|Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, 1st edition|
Author: Gary Gygax
|AD&D was originally
released over a three year span, one book a year. It was an audacious move
on TSR's part: D&D itself had only been out for three years, and what had
been a little-known company publishing minatures rules booklets was suddenly
releasing a three-volume, hardcover set of rulebooks.
At the time, it was difficult to see exactly what AD&D was supposed to be. Original D&D needed to be rewritten and the rules tightened up, and there was a demand for more rules and more options. At first blush, AD&D might have been a supplement to original, white box D&D, much as Greyhawk had been. When TSR released the Basic D&D set (a cleaned-up version of the original rules plus the Greyhawk supplement packed into a single volume with a small selection of monsters and only enough information to take players to third level), the D&D game could still considered a single whole: players would begin with Basic D&D, and then graduate to AD&D as a matter of course. It wasn't until AD&D was complete that TSR's plans were clear: that there were to be two independent D&D lines, with the games entirely separate. Basic D&D players were expected to continue to the Expert and Master D&D rules, and so on, while AD&D was supposed to be a somewhat different game.
Not only was AD&D separated from the original D&D line, but TSR took a new, hard line to the game. The rules were no longer simply guidelines, but were supposed to be as solid as any other game's. Gary Gygax came down hard on rules modifications. The Players Handbook requested that players not tamper with the character classes or other restrictions in the name of play balance. The Dungeon Masters Guide took a harder line against rule modification. But it was too late: Original D&D had already let the genie out of the bottle in encouraging players to make their own rules, and there was no going back. Gary Gygax's demands for standardization in the name of play balance were ignored, and the entire RPG industry has been forced to abide by this philosophy ever since.
Sadly, TSR could not resist taking pot shots at competitors in their rule books. Mike Carr's forward to the Monster Manual warned that many competitors' products were shoddy, and Gygax's preface to the Players Handbook made ugly attacks on spell point systems, arbitrary restrictions on female characters, and ponderous combat systems, a sad joke that couldn't be fully appreciated until the hand to hand combat rules in the Dungeon Masters Guide came out.
Gygax later argued that AD&D's call for standardization was to ensure easy tournament play, with national standards. He also admitted that he didn't play canonical AD&D himself. The tournament standardization excuse seems unlikely, and if that was really their intention, then TSR botched the job from the very beginning in not making this clear. In spite of TSR's stated desires to have AD&D become a hard and fast rules system that everybody agreed on, by continuing with the D&D name, it could only be the baseline upon which all individuals based their own house rules. The apocalypse didn't come: AD&D remained the primary RPG for many years, and it was clearly recognized as a unified game, even if there were large differences from group to group. In spite of the mass tinkering with the rules by DMs world-wide, AD&D players had little trouble adjusting to tournaments.
The Monster Manual
The Monster Manual (MM) was an exciting treat for DMs. First released in 1977, it appeared to be little more than a one-shot hardcover encyclopedia of creatures for the original D&D game. Monsters now had many new statistics, including an intelligence score, a size, and often new attack forms. There were many new monsters included, and there was also a much expanded treasure table, including treasure lists for loose coins the monsters were carrying on their persons. The durable hardcover format was a big success, and most DMs of the period happily integrated the new book into their existing games with little trouble or thought. There were only two changes to the rules with this book: monster hit dice were now d8, instead of d6, and the 9-point alignment system was now official, over D&D's Law/Neutral/Chaos system.
The Players Handbook
The Players Handbook (PHB) arrived the following year. The cover art by Dave Trampier set the mood wonderfully: the party of adventurers, having killed off the lizard men, were now preparing to loot the jewel-eyed idol, and who knows what mischief might ensue as a result? In our opinion, none of the major D&D or AD&D rule books since has had such a catchy cover. The book's forward warned players not to tinker with the new system, which was rather odd, considering that it essentially asked players to put this book away for over a year until the new Dungeon Masters Guide was published. In order to use the new PHB immediately, one had to tinker with the rules at least a bit to shoehorn it into original D&D.
