D&D General Understanding the Design Principles in Early D&D

jgsugden

Legend
...The fundamental thing to understand is that 0e and 1e were never designed to be complete systems, or designed to be complete- they were always intended to be used as toolkits. As detailed further below, it is only with that basic approach that you can begin to make sense of early D&D's design principles.
From the Foreward of the Players Handbook (AD&D)
This is the second release of the ADVANCED DUNGEONS & DRAGONS series, and is designed to be a player's book in every respect - giving you all the background you require on the game system, as well as all the information you'll need to go adventuring.
...and from the Foreward of the DMG:
This book ... is your primary tool in constructing your own "world", or milieu. It contains a wealth of material, and combined with the other workd of ADVANCED DUNGEONS & DRAGONS (the MONSTER MANUAL and [/b]PLAYER'S HANDBOOK[/b]) gives you all the information you need to play AD&D.
There was absolutely an intent, by the designers, that these books would be a comprehensive, cohesive, and capable set of tools from which you could run D&D with no other materials required. They failed miserably, but that was absolutely the intent. They were intended to be all you needed, not just a toolkit.
Please note that while I am using information learned from various great sources, I don't have my books handy, so I will be doing this mostly from memory.
Unfortunately, the books contradict you, as do many of the interview notes from historians of the games when they've interviewed those designers.

The books were intended to be a be all perfect compilation of the rules. They failed, miserably, because the designers massively underestimated the difficulty of the task they undertook, but the books were intended to be all you needed.
 

log in or register to remove this ad

Yaarel

Mind Mage
From the Foreward of the Players Handbook (AD&D)...and from the Foreward of the DMG:There was absolutely an intent, by the designers, that these books would be a comprehensive, cohesive, and capable set of tools from which you could run D&D with no other materials required. They failed miserably, but that was absolutely the intent. They were intended to be all you needed, not just a toolkit.
Unfortunately, the books contradict you, as do many of the interview notes from historians of the games when they've interviewed those designers.

The books were intended to be a be all perfect compilation of the rules. They failed, miserably, because the designers massively underestimated the difficulty of the task they undertook, but the books were intended to be all you needed.
Both are true. Enough rules to play, including content one might not want to use. Hence a tool kit.

The 1e core books never claimed to have rules that are "cohesive". Heh, I am unsure where you got that from.

1e PH: "giving you all the background you require on the game system, as well as all the information you'll need to go adventuring."

That is true, there is enough to get a game going, plus lots of info that will never happen, and lots of conflictive bespoke rules, that the DM will need to sort thru, plus lots of missing content that the DM is instructed to make up on the fly.

1e DMG: "This book ... is your primary tool in constructing your own "world", or milieu. It contains a wealth of material."

Well, that is true, there is a wealth of information in the DMG. The three core books are enough rules to play. But the most important rule is, the DM needs to make stuff up. And with that rule the rules are merely a resource for the DM to peruse. Nobody claimed to be "cohesive" or "perfect".



In any case, notice what the official setting of 1e is: "constructing your own world". That really happens in 1e. Each table develops its own universe, its own cosmology, its own world.
 


Yaarel

Mind Mage
Not to be cynical, but just because they say that doesn't mean it's actually what their intent was. A lot of that sounds like sales jargon to get you to buy the book!
Yeah. The number of people I have met who learned to play 1e from reading the books is: one. But even then I am suspicious because at some point he met up with other 1e groups and could "compare notes" sotospeak. He did get a game going in any case.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Unfortunately, the books contradict you, as do many of the interview notes from historians of the games when they've interviewed those designers.

I appreciate your feedback, but as I often have to say ... it is great when people read the post before committing to making an argumentative comment. I know that I use words - lots of words. Some of them are big. And there are jokes, too. But it really pays off sometimes to read the whole thing! :)

Here is a little further into the OP-
And then there was 1e (AD&D). By 1979, with the publication of the DMG, the core three books of 1e were complete. Now, looking back it's very hard to understand the intent of 1e just by reading what Gygax wrote in the core books and his columns in Dragon Magazine. One reason for the difficulty is that Gygax contained multitudes, and would often contradict himself by the end of any given paragraph. More importantly, however, you have to understand the internal battles that he was going through; we all have the struggle between the angels of our better nature and the demons that drive us, and Gygax was no different. Specifically, he came from a hobbyist background, where rules and ideas were exchanged freely, and people were expected and encouraged to tinker. But by the time of 1e, he had interests to defend; he had a product, and he didn't want competition riding on his coattails. It was a strange dichotomy, and one you can see playing out- he both encourages people to tinker with the game and make it their own, while claiming that 1e is a complete system.

