Wednesday 26 October 2022

[BLOG] OSR Module O5: 2e is Still Not Old-School

“The point is the culture that drove 2E. It wasn't a

Zeb Cook anomaly, he was just a prominent

individual steeped in the overall boring-as-hell

“hail m'lady” culture, overdosed on sage,

nag champa, and witchy bush.” – EOTB

“Why so mean?” , asks the man inviting the whole world into the big tent until the noise within swells to an unpleasant cacophony, rubbish accumulates, the venue gets thrashed, tentpoles are removed from their place by loud people who don’t believe tents need them, and the whole edifice collapses on the ugly spectacle. Many such cases. After the Artpunk Foe, let us now turn our attention to the sinister menace of second edition.

* * *

Terrible.
When something takes off and becomes successful, you will invariably get a lot of interest, and a lot of people who will want to get involved. Success is infectious. The people who got involved invite other people who are also interested, and they in turn also invite yet more people who are vaguely into the thing, maybe, but they are a lot more into being part of a big crowd. However, the defining boundaries of what made that specific thing so interesting in the first place also become blurry. Definitions are drawn up and debated, edge cases are tested, and you get a sort of fuzzy boundary between “this is the thing” and “this is not the thing”. It is helpful not to overdefine. If you try to make an airtight case, you will miss out on a lot of good fringe stuff that’s not exactly the thing, but it is actually very good. Purity policing is blind. It will not see Encounter Critical as an inspiring text of the old-school, even though EC preceded OSRIC, and inspired many of the ideas that define the modern old-school movement way more than a lot of second-rate TSR modules did.

You also get cognitive blind spots where your definition shall lead you astray. For example, parts of the old-school crowd are so wedded to B/X purism and its procedure-based gameplay (“the gameplay loop”) that that they end up ignoring AD&D, and with it the actual defining tradition of the classical era; as well as neglecting OD&D, the wild primordial soup of runaway creativity that gave us the strange thought experiments that are now worth examining and reconstructing. In comparison, Moldvay/Cook is good but you will eventually run into its limitations if you don’t use AD&D’s case law to interpret it; and BECMI is a bland game that hacks away the rough edges so successfully that nothing interesting is left. BECMI is the SKUB of D&D. And then there is 2e.

In recent years, you can see a common approach to define “OSR” by viewing it as a single continuum which was broken when Wizards of the Coast overhauled the D&D system, and released the 3e books. As long as you are on the “TSR” side of the divide, you are OSR. There are persuasive arguments which support this position, at least on the surface level. There is mechanical compatibility. People can get tribal over OSE vs. B/X vs. S&W vs. LL (they are the same darn thing), but once you take a deep breath, you can convert materials on the fly among these systems with minimal effort. Even in a worst case scenario, the gaps will never be insurmountable. Game concepts are recognisable across the board. The vocabulary is common. There is personal continuity through the TSR years (although the endpoints have barely any connection at all – David Sutherland, Skip Williams and Jim Ward were the main people who were there from the beginning to the end). There is also a web of references that form the D&D “lore” (this is a magical Renfaire glitter pony of a term I am using only to express my utter disdain for it), exemplified by things like the drow, beholders, the planar system, or the hand of Vecna.

The Worst Encounter Ever
However, this is precisely the point where we lose the clarity of our vision, and with it the ability to distinguish ourselves and argue for the things we actually hold dear. Even though there are a myriad links between old-school D&D and 2nd edition, these links exist to be severed, and the test of the TRV OSR Taliban is a sure hand and keen eye while bringing down the blade. Justly so! Old-school gaming came not to praise 2e but to bury it; it quite clearly got established by guys who hated 2e’s guts as much or even more than they did 3e’s. More than this antipathy, old-school gaming is a deliberate rejection of the 2e legacy, a style and school of thought which set itself up as its polar opposite in aesthetics, focus, design principles, and GMing style. Its advocates saw 2e as a corrupted, bland, corporate husk of the original D&D spirit, and thought it was like a swig of clear spring water when they could finally get back to what they saw as the buried genius of those creative origins. This is why it is named old-school after all: from the vantage point of 2022, all TSR D&D might seem old, but for those in the early and mid-2000s, the 2e era was still kind of a fresh wound, and in no way was it considered worth preserving.

Now this probably does sound a bit extreme. “The OSR Taliban” was not a term of endearment. Some of the debates surrounding the emergence of old-school gaming were ugly, bitter, and acrimonious. But clarity is often like that. You don’t challenge common wisdom without creative conflict. You can’t play “right” without also identifying “wrong”. In the end, old-school gaming has thrived on this wedge issue. It shone light on a neglected approach to play, it established its distinctive identity, and gained bountiful creative energies in the process. These energies still drive it, although much of the momentum has naturally become exhausted over time, or become unfocused.

Let us now make a brief attempt to explain where the points of disagreement lie. There are a lot of details which are incidental, or which have little significance on their own, but work their way through small, subtle shifts that add up. Instead, let us try to look into the heart of the thing: two visions of (A)D&D which look very close from a distance, but are very far apart on a more careful look. These are not detailed comparisons; rather, they try to capture the respective essence of the two, and why these are not interchangeable.

* * *

For all their continuity and rough compatibility, AD&D and AD&D 2nd edition are far enough from each other to be different games. They rest on different literary traditions, their rules serve different purposes, they place emphasis on different sorts of adventures, and they play fairly differently. You can easily see this by their online communities, which generally do not mix or even communicate much.

1st edition AD&D is a single man's vision about a broad, campaign-level implementation of D&D. Its stylistic quirks and idiosyncrasies make it a personal work, even if he did, in fact, get help from a tight, handpicked design team who had helped him refine his ideas. Gary Gygax had peculiar tastes in fantasy, even in his generation: he had little interest in Tolkien and other sorts of epic fantasy, and instead liked violent sword & sorcery pulps and books on historical warfare. His main sources of inspiration were Jack Vance, Robert E. Howard, and Fritz Leiber, although he had even more eclectic tastes, and an uncanny ability to adapt ideas into the game, from 50s SF blob monsters and flying saucers to Japanese plastic toys.

