Tuesday, May 27, 2008

We're Going To Party Like It's 1974

Disclaimer: I was born in 1974, 11 months after the very first version of Dungeons and Dragons came out. I wasn't even aware that this version existed until looking up RPG websites in the early 2000s.

I am not a D&D grognard, by any stretch of the imagination. I came in with the Mentzer Basic box, seven months after it was released, and the idea that there can be such a thing as a Mentzer grognard is just... foolish. There's even a case to be made that the word can not be properly applied to someone who didn't play wargames before RPGs even came along. The idea that there could be "2E grognards" or... damn... "3E grognards" [you] [dumb] [shits] [!] is simply offensive and a gross misappropriation of the word. Sarcastic or not. Grognard isn't an attitude or a state of mind - you were either there or you weren't.

But these days, there seems to be an OD&D resurgence, through some vocal supporters, and the movement is gaining steam. Looking at this alongside the general traditional revival, I wonder if they are concurrent developments or if one is feeding the other. This isn't a problem, but there's one curious little bit...

People are overestimating OD&D and placing upon it phantoms of respectability beyond what it actually is. That's quite a statement considering I'm talking about the game that started this entire hobby. If you follow the line of thinking followed up here and there (including the "bombshell by Tim Kask" post on this very blog), you could almost get the feeling that OD&D was the most pure form of the game and that everything that came after was some sort of restriction.

Yet people who crow about OD&D, through experience or rediscovery, seem to ignore how a lot of people actually played (whatever version of) D&D "back in the day," after OD&D was no longer in print but before we had Dragonsfoot and access to Gary Gygax on multiple forums. We didn't have a clue what we were doing, and we did just fine. So fine that 20+ years later, we're wanting to share that "fine-ness" with the next generation, and into perpetuity.

Take a look at your Dungeon Master's Guide. You want to talk about a "toolkit for gaming"?

Let's face it... we never played "
x edition" rules back in the day. That's a more recent (upon the advent of 2E, which was the first edition fully designed to bury and replace an earlier one I think - OD&D was in print and had new supplements released up through the end of 1979 - after all the AD&D rules were out, and after the Holmes Basic set was out, so neither the Basic nor Advanced lines were originally intended to erase or replace the original three booklets). We just called it D&D regardless of how we played it. If you played the Basic rules (or the whole BECMI chain - did one single group ever play a legit B -> I campaign?), you know you used some AD&D stuff, and vice versa.

We weren't restricted in what we were doing! Our focus may have been a bit narrow, but our gameplay wasn't. Even the DMG came up with specific examples of "make shit up" (chances for a halfling to bring down a human pyramid, anyone?). And if AD&D is "Gary Gygax's house rules," (which he didn't even use in many cases anyway, some of which were in the OD&D supplements to begin with!) then OD&D plus your additions isn't pure OD&D either - so who are we kidding?

Just because you played with AD&D and didn't use all the damn rules, doesn't mean you weren't playing AD&D and so should switch your base rules to OD&D. Taking ideas from D&D and applying them to the game you already like to play... well, that's something you're doing already, right?

Look, D&D is missing some very basic rules. It doesn't have it's own combat rules (the included rules are the "alternative" version - it refers to another game for that! Check out this passage:

Let us assume he gains 7,000 Gold Pieces by defeating a troll (which is a 7th level monster, as it has over 6 hit dice). Had the monster been only a 5th level one experience would be awarded on a 5/8 basis as already stated, but as the monster guarding the treasure was a 7th level one experience would be awarded on a 7/8 basis thus; 7,000 G.P. + 700 for killing the troll = 7,700 divided by 8 = 962.5 x 7 = 6,037.5.
Kidding, right? And what happens when a Fighting Man gains enough experience to cease being a Veteran and becomes a Warrior? How many hit points does he gain, going from 1+1 HD to 2?

The current understanding of OD&D is only possible because of what came after. At the time, and this is no exaggeration, some people were so befuddled by what they were reading that their attempts to fill in the holes and make sense of everything resulted in completely new games. And I see a lot of people these days, in their love for OD&D, conveniently ignoring some things while taking advantage of its less-defined behavior. They aren't playing D&D any less than I played AD&D even though I never used naval combat rules or Weapon Type vs AC charts.

Traditional D&D is traditional D&D, and it's all variations on the same theme. The same theme. And the original version of D&D has as many good ideas to mine as any version out there.

So, I think the proclaiming OD&D as the real stuff are missing the mark.

And just to clarify: The point isn't to denigrate the old D&D rules. It's just to put them into their proper focus. They are all that is, and all we've ever played. Dungeons and Dragons. That's it, that's all, doesn't matter if it's got an A or an O, came in a box or as just a book. To not feel bound by the rules-as-written is not a 1974 feature, it's a feature shared by any Gygax/Arneson iteration. Gary may have preached "standardization," but did he play "by the book"? No! And he added his own additional material on top that can't possibly be considered canon (Unearthed Arcana).

Pick your base, make your wanted adjustments, and... (must resist)... and... (no... must not)... and... (oh, what the hell) FIGHT ON!

(speaking of which, I really should finish up my contribution, shouldn't I? Monday deadline...)


  1. Not to mention the articles from Dragon magazine. "Hey guys, this back issue I found at the flea market has a new class in it!" "Cool, this one has the 'perception' attribute -- we need to roll those for all our characters."

  2. “...if AD&D is "Gary Gygax's house rules...”

    On DF, Steve Marsh said he thought AD&D was more Law Shick’s house rules instead of Gary’s.

    Might be even more correct to say that it was a compilation of everyone’s house rules filtered through Gary.


    To me, the thing is that nigh all the “new school” styles of play that grognards might grumble about appeared among players who started with oD&D too. This happened because the game didn’t manage to fully get its point across.

  3. James, it looks like you left out a couple of links in paragraph 4, any chance of editing your post?