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

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
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.

Well, that's for another post! But I think that, for the most part, these aren't particularly compelling principles for most people (which is why you don't seem used any more, except in games that emulate the older, TSR-era games). They also are very surface-level; they don't do much to help or explain deeper-level play process.
 

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Lyxen

Great Old One
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.

While I completely agree that AD&D was both a rather complete system (especially for the time, and considering what the systems were addressing at that point in time) and a toolkit (so many options especially in the DMG, but even the PH), I think there was much more than OD&D in there, but a huge amount of production from Gygax and a few others. The amount of material in AD&D is enormous, just take as a simple (imperfect, but still telling) metric:
  • AD&D Core (PH + DMG + MM) = 130 + 240 + 114 = 494 pages (A4)
  • It's very hard to find the equivalent with OD&D, my version of Men & Magic has 114 pages, but they are extremely small, I doubt that they contain 25% of a AD&D PH page.
  • Holmes: 49 pages
  • Moldway: 68 pages
  • Even adding all the pages of all BECMI books together, I doubt that you get to more than half the core AD&D published in a very short time.
Admittedly, it's not all of fantastic quality, especially the editing, but the amount of material is enormous (just look at spells and monsters list, plus all the races and classes, etc.).
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
While I completely agree that AD&D was both a rather complete system (especially for the time, and considering what the systems were addressing at that point in time) and a toolkit (so many options especially in the DMG, but even the PH), I think there was much more than OD&D in there, but a huge amount of production from Gygax and a few others. The amount of material in AD&D is enormous, just take as a simple (imperfect, but still telling) metric:
  • AD&D Core (PH + DMG + MM) = 130 + 240 + 114 = 494 pages (A4)
  • It's very hard to find the equivalent with OD&D, my version of Men & Magic has 114 pages, but they are extremely small, I doubt that they contain 25% of a AD&D PH page.
  • Holmes: 49 pages
  • Moldway: 68 pages
  • Even adding all the pages of all BECMI books together, I doubt that you get to more than half the core AD&D published in a very short time.
Admittedly, it's not all of fantastic quality, especially the editing, but the amount of material is enormous (just look at spells and monsters list, plus all the races and classes, etc.).

Obviously, everything depends on how you look at it. I don't recall, inter alia, the random government table in OD&D. And none of this is to slight how awesome AD&D was, and remains (for its faults, the 1e DMG remains a tour deforce).

That said... if you look back at the LBBs, the supplements, and the prior Dragon Articles and Strategic Review Articles, you will find, pretty much, every single thing that's in AD&D.

All the classes. Assassins, Clerics, Druids, Fighters, Magic Users, Monks, Paladins, and the Thief first appeared in OD&D (LBBs or Supplements). Rangers, Illusionists and Bards were in the Strategic Review.

Magic Items and Artifacts (not all but many) were in the supplements. Psionics were previously covered. So many of the spells were already listed. By the Greyhawk supplement, we already had 9th level spells.

Again, this isn't to slight AD&D's brilliance- but to point out that if you cobbled together OD&D, with all of the supplements and a bunch of magazine articles, you were pretty close to AD&D.
 

Lyxen

Great Old One
Again, this isn't to slight AD&D's brilliance- but to point out that if you cobbled together OD&D, with all of the supplements and a bunch of magazine articles, you were pretty close to AD&D.

OK, I honestly don't recall all the classes, spells and monsters from all these supplements and articles, especially with the level of detail that is found in AD&D, but as you say, it's a question of perspective and drawing the line. :)
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
OK, I honestly don't recall all the classes, spells and monsters from all these supplements and articles, especially with the level of detail that is found in AD&D, but as you say, it's a question of perspective and drawing the line. :)

I think Gygax was incapable of writing anything without adding at least an additional paragraph, if not two. Just look at the second paragraph of the Assassin's description-

Just as do thieves, assassins have six-sided dice (d6) for determining the number of hit points (q.v.) they can sustain. Assassins are evil in alignment (perforce, as the killing of humans and other intelligent life forms for the purpose of profit is basically held to be the antithesis of weal). They can, of course, be neutral as regards lawful and chaotic evil. As mentioned above, assassins have thieving capabilities and their own ability functions. Because they can use any sort of shield and weapon, they are generally superior to thieves in combat.

I mean ... on the one hand how awesome is that? Killing other people for money is the antithesis of weal?

On the other hand, that's a really poor way of saying that assassins get d6 hp/level, have to be LE, NE, or CE, and can use any shield or weapon.'



ETA- admittedly, my own posts tend more to the High Gygaxian than the styling of Hemmingway.
 

