The OA Theory- When OD&D Became Second Edition

lowkey13

I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
So, I have a thought that's been percolating for a while, and it's gone from inchoate to half-baked status ... which means that it's time to share!

Today, I unveil my OA Theory. Um, no, this isn't the theory about how interpretive dance can get us to parallel worlds. Instead, it is my grand unified theory that's been working in the back of my skull for a while as to when OD&D, as a general concept, ended.

Are you ready?

Are you sitting down?

The golden period, the glory years, the REAL D&D officially ended November, 1985. Since that time, we have all been in nothing more than a poor holographic simulation of a D&D game. Or maybe a zombie-filled apocalypse. Still working on that part. ahem

So why that date? We all know about the continuity of time and editions between OD&D, 1e, B/X, BECMI, and 2e (1974-2000), and that they are largely interchangeable. But there is also a difference between, say, late-period 2e and OD&D. Or between B/X and Rules Cyclopedia.

Here's the theory- before a date certain, we were all playing Old D&D. Maybe,... Classic D&D. After that date .... New D&D.* And the dividing line isn't exactly the ouster of Gygax, although it is in the ballpark.**

It's Oriental Adventures. That's right. If you look at the publication history in the 1e line, you see a clear line from:
(1974) OD&D -> Holmes Basic -> 1e (1977)

Within 1e, you see the classics of the genre:
1977 Monster Manual
1978 Player's Handbook
1979 DM's Guide
1980 Deities & Demigods
1981 Fiend Folio
1983 Monster Manual II
1985 Legends & Lore
October 1985 Oriental Adventures

Then, everything that sucked.
December 1985 Unearthed Arcana
1986 Dungeoneer's Survival Guide
1986 Wilderness Survival Guide
1987 Manual of the Planes
1987 Dragonlance Adventures
1988 Greyhawk Adventures

To be clear, I am not trying to yuck anyone's yum, or state that those people who enjoyed Kim Mohan's stewardship of the WSG should be ashamed of themselves***, just that October 1985 was the end of CD&D.

Why?

Well, it could have been space radiation. Or maybe a virus.

Wait, why do I think that this marks the end? It's a stylistic thing. Oriental Adventures, and books prior to it, whether you like them or not, have a distinct P.O.V.; this changes diametrically in the two books following: UA (an explosion of options, cantrips, and poorly-thought out ideas) and DSG (the beginning of the "splat books" we would see in 2e).

So, there's my theory. Classic D&D ended in November, 1985.




*1985 was also New Coke, and Classic Coke. Coincidence, or CONSPIRACY?

**The fateful meeting was October 1985, but it wasn't decided until October 1986.

***I won't discourage it, either.
 
Wait, why do I think that this marks the end? It's a stylistic thing. (the beginning of the "splat books" we would see in 2e).
I think OA qualifies as a "splat book" - it offers a ton of new player-facing crunch clustered around a flimsy theme (in it's case, as the title implies, blatant orientalism). It revels in power inflation in lieu of interesting design (every OA class was a Classic D&D class, ratchetted up a bit in power, and with a Ki Power slapped on it like a hello kitty decal).

That aside, I think we can point to the general cross-compatibility of all TSR editions, variations, and legal subterfuges, and judge them all part of a single era of D&D, a quarter-century in which D&D experienced the equivalent of several years worth of advancement, development and refinement - a Golden Age, if you will.
A feat no WotC version of the game was ever even in a position to duplicate, until 5e - which has 20 years to go...
 

Shadow Demon

Explorer
I would agree that starting with UA that there were a lot of poorly thought ideas for options. Gary Gygax had reached his nadir in game design. He was never going to be able to make anything better that what had come before. The game wasn't going to move forward without the involvement of others.

Of course, I also consider D&D from 1974-2000 to be the same game. There are just more options I don't like as it goes along.
 

lowkey13

I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
I think OA qualifies as a "splat book" - it offers a ton of new player-facing crunch clustered around a flimsy theme (in it's case, as the title implies, blatant orientalism). It revels in power inflation in lieu of interesting design (every OA class was a Classic D&D class, ratchetted up a bit in power, and with a Ki Power slapped on it like a hello kitty decal).

