Thursday, April 5, 2012

Monster Manual Foreword

For a number of reasons, I've been spending a lot of my spare time recently re-reading sections of the first three AD&D books, particularly the Monster Manual. The MM is a fascinating book if you're interested in the early development of AD&D, since it actually retains a great deal more from its OD&D heritage than one might think. Equally fascinating is Mike Carr's foreword to the Monster Manual, dated September 27, 1977. He begins by saying:
It is with a certain amount of pride that we at TSR bring you this second part of the new DUNGEONS & DRAGONS releases, the long-awaited MONSTER MANUAL for ADVANCED D & D. We are doubly proud of the format of this book -- i.e., its special hard cover, a "first" in the gaming world and another step in our continuing quest for top quality products.
It's remarkable to remember that, not only were the AD&D rulebooks, starting with the Monster Manual, the first hardcover gaming products I ever saw, they were, for a very long time, the only hardcover gaming products I ever saw. Nearly every other RPG product I bought either came in a box or were softcovers -- including other D&D products. In fact, I'm honestly not sure what the first non-AD&D hardcover RPG book I ever saw was. The Traveller Book perhaps?

Carr goes on in his foreword to take a few shots at other RPGs.
The success of DUNGEONS & DRAGONS has spawned a considerable number of imitations and spin-off products, perhaps inevitably. Some of these have merit; many, however, do not -- and although we may concede their right to exist (however dependent they may be on D & D's audience), we caution the prospective buyer to consider their true value and not to be confused with those items which bear the DUNGEOND & DRAGONS or ADVANCED DUNGEONS & DRAGONS name and constitute the official D & D family of products. As for value, let the others be measured against the standard of quality we have striven for -- a hardbound encyclopedia of monsters, for instance, as opposed to a low quality collection which is poorly assembled and bound.
Now, I can't say there's anything surprising in the paragraph above. It's boilerplate TSR denigration of its competition, but what is surprising is that it wasn't Gary Gygax who was writing this and that it occurred so early in the hobby's history. People more knowledgeable in the early days of the hobby than I will no doubt be able to provide some context for Carr's comments. Was this around the time of the disputes with Dave Hargrave over his "vacuous grimoire?" Or was there some other controversy that spurred this on?

39 comments:

  1. I'll have to dig out my copy of Schick's "Heroic Worlds" to see what else was out at the time in the fantasy market besides... RQ and T&T? Arduin? This has me curious. As for the attitude -- blech. Brings back bad memories.

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  2. Fletcher VredenburghApril 5, 2012 at 10:39 AM

    Always found the superior attitude annoying.  And it did nothing to discourage me from using "cool" monsters from Arduin or "All the World's Monsters".

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  3. Not only were they the only hard covers, they were extremely well made hard covers; so that they have withstood heavy use for decades.  Compare this to the orange spine books TSR made later where the glued bindings came apart in less than a year of heavy use.

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  4. I know Traveller, and Dragonlance had hardcovers in the early 80s. Did Runequest 2nd edition have a hardcover release at one point?

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  5.  Yes, it did. Second edition, I think.  (There were GW hardbacks of 3E, too, but much later.) Always wished I had snagged a copy.

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  6. Roger Giner-SorollaApril 5, 2012 at 10:54 AM

    It has the tone of an old-timey patent medicine pitch. "Accept no substitutes! For Dr. Gygax's Elixir in its methods and ingredients of manufacture stands head high among the common throng of inferior quackery" etc. Carr picked up the house style, as it were, pretty handily.

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  7.  The Dragonlance hardcover was *much* later -- around 1986 or 1987, if I recall.

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  8. Yes, there was a second edition RQ hardcover -- it had a red cover -- but I honestly don't know how widespread it was. Most of the copies of 2e I encountered back then were softcovers that came in the boxed set.

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  9. Absolutely! The original AD&D hardcovers were extremely well made. As I recall, they used textbook-style bindings. I have my original three and they're as sturdy today as they were the day I bought them.

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  10. Surprising to me to that the snarking at competition started this early on.
    Having said that - for those interested in futures trading - Carr had a remarkable career for a game designer. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mike_Carr_(game_designer)

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  11. Markku SilvennoinenApril 5, 2012 at 11:19 AM

    Yes it did, and apart from the dust jacket, my 1980 RQ hardcover is still in good condition.

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  12. He does sound a bit snobbish, but didn't a lot of the rival products borrowed quite a lot from the big Ds?

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  13. The MM introduction was just full of interesting stuff.  My favorite nugget was the explanation of magic resistance in the explanatory notes, particularly the section on magic resistance. 
    "Note also that the magic resistance of a creature has an effect on certain existing spells such as hold portal, where it indicates the probability of the magic resistance shattering the existing spell."

    Hmm, spells such as Hold Portal might shatter in the presence of certain monsters such as, say, type VI demons?  Sounds familiar!  I'd say that while Gygax might not have cared for the Lord of the Rings, whoever wrote those explanatory notes for the MM probably had it in mind.  I must have read that a dozen times before I ever noticed it.

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  14. Like others in this thread, I always found the competition-trashing in some of the older D&D books really off-putting. (Although of course, plenty of other RPGs over the years snarked at other games in an equally off-putting way.)