Mannahnin

Scion of Murgen (He/Him)
I have found that the "toolkit" explanation comes off as a post hoc justification by fans for the incoherent nature of the ruleset.
Eh. Taken in perspective, and reading contemporary criticism and analysis from the 70s, it's undeniably true of OD&D. TSR marketing speak presents it as being a more or less complete game (albeit one for which you're recommended to have and use both Chainmail and Outdoor Survival to supplement parts of it), while all discussion thereof (including Gygax's commentary and responses in venues like Alarums & Excursions) makes quite clear that every individual campaign is unique and every referee (and DM, once that term caught on) and group is customizing the rules to their taste.

AD&D was sold and presented more as a coherent standardized system, as part of the point was to make tournament play (a big cash driver for TSR in the late 70s) more consistent and clear. But the editing job is terrible, and in retrospect the way the DMG is written clearly assumes that the reader is already familiar with OD&D, and is trying to build on that work. The overland movement and naval combat rules, for two examples that immediately leap to mind, leave out basic and playable rules and details which were present in OD&D.

I think it's somewhat reasonable to be suspicious of the toolkit label when applied to AD&D, especially given how Gygax tried to sell it, but in practice it definitely functioned more like one than it did like a full coherent rules set.
 

Undrave

Hero
Remember that video game, We Heart Katamari? AD&D is like the katamari of game design. That said, unified resolution has its own flaws. For example, lost in discussions of racial ASI is that ability scores are far more central to everything you do in 5e compared to pre-wotc editions. That makes the game easier to learn because almost every roll is d20+ability [+prof] in some way, but also makes it harder to separate out different systems. For instance, associating saving throws with ability scores vs having them be an entirely different subsystem.
What if Saving Throws (and base AC bonus?) bonuses were class dependant?
My theory is that the first thing that was thrown out was XP for gold. People wanted to play Lord of the Rings and Wheel of Time, and those stories just aren't about gold. And they were right, tying character advancement to loot makes no sense for such games. (Shouldn't have played D&D then, but that's a completely different topic.) The other source for XP in D&D was defeating monsters in battle. Though the game was designed so this would only be a fraction of the XP you get for treasure. The idea was that if you can creatively steal a monster's treasure without fighting it, you get 75% or so of the XP, but get to keep all your hit points and avoid your character getting killed. Fight the monster and you would get 100% XP, but lose some hit points in the progress that can spell your death. Either right now or in an unavoidable fight later on. Sneaking through the dungeons and trying to avoid the monsters is a critical design element.

Here is where random encounters come into play. Monsters don't carry all their gold with them all the time. That stuff is kept in a stash in the monster's lair. Wandering monsters have no treasure. That means if you run into wandering monsters and fight them, you will get only 25% XP, but still have the full risk of losing hit point and getting killed. And they are not just annoying little critters. They can be as big and deadly as the big bad boss in the great lair at the bottom of the dungeon. You really don't want random encounters. Random encounters are tied to a timer, which means you want to minimize your time in the dungeon and grab as much treasure as possible (without fighting!) as quickly as possible.
Once XP for gold is discarded and wandering monsters give 100% XP, they are no longer something to be avoided. Also GMs don't want the PCs to die because they are required to tell The Story, so they are made weak and mostly harmless. At that point random encounters are just an annoyance and also dropped.

Which brings us to encumbrance. Encumbrance is all about slowing characters down. Bring a lot of supplies and tools to be prepared for any situation: You get slowed down. Carry everything of value you find to maximize XP: You get slowed down.
When you're slower, you spend more time in the dungeon. More time in the dungeon means more random encounters. Which means you run out of hit points while having explored fewer areas and are at a greater risk of death. So what do you do? Pack less supplies? Drop supplies?! Leave some treasure behind? Those are critically important factors of creating tension in early D&D. But when you don't have to worry about random encounters, and don't get to haul literal wagon loads of treasure back to the surface (and then back to town), what's the point of tracking encumbrance? So out this went as well.
Sounds like it would make a good boardgame...
 

Undrave

Hero
I have found that the "toolkit" explanation comes off as a post hoc justification by fans for the incoherent nature of the ruleset.
Gygaxian prose is bloody unreadable. I read the word and my brain can't make heads or tail of it and I just forget every sentence once I'm done reading it.
 

James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
I beg to differ, you just need a thesaurus handy. Just looking up what some of the words he uses means is great fun. Like "deliquesce".

A lot can be said about Gary's tendency towards purple prose, but there was something about the way he wrote that my young brain found impressive especially his flavor text.

Though admittedly, when I tried to use words I'd never heard pronounced, I did get in trouble. Like the time I described a room dimly lit by braziers.

The girls in the room started giggling immediately.
 

Jer

Legend
Supporter
Gygaxian prose is bloody unreadable. I read the word and my brain can't make heads or tail of it and I just forget every sentence once I'm done reading it.
I don't find it unreadable but I do find it weird.

