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precursors to AD&D2

Started by Paul Czege, January 31, 2003, 09:56:12 AM

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Paul Czege

Hey Rob,

...if discussion moves to the impact of Dragonlance, Unearthed Arcana, and other late 1980s books on AD&D, I will jump in with abandon.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this. And it certainly seems entirely pertinent to the thread.

My Life with Master knows codependence.
And if you're doing anything with your Acts of Evil ashcan license, of course I'm curious and would love to hear about your plans

Ron Edwards


This is a daughter thread from Dungeons & Dragons role-playing history - help wanted. Its topic is the transformation of the D&D culture (commercial, social, procedural) during 1981-1985 or so, up to and including the publication of AD&D2.

Important publications would seem to include:
- Oriental Adventures
- Unearthed Arcana
- Dragonlance

... although I'm certain that a perusal of Dragon Magazine during this time and an eye toward (a) RuneQuest and (b) pre-GURPS rumblings (Champions especially) would be valuable as well.

So far, to recap, people are apparently agreeing that before this time, Dungeons & Dragons role-playing was:

1) Extremely local in procedure, both regionally and among individual groups. Speaking for myself, I recall very clearly that the full range of GNS and its internal diversity could be found across play on the Monterey Peninsula alone.

2) Based on a hodgepodge of many, many texts which in retrospect seem to me to be almost archeological in their fragmentary, semi-compatible but not-quite, layered-in-time-of-publication nature. I can't overemphasize that, although newly-available texts obviously modified local oral traditions, they also arose from them, generating a seething hotbed of how-to-play in print.

We haven't discussed the publishing history of TSR very much (M. J. contributed a bit), which my own research informs me is quite ugly and depressing; the TSR/Arneson split is barely the beginning. I'd prefer to stay off this topic for this thread.

Paul and Rod, if you could help generate some specific goals for discussing how this situation changed, that would be very helpful.


P.S. I had posted a whole bunch to this, then hit a heretofore-unknown Bad Key and it vanished! My fault, all my fault ... (sobbing, logging off)

Rob MacDougall

Guidelines for discussion? Hmm. Well, if we want to talk about how and when something changed, we must first agree that it did. I think it's pretty evident that, based on the published materials, anyway, D&D role-playing in, say, 1988, was not :

Quote1) Extremely local in procedure, both regionally and among individual groups. ...

2) Based on a hodgepodge of many, many texts which in retrospect seem to me to be almost archeological in their fragmentary, semi-compatible but not-quite, layered-in-time-of-publication nature ...

So, one goal of this thread can be articulating how D&D role-playing in 1987 or so was different from the situation Ron describes above. (Of course others may disagree that it did change - that's a fair position too.) Another goal can be articulating when and how it got that way: highlighting key shifts, innovations, publications. A third goal would be, in the process, to maybe say something about the general means and mechanisms of how a game and the culture around it can change over time.

What effect does a series of modules like Dragonlance have on the way people play the game? How about an article in Dragon magazine on the ecology of the gelatinous cube? And, if the game in question is a big popular game like AD&D, what kind of ripple effects do these changes have on the hobby in general?


Walt Freitag

One interesting question appears to be, to what extent did individual players ever actually change their play to conform to the more thoroughly explained and standardized new versions? In other words, the prevailing style of play might have changed, but did individuals change or were they replaced or overshadowed by new players entering the hobby with the new style?

I ask this because several correspondents in the D&D history thread, including me, report migrating to other systems and/or no longer paying attention to the published D&D/AD&D rule systems at just about the time when the change was apparently taking place.

- Walt
Wandering in the diasporosphere

Rob MacDougall

That is interesting. Walt (and anyone else who abandoned AD&D or stopped buying new books at this time), would you say that you were "pushed" out of AD&D by changes in the game's direction, or were you drifting / growing away from the game anyway regardless?

