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".
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...