The PHB made changes to the rules that were as significant as Greyhawk's had been, but the changes were still evolutionary, modifications to the game rather than dramatically new ideas. Character classes were broadly defined as Cleric, Fighter, Magic-User, and Thief, with subclasses of Druid, Paladin, Ranger, Illusionist, Assassin, and Monk. Hit dice were boosted from Greyhawk, with Fighters now obtaining a full d10 and clerics getting a d8. Thieves got a d6, and Magic-Users stayed at d4. The new 9-point alignment system was explained, there was a confusing diagram of the outer planes, and there were loads and loads of new spells, weapons, armor types, and kinds of equipment. There were prices to buy all sorts of things, not just adventuring equipment. Players were expected to buy clothes for their characters (!), and other luxuries, such as pets (or were these intended as ingredients for magical items?), were now available.
As for spells, there were all kinds of new details to absorb. Spells now required components, verbal, somatic, or material, in order to be cast. Many of the material components were jokey, or related to modern concepts (such as a tiny bit of copper wire for a Message spell) which damaged the believability of the game world, whatever that might be. The jokey material components quickly became annoying. While it seemed that they were intended to limit spellcaster power, what they actually ended up doing was to make spell casters into scavengers, scooping up pieces of every unusual monster killed in the expectation that it might be needed someday. Components also took the magic system away from the original concept borrowed from Jack Vance's Dying Earth series, whose magic was almost entirely verbal in nature.
It was still possible to cobble together a game using the new Monster Manual and Players Handbook with original D&D, and it worked pretty well. This was a good thing, because the long-awaited Dungeon Masters Guide seemed to take forever to be released. Dragon Magazine (issue #28) released some charts and tables in the interim, and we still remember this issue as being one of the most valuable we'd ever received, because it gave us a chance to use some of the new goodies from the Player's Handbook.
The Dungeon Masters Guide
The Dungeon Masters Guide (DMG) was a wonder. It was a dull read, but it made some big changes to the game. In a nod to powergamers, character generation was modified to grant characters higher stats. A number of options for character generation were presented to increase the probability of getting more 18's in ability scores. The combat system was updated a bit, with the addition of extra detail that largely served to slow it down. Melee rounds were broken down into segments, whose main purpose was to determine precisely when a spell-caster's spell went off. There were unarmed combat rules, which had little to do with the rest of the combat system and were complex and difficult to run. There were loads of charts and tables, tons of new magical items, basic rules on building fortresses, hiring men at arms, adventuring underwater, and so forth. In theory, everything a DM would need to run a campaign from 1st level to the top was here.
Deities and Demigods
The Deities and Demigods cyclopedia (DDG) came out a year later still. Gary Gygax wrote in the preface that it was to be considered an integral part of the game, yet somehow it never quite made it. While it included information on exactly how a cleric's spells were granted (lowest level spells by faith alone, higher level spells by increasingly powerful servants of the god/dess), and advice for DMs on how to keep clerics at their god's beck and call, the book was still little more than a Monster Manual of the Mythologies. There was far too much information on combat abilities of the deities, and far too little on what a deity might look for, what his or her goals might be, and how clerics of the faith should behave.
This was not a core rule book, but Unearthed Arcana made major changes to the game, most of them for the worse. Unearthed Arcana encouraged players to expect nothing but the most powerful characters possible. A new character generation method (Method V) had players choose their class first, then roll huge numbers of dice for each characteristic and pick the best 3 dice in order to generate their stats. Fighters got to roll 9d6 and choose the best three for their strength: how many fighters would have strengths of less than 18? Unearthed Arcana gave rules to permit players to take demi-human races hitherfore classified as monsters as characters: drow and duergar, for example. New character classes (the Cavalier, Barbarian, and Thief-Acrobat) strained play balance. Unearthed Arcana also debuted TSR's new format for AD&D books: the first half of the book had material for the players, and the second half of the book was for the DM only. While this boosted sales for TSR, it was a serious inconvenience for gamers. Players only got half of their money's worth out of the book, and DMs couldn't use the new treasures described because their secrets were lost. The best feature of Unearthed Arcana was the new spells, but on the whole, the book probably ruined more games than it helped.
Playing the game
How well did it work? Well enough, although the system was starting to get cluttered. AD&D attempted to codify everything, often by creating new systems because there was no way to shoehorn everything into one resolution system. Debates were set off in Dragon magazine: did dwarven women really have beards, as Gygax insisted? Exactly how did this new 9-point alignment system work? Should the detail of weapon speed factors and combat segments be used more extensively?
