D&D 1E Mearls on AD&D 1E

Bunker

Hero
Mearls was talking on Twitter about 1E.

https://twitter.com/mikemearls/status/974552386109763584

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.
 

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Guest 6801328

Guest
Can't wait to read all the responses elaborating on why Mearles is completely wrong, wrong, wrong and more wrong.

(Just kidding...I can definitely wait.)
 

Arilyn

Hero
Can't wait to read all the responses elaborating on why Mearles is completely wrong, wrong, wrong and more wrong.

(Just kidding...I can definitely wait.)

Of course he's wrong, cause I personally hate this style, so you should too!

Honestly, this kind of play does make my eyes glaze over, but that's why it's great we have so many different kinds of games and styles these days. Tribalism in our little community is ridiculous.
 


iserith

Magic Wordsmith
A dungeon crawl works because it's an archetypal story. Run well (and played well) it hits on something that resonates with our very nature. You start out, probably, with nothing. You journey into the underworld on a quest to overcome monsters and take their gold and bring it back to share with others. The character is reborn into something more powerful than it was before in the doing. If it ends well, it's a comedy. If it ends badly, it's a tragedy.

Those are all archetypes deeply rooted in our psyche. So OF COURSE it's profound. It's not about the game system at all, though the better the system is at helping generate and support such stories, the better it is in my view.
 


jgsugden

Legend
The only surprise here is his surprise. AD&D lacked structure, allowing for a more abstract and open games. Hunting for rules in AD&D created the atmosphere of rules lawyers that turned abstract hidden lines of text into an advantage their PC could abuse.

What surprises me is that 5E seemed like an intentional move from the abundance of structure in 4E back towards the lesser structure we saw in 3E, but even that is far more structured than AD&D. There are fewer 'hidden rules' than in AD&D, but there are still a lot more areas of the game (vision, stealth, diplomacy) where the DM has to decide how to adjudicate the game rather than look for the exact ruling on what they should do.
 


Can't wait to read all the responses elaborating on why Mearles is completely wrong, wrong, wrong and more wrong.
Whatever some of us may think of his design chops, agenda, or style, his love of the game is apparent.

That hit me right in the nostalgia. :(
That's the main thing, definitely, nostalgia shades our perceptions in wonderful ways, sometimes. When they said "you can't go home again" (ie, you can never recapture the wonder of childhood) they reckoned without 1e AD&D. ;)

Mearls certainly managed some 140-character heartfelt near-prose-poems, there. I mean, I despise twitter in general, but reading that, I felt something, genuinely.

That he is essentially talking about the game being a chaotic, unplayable mess, if viewed as a mere game without the experience of having played it back in the day, in no way diminishes that.
 

THIS is exactly how I feel when I'm playing B/X or AD&D.

Its not just about nostalgia. Its about the game is really a puzzle. The dungeon crawl is a real tactile experience that has to be considered and interacted with. It doesn't run everything down to a die roll. You don't beat the dungeon by having an optimized character or the highest perception skill. There is no mechanical element to fallback on, instead you have to engage in the game directly.
 

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Guest 6801328

Guest
That's the main thing, definitely, nostalgia shades our perceptions in wonderful ways, sometimes. When they said "you can't go home again" (ie, you can never recapture the wonder of childhood) they reckoned without 1e AD&D. ;)

Mearls certainly managed some 140-character heartfelt near-prose-poems, there. I mean, I despise twitter in general, but reading that, I felt something, genuinely.

That he is essentially talking about the game being a chaotic, unplayable mess, if viewed as a mere game without the experience of having played it back in the day, in no way diminishes that.

I know one of your frequent talking points is that love for 1e is just "nostalgia", but Mearls isn't just reminiscing about 1e, he actually played it and apparently had a transcendent experience doing so.

Are you writing that off as nostalgia as well? If so, then by what evidence would you accept that some people actually enjoy 1e? Or is all possible evidence automatically just nostalgia? To me that belongs in a category "If you deny the conspiracy then you much be part of it."
 

If so, then by what evidence would you accept that some people actually enjoy 1e?
Dude, I enjoy 1e.

And, yeah, I accept that nostaligia's the main reason. When you're old, enjoying something you did as a teenager, you gotta be open to the possibility that's a big part of it. When the kids, having to listen to you wax rhapsodic about all the honestly-not-nostalgic reasons it's better than the modern alternatives, start to roll their eyes and just nod & agree with everything you say, it's been confirmed. ;)

"Oh, sure, Tony, I totally see how Harryhausen's jerky stop-motion animation is so artistically superior to Avatar, yeah... "
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
I know one of your frequent talking points is that love for 1e is just "nostalgia", but Mearls isn't just reminiscing about 1e, he actually played it and apparently had a transcendent experience doing so.

I wouldn't say that was because of the system, but the setting and the adventure content (as I explain above). I think that's backed up by his friend's recommendation of Joseph Campbell.
 

G

Guest 6801328

Guest
Dude, I enjoy 1e.

And, yeah, I accept that nostaligia's the main reason. When you're old, enjoying something you did as a teenager, you gotta be open to the possibility that's a big part of it. When the kids, having to listen to you wax rhapsodic about all the honestly-not-nostalgic reasons it's better than the modern alternatives, start to roll their eyes and just nod & agree with everything you say, it's been confirmed. ;)

"Oh, sure, Tony, I totally see how Harryhausen's jerky stop-motion animation is so artistically superior to Avatar, yeah... "

So if we could find somebody younger than 30 who tries 1e and loves it, would you be willing to accept that there is something to love that has nothing to do with nostalgia?

Maybe somebody who had never tried 1e was in that game with Mearls....
 

happyhermit

Adventurer
So if we could find somebody younger than 30 who tries 1e and loves it, would you be willing to accept that there is something to love that has nothing to do with nostalgia?

Maybe somebody who had never tried 1e was in that game with Mearls....

IME, no, it would just get explained away as an aberration or "nostalgia for a thing you never got to experience."
 

So if we could find somebody younger than 30 who tries 1e and loves it, would you be willing to accept that there is something to love that has nothing to do with nostalgia?
Hey, there's edge cases for everything. But, if he played with a bunch of guys who were tripping the whole nostalgia deal, it could as well have been a nostalgia-contact high. ;P

I know my posting style runs pretty cranky-old-man, but I was actually expressing a positive impression of what Mearls had to say. Thanks for challenging me on it. I'll try to live up to the expectation of unalloyed negativity, next time.
 

TwoSix

Unserious gamer
I know one of your frequent talking points is that love for 1e is just "nostalgia", but Mearls isn't just reminiscing about 1e, he actually played it and apparently had a transcendent experience doing so.

Are you writing that off as nostalgia as well? If so, then by what evidence would you accept that some people actually enjoy 1e? Or is all possible evidence automatically just nostalgia? To me that belongs in a category "If you deny the conspiracy then you much be part of it."
I can accept that the limited nature and problem solving experience of a dungeon crawl is very much a different kind of game than the adventure path or sandbox gaming that's more prevalent today. I think it sounds pretty fun.

I'm not willing to accept that the vague and difficult to parse rules of 1E will somehow open my chakras to ephemeral wonders like I'm roleplaying a ayahuasca retreat.
 

I'm not willing to accept that the vague and difficult to parse rules of 1E will somehow open my chakras to ephemeral wonders like I'm roleplaying a ayahuasca retreat.
Sounds a fair analogy, to me. I mean, actually being on hallucinogens as an analogy for playing 1e, not RPing being on them. ;P

Seriously, though, there is something to the 90s "bad rules make good games" saw - and 5e reaches back to try to get some of the benefits without going all the way to just being willfully bad - if the players can't trust the rules to deliver a consistent experience, nor manipulate them to advantage, then they finally have no choice but to turn to the GM to get the best possible play experience. That kind of buy-in (and Empowerment, the aspect 5e has delivered so well), really can be a powerful tool to craft a great play experience, if you're up for the challenge. And it can be a blast (that's just the way it feels to me, I should come up with a better expression so I don't always sound like a broken record when gushing about DMing 5e) to run that way, when you get rolling. There's an 'in the zone' thing that can happen, and a session just crosses the line and becomes great, everyone leaves happy and talking about what happened, not bitching about what almost happened, or trying to figure out how to make their characters good enough to make something fun happen...


(..wait, you've got be being positive again! I mean, these games all suck, we all suck, yeah, it's a tragedy of cosmic proportions that anyone gets sucked into this black hole of a hobby...
... and get off my lawn!)
 

Zardnaar

Legend
I played 1E 2014 but I did not play it much back in the day as I was 10 years late. Still like it but prefer B/X.

1E at least has excuse for being the way it is. It's 40 years old.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
I can run a dungeon crawl in any edition of D&D and it will be just as compelling as Mearls describes. It's not the system.

Dungeons are more prep than, say, a plot-based adventure that takes place in a city which takes all of a couple of sentences (if that) to throw together. This is why I think dungeon adventures are not as common, at least in my experience. But a good dungeon delve is the easiest way to hit the archetypal story beats and people love archetypal stories, often for reasons they can't understand or properly articulate. Leading them, perhaps, to wonder whether the game was the thing that did it as Mearls seems to do.

I think he'll hit upon the truth once he watches that Joseph Cambell lecture.
 

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