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TSR A New Taxonomy for TSR-Era D&D

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
This came up in the discussion started by @Yora regarding the importance of Tracy Hickman. When I responded, I referred to a classification of TSR that I realized I had been using internally for some time, but I don't know that I had fully explained here before. Let me lay this out, first, by starting with the "normal" taxonomy of TSR.

1. Traditional, or Edition-Based Taxonomy.

I'm going to go through this quickly, since I'm sure most people here are at least somewhat familiar with the D&D editions. Normally, we refer to the different periods of D&D through the editions, or "versions" of the game. The main thing to remember about TSR is that, for the most part, it is all interchangeable. I don't want to go to overboard on this- the differences between OD&D in 1974 and late-edition 2e with kits are ... well, big! But the games, including the AD&D / Basic split, are largely interoperable, to the extent that it was simple to use OD&D modules for Basic characters, or Expert modules for 2e characters, and so on. I wrote a little about the interoperability previously.
With that said, the main "editions" during the TSR era are as follows:

OD&D Original D&D, the 1974 rules (and supplements and other materials) until the released of AD&D. (1974 - 1978)
AD&D Advanced Dungeons & Dragons; sometimes only referring to 1e, but also refers to 1e and 2e. (1978* - 2000)
1e First Edition of AD&D. (1978 - 1989)
2e Second Edition of AD&D. (1989 - 2000)
Holmes (1977) Strangely, Holmes Basic is NOT "Basic" D&D like Moldvay and Mentzer, but is OD&D. Specifically, it was supposed to be a codification, for beginners (a "basic" ruleset) of the OD&D rules, and ended up having a tacked-on introduction to 1e.
B/X (1981)This is the Basic and Expert sets put out by Moldvay (Basic) and Cook (Expert), so it's sometimes called Moldvay/Cook, or just Moldvay.
BECMI (1983) Also called Mentzer, this is the Basic, Expert, Companion, Master, and Immortals rules.
RC or R/C (1994) Referred to, confusingly, both ways, this is the Rules Cyclopedia that is BECM (no I) plus some additional material.

*Dates have to be approximate in some cases- for 1e, I went with the PHB date.

With those editions in mind, many people roughly separate the editions of D&D, and thus the eras of TSR, into:
Main Line
OD&D & Holmes Basic (1974-1978)
1e (1978-1989)
2e (1989 - 2000)

Basic Line
Moldvay (1981 - 1983)
Mentzer (1983 - 1994)
RC (1994 - 2000)

And that's definitely one way of looking at it! But the more conversations I have, the more I think about it, the more I hear about the experiences of other players, and the more I look at the products and the ethos of different times of TSR, the more I think that this isn't the best, or easiest, way to think about it.

And let's face it- TSR has been in the news recently. Well, a nasty and revivified rotting corpse called "TSR" that no one want around, but ... still.


2. Snarf's Stupendous Sorting System.

I propose sorting the TSR era into three separate times as follows:

1. 1974- 1984 Early D&D (aka, the Gygax Era)
This is the founding era, when the game evolved from OD&D to 1e. We have a certain unity of art, and it was the "classic" era look (Otus, Trampier, Dee). Moldvay and Cook still was more widespread than Mentzer (which was coming on strong, as it was published in 1983). The majority of the classic modules were pumped out, as well as some deeply weird stuff for the time (Barrier Peaks, the Wonderland modules, and so on).

2. 1985 - 1994 Modern 1e (aka, the Zeb era)
I would actually say that the real beginning of 2e started with a good book and a bad book (my judgment, not fact). OA by Zeb Cook, despite not aging well in many ways, introduced a lot of game concepts that would make their way into 2e, such as NWPs and dex-based melee characters (the 2e ranger). UA, by Gygax, was a cash-grab consisting of Dragon Magazine articles, that seriously unbalanced the game (this is a trend in the history of D&D). That said, concepts from it also continued on throughout D&D. Most importantly, this is the time period that we saw the ouster of Gygax from TSR, and a completely new direction in the art department- this is the time of Elmore, Easley, Parkinson, Caldwell, and so on. We began to see increased emphasis on settings (first with hardcover rulebooks, like GHA and DLA, and later with boxed sets). The expansive character options in UA later saw light again as player-facing kits, in various handbooks. Continued support of the Mentzer line and Gazetteers. Not to mention Planescape.

3. 1995 - 2000 The Decline (Emptying the Cupboard)
Finally, there's the end. How about reprinting all of the BECMI stuff as the RC? How about reprinting the PHB and DMG? People like those kits, right? How about we just give them all sorts of player options-combat, spells, whatever? I don't mean to demean the products that good people were producing (Birthright, for example, came out in 1995) but by this point, we are looking at 20 years of roughly the same mechanics, and a company that was circling the drain.