Character generation was still simple. You started by choosing a race (human, dwarf, elf, gnome, half-elf, halfling, or half-orc) and sex, and then generating character stats. These were slightly reordererd from original D&D, putting Dexterity fourth, as the prime requisite for thieves: Strength, Intelligence, Wisdom, Dexterity, Constitution, and Charisma. Players generated scores from 3-18, using one of four systems to create higher scores than the old unmodified 3d6 system. Method I (the most popular) used 4d6, discarded the worst die, and assigned the value to whichever stat desired. Method II rolled 3d6 12 times, and the top six scores were assigned to characteristics. Method III rolled 3d6 six times for each stat, and the player selected the one they wanted for each stat. Method IV generated 12 characters as for original D&D (3d6 for each stat, and no manipulations) and the player chose the character they wanted. This boost in character abilities was probably a nod to powergamers who refused to play non-exceptional characters, but may also have been a recognition that players were more invested in their characters now, and wanted good ones to begin with because they'd have them for a long time.
Race had an effect on characters. For starters, there were the straight out modifications (for example, elves received a +1 to dexterity, and -1 to constitution.) Non-humans received special abilities such as infravision, the ability to detect secret doors, and so forth. They had the option to be split-classed, meaning they could simultaneously be two (or three) different character classes. However, experience points were split between all classes, which slowed advancement, and races still had limitations on how high a level they could achieve, although these limits were higher than in original D&D. Unlike original D&D, there were now racial minimums and maximums on ability scores. Only humans could have the maximum strength of 18/00, although elves could theoretically reach an intelligence of 19.
Humans could not be split class, but could be dual-classed, meaning they quit one character class and started a new one. They could no longer advance in the old class, and once they reached the same level in their new class as they were in their old, they could start using their old class abilities again. The main advantage to playing a human was unlimited advancement in any character class.
The various classes had weapon and armor restrictions. These were slightly less restrictive than original D&D, partially because of the expanded number of weapons available. There was no explanation: magic users simply were not allowed any weapon other than daggers, darts, or staves. Characters were also permitted or denied the use of burning flasks of oil or envenomed weapons based on character class and sometimes alignment.
The DMG added a few extras to character generation to help flesh the character out. Players rolled on a table for a secondary skill, a non-adventuring skill that was presumably picked up while the character learned the adventuring trade. Then, the character's age was generated, based on race and class. On the whole, the new system tended to create more powerful characters, but they were still mainly archetypes, with little identity outside of their character class and race.
The Magic System
AD&D is where magic users first hit real limitations on learning magic. First of all, the spell lists were so large that even the mightiest of magic users couldn't possibly learn them all. Secondly, first level magic users started the game knowing only four spells: Read Magic, plus an offensive, a defensive, and a miscellaneous spell. Once they began advancing, magic users were allowed to try to learn any spell they could find, whether from a captured spell book, a scroll from a hoard, or something from their teacher's list. Suddenly, magic users became very focused on obtaining new spells. However, beyond the problem of locating new magic, there were no restrictions. Although the PHB had started classifying spells by types (Alteration, Evocation, etc.), this was not yet used to differentiate magic. Schools of magic did not appear until the 2nd edition, years later. Clerics were still allowed access to their entire spell list. While the DDG had made it plain that clerics were to be attached to particular gods, there was no differentiation of spells by faith: all clerics used the same spell list.
The basic structure of the combat system was little changed from original D&D. However, combat was more detailed, and the rules were more thoroughly explained. Armor class now went from 10 (unarmored) to 2 (plate mail and shield) with even better armor classes going into the negatives for enchanted armors. The combat round was defined as a full minute in length, and was subdivided into ten six-second segments.
The combat rules begin with two paragraphs explaining that a highly detailed combat system for an RPG (any RPG) was an error. Perhaps this was supposed to be a lead in to Gygax's explanation of what the AD&D combat round is supposed to represent: a full minute round with a number of feints and strikes, of which one is expected to hit home, this key attack being the result of the to hit roll. (More likely, it was a swipe at Runequest, a competitor.) Hit points were largely intangible, a combination of luck, divine favor, and defensive tricks, with a few hit points being actual physical damage. This description implied that the Gygax carefully thought out what a proper simulation of combat should be, but it seems more likely it's an after the fact justification for the highly playable, but unrealistic D&D combat system, especially since AD&D's system was so clearly based on the original D&D rules.
