Monday, November 14, 2011

Misplaced Retro-Love

So, in light of some comments made previously on my blog about the original version of D&D (and a discussion I had with some friends on Saturday), I decided to go over all my older D&D books and figure out what I liked about each version, and for what reasons. I fully intended to outline specific rules, quirks, styles, etc., that appealed to me for each version. What I really discovered, though, was the Original D&D (OD&D) books sucked major ass. Presentation-wise, writing, content, pretty much just horrid pieces of crap. I honestly have no idea how OD&D became so insanely popular given this fact, but I do realize the many reasons Gygax et al made a serious push to support the game through rules clarifications and eventually Holmes' edited D&D and AD&D. It also became evident why many other rpgs came into being so quickly. I've read interviews with Ken St. Andre and he directly stated that Tunnels and Trolls came about because he couldn't decipher D&D. Plenty of other games cropped up soon thereafter, each essentially a response to the crappiness of D&D. My guess is this is why Gygax pushed so hard to get the Monster Manual out the door, because he knew the original game was popular simply because it was the first, not for any other reason. It had name recognition, not quality, and a professionally written and edited version was necessary lest another company take over in popularity.

My question, then, is why do so many people have weird justifications to defend a pile of crap? I'm not saying they shouldn't LIKE OD&D, nor ignore the nostalgia they feel for the game, but it sucks. It's historically significant and should be treated that way, but there sheer reverence I see for OD&D is fucked up. There's nothing wrong with liking something you know is low quality, at all. I truly enjoy Miller High Life, I admit it. It is my second favorite beer, even though I know it's awful. I'd never say it's a quality beer, however. The point here is "recreating the OD&D experience" seems pretty stupid to me. Why would I want to recreate a hot mess of inanity? Couldn't I simply play AD&D, removing all the parts that overcomplicate the game? Like I said, I've read OD&D and the supplements; AD&D took all that crap and made it readable. If you think otherwise, you're fooling yourself. I understand a game like Labyrinth Lord: it exists as a vehicle for people who want to play B/X but need something in-print. I suppose I'm at a loss to understand a game like Swords & Wizardry, though, because OD&D was terrible shit to begin with so why anyone would want to play it is beyond me. B/X came about because no one could decipher OD&D without having already played it, if that even makes any sense. I remember when I got the Redbox...laugh all you want, the examples of play seriously helped a lot. You cannot read OD&D and have the faintest clue of how to play whatsoever. Is there any need to duplicate this stupidity?

13 comments:

  1. Brad, send me an email because I reckon I can change your mind. - Dave :-)

    trowuttatwo at yahoo dot com dot au

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  2. Regarding "OD&D:Why?" Dunno, but S&W:WB is very easy to understand.

    My wife never played a role playing game in her life, English is her second language, but she "got" S&W right out of the gate. Probably because she didn't really have to read pages and pages of rules to play the game.

    It's not perfect, but I haven't ever seen a perfect game. I like the gritty, homebrew-under-your-fingernails feeling you get when reading through some of the older games.

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  3. S&W WB allows me to add stuff that I want, which I'd much rather do than take a later version and take away stuff I don't want before adding the stuff that I want. So for me it's a one step process as opposed to a two step process. The incompleteness of the game is a feature for me, it provides a solid foundation and that is absolutely all I want.

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  4. D&D was the second version of the fantasy supplement for CHAINMAIL. Of course you don't understand 0d&d. You don't know 3/4 of the fucking rules.

    Why is every time someone doesn't understand something they blame something other than their own ignorance? No offense. 0d&d is perfectly legible. How was gygax and arneson to know it would get picked up by 13 year old boys en mass and this require extensive rewriting to make it accessible?

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  5. Honestly I read OD&D for the first time five or six years ago and I thought it was a mess, but after looking into the supplements and Chainmail I realized that OD&D was tool box before it was cool. The base set provides a skeleton that the supplements build on, distort and warp as the authors wished. I'll admit I play the Basic line over 0D&D, but it's flexibility appeals to me.

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  6. S&W:WB is a set of simple rules that allow resolution of most situations that can't be simply adjudicated: class/level/xp, saving throw, to hit and damage, hit dice/hit points. The rest is up to the Referee to rule on. She can choose to create house rules for situations that crop up in her game frequently. This is a feature, as it allows easy accommodation of a particular Referee's play style. That's better than having to remove rules that one doesn't want.

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  7. @UWS - Nowhere, and I do mean nowhere, in the OD&D booklets does it say anything about needing Chainmail. Oh, sure, the Dedication and Foreward mention Chainmail, but reading the rest of the books the assumption is you ALREADY KNOW HOW TO PLAY, even though the subtitle is Rules for Fantastic Medieval Wargames. Not "rules supplement", fucking rules.

