Sunday, February 20, 2011

AD&D - is Advanced!

As the Monster Manual would be the first of the "Advanced" books, it would also be the first look at the "Advanced" rules, and the text seems to back up the moniker. Monsters that appeared in the LBB's as a brief paragraph of evocative text and a couple of essential numerical particulars (HD, AC, and not much else), would reappear in this new hardcover tome with several paragraphs of text, a long list of "statistics", and often a piece of representative black & white art, usually by Trampier or Sutherland (more about this art later).

Lets look at the Ixitxachitl (don't you love saying that name? Yeah, I can't pronounce it either), a monster that debuted in Arneson's "Supplement II: Blackmoor". As it appears in that book, the monster gets a brief line of numbers on a spare-looking chart (#, AC, move, HD, % in lair, and treasure type) and four sentences of descriptive text later in the chapter. In the Monster Manual, we get two substantive paragraphs about the creature, an illustration, and the following statistics:

Frequency: very rare
Appearing: 10-100
Armor Class: 6
Move: 12"
Hit Dice: 1+1
% In Lair: 60%
No. of Attacks: 1
Damage/Attack: 3-12
Special Attacks: Evil Clerical Spells
Special Defences: Nil
Magic Resistance: Standard
Intelligence: Average to High
Alignment: Chaotic Evil
Size: M
Psionic Ability: Nil
Attack/Defense Modes: Nil

To anyone converting straight to AD&D from OD&D, this must have raised eyebrows at first: "Magic Resistance?", "Chaotic Evil?", "Psionic Ability!?". Once you were familiar with the new format, you could tell a lot of information about a creature at a glance that you previously had to guess at, assume, or wing. What's it look like? How big is it? How smart is it? What happens when I cast spells at it? Now, I happen to like all the guessing, assuming, and winging that comes with OD&D, I see it as a beneficial side-effect that allows me to inject a little freshness into stuff that might conceivably be perceived as old hat after 35 or so years. But after a publishing history of just 5 years, this codification must have been welcomed with open arms by many. This would have eliminated a lot of the guesswork I can imagine many folks new to running the game may have found a bit frustrating.

A whole new suite of monster rules was being introduced to the game, right there on page 5. If you're able, take a look at that page, and the top third of page 6. You have a whole bunch of stuff explained there that would become pretty much standard for the next 30 years. Of course, this way of fine-detailing a monster would be taken to new heights as each new edition arrived, peaking in 3E, wherein each monster often had a full page or three of statistics and details, full-color art, and potentially 20-30 pages of combat rules, feats, and conditions to refer to to fully understand every nuance of the creature and its abilities in and out of combat.

Moving on to the PHB: upon opening this book you get 8 pages of introductory text with an exaustive table of contents and then you're right into the first new stuff: Character Abilities. Simple stuff we take for granted nowadays like a Strength bonus to-hit or Dex bonus to AC, was not always so straightforward. OD&D was a bit vague about this stuff, and further supplements would further muddy the waters (and even the modern interpretations of these still seem to evoke a bit of confusion: see the message boards for Swords & Wizardry). B/X moved ability scores into a simpler format: a 13 was a +1 bonus, for instance, whether you were talking AC or to-hit, or damage, or hit points, or Dex, or Str, or Cleric, or Thief, or so on. AD&D moved it in the other direction, introducing a suite of exceptions, particulars, and clarifications to each individual ability, often dependent on class.

AD&D also moved the bonuses for these scores to the higher end of the score range. A 13, which got you a +1 to-hit and damage in B/X, got you squat in AD&D; you needed a 17, a much rarer ability score (see the no-doubt peyote-fueled bell-curve and mathematical discourse on DMG pg10) to get that +1 to-hit and damage. This new element of D&D would help add yet another new element: min-maxing! You usually needed higher scores to even play one of the nifty new classes AD&D offered like the Assassin, Monk, or Ranger. And, no one wanted a sucky fighter with no bonuses to hit, or a thief with no bonus to AC, or so on. So, a way had be invented to provide players with a means of getting higher ability scores. Interestingly, the "need" to min-max must have been apparent very early on, as Gygax takes time to introduce ways of getting those higher ability scores (DMG pg11), stating "it is important to allow participants to generate a viable character of the race and profession which he or she desires". Note the word "viable", which means "doesn't suck".

