Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Second Comes Right After First

I sometimes call Gary "Jake" Jaquet one of the "forgotten" figures of the hobby's early days. Whereas everyone remembers that Tim Kask was the first editor of TSR's Dragon magazine, how many people can name the second? Likewise, everyone remembers that James M. Ward worked on Gamma World, but how many recall that he didn't work on it alone? Under Jaquet's editorship, Dragon not only lost its definite article but also saw its circulation increase from 10,000 in 1980 to more than 70,000 by 1982. Likewise, Gamma World has remained perhaps the second most successful RPG produced by TSR, with a new edition of the game having been produced as recently as 2010. While neither of these accomplishments can be solely attributed to Jaquet's involvement, neither is it coincidental. 

I mention Jaquet because he is the subject of an extensive, three-part interview in the early issues of Polyhedron. Like the interview with Gary Gygax, it's a wide-ranging one that covers an enormous number of topics. Jaquet's answers are thoughtful and occasionally striking, such as what he says on the subject of the Dungeons & Dragons versus Advanced Dungeons & Dragons in issue #6 (June 1982).

The matter of how much AD&D differs from D&D was a matter of much contention in the period leading up to the 1981 resolution of the lawsuits brought by Dave Arneson. TSR and its various spokesmen, most prominently Gary Gygax, emphasized this difference, in part, I suspect, to bolster its legal defense against Arneson. 

Based on this interview, Jaquet would seem to have agreed that D&D and AD&D were distinct, but his reasons for doing so were quite different. He seems to have adopted a more positive, less critical version of Gygax's famous "D&D has turned into a non-game" stance. In Jaquet's version, D&D, which is to say OD&D, is less "constrained by an author's point or rule or chart." He imagines a circumstance, while playing AD&D, where a player can "just pull out the DMG and say, "Right here on page 157 it says you can't do that." He then notes that "in D&D games you CAN do that, because that rule doesn't exist ... it's up to the DM to make that determination."

Now, in my experience, most people played AD&D much like the way Jaquet describes playing OD&D. For example, I knew very few people, back in the day, who understood, let alone used, AD&D's initiative system, instead substituting a simpler one derived from OD&D (or even Holmes). There are many other AD&D rules that were rarely, if ever, used, like weapon versus armor class modifiers  or speed factors. According to strict principles, such as those employed in the RPGA, these people weren't playing AD&D at all. If so, I doubt I've ever met anyone who's played Advanced Dungeons & Dragons.

Jaquet says something else I find interesting. He acknowledges that an OD&D referee who has been running a campaign for a long time will undoubtedly have established his own house rules, interpretations, and additions to the game that might, "in terms of bulk," be every bit as immense as the entirety of AD&D's rules. The difference, of course, is that they will be his rules and will have developed as a consequence of play. I find this approach most congenial and am heartened to see that Gary Jaquet felt similarly. 


  1. There is another early, ubiquitous source of simple combat rules in the back of the Players Handbook, pp. 104-5. I think that whole back section of the PHB, pp. 100-9, is worth revisiting. I sometimes call it (only half-ironically) MY favorite “Basic D&D!”

  2. I just re-read my Moldvay rules on initiative: each side rolls a d6, high roll wins. One side acts, then the other. This naturally comes across as very war-gamey given D&D’s roots. Interestingly, the text states that in the event of a tie, both sides could be killed in simultaneous combat. The optional rule is how most of have always played – individual initiative with a Dex bonus.

    Under the ordinary initiative as written, a party could First Strike a monster or group of monsters wiping them out!

  3. Jake also wrote "The Search for the Forbidden Chamber" (published in The Dragon #1 and #2) which I've always felt might be one of the best "fly-on-the-wall" versions of an actual-play D&D game from the mid-1970s.

  4. If AD&D is the system that constrains you, presumably to avoid mistakes, D&D appears to be a system for more skilled DMs who can handle a less-restrictive game.

  5. Even as 12-year-olds playing D&D deep in the woods of Northern Virginia (to avoid older brothers who would fiendishly beat you), we largely avoided initiative(s) diceplay in favor of good old fashioned common-sense first-strike or dreadful-calamity rhythms. Later we called it The Left Hand Dwarf: always good to have a left-handed warrior on the left side of the party for those skulking tunnel crawls.

    Common sense kept it all moving. Plus, rolling dice in the woods tends to lead to losing your dice in the woods.