Rob MacDougall

That is interesting. Walt (and anyone else who abandoned AD&D or stopped buying new books at this time), would you say that you were "pushed" out of AD&D by changes in the game's direction, or were you drifting / growing away from the game anyway regardless?

Jack Spencer Jr

Quote from: wfreitagOne interesting question appears to be, to what extent did individual players ever actually change their play to conform to the more thoroughly explained and standardized new versions? In other words, the prevailing style of play might have changed, but did individuals change or were they replaced or overshadowed by new players entering the hobby with the new style?
Interesting question, although I would hazzard to guess that it is the latter. Many individuals had to figure out exactly how to play on their own and this led to the initial "boom" of other RPGs, Tunnels & Trolls and Runequest/BRP being among the notables that were actually published. As time went on, the exact "hows" of playing, especially D&D, was expanded upon and clairified, so people new to the hobby didn't have to make it up themselves, but could simply follow the instructions given, such as they were.

Ron Edwards

Hi Rob,

I too would say that I was pretty much off D&D of any stripe by 1980. I recall picking up the books in 1983 again and making a few characters, and realizing that anything I found interesting about them had to be interjected.

The Fantasy Trip had already captured my imagination with its customizable characters, and especially with In The Labyrinth, which provided the first point-allocation skill/feature system if I'm not mistaken. I know of several groups which Drifted the essentially Gamist microgames and its more incoherent bigger version into very hard-core Narrativist play.

I also was reading RuneQuest to pieces and staring in shock at Tunnels & Trolls, which appeared to me at the time as nearly psychotic but I now realize was simply D&D stripped down and honed in a different direction from my preferences.

But yeah, AD&D had proven to be frustrating because of my knowledge of myths, legends, highbrow fantasy fiction, and pulp fantasy fiction. The more one thrilled to Gollum and Sam, Conan, and Cugel, the more pastiche and strange D&D became.

All of these reactions occurred long before Dragonlance, even.

Here's my question: what about cons? When did the first GenCon appear, and when did organizations and meetings of role-playing take on a more company-driven, rather than local-fan-driven, character?


Paul Czege

Hey Rob,

Walt (and anyone else who abandoned AD&D or stopped buying new books at this time), would you say that you were "pushed" out of AD&D by changes in the game's direction, or were you drifting/growing away from the game anyway regardless?

I was pushed out...there's no doubt in my mind. The publication of the Dragonlance modules marks the end of a prolific and extended stint as DM for me. Other players seized upon those modules and began DMing at that point, and I drifted dramatically into a marginal role in relation to the group. I railed against Dragonlance from the get go. I skipped game sessions without knowing why; I thought I just hated the game world. It only makes sense to me in retrospect. As soon as metaplot and scripted-events were the "right way" to run games, I couldn't figure out how to have fun anymore, either as a player or as a GM. So for the next ten years I bought games (other than AD&D), read games, talked an awful lot about games, but hardly ever played. Dragonlance changed AD&D. And in fact it changed the whole freakin' profoundly that we're still reeling from the impact twenty years later.

It changed the way gamers understood the nature of game scenarios. I'm unaware of any metaplot-driven AD&D scenario published prior to Dragonlance. In every single module published by TSR prior to Dragonlance, the characters were basically the center of the universe. And for all practical purposes, their actions were what the world reacted to. But Dragonlance was the opposite of that. It was a plot that dragged the players along for the ride.

It was a massive publishing initiative that had the effect of unconsciously educating gamemasters that this is how a campaign is supposed to be done. This, in my mind, is the shift Ron described in the other thread; no longer were game publications an "expression and reflection" of what gamers at large were doing.

And for the twenty years since, this tradition of achieving story has been passed on from gamer to gamer, and from game publisher to gamer. Dragonlance became the way we did things. Even when we weren't playing Dragonlance, we emulated the structure. We created plots and pushed the players from event to event. Dragonlance was the template from which future campaigns were made. And it was the template from which future companies were made. I can't say I've ever played a scenario of Vampire or Werewolf that that hasn't featured significant events that were entirely pre-plotted by the GM or the published materials he was using. And what was a series of modules to TSR became a series of core books to White Wolf.