That aside, I think we can point to the general cross-compatibility of all TSR editions, variations, and legal subterfuges, and judge them all part of a single era of D&D, a quarter-century in which D&D experienced the equivalent of several years worth of advancement, development and refinement - a Golden Age, if you will.
A feat no WotC version of the game was ever even in a position to duplicate, until 5e - which has 20 years to go...
Eh, I would argue just the opposite. Hear me out (and by the way, I am not making any claims about OA in terms of the title, or appropriation).

UA was a massive optional expansion of the classes and core mechanics with severely unbalanced effects throughout; in other words, it wasn't just the usual "here's some more classes to try, basically the same as the prior classes" approach. And, as @Shadow Demon just noted in agreement, it was bad game design (it was just quickly re-written Dragon Magazine articles, for the most part). Other than the Pole Arm section, it needed to be burnt.

But the others? From WSG to MoTP to the completely unnecessary hardcover settings (DLA, GHA), they were just pumping out material in hardcover without real thought.

(This is partly tongue in cheek ... but just partly.)
 
UA was a massive optional expansion of the classes and core mechanics with severely unbalanced effects throughout. And, as Shadow Demon just noted in agreement, it was bad game design. Other than the Pole Arm section, it needed to be burnt.
Wouldn't disagree with any of that. But, frankly, OA was just as bad, just a more focused bad that you could ignore by lopping off any eastern-themed section you'd already placed in your campaign world. Possibly with a large comet or an enormous mutant star-goat. Because that wouldn't be any sillier than adopting OA.
 

Shadow Demon

Explorer
I never liked OA. It was actually written by David "Zeb" Cook with Gary's name on the cover. Dave did a much better job with 2e core. In hindsight, I think it is best of AD&D minus all of the splat before and after its release.
 

lowkey13

I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
Wouldn't disagree with any of that. But, frankly, OA was just as bad, just a more focused bad that you could ignore by lopping off any eastern-themed section you'd already placed in your campaign world. Possibly with a large comet or an enormous mutant star-goat. Because that wouldn't be any sillier than adopting OA.
I'd disagree with that; again, IMO context is everything.* The actual play between the various classes and races was fairly well balanced, and it was very much an "OD&D" style book.




*Again, not talking about the use of the term "oriental" or the appropriation of all cultures into a general "Asian" other. It was .... reasonably good for something from the mid-80s which is also when, inter alia, you could have Long Duk Dong accompanied by a gong sound in Sixteen Candles ... and the name and the gong wasn't even in the top 10 for offensiveness in that character.
 
I'd disagree with that; again, IMO context is everything.*
Meh, you're just ignoring everything I say and repeating your pet theory like it's fact. ;P
The actual play between the various classes and races was fairly well balanced, it was very much an "OD&D" style book.
If the classes had been fairly well balanced against eachother, that'd've been another strike against it being an "OD&D" style book. I'm not knocking that it was borked in the balance sense, it was 1e, that'd be like shooting dead fish in a barrel. No, I'm saying the designs were desultory and whacked in the design sense, not the balance sense - like UA's "hastily-re-written dragon articles," only hastily-written but once.

I think we are moving from half-baked to AT LEAST three-fifths baked.

WE ARE COOKING WITH GAS NOW!
Shouldn't you be cooking with Mr.Fusion?
 

lowkey13

I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
Meh, you're just ignoring everything I say and repeating your pet theory like it's fact. ;P If the classes had been fairly well balanced against eachother, that'd've been another strike against it being an "OD&D" style book. I'm not knocking that it was borked in the balance sense, it was 1e, that'd be like shooting dead fish in a barrel. No, I'm saying the designs were desultory and whacked in the design sense, not the balance sense - like UA's "hastily-re-written dragon articles," only hastily-written but once.
So, here's where I think we disagree.

In my view, the OA classes were perfectly fine; either played in a separate campaign, or used as an addition to a standard 1e campaign.

