Explaining the Appeal of TSR Era D&D and D&DN.

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I am a D&D newb as I have only been playing for 20 years. I started on BECMI in 1993, switched to 2nd ed in 1995, played 1st ed with some grogs and then switched to 3rd ed in 2000, 4th ed in 2008 and back to 3rd ed and SWSE in 2009/10 before settling on Pathfinder and recently last year starting to look at retroclones. I am more or less an eternal DM and after 12 years of 3.x I am kind of over that system. I will be playing PF in the future but I do not regard 3rd ed as the one true way for D&D. I am starting to find the appeal of older editions enticing mostly because I am the DM. From the DMs PoV I have would rank the editions like this in terms of ease of running them. I will also include a retroclone and Pathfinder.


1. BECMI
2. Myth and Magic
3. 2nd Ed
4. 4th Ed
5. Pathfinder
6. 3.5
7. 3.0


I did play 1st ed but never DMed it and I would probably put it above or below 4th ed. No surprise 3.x is on the bottom of the list. Some of you may be surprised that 4th ed is only in the middle. 4th ed was quite easy to DM compared to 3.x and it is one thing the game got right IMHO but it is not as easy as TSR era stuff. This is due to options and prep time. 3rd ed was kind of like being at war with the game mechanics itself while 4th ed one spent time drawing up maps and thinking up interesting challenges for the PCs.


For the most part mechanics do not matter that much IMHO. Even in the 80's one could find RPGs such as West End Games D6 system that I though had better mechanics than D&D even though it was skill based. A large appeal of D&D to me used to be the fluff, genre and art. Early D&D art looks terrible and it looks like it was drawn by two guys living at home and their friends. Which was more or less exactly what it was. The artwork did improve with Larry Elmore and Jeff Easley taking the reigns. Elmores art graced the cover of the old Red box and the essentials red box.


This is an Easley
IMAGE(http://i1290.photobucket.com/albums/b534/Worldoftanks/Rules_Cyclopedia_cover_zps37feb3ba.jpg)



More Easley
IMAGE(http://i1290.photobucket.com/albums/b534/Worldoftanks/ADampD1_zpsd934eb0f.jpg)


The 3 AD&D books here are Easley, the 4th ed ones and Pathfinder are Wayne Reynolds. The green module in the bottom is early 80's art and it is the Tomb of Horrors.


IMAGE(http://i1290.photobucket.com/albums/b534/Worldoftanks/PHBs_zps205bc383.jpg)



I was also traumatized by this effort recently as I bought this PDF. Wayne Reynolds. Gaaaah my eyes.


IMAGE(http://i1290.photobucket.com/albums/b534/Worldoftanks/PZO1125_500_zps5145f661.jpeg)


Not all modern art is inherently bad though. I quite like this one from 4th ed.
IMAGE(http://i1290.photobucket.com/albums/b534/Worldoftanks/dark_sun_cg_b1y.jpg)


Also Todd Lockwood I also like. The 3.5 Draconomicon.


IMAGE(http://i1290.photobucket.com/albums/b534/Worldoftanks/Draconomicon.jpg)



Anyway based on the art alone I prefer the covers of TSR era D&D books and even some of the really old ones with bad art still have some charm.


Finally the main appeal also lies in the old school adventures, settings, Dragon and Dungeon magazines and in 2nd ed the modular options. Since balance at least defined by 4th eds terms was not a over riding design concern one could play a stone age game with crappy weapons (penalties to hit) right through to the 16th century and adding guns to the game. Magic lso had various dials and a low magic world for example one could increase the casting time by a factor of 10 and level 6 and 7 priest spells were miracles and you only had a 1% chance per level of having a miracle granted.
Or one cold turn up the magic dial and have a level 1 wizard have 4 spells, add bonus spells to arcane users or use spell points. One could have a high magic stone age setting (think Aztec priests armed with magic perhaps) or a low magic one with gunpowder or historical setting on Earth. That was for homebrew games settings like Darksun, Planescape, Birthright, Spelljammer etc deviated a bit from the defaul FR/Greyhawk/Dragonlance/Mystara generic fantasy.


If I was stuck on an island with 1 edition and a playgroup I would probably pick 2nd ed. That is because it is not the best version of D&D but the most modular IMHO. I do not think one would have enough lifetime to exhaust 2nd ed. 3rd ed had the most modular mechanics as they stuck d20 on everything but for play styles 2nd ed takes the prize. Generally I prefer modern d20 mechanics of 3rd/4th/D&DN and some retroclones over the older mechanics. Play style I probably prefer TSR era due to CoDzilla in 3rd ed and 4th ed being erm 4th ed.