    So, which is it? Are the rules missing, requiring Chainmail (not stated), or are they complete because Gygax and Arneson figured everyone who'd buy it already knew wtf they were doing? If it's the first, that's just shitty writing. If it's the latter (most likely), that's idiotic because they're passing it off as a game but half the rules aren't even contained within the books.

    It's not ignorance to call something incomplete crap just because the authors intended to write incomplete crap. Instead, it's ignorant to defend the game as being complete if you add in a bunch of stuff not even referenced by the game itself. Hence, poor writing as I already stated.

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  8. I've played every single version of D&D except the 4th at one point or another and seem to have had more fun with earlier, crappy, incomplete versions. Guess I am just wrong.

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  9. Brad - I think you are operating under a false premise. There are very few people who priase the editing and layout skills of Gary Gygax. Most folks - including Gygax - have recognized that the 3LBB's were a piss poor product, and not much changed from the earlier draft, apparently.

    Get over it. When you untangle the mess that is the 3LBB's you find a pretty awsome collection of gaming ideas, never quite replicated in later "classic" editions or buried and altered in AD&D. Those powerful original ideas are what people love - the substance - not the packaging.

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  10. I think the reverence is definitely not for the presentation, layout, whatever you want to call it. I've looked at the LBBs and yes, I agree, they suck! But that suckage stems from the shoddy presentation that is really primitive. Hell, to me, Holmes is just as unreadable. Double Hell, I also consider B/X to be sort of impenetrable and way too dense.

    And yeah, some people think Mentzer was "kiddified" but you can read the stuff without your eyes melting.

    Sometimes I myself wonder what the hubub is about. Sure, there's the pride of place that D&D enjoys because it was "first." There's still gravitas to that fact, all these years later. But so what, right? And regarding substance, yeah, the LBBs had some good stuff, but I don't think it really came into its own until maybe Holmes and definitely B/X.

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  11. What's that in the distance? It sounds like a very large chain being yanked.

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  12. @DHBoggs I'm curious: what later version or clone do you think comes closest to recapturing that veiled awesomeness? Is there a clear winner for you?

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  13. I come at this from a slightly different point of view. I started playing around 1990 with 2nd Edition, so I don't have any nostalgic memories about 1st Edition AD&D, much less OD&D (which I didn't even know existed until I got back into this hobby a few months ago; I thought that there was just "Basic" D&D prior to AD&D and had no idea about the textual variants of Holmes, Moldvay/Cook, and Mentzer). I did own a number of AD&D books and the Rules Cyclopedia, but they never formed the basis for any real game play; I just used them as inspiration. I played 2nd Edition until 1999 when I went to university, and then played almost not at all for the next 10 years. I missed 3E entirely. I don't own a single d20 product. I'm not sure if that's a win or not.

    Based on the awesome messy embarrasment of riches that the OSR on the web is, I've managed to learn all this historical minutia. And I read the 3LBBs. Yes, the presentation is charmingly lo-fi, and the organization is terrible (by the way, the organization of the AD&D DMG is also terrible; I think Gygax was just bad at that). There are some rules ambiguities that I think are legitimate flaws in 1974 D&D, such as the handling of classes for elf characters. Other ambiguities demand house rulings in a way that promotes creativity, and that's really cool (as many others have more eloquently stated before me).

    The other thing that I think is special about the 3LBBs, and as far as I can see has not been replicated by any of the following editions or clones, is the wilderness hexcrawl rules. The way this is described in The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures encapsulates the essence of setting and story emerging from play before the time of super-detailed campaign settings and high-concept fantasy worlds. Adventurers wander around a ruined and chaotic wilderness, and every once in a while they run into a stronghold carved out of that chaos ruled by a lord or wizard or patriarch. And when the adventurers get powerful enough, they can carve out their own stronghold. The rules for the PC side of setting creation and the NPC side of setting creation are the same. I wrote more about this general idea here.

    In software development, a distinction is made between API reference documentation and tutorial or example code documentation. Both are documentation. I think this holds true analagously for products like 1974 D&D and Mentzer: the first is basically an API reference with very little about how to actually make the whole contraption go, the second is much closer to example code, but with some of the more obscure methods and functions omitted. Both are complete rules, they are just intended for different audiences. Other versions of D&D fall somewhere in the middle of that continuum. To get back to the original point of your post, I feel like I learned something genuinely new from reading the 3LBBs, despite the fact that I am already quite familiar with D&D.

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