Friday, August 31, 2012

"The Dangers of a Mutable System..." and other thoughts inspired by AD&D

"The Dangers of a Mutable System..." A telling quote from Gygax himself in the intro to the AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide....the premise being, its possible to move too far in one direction, altering the game to suit to taste, only to find that the direction traveled was perhaps not ideal, and the game has been altered too much to sustain itself, leading to a short and possibly unpleasant campaign. If you look at later editions as being "official" extensions of this philosophy that 1st edition held, that each table was its own mutation of the system, then one can imagine why not all later versions sat well or lasted long!

So yes, I have the Premium AD&D books in my hands FINALLY AND AT LONG LAST!!!! 'Bout Damn Time! I thank Mandi at Active Imagination for being able to get me copies, and I thank my awesome gamer wife Jody for letting me get them (because she'd like to play some more 1st edition, y'see) although I did bribe her with a copy of Guild Wars 2, so yes, much money was spent today on entertainment of a most foul and suspect nature (the best kind, of course).

I played AD&D mainly from 1980-1984 or thereabouts, with some on and off stints after that, until about 1987 when I had more or less moved away from AD&D and was playing other games entirely (chiefly T&T, Palladium Fantasy, Runequest 2nd edition, GURPS 1st and Dragonquest). This lasted until 1989 when I was off to college and my first gaming group (most of whom I have since reconnected with through Facebook) after a campaign of Dragonquest talked me into checking out the new AD&D 2nd edition books. I had all but abandoned by AD&D 1st edition collection by was something I associated with my younger gaming years at that point, basically, and so I dared to pick up the new AD&D 2E books and sure enough, that was what helped me to recapture the magic.

I didn't play AD&D 1st edition again until 2007 when my local group in Albuquerque went through a repurposing phase, and a new member (Jason) joined who was not only a diehard AD&D 1st edition grognard, but he hadn't even been involved in the hobby outside of that edition since the mid-80's. The rest of the group was like me: we were playing 3rd edition because it was current, but we all had fond memories of really getting into 2nd edition, or of it "bringing us back." So it was with the addition of Jason that we decided to abandon 3rd and went to a hybrid of 1st and 2nd edition....I sort of used a mashup of the various books, most of which I had to secure from Ebay once more (you see, I had a vast collection of books, once, but a fairly staggering amount of gambling debt from my second marriage--my ex had some issues--led me to sell most of it on ebay. Ah, the irony.)

That went on until 4E came out, which that particular group tried for a heroic tier campaign, and after deciding 4E was not going to work for them we cast about, trying some more AD&D, then C&C, and at last settling on Pathfinder when we gained some new players who were keen to try the latest edition of the ever-evolving D20 system.

So now I'm in a new zone once more. I'm keen to try more C&C and have managed some games recently, but Pathfinder dominates the crowd. However, with the premium AD&D books there's a newly emerging interest in the original AD&D system, and not just among those who have played it before. Myself, I am finding that there is a lot of meat in those books that I arbitrarily tended to dismiss back in my turbulent teens due to the fickle nature of youth; the AD&D DMG was like a bible to me from roughly age 10 to 14, and I remained enamoured with it even afterward, despite the fact that from roughly 1984 to 1990 I published a bi-monthly fanzine aimed at T&T and other non D&D RPGs, with a crowd of readers and contributors who were all very much on the "not D&D" side of the gaming fence. I wrote a lot for these other games, ran other games, and generally had fun....but I would usually go back to the AD&D books and ponder their arcane complexity and obscure minutiae with private interest, occasionally running games for them but never feeling I could indulge thanks to the peers I ran with. That's why it wasn't until I went to college that the floodgates opened and 2nd edition was able to blast its way 1989, everyone I knew wanted to play AD&D, and not Dragonquest or Runequest (well, some did). So I managed to get weekly sessions of AD&D 2E in throughout college. Good times.

One of my Favorite Modules. The province of Eor'nin, Hyrkania in the Middle Kingdoms of Lingusia is where I placed this module (thus the city of Eor).

Anyway, it's a lot of fun revisiting these books, more than I expected it would be. I remember going on a picnic in the Chiricahua Mountains with my family in 1985 or thereabouts, with my AD&D books tucked along, so while everyone else was barbequeing and picnicking I was at the fold-out table rolling up random dungeons to put my adventurers through (it was sometimes hard to get regular games in the Ass End of Nowhere, Cochise County, Arizona). I remember running a crazy dungeon with Yeenoghu as the top villain for my sister and a mutual friend who I think in retrospect might have been a bit freaked out by our shared sibling intensity at playing the game. I even remember going to cons circa 1986-1988, and talking the DM into letting me play my vicious warlord princess Lakuna Helbyrn, a halberd-wielding fighter who was professionally neutral evil.

It might just be the nostalgic buzz and the general satisfaction of reading the books again, but hopefully not. I think I'm going to construct and run a new campaign, probably centered in my Warlords of Lingusia setting, since that was the game world that sprang forth from my introduction to the hobby in 1980 and which has evolved continuously for thelast 32+ years now. I've already ordered the Fiend Folio from someone on ebay (because back then the FF was the fourth most iconic and important book to all my old campaigns, and is the reason grell and hooked horrors factor into any and all editions I have ever run). I'm also snagging a copy (hopefully not falling apart) of Arcana Unearthed, because by the time it was released back then I was not running AD&D, and so missed its integration into play. I recall reading it and questioning the value of the book overall, although I think ironically AU contained within it the seed of virtually all that was to come in D&D's future development.

I actually think the Fiend Folio has more iconics than the Monster Manual, at least for me...

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