[AD&D and me] PHB: Gandalminster?

Posted on September 7, 2011

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If you don’t know what this series of posts is all about, start here!

(this is post one, and covers through the preface).

Well, then. I’m going to do these posts page-by-page. I won’t necessarily talk about every page of every book, but I want to begin at the beginning and move from there, mostly in order. So crack open your 1978 “Special Reference Work” PLAYERS HANDBOOK (note the lack of apostraphe), and we can get down to it.

First–the cover, of which the image above is a part. Yes, it’s awesome, and also drawn kind of bad (hmm, do we have a phrase for the whole game put together? “Yes, it’s awesome, and also organized/written/drawn kind of bad”). BUT dissecting the art isn’t my purpose here (again, see WTF, D&D!?). I’ll for sure post interesting art as I come across it, though.

OKAY, again with the art.

The cover page has a picture of Gandalf (or a proto-Elminster?) smoking a pipe and reading…

AD&D! That’s kind of awesome, and would have had hypothetical 1978-me wishing this game would make me a wizard. Which I still kind of do. What? Anyway.

Foreward, to Adventure!

Moving onto page 2, the Foreward was quite surprising. There’s lots of talk these days in certain roleplaying circles about “player advice”, that is, how to be a better player, socially and creatively, at the table. There’s a long history of GM advice in the roleplaying community, so myself–and, I think–a lot of others see this push toward player advice as something both new and healthy in the social contract surrounding these games, something that reinforces in us that making fun and facilitating creativity at the table is the responsibility of all of us.

Welp, imagine my surprise, then, that advice for how to be a good player is right in the Foreward of the 1st edition PHB. Let’s look:

The Dungeon Master is pivotal, of course, but the players are just as important….Accordingly, they should do their best to further the success of the entire undertaking. This is often no more than a matter of simple etiquette, and following a few simple guidelines will suffice to make the game experience more fun for everyone concerned, to wit:

1) Be an organized player; have the necessary information on your character readily at hand and available to the Dungeon Master.

2) Cooperate with the Dungeon Master and respect his decisions; if you disagree, present your viewpoint with deference to his position as game moderator. Be prepared to accept his decision as final and remember that not everything in the game will always go your way!

3) Cooperate with the other players and respect their right to participate. Encourage new and novice players by making suggestions and allowing them to make decisions on courses of action rather than dictating their responses.

4) If you are unable to participate in an adventure, give the other players and the DM some concrete guidelines if  your character is going to be included in the adventuring group; be prepared to accept the consequences, good or bad, in any case.

5) Get in the spirit of the game, and use your persona to play with a special personality all its own. Interact with the other player characters and non-player characters to give the game campaign a unique flavor and “life”. Above all, let yourself go, and enjoy!

It sort of makes it sound like you play the game in a courtroom, doesn’t it? “Present your viewpoint with deference,” “Be organized,” “Give concrete guidelines”. Still, there’s some solid advice in there, and it tells you a lot about the game.

Point 2 says you and the DM aren’t on equal grounds with regard to what happens in the game, but part of the DM’s job is to be fair. Point 5 basically tells you what roleplaying is, and then point 3 gives you solid advice for the social contract of the game: take turns, cooperate, and help newbies along but don’t play for them.

This Game Has Rules

Next is a Preface from one E. Gary Gygax, wherein he justifies the existence of AD&D (as an improvement on and aggregation of OD&D) at least in part because

There is a need for a certain amount of uniformity from campaign to campaign in D&D….Uniformity means that classes are relatively the same in abilities and approach to solving the problems with which the campaign confronts them. Uniformity means that treasure and experience are near a reasonable mean…

So, basically, he wants to establish clear rules for the game. Hurrah! Having those is what makes it a game! My 20/20 hindsight superiority complex aside, this is interesting because it shows that roleplaying comes from a very DIY subculture. Gary Gygax felt he had to justify creating hard-and-fast rules for his game. This from (almost) the very beginning. No wonder Rule Zero, and the preference among some groups playing traditional games for technique and localized rulings over the high-and-mighty rules of the game.

Next Time On…

Let’s stop this here, for now. Interesting so far! We’ll get to the game itself and the Ability tables next time (lots of subsystems and craziness there, I tell you what), but I’d like to get some momentum going on this series and push this one out the door. See you soon!

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Posted in: Old-school, Readings, rpg