Anyway, Gygax (and others) have repeatedly said that they never ran AD&D, and never expected anyone to run it as a complete system.

But sure, your critique sounds interesting, considering it relies on source material I've never seen (sorry, that's sarcastic).

I do love to learn more and will incorporate it into future posts. If you add some of the source interviews that I haven't seen yet, please feel free to post them, although note that it would go against the great weight of current authority as I understand it.

Thanks.


ETA- just to be clear, when I write that I didn't have my books handy, I didn't mean the PHB or DMG. I mean the books I look at when I am researching more in-depth posts- books like Playing at the World and The Elusive Shift. The information about Gygax's shift w/r/t AD&D can also be gleaned by Game Wizards. You are welcome to look through my past posts on those topics.
 
Last edited:

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
That's because it wasn't a thing for most of the game's history. Consider- in early D&D, the thing Fighters had (strong hit points, good chance to hit, high AC) was a thing other classes didn't have. A Fighter had the best chance to survive without support of any character (barring the Dwarf and maybe the Halfling, since they were just Fighters with racial bonuses, I think?).

The OP (which was rushed because I was heading out at the time) was more of the "big picture" perspective of why looking at design principles of TSR-era D&D (especially pre-2e) is necessarily different than looking at more modern D&D games- mostly because the games were more hobbyist, more toolkit, and the systems and subsystems were usually designed to respond to specific situations.

That said, I think that there are some overarching principles that are worth discussing specifically that people can see reoccurring, but that's probably a different post. That would be principles along the lines of niche protection, balance achieved over time, and gatekeeping via rarity.
 

James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
You're right of course, but it's hard to look back at the early days and not think about where we are now, and how we got here. Disassociating how we think of the game in the moment and trying to put ourselves in the headspace of someone in that era is going to be difficult.

Even if you were there, you can have some different ideas about what was going on. D&D in general in the early days was seen as strange and arcane, and the DM's were few in number and seemed to possess knowledge beyond what was in the rulebooks.

In his book, "The Dungeon Master: The Disappearance of James Dallas Egbert", William Dear writes of a (almost assuredly apocryphal, given the source) attempt to play Dungeons and Dragons.

He has to hire a Dungeon Master, and the guy oozes charisma and seems to be the only one who really understands how the game works.

Again, he probably made this up to sell his sensationalist documentary about a completely botched "Gonzo investigation" (his methods make Dirk Gently's seem straightforward), but this is kind of how people who weren't there look at the early days.

The novelization of E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial has an extended look at the D&D scene, and it's utter gibberish. In response to seeing an enemy, a player says "I try to befriend them". Like that's...just a thing one does?

(But then you think about crazy nonsense like later Diplomancer builds and you're like, well....)

I know myself, when I sat down with the 1e books (having gotten them in a garage sale in the 80's), I was amazed at all the STUFF packed in there. Still am, to be honest.

But I couldn't figure out how to play the game for the life of me, until I finally saw other people doing it. And I've heard a lot of similar stories.

Which really makes me wonder how anyone who didn't play with Dave Arneson or Gary Gygax (and company) figured it out to tell everyone else!

(Or maybe they didn't, and just made it up, and that's part of why early D&D seems so mysterious...)
 
Last edited:

jgsugden

Legend
I appreciate your feedback, but as I often have to say ... it is great when people read the post before committing to making an argumentative comment. I know that I use words - lots of words. Some of them are big. And there are jokes, too. But it really pays off sometimes to read the whole thing! :)...
Dude.

In 2 years you've written 5000+ posts, most of which are a dozen (or sometimes far more) paragraphs long. You CONSTANTLY attack people for not reading every word you've written, despite not really knowing if they have read the entire post. I make sure I do.

What you seem to fail to realize is that people will not often spend 30 minutes doing a point by point dissection of everything you've said in the thread in question to tear aparat each and every sentence you post on. This is especially true if there is a flaw with the basic premise that can be addressed by going back to your core statement and offering evidence as to how it is incorrect.