Wenches n' Renfaire Dorks
The resulting game assumes a grittier sort of world with tough, often shady heroes, corrupt civilisation, and rugged frontiers where laws are stern and might makes right; underground empires inhabited by ancient and malevolent civilisations, and supernatural powers – demon lords, devil princes, gods and goddesses – playing chess with their mortal pawns (in a very Ffahrd & Mouser way!) There is a lot of strangeness around the edges, too. The rules integrate these assumptions into their fabric, from character types with dubious morality (assassins, a focused illusionist class), or an ethical code focused on the swift dispensation of frontier justice (giant-killing rangers, monks, paladins). The game's most important rule declares that advancement is mostly found in loot and plunder, gained by hook or crook. Characters then have to train to advance in levels, seeking out various masters, or competing in class-centric hierarchies (you will only become Top Druid if you first defeat one of the previous top Druids). There are lots of quirks and edge cases. Some of this is not “codified law” D&D but “case law” D&D where commentaries and edge cases are used to help you understand the finer design, not to be memorised and employed in all their detail (that way lies ADDICT).

The mechanics are often baroque in their totality, but they can be scaled well (this feature is one that is shared by 2nd edition). The game comes with a badly edited and rambling but supremely useful Dungeon Masters Guide which offers solid and wise advice on constructing adventures, and setting up a complex, interconnected campaign that's more than the sum of its parts. In its first years, it was also served by a very solid collection of adventures, which were very thoroughly playtested, and still serve as the most consistently good collection of scenarios for any RPG (early Warhammer Fantasy and CoC come close in their own niches). These modules are slightly different from the campaign-oriented vision of the core books: they are good, but they are often convention scenarios with standalone premises and higher deadliness for competitive scoring.

A Paladin in Art Hell

The ideal of the 1st edition campaign is not as tightly structured as some interpretations of B/X, but it does have an implied arc. From frontier localities threatened by dark forces, characters grow in stature to embark on lengthier and more complex adventures, until they can establish domains, embark on extraplanar journeys, or descend into the depths of the earth. There are adventure hooks and modules along the way, but the main drive comes from the players, and the endeavours they choose to undertake. This picture is perhaps too optimistic (there was always plenty of bad practice around), but this is the campaign format advocated by the rulebooks. It is the main way the game was meant to be played, even if many people didn’t. If you follow the instructions on the tin, you will get a good game.

* * *

2nd edition AD&D is a different beast, an attempt to create a new, accessible set of rulebooks in place of a game that became overburdened with unwieldy and dubious optional rules and character options. It was created by a committee, although, to its credit, a committee of experienced game designers who were all old AD&D hands. 2nd edition plays safe while trying to reconcile mutually contradictory demands: to consolidate a decade's worth of new materials and popular house rules; to deflect parental and religious criticism from the game and establish it as a family-friendly brand; and to serve as a springboard for several new novel and product lines. It is the kind of compromise that people can accept, but generates little enthusiasm.

Puns
2nd edition AD&D's literary roots lie in heroic high fantasy, the popular trilogies, quadrilogies, pentalogies, etc. of the 1970s and 1980s, without the seedier pulps. Best-selling AD&D-branded novels set in Dragonlance or the Forgotten Realms were as much a part of this background as things like The Belgariad, Shannara, The Chronicles of Prydain, The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, and so on. This sort of fantasy tends to draw clearer lines between light and darkness, focuses on heroic destinies, doing the good thing, heroic protagonists and comic relief side characters, typically united against some gathering dark force through a long quest that integrates a bunch of adventures. Its implied world is a fundamentally calm, green kingdom of RenFaire aesthetics, and fundamentally good, or at most mischiveous people, beset by the forces of Evil. This is the baseline mode of 2nd edition, with significant later departures, but dominant throughout the edition cycle. The rulebooks also make references to historical or mythical heroic figures from Robin Hood to Charlemagne, but this line doesn’t really go anywhere, and the authors don’t do anything interesting with it.

2nd edition is a "cleaned up" edition, on three levels. First, it whitewashes the moral ambiguity, earnest violence, and weirdness of the earlier game, to focus on more straightforwardly heroic character types. It is squeakier, cleaner, and yes, a little milquetoast. Assassins and half-orcs are right out in the core books (yes, they are brought back in those crappy expansion books that came later, and which only Complete Weenies used). It also reduces the specificity of the game rules: the Illusionist and Druid classes, which had had their distinct rules and spell lists, are folded into the general Wizard/Cleric character type, where they no longer stand out. The Ranger and Bard also lose a lot of their flavour. This is not to the game's benefit. The third aspect of cleanup, on the other hand, is beneficial: 2nd edition is easier to grok, has more coherent mechanics, a rudimentary but functional skill system, and a combat system that moves from attack tables to THAC0, a badly explained but ultimately quite easy formula. Crucially, though, the Main Rule is muddled: the bulk of experience is now awarded for “story awards” (or whatever they are called), with some for monsters (this has continuity with 1st edition) and some for class-specific stuff. Much less laser-like precision.

A M'lady
2nd edition has cleaner rules, but, at the same time, somewhat less interesting ones. The weakest part of the core game, however, is the Dungeon Master's Guide (now with an apostrophe). This book, simply put, does not teach the beginning Dungeon Master anything particularly useful. You don't really get concrete advice about developing your adventures, campaign worlds, or even much about running the game. The first edition's massive and packed appendices are not present, nor is its storehouse of good advice. At the table, the DMG's role was mostly as a magic item reference. It is not a good guidebook to run the game, develop adventures, or manage grand campaigns, and its advice is unhelpful for the beginner. (I am speaking from painful experience here: I learned more about adventure/setting design from Fighting Fantasy and Titan than the DMG.)

Bad Stuff
This is really quite unfortunate, because while the DMG is lacking, the adventures for the general AD&D product line – the ones you would presumably buy after getting into the game – are not very good either, so they do not establish a solid practical example. At this time, TSR did not do much, if any in-house testing, and outsourced much of its adventure design to wannabe novelists (fruity people angling for their TSR novel deal who created linear, story-heavy junk without substantial player agency), the RPGA's organised play sections (mainly rules lawyers and turboautists who could rattle off Official TSR Rulings with a bookkeeper’s consummate skill, but tended to lack even basic creativity and imagination), and Dungeon Magazine (fan content, the best of the lot but still mediocre). Accordingly, it doesn't have much of a module legacy. Who plays classic 2nd edition adventures anymore? What are these classics even? Hell if I know.

