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D&D General And You May Ask Yourself- How do I play D&D? Commercialization and the Closing of OD&D

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
I switch arms every pint in an attempt to not get huge tennis arm on my pint drinking side.

There's another solution ...

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David Howery

Adventurer
The first attempt was the 1977 Holmes Basic Set, which for some reason is probably the most obscure of all D&D editions.
Is that the one with the 'blue book' manual? That was my first foray into D&D, figured out later about AD&D and it being a separate game and all. The book only covered PCs up to level 3 though.
I tried reading the PHB and DMG, and I have to say they are still really esoteric tomes that remained very much incomprehensible to me,
uh... really? While I agree that the books were rather chaotic and unclear in details in places, I never had any problems understanding just how the game was supposed to work. Later editions definitely did a better job of organizing it all...
 


Yora

Legend
Coming back to the thought that D&D originally started as a GM toolkit and AD&D was the fully packaged game. From what I remember, in the early days when OSR started to become a thing, there was a very strong presence, or even focus of AD&D 1st edition. OSRIC was one of the first big retroclones, created with intention to make the AD&D rules easily available again. (Very much like OSE is doing now with B/X.)
But according to my perception and recollection, in that initial AD&D revivial movement, you also saw the appearance of what the you could call "the old-school modding community". That group (which I think got much more attention in the long run) soon was all about B/X, because it's just as hackable as OD&D, with a tidier organization. New AD&D material was important for people who wanted more AD&D, but, in my subjective perception, the B/X fans were into B/X because they wanted to turn it into new and original things. If you know anything about videogame mods and fan-game, B/X is like Half-Life. :p
And I think it's interesting that you pretty much universally see new crazy stuff based on 1981 B/X, but pretty much nothing on 1983 BECMI. BECMI basically includes B/X, but with a lot of additional material added to it, particularly for higher levels. The crowd that is interested in D&D as a toolkit, BECMI seems to have no appeal.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
And I think it's interesting that you pretty much universally see new crazy stuff based on 1981 B/X, but pretty much nothing on 1983 BECMI. BECMI basically includes B/X, but with a lot of additional material added to it, particularly for higher levels. The crowd that is interested in D&D as a toolkit, BECMI seems to have no appeal.

There are numerous very small changes between B/X and BECMI (everything from natural healing to saving throws), but I think two things factor into that-

1. Moldvay and Cook have really aged well in terms of how people view them as designers.

2. B/X was not written with the possible immortal (36+) level design- at most, there was a possible companion. So it doesn't have the insanely bad thief tables. Seriously, thieves not only get messed up by the small changes (like losing two-handed weapon, which is understandable), but their abilities at most playing levels become nearly useless.
 

Willie the Duck

Adventurer
Full disclosure: I started with an unholy amalgam of BX, BECMI, and parts of 1e that we cobbled together with little regard for any contradictions. So I have a love of both BX and BECMI for nostalgic reasons.

Even beyond the thief abilities and immortal rules, BECMI's 1-36 setup seems to be a whole lot of empty space looking for purpose. Once you hit name level, a lot of things really plateau (even with the additional skill and weapon mastery and similar subsystems, you mostly just get more of the same). Spellcasters keep changing until the get Cleric 7th and Magic User 9th level spells in the upper teens, but after that there's a whole bunch of white space that seems to be there to hit some number that made sense to Gary and Mentzer numerologically (be it 6x6=36, or just a level 1-3 basic set and then 11-level books after that).

All of TSR D&D suffered from the issue that many-to-most people didn't end up wanting to retire their character* or settle down and lead a castle, army, or nation when they hit name level, yet the developers never figured out what else specifically to do otherwise. BECMI just suffers the most in that it has 26-27 actual (more well-defined than, say AD&D) levels to go at that point (plus the whole demihumans have level limits... but then kinda sorta get to keep advancing in weird totally-not-levels, which makes the whole thing look extra making-it-up-as-you-go-along).
*although many a campaign did collapse at about this point

Personally I like some parts of BECMI like the idea of domain rules, weapon mastery, the eventual (Gazetteer driven) skill system, and the whole quest for immortality thing. Thing is, the implementations of most of those is nothing special, by OSR standards, so I'd rather see someone else's take on such things. Worlds Without Number does domains and social groups and such better, Beyond the Wall does skills better (both are super simple, but if you want to keep advancing in a skill you get a +2 per skill point put into it, rather than the glacial +1 per 4 levels BECMI had). Most OSR combat rebuilds are more balanced (and boy howdy easier to read than that chart in the Masters rulebook or RC) than the weapon mastery rules.
 

