Mearls was talking on Twitter about 1E.
Mearls said:At Gary Con, I had the chance to play AD&D with @lukegygax and I’m struggling to capture exactly why it was such a profound experience. On the face of it, it was a well run dungeon crawl cut from the raw stuff of the game’s earliest days.
But there was something else at work. AD&D worked in part because the entire game is one, giant puzzle. Everything is just out of conceptual reach. The rulebooks themselves are dungeons to explore, treasures hidden here and there.
The game and its approach to the dungeon crawl isn’t about story, or world building, or any of the concepts that have grown around D&D over the years. The game dwells at the edge of perception, its lack of definition its defining trait.
Within that ethereal space, the game comes to life. The experience unfolds in a dream-like state, everything in doubt until it unfolds, and even then often leaving little meaning to those who did not experience it firsthand.
I could tell you that I played a fighter of middling ability, that we were ambushed by orcs, defeated an evil priest and his trogolodytes, and overcame an ogre. Our half-orc fighter was killed by that last threat.
But that doesn’t really capture it. I’d say we went to a strange place of twisting corridors, where danger and death lurked around every corner, where battering down a door to find an empty room brought a mix of relief and disappointment.
That still doesn’t do it justice. It’s like trying to explain why it’s fun to be terrified by a well done horror movie. It makes no sense, but there we are, queuing up The Exorcist again for the umpteenth time.
There is definitely an alchemy to making an AD&D dungeon crawl - yes, with mapping - work. Going into it looking for a clear understanding, with an eye toward disassembling it, is the surest way to spoil it.
Yet that doesn’t stop me from thinking about it, and wondering why it is that counting off squares and sketching a map - Yes, there must be a secret chamber HERE! - was so satisfying.
My friend Pat pointed to a Joseph Campbell lecture I’m going to listen to in order to help untangle this. The lesson here is that it is smart to surround yourself with friends who are smarter than you.