And that is the main difference: the playing culture surrounding 2nd edition is not simply a diluted version of 1st edition’s, but a hotbed of bad practice which will harm your games. Massively overwritten encounters, dungeons reduced to flat and boring hack and slash and “cabinet contents” design, blatant railroading, contrived attempts at forcing AD&D into game styles it can’t support well, combined with an unhealthy proliferation of character snowflakery: it is all there. You can run good games with the 2nd edition rules (we did), but you cannot become deeply immersed in 2nd edition fandom without coming away with bad playing or GMing habits (we did).

To its credit, 2nd edition, while it suffered from a horrible bloat of barely (if at all) playtested of filler supplements in its day, does have two strands of creative legacy that are worth noting. First is a sequence of campaign worlds, which, while not free from the sins of the age (bloat, sanitisation), are obviously labours of love in a way the core game really wasn't. People who remember the likes of Al-Quadim, Ravenloft, or (the best of them all) Dark Sun remember 2nd edition much more fondly than those who wanted to play “just AD&D, thanks”. The support material sucked just as much, but some of those worlds are pretty gud. (Planescape is not even AD&D, but some weirdo thing for weirdos. The less we speak about it the better.) Second, the second edition era produced a whole bunch of really good AD&D-based computer games. This success story begun with 1st edition-based games (the Gold Box series), but continued well into the 1990s, and included a whole lotta classics that still stand up today. Not all of them were great (Dungeon Hack and that one stronghold building game were godawful, and Baldur's Gate 1 is a colossal MEH), but the likes of Eye of the Beholder and Shattered Lands have stood the test of time very well.

The Quintessential 2e Experience

So that's the REALLY TL;DR take. In the end, it would be quite easy to run a good game with the 2nd edition rules (I have been in many), but if you have access to 1st edition, it just makes more sense to go with that one, and maybe adapt THAC0 and a handful of rules that you like.

Sure, call 2e “OSR”, what do I care. But it is not, and will never be part of actual old-school D&D. It is therefore * * O F F I C I A L L Y * * cast out into the outer darkness; and in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 

Undersigned,

Dr. Melan, Ordo Praedicatorum & Congr. Romanae & Universalis Inquisitionis.

What the hell?!

Postscript: The New 2e and What to Do About It

Is there a purpose to this “guy between thirty and death rants about old stuff” post other than grouching and historical reminiscence? Perhaps. Actually, yes there is. There very much is. It looks like 2e is coming back, and it is now even run by another fat, woke upper-class lady like the last time.

It increasingly looks like D&D One will be shaped by very similar driving forces to 2nd edition: to consolidate a decade's worth of new materials and popular house rules; to deflect increasingly shrill political criticism from the game and establish it as a neutered corporate brand for safe and easy consoomption; and to serve as a springboard for broader monetisation as a “geek culture” property. You might easily think “surely, this will be as bad as 2nd edition”, and you would be wrong. By my inquisitorial authority, I hereby predict that it will be worse than 2nd edition in every aspect. perhaps three times as bad?

In our time, the real enemy is not so much Artpunk, which has spun off old-school gaming and really become something else. This statement should not be taken as automatic disparagement. What is called Artpunk can be done well, if done by talented and resourceful people. Even if it doesn’t create something good, at least it has a soul. However, nothing can fix the game equivalent of Corporate Memphis. Sixth edition, or what is called “One D&D”, will be a commercial juggernaut and a creative disaster. It will be the rebirth of that specific, 2e-style of corrupt blandness that outraged the OSR Taliban so much, and got them so annoyed they ended up getting off their behinds and actually doing something worthwhile.

Here is a threat that is also an opportunity. There is creative energy in butthurt, and setting up TRV old-school gaming as a bottom-up alternative to corporate D&D is a rare gift whose potential should not be neglected. This section of the hobby should of course be open to dissatisfied players who find their way here, but it should distinguish itself as a clear alternative. The best way to do so is by making a compelling argument for the old-school way, and cultivating excellence in game materials, sensible playing advice, and of course through lots of actual practice. Then, and only then, that which had once lived, and now slumbers with the occasional grunt and growl, shall live once more and rampage anew across the land.

75 comments:

  1. TRVTH has been spoken. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear

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  2. Technically, 2e is OSR in the sense that, well, originally OSR games were all clones of pre-3e stuff.

    Practically, 2e is a pile of hot garbage and anyone who liked it better than 3e needs their head examined. As a young man when 3e came out, I remember reading the books and going "oh, this is that stuff I've always wanted to play but if someone actually tried to make it make some sense." 2e is the worst of both worlds - lots of rules, but none of them make any sense (I am exaggerating, but only slightly).

    And, as you say, its influences and many of the things it produced are very much not in line with what came before.

    D&D One (and the things they are saying about it) looks set to be absolutely horrifically godawful. We shall see what happens.

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    1. It is really the red-headed stepchild of editions: a bad compromise that doesn't have 1e's archaic power, or modern D&D's engineered conveniences.

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    2. >It is really the red-headed stepchild of editions: a bad compromise that doesn't have 1e's archaic power, or modern D&D's engineered conveniences.

      Heh, that's about how I feel regarding B/X, given its liminal position between LBB D&D and BECMI.

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  3. I enjoy 1e and 2e about the same. I liked that 2e gave some creative flexibility to the player for the one thing they could control--their character. I'm not talking about min/maxing, although that potentially became a problem depending on which table you were at or your DM, but more pathways for character flavor. You want to play a pirate in 1e--then roleplay one, sure, until the DM hand waved it away...2e provided some guidelines for structure in that regard. You are definitely correct that 2e adventures were god awful. We never left the 1e adventures.

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    1. I have to say that the Merciless Merchants have been the exception to the norm, and a cut far above the rest. Which shows that the game can be put to good use - after all, it is AD&D - but it loses a lot of its cool features. I don't quite agree on specificity. 2e's base classes are blander than 1e's, while the kits break up the class-based game and turn it into one where every little niche has its own class, and this in turn limits the base classes in what they can, and are supposed to do. I am not opposed to class variants (my own, non-OSR old-school game has a few), but a pirate is defined by adventuring on the seas and keelhauling your mates, not a pirate licence, if that makes sense. If you want to be a pirate, act like one!