Your essay and this article have been going around and around in my head for a bit, chasing each other. At odds is the idea that commercialization was inherently a bad thing for D&D. D&D is more popular than ever, and inspiring more people than ever. And not just to play it, but to hack it, take it places not intended (I'm reminded of the person that used the D&D Next rules to run a Downton Abbey campaign). And even if you don't do any of your own customization of the game, it's still inspiring people's art and creativity. People make art, music, cocktails, stories, and more inspired by D&D. Even if you run a bog-standard fantasy world, you're still creating.

Yes, D&D was raw and broken when it first came on the scene, and inspired people by dint of people needing to do their own game design to get it running. But as you said, it's never stopped inspiring people and acting as a toolkit. I get that it's also important to support indie RPGs, but contrary to what that article says, D&D still continues to bring joy and inspire.

But the echoes of the original debates continued on, because D&D had never closed. People kept treating it both as a commercial product, and as a toolkit. As bizarre as that seems to some (it's both a desert topping AND a floor wax!), that's the history of the product. The product continues to be both a highly commercial product demanding standardization, as well as a malleable product amenable to customization. Whether that makes it a good product at either of those is usually an exercise left for the individual gamer.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Your essay and this article have been going around and around in my head for a bit, chasing each other. At odds is the idea that commercialization was inherently a bad thing for D&D. D&D is more popular than ever, and inspiring more people than ever. And not just to play it, but to hack it, take it places not intended (I'm reminded of the person that used the D&D Next rules to run a Downton Abbey campaign). And even if you don't do any of your own customization of the game, it's still inspiring people's art and creativity. People make art, music, cocktails, stories, and more inspired by D&D. Even if you run a bog-standard fantasy world, you're still creating.

Yes, D&D was raw and broken when it first came on the scene, and inspired people by dint of people needing to do their own game design to get it running. But as you said, it's never stopped inspiring people and acting as a toolkit. I get that it's also important to support indie RPGs, but contrary to what that article says, D&D still continues to bring joy and inspire.

To be clear- I don't think commercialization is a bad thing!

The obvious benefits include, for example, the fact that it can spread to a much, larger audience. I am truly grateful that D&D maintains those norms that include using it a toolkit, and I am always amazed and impressed with what the people are doing today- the only way for a game to truly be evergreen is for each generation to make it their own.
 


Oh no, I didn't think so - in that regards I was talking more about the Jacobin article. Indeed, without commercialization, D&D as we know it might not even exist. The argument of the Jacobin is dangerously close to "kids today don't know what real D&D."

To be clear- I don't think commercialization is a bad thing!

The obvious benefits include, for example, the fact that it can spread to a much, larger audience. I am truly grateful that D&D maintains those norms that include using it a toolkit, and I am always amazed and impressed with what the people are doing today- the only way for a game to truly be evergreen is for each generation to make it their own.
 

Oh no, I didn't think so - in that regards I was talking more about the Jacobin article. Indeed, without commercialization, D&D as we know it might not even exist. The argument of the Jacobin is dangerously close to "kids today don't know what real D&D."
Yeah, I think that author missed the mark a good bit.

D&D and TTRPGs in general relied on commercialization to spread as widely as they have. And, especially in the wake of the OGL, the games ARE free for players to control and create and share.

The whole OSR and indie RPG movements stand in testimony both to the existence of a thriving ecosystem of amateur writers, designers, and artists, and to the limitations of that movement and how it benefits from the existence of a big commercial form which drives the tide and lifts all boats.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Oh no, I didn't think so - in that regards I was talking more about the Jacobin article. Indeed, without commercialization, D&D as we know it might not even exist. The argument of the Jacobin is dangerously close to "kids today don't know what real D&D."

I mean, in fairness, unless you've walked 10 miles in a snowstorm, uphill, just so you can play a first level MU with 2 hit points, that gets killed in the first combat by a kobold with a dull butter knife before you get off your single spell ... and then have to walk 10 miles back (also uphill, because physics worked differently back then) in that same snowstorm ...

Have you really played D&D?
 

Voadam

Legend
I mean, in fairness, unless you've walked 10 miles in a snowstorm, uphill, just so you can play a first level MU with 2 hit points, that gets killed in the first combat by a kobold with a dull butter knife before you get off your single spell ... and then have to walk 10 miles back (also uphill, because physics worked differently back then) in that same snowstorm ...

Have you really played D&D?
Over a multi-miles slog you go up and down over multiple hills, so of course there is uphill both ways. The epic scope just makes the past seem like it worked on different physics when taken out of context.
 

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