Wednesday, February 16, 2011

AD&D continued - a Natural Progression

Rediscovering AD&D, if I can call it that, seems like a very natural progression, all things considered. Remembering back to the early years of the hobby, it was typically after a couple of years of B/X, Holmes, or OD&D that myself and the other gamers/groups I knew in the early 80's to had gotten comfortable enough with their games and campaigns that it was time to start branching out a bit, adding a bit more complexity and detail to the game as the ongoing campaigns themselves matured and became more complex through actual play. It was not an uncommon sight at all to see someone lugging around their B/X books (perhaps all cut up into a three-ring binder!) along with maybe a digest sized Gods, Demigods & Heroes, and a new hardcover tome: the Monster Manual. Up in the left hand corner of this durable-looking hardcover was a yellow banner that was soon to become ubiquitous proudly proclaiming "Advanced Dungeons & Dragons".

Well now!

Published in 1977, it was nonetheless rare on tables, at least in my experience, until '81 or so. Getting one back then was an almost pilgrimage-like ritual: one could not simply pick one up at JC Pennys like you could when you wanted a Modvay boxed set, you had to actually go to a hobby shop, or other store (in my case it was the local corner hardware store!) that went through the trouble of stocking the more "serious" gaming products. Visiting the racks to get that first Monster Manual was opening up a whole new world for gamers and DM's whose previous experience had been limited to whatever could fit into a shallow purple box! Here now was a whole new world of options - the new "Advanced" player's handbook was likely sitting there as well, along with tempting boxes of Grenadier miniatures, Arduin Grimoires, and shrink-wrapped bundles of Judges Guild supplements stuffed with seductive brown maps! Sure this stuff had all been there for a few years, but me and my friends in our tweens had no idea! The older guys, who met in libraries, VFW halls, and church basements to push ever-so-interesting stacks of counters around vast hex-maps of europe knew all about all that stuff already, but they didn't know much about us: the legions of middle-schoolers, our voices just starting to crack and deepen as we bragged about our x-wing fighters, girls, and gathered around whatever isolated table or stairwell we could find to explore the Keep on the Borderlands or the Isle of Dread.

Over the next couple of years those shallow purple boxes would be replaced by milk crates and backpacks brimming with new stuff! you remembered all the cool stuff you saw on the Monster Manual shopping pilgrimage, and as soon as you could successfully bug your moms out of a few more bucks you were back for more. New, more detailed monsters made appearances at the table. Then new classes, spells, and equipment. Rules? Who really noticed? The new DMG, published in 1979 but again not becoming a regular sight for a couple of years, was sacred and off-limits, and that's where most of the rules were. This was a huge difference from later editions, wherein most of the rules would appear in the Players Handbooks, and the "flavor" be resigned to the DMG, a change that I cannot help but think led to a big loss of the magic and wonder of the game, perhaps a big part of that indefinable sense of difference that has driven so many away from contemporary editions and into the Old School Renaissance or Original Edition gaming.

Which brings me back to that feeling of Natural Progression. I think its fair to say that until lately the retroclone movement has put a lot of emphasis on recreating OD&D and B/X. Sure, OSRIC is arguably the "first", but was per its creator intended to facilitate new AD&D releases, not "replace" the original books. But after a couple of years of that OD&D and B/X emphasis (which compellingly, seems to parallel the early 80's experience) there seems to be a growing interest in adding more "AD&Dish" elements to the game. Witness Labyrinth Lord's Advanced Edition Companion and the new Swords & Wizardry Complete, both of which add many of AD&D's iconic classes, monsters, and spells, to the already familiar "basic" rules structures. Or even taking AD&D a step further as with the forthcoming "Adventures Dark & Deep". And all the while, thriving AD&D communities and discussions have been plugging merrily along, varyingly supportive or derisive of the retroclones' popularity, at lively online inns like Dragonsfoot and Knights & Knaves Alehouse.