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    2. OMG! We disagree? I'm cancelling you....oh wait, that's not how we discuss things. My apologies, just trying to fit in to culture these days....Hard to keep up. I see your point, but don't totally agree with it. I think that may be due to past experiences from DMs. Acting like a pirate was hand waved or even frowned upon. I may of just had some bad DM/experiences and perhaps unlucky. So having a little support in 2e was a breath of fresh air. I think with class variants, non-combat proficiencies and skills, people may see that as a way that characters are limited as you stated (and some class variants are overpowered and broken)...and I could see that if followed with a iron fist...but at the table I play at...characters can attempt anything (just like in 1e), they are just better at certain things depending on what they chose. Perhaps not the best place to get into the nitty/gritty so I'll close with saying I enjoy your work as well and at the end of the day, despite preferences, I'm pretty sure we would have fun playing at the same table together.

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  4. AD&D 2nd was the first translated version in my country and it doesn't really teach you how to set up a campaign, so you learn to play through the culture of whoever teaches you. Or you buy the additional books to solve problems that were already addressed in the original DMG. That was bad for the hobby around here.
    I still had the books when I set my teeth on the OSR sphere and acquired the 1st books. Today I use both core sets, mainly using the original DMG to generate content and hermeneutics, while the 2nd sets I use for player rules. The 2nd hardcover monster manual also prevails.
    I don't know what kind of flavor my game has, but it's certainly not storygaming and it's been keeping 9 active players going back and forth in person for about 5 years now. Thank God for my social skills.
    This year I incorporated the Braunstein paradigm as advocated by BROSR and it was also a blast. Plus Tony Bath ancient wargame to deep develop the campaign. Old School? New School? I don't know.

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    1. Our experiences are similar in that regard: AD&D was the main game around me when I started, although some bits and pieces of photocopied 1e were still floating around. The surrounding culture was indeed important - it was influenced by some of the classics, and was not yet contaminated by TSR's chaff. So, my fond nostalgia is entirely for this "naive AD&D", and not the corporate product. That only ended up harming our games in hindsight.

      If you have good influences, you can always mix and match, since you can discard the bad and keep the good. Tony Bath is definitely among the best here.

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  5. 2E marked my groups departure from D&D , in favor of RuneQuest, which we played until around 2000, when D&D 3E came out. I agree with essentially your entire argument. I'd be interested in hearing your opinion about RuneQuest/Glorantha someday.

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    1. RQ never gained a foothold over here, even though it would have found an audience among the players who liked more realism in their systems. In the period when it could have happened, it was owned by Avalon Hill, and wasn't in wide circulation. MERP was translated and failed rather badly, putting a planned Rolemaster adaptation on hold, which would have occupied a similar niche.

      So, my knowledge of RQ comes from after 2000, and it is just as an occasional reader, not a player. The ideas about cult affiliation have influenced our games (e.g. divine champions). The King of Dragon Pass was very good; I played a lot of it. A novelist friend of mine I introduced it to even wrote up his playthrough in the style of a viking saga. But we missed the original, and largely missed the revival. The new version has now been translated as a massive hardcover, but I don't think it has carved out an active player base.

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    3. Circling back with more thoughts. I just realized that my memory is faulty; D&D 2E was published in 1989, but we started playing RuneQuest exclusively in 1984 (we played it some before that). So, I actually left late 1E for RQ.
      A trend that followed the Gygaxian era of D&D was a gradual emphasis on 'storytelling' in the game as opposed to exploration/combat/resource management. You saw that with the Dragonlance modules, which were heavily scripted, with the abandonment of sparse descriptions in favor of huge blocks of boxed text, etc. It even happened with the later Judges Guild stuff -- compare one of their latest offerings like Ravenscrag with something published earlier like Thieves of Fortress Badabaskor. IMO the whole trend was a wrong turn for the genre, eventually culminating in narrativist games like the World of Darkness stuff. I suppose a lot of my issues with 2E (and even later 1E stuff) arise from this shift.

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  6. Doesnn't it make more sense to join forces against "sparkle prom" nuDnD than castigate 2e fans? But I agree with you on Dark Sun. Cha'alt is basically my Dark Sun RIFTS kitchen-sink fan-fiction home campaign. People can hate all they want, but it's exactly what I love!

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    1. That would be a mistake, since both stand contrary to the aims of old-school gaming. There are obviously edge cases and exceptions (Dark Sun is a big one), but the general trend? That's antithetical to what we need.

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  7. ONED&D and its dangers are a different category. 6E being bad has no effect on a self-selected group that inhabits a different sphere. The very problem with Artpunk D&D is that it occupies the same space as the OSR. If it did not it would be fine. Yes the problem IS Artpunk D&D.

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    1. Are you saying that 2nd edition AD&D *is* Artpunk D&D?

      Yes, I know 6e / One DnD is a different category. That's why we can fight against it together, and bring it down. Squabbling over little details regarding older TSR editions of a particular RPG just seems like counterproductive infighting. Not healthy, not how we're going to accomplish loftier goals than mere survival.

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    2. I think for all the sound and fury, this is a self-correcting problem. The old-school / artpunk split has happened, and the divergence is on. It is a done deal. Some people have an interest and presence in both domains, and this will continue, but that's on a personal basis. These scenes have been estranged for years, and since the dangerhairs in the artpunk scene have proven incapable of peaceful coexistence, they will just keep widening the gap. Yes, they will try to burn down the old clan hall in their retreat. But they will not succeed. .)

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    3. It is rather hilarious that a co-host of a show that regularly denigrates those making straight clones available is coming here to tut-tut about infighting.

      Venger, for you old-school D&D might be a great proxy tool to salt mine progressives, but that wasn't even a thing until well after 3rd party old school took off. There's absolutely nothing wrong with putting out a standard for a culture of play that may share a venn diagram with particular sets of rules, but is still rules-independent. If that would make salt miners of a different gaming culture decline to work together in any other area - who is the issue really?

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    4. "Venger, for you old-school D&D might be a great proxy tool to salt mine progressives..."