In fact, the AD&D combat system was essentially the same as D&D's: roll for initiative on a d6, with the high roll going first. Attackers rolled a d20 to see if they hit the target, trying to equal or exceed a target number (determined by cross-indexing the attacker's level against the defender's armor class). If the attack hit, then damage dice were rolled based on the type of weapon used. There were a lot of embellishments and special cases, though.
Surprise: Combat began with a check for surprise. Under normal circumstances, each side rolled a d6, and the other side was surprised on a 1 - 2. The difference between the two surprise die rolls indicated the number of six second segments that surprise lasted. Each segment of surprise gave the unsurprised side a full round's worth of action. Missile and thrown weapons could be used at three times the normal rate. While the rules didn't explicitly state, we assume that spells may only be cast if their casting time (in segments) fitted within the surprise time.
Combat Distance: This was randomly determined after surprise. The DM rolled a d6+4 for the number of inches apart the party was. Inches, in this case, referred to the miniatures roots of AD&D. Indoors and underground, an inch meant ten feet, while outdoors, an inch scaled to ten yards.
Initiative: Once surprise segments (if any) were completed, both sides rolled a d6 for initiative every round. Actions (including melee, missile, and magic) were performed from the high initiative down to the lowest. Dexterity did not modify the initiative, nor weapon speed factor. But spell casting time did count against initiative.
Spell casting in combat: The caster selected their spell before the initiative roll. If an opponent managed to hit the caster in that round before she could cast the spell, then the spell was spoiled (and the caster lost it from her memory). The actual moment of an attack thus becomes important.
Attacks occurred on the segment indicated by the initiative dice, with the lower segment number (occuring first) going to the party with the higher initiative, and vice versa. For example, if the party had an initiative of 5, and the monsters had an initiative of 2, then the party attacked on the second segment, and the monsters on the fifth. If a spell caster's spell took more than 2 segments, she risked being hit and losing the spell. The DMG noted that opponents with any brains will target spellcasters first in a combat. There was no description of how to handle this switching of initiative and combat segment if there were more than two sides to a combat!
Striking blows: Normally, weapons (missile or melee) struck on the segment indicated by the initiative (with the switch noted above, in the spell-casting section). If there was a tie for initiative, the weapon with the lower speed factor went first. If the faster weapon has half or less of the speed of the slower one, or if the difference was five or more, then the faster weapon got two strikes before the slower one. Since this only occurred during simultaneous initiative (1/6 of the time), it hardly seemed worth the complication. The weapon speed factor was also used to compute whether an attacker could strike a spell caster before the spell went off. However, Gygax uses yet another description of how to calculate this: compare the two segments that each side is acting on. If the difference between these segments is greater than or equal to the speed factor of the weapon, then the attack spoils the spell, assuming the melee attack was successful, of course.
Thus, the weapon speed factor was only needed if initiative was tied, or if attacking a spellcaster. It would have been far easier to simply let low initiative go first, with action beginning on the segment of the initiative die, and the actual segment of the attack would be initiative + weapon speed or spell casting time. In fact, this suggestion was made in Dragon magazine not long after the DMG was published.
To determine whether the attacker hit, a to hit number was obtained from a table. There were five to hit tables: four for characters (fighters, clerics, magic-users, and thieves) and one for monsters. The level of the attacking figure (or hit dice, in case of a monster) was cross-indexed against the armor class of the defender. The resulting number was modified if the attacker had a weapon and the defender was wearing armor (this table was in the PHB). The attacker tried to equal or exceed the to hit number on a d20. Attacking PCs got bonuses for high strength (or dexterity, if using a missile or thrown weapon). There were other bonuses for circumstances, such as attacking from behind or a side. A successful hit meant a roll for damage, with each weapon having two damage ranges, one for human-sized or smaller targets, the other for larger targets. Damage is deducted from one's hit points, and the battle goes on.
