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."

10 comments:

  1. "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!"

    Interesting quote, that. Given that we know Gygax had intended that D&D should ultimately be able to be played anywhere across the country, presumably in the same way that football is, it makes sense FROM THAT PERSPECTIVE ONLY that the rules systems should be homogenised. However, given that this never really happened, with the exception of tournament games at the conventions, and even AD&D has been house-ruled light years away from homogeneity, does this mean that in essence, Gygax didn't trust the players of his game to remain true to his vision of what he wanted it to be? Shades of an early WotC attitude - "Hey, guys, stop adapting the game, otherwise we can't sell you all these bolt-ons"

    It's also interesting that the very looseness and flexibility that is so lauded by the OSR was viewed as a Bad Thing by the guy who invented the game in the first place.

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  2. Interesting post. The quote "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!", is somewhat disconcerting. I thought that was what the free form play was about.

    I still like AD&D, but I think as far as getting the rules in a concise and well ordered package, the Holmes edition was the best.

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  3. @Atom Kid: Yes I blogged about this quote once, here: http://uhluhtcawakens.blogspot.com/2008/10/original-dungeons-dragons-was-rush-job.html

    I think people have sometimes, to one degree or another, imposed their own wishes or ideas on the original creators. This may not, actually doesn't seem to be, their original intent. Not all (maybe most) vagaries in OD&D were not intentional.

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  4. Speaking with Rob Kuntz recently, I think it important to point out that there is a distinction between Gary-the-businessman, and Gary-the-gamer.
    --Rob makes it clear that they continued to play OD&D long after AD&D came out and that when Gary would run tourney games, he ran as he saw fit, not By-the-Books.

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  5. "The booklets were hastily put together in late-night and spare-time hours, by and large, with little or no editing."

    While OD&D is a fun GAME, that's it. It has all sorts of problems, which shouldn't surprise us since a bunch of 20- and 30-somethings tossed the books out in their spare time. They are not Art. They are not Masterpieces. They are not Holy Writ. OD&D is a great and imaginative game. That is not a little thing, but neither is it a huge thing.

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  6. The only problem for OD&D was the organization of the rules and not all explantions complete, which led to some confusion. It did give you various options for the rules. So not everyone was playing the same set of rules. I think that was the main factor for AD&D, a better organized book for people to use. The Holmes set could lead you to either OD&D or AD&D, it's basically just an organized version of OD&D but limited to 3rd level.

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  7. I understand his rationale as regards to OD&D from a business standpoint- but that is precisely why I LOVE those LBBs, and even more-so the Moldvay/Cook/Marsh re-vamp. I prefer that wild & wooly, less structured "world system", and always will.

    And though it may sound crazy to many of the OSR BLOGgers and readesd- this is precisely why I prefer 4th edition over 3.x, 2E & AD&D as well. I've really come to loathe the structure & constraints built into the "world system" since AD&D took off. While 4E certainly has plenty of structure around the actual mechanics for skills/combat/powers-all the creative bits are largely unstructured and left to the DM to come up with (or not). Combined with the ability to easily "re-skin" the powers, monsters,magic items, etc., all the more better for me.

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  8. > However, given that this never really happened, with the exception of tournament games at the conventions,

    And RPGA and other "living" systems.

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  9. How big was RPGA in terms of the hobby overall? I've just googled it (being a Brit, it was never really on my radar) and it seems to have been always tied to TSR and WotC thereafter. And the quote from Gygax more or less coincides with the formation of RPGA (IIRC). I'm intrigued to know how well this took off with the gaming community at large.

    Also, I seem to get the impression that the 'living systems' came on the scene long after GG had left TSR/WotC.

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  10. This is very, very much EGG in TSR Gary mode, ain't it? I recognize exactly that "speaking ex cathedra" tone from the forewords to the AD&D books.

    Hard to believe it's the same man (Gamer Gary) who only a few years earlier asked why we should have the writers [of OD&D] do any more of our imagining for us.

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