So why bother with this? In the immortal words of Jake, who continues to insist that Jonathan Archer is the bestest Star Fleet captain ever .... "WHY BOTHER WITH ANYTHING???? SCOTT BAKULA IS THE MAN!"

Those are some thoughts. Hopefully, this will be a non-dumpster fire TSR thread. I promise that no Michaels were harmed when writing this.


 

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Yora

Legend
For people really interested in the history, there's also a lot of important stuff happening in the pre-TSR era of Dave Arneson's Blackmoor campaign, which I believe he took over from a previous referee.
Though that's of course outside of the TSR which began when someone put Gygax in contact with Arneson to discuss the possibility of making a commercial product from the Blackmoor concept.
 

thirdkingdom

Adventurer
Publisher
In the taxonomies I have seen the progression goes OD&D---->Holmes------>BX---->BECMI and RC, with 1e and 2e branching off. From my understanding 1e was made partly to be legally distinct from the OD&D trajectory. Gygax got the AD&D path with Arneson getting B/X (which is why the Blackmoor modules were published for the B/X ruleset).
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
For people really interested in the history, there's also a lot of important stuff happening in the pre-TSR era of Dave Arneson's Blackmoor campaign, which I believe he took over from a previous referee.
Though that's of course outside of the TSR which began when someone put Gygax in contact with Arneson to discuss the possibility of making a commercial product from the Blackmoor concept.

Arneson played in David Wesley's campaign (Braunstein ... get it? Brownstien, Blackmoor, Greyhawk), and then used his play concepts for his own campaign.

Arneson already knew Gygax, as they had worked together on a prior project, Don't Give Up the Ship, which is why he reached out to him. The hobbyist world, back then, was small.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
In the taxonomies I have seen the progression goes OD&D---->Holmes------>BX---->BECMI and RC, with 1e and 2e branching off. From my understanding 1e was made partly to be legally distinct from the OD&D trajectory. Gygax got the AD&D path with Arneson getting B/X (which is why the Blackmoor modules were published for the B/X ruleset).

That's not quite right. The legal issues were a huge deal, but the legal issues are what led to the later creation of the B/X line (after the settlement). Modlvay is not based off of Holmes (race as class, etc.).

Gygax created the AD&D line and intended to pay no royalties for anything other than the original books, regardless of the rules. IIRC, the settlement resulted in a reduced royalty rate for the AD&D line, and there was another lawsuit over the MM2.
 



Stormonu

Legend
Every time I look, it seems like 2E came out later than I remembered.

The Rules Compendium is kinda sad when you consider that the point of BECMI was to get people into D&D, and then instead dump this into their lap and discontinue the starter sets. The later starter sets just never quite had the same pizzaz, even though the most recent one is really good. The B/X & more importantly B of the BECMI held your hand, but didn’t talk down to you, and encouraged you all at the same time.

Going backwards through my memories - if I can trust them - the big shift from the initial outset was noticeable when the 1E books got a facelift and suddenly a whole bunch of books got dumped into our laps - Unearthed Arcana, Dungeoneers, Oriental Adventures, Manual of the Planes, etc. The system went from “here’s the outline, do the rest yourself” to “we’ll do it for you (because we need the cash).”

Seems like when it got to the 12th book or so for AD&D, they realized they needed to clean up and tighten the system. Then promptly drove the whole kit and caboodle at 300 mph off the nearest cliff in a cocaine-induced frenzy from the cash influx the initial re-release gave them.

And just for the record, I would NEVER go back to playing 1E without UA sitting at my table. Though I’d just rather play 2E, honestly.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
And just for the record, I would NEVER go back to playing 1E without UA sitting at my table. Though I’d just rather play 2E, honestly.

I gave you a "like" because the rest of your comment is awesome, and also because I know your threat to play with UA sitting at your table is an empty one.

Because all the pages fell out ...
 
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Stormonu

Legend
I gave you a "like" because the rest of your comment is awesome, and also because I know your thread to play with UA sitting at your table is an empty one.

Because all the pages fell out ...
So true, sadly (for my friends - had three whose books fell to pieces). Strangely, the pages in mine never did fall out, though they’ve turned coffee brown for some reason. My book must be embalmed somehow.
 

Yora

Legend
What really surprised me was, IIRC, Rob Kuntz stating in another thread that Arneson made far more in royalties from D&D than Gygax ever did.