      I'm just here for the groovy vibes, hoss. ūüėČ

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  8. AD&D 2e is midschool – a special category between oldschool and newschool. Midschool is an independent RPG-era with unique attitude.

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    1. Precisely, and this post is an argument to this effect. Now, does mid-school have its distinct virtues? Wellllll... maaaaaybeeeee. Not too many that were found in TSR 2e, though.

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    2. Exactly. And this is why I tend to question the notion of 'midschool' whenever it comes up in a conversation - and it frequently comes up lately. AD&D2E and this so called 'midschool' era invented nothing, and by saying that something is a virtue of it, specially and specifically, is taking that virtue away from the previous era. I mean, I get it - lovers of this 'midschool' concept like immersion and to invest into settings and characters, much more than your supposed OSR guy does. Yet we had it before. I think it is, to an extent, an inherent and wonderful part of campaign play - the way D&D was meant to be played. The attitude of second edition only took it way, way too far, where it actually worked against an enjoyable and honest AD&D game.

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    3. Yes, but midschool-era started with 1e Dragonlance, so the new inventions started not with 2e.

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    4. It was organic change through a hundred small steps, and part of a broader culture shift in gaming. A lot of guys, especially those who saw the game as a vehicle for emulating their favourite fantasy novels, wanted a different experience, and Hickman's stuff is a consequence of that. The difference between AD&D at one step and AD&D at the next one would be barely noticeable, but when you look at the two endpoints, it is a sea change.

      Old-school gaming as originally advocated does not try to be all things all the time: it makes a deliberate effort to look at the game before the culture shift had transformed it, and work with the virtues of that era. It is built on a lot of hindsight, and it is helped by taking a firm stance on some things.

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  9. When I started talking about D&D online in 2002, I was as vocally anti-2E as anyone this side of Gene Weigel. From my perspective it was utter schlock that destroyed the version of the game I knew and liked - 3E was preferable because at least it was a clean and obvious break, whereas it seemed like every attempt to discuss "the good stuff" (Gygax-era OD&D and 1E) was inundated with aggressively clueless 2E fans refusing to acknowledge that there was any meaningful or substantive difference between them and acting like I was a mean old poopyhead for trying to invalidate their favorite game. I held onto that resentment for a while, but two interrelated things eventually caused my position to thaw a bit: one was people older than me saying all the same things I was saying about 2E about my favorite version (both the guys 10 years older insisting 1E was shit compared to OD&D, and the guys 5 years older insisting that everything after 1981 was hot garbage - not just the (admittedly problematic) Unearthed Arcana but even the Monster Manual II and World of Greyhawk boxed set) which came off as close-minded and lame, and the other was encountering people generally 5+ years younger than me who proved themselves to be otherwise smart and in possession of good taste who nonetheless were 2E fans - generally of the settings like Dark Sun and al-Qadim and Ravenloft that came out after I'd jumped off the train so I didn't have any real first-hand experience with them - and realizing that my zealotry came off to them just as lamely as the older guys' did to me. So I don't really have the heart to hate on 2E that much anymore. Which isn't to say I like it - I can still expound in detail why I think almost all of the changes it made from 1E were for the worse - but I'm willing to at least theoretically acknowledge that there's some value in some of it (especially those settings) and that it brought a lot of people (though, admittedly, only about half as many people as 1E did, as verified by Big Riggs' posted sales figures ;)) a lot of enjoyment, even if it wasn't what I wanted at the time.

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    1. Those clueless fans are still around, and they are still waving their "but I WAS there and 2e is JUST like 1e EXCEPT that outdated Gygax stuff is fixed" flags; whichever is more convenient at the time, and often all three. Obviously, it doesn't describe everyone, but it does describe many. Hence this post, inspired by similar (and recent) encounters. Did we enjoy it? Yes. Would we have been better off with 1e if we had it? Also yes.

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  10. AD&D 2e was the D&D 5e of its time. the problem it suffered from was "player facing books of character options make easy money."

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    1. The expectations of "if I've got it, I get to use it" are always powerful. Saying no to your friends is not easy.

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  11. Full agreement on the general thrust and most details. I do have some objections to raise in regards of the "cleaned up" part of the rules. Many important subjects have been transformed from "organic Gygaxian case law" into useless gibberish. Two shall be highlighted: overland movement & surprise. Both are muddled, written in a wordy way that conveys little and mystifies. So much, that in actual play of 2e both concepts, the hexcrawl, as well as suprise rounds, vanished. I could go on with a lot of detail about that but the main idea of the argument should be clear: the experience that led to 2e's "Clarifications" is a shallow one. And while EOTB, as i the above quote, might see the times at fault, I still lay blame before the shoes of certain individuals. After they touched some of the rules, they were never used again.

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    1. Full agreement on that. We never understood even the *idea* of non-handwaved wilderness travel, let alone the principles of creating a wilderness landscape of adventure sites, before getting our hands on the 1e books and Wilderlands of High Fantasy. We could have theoretically gotten close to pointcrawls (Scorpion Swamp had a very good one), but somehow never did. It was an enormous blind spot.

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  12. We share a very similar experience. When we started playing with my friends, we only had our PHB, the Titan worldbook for a setting, and everything we knew about the game we took from computer rpg's, disk magazines and AD&D's 'Hungarian little brother' (you know what i'm talking about). When we scraped enough lunch money together with a friend of mine to finally buy the Monstrous Manual, it opened new vistas before us, but still, we had that naivety and wild imagination in our games, and we enjoyed them very much.

    And then we've bought the Forgotten Realms boxed set. Oh boy. I couldn't believe that piece of shit was all that the authors of my favourite game managed to piece together. We tried, but we couldn't fkin use one bit of it. It just didn't work. I needed years to recover from that experience. I think it was the K√°osz novels that finally brought me back from the torpor.

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    1. The 2e FR boxed set was the first game product I returned to the store in disgust. Apparently, the first edition was better, but we never really experienced that. Some things are worth not having!

      The first K√°osz books are, of course, classics, and could be foundational old-school texts if they were ever translated (I even thought about doing it myself a long, long time ago, but it would have obviously been too much work).