And if you are curious to explore or rediscover AD&D, like I am, man, what a rewarding treasure chest awaits! Its gaming archaeology at its finest! Go on, grab the 1E PHB or DMG if you have it handy, flip to a random page or two, and see if something there, some idiosyncratic rule or evocative bit of flavor, some italicized bit of small print, doesn't surprise you. Go ahead, I'll wait.

More to follow...


  1. one could not simply pick one up at JC Pennys like you could when you wanted a Modvay boxed set

    Really? I ordered my Monster Manual from the Sears catalog sometime in 1980, I believe. As I recall, Sears carried a lot of RPG stuff back then.

  2. @JM - Ah, yes I remember the catalogs! Wonderful stuff, I'd like to track down some copies of Sears/Maas Bros/JC Penny catalogs from say 80-84, probably lots of good stuff there.

  3. We all played Holmes/Moldvay/Cook, but we were pretty much in a sprint from the very start to get to AD&D. Money was our chief limitation, so we played a hybridized version for quite a while, and pooled our books. Like most people of our generation, I don't think we ever played a btb version of any of them. I remember stumbling on the text about the 1-minute round only after gaming for a few years (we always just assumed AD&D used the B/X combat rounds). By that point, my reaction was "what? but that's ridiculous!"

  4. I regularly find cool stuff in the 1E AD&D DMG. There's a table for damage lycanthropes take when busting out of their armor during a change. There's a table in the back in an appendix for Harlot Encounters and for various types of plants. People seem to know about the gem "reputed properties" table but what about the mining rates for various races, including giants? In all it's a pretty cool book and I'd keep it around at the table regardless of what game system I was running.

  5. I remember getting a lot of my books and modules from Toys r' Us when I was a snot-nosed kid. This, of course, was back before Satan was the editor-in-chief and the Player's Handbook came with a "DIY Sacrificial Altar"

    ah...good times

  6. A problem my group kept running into was that the saving throw categories on our green Moldvay Basic character sheets didnt match the saving throw charts in the the AD&D DMG. For a long time we thought it was some kind of typo or something. Reflex, Fortitude and Will saves replacing Dragon Breath, Poison,Petrify,Polymorph, Death Ray, etc. Is one of the best changes from the older editions that 3rd+ made, in my opinion.

  7. Wonderful recollections here, I look forward to more AD&D memories and discussion.

  8. I got mine at Toys 'R' Us, along with the PH, DMG, the Moldvay boxed set and many modules. Good times!

  9. Yep, Toys 'R' Us here, too! I'm not sure if it was '81 or '82, though.

  10. Nice post Al :) I got my first D&D, the Moldvay Basic box with tiny blue dice and a crayon, from the basement of a drug store in downtown Alliance, Nebraska. I had been buying plastic model kits down there, and then saw all these games. All the old Avalon Hill stuff was there, along with a 1st edition Tunnels & Trolls. They even let me order dice out of their wholesale catalog, since they didn't carry dice otherwise.. heh. My first miniatures came from either Penny's, Sears or Wards, via the catalog. Two sets of the old Heritage minis.

  11. I recovered my B/X books and PHB and DMG over the holidays, after playing Lab Lord and the AEC for the last year. It's really started to clarify what LL is vis a vis B/X, and that the AEC is the PHB part of AD&D, not the DMG part. I have been going through the Moldvay and Cook books again and have been struck by how well laid out they are, and production quality and the clarity, and I see the DMG as the absolute opposite end of the spectrum. I now see why we hardly used it back in the day (unlike the PHB).

    But after bitching about the lack of organizational logic for a few weeks, last night I did what you said, just opened it to a page and saw a good chunk about dealing with crappy players. The facing page gets into some totally unrelated stuff, but I realized if you just took each little chunk and posted it on a blog day by day, it would be one of the best gaming blogs out there. You don't expect the blog medium to be a linear narrative, so the constantly changing focus and lack of over-arching structure wouldn't be so distracting or irritating. Basically the DMG is Gygax's original paper blog.

  12. The Monster Manual (Easley cover) was the first AD&D book I bought, to go with my Basic D&D set. I was disappointed - I'd gotten it confused with Fiend Folio and MM II, both of which I much prefer!





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