That is it IMHO. The main appeal of TSR era D&D. It is not the only reasons, and not everything from WoTC era D&D is bad. If D&DN is something similar to TSR era D&D with modern mechanics I'll pick it up and I do not even mind feats as long as it is not the power creep of 3rd and 4th ed style feats. I do not expect duplicates of TSR era mechanics and it doesn't bother me that much if the classes are even different as I do not expect priest spheres or THACO to make a return. I also suspect a very basic D&DN a'la BECMI would not sell although simpler than 3rd and 4th ed should be good if they are trying to get new players into the game as BECMI did seem to serve as a gateway to AD&D.

 Fear is the Mind Killer

 

It was E.G.G. After he left the ideas became fewer and less interesting. There was just nothing that ever replaced that dynamic. 
I started playing 8 years after EGG left so no big deal. Red box basic, X1 and the Rules Cyclopedia were what I learned with.  His name was all over my 1st D&D books which were the MM, DMG, UA, OA and FF for 1st ed but no PHB. No game store and the D&D options were limited to what we could find by raiding older brothers/relations closets. 

 Fear is the Mind Killer

 

It was E.G.G. After he left the ideas became fewer and less interesting. There was just nothing that ever replaced that dynamic. 



Since every edtion I have seen has gotten better then the one before it, I ust can't belive that. I never played 1e, but I read and looked at it, and liked 2e better. I think that 3e made large moves forward (and in the process of being better made some mistakes and new problems) I think 3.5 cleaned up alot of 3.0.  I love 4e and think it fixed something still wrong since 2e, and ALOT of the new problems 3.5 caused, but along the wway blanded things a bit, and made some new ones (long battles and some option bloat)  I see alot of signs that 5e will fix some, and backstep some. But in general I am hopeful it will be as good or better then 4e, and I am 100% sure it will be better then 2e, 3e or 1e.


If you were correct every e after he left would get worse, and even people who dislike some edtions can't argue that over all 2,3,and 4 aren't better then 1e.  

Before posting, ask yourself WWWS: What Would Wrecan Say?

The game system coasted on his work and ideas right up until 3rd came out. 2nd was just a cleanup of AD&D. Kind of like when they cleaned the Sistine Chapel though; still a masterpiece, but some of the fine detail was washed away.



If you were correct every e after he left would get worse, and even people who dislike some edtions can't argue that over all 2,3,and 4 aren't better then 1e.  


I'm not saying that AD&D was the best. The OP asked what the allure of the early game was. Imho it was a strange kind of magic conjured by Gygax. 

 

I am a D&D newb as I have only been playing for 20 years.




Out of this whole post, this caught my eye the most.

20 years and you call yourself a newb? Where this puts us at?

Howdy folks,

This topic is more appropriate for the Previous Editions General forum, so I'll be moving it there.

Thanks.  

All around helpful simian

I don't think they will be able to reproduce that feel. They will get about as close as second did. And I think you and I are on the same page as far as what that means.
I find it a bit amusing that "Wayne Reynolds, Gah my eyes!" and "Not all modern art is inherently bad," are actually both pieces by Wayne Reynolds.

I agree though... Easley & Elmore are the artists responsible for my original vision of what D&D is, so I tend to go back to the D&D that resonates with their art and my experience of D&D - even though that keeps taking me back to simple as spit BECM rather than the AD&D I actually cut my teeth on or the more modern iterations.

ATTENTION:  If while reading my post you find yourself thinking "Either this guy is being sarcastic, or he is an idiot," do please assume that I am an idiot. It makes reading your replies more entertaining. If, however, you find yourself hoping that I am not being even remotely serious then you are very likely correct as I find irreverence and being ridiculous to be relaxing.

It was E.G.G. After he left the ideas became fewer and less interesting. There was just nothing that ever replaced that dynamic. 



Since every edtion I have seen has gotten better then the one before it, I ust can't belive that. I never played 1e, but I read and looked at it, and liked 2e better. I think that 3e made large moves forward (and in the process of being better made some mistakes and new problems) I think 3.5 cleaned up alot of 3.0.  I love 4e and think it fixed something still wrong since 2e, and ALOT of the new problems 3.5 caused, but along the wway blanded things a bit, and made some new ones (long battles and some option bloat)  I see alot of signs that 5e will fix some, and backstep some. But in general I am hopeful it will be as good or better then 4e, and I am 100% sure it will be better then 2e, 3e or 1e.