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  13. Trent Foster has correctly and revealingly opened up the discussion by bringing OD&D again into the picture, as the forums did fifteen years ago in a gradually relaxing homage which ended largely in the realisation that AD&D preserved the spirit of the original with caveats encouraging DMs to be as creative as they wished in replacing rules preferably conforming with the original edition's sensibility when it came to abstraction; abstraction (level; class) being understood as player freedom not lack of rigour or imaginative detail on the DM's part.

    On the other hand ... of course the Gygaxian encyclopaedic approach did not discourage deep dives, though in his own games I guess he kept thing very simple and elaborated only at high level with the players he cared about. In AD&D the assassin in particular is the second most explored class (I consider the Thief a subclass), with poison rules, highly abstracted spying guidance and contentious assassination rules (within/without melee/surprise etc). Gygax was in principle uneven-lumpen and hierarchical (degrees of abstraction) in design. I believe because he saw himself as a mentor and was exploring a game space with his intuition, and between OD&D and AD&D 1e he was giving examples of how we might explore rule space the way his modules showed how to present an adventure worthy environment --- *not expecting these would become canon*.

    I was 17 when 2e was published in 1989 but it passed me by in the same way that shit music did. It was all over the Virgin stores to be sneered at. I would pick a volume up at random and put it back puzzled, 'how does this augment what I have been doing for six years?' With a mature perspective, the 2e publications gave me a false perspective of the value of anything going on outside *my own game*. I told my players to read the shit in the gaming stores, and we laughed and preened ourselves. But remember at that time it was impossible to know anyone was playing D&D in any way other than what was being published, except for the dublin dweebs with +6 swords and paladins who had dispensation to use poison we met in cons.

    In conclusion, what is published gives a false perspective to remote gamers, and IMO the intelligent remote gamers are a group we need to cultivate, those who read Gygax pure and are inspired.

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    1. Good points raised. The world has changed in that we have gone from an information-poor environment to an oversaturated one, so theoretically, those remote gamers with good taste could find gaming easily, but their problem is finding through the mountains of rubbish that surround us from all sides. This is why maintaining and cultivating the classics is so important. They are not the be-all-end-all font of gaming wisdom, but they are always a clear wellspring we can return to.

      And not just in gaming! Definitely not just in gaming.

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  15. I always saw a big part of 2E as being the TSR way of scrubbing Gygax off their flagship product the way Gygax used AD&D to scrub Arneson.

    I wish Gygax would have taken the SRD And created his version of 2.0 the way others have tried to emulate. The result would have been fascinating and certainly a big seller even if it got little play.

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  16. My D&D game of youth, where I just didn't have any information about the different editions, was: 2E Player's Handbook, 2E Monster's Manual, 1E DMG, Basic/Expert for Overland Travel (hexcrawling the Greyhawk map, but ignoring all setting info, only just using the gods). I had a big megadungeon I kept updating and a couple of recurring enemy NPCs to make up some kind of story, but not in a rail-road fashion.

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    1. That's a fairly good combination. A lot of gaming - especially for those "remote gamers" Kent has noted - was mixing and matching what you had to try and form a big picture. That's a good source of creativity, but also involved an element of luck. Our saving grace was probably Fighting Fantasy, and having access to some of the Appendix N novels (which were translated en masse in those years because their authors were too dead to ask for money).

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    2. I was lucky I never used the 2E modules, but did use the sample dungeon from the 1E DMG and Basic/Expert. From the few 2E modules I had, I just ripped off maps or NPC stats, but no story. That made my games quite oldschool, dungeon-oriented and powermongy (inadvertedly quite S&S). Sadly, I did not apply XP for gold, and followed the bad 2E DMG advice on alignment and alignment changes. My group also delved quite a lot in PvP, which was often fun, but also led to real fights IRL and that was no good.

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    3. So the only way 2E can be old-school, is if it played like 1E.

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  17. "Assassins and half-orcs are right out in the core books (yes, they are brought back in those crappy expansion books that came later, and which only Complete Weenies used)."
    Yes, the same assassins and half-orcs Gygax said he considered removing in his discussion of his hypothetical 2e in Dragon. Were I on 4channel I would call thee a certain insult, but instead I will admonish dishonest RETARDS such as yourself who wail in lament for muh assassins and half-orcs but not for psionics, 4d6 drop the lowest, or bards.
    >inb4 "I address that later" or "but the main argument"
    If there's a turd in the soup I shan't set it aside and continue eating.

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    1. Your attempt to derail the topic through pedantry has been noted and laughed at. Sad!

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  18. Terrible Trouble at Tragidore brings back such fond memories! I remember buying the 2E dungeon master screen (one of my first "advanced" purchases!), finding this free module inside, reading it, deciding that official really sucks ass bad and that I'd need to create my own material. Those homemade adventures were so much fun!

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    1. Adding insult to injury, the DM Screen was crap too. A feeble, four-panel thing made of flimsy cardstock, it would topple over at the slightest breeze, and have no table space behind it. Absolutely shameful.

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  19. I don't think I ever met anyone (with the possible exception of Melan) who used the 1e (or 2e, there's not much difference, really) DMG as anything other than a magic item repository. Having read hundreds of rpg supplements, I like to think I'm able to spot a "storehouse of good advice" if it's there, but in the DMG it's just not. Sigh. What you get is a series of very odd, baroque ramblings of autistic-obsessive proportions on the most diverse (not in a good sense) haystack of topics you will almost never need in practical gameplay or when trying to put together an actual, working adventure. Running around a "milieu", no matter how "well-crafted" and wasting random monsters so that you can level up and go back to waste some more is not an adventure, it's just what it seems, a series of random, unconnected and utterly meaningless occurrences. You might as well click away at Diablo or push a pinball machine until your thumb gets sore if that's your heart's content. Having anything more in your game requires imagination, and a handful of random online charts today does more to spark ideas than hundreds of pages on geographies and ecologies of fantasy worlds. (Sprawling random encounter tables by terrain type, which have almost nothing but wandering monsters, anyone?) It's also puzzling that "realism" is a swear word now in OSR circles, while the sacred pages of the DMG teach you precious little beyond drawing up a "campaign" in a pseudo-scientific, pedantic way, but won't help a budding (or aging, whatever) DM in any way in creating the magical whimsy and interactivity that puts D&D above any other gaming form.

