Monday, February 15, 2010
Gygax on Basic and AD&D
From Dragon, March 1980:
"Most of the personnel at TSR took part in design and development in years past. As we realized that “Original” D&D (the first three booklets and the supplements) wasn’t anywhere near adequate for the needs of the readership it was attracting, it was decided that a simplified,clarified, introductory piece was needed. Shortly after this was decided, as if by divine inspiration, J. Eric Holmes got in touch with us and actually volunteered his services for just such an undertaking. All of you know the result, of course.
All of you also know why something had to be done. The “Original” work had been aimed at a small audience, one (wrongly) assumed to be highly conversant with military miniatures and basically non-critical. The booklets were hastily put together in late-night and spare-time hours, by and large, with little or no editing. Each supplement further-more reflected development and evolution of the game, so there was contradiction, duplication, and vast areas of ambiguity and non-direction.
I saw this as a second problem, one well known to you also. D&D was too flexible and unlimited, in my opinion. The game was actually unrecognizable as played from group to group in the same locale, let alone different regions of the country! As plans of reorganizing and rewriting D&D were developed, I began my own work on Advanced D&D, and this kept me busy for some three years, more or less. By the time the final manuscript from Eric was in our hands, the rough of the Monster Manual was also finished, rough outlines of Players Handbook and Dungeon Masters Guide were typed up, and several portions of both works were likewise in manuscript form. We had two choices to consider with the new Basic Set: As it took players only through three experience levels, they could thereafter be directed to the “original” works, or we could refer them to AD&D. This put us on the horns of a real dilemma. Sending them into the morass of “Original” D&D put us back on square one, with all the attendant problems of rules questions, misinterpretations, and wildly divergent play. Yet there was no time to undertake a revision of the remainder of the “Original” works immediately—that was a project to take place sometime in the distant, dimly perceived future, when TSR could actually afford the luxury of a staff of designers!
On the other hand, Advanced D&D, even then obviously a different game system, could be offered as a stop-gap measure. Its classes, races, characters, monsters, magic, spells, and so forth were similar to, but certainly not the same as, those of D&D. Was it better to send enthusiasts into the welter of the “Original” material and let them founder around there? Or would it be better to direct them to AD&D, even if it meant throwing out what they had begun with the Basic Set and making them start a fresh?* Faced with a choice between chaos and a clean slate, we opted for the latter. (Although there are occasional letters from irate D&Ders who refuse to move into the new system, that is far preferable to what would have happened had we directed readers to the “Original” volumes!) After we selected what was actually the lesser of two evils*, things went into high gear.
Pieces and parts of the various components of AD&D were grafted into the Basic Set rules manuscript so that D&D would be more compatible with the Advanced game. Readers were directed to AD&D throughout the Basic Set, with muttered prayers accompanying these directions, I am sure, as our production people had no idea then just how well it would all work out in the end, because much of the AD&D system was still on rough notes or in my head at the time. It turned out to be relatively acceptable as an interim measure, too."