Monday, October 17, 2016

Why AD&D 1st Edition


It should be noted that this article is intended to review the editions of Dungeons and Dragons, and while this is my favorite family of systems, it is not the only system I run.  But that's a topic for another illness.

I was spurred into writing this while thumbing through my AD&D 2nd edition books.  Fond memories of Baldur's Gate and Icewind Dale came to my mind and I recalled that these were 2nd edition games, which spurred my first deviation from newer systems.  However, while looking through the DMG I became greatly irritated as I was reminded of the absence of certain things, or how the rules would vaguely brush over certain rules.  Then there was the utter lack, or simple withholding of materials that had been present in the previous edition (the death at -10 HP rule, the monk class, the half-orc race, the absence of random tables, etc.)

This spurred my immediate return to AD&D 1st edition: the best of them all.  To organize this I will first cover other editions of Dungeons and Dragons, pointing out my likes and dislikes for them, after which I will visit 1st edition in fullness.

D&D 3rd Edition: I was introduced to this system back in 2000, and though I hold fond memories of my first time playing it, 3rd has the following issues: inorganic stats and lousy art.  Essentially 3rd edition is D&D stripped of all life and converted into a video game, battlebot system where characters are stripped of all interesting features and changed into packaged chess pieces with round numbered stats and damage per second scales.  Then there was the art.  Blech.  Most of it was just ugly.  It's like they had a contest to see who could make the stupidest, most asymmetrical gibberish imaginable.  What was more, and this will be something I cover in my 1st edition text, the removal of class restrictions to the different races was basically a way of saying "your character is special, just like all the others."  I'm guessing they wanted to cater to the "have our cake and eat it too" crowd, but the races failed to be unique and interesting.  "Because if everyone is super, nobody is"

D&D 4th Edition: I'm actually not as annoyed with this as most people seem to be.  The art, while anime-esque, did have unifying qualities and it was a sincere effort to save the hobby from the ravages of video games, which were soaring to unprecedented popularity at the time (I had lost an entire gaming group to the HALO video games, and some of them are just now coming back into the hobby).  But 4th falls short for me for the same reasons as 3rd edition: too chunky and video gameish.

D&D 5th Edition: I'll admit, had I been introduced to 5th edition first, I probably wouldn't want to play any other edition.  It unifies the best qualities of all the previous editions and the art, while somewhat of a mixed bag, recaptures the charm and beauty of old-school fantasy, drawing on real world culture and abandoning the overly stylized, anime-porn designs adopted by Pathfinder and other systems that try to whore themselves out to the Poke'mon generation of video gamers. Unfortunately when I play 5th edition, it reminds me so much of older editions of D&D that it makes me want to play those instead..

OD&D: I can't touch this one since I never played it, but from what I've seen it's too basic for my liking, which in and of itself is not necessarily a fault.  It's the first of its kind and marshaled in a new category of entertainment on a grand scale, but will only, truly appeal to those who remember it back in its heyday and fell in love with it at first sight.

AD&D 1st Edition: finally, my favorite of them all.  Though written in long-winded Gygaxian, it has everything you need and what is more, the rules are simple enough and provide a framework that you can take it in any direction you want.  What is more, making things on the fly is simple as the aforementioned frameworks are accessible and easily interpreted.  Most important of all, 1st edition is established on a strong foundation of real world myth and legends, creating worlds that we as players can identify with and find a place in.  I'm sorry, but I have a hard time getting into the head of a killbot character with a giant anime-porn sword that shoots atomic bomb fireballs at millions of enemies.  1st edition almost demands that you live in it: you can hire servants, pay tithes to your church, build kingdoms, and actually TALK to your enemies.  YES!  You are encouraged and are given simple rules for parlaying with intelligent enemies, and you can benefit from this!  Lastly, due to the minimalist nature of the rules, power gaming is nearly impossible, and munchkin gamers die quickly, meaning all the riffraff and spazoids are scared off, leaving behind higher caliber and more intellectual players who help flesh out your world.

I know, the core books have a lot of silly pen and ink drawings, but anyone who actually looks at these will see they illustrate important points being discussed in the rules, often by poking fun at certain aspects of players and their approaches to the game.  Another bonus to these drawings is the fact that they don't rob you of your own creativity and ability to visualize your world.  (It's hard for me to take a Pathfinder campaign seriously when I look at the illustrations in the book and imagine nothing but abstract stupidity everywhere).

In a final note, I was greatly annoyed to read several people's responses to one player's question regarding the major differences between 1st and 2nd edition.  Those who answered had clearly never looked at the rules and claimed that one (2nd edition) was "rules light" compared to the other (1st edition).  While this is slightly true, the rules in 1st edition are pretty solid and sound with just about no wavering.  Psionics is a bit weighty to understand, but at least it works!  While looking through 2nd edition, it was impossible to nail down a specific rule regarding things such as initiative or how armor affects AC.  Instead you have chunky little "optional rules", which has caused no end of frustration whenever I ran 2nd edition.  I can still remember players asking "wait, aren't you using group initiative?" or "aren't you using the THAC0 rules for different kinds of armor?"

What infuriated this point even further were the endless parade of splat books for 2nd edition, which created new rules or rules exceptions: there was Complete Psionics and the Psionics rules in Skills and Powers, which had about as much to do with each other as chocolate chip ice cream and potato chips.  Every player I found who wanted me to run 2nd edition for them expected an entirely different system and were frustrated when I didn't use the rules options they were most familiar with.  This is a problem I am yet to have with AD&D 1st edition.

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