If you were correct every e after he left would get worse, and even people who dislike some edtions can't argue that over all 2,3,and 4 aren't better then 1e.  



If you honestly think that WotC has learned its lesson on option bloat and power creep, then you haven't been paying attention. DDN will have the exact same design flaws as the previous 2 editions. I have figured out that WotC can't wrap their heads around the idea that this isn't a card game and that we don't need millions of splat books/game expansions with new options.    

If you honestly think that WotC has learned its lesson on option bloat and power creep, then you haven't been paying attention. DDN will have the exact same design flaws as the previous 2 editions. I have figured out that WotC can't wrap their heads around the idea that this isn't a card game and that we don't need millions of splat books/game expansions with new options.    




PnP RPG's are a funny business. Lots of upfront costs; development and market research and artwork. And a low price point on the initial release but with lots of upside potential on the back end. 

Splat books, expansions, web subscriptions and paraphernalia are a way to spread out the payments for the whole package. It may be that we don't need those backend products, but in order to adequately fund the initial release they do. 

I am a D&D newb as I have only been playing for 20 years.

Out of this whole post, this caught my eye the most.

I saw that, too, and thought it was an odd way to start off a post. I know lots of players who aren't even 20 years old!

I'll give some thoughts from the perspective of an old-timer. I'm 50 and have played D&D for roughly three-quarters of my lifetime. I've seen editions come, and editions go.

OD&D was a game for miniatures game players. Not saying that you needed minis to play, because my group usually didn't use them, but the rulebooks were written with the assumption that the players were familiar with the vocabulary of miniatures rules sets and wargames. Folks now go back to read OD&D and get confused, but we understood it at the time becasue we had been playing Chainmail and other miniatures rules sets.

AD&D was a "better" rules set in many ways because it took all of the material from the OD&D books (boxed set and supplements) and reorganized it into a whole instead of a bunch of scattered rules. I happen to enjoy the feel of OD&D over AD&D because OD&D emphasized freedom for the DM while AD&D emphasized structure, but that's a personal preference and not a statement of rules quality.

As time has passed and newer editions have been written, the focus has progressively been in favor of player choice over DM prep. Encounters have become harder to run for the DM because monsters have so many details, and encounter balance is harder because it's tricky for the DM to anticipate all of the things that the characters can do. If you doubt that monsters have become more complex, check out the stat blocks from any of Gary's old G-series modules and compare them to a monster in Pathfinder or 3E or even 4E. If you doubt that characters can do more look again at rules for skills and feats, because older editions of the game didn't have them. Complexity isn't a bad thing, but it does change the feel of the game. The more rules, the more that players benefit from knowing the rules and the more players can tweak things to their benefit.

The problem is that it's hard to take choice away from the players once they have had it for a while. The genie is out of the bottle and doesn't want to return. If you really want an "old school" feel, you need to take some of the choices out of the hands of the players and put more power into the hands of the DM. Go with lower levels, lower attribute scores, fewer hit points. Remove a bunch of the cool powers and make the game more of resource management and less of comic book heroes battling comic book monsters. Don't let any race pick from any class. (Old school paladins had to be human, for example.)

D&D Next is doing some of these things, at least to a certain degree, but the designers aren't going far enough. They could have seperate charts for AD&D-style character attribute bonuses and 4E-style, for example. D&D Next is at least trying to limit skill lists and make more attribute checks. There are fewer feats to pick from.

Anyway, that's my take on things. I'm still running OD&D, all these decades later.

Marv (Finarvyn) Master of Mutants (MA and GW) Playing 5E D&D and liking it! OD&D player since 1975

Great post Marv, thanks for taking the time to write it up. 

If you honestly think that WotC has learned its lesson on option bloat and power creep, then you haven't been paying attention. DDN will have the exact same design flaws as the previous 2 editions. I have figured out that WotC can't wrap their heads around the idea that this isn't a card game and that we don't need millions of splat books/game expansions with new options.    




PnP RPG's are a funny business. Lots of upfront costs; development and market research and artwork. And a low price point on the initial release but with lots of upside potential on the back end. 

Splat books, expansions, web subscriptions and paraphernalia are a way to spread out the payments for the whole package. It may be that we don't need those backend products, but in order to adequately fund the initial release they do. 




Oh I get that, I do, but WotC's way of doing it is backwards in my opinion. I feel that TSR did it better. Just as a minor example - WotC tends towards having game mechanics that start off with the feeling that it needs to be expanded upon and gives you the feeling that you need more of it (feats in both of their editions, powers in 4e). Granted this is good business in terms of getting people to buy your books, but it also makes the consumer feel like you have to buy their books. Leaves a bitter taste in one's mouth once they realize that, or at least it did for me and quite a ew other gamers I've spoken to (anecdotal, I know).