My Life with Master knows codependence.
And if you're doing anything with your Acts of Evil ashcan license, of course I'm curious and would love to hear about your plans

Walt Freitag

In my case it was a little of both, drifting away and being pushed.

From the start I had a very different reaction to the fragmentary semi-compatible nature of the early game texts. Where Rob MacDougall reports (in a fascinating post on the D&D History thread) making a lot of effort to figure out how to play right, I interpreted the omissions and contradictions as meaning, "There's no actual design here. These people are just making up what they need as they go along, and telling us about it later. And hey, I can do that too."

That set the stage for a rather cavalier attitude about the printed rules, for me and for all the role playing gamers I knew. When the forewords in the AD&D hardcovers and editorials in Dragon ranted about how important it was to play the game as written, it seemed so out of touch with reality as to be not just irrelevant but incomprehensible. (Others must have noticed this too, because Hackmaster has been parodying them, 20-some years later.) This attitude was also, I believe, the first pre-dawn rays of "system doesn't matter."

This made it easier to drift away, because the system had seemed a moving target to begin with. But there was another factor too: in the first two years I GMed, I was discovering ways to play that required less preparation and produced better results for my players. Flexible approaches a whole lot like what Fang recently described here. I was waiting for publishers (and not just TSR) to figure this out and support it. And instead, every article and every update was more and more emphasizing the opposite. By the time Dragonlance came out I was no longer playing even my own homebrew version, but even so I noticed how outright counterproductive the metaplot material seemed.

I should mention one other factor, which didn't affect me directly but must have had an influence on the course of events. When I first heard about D&D around 1977, it was a college phenomenon. I started playing a year or so later as a high school junior with GMs who learned the game from older siblings in college. By the early 80s D&D was generally considered middle-school (early teens) juvenalia. (E.T. in 1982 shows the younger kids playing D&D; at the time, this was still a cool and slightly precocious thing for kids that age to be doing.) Not long after that, some people were defending D&D against critics by pointing out that for some kids the game was motivation for learning to read. (In the first Foxtrot cartoons featuring D&D, Peter, the teen older brother, was the GM. This didn't last long.) TSR could not have been unaware of this shift in at least a portion of their market, and I've wondered whether and how this might have affected these developments.

- Walt
Wandering in the diasporosphere

Jack Spencer Jr

Quote from: Ron EdwardsThe Fantasy Trip had already captured my imagination with its customizable characters, and especially with In The Labyrinth, which provided the first point-allocation skill/feature system if I'm not mistaken.
Interesting you should mention this, Ron, since my friend has been enamoured with this for years. His girlfriend used to be hard-core 1st ed AD&D until he eventually convinced her of the "power" of a point based skill system, such as it is.

Ron Edwards

Good point, Walt, regarding the age issue!

As a 13-14 year old in 1977-79, and through age roughly-16 of battering my head against (A)D&D, I played with two groups:

1) Mainly older people with a sprinkling of teens who tried to do adult things as much as possible. The adults were usually army guys, with some hip types who ran kids' groups or community-course programs. The latter ran some really damn good games, as I recall.

2) Fellow teens - these get-togethers were often the least satisfying, on the one hand due to people who had "special" rules that no one else did (brrrr ... what one guy armed with an Arduin Grimoire can do to a Social Contract ...), and on the other because of the perfectly reasonable assessment by many that the rules/game really wasn't all that fun.

I knew of many college groups during this time, up through the early 80s, mainly playing RuneQuest. I burned with jealousy and reeeally wanted to be in college and to play with folks like that.

Oh yeah. I am failing to mention the significant presence of women in their late twenties who were interested in role-playing and not at all concerned about the propriety of hanging out with boys ten years younger. This was the late 1970s, after all. I remember quite a few such individuals.