Much like a good 3PP (some of the classes in, say, the Compleat Adventurer) or a random regular Dragon "NPC" (Duellist, for example), they were fine (and "balanced" in the 1e sense against each other- let's not have that debate).

I think you are conflating desultory designs now, with then; it is no more desultory than the explanation of the Finnish Pantheon is in Deities and Demigods.
 
Here's a dividing line for ya:

Within 1e, you see the classics of the genre:
1977 Monster Manual
1978 Player's Handbook <=--- all the player stuff in one book
1979 DM's Guide
1980 Deities & Demigods
1981 Fiend Folio
1983 Monster Manual II
1985 Legends & Lore

Above this line, everything is universal, not setting-specific , no power inflation, no player-facing stuff outside the PH
============================================================
Below it, setting-specific or whacktastic new player-options - or, as in OA, the vanguard, /both/

1985 Oriental Adventures <=---- setting-specific with player stuff: more classes, weapons, spells and other craziness, but better & with Ki powers! Sets the tenor for the whole trainwreck.
1985 Unearthed Arcana <=--- more classes, weapons & spells and other craziness, with whacked balance, even by 1e standards
1986 Dungeoneer's Survival Guide <=---- more player-facing options
1986 Wilderness Survival Guide <=---- more player-facing options
1987 Manual of the Planes -----===> may be stretching the point to call the planes setting-specific
1987 Dragonlance Adventures <==--- setting specific
1988 Greyhawk Adventures <==--- setting specific
 

lowkey13

I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
1985 Oriental Adventures <=---- setting-specific with player stuff:
Sorry.

At the time of the release, it wasn't "Setting Specific." Read the forwards and introductions; it was about filling out the non-western sections.

While there is a generic section about "Kara Tur" at the back (pp. 136 on), Kara Tur isn't placed in a camapaign setting until, what, three years later?
 
At the time of the release, it wasn't "Setting Specific." Read the forwards and introductions; it was about filling out the non-western sections.
Seems pretty setting-specific, to me - all orientalism aside. Still first added player stuff in an official hardcover since the PH1.
 

Shadow Demon

Explorer
I think Oriental Adventures marked the beginning of "Revised 1e" until the release of 2e. It really doesn't fit with Classic D&D although I agree it isn't setting specific (i.e in the same way as the Dragonlance and Greyhawk books) and fills out the non-western genre.
 
I would agree that starting with UA that there were a lot of poorly thought ideas for options. Gary Gygax had reached his nadir in game design. He was never going to be able to make anything better that what had come before. The game wasn't going to move forward without the involvement of others.
"Others will think of things I didn't, and devise things beyond my capability." EGG, DMG Preface.

At least at the point he wrote that, he grasped to some extent his limitations as a designer. He had always freely used ideas he liked from other people and only used a portion of what HE wrote. Mostly, I believe he expected nothing different from every DM. NO VERSION HAS AN EXPIRATION DATE. If any given version has an ending it is strictly a personal one - it ends when YOU decide that YOU don't need to make any more changes.
 

lowkey13

I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
I never liked OA. It was actually written by David "Zeb" Cook with Gary's name on the cover. Dave did a much better job with 2e core. In hindsight, I think it is best of AD&D minus all of the splat before and after its release.
My biggest disappointment? That Zebulon's Guide to Frontier Space (A GREAT BOOK! Which goes to show that the TSR Cosmic Rift that destroyed D&D in 1985 DID NOT EXTEND TO STAR FRONTIERS!) was not written by David Cook.
 

GreyLord

Adventurer
My biggest disappointment? That Zebulon's Guide to Frontier Space (A GREAT BOOK! Which goes to show that the TSR Cosmic Rift that destroyed D&D in 1985 DID NOT EXTEND TO STAR FRONTIERS!) was not written by David Cook.
I liked the options of Zebulon's Guide, hated the resolution system. Preferred the original way of resolution in Star Frontiers. When I use Zebulon's guide it's always with a backwards conversion to the Alpha Dawn Rules.
 

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