Also, the power creep comes about because WotC makes everything 'core' (which leads back to what I pointe dout above, it manipulates you to feel like you have to buy their other products) and pretty much encourages players to say 'It's in the book I can use it, no matter what,' which makes it hard for DMs to control what's in their games and what isn't (I know a 'good' DM says no, and doesn't have asshat players that leave because they don't get their way). Even now in my own group I'm feeling the sting of that mentallity because someone wants to play a damned Samurai kit (I'm running 2e), in a setting with no oriental flavored anything. He was quite upset when I pointed out the passage in the book that said that you must get DM permission to use anything in the book. He went so far to state that that would never fly in 3rd because everything is automatically allowed because there are no statements of DM permission needed to use it.      

TSR was much more elegant in how they approached it. They approached it from an optional stand point. They also had it written in every single book that if you, as a player, want to use something from a book that you had to get DM permission, so DMs could disallow something and players weren't assuming they could use anything and everything just because it said Advanced Dungeons & Dragons on it. That controlled power creep, and you didn't feel manipulated into buying their stuff. You wanted to buy their stuff because it was well made, you enjoyed their products, and you wanted to support them as a company. 

 

I am a D&D newb as I have only been playing for 20 years.




Out of this whole post, this caught my eye the most.

20 years and you call yourself a newb? Where this puts us at?




 D&D is 39 years old. My opinion is though that if you ae new to the game and even if you have only played 3rd/4th ed it is better than no D&D. I missed OD&D and 1st ed kind of because I was born in 1978. I have tried running TSR era with 20 year olds who are more used to d20 and it is kinda difficult. d20 based retroclones seem decent though and I have heard lots of good things about DCC.

Wayne Reynolds can actually paint well I just do not like the PF art Paizo uses on the covers. I quite like a lot of the art inside the Inner Sea Guide. I just find a lot of his PF stuff to be a bit to animie/cartoony for my tastes. If you have never played TSR era D&D what do you think of the BECMI/D&D covers I posted. That would actually be interesting to know do you prefer WAR, Easley, Lockwood, like them all hate them all?

 Fear is the Mind Killer

 

They also had it written in every single book that if you, as a player, want to use something from a book that you had to get DM permission, so DMs could disallow something and players weren't assuming they could use anything and everything just because it said Advanced Dungeons & Dragons on it. That controlled power creep, and you didn't feel manipulated into buying their stuff. You wanted to buy their stuff because it was well made, you enjoyed their products, and you wanted to support them as a company. 



I never bought into 2e because 20 years ago my feelings about the Buck Rogers TSR were exactly how you feel about WotC today. Those feelings have faded, I still don't care for how that went down in 86' But I'm not angry about the splat books and heavy marketing that followed. 

I think some of the "make everything core" has been the result of player pressure on WotC. The movement for player empowerment has a lot of supporters. I guess the fact that it sells books helped with their decision =-)

 I never bought into 2e because 20 years ago my feelings about the Buck Rogers TSR were exactly how you feel about WotC today. Those feelings have faded, I still don't care for how that went down in 86' But I'm not angry about the splat books and heavy marketing that followed. 

I think some of the "make everything core" has been the result of player pressure on WotC. The movement for player empowerment has a lot of supporters. I guess the fact that it sells books helped with their decision =-)




Yeah 2e was my first edition, so I wasn't there for the transition from 1e to 2e, but I have seen that there were/are some bad feelings towards 2e from the 1e crowd, and I'm getting that the edition wars are nothing new. 

As for your second comment, I agree completely.

And honestly, I'm not angry (disappointed, yes, I was hoping for more this time around, but alas) at their business model, if it works for them financially, then have at it. I know they need to make money to keep afloat, especially in this day and age, and I can't begrudge them that. I just hope that they don't expect people (like myself) who don't agree with it to buy their products. I don't see DDN moving away from thier normal design philosophy, and in fact if anything I see them embracing it even more. If they follow through with the 'modular rule' idea, then I can honestly see nothing but a ton of splatbooks with new modules in it. I also see new books for feats, spells, manuevers, powers (if they ever do a 4e type rules set in Next), skills, backgrounds, and on and on. I'm just not interested in all that.

