Sunday, June 02, 2013

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition Does Not Suck.

Foreword: In reviewing this thing, it is painfully obvious that it's a rambling mess. Still, I'm in no mood to edit it, and I spent too long writing it to ditch now. If you find yourself struggling too much, please let me know in the comments and I'll do my best to straighten it out in a revised post. Thank you.

Remember way back when, when I blogged a little more often, and I wrote this one post where I was all, like, "Hey, I bet I could make AD&D 2nd Ed rock again"?


Hmm. Well, click this link and make some memories, then come back and continue reading. 

Back? OK, great! While you were out reading, I made some tacos, but I ate them all. Next time read faster, eh?

Aaaaaaanyway, part of getting my life more organized so that I can actually enjoy the damned thing, I've been running games at my locals (I'm spoiled, man, I got two FLGSes and I'm not banned from either one). I'd set up a game of Diaspora at Hall of Heroes, and wanted to run something different at Common Room Games. Something I'd wanted to do for a long time -- take a chance, aim high, go for the gusto.

So I made this poster and sent it to Phil and Oz:

I used Scribus and Inksascape. You can get some nice results outta those two, huh?
And they were, like, "Okay, just don't set stuff on fire."

'Cause you see, here's the thing. There's this one FRPG that all the kids are playing these days, and although I don't resent it (except for that one time, but that's not a story I want to tell), I do resent that the old games don't appear to get the love that they deserve.

Furthermore, there's a stigma attached to some of the older editions of D&D, and to this one in particular. Hell, I hated on it, too, in the day; I used to say that when I discovered Rolemaster, I "dropped second edition like a greasy fingernail taco"; in the late 90s, when AD&D 2nd Ed was at its bloatiest, I once described it as "a chimp in a diaper which no one is bothering to change".

Yeah, I can be cruel. I don't do it, because I know I can. I digress. 

But that was the thing -- I knew what was wrong with the game toward the end of its run: Bloat. Bloat, bloat, bloat. Too much cruft overlying the basics. So I thought to myself, "Well, hell, why don't I just go back to the basics?" That's why, if you look at the fine print on the bottom of that poster, you'll see this:

Fonzitude: Fundamental to ALL THINGS.
So that's a step in the right direction, I thought...but there was another monkey I could wrench....

Ever notice how many optional rules there are in 2nd Ed? Ever notice how all those optional rules are all optional? Ever notice how the real, core, central rules for getting your AD&D on are actually not that many, and that if you know what you're doing (which ain't that hard, really) you don't even have to use most of them most of the time?

I did. Or at least, such was the bold, mouthy thesis that I stated to myself, and so on Saturday May 11 I showed up at Common Room Games to defend it. 

I had three players. There was a fourth, I was told, who wanted to show but couldn't make it. No problem. I had a guy who'd played a lot of 2nd Ed, a guy who played it a long time ago, and a guy who had never played it at all. 


I put operation "Keep It Simple, Sucka" into motion by handing out character sheets and saying, "Don't fill these out all the way. SERIOUSLY. Roll your stats, choose a race and a class, take full HP for first level and only look up mods necessary for combat or spellcasting, whichever. Grab a weapon and some armor. The rest can wait."

Because, really, it can wait. You don't need to know your Resurrection Survival chance until -- when? WHEN YOU DIE AND GET RESURRECTED. Do you need to Bend Bars and Lift Gates at the tavern? NO. What's your chance of Spell Failure? Max # of Henchmen? Loyaty Base? Reaction Adjustment? Until you cast a spell, need a posse or run the risk of pissing somebody off, WHO CARES.

We started playing. It was all role-play for the first twenty minutes, maybe more. When they got to the dungeon and rolls became necessary, then we filled in the things that were missing on character sheets.

..and I never used rules that we didn't need to use. 

It worked a charm. Seriously. We were having a blast, just playing, exploring the dungeon, being in character, poking at mysteries, interacting with the world and each other. We dipped into the well of rules when it was either fun or necessary, kept the game moving and got a good feel for how to play the game according to our individual and group tastes. 

If anything remains hinky, it's THAC0 -- but I contend that it can be a hassle because although it's simple in theory (roll 1d20 plus modifiers, compare to [THAC0-target's AC]), it's potentially non-intuitive in play. Add to that the fact that there are other ways to use THAC0 to calculate hits (hit succeeds if [1d20+mods+target AC+THACO] =>20), and it becomes somewhat inelegant. You can always roll and do the math in your head and announce the AC that you hit ("My THAC0 is 18, and I rolled a 12 with modifiers -- I hit Armor Class 6"), but then the DM has to compare that number to the target's ACTUAL AC and remind him or herself that AC improves downward. That, I think, is something that your group just has to standardize as well, and keep on moving.

Hopefully, the event (which has had a second session and is scheduled for a third) also served to demonstrate to players familiar and unfamiliar that 2nd Edition, like I keep saying, does not suck. It may have more than you need is some cases and less than you want in others, but it's not the poop-splattering craptacle that lots of people make it out to be. SO THERE.

In addition, copies of the reprinted rulebooks got sold, thus I paid my dues to my local. Which is kinda funny, 'cause I didn't even know the reprints were coming out yet. 

ADDENDUM: HATERS GONNA...UM...THAT THING THEY DO. this point, there are two arguments that can be made against my defense of the game, and I am ready to dispute them:


Yes, yes you can. Exactly. You are correct. Good point. And thank you for making it for me, because that's my point too. It makes no sense to talk trash on AD&D for all its rules and bits and bobs and crap, because it's like any other game: Those rules are there in case you don't know what else to do, or want a specific way to do something. In all other cases, keep on truckin'. You showed up to have wacky fantasy fun with goofy dice, not to obey someone or something; if you want to do that kind of fantasy fun, become a Gorean or go to church. 


Look. The very fact that you are playing AD&D means that you've come to the table with a set of shared assumptions. You're assuming that you can play elves and humans and dwarves; you're assuming there will be dungeons, possibly dragons, and hit points and Armor Class and fighters and wizards and thieves; you're all in agreement that, at some point in the game, you'll need to make saving throws, and that spells will work a certain way and so on. You show up knowing that, I show up knowing that, and we brought our rule books because the rules talk about that. We're grown-ups and creative people, and we can trust each other to collaborate on some sword-and-sorcery make-believe adventures either with rules or without.

(In case you couldn't tell, this argument pisses me off. Seriously. It pisses me off a lot, not only because I can't tell if it's a false dichotomy or a straw man fallacy, but also because it assumes that I am too fucking stupid to know what I'm doing. I do know what I'm doing -- that's why I showed up to be the fucking gamemaster.)