its imaginary aspects (though I want it divorced from Chainmail and wargaming). From Tom Moldvay's FOREWARD in the Basic book:

    "The D&D game has neither winners nor losers. It has only gamers who relish exercising their imagination. The players and the DM share in creating adventures in fantastic lands where heroes abound and magic really works. In a sense, the D&D game has no rules, only rule suggestions. No rule is inviolate, particularly if a new or altered rule will encourage creativity and imagination. The important thing is to enjoy the adventure."

    THIS is D&D, not AD&D. For me, it's what I want. In 1984, I didn't yet realize that myself.
    : )

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  8. "You should buy the AD&D game, because [ad hoc and weasel-worded appeal to the systematic interconnectedness of its rules], but whatever you do, you should keep buying issues of Dragon because [reasoning that directly contradicts the previous]"

    I see. Thanks so much Mr. Mohan.

    As a young man the thought of mailing a letter and waiting weeks for this reply makes my brain explode.

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  9. I think there might be legal reasons behind his claim that the games are TOTALLY SEPARATE. REALLY.

    Wasn't a desire to cut certain people out of royalties one of the things that spurred the creation of AD&D to begin with?

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  10. We found the AD&D rules useful because they were compiled together and durable, but we still played them in the same manner as OD&D (LBB). Which is, I suppose, incorrectly by the presumptions of Mr Mohan.

    For example, the most use we ever got out of the DMG was as a compendia of magic items, whilst the players handbook was a pricelist, a set of character classes, and a compendia of spells. The monster manual got the most use. Transition was trivial. Except for the vastly inflated price of platemail in AD&D. I think only one or two (out of some fifty or so people would have read anything else in them).

    But by then we were used to making stuff up as we went along, designing our own campaigns and the like. The only time when we needed to actually hew close to the rules was when we were running open public tournaments. And even then, some of the tournaments were decidedly non-standard [plutonium golem's anyone?]. But people tended to enjoy them just as much, if not more.

    [Interesting enough, double checking the Players Handbook has the following comment from Mike Carr: "Cooperate with the Dungeon Master and respect his decisions; if you disagree, present your viewpoint with deference to his position as game moderator." Actual permission in the rules for rules-lawyering!]

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  11. It's an unfortunate piece of the TSR legacy.

    I agree, which is why I've been trying very hard to "unlearn" some of the things I thought I knew about the history of the game in the mid to late 80s. I'm beginning to think that the D&D line was where the action really was back then.

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  12. I know that in 1984 I was much the same way...I like AD&D BECAUSE it was so comprehensive...and yes, we did NOT believe that some rules were OPTIONAL unless specifically written to be that. When the UA was published as the first official non-monster rulebook for AD&D since the PHB ad DMG, we adapted it as an update and replacement of earlier rules (like unarmed combat, racial restrictions, sub-classes of main classes). We did not dispute its authenticity or "canon-ness." It was a game, game's had rules, rules were meant to be obeyed.

    This is pretty much how my friends and I thought as well. Good to know we weren't the only ones.

    A) the B/X edition of the game is the greatest and, B) that B/X is the real inheritor of the Little Brown Books.

    I think it's more uncontroversial to say that B/X probably did more to introduce and foster a style of play that was closer to that of the LBBs than any other edition of the game.

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  13. Wasn't a desire to cut certain people out of royalties one of the things that spurred the creation of AD&D to begin with?

    That's the supposition many have made; it's certainly a plausible one. Whether it's the truth (in whole or in part), I don't think we're in a position to know, given the sealed nature of the lawsuits Arneson launched against TSR.

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  14. For example, the most use we ever got out of the DMG was as a compendia of magic items, whilst the players handbook was a pricelist, a set of character classes, and a compendia of spells. The monster manual got the most use. Transition was trivial. Except for the vastly inflated price of platemail in AD&D. I think only one or two (out of some fifty or so people would have read anything else in them).

    I think a lot of people played this way back in the day. In my own group, we vacillated between doing just what you describe and trying to stick as close to the rules as written as we could, but the latter position was hard to maintain, since so many aspects of AD&D simply don't work well in play, or at least they didn't in our group.

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  15. I think this sentence might be incomplete:

    Even so, it's an arguable point, one that TSR's own early publishing history.

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  16. Anarchist,

    Fixed. Thanks for the catch.

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  17. In my own highly personal experience there was one very important difference between how we played in 1984 and subsequently - in 1984 we were in school and there were half a dozen D&D games going on in various classrooms at lunchtime. People could drift between groups, possibly carry their characters over (if they had someone to vouch for them, that they'd got all their stuff "without cheating" through actual play) and pick up and put down games as they wished. For that to work, there had to be a core ruleset that everyone agreed on. It didn't prevent house rules from being created, but it did put some brakes on the process. In later years I've mostly experienced games entirely under the control of single GMs, often with "sealed" rule sets - ones for which there is no reliable manual in the players' hands - that is rules subject to adjustment by GM fiat on the fly. For these sorts of games the rules-as-suggestions philosophy works great, but I suspect that in the mid 80s TSR was trying to create a property more like the one I encountered at school.

    Sorry, long and wordy for a simple point.

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  18. James-- You asked me to clarify my remark about these TD editorials fracturing the fanbase. Right after you posted that, johnarendt and JB posted just the sort of contentious arguments that turn the B/X and AD&D fans upon each other. These B/X vs. AD&D arguments, in my mind, always have at their core the question of “what is AD&D?” which go back to these editorials of thirty years ago. But if you look at how AD&D is and always has been actually played compared to B/X, and if you look at the actual introductions in the AD&D hardcovers compared to the introductions in the B/X manuals, there is NO difference. BOTH have the "rules as suggestions" approach. BOTH have the idea that "the DM’s ruling trumps the book”. BOTH are merely vehicles for the imagination. And BOTH have a valid claim to be the continuation of OD&D.

    My point is simply that there could have been a lot less meaningless “edition wars” if not for these TD editorials which people use as proof texts for arguments which don’t hold water in the real world. But that’s just my opinion.

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  19. My point is simply that there could have been a lot less meaningless “edition wars” if not for these TD editorials which people use as proof texts for arguments which don’t hold water in the real world. But that’s just my opinion.

    Quite possibly but these editorials and others like them had an impact; they're part of the lasting legacy of TSR, even 25+ years after the fact. Once the split between D&D and AD&D happened, TSR pretty much had to provide some justification for the existence of two separate game lines and this was the tack they took. I happen to think there are genuine differences in design and approach between the two games, but then that's just my opinion.

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  20. I think that JB made a very good point. These games were less of a toolbox because, unless you are around 60 you were a kid when these games came out and we were all pretty much follow the rules of the game back then. Society, and our perceptions through aging, have changed how we approach this now.

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  21. Richard,

    The only thought I have is that in 1979 or so, when AD&D was just barely out, I played at MIT. There were a variety of games that people flowed between, bringing characters back and forth, and there were some pretty significant house rules, yet it mostly worked. Players would just ask the GM what house rules were significant and usually adapted quite easily.

    Frank

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  22. I think that JB made a very good point. These games were less of a toolbox because, unless you are around 60 you were a kid when these games came out and we were all pretty much follow the rules of the game back then. Society, and our perceptions through aging, have changed how we approach this now.

    Yep. I recall reading something by Gygax where he noted that, when they released the original game, they assumed their audience would be older people with experience kitbashing and house ruling through wargaming. But the game spread beyond that assumed audience, thus necessitating various intro/basic versions of the game. I'm grateful for those versions, since they're what got me into the hobby in the first place, but now, ironically, I'm closer to the assumed age of OD&D's audience and I find it much more to my taste.

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