The methods given to produce a character with abilities that are awesome!, ahem, viable, include rolling 3d6 six times for each ability and picking the best result, as well as the now-ubiquitous method of rolling 4d6 and picking the best three dice, then arranging the scores with the abilities of your choice. This would be taken to the next level with the Unearthed Arcana book, which provide a list, by class, of how many d6's to roll for each ability to get the scores you wanted. By 3E, you could just pretty much just write down whatever scores you wanted, as the point-buy system was introduced to D&D.

And here we have one of the fundamental changes I was referring to last post (you thought it was going to be just a numbers thing, didn't you?): for the first time, with AD&D, players began to come to the table with a character "concept" before rolling the first d6. Before AD&D the dice fell as they would: maybe you got a 7 strength and a 16 wisdom, and no matter how much you might've felt like running a super-strong Gilgamesh-type hero, you were stuck with either a weak fighter or a decent cleric. Now you could roll strength six times and unless you were pretty unlucky, you were going to get something you wanted. Of course, as I recall, few DMs were having any of this nonsense - I remember plenty of AD&D games where the ability score rolls were ordered to fall where they may! But just like a lot of those simplified combat rules we were carrying over from the early boxed versions of the game, this was an idiosyncrasy, not something the AD&D rules supported, encouraged, or even really allowed.

There's no method of rolling ability scores provided in the PHB. There are four specific methods in the DMG, and none of them are "roll 3d6 in order", this traditional method gets only a passing mention.

AD&D allowing players to come to the table with a character concept already fully-formed would really become, though it was a gradual change over decades, one of of the biggest dividing lines between "old-school" and "new-school" RPGs. Old school games tend to favor player skill over rules mastery or character strength: for an old-school player, it's fun to both accept the challenge of random generation (perhaps getting that Cleric mentioned above) and to masterfully play and develop that "accidental" character into something legendary. To beat the odds. Across later editions, the paradigm would slowly shift to deciding what sort of 20th level character you want (perhaps envisioning that Gilgamesh-type hero, brooding on his throne late in life), and selecting the appropriate ability scores, skills, feats, and magical equipment to bring that concept to fruition. To eliminate the odds altogether, through rules mastery. Both types of play have their merits and their proponents: AD&D seems to have facilitated both, perhaps it is both the first and last edition to do so.

More to come...


  1. I'm greatly enjoying these posts, but for a slightly different reason - my entry-level iteration of D&D was AD&D and so the reactions of someone who moved to it from OD&D are very interesting. I'm not sure if the progression from Original to Advanced was primarily a North American phenomenon - I was unaware for quite some time in the UK that there actually was an Original version. Perhaps someone else from the UK could clarify?

    Looking forward to more ruminations on the game.

    PS very considered and thoughtful comment on Joe Abercrombie's blog re the Leo Grin controversy btw.

  2. Wow, great analysis here. I never realized until now how much 1e AD&D shaped many of my own early assumptions about generating characters and "having a character concept."

  3. I see both sides of the player/character argument but I find we all have a better time if the players get to make the character they want to be(within Reason)
    So I will let them re-roll a few stats and then re-order them to suit their class choice.

  4. I live in New Zealand. I was introduced to D&D before AD&D. This was in the 1980's. At that time, despite Gary Gygax's lawsuit-fuelled claims to the contrary, they were the same game to me. AD&D was fantastic, with plenty of elements that could be added to your gaming sessions. I look upon D&D now as a collection of house rules. Play it your way. Unearthed Arcana was the turning point which highlighted this for me. That book was full of ridiculous rules! It also had some inspiring ideas. It was up to our gaming group to test what worked for us.



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