Thursday, July 26, 2012

1st edition DMG blog post series

Christopher O'Dell over at grognadling is doing a great series, reading through the (re-printed) AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide for the first time and posting his thoughts.

The DMG has a much-deserved reputation for being a book you can read again and again, always getting something new out of it. That's really for two reasons, in my opinion:

1) it's chock full of really good stuff.
2) it's opaque and poorly organized.

So you can read it again and again and get new stuff out of it, but that's because you really have to read it again and again to find all the stuff in it. Or perhaps just take notes as you go like Grognardling. That's the cool thing about his series, really - for me it's to imagine what it was like to read that book with completely fresh eyes, but adult ones.

The 1st edition DMG was the first AD&D book I owned, purchased from Jamesway for $12 when I was like 9 or 10. So it has a special place in my heart even as I sometimes rail against it. It was hugely influential on my own play and how my friends played. And yes, we'd take it out and point out passages to each other while arguing over how the game was supposed to be played - because if Gary Gygax made one thing clear, there was a right way to play AD&D. 4th graders aren't exactly going to take this to mean "the rules are guidelines." The somewhat random organization of the book and the authorial tone influenced my own writing a lot. At first I copied the style, until it was beaten out of me in college. To some extent, anyway. And when I write for game books, I'm careful to avoid that high-handed "right way" approach and prize clarity and organization over stern warnings about players not reading the books. I don't hate the book - I still take it down and use stuff for it for my non-AD&D games - but I try to remember its lessons both good and bad.


  1. "there was a right way to play AD&D"

    Which is an interesting contrast to Gygax's attitude in Original D&D. Which was the polar opposite.

    There are unquestionably areas which have been glossed over. While we deeply regret the necessity, space requires that we put in the essentials only, and the trimming will oftimes have to be added by the referee and his players. We have attempted to furnish an ample framework, and building should be both easy and fun. In this light, we urge you to refrain from writing for rule interpretations or the like unless you are absolutely at a loss, for everything herein is fantastic, and the best way is to decide how you would like it to be, and then make it just that way! On the other hand, we are not loath to answer your questions, but why have us do any more of your imagining for you? Write to us and tell about your additions, ideas, and what have you. We could always do with a bit of improvement in our refereeing.
    - OD&D Vol III Page 37

    My pet theory is that the OD&D attitude was born of the fact D&D was developed through playing the rules issues in his Greyhawk Campaign.

    The AD&D attitude was born of the surge in popularity in D&D and be bombarded with questions by fans and convention organizers. If you read the tournament modules run using OD&D there was a extensive FAQ sheet outlined how referee were adjudicate D&D for the module. No two tournament modules used the same sheet.

    1. I think you're correct on that. If you read The Dragon from issue #1 up, you can see that progression. I think the stream of questions, the guys playing differently, etc. plus business considerations combined to push a "one true way" approach. You get less and less "whatever you do is fine" and more and more "you shouldn't be higher level than the Greyhawk guys" or real D&D games don't include X or Y, and D&D isn't done right unless X or Y, etc.

      By the time I started playing, there was a One True Way. Which is really too bad, because there isn't.


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