By 1983, after I'd pretty much decided never to play AD&D again (wrongly, as I played Basic later as a mentor), I'd realized that it had become a "pube" activity, meaning 10-13-year-olds exclusively, most of whom played once and walked. It had lost its cool factor entirely, just in time for me to go to college in the fall of that year and swear off the hobby. The aforementioned Female Factor seemed suspiciously absent as well.

After that, I found a lot of people to role-play with, but always on the basis that we "weren't like those gamer guys." We played Champions and Stormbringer, and looked forward to the buzz of GURPS.


Gordon C. Landis

My experience plays RIGHT into where (I think) Ron is going with his "tournament culture" comments.  I went out to GenCon at UW/Parkside in 1979 or 80, and I remember a wide variety of play - we did an In Character puzzle-solving adventure where fantasy types run into a "wizard" with a computer and stuff (an early version of the RoleAids "Fez" stuff?), some real wargaming, some D&D combat dungeon adventures . . . a variety of stuff, though I'm not sure how much was "events" and how much was just pick-up play.

By the time the next summer (or two) rolled around, we (three of us, this time) joined the RPGA and headed for GenCon East in Cherry Hill, New Jersey (we could drive there from CT).  We were in the RPGA tournament, and after all the preliminaries were done - it's off to the dungeon.  We go down the stairs, and one of my friends is playing the thief, and says something like "I lead them down the hall, checking for traps as we go."  The GM (name available on request) said something like "where do you look first?", rolled some dice, then "where do you look next?", rolled dice, "where next?", dice, etc.  He was REALLY moving slow, and the tournament was partly scored on how much of the dungeon you got through . . .

We plunged onward, triggered some trap, were attacked, and my PC ended up paralyzed (within, oh, 20 mins).  I stayed that way for the rest of the game.

I decided that whatever these RPGA folks were doing, it wasn't gaming the way I'd ever seen it (or at least it was a really extreme version of anything I'd ever seen) - and when the list of who "qualified" to make it into the next round were posted, no one was more surprised than I to discover I was one of the few from our group to make it!  I guess sitting on my hands and struggling not to comment on anything that was happening in the game counted as "roleplaying" my character well - or something.  Anyway, I never showed up, but whoever took my place must have done pretty well, because my name was listed in the "top ten" or so RPGA rankings after that first tournament.  "I" won a year or two extension of my membership and the poor-copy quality ver of the module (Hydell?  Slave Pits? ).  I think I spent the rest of the convention playing wargames, some Melee/Wizard/Ogre games, and etc.  That may have been where I dug out my Monsters! Monsters! arena notes and had a ton of fun playing "Arena Master" for a bunch of strangers . . . but in any case, I found fun and interesting things that had nothing to do with the RPGA.

Out of high school, off to college (and out, and off again, and out - but that's a different story), and I remained interested in RPGs, bought a number of 'em, but not really D&D.  For me, the RPGA is what drove me away - probably unfair, based on one bad experience, but there you have it.  I also couldn't find a gaming group with people I could stand to hang around with for a long time after high school - not until I moved to CA, actually.  I'd occasionally meet one guy (always guys - what happened to all the girls who played in high school?) who seemed to think the way I did, and we'd noodle around with rules and world-creation, but two wasn't "enough" for an actual campaign . . .

I remember being intrigued at the idea of the Dragonlance modules - I bought the first one - but I never met anyone I felt comfortable trying it out with.  Unearthed Arcana was the last book I bought - not because it was the "last good thing", or that it changed things/offended me, but because by then what little RPG play I did wasn't D&D anymore.

The very particular, Gamist(?), "we need to be able to judge everyone fairly" RPGA tournament style wasn't for me, and (at least in part irrationally), I thought that was what everyone doing D&D would be striving for now.