Further, you often pull the trick of referencing your other threads as evidence in support of your surrent position as if people have a duty to have read and absorbed everything you've ever written. They do not.

Regardless, your FUNDAMENTAL point, as you label it, is directly contradicted by the EXPRESS INTENT of the authors, as stated in the very books in question. It is insanely rare for intent to be spelled out so clearly -and yet it was here - twice. They wanted these books to be all you needed to play D&D. They did not say, "Hey, we wrote these books with the intent that you'll need a bunch of magazine articles to figure out what we mean here." They wrote these as the standalone books you'd need to run a game.

Obvisouly they intended to sell books that added onto it by adding Deities, or providing adventures - but they had the intent, when writing these books, as they expressly state, that they would be all of the rules you needed for the game. THEY FAILED IN THAT EFFORT. However, what they realized after they wrote the books does not change what they intended when they wrote the books.
 


bloodtide

Adventurer
My two coppers...

The BIG thing to remember is that D&D was not just a New game.....it was a whole new activity. A new, unique activity that no one had ever seen before.

Take nearly any board game released in the whole 20th century: you open the box, read and follow the rules and play the game. Except D&D is not like that.....it's not even close. D&D, as most RPGs, are a unique activity.

Gary and the rest were breaking new ground, in uncharted waters and saling beyond the farthest star. And they were alone. They did not have 50 years of RPG lore and information: They had nothing. They had to make EVERYTHING from scratch. Things like Hit Points, that most five year olds today know about and understand, were a new thing that nobody knew about at all back in the day.

There is no way that any new complex thing like a RPG would not be "rough" around the edges at first. Things refine over time.

They very much so tossed D&D out there to see what other people would make of it. And HUGE vast parts of 1E came from fan suggestions, if not outright things made by gamers. When the folks at TSR saw something fan created that they liked, they grabbed it up and added it to the game.
 

James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
You're quite right, and I, for one, am not criticizing them for this. We wouldn't have the games we have now if not for their work. It's one of those ideas that could have been a brief flash in the pan, a one hit wonder, never to be heard from again, save found in a dusty old bookstore or in a box in an attic somewhere.

But that's not what happened. People got into the game and made it their own. And maybe the players have always been a step ahead of the developers the whole time. That's ok, we owe them a debt all the same.

Even if some of their decisions are sometimes difficult to understand all these decades later.
 


Yaarel

Mind Mage
That would be principles along the lines of niche protection, balance achieved over time, and gatekeeping via rarity.
Thank goodness the mechanics have evolved since 1e!

These three items seem a fair description of 1e mechanical principles. ... Heh, tho I hate each of these three principles.

Niche protection: defacto, but seems unintentional to me. The 1e Thief can do things that the 1e Magic-User cant. But this seems to have to do with each class being a brand new subsystem created ad hoc with no real relationships to other classes and possibly conflicting and imbalancing with the other classes and their subsystems. 4e is the exact opposite, all classes use the same system. 5e is a synthesis but allows mix-matching class subsystems. I dislike niche protection because I feel character customization is more important.

Balance over time. This is definitely in play all the way into 3e. I call it "hazing". Suffer in this one level, and one gets to become broken in this other level. 1e famously did this with the Magic-User, fragile at 1, but vastly powerful at 17. But also the human race was less powerful early, but unlimited at higher level. This kind of hazing is present in 3e prestige classes whose prereqs required things that sucked but then granted overpowered features, whence its convoluted system mastery. 4e and 5e achieve (or at least value) balance between classes at the same levels.

Gatekeeping via rarity. Yep, still survives in 5e, unfortunately, when rolling ability scores randomly. The straight natural 18s are totally broken, if someone else gets straight natural 3s. Similarly rolling magic treasure randomly. I dont go near this kind of design concept. At least in 5e I dont have to, such as pointbuy scores and DM controlling treasure.

3e is so important for beginning to systematize the disparate ad hoc subsystems of 1e. 4e is so important for understanding how mechanical balance works. 5e really is a synthesis from all of the previous editions.
 
Last edited:

TheAlkaizer

Game Designer
I started playing with 3E.

