log in or register to remove this ad


On the Inscrutability of AD&D and Ye Olde Styles of Play

log in or register to remove this ad


The hero you deserve
It's difficult to find anything approaching a true commonality for how we all approach the game. There's generational issues, age issues, and a bunch of local and personal idiosyncrasies at work. Did you learn to play in 1977, or 1987, or 1997? Did you learn to play when you were 10, or when you were 25? Were you first exposed to the game by a friend inviting you to play, or did you learn by seeing a book (or boxed set) in the store, and picking it up? Was there a dedicated group of gamers in your town, or was it just you and a couple friends?

I mean, just as an example of local idiosyncrasies, to this day I still find the idea of running modules and dungeon crawls deeply weird. When I learned to play, roll some characters and make up a story so we can fight stuff was the expected style of play. There was a general vibe that running a published adventure (this was in the mid 1990s, so published adventures also weren't a big thing at the time) meant you weren't a creative DM.

It's why the general hoopla of "What classic adventure are they bringing back now" is completely lost on me. For me, AD&D nostalgia is completely focused on things like Planescape, or Spelljammer, or Birthright, or the cool red and blue and green books that were part of the AD&D 2e line. The AD&D experience in the '70s and '80s is completely opaque to me.


There was a general vibe that running a published adventure (this was in the mid 1990s, so published adventures also weren't a big thing at the time) meant you weren't a creative DM.
Whereas, my experience was playing with a very niche groups of friends scattered widely over a large city - thus we met up infrequently, often at very short notice ("are you free tomorrow for some D&D, get a bus over to my place for about 11 in the morning, we'll play until my parents get home and kick us off the dinner table"). This was mainly due to me going to a private school some 12 miles from my house, therefore my school friends were mostly not local.

The traditional image of a group of local geeks meeting up for lengthy gaming sessions in a spacious basement simply did not exist for me. Our houses do not have basements, we played on family dining tables and thus needed parents to be agreeable to their house being invaded by shrieking teens too! I knew 1 player, who also went to the same school, within walking distance of my house, and he was very studious with strict parents, thus he spent more time on schoolwork than gaming.

Thus modules were a necessity. We needed something we could just pick up and play. We rarely finished them either. Thankfully though this was the mid 80s, so the modules we had at our disposal were from the earlier 1E era, and thus generally very good - their format allowed us to dip in and out of them.

Running a long term, self written, cohesive campaign was simply never an option.


Small God of the Dozens
People who's formative gaming years happened before the advent of the popular internet had a fundamentally different set of experiences that people who didn't. Also, people who actually played version X when it was the current system tend of have very different opinions of those systems than people who only understand them as artifacts. Prior to forums and chat groups there was no general consensus, no easy access optimization, and no need to do anything except what the actual gaming group wanted to do. Now people have internet opinions, by which I mean they've read stuff about how things work, or what's over-powered, or whatever, but don't hold those opinions necessarily because of any actual experience on their part. This phenomenon isn't localized to D&D either, the various GW games suffered the same growing pains magnified by an order of magnitude. This isn't about good/bad or right/wrong just indexing the difference in opinion that can stem from different formative experiences.


The hero you deserve
Running a long term, self written, cohesive campaign was simply never an option.
Oh man, "long term" and "cohesive" are really strong words for how we played back then. :) A "campaign" usually meant we remembered to bring our character sheets from last time and didn't have to start over.


I think the only real objective truth in this whole topic is that people played with more variation of rules back in 1e than people do today with 5e. For many of the reasons cited (how rules were written back then...ahem...weapon v armor chart, and with technology bringing more people together). Outside of that one truism, it all comes down to anecdotal experiences I imagine.


It really was a whole other world before the Internet. Throughout the TSR era, my experience of D&D was entirely shaped by the groups I played with, and everybody had their own take on the rules; ranging from fast and loose in some cases, to one where there were enough house rules to make a whole new book. (I'm not exaggerating. There was a three-ring binder just for the house rules. It was... something. I only played with them once or twice, so I never got to explore The House Rules in all their glory, which is a pity.)

And of course, every group thought the way they played was the right, obvious, and true way*, and was shocked to discover that other people played differently.

These days, I only play with the one group that I've been playing with for a decade-plus. We play about twice a month, for ~4 hours per session. My experience of other groups comes entirely via the Internet, mostly this forum. Far greater exposure to the theory of D&D, but a good deal less practice.