Like the passage that Snarf quoted earlier about killing people for profit being the "antithesis of weal". Was he trying to say that assassins are bad for the functioning of a healthy state? Or was he using weal as a synonym for "good" because of the idiom "weal and woe"? Because weal isn't really a synonym for good so much as it's a synonym for "prosperity".

There are so many places where instead of writing for clarity he wrote like a man who had a large vocabulary and figured that if it wasn't being used it was being wasted.
 

IvyDragons

Explorer
I think Gygax was incapable of writing anything without adding at least an additional paragraph, if not two
Gygax was brilliant. Those "extra paragraphs" were vastly important world building. Kids today learn the DnD world through movies like Lord of the Rings where they visually see the world and "get it', and only need to learn mechanics. Gygax built the same world through his descriptions.

Back in my day when I read 1e I already read the Iliad by Homer, so yeah reading his writing wasn't hard. I don't think most kids read much nowadays, everything is down to one sentence at a time, anything longer needs to be provided as a meme or anime.
 


Sacrosanct

Legend
Publisher
The biggest thing to realize when looking at how early D&D was written is to know that Gary was an insurance underwriter. Then it all makes sense why it was written as it was. He understood tables, math, risk, statistics, etc. And he carried all of that into his games. Many, especially kids, couldn't parse the rules very well on their own. D&D (especially OD&D) was meant to be taught by someone who already knew how to play miniature wargaming.
 

IvyDragons

Explorer
Many, especially kids, couldn't parse the rules very well on their own. D&D (especially OD&D) was meant to be taught by someone who already knew how to play miniature wargaming.
And yet millions who never played miniature wargaming picked it up just fine. I agree it was ideal for 17-22yos, not young kids.
 

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.
yeah, anytime you talk about OD&D/1E/Basic, you have to keep this in mind. And it gets even more warped by the fact that none of the early TSR's writers were all that good at explaining the rules clearly. Still, it was new and hella interesting, and those of us around back in the day had a lot of fun playing it, even if the rules seem broken by modern standards...
 

James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
Hm. If that's the way miniatures wargames were written at the time, it makes you wonder how anyone who wasn't a wargamer got into wargaming without someone who was already into wargaming handy.

This quickly leads into "chicken or the egg" territory.
 

Sacrosanct

Legend
Publisher
And yet millions who never played miniature wargaming picked it up just fine. I agree it was ideal for 17-22yos, not young kids.
No, millions didn't pick up OD&D and understand it just fine. For one, OD&D didn't sell nearly that many copies.

That was BECMI (and to an extent Moldvay B/X before that). I would posit that by the time hundreds of thousands of players played D&D, most either a) started with b/x or BECMI, or b) were taught by someone else.
 

Sacrosanct

Legend
Publisher
Hm. If that's the way miniatures wargames were written at the time, it makes you wonder how anyone who wasn't a wargamer got into wargaming without someone who was already into wargaming handy.

This quickly leads into "chicken or the egg" territory.
I wasn't playing wargames in the 60s and early 70s, naturally. But I did observe at GaryCon in the Legends of Wargaming room (where all these old wargames were being played, including Chainmail), that grown adults who were familiar with rpgs struggled to understand many of the rules and had to ask questions of the person who was running the game (and was familiar with the rules). Every time I popped in that room, someone was asking the referee for clarification on some rule.

These are games where it was very advantageous to have someone who already knew how to play teach them. I'm sure people could pick up the rules and try to parse them out, and certainly could play a version of them. But as we saw with AD&D, nearly every table was different. Each group ignored certain rules, houseruled others, etc. I would be shocked if more than 10% of AD&D players played RAW. After more than 40 years of gaming myself (sticking with AD&D all the way up to 2012 as my primary game), I haven't met a single person who did. How they were written had a lot to do with that, I think.
 

James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
I tried playing The Sword and the Flame once, a wargame based on British colonial wars. I left thinking "man, and I thought Battletech and Warhammer 40k had funky rules".
 

Dausuul

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...)
Got it in one. :)

I didn't really get much teaching on the rules--as I recall, my first ever D&D game was when a couple of my friends needed a DM and handed me a BD&D module to run, and I just kind of skimmed the book and winged it. I enjoyed reading the rulebooks away from the table, but I never sat down to go through them cover to cover--I just read the bits I found interesting, and almost immediately started hacking on the bits I didn't like.

You didn't really need much prior knowledge or training to play TSR-era D&D. All you needed was the basic gameplay loop, and a willingness to make stuff up when you didn't know the rule. Half the time the rule didn't exist anyway, so you'd be wasting your time looking for it.
 

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