Wednesday, March 4, 2009

AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide: Finding the Gems

Despite my earlier posting about my youthful frustrations with AD&D, I've recently grown to appreciate and understand the massive baggy monster that is Advanced Dungeons and Dragons 1st Edition.

A key part of getting more out of the books is in understanding the play style that they seem to support. I never appreciated things like Wandering Monster Tables, Random Dungeon Generators, and hexcrawl wilderness exploration when I was younger. I suppose part of the problem was that I was too focused on a creating story like Lord of the Rings rather than appreciating what the game WAS good at.

This is something that I feel I've learned from both the old school and the indie gaming communities in the last few years: the story is wherever the players are and what they are doing NOT whatever grand scheme is in your head. Provide your players with situations they can dive into and DON'T provide them with plots that aren't ever going to be realized or that you have railroad them through. Railroading can be okay and provide a satisfying play experience, but it requires significant buy in from the players. D&D can get around railroading by focusing on what might be called environmental dangers (i.e. the dungeon or the wilderness) that by their nature are situational. The major buy in for the players is usually at the beginning during the scenarios set-up or "mission briefing" phase. Once they are in the "situation" they've usually got all sorts of motivations to interact with the imaginative environment. This usually means killing stuff, getting treasure, and getting killed by stuff in return, but it also might mean solving puzzles and avoiding traps.

Anyway, part my problem seemed to be that I just needed to give myself permission to see the game as a toolbox and move from there. I'd argue that AD&D at its core is a pretty simple game actually, but it suffers from a complex presentation and lots of extra "stuff" that got bolted on over the years (Unearthed Arcana I'm looking at you!). The DMG in particular is a labyrinthine text that while filled with some great stuff also has lots of "extras" that you may not need.

Here's Dr. Rotwang's appreciation of the DMG from a few years ago:

So ignore the chaff--find the gems--and dive into the dungeon!

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