EDIT in some age stuff based on what Walt and Ron have said - I'm about Ron's age (born December 1963), and I always played with peers - no more than a few years variance, in junior high or high school.  A little broader range after '81 or so, especially as my eventually part-time-only college coursework left me a bit older than most classmates.  It's a bit puzzling - the RPGA tournament stuff I reference seems entirely incompatible with a shift to a younger audience in the early 80's - but maybe TSR had (or tried to have) a two market strategy at the time.  AD&D and tournamnents for the college crew, and Basic D&D cartoon-recreation for the younger folk. (under construction)

M. J. Young

O.K., I'm different.

I did not abandon OAD&D during this time; although we played a few other games, we were still isolated and so very much unaware of the wealth of non-TSR games out there. We started a game of Traveler just before we lost a group, and although I'd see a few others in the book store (a Dr. Who game, I vaguely recall) they always struck me as copycats trying to horn in on the TSR/D&D success. But then, I didn't have the kinds of problems with the game everyone else here seems to have had. We enjoyed it.

For the numbers, I was born in '55, and only know a few gamers older. I started play in '80, when I was out of college, married, and working in ministry, so a lot of the stuff that seems to be normative for gamers is completely foreign to me--no high school or college game sessions, no sexual tensions at gaming sessions, stuff like that.

I didn't notice any impact from Dragonlance; but I never got any Dragonlance modules or novels, only the rulebook, and even that didn't mean a new campaign but only expanded options for the existing one.

Indeed, as each book found its way into my library (a slow process, as radio broadcasters are paid in prestige, and book stores don't accept that coin) it did change the game; but it had more impact on the game world than on play. Arcana had significant impact, as mentioned on the other thread, because of the creation of the Cavalier class, which suddenly demoted our fighters from being Knights to being something less. Oriental Adventures added an impressive array of options.

In an odd quirk, the Oriental Adventures became very important in our play because, I think, of me. E. R. Jones invited me to play in his game, and I (mistakenly) thought I would be bringing in a first level character to play with experienced characters of higher level. I put a lot of thought into trying to choose a character concept that would make sense joining such a group. He had a race, drawn from one of the magazines, called Winged Folk, and I thought that there would be some sense in them having a new party member who could scout because he could fly. I needed a character class that would work with this, and the Kensai had a lot of appeal because they were strong fighters without armor, so I went with it. As previously implied, I was wrong in my assumptions--Jones was starting a new party in an existing gameworld. My character still worked well in that situation. However, there was a rash of kensais in my game, as apparently my young players thought that the first D&D character I ever played (I was only ever a referee from 1980 until then, about 1991 or 92) must be the best choice. This then resulted in exploration of the other Oriental options. by contrast, Dragonlance had little impact--we had a couple of DL characters very late in the life of my early 90's games, but social contract problems of a very severe nature had crippled the gaming group by then.

We had been looking forward to a second edition of the game. I, at least, had envisioned (and articulated that vision) a reorganization that would mean single, if larger, DMG and PH incorporating much of the material that was at that point scattered among the other books. The second edition that actually did come out was a shocking disappointment, a rewrite of the game that attempted to fix things we didn't think were broken and eliminated things we thought were core to the game. TSR's new marketing program rapidly became apparent as well, and since scraping together the funds to buy the thirteen hard-cover books over a decade had been difficult, I was not about to commit to a new game that was going to cost hundreds of dollars and thousands of hours every year merely to stay current on the rules. I continued to run and play OAD&D, but AD&D2 pushed me out of the D&D customer base--I never bought another new TSR product.

I don't know if that helps the inquiry, but that was my experience.

--M. J. Young

Rob MacDougall

So am I the only one who stayed with AD&D long enough to actually play the Dragonlance series? I guess I'd better report my experiences.

I too was skeptical about buying the first Dragonlance modules for all the reasons people have offered here. I didn't know the word "metaplot," but I understood the objection. I already had my own homemade D&D world. Why should I run these adventures with premade characters, in a world without clerics or halflings or gold pieces? I was won over, in the end, by just how damn pretty the adventures were: the Elmore covers and those great "three-quarter" view dungeon maps and portraits of the PCs and all that.