    I wasn't playing D&D in the very earliest days, but I don't know anybody in my gaming circles who has ever confined themselves to "official" products only for reasons for brand snobbery. (Of course, some "unofficial"/third-party products that had a reputation for poor quality were avoided.) But that's part of why this foreword feels disingenuous to me--I have a hard time believing that its author actually believed it. Surely he was an active gamer who did what everybody else did: grab cool pieces from every game-able source they could get their hands on?

    Or maybe attitudes about this were different in the late 70s?

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  15. The second part of the new D&D releases? Surely the MM was the first?

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    1. I'm pretty sure the first part is the Holmes Basic Set.

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    2. Ah, of course. Must have had the old AD&D blinkers on!

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  16. I too had a copy of the 2nd ed. Runequest hardbound with the red cover. I can't say I remember it being available at the FLGS but my memory is  pretty hazy on that. I think I might have purchased my copy directly from Chaosium at a convention.

    As to which was available first, The Traveller Book or RQ, I really don't remember. I think they were around the same time though, 1982 perhaps?

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  17. Rob's right that Dragonquest (not Dragonlance) was a hardcover release...I've got a copy of that one, myself.  Damned if I can remember what year it was (and it's pretty deep in the crates for me to dig it out.)

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  18.  I never knew DQ was in hardcover. How intriguing...

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  19. Bah, misread there. When was this hardcover DQ book released? I only ever saw the boxed set and the later softcover.

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  20. Now you guys are making me doubt what I think I own.  ;)


    Here's an image of the book I own:  http://rpggeek.com/image/550840/dragonquest-rulebook-2nd-edition
    And this link says that it came out in 1981.  It feels like something I might have bought in '82...(I note that some websites list this cover as being for a softcover, but I remember it being the same type of book as the MM/PH/DMG...)

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  21. I believe that's a shot at "All the Word's Monsters" from Chaosium, which was looseleaf, hole-punched and bound with brass brads.

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  22. Aha! Thank you for the insight into this. That makes a great deal of sense, now that you've said it.

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  23. From digging around online, I have discovered that, yes, there was indeed a DQ hardcover published in 1981. Until now, I'd never heard of it. I own the 1st edition boxed set and I read the 2nd edition Bantam paperback edition, so I simply assumed they were the only versions of the game to exist.

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  24. Only the MM and the first three printings of the PHB received the high quality treatment most obvious for the rough textured covers and very thick paper.

    The DMG never received the high quality treatment.

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  25. Note that this is a legacy from OD&D which both had Balrogs as a monster and actually had that language in the Hold Portal description itself. (Gygax's later stiff-arming of LOTR was quite the case of protestething to much.)

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  26. Hey speaking of DQ does anyone know where van get a cheap (preferably PDF) copy of the core. DQ book and/or that Forgotten Realms module that included rules for runnig it in both AD&D and DQ rules? (I don't remember the name of the module)

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  27. All credit to AD&D for being the first with hardcovers.  If I thought TSR's slagging of other RPGs looked a little petty at the time, it looks even more unbecoming with 30+ years of hindsight.

    Dragonquest (SPI) was actually published in both a hardcover and a boxed set edition several years before the Traveller Book, as well as a later second edition softcover.  The hardcover came out about 1981-82 IIRC.  Of course, SPI died about 1982, so that's not surprising.

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  28. Another hardcover I remember was that "Fantasy Wargaming" book, but I think that came out in 1982.

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  29.  Mine lasted several decades and despite somehow ending up bent under a bed was still intact and readable. I wish more gaming books were as good for the $43 adjusted dollars that was spent on it.

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  30. 1981, according to this site : http://www.zimlab.com/dq/dqidx20.htm

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  31. Only 2nd Edition Dragonquest had a hardcover edition; it was released in 1981.

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  32.  1981.

    The 1st edition was a boxed set of softback books, then came a revised 2nd edition in hardback.

    Subsequently of course there was the 3rd edition softback by TSR.

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  33. This new format for comments kinda stinks. It doesn't load all the comments at one time, and then the text is gold? It feels like I'm staring into the sun after I read a few of these. 

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  34. In a way, doesn't it make more sense to read this sort of criticism in the hobby's earliest days -- when companies were competing on shared generic/mechanical grounds for a small number of buyers -- than during the 80s, when the market for RPGs was starting to spread out across genres and styles?

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  35. The sniping at unauthorized D&D products actually dates from the late '70s. I'd trace it to an editorial from Gygax himself in an old issue of The Dragon, called "The View from the End of the Telescope Wondering Which End is Which" (http://index.rpg.net/display-entry.phtml?articleid=20222).

    What I recall as more obnoxious than the criticism of "inferior products" was that editorial's assertion that any deviation from the official rules, be it self-created or taken from one of the unauthorized supplements, effectively made one's game an "inferior product" -- A "leave this to the professionals" stance that I felt was at odds with the spirit of the game, and definitely had the opposite of Gygax's intended effect so far as I was concerned.

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  36.  Ah, that makes sense.  OD&D was before my time, so I didn't realise that text was grandfathered in.

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  37. As someone who has the 1981 hardback and gamed with it I can wholeheartedly say that it is (imo) the most poorly organised set of rpg rules I've come across. - It's absolutely atrocious :)

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