    (Sorry if u have seen that already, I harangued on it before but it's never enough.)

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    1. You might ask around your game table. There may be a person or two there who have gotten some use out of the book. Who knows? They might also share a few handy tips on avoiding boulder traps.

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    2. The perfect microcosm of the wisdom behind your comment is the fact that we don't play pinball with our thumbs. The rest of your opinion is of like quality.

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    3. Volja--== Sigh, where is Oscar Wilde when The West needs a fulsome flowery degenerate blast of sighs to blow away the granite of thoughtful tradition.

      This is a welcome troll piece. Trolling at its best disrupts group think and is always welcome IMO.

      The DMG 1e takes an *encyclopaedic* approach which suggested to me, from my very first days, two things:

      (i) this game is ballsy, it stakes reality as its domain. The whole of reality, and beyond, but reality first. You can model anything with probabilities so long as you have some understanding of the subject. The 1960s RAND corporation told us so. Groups of teenagers give each other a pass on weak understanding of subjects because the art of reality convinces among peers. As teenagers IME above average knowledge was respected and immediately included; --Teenage Players-- I fish, I shoot, I climb, I swim, my father is a soldier, this is how radiation works, girls like me, I have been in fights, I have stolen the MM and DMG from Easons Bookshop (me & player, aged 12. I fess up). As a warning to young readers I was eventually caught and my career as a thief was cut short. So (i) everything is at stake in this game and DM and player knowledge elevates the game, that is the first lesson of the DMG.

      (ii) Even if you take what is given in the DMG at face value, which you don't need to if you are more knowledgeable about that topic, my young teenage self realised this is an incomplete encyclopaedia and I am expected to fill the gaps. The gaps in the DMG are enormous, they dwarf the examples. This is joy to creative DMs. I have to come up with structures and probabilities that my players will accept, *on any subject*. This is intimidating. And there is a tension in AD&D between the DM and the Players because the DM needs to be more knowledgeable about ***reality*** not ***D&D***.

      So, AD&D tries to be Complete which is impossible and encourages Creativity to fill the gaps, which will always be an ongoing process.

      --== Kent Challenge

      Gygax's concept of the round is not at all obvious but it is brilliant. The alternative drags towards rate of strike.

      Gygax's concept of surprise and encounter distance as described in the DMG is the most brilliant gaming material I have read and followed.


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    4. Thanks, Kent. I'm still interested, though, what arguments Melan or 3llense'g have on the infallible adventure-crafting wisdom in the DMG (any edition), apparently so well hidden. Hint: cheap jokes aren't arguments.

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    5. Your arguments have been made many times against AD&D, and they form one of the foundations of the mindset that rejects old-school gaming ("random encounters are dumb", "you just kill monsters ad nauseam to level up" [this betrays a serious lack of knowledge about what actually nets you XP in 1e], "you might as well play Diablo"). These are tired gotchas from 2004-era ENWorld. The most important counterpoint, though, is that the exact opposite of your claim is plainly observable. Old-schoolers have continued to find inspiration, good advice and practical use in that DMG (random encounter charts included), so it is not them making extraordinary claims without backing them up, it is you. You could reflect on that, but you obviously don't, and won't. Hell, you haven't even reflected on that boulder trap, which everyone else in the group agreed was fair (and funny). So cheap jokes it is.

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    6. Was it this boulder trap?? https://beyondfomalhaut.blogspot.com/2017/05/campaign-journal-inheritance-08-griffin.html

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    7. Volja became disappointed with the DMG when he realised it would not help him fake having imagination in front of his players.

      == but won't help a ... DM in any way in creating magical whimsy

      No that's your responsibility. No text will transform a bore into a raconteur.

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  20. Also, politically on the large scale, I believe things are not going well for the western billionaires who do not represent us true westerners. So continue to resist in small ways centuries old traditional values. God bless Hungary.

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    1. Sorry to ruin your follies, but turning a budding, naive democracy to a neo-communist, dirt poor Soviet vassal state is not "tradition", not even by the most perverse interpretation of that word. But politics is a topic for another blog.

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    2. Spoken like a proud PoC (Person of Capital), and well worth those +20 Social Credit points. .) Alas, us damn dirty provincials disagree, and have voted accordingly.

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    3. Read Putin's words. That is what I say to the degenerate western brainwashed. And it works.

      https://valdaiclub.com/events/posts/articles/vladimir-putin-meets-with-members-of-the-valdai-club/

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  22. The recent direction of 5e and the horrific implications of One D&D were a major impetus to me starting a White Box OSR campaign. I think going forward I'll be running a mix of stripped-down 5e (with slow advancement) and White Box (or White Star) games. I need to disentangle from the 5e culture that has emerged over the past few years of Crawfordian D&D.

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  23. This -- Demarcation line -- of 2E D&D as old school gets hazier when one considers WotC 1997-1999 involvement in late supplements. Some 3rd ed D&D DNA is present in later 2e material.
    And for some of us , we never played 2e straight . we all had this gygax edition stuff and merged it with 2e D&D and just.... played. half orcs, kits , demons and all.

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  24. PrinceofNothing has said he might have an emphasis on higher level adventure material next year. Undoubtably higher level material is more interesting, but not in the autistic way of increased obeisance to *the book*. Magic in AD&D is extraordinarily rich, when you compare it to Rolemaster or WHFRP or Runequest I can see why some people consider the magic system to be the core of AD&D.

    Personally I found it too rich for my blood, which is to say too interesting or too brilliant. I found I could take a handful of spells as described and create so much fruitful content for my group that I placed extreme limits on magic in my AD&D campaigns -- very restrained magical travel, very restrained divination, and magic users developed unendearing personality traits as they advanced to put a break on temporal power.

    I would probably be considered a shit DM by the average AD&D player but I restricted magic-user characters to exceptional players. More than half of my campaigns had no MU PC. I ended up devising my own magical structure to try to tame the wild genius of the AD&D magic system.

    Getting back to PrinceofNothings correct assertion that higher level adventures are under-served it occurred to me that you can't generate material for a certain level using knowledge of the rules, you have to progress through the levels in a single campaign. But this is not happening now as it was in the 1980s. If, on starting a campaign, you are not playing once a month for two years don't pretend you can achieve high level play. This is why almost no-one writes high level adventures anymore.