(There's a subpoint to be made here about the generally improving production values of D&D and RPGs in this period: nice art and high production values were often the sugar that made the medicine of a railroading adventure or an un-asked for rules supplement go down.)

(There's another subpoint to be made here about how the ever present art of Larry Elmore and Jeff? Easley and Clyde Caldwell codified or standardized the look of a lot of D&D elements in these years. It seems to me that both the Heavy Metal / Boris Vallejo / glistening barbarians / naked valkyries on polar bears stuff, and also the semi-psychedelic hippy Tolkien stuff with mushroom houses and Gandalf puffing on the halfling's leaf dropped out in the 1980s in favor of Elmore and Easley's "realistic" (and more family friendly) Norman-Rockwell-in-Krynn style of art. Now, looking back at my oldest D&D books, I'm blown away by the bizarre wands and clothes and headgear in the old Erol Otis illustrations. There's really nothing Tolkienesque or pseudo-medieval about them.)

Anyway, I tried at first to just steal the dungeons from each Dragonlance adventure and play them in my own world with our existing characters and absolutely no attention to the metaplot. This got harder to do with each adventure. When I started high school in 1985, my junior high group (four girls and two boys, for those keeping track of the exodus of females from the hobby) broke up. We'd played the first four DL adventures by then. In high school I gathered a new group, and one of the first things we started playing was Dragonlance, played in Krynn this time, with the pregenerated characters, and hewing closely to the metaplot. We ended up playing the entire series, DL1 through DL14.

I won't say Paul and other people with strong feelings about Dragonlance are wrong. It certainly was a different style of adventure, and running the whole series trained both DM and players thoroughly in all the techniques and expectations of railroading and illusionism. I do have another contender for the first metaplot-driven AD&D scenarios, but I'll get to them later.

But there's railroading and then there's railroading. How most of the earlier Dragonlance modules were set up was this:
- a highly scripted beginning with lots of read aloud boxed text
- a very large and entirely un-scripted dungeon crawl (a sunken city in DL1, a fortress in DL2, a lich's tomb in DL3...)
- a highly scripted ending with more boxed text

If your PCs were of generally good alignment, interested in exploring dungeons, killing monsters, and collecting magic items, then the great bulk of each early Dragonlance adventure could be run without taking away any player autonomy. They were herded into the dungeon, sure, and herded once they got back out again, but inside there was no one path to victory and plenty of real estate to explore that was not covered in the novels.

The only person who really had to gave up their freedom to play Dragonlance was the DM. The DMs traditional world-building and story-arc shaping powers were absolutely circumscribed. This is, I would argue, a different kind of railroading than what I associate with the White Wolf games in the 1990s, where the GM is highly invested in a series of events and herds the PCs around to witness them. In the early Dragonlance adventures, 90% of the herding took place "between" adventures.

This changed in the later Dragonlance adventures. The key turning point seemed to be when the publication of the novels "overtook" the publication of the adventures. In other words, the first DL adventures (DL 1 through 4) came out before the first DL novel (Dragons of Autumn Twilight), and indeed there were events in the first novel drawn directly from the actual play of the TSR team creating Dragonlance. But the second and third DL novels were written before the equivalent adventures (DL 6-9 and DL 10-14), and while this likely made for better novels, the adventures became increasingly scripted. This was especially true in the middle adventures, DL 6-9, with the culmination being DL 8 and DL 9, where the standard wilderness and city maps were replaced with flowcharts of required events. For some reason player freedom opened up again in the last few adventures, which even went "off the script" of the novels in some fairly significant ways.

Proposition for discussion (possibly a separate thread): the general disappearance of detailed dungeon maps from adventures, which seemed at the time to be a move away from hoary old "wargaming" towards narrative "story creation," actually represented a  huge shift in decision-making power from the players to the GM.

Whew. Sorry about the length of that post. Obviously I've got lots to say about Dragonlance. Hope that wasn't a thread-killer.