I read a ton on older editions and old-school D&D. But to be honest, it's all a blur in my head. I know there's some of the games where the races are classes, where some are not. I know some have THAC0, and others not. I know there's ten foot poles, and gold gives XP, and a dozen things like that. But I have no idea which edition is which, it's very hard to split things, even more so when they were two adjacent lines of products existing at the same time.

So it's very hard to understand the design intentions behind these products for newcomers.
 

GreyLord

Legend
Which really makes me wonder how anyone who didn't play with Dave Arneson or Gary Gygax (and company) figured it out to tell everyone else!

(Or maybe they didn't, and just made it up, and that's part of why early D&D seems so mysterious...)
Well, I didn't even own the books when I started. Some kids were playing this game and I wanted to join in. It was D&D. Didn't even know the rules, but I got hooked.

Didn't even own a set of the rules till later. I didn't even KNOW how to get a set of the rules when they first were playing (TBH). Now I have the rules of every edition (OD&D to 5e), but back then, I got to learn by joining others who were playing the game.
 

James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
Thank goodness the mechanics have evolved since 1e!

These three items seem a fair description of 1e mechanical principles. ... Heh, tho I hate each of these three principles.

Niche protection: defacto, but seems unintentional to me. The 1e Thief can do things that the 1e Magic-User cant. But this seems to have to do with each class being a brand new subsystem created ad hoc with no real relationships to other classes and possibly conflicting and imbalancing with the other classes and their subsystems. 4e is the exact opposite, all classes use the same system. 5e is a synthesis but allows mix-matching class subsystems. I dislike niche protection because I feel character customization is more important.

Balance over time. This is definitely in play all the way into 3e. I call it "hazing". Suffer in this one level, and one gets to become broken in this other level. 1e famously did this with the Magic-User, fragile at 1, but vastly powerful at 17. But also the human race was less powerful early, but unlimited at higher level. This kind of hazing is present in 3e prestige classes whose prereqs required things that sucked but the granted overpowered features, whence its convoluted system mastery. 4e and 5e achieve (or at least value) balance between classes at the same levels.

Gatekeeping via rarity. Yep, still survives in 5e, unfortunately, when rolling ability scores randomly. The straight natural 18s are totally broken, if someone else gets straight natural 3s. Similarly rolling magic treasure randomly. I dont go near this kind of design concept. At least in 5e I dont have to, such as pointbuy scores and DM controlling treasure.

3e is so important for beginning to systematize the disparate ad hoc subsystems of 1e. 4e is so important for understanding how mechanical balance works. 5e really is a synthesis from all of the previous editions.
Is straight 18's broken? I mean, thinking about this, I would say it depends on the class. A Wizard doesn't have any real need for 18 Strength, for example.

A Fighter is largely intended to wear heavy armor, so 18 Dex might be useful, but not great. An 18 Intelligence can be vestigial for non-Eldritch Knights.

For most characters, mostly an 18 in an off stat does for them is make them better at that saving throw and skills attached to it. I guess 18 Dex has initiative too.

And unless you're a Charisma-based caster, congrats, you got an extra few percentage points on your talking skill that might be redundant with an actual Charisma-based caster anyways.

Yes, in general, having higher ability scores means you have more potential power, but few classes can leverage that into a an absolutely dominating position.

Even something extreme like Unarmored Defense just means that you have an AC comparable to heavy armor and/or shield.
 

GreyLord

Legend
Regardless, your FUNDAMENTAL point, as you label it, is directly contradicted by the EXPRESS INTENT of the authors, as stated in the very books in question. It is insanely rare for intent to be spelled out so clearly -and yet it was here - twice. They wanted these books to be all you needed to play D&D. They did not say, "Hey, we wrote these books with the intent that you'll need a bunch of magazine articles to figure out what we mean here." They wrote these as the standalone books you'd need to run a game.

Obvisouly they intended to sell books that added onto it by adding Deities, or providing adventures - but they had the intent, when writing these books, as they expressly state, that they would be all of the rules you needed for the game. THEY FAILED IN THAT EFFORT. However, what they realized after they wrote the books does not change what they intended when they wrote the books.


Since we are so eager to use quotations from the AD&D core books... perhaps we should look a little further??

The letter stated above was what was written by CARR...but if you look a little further into the PHB you come to what Gygax actually wrote as an intro, part of which says...

