Saturday, January 28, 2012

Backward To 2nd Edition

As part of the D&D Next process I want to look back with fresh eyes on things I probably read long ago in the half-remembered past.

I pulled off the shelf the Dungeon Master™ Guide for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons: 2nd Edition. If Wikipedia is to be believed, this "10th printing August 1993" version is not the Revised edition. The first thing I noticed is that this was not the Dungeon Master's Guide and I gave a little chuckle. I'm so used to saying the possessive but I know that the brand trademarks the term dungeon master. I'm sure they thought Dungeon Master™'s Guide would look funny (and it does).

My perceptions of AD&D 2e may be colored which is another reason I wanted to approach it anew. I stopped playing D&D for a long time in favor of Vampire: the Masquerade because I felt that there wasn't enough variety possible in character creation. It was just too restrictive which is a comment that seems funny once I finished rereading a little of the DMG. On with it.

I tend to read roleplaying books from beginning to end like I read fiction or textbooks. Thus came I to read the Foreword by David "Zeb" Cook, 2/9/89:
A foreword is normally the place where the author of a book expresses thanks and gratitude. I'm not going to do that here. It's not that everyone involved doesn't deserve congratulations and praise, it's just that I already said all those things in the foreword to the AD&D® 2nd Edition Player's Handbook. Everything I said there is true for this book, too. On to other things.
Very early on Zeb has established that you are meant to own both books. Why do we accept them as separate books at all? The 2e DMG is only 192 pages. Seems a little light.
Let's assume that since you're reading this, you are, or plan to be, a DUNGEON MASTER™. By now, you should be familiar with the rules in the Player's Handbook. You've probably already noticed things you like or things you would have done differently. If you have, congratulations. You've got the spirit every Dungeon Master needs. Curiosity and the desire to make changes, to do things differently because your idea is better than the other guy's - these are the most important things a Dungeon Master needs. As you go through this rule book, I encourage you to continue to make these choices.
The tendency I have seen is that DMs make changes. However I'm not as certain as Zeb about the cause. Is it because everyone who is willing to DM inherently wants to make changes or is it because the only people capable of running AD&D were those willing to make up for the flawed rules?
Choice is what the AD&D 2nd Edition game is all about. We've tried to offer you what we think are the best choices for your AD&D campaign, but each of us has different likes and dislikes. The game that I enjoy may be quite different from your own campaign. But it is not for me to say what is right or wrong for your game. True, I and everyone working on the AD&D 2nd Edition game have had to make fundamental decisions, but we've tried to avoid being dogmatic and inflexible. The AD&D game is yours, it's mine, it's every player's game.
Yes, let's try not to be dogmatic and inflexible as we work to produce the best 5th edition possible.
So is there an "official" AD&D game? Yes, but only when there needs to be. Although I don't have a crystal ball, it's likely that tournaments and other official events will use all of the core rules in these books. Optional rules may or may not be used, but it's fair to say that all players need to know about them even if they don't have them memorized.
I've never really understood tournament D&D. Even the Dungeons & Dragons I played at conventions had DMs that rewrote rules here and there as Zeb advised earlier. The D&D rules are too complex to be balanced and produce fair competition yet not complex enough to avoid constant intervention by human hands.
The Player's Handbook and the DUNGEON MASTER™ Guide give you what you're expected to know, but that doesn't mean the game begins and ends there. Your game will go in directions not yet explored and your players will try things other think strange. Sometimes these strange things will work; sometimes they won't. Just accept this, be ready for it, and enjoy it.

Take the time to have fun with the AD&D rules. Add, create, expand, and extrapolate. Don't just let the game sit there, and don't become a rules lawyer worrying about each piddly little detail. If you can't figure out the answer, MAKE IT UP! And whatever you do, don't fall into the trap of believing these rules are complete. They are not. You cannot sit back and let the rule book do everything for you. Take the time and effort to become not just a good DM™, but a brilliant one.
One area where 4th edition succeeded was making the task easier for the DM. Over at Wizards of the Coast you can read the trials and tribulations of Shelly Mazzanoble in her Confessions of a Full-Time Wizard column. I also recommend Confessions of a Part-time Sorceress: A Girl's Guide to the D&D Game. Shelly is brilliant, funny, kind, and a great writer. If you read through all of her work you'll find that she tried running D&D and, I believe, had fun. I'm speculating here but I suspect that all this stuff about making up rules on the fly, my rules aren't your rules, and modifying the rules wouldn't have worked so well. She's not the typical player of D&D. I'm glad 4e succeeded in bringing in players like Shelly. It also got us, Dungeons & Dragons gamer geeks, some famous companionship in the likes of Gabe aka Mike Krahulik (of Penny Arcade fame; D&D already had Tycho aka Jerry Holkins).
At conventions, in letters, and over the phone I'm often asked for the instant answer to a fine point of the game rules. More often than not, I come back with a question - what do you feel is right? And the people asking the questions discover that not only can they create an answer, but that their answer is as good as anyone else's. The rules are only guidelines.
I never read Dragon magazine back when I was playing 2nd edition so I can't speak to discussions at that time or even online forums for 2e. What I can say is that I saw a lot of rules as written (R.A.W.) arguments around 3rd edition. Was that a change from previous editions because of the high quality of the 3e rules or is that the way the world has always been? If you've been playing D&D that long, what was your experience?
At the beginning of the first DUNGEON MASTER™ Guide, Gary Gygax stressed that each of us, working from a common base, would make the AD&D game grow in a variety of different directions. That is more true today than ever. Don't be afraid of experimentation, but do be careful. As a Dungeon Master, you have great power, and "with great power comes great responsibility." Use it wisely.
Thanks, Zeb.


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