[size=-2]*Well, except the group with the binder full of house rules. Presumably they had figured out that other people did things differently, and therefore set out to codify every single one of the differences. I can't decide if they were heroic, insane, or both.[/size]

But it did make me think- if people had trouble finishing the 1e modules, how on earth are people finishing the APs? Anecdotally, I know that some of the teen groups that I taught and gone off on their own haven't been able to finish an AP. :(
From my understanding, a lot of campaigns die out before they finish the AP. Honestly there are quite a few old BECMI, 1E, and 2E adventures that could easily become a full AP with very little additional work (assuming you don't have to start at level 1). Castle Amber is a great example of this, and the Desert of Desolation trilogy is another.

I've found when converting old adventures into 5E, it's easier to just take the concept of the adventure, then boil away a lot of the extra stuff. I ran Against the Cult of the Reptile God in 3 sessions of 4 hours each by cutting the temple down to 1 encounter of cultists and the lair itself into 6 increasingly difficult encounters. If I'd tried to run it as it was, my players probably would have tired of the combat before finishing the temple.


In a nutshell. Every type of D&D game existed in the beginning as does now. How do I know? Because I've been playing since the beginning in many different parts of the country and indeed, in many countries.

(I'm not exaggerating. There was a three-ring binder just for the house rules. It was... something.)
Hey! I resembled that remark...

Well, except the group with the binder full of house rules. Presumably they had figured out that other people did things differently, and therefore set out to codify every single one of the differences. I can't decide if they were heroic, insane, or both.
... that's fair.


AD&D isn't 2e. Dem's fighting words.

The first sign that AD&D was suffering from the consumption was the publication of Unearthed Arcana; the DSG and WSG was the coughing up of blood in bed; 2e was the final death rattle. ;)

(I think that the individualized experiences of times past is often opaque, and while greater understandings can be achieved, true understanding is often elusive.)
For some, the first ominous cough in D&D occurred with the publication of Greyhawk and Blackmoor.:.-(


Heh. As the sort of genesis of this thread, thought I'd pop in.

Yeah, I'll agree with pretty much everything said here. On one hand you've got those like me that cut their teeth on D&D modules. I did. I admit it. We were module junkies and most of my formative play years were spent running various modules. OTOH, you've got other folks who never touched one at all who likely have VERY different formative experiences than I did.

Age plays a big part too. We were pretty young in the AD&D years - like early teens, so, well.... erm... the campaigns we played I think reflected that. :D

I've always said that AD&D is very schizophrenic. If you learned AD&D from the DMG, you'd see a completely different game from someone like me who learned AD&D from modules.


If your only exposure to something is the prewritten modules, then it would look like D&D as a whole is nothing but combat. Same could be said of Pathfinder. And this isn't just about a single edition. You don't know what else was going on outside of what was written on the pages of a module. If all a group cares about is combat, it wouldn't matter if they ran a module or something they made up themselves. I was unfortunate enough to be part of a group who did basically just that, with Wrath of the Righteous. It took about 13 months, playing weekly for about 4 hours, to complete all 20 levels and 10 mythic levels, because the other 3 only cared about fighting, so we went from battle to battle, with very little anything between (other than the DM describing a few things between fights). I stayed because the DM was an awesome person, but I wish I would have left after the 3rd month when I lost all fun.

As was said earlier, no one played the same way back then, just like now. You could crack open Tomb of Annihilation and think 5e is all about combat. It's up to the group to fill in the gaps.


The difference though, I think is that you have a pretty wide variety of modules to choose from. Whether it’s Tomb of Annihilation or Dragon Heist, you do get to see a pretty broad depth.

It took a while to get that in the early days.


I think part of the broad brush with which early D&D is painted is due to historical distance, but also because Gygax and other TSR authors (such as the infamous Roger Moore “Tucker’s Kobolds” story) talked about these early tendencies and how they were prevalent, and how we shouldn’t do them; therefore, just like a historian who reads partial historical records and draws conclusions without personal witness accounts to set context, people who weren’t alive or present during the early events go with the knowledge available to them — which early modules and articles say was full of murderhoboing and mayhem and very little roleplay driving story.

Forgotten are stories of how Rob Kuntz’s Robilar tried multiple experiments to travel to the Moon (including even one with special geese and magical brass carriages), or how his NPC henchman Quij made a rain poncho out of a Carpet of Flying, or how Murlynd loved the Earth Old West so much he traveled there to bring back Colt Peacemakers, or Mordenkainen’s experiments into politics, etc. etc. Stories such as these reinforce the lack of uniformity of these early games, and the really whimsical natures of early gamers. Despite the gulf of years and gaming systems, people like Gary Gygax and his early crew, and Matt Mercer and his crew, are kindred spirits when it comes to the level of silliness and fourth wall breaking that shows up in their games - it’s just that Gary’s crew’s jokes are about Kung-Fu and Westerns and in-jokes for spell components; Critical Role’s jokes are about Rock Harpists, calling fantasy Ubers, and Vanessa Carlton lyrics.

Mythological Figures & Maleficent Monsters