No individual can actually dictate the axtual operations of a campaign, however, for that is the prerogative of the Dungeon Master, first and foremost, and to the players in the individual campaign thereafter. In like manner, players greatly influence the events of each particular campaign, and they must accept a large portion of blame if it is a poor game, and if the campaign is outsnding, they deserve high praise for helping to shape the game and playing well. So at best I give you parameters here, and he rest is up to the individuals who are the stuff D&D is made of.

Later on, under the heading of the Game in the PHB is states...

The game is unlike chess in that the rules are not cut and dried. In many places they are guidelines and suggested methods only. This is part of the atraction of Advanced Dungeons & Dragon, and it is integral to the game. Rules not understood should have apprpriate questions directed to the publisher; disputes with the Dungeon Master are another matter entirely. THE REFEREE IS THE FINAL ARBITER OF ALL AFFAIRS OF HIS OR HER CAMPAIGN. Particpants in a campaign have no recourse to the publisher, but they do have ultimate recourse - since the most effective protest is withdrawal fro mthe offending campaign. Each campaign is a specially tailored affair. White it is drawn by the referee upon the outlines of hte three books which comprise ADVANCED DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS, the players add the color and details, so the campaign must ultimately please al participants.

Can it seem contradictory at times. Probably. Is it on purpose so that it is written in that manner? Almost definately.

From the Introduction of the DMG

The final word, then, is the game. Read how and why the system is as it is, follow the parameters, and then cut portions as needed to maintain excitement. [He then goes on to excoriate the wandering monster tables and their use].

Once again, can it be read to contradict itself in the same context of those passages...obviously so.

The game itself was played more with the rules as a framework back then. Were there those who tried to play it exactly by the books...absolutely...and they could do so. There were others that did it differently...Gygax being one who constantly tampered with the rules and such (and if you thought Gygax was bad...Arneson almost played a freeform of it from what I understand...) and introduced new ideas.

Dragon constantly was adding ideas or subtracting them.

I feel TSR was attempting to retain control over the games and set some organizational rules with them in play (so that tournaments would be more organized for example) while at the same time trying to also allow most games played at home or elsewhere to have the freedom to change it up as needed or wanted.

They were having cake and eat it at the same time, and in large part...probably succeeding.
 

Yaarel

Mind Mage
Is straight 18's broken?
If one player has all 18s, but an other player is forced to play the all 3s, the situation is broken.

Similarly, random magic items can be broken.

The problem is "rarity" has nothing to do with balance. It doesnt matter if something broken is rare - if it happens the game breaks.
 

James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
Oh well, yeah, sorry I guess I missed your point. I thought you were saying that high stats across the board by themselves were problematic. One can have better numbers but not be extremely better, but yes, if there's a vast gulf, that is problematic.

Which is why most groups have adopted point-buy, even though how balanced it is depends greatly on your class. Some classes struggle more with point buy than others.

Rarity for magic items, I take with a grain of salt. If you've ever played Champions, sometimes a certain power will have a "STOP" sign by it, just to warn you that it can have issues if you're not prepared for it.

I look at Rarer magic items thusly. And if I randomly rolled up something rare I was not prepared for, I'd reroll.

Some of the bigger problems I had in AL was when we went on Storm King's Thunder, and the DM randomly rolled treasure parcels. A few characters got some real gems, like my character's Robe of Eyes, and one player got a Staff of Power that I felt was over the top for the canned adventures were were going on.

Though the two weapon Fighter who thought his Cloak of Displacement made him invincible was a gem. He had some of the best items I'd ever seen, including the Sunblade, and he was always the first to go down in a fight.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
I feel TSR was attempting to retain control over the games and set some organizational rules with them in play (so that tournaments would be more organized for example) while at the same time trying to also allow most games played at home or elsewhere to have the freedom to change it up as needed or wanted.

They were having cake and eat it at the same time, and in large part...probably succeeding.

I had a prior post on this-


While that post concentrated on the commercialization of AD&D, it really goes into that warring nature inherent in the product. OD&D was truly a toolkit by hobbyists and for hobbyists.

AD&D, which was for all practical purposes, just OD&D with a bunch of stuff grafted on from the supplements, TSR/Dragon articles, and some new material from Gygax, was much closer to what I would think of as a modular system. It was still a toolkit and incomplete in many ways, but it was much more standardized than what had preceded it.
 

Level Up!

An Advertisement

Advertisement4

Top