Thursday, May 22, 2008
Why OD&D? part 3
As I’ve stated before, this blog is not concerned with belittling any of the subsequent versions or editions in the D&D family. After all, they are the offspring of OD&D, and all of us share an interest in the hobby for one reason, and one reason only. To have fun. As long as you are having fun under the D&D Umbrella, regardless of which edition you might use, please, carry on, but perhaps take a moment to read why I like the original version so much.
Now that I have addressed the reasons why I prefer the original version of D&D, both conceptually and rules-wise, I will continue with my initial questions posed in The Why Of It All, in particular: Why do I think others don’t share my appreciation of the LBB? This post could be titled Why Not OD&D?
OD&D is presented in a very rudimentary format. The three volumes are certainly lacking in organization. Closer inspection of the rules reveals much in the way of vagueness and ambiguity. Actual play, without guidance from some wiser soul, and without prior knowledge of other forms of D&D, can lead to many questions as holes in the rules are found. Certain aspects are glossed over, and the references to Chainmail can be maddening at times.
D&D grew by word of mouth, and by actual examples of live play. I’m convinced that the LBB, as written, were very difficult to comprehend out of the box. Players discovered this game at conventions, and later in gaming clubs and groups, being taught how to play by referees who had learned from someone else along the D&D playing word of mouth chain.
Out of the box, OD&D is certainly not user friendly. It takes time to interpret and understand. The concept itself often eludes beginners, and actually applying the rules once you have located them can be confusing. The fact of the matter is more concise treatments of the game were needed in order to foster it’s growth. AD&D was intended initially for players who had already embraced the D&D concept. It was a grand treatment of the rules and added layer upon layer of complexity to D&D. It also compiled many of the various supplements and articles which had sprung forth from the seeds of OD&D.
Before jumping into AD&D, given the rather crude initial publication of OD&D, TSR intended players to discover and learn using a ‘cleaned up’ version of OD&D, a sort of pre-AD&D version, thus the Holmes Basic D&D box was published. It served to right many of the wrongs of OD&D, but it was intentionally limited in scope, because it was intended as a lead in to Advanced. Basic to Advanced was the concept, even though AD&D, once the D&D concept was understood, indeed stood on it’s own, and didn’t require Basic at all.
While this approach has merit, the underlying fact of the matter is that the rules changed between the transition from Original to Basic and Advanced. By now, the supplements were becoming much more than simply supplemental information, and were being ingrained into the rules of D&D itself. The end result was newer versions that did not keep the LBB concept and rule-set intact. Having said this, I admit that I enjoy Holmes, Moldvay and AD&D. Particularly in the case of the Basic versions, they are clean, concise and user-friendly, unlike OD&D. AD&D is a masterpiece of gaming. My only issue with AD&D is that it sent D&D down a much more narrow track, and it’s rules, more often than not, got in the way of the game itself. It’s cumbersome and unwieldy if one attempts to use all of the rules, and it claims that if you change things, you aren’t playing AD&D, and so what’s the point?
OD&D is probably the most intensive version in terms of gaining an understanding of how it works. I believe that it requires the highest level of input by the referee, both in terms of deciphering the concept and the rules, and of actual play. More often than not, the referee is charged with making on the fly decisions, and ad-libbing. The job of the referee can be eased by house rules. The scope of these house rules is left entirely to the individual referee. That was one of the charms of OD&D, but is also a primary reason why I think people do not share my appreciation of the LBB. It requires quite a bit of behind the scenes work on behalf of the referee.
The simple fact that OD&D has been out of print and unsupported by TSR/WotC for three decades certainly is one of the major reasons that it’s greatness has been lost and twisted by misconception over the years. But, the truth of the matter is that OD&D is indeed disorganized, vague, lacking, rudimentary, amateurish, demanding and very basic. When compared to modern D&D, it is these aspects of OD&D which I think have prevented players from seeing it’s sheer genius. Modern D&D is in fact organized, concise, complete, polished, and ready to play ‘out of the box’, so to speak.
Then there’s the artwork. Not much needs to be said that hasn’t already been said in regard to the OD&D art, or lack thereof. It’s art, and it’s appearance are facets of it’s amateurish approach. These traits do hinder the willingness of modern players to see OD&D as little more than some old fashioned, outdated version of the game.
Perhaps modern players desire a professionally produced game, and don’t enjoy the idea of taking on the task of deciphering OD&D, and putting so much behind the scenes work into a campaign based on those rules. I prefer the creative potential that OD&D affords me. Maybe OD&D is a referee’s game, while modern D&D is a player’s game.
To change this, players would need to see that in fact, the game itself, and not the rules, determines the level of fun for all involved. Modern D&D is certainly a boon to DM’s in general, in that it is so easy to manage a cohesive, well though out game and campaign. OD&D, on the other hand, requires a DM willing to spend a lot more time and imagination to reach such a point.
To summarize my thoughts about why OD&D is not embraced by modern D&D players:
1. Lack of Availability
2. Lack of Support
3. Difficulty of Play
4. Time Investment Demands
5. Amateurish Publication
Perhaps no one needs to ramble on about the D&D concept, or the fact that it’s a vehicle for creativity, as I have been doing. The fact is that players and DM’s alike might simply want to get on with actually playing the game, and not sit around filling in the gaps, dreaming up house rules, and constructing campaign worlds.
Nothing is going to change these facts in regard to OD&D. It is what it is (or was). Maybe I’m in some tiny minority that enjoys deciphering the original text, theorizing on the concept presented, appreciating the sheer genius and originality, enjoying the creative potential, and then sitting around and writing house rules, adventures, maps and kibitzing to no end on the internet. Perhaps if I were involved in a weekly modern D&D campaign, I wouldn’t be here right now trying to understand why OD&D is not embraced in gaming any longer. I’d be having too much fun to worry about it. Somehow, though, I feel I would be missing out on the real thing.
Why OD&D, part 1
Why OD&D, part 2
Why OD&D, part 4
~Sham, Quixotic Referee