Which, you know, irony much?
I assume that would likely be because Arneson cashed out his share, while Gygax kept good amounts of his money in the company as funds for ongoing busines costs.
 

Yora

Legend
The B/X & more importantly B of the BECMI held your hand, but didn’t talk down to you, and encouraged you all at the same time.
Mentzer Basic is the only RPG I've ever seen that actually teaches the game instead of giving you a big pile of rules to figure out for yourself.

While that made the book a bit inconvenient for quickly looking stuff up later, I think in these days, every RPG should have at least a tutorial pdf that takes you through the basic procedures step by step.
 

Cadence

Legend
Supporter
Starting around 1981 or 82, in Rockford, IL, I played in a game that had been running at the neighborhood comic/record/book shop. The owner had played at cons with the TSR folks from pretty early on and ran a game that had from 8 to almost 20 people playing each night. In the beginning, some people had OD&D, some had B/X, and some had 1e and I'm not sure if anyone knew or cared who had what. As it went along it did turn more to using AD&D. I don't remember anymore when she stopped running it in the mid-80s.
 

GreyLord

Hero
In the taxonomies I have seen the progression goes OD&D---->Holmes------>BX---->BECMI and RC, with 1e and 2e branching off. From my understanding 1e was made partly to be legally distinct from the OD&D trajectory. Gygax got the AD&D path with Arneson getting B/X (which is why the Blackmoor modules were published for the B/X ruleset).

10 days later...

I'd say the current connections of D&D are closer to the BX and BECMI versions than AD&D. Many feel that D&D 3e was the next version of AD&D, but in my opinion, it heralded a LOT MORE from BECMI and BX.

You have the much more varied stat bonuses which were closer to what BECMI had than AD&D. All characters profited from an ability bonus rather than some being restricted to certain classes...and the bonuses did not have oddities attached (like percentile strength). Far closer to BECMI and BX. Feats and such were closer in connection in my opinion to weapon mastery and skill options from the Companion and Master lines.

So...to extend the progressions into the modern era I'd probably put it as...

_____________________ AD&D ---- 2e AD&D ----- 2.5 _____________4e
____________________ /________________________________\ __________/_____\
OD&D ---- Holmes ----- BX ---- BECMI ---- RC ---- 3e ----- 3.5 ---- 5e

With the more direct lines connected via the main line, and some inspirations (for example some spells, and obviously most of the classes of 3e being inspired by the AD&D line though some have nothing in common with the AD&D line) coming from the branches.
 

Yora

Legend
AD&D branched off several years before B/X came out. B/X is not an ancestor of AD&D.

Saying that 3rd edition is an evolution of RC rather than AD&D second edition is weird. All the races, classes, and spells have continuity between 2nd edition and 3rd.
 

Marc_C

Solitary Role Playing
Generally editions are grouped like this on old TSR D&D forums:

OD&D
Holmes (with some unique rules by Holmes and influences by Gygax writing AD&D at the same time).
-------------------
Classic D&D (B/X + BECMI + RC). There are purist like me who prefer B/X over BECMI. Many BECMI players don't understand this sentiment. "Why can't we be just one big happy Classic BECMI family?"
-------------------
1e
-------------------
2e (+2.1)

Many people played an hybrid version which included the 1e Monster Manual with OD&D or Holmes but did not used the 1e PHB or the DMG went they came out.

There is a definite grouping of pre-2e editions together and 2e (2.1) standing alone. Many old school players feel that with 2e AD&D lost its soul. I prefer 2e.

If you want some of the roots of 3e look at 2.1 Skills & Powers.
 
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Sacrosanct

Legend
Publisher
AD&D branched off several years before B/X came out. B/X is not an ancestor of AD&D.

Saying that 3rd edition is an evolution of RC rather than AD&D second edition is weird. All the races, classes, and spells have continuity between 2nd edition and 3rd.
Yeah, especially when you look at the PO books (or 2.5 as some people refer to them as). Clearly 3e was heavily influenced by those. I want to say there was an interview with Cook about the design of 2e, and he said, "Of course we thought about doing ascending AC in 2e, but we also wanted to keep all 2e stuff compatible with 1e since gamers had a ton of 1e stuff and we didn't want them to feel like it wasn't usable any longer."

So it seems a lot of major changes in 3e were at the very least on the drawing board from 2e/2.5
 


Marc_C

Solitary Role Playing
Which brings us back to how this conversation started. :)
Note that my AD&D group was doing epic arc story campaigns with 1e, before 2e came out. We read LOTR and wanted to replicate that. I suspect many other groups where doing that also. We never did hex crawl or murder hobo style. The Dragon Lance novels only reinforced what we were already doing before they came out.
 

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