If I saw them moving towards a more campaign setting based route (a setting would have rules and options inherent to that setting, and that was the only place that you saw it), like 2e did, I might be interested in that. But with them more than likely selling 'core' books with new modules, feats, spells, powers, manuevers, and whatever else they come up with, I just can't see myself liking that idea, so I shrug, stick to 2e and have fun
Having never played any editions earlier than 3.0, I guess I must be one of the noobs here. >_> Anyway, since we're talking about the appeals of the earlier versions of D&D, I'd like to put in my two cents. I enjoy the TSR editions' well supported settings and thematic content.

Looking at older books (AD&D), the art style brings to mind early Magic cards (Ice Age especially) and Frank Frazetta's Conan. There's a heroic desperateness that they convey, that despite the spells and the armor that your characters are just warriors clinging to life in a hostile world. They showcase villains and monsters, fleeing heroes and desperate fights, things I think are important to highlight in any version of the game. The more modern art instead lends itself more to "fantasy super heroes" wielding comically large weapons and not-so-mystical magic. Characters who will reach a point at which their **** will not stink and will sweat for nothing less than hellfire.

Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but I feel that art progression awfully matches the progression of the game through time. In 3.x and 4th editions, the effort required to bring characters to a level were something like a bear or starvation could ever be a problem is extreme. Rather than developing into heroes from humble (or not so humble) beginnings as warriors, the character's start as heroes and develop into demi-gods.


The other thing that the older books highlight is that TSR was fishing for campaign settings and exploiting the ones they had. Settings like Greyhawk, Dragonlance, and The Forgotten Realms got a lot of content produced for them, both as game manuals and as stand alone novels. Dark Sun, Spelljammer, and Ravenloft also grew out of that time. These setting sold themselves and then sold the games around them and helped add to the success of D&D by providing a depth of description for players and DMs alike, even where a DM may not have the ability to illustrate them themselves.

There are plenty of games out there that sell themselves based on their rich default setting and here D&D was where you could learn the system and jump into 4 or 5 settings all flavored to taste with rich backstories. Then WotC purchased the game and decided to retain all of the modular functions but remove the detailed settings that had grown up around the system. Now, over the years they've gradually introduced or re-introduced some settings but these are slim pickings compared to what AD&D ended with. Moreover the systems are strongly tailored to the rules rather than forcing the rules to accommodate them; a good example would be how alien Faerûn became after it was updated to 4th edition.

So basically
#1 There were less survival/horror themes over time
#2 There is more super-heroic fantasy over time
#3 TSR put together a good collection of D&D related fiction
#4 WotC decided that the "D&D" logo was really as much of a setting as you need
Great post Marv, thanks for taking the time to write it up. 

Thanks. I think that too many people get hung up on which edition is "best" and often forget to look at the style of each and try to match the style of the individual people involved. Pick any edition and I have some friends who can argue that this is the best one, and other friends who can argue that it's the worst. That stuff doesn't matter. What matters is having fun.

My own style happens to be very rules-light. I like the fact that my OD&D boxed set is a complete rules package sized roughly the same as a regular-sized hardback novel, but I have other friends who enjoy the challenge of learning quantities of rules and working the system to build the best character they can. To many of them, half of the fun is the optimization.

My other post mentioned how to make newer editions feel like older editions. My newest homebrew campaign does the opposite, and I'm using OD&D rules to try to give a more 4E-type feel because I have some players who enjoy that. Combat charts are replaced by equations. My character sheets give OD&D powers presented to look more like 4E powers. I'm using 4E healing surges to boost the hit points of the characters, but then do some similar things for the monsters to keep the balance. My players are having a ball with this.

The editions are really a lot more similar than many folks want to admit. It's all about the total number of player choices.

As always, just my two coppers.

Marv (Finarvyn) Master of Mutants (MA and GW) Playing 5E D&D and liking it! OD&D player since 1975

I learned D&D with the Basic/Expert books, and the first rules I owned were the Basic red box (30 years old this year).  That rule set had a default setting attached to it, a setting filled with fantasy analogues of real world nations and cultures.  I loved it and still use that setting today.



I think that too many people get hung up on which edition is "best" and often forget to look at the style of each and try to match the style of the individual people involved. Pick any edition and I have some friends who can argue that this is the best one, and other friends who can argue that it's the worst. That stuff doesn't matter. What matters is having fun.

Well said.  Trying to determine 'best' is indeed a fruitless task.  Instead, decide what is 'best for my group.'  In my case, I have managed for find a pleasing combination of the 3.5 rules and that classic D&D 'known world' setting.  I've had a lot of fun running campaigns like this for 10 years.

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