AD&D had morale rules, which original D&D lacked. There was a simple 50% morale level for monsters, with a +5% for every hit die above one. There was a lengthy table with morale modifiers.
As many others have noted, AD&D had no critical hits and no called shots. (With hit points representing luck as well as physical sturdiness, the lack of called shots made sense.) One could get an automatic hit against an opponent who was unable to move, and an instant kill against a totally helpless opponent.
At its heart, the system was a good one: fast and workable, with three simple die rolls. The to hit number need only be calculated once for each opponent, and the damage factor was likewise simple. The combat system felt right, with a die roll for each attempted attack, and a hit doing actual damage to the foeno matter what the designer said it was actually supposed to be simulating. But all the good features were D&D's: AD&D's embellishments complicated matters, and caused confusion. Why should weapon speed factors only apply in a tied initiative? Why should combat against a surprised foe be fought in segments, while melee is done in rounds? Why do missiles get tripled rate of fire in a surprise situation, while spells can't even be used in surprise unless they are very quick to cast?
Further, there were some omissions to this supposedly complete and tested system. What was the speed factor of monster teeth and claws (necessary information if a troll is ripping into your magic user)? Why ddin't monsters get a speed factor? Why go to the effort of computing to hit bonuses and penalties for weapons against armor, but not against thick monster hides? (After all, the weapon to hit adjustment was by armor class, which could encompass different types of armor.)
A helpful feature new to AD&D was the concept of item saving throws. While characters had saving throws against enemy magic, poison, etc. from the days of original D&D, AD&D added a table to determine how well items, such as a treasure chest, might survive a fireball thrown into its room. This was a new incentive for DMs to get rather fiendish about destroying items that were previously felt to be invulnerable.
A big change from original D&D was in the experience/character advancement system. While the experience point system for all versions of D&D never seemed quite properly balanced, level advancement in original D&D was simple: when you earned enough experience points at the end of the session, you went up a level, with a new hit die and everything. In AD&D, you had to locate an instructor, and pay huge sums of gold to be trained. Characters were rated at the end of every game on a scale of 1-4, and one's average rating determined how long it took to train to go up a leveland cost was dependent on time.
AD&D fulfilled its promise: it was an advance for D&D, and at the time of its release, it was state of the art role playing. There were enough rules to cover most situations, and the system was complete with the first three books. All of the books that followed could legitimately be considered supplements, with the possible exception of DDG, which did contain some key concepts for clerics.
For many, AD&D was the only RPG. It quickly replaced original D&D, and the Basic/Expert/Master series of D&D was no competition for it. The Advanced in the title stroked the ego of gamers who felt it was a more challenging product. The game was still going strong for twelve years without significant modification by the company. Perhaps this was more a testimony to the ample sales of supplements and adventures rather than the quality of the rules, but if so, this was hardly a practice confined to TSR. The books were re-released with new covers, but the material remained unchanged until the 2nd edition of AD&D arrived in 1989. AD&D stimulated the imaginations of thousands of gamers across the globe. By any measure, this game was one of the most important in the RPG industry.
But AD&D failed on other fronts. It wasn't canonical and all-encompassing. The rules could not be written to cover every eventuality, and players around the world rejected TSR's line that AD&D was not to be tampered with or modified. The attacks on other games were embarrasing and immature. The game screamed out for editing and the rules should have been tightened up. Sometimes the rules were difficult to understand, and the turgid prose discouraged repeated study.
AD&D was a bad game for beginners, but not impossible. Certainly it was better than original D&D, except for the cost and the amount of material that had to be absorbed. The rules were less shorthand sketches, and more thorough, with examples of play here and there. But AD&D was never designed for beginners in the first place.
Decades of adventuring were inspired and supported by this product. This game rightfully has a place of honor here in the Museum.
Personal note from the curator
AD&D was my game. I played this with my group for many, many years, starting at the beginning, integrating each book into my current campaign, until the arrival of the DMG forced a total game reboot. Of all the games in the museum, this is the only one I can say I've so thoroughly explored that I have no desire to go back to play again, even for nostagia's sake. Even so, I still get a thrill leafing through the old books and supplements, remembering the great adventures it promised, and the advetures it provided. Pull up a chair, and let me tell you about our expedition to the Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth...