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D&D General On Powerful Classes, 1e, and why the Original Gygaxian Gatekeeping Failed


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Hind sight is 20/20. We had only 1 game from Arneson to digest the system. then his notes, typed, and then we went gonzo on it, with it in the playtests. The rules, 10 pages to start, grew in the backwash of the playtests, page by page. Normally rules are fashioned up front and then playtested, but not in this case as we had to re-emulate what Arneson and his group had attained in over 1 year of playing BM; and Gary decided on a more "progression" styled advance for Characters. This defined the system in all ways thereafter, warts and all. It is obviously styled on the old systems of linear progression and it works. Is it realistic? Well, no. It's an abstraction of what we say is Fantasy because Fantasy has no concrete data and history like simulation games do. That Gary carried it forth to AD&D is impressive; and he admitted that the rules (OD&D) were likely unfinished but that the concept had to get out there, he felt, in order to finish them. This concept had never before existed in systems/published games. That is the biggest context and to dismiss its generative days as flawed is quite preposterous. Kinda like saying that, by today's standards. that the Model-T Ford was flawed compared to a Mustang.
Well, it would be silly to call it 'flawed' in any case, lol. It was/is a game and the only flaw it could possibly have would be "this is not fun." Nobody has ever accused D&D of that (well, maybe they have, but you cannot please everyone). It was really a pretty mind-bending concept. Even at age 11 I was a wargamer. I 'got' games, but when I just HEARD THE IDEA of D&D it was like learning that you are really a Martian, nothing I ever assumed about games in my young life could really be applied anymore. It might not have been TOTALLY revolutionary to a guy like Dave, who was versed in Braunsteins and such, but it sure was eye-opening to the rest of us, probably to Gary too the first time he heard about it. And the thing is, conceptually it seems like such a simple idea too, but it isn't really.

While I think Gary was more of a "document what I did" vs "come up with a set of principles and devise rules around it" sort of game designer, he did have some unique insights of his own. The whole thing about the progression was utterly critical. I've said many times this was the single key reason for the success of D&D over the years. It sucks you in, it invites you to keep trying to attain further levels. Every computer game designer ever knows this paradigm. You can make a good RPG without it, but not one single one of those games has ever been 1/10th as popular as D&D. It takes a lot of savvy to hit on that fundamental mechanic and GET IT EXACTLY RIGHT the first time around. I mean, people can argue about XP charts or whatever, but the basic power curve of 5e is pretty darn similar to OD&D, that says something.
 

No, it's just the first alternative listed (the default is 3d6 in order). But in fairness, it's the first one listed and by far the easiest so it makes sense that it became the de facto method of rolling.

Method II was to roll 3d6 12 times and keep the 6 best scores.
Method III was ... oh boy .... roll 3d6 in order for each ability, except you got to roll 6 times and keep the highest score.
Method IV was to to roll up 12 characters by rolling 3d6 in order, and keep the best character.
It is pretty ambiguous, as with most of AD&D... 'Roll 3d6 in order' is NEVER spelled out as a rule or procedure, nor even described. ALL of the 'METHODS' of the DMG are stated to be 'alternatives', but it is never stated what they are alternatives TO. The way it is phrased makes us understand in hindsight that it was that unspoken standard method, but it could as well be alternatives to each other, unless you already played OD&D/Basic and knew different. Someone brand new to D&D picking up the books would never know 'Roll 3d6 in order' ever existed as a rule, or was being compared with, just that there was some sort of 'rolling d6s' technique that wasn't so good. Even figuring that out would require careful reading.
 

Liane the Wayfarer

Frumious Flumph
I played a lot of AD&D back in the day. A lot. I think I was involved (as either player or DM) in almost 20 AD&D campaigns in college. And at every one of those, there was a homebrew method to shift characteristic points around. At one of the games I ran, I told players ahead of time I was going to run by the book, and forced all players to roll at the table using one of the methods, and just one character. And we had a table of fighters and (I think) one thief. The highest roll we had was one 16, in Charisma, but that character had a 6 Strength. So I relented, and eventually got the variety people wanted out of the game.
 
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Voadam

Legend
It is pretty ambiguous, as with most of AD&D... 'Roll 3d6 in order' is NEVER spelled out as a rule or procedure, nor even described. ALL of the 'METHODS' of the DMG are stated to be 'alternatives', but it is never stated what they are alternatives TO. The way it is phrased makes us understand in hindsight that it was that unspoken standard method, but it could as well be alternatives to each other, unless you already played OD&D/Basic and knew different. Someone brand new to D&D picking up the books would never know 'Roll 3d6 in order' ever existed as a rule, or was being compared with, just that there was some sort of 'rolling d6s' technique that wasn't so good. Even figuring that out would require careful reading.
The gnostic lore of AD&D. :)
 

Well, it would be silly to call it 'flawed' in any case, lol. It was/is a game and the only flaw it could possibly have would be "this is not fun." Nobody has ever accused D&D of that (well, maybe they have, but you cannot please everyone). It was really a pretty mind-bending concept. Even at age 11 I was a wargamer. I 'got' games, but when I just HEARD THE IDEA of D&D it was like learning that you are really a Martian, nothing I ever assumed about games in my young life could really be applied anymore. It might not have been TOTALLY revolutionary to a guy like Dave, who was versed in Braunsteins and such, but it sure was eye-opening to the rest of us, probably to Gary too the first time he heard about it. And the thing is, conceptually it seems like such a simple idea too, but it isn't really.

While I think Gary was more of a "document what I did" vs "come up with a set of principles and devise rules around it" sort of game designer, he did have some unique insights of his own. The whole thing about the progression was utterly critical. I've said many times this was the single key reason for the success of D&D over the years. It sucks you in, it invites you to keep trying to attain further levels. Every computer game designer ever knows this paradigm. You can make a good RPG without it, but not one single one of those games has ever been 1/10th as popular as D&D. It takes a lot of savvy to hit on that fundamental mechanic and GET IT EXACTLY RIGHT the first time around. I mean, people can argue about XP charts or whatever, but the basic power curve of 5e is pretty darn similar to OD&D, that says something.
The first time we (Gary, myself, Terry Kuntz and Ernie Gygax) heard about Dave's new concept has been detailed from start to finish in my relatively new publication, "The Game that Changed Everything" Sage's Tower (RPG History)

About the progression approach. It works. It also works to have you grow into a hero (or fail in the process). Once you retire with the golden watch you know you've earned it (if earned fairly, and there were those DMs that gave away the store's goods, so to speak, but their progeny (their PCs) were easy to spot due to their reckless play, etc.). Plus you are left with grand stories of then and now, no doubt as Conan would have repeated from his throne in Aquilonia, perhaps about those far removed days of him being a slave.

In all there's much to be grateful and happy for. Just like a car we drove it, as did thousands. Even though it's received many makeovers the object of just driving it still remains.
 
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guachi

Adventurer
A while ago I asked Frank Mentzer if he could go back and change one thing about BECMI, he said, "Going to level 36. It was too high. 20 level cap was more than enough."

Never purchased the Masters Set for this reason. Though I did crib the weapon mastery tables from the books of my best friend's parents.
 


mach1.9pants

Adventurer
Never purchased the Masters Set for this reason. Though I did crib the weapon mastery tables from the books of my best friend's parents.
The poor Thief was so screwed in BECMI, with the skills progression table ridiculously stretched out over 36 levels. To add insult, their XP requirement per name level was higher than all but the MU.
 

guachi

Adventurer
Well, it would be silly to call it 'flawed' in any case, lol. It was/is a game and the only flaw it could possibly have would be "this is not fun." Nobody has ever accused D&D of that (well, maybe they have, but you cannot please everyone). It was really a pretty mind-bending concept. Even at age 11 I was a wargamer. I 'got' games, but when I just HEARD THE IDEA of D&D it was like learning that you are really a Martian, nothing I ever assumed about games in my young life could really be applied anymore.

Friend introduced me to D&D at the age of 9 in 1983. I was and still am a wargaming fan but D&D was mindblowing. Nothing in my first game made a lick of sense. It was awesome.
 

Friend introduced me to D&D at the age of 9 in 1983. I was and still am a wargaming fan but D&D was mindblowing. Nothing in my first game made a lick of sense. It was awesome.
You know...I don't know which came first...playing Cordite and Steel or White Box D&D...I was playing both in '77. D&D was pretty mind blowing...met my best friend from bringing the rules to school...
 

David Howery

Adventurer
c. XP bonuses. Most classes had a prime requisite ability (for example, Clerics and wisdom). If the character had a certain score (such as 15) or higher, then the character got an additional bonus- 10% additional XP!
overlooked this one earlier. Ya know, I don't think a single DM who ran our games way back in my Ye Olde 1E Days ever did this. I know I certainly never got these extra XPs, and as anyone who ever played 1E could tell you, they were needed. Not sure just why all the DMs I knew decided this was not a rule to be used....
 


S'mon

Legend
overlooked this one earlier. Ya know, I don't think a single DM who ran our games way back in my Ye Olde 1E Days ever did this. I know I certainly never got these extra XPs, and as anyone who ever played 1E could tell you, they were needed. Not sure just why all the DMs I knew decided this was not a rule to be used....
10% extra XP doesn't seem enough to make a big difference?
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
It is pretty ambiguous, as with most of AD&D... 'Roll 3d6 in order' is NEVER spelled out as a rule or procedure, nor even described. ALL of the 'METHODS' of the DMG are stated to be 'alternatives', but it is never stated what they are alternatives TO.
I always took it to mean they were alternatives to each other, with no one given priority.
 

S'mon

Legend
Never purchased the Masters Set for this reason. Though I did crib the weapon mastery tables from the books of my best friend's parents.
I ran a Mentzer Classic D&D campaign for several years around 2015-2017. By the time the PCs were nearing 20th level it really felt that they'd achieved everything they wanted to achieve, the game wound down. I think most of the Masters Set material would work fine at Companion level - you can seek the Holy Grail at 18th level as well as 28th. I do think Mentzer Companion Set (15-25) added a lot of great stuff, but Masters never impressed me or felt necessary.

Edit: Running 4e D&D 1-29 (2011-2016), I feel it also lost energy in the Epic (21-30) Tier, despite all the Epic stuff going on. I think 5e got it right going with the 1-20 range used in 2e & 3e.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
10% extra XP doesn't seem enough to make a big difference?
Someone feel free to correct me if I’m wrong, but a quick google search seems to indicate that a 1e thief needed 110,001 XP to reach name level (9th). 10% would mean shaving 11,000 XP off that (for a total of 99,000 required)! That seems like a pretty respectable difference to me.
 

S'mon

Legend
Someone feel free to correct me if I’m wrong, but a quick google search seems to indicate that a 1e thief needed 110,001 XP to reach name level (9th). 10% would mean shaving 11,000 XP off that (for a total of 99,000 required)! That seems like a pretty respectable difference to me.

IME with XP needed to level doubling every level, and awards also increasing steeply, the 10% bonus is rarely noticeable.
 

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