Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Maybe My Imagination IS Slowing Down

Yesterday (Tuesday, Mars Day) I was thinking a lot about playing AD&D. Not just playing AD&D, but running AD&D.

O Boy.

Part of this has to do with the Summer-ish weather we’re having (which reminds me of the long summers of my childhood with little to do BUT play AD&D), part of it has to do with my reminisces about playing my axe-wielding fighter, and certainly no small part is due to my conversation with the Doctor the other day (yesterday, in fact).

Kris (that’s the Doc) and I were reminiscing about some of our old play experiences, as well as talking about some of the issues (regarding PLAY) that I’ve seen raised around the blogs recently…just random stuff like how to treat PC thieves that steal from their own party (Kris is a bit of a “thieving connoisseur”). After talking and reminiscing and chortling to ourselves for 40 minutes or so, we decided we should get on-line and find someone to run an AD&D campaign for us.

I, of course, began to waffle almost immediately, saying maybe I should just run an AD&D game, but the Doctor was fairly adamant that I stick to my original idea of being a player. “Yeah, but aren’t you worried I’ll upstage you with my normal crazy antics?” Kris assured me I would not, as it would be his job to be a thief, and my job to be…well, me, I guess.

“What about all these damn house rules people have?” I asked, thinking of another recent post over at Brunomac’s about a guy wanting to run an All Elf Campaign. Simply, the Kris replied, we just need to advertise what we’re looking for. Okay, said I.

But then I got home, and I started reading HackMaster and my old AD&D books (see notes from my last post), and I started to think What The F?!

I mean, there’s a reason I’ve been blogging for nearly a year now about how damn cool Basic or B/X Dungeons & Dragons is, right? I mean all my waxing poetic about B/X (and all my denigrations of more complex editions) hasn’t been just blowing smoke, right?


Here’s the thing, and I mean here’s the REAL thing: I get f’ing INSPIRED by AD&D. I’m saying, positively, absolutely…there’s something very dark and sinister about the game that just gets my creative juices flowing. And it does so in a way unlike pretty much any other RPG I’ve ever owned…with the possible exception of 1st edition Vampire: the Masquerade.

What is it about AD&D? I don’t know. There’s just so much significance instilled in those hallowed hardbacks for me. And it has this feeling that’s just arcane and straight out of the 70s or something (like a Led Zeppelin album)…it’s like you know some of these artists were probably high when they were illustrating these books and they tapped into something that grabs the subconscious mind and grips it.

Plus I’ve got so many of those old TSR modules from the early days…A3 and A4, S1 and S2, N1, the G-D-Q series (NOT in “super-module” form), and I1 of course. Just reading ‘em and their DM notes puts you in a particular frame of mind, connecting you to the way the game was once-upon-a-time played…an inkling of how the Masters did it.

At least, that’s what it feels like to me.

So then, what is Moldvay, Cook, and Marsh? Chopped liver? Hardly. It is a great un-tapped potential and perhaps the purest (or to me, the most idealized) form of the game to be played. But just picking it up and holding it? For whatever reason, it doesn’t immediately suggest adventure to me the way AD&D does.

Gosh, I’m really not sure what I’m trying to say here. Let me try to break it down into points.

- B/X is the better game, all things considered. There’s no monster, spell, magic item…hell, a rule!...that can’t be imported into B/X with only slight tweaking, should you want to do that. And most of the time, I don’t want to!

- Just reading AD&D makes me feel frustrated and somewhat depressed. Why did they do THIS? What’s the point of making THAT so complicated? Isn’t this other thing completely redundant? Reading through the magic item tables of the DMG, I found myself BORED by a lot of it. At least HackMaster has fun things like the Ring of Martyrdom and the Gauntlets of Wuss-Slapping.

- Truth be told, though, both B/X and AD&D are wide-open for adding your own unique items of magic, which is why HackMaster can do what they do or why I was able to add several pages of new items to my B/X Companion.

- But the AMBIENCE of AD&D, the FEEL of it…it just feels more mature. And not just because of the nipples present in some illustrations.

But maybe that IS it…maybe it’s the artwork, so much of which is decidedly less than heroic that puts me in a mature frame of mind. Maybe it is the conspiratorial tone of Gygax’s writing; so far from the reasonable, almost clinical feel of B/X at times. B/X is the cleaned up version of OD&D. AD&D is Gary putting his arm around you and exploring the depths of the master’s mind.