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    1. I had indeed considered that for higher level adventures, I would greatly relax the stringent restrictions of the competition. It seems fitting and in line with what would be natural play that the unexpected would play a much greater role.

      You assertion r.e. higher play is all correct. The difference between a group that has progressed through each level and mastered all its various intricacies and a group that is simply ploinked there willy nilly is staggering. Nevertheless the challenge will be to approximate. Can we put the cart before the horse? Can high level adventure excite the thirst for longer campaigns? I agree the methodology is flawed but the exploration of it seems worthwhile.

      48 sessions to reach level 9+ is still very fast. Average rate of advancement in AD&D is higher then RC (I was around session 40-50 and had level 5 PCs) but levelling up every 5 sessions consistently takes great player skill and there are factors like Level Drain and Death.

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    2. I agree with Kent. Without the journey to get there, high-level play is incongruous and hollow. Sad that so many lack the patience to make the journey by foot and instead hop on a high-speed tram. So much is missed when whizzing by the landscape.

      Still, certain locations (like D3) can be extracted from play and given to strangers to modify as needed.

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  26. I agree with Volja about random tables. They suck. I excuse the DMG only because it is trying to establish a DISTRIBUTION which is prooportional.

    All of the subsequent material post DMG is gibberish and Volja is correct.

    Random tables are pre creative tools. As a reader I don't want to see your process.

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  27. Ireland beat South Africa !!

    I love this blog, the discussions are so lively.

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    1. Here's some lively discussion for you: right now I'm supporting the glorious Russian war effort to kill Ukranian children from my exorbitant taxes and heating bills, whether I want to or not. I don't have a choice, except maybe emigration. You do, because you live in a free country. Savor that for a while the next time you feel inclined to blabber about "tradition".

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    2. The US Dept of State is responsible for the war.

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    3. I had the quaint notion that whoever starts a war (by invading another country) is responsible for it, but my poor pinkie brain got obviously misled by the rainbow pony brigade.

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  28. This post is quite valuable to the 2e ignorant who might confuse it with 1e. These thoughts needed to be documented. The demarcation is a real one.

    Thank you Melan!

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  29. Just had a chance to read this post. This is one of the best, most reasoned and specific delineations of the differences between 1E and 2E that I have read.

    [although I think one can hammer 2E even harder for its experience system that did a lot to destroy D&D game play (both its potentiality and its actuality) for generations to come, and for that it should always and forever be despised and vilified]

    I had the great fortune to enter the hobby in '81 (with B/X) and advance to full AD&D no later than '84. Yes, my group would later incorporate the UA (we were Gygax fanboys/girls and EGG's name was on the cover), but our modules were almost entirely drawn from the old classics prior to writing our own stuff, thereby avoiding much of terrible excesses of latter day 1E under "new management."

    I am thus in a fairly small minority of current-day gamers: a person who learned the Basics of the game from the extremely well-written B/X set (as opposed to the cargo cult learning of earlier folks) but BEFORE the sanitizing scrub of Mentzer, and who then self-transitioned to true AD&D withOUT preconceived notions acquired from older mentors, using the classic modules as examples rather than the decadent, railroad story plots that arrived with the Hickmans of Salt Lake City.

    Unfortunately, despite this solid foundation, my youth at the time precluded a deep understanding of WHY my games worked, in comparison to others. It has taken me decades of searching and reflection to figure that out.

    Folks brought into the hobby by 2E or BECMI or video games....or by mentors who have that background (accounting for a large number of 3E originated folks) are at a substantial disadvantage, and few of them reach this clarity of understanding...it's always hard to be objective about the things we love, especially wrt things wrapped in so much of our personal primordial history.

    I have compassion. I don't hate the player...just the game.

    RE 6E / D&D One, etc.

    I don't share your view of D&D's new iteration as a "second Second Edition." The second coming of 2E has been 5E. Milestones instead of story awards. Emphasis on backgrounds (kits) for variation; emphasis on streamlining mechanics over the baroque and archaic. The ridiculousness of its adventures...the enormous number of "worlds" (settings) packaged for the consumer...even the resurgence of such 2E favorites as Forgotten Realms and Ravenloft!

    Fifth Edition has been 2E (and is something to be despised). The new "sixth" edition looks to be something closer to 3E: a SYSTEM to unite all D&Ds under one banner; a second coming of D20, and a consolidation of commercial/corporate power. 3E wiped out many independent game designers/companies in insidious fashion; to me, 6E looks to be the new version of this economic strategy.

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  30. I must say, this post, and particularly the postscript, has aged like fine wine.

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    1. You speak truth. Well done.

      The greatest threat to the D&D game comes from those outside who misunderstand (or secretly dislike it) and want it to be what is is not. There are birds and there are bees and each is wonderfully and fundamentally different. Only the hubris of man would try to make a bird-bee mutant.

      This is the non-problem One D&D (and 2e) both tried to solve --- how to make a D&D for all those potential consumers that intrinsically do not find D&D fun. The answer today is the same as it was back then: change it into something else---glue feathers onto a bee's back because they are pretty.

      Many of the Artpunk crowd are far more honest. They invent totally new games and don't even bother to call it D&D. Of course, no one plays them...but perhaps they will strike gold someday.

      The people trying first-and-foremost to make money will (perhaps) achieve their goal and make money, but nothing else worth preserving, unless by total accident.

      The reason the OSR retro-clones persist and maintain their value nearly 20 years (!) after their inception is because they preserve the original lightning-in-a-bottle, unaltered, for future generations to discover and enjoy.

      Real D&D is there for the taking. Just learn it. Just play it. Classics are timeless.

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  31. I started with AD&D 2e and so I have a nostalgic fondness for that edition that is probably unwarranted. I can't help it. I loved a lot of the things you hated about it and that's OK. I can see why you didn't like it and it makes perfect sense - 1e and 2e were very tonally different editions even if mechanics were very similar.

    I agree with your predictions about whatever-we're-calling-this-new-edition-today, and it's already pushed me in an OSR direction - likely B/X or a similar retroclone.

    "There is creative energy in butthurt." - This is a fantastic quote I hope spreads all over the Internets. LOL

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