OR MAYBE I’M JUST GETTING OLD and my imagination isn’t as fertile as it once was. Maybe I’m left only the ability to recycle OLD ideas…and in the end, AD&D IS the game that I played the most throughout the years. If I am simply recycling old characters and scenarios, at least there’s a huge pile of compost material from which to draw! B/X? Not so much.

Hmmm…just thought of one more thing. Unlike B/X characters, the AD&D classes are not simple archetypes. Many of them are actually ADVENTURE HOOKS disguised as characters. Maybe this is why I get such an inspirational feeling from the Players Handbook. Druidic circles, guildmaster thieves and Grandfathers of assassins, limited (but buildable!) spell books, bardic colleges, monkish orders…all of these incorporate an actual campaign setting into the character generation process! Unlike B/X…in B/X it is certainly POSSIBLE to add all this, but in AD&D it is there from the get-go. Same with certain monsters (like githyanki, drow, the diabolic hierarchy of the 9 Hells, Tiamat & Bahamut, etc.).

I have written before that I don’t think AD&D is truly “ADVANCED D&D;” that to my mind it is D&D completed with Gary’s particular house rules for his own campaign world. And I STILL think that. But damn if it isn’t a living, breathing world just ripe for adventure! Unlike B/X which requires you to play in Mystara (of which I am NOT fond) or do all the hard gruntwork of world creation yourself.

At least, if you want the world to be as vivid as that of Mr. Gygax’s Greyhawk.

And I guess that's really it. AD&D, unlike B/X, is NOT some generic fantasy RPG. It actually has a world. With legendary names (Tenser, Mordenkainen, Bigby, Vecna, Kas, etc., etc.). And it is that world, the Gygax's world of Greyhawk, that inspires me and makes me want to play AD&D...even though I vastly prefer B/X D&D and consider it the superior game.


All right, maybe I will go look up an on-line AD&D game. It just better not the f'ing Forgotten Realms or something.


  1. The thing you miss is the setting. I play Swords & Wizardry, but when designing adventures/magic items/monsters, I read 3/3.5 ed books for inspiration.

    If the fluff is good, why not use it?

  2. I often find myself in the same boat. B/X was the way I was introduced to D&D, but my first real campaign was run in AD&D, and there are a lot of loaded memories of that (and the Led Zep we listened to while playing it). There were so many niggling little rules and 'arcane' twists of logic in that game, and yet, somehow, it retains its allure.

    I say all of this, even though my preferred game system for the last 20 years (my god, has it been that long?) is the D6 system of the Star Wars RPG. I have written up rules for D6 Fantasy adventure and even run a campaign using it, and yet...for whatever the reason, when I play Fantasy, my brain instantly goes to AD&D. The two seem irrevocably linked.

    I could explain it all away as nostalgia and lingering 'first impressions' of gaming, but it isn't just that. There are times when AD&D just seems 'right'. What always happens, however, is that I start delving back into it only to find all those little details I didn't like about it in the first place.

    It is a quandry.

  3. Oh, quit pussyfooting around and just face it already!

    The appeal of AD&D for you is the separation of Race from Class.

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  5. Sorry, tired and forgot which blog I was reading.

  6. This: has this feeling that’s just arcane and straight out of the 70s or something (like a Led Zeppelin album)…it’s like you know some of these artists were probably high when they were illustrating these books and they tapped into something that grabs the subconscious mind and grips it.

    is about the best stab yet I've seen at exaplining the appeal of AD&D. I feel you on almost all of this post except this:

    Unlike B/X which requires you to play in Mystara (of which I am NOT fond) or do all the hard gruntwork of world creation yourself.

    First of all, that's not true. Second of all, there ain't no Mystara in B/X. Just a crazy little sketch of a thing called The Known World. ;)

  7. @ Matt: I was hasty in my writing. What I meant is:

    "there is no INHERENT or IMPLIED setting in the game itself"

    and yes, I realize Mystara is a latter tack-on to the Known World map, but they are interchangeable in my mind. I was none too fond of "the Known World" either, even before Norworld and Alphatia and all the rest.

    @ Pat: : )

    @ Stu: No, it is not. But I may be addressing this in a bit.