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[Let's Read] The AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide (1e)

SuStel

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I agree that, for B/X and BE part of BECMI, Dwarves and Elves as 'you cap out 2-4 levels early, but get XYZ in exchange' works fine if you accept the central conceit of TSR-D&D balance (more powerful at some points in the gaming career, but weaker in others). Halflings being most constrained was never logical, AFAIC.
Balance was never the primary reason for level limits, though as balance became a buzzword in RPGs TSR starting pushing this angle more and more. But when the original D&D was shown to favor magic-users too much, the solution was not to cap magic-users' levels, but to give the other classes more hit points and better attacks.

The real reason was verisimilitude. Gygax preferred his fantasy with a strong humanocentric viewpoint. Hobbits never rise to the great heights of characters like Conan or Fahfrd. The highest they rise is how Merry and Pippin end up in The Lord of the Rings, and that very believably maps to Hero level. Lo, in the original D&D rules, hobbits are limited to level 4 as fighters.

Viewed with this history in mind, halflings going up to level 8 as Sheriff is pretty high level, and the elves' and dwarves' limits of 10 and 12 are hardly limits at all in a game that rarely went beyond 14th level.
 

Sleeper

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Gleep Wurp, human magic-user 12, 55hp
Cloyer Bulse, human thief 13, 54hp
Roaky Swerked, human cleric 12, 70hp
Frush O'Suggill, human fighter 14, 104hp
Fonkin Hoddypeak, high elf fighter/magic-user 5/8, 29hp

I don't think that last one is going to have a good time.
There are 9 sample PCs in G-1-2-3, and you compared the weakest demihuman with the most powerful humans. Let's add the second-tier humans, plus 2 new demihumans:

Flerd Trantle, human cleric 9, 56 hp
Redmod Dumple dwarf fighter 9, 82 hp
Faffle Dwe’o-mercraeft magic-user 9, 33 hp
Beek Gwenders half-elf ranger 9, 93 hp

With or without demihuman level limits, the basic assumption is you'll play with characters with a wide range of levels, and a wide range of serendipitous abilities (like Redmod's 18/74 strength, or Fonkin's ring of regeneration). Plenty of people had lots of fun playing that way, so your blanket statement assuming all characters need to be equal at all times is false. Despite a lot of claims by people who don't like the style, old school games were balanced, but they took a very different approach to the concept: Balance is at the player level instead of at the character level.

With the vast stable of rotating characters, and frequent death combined with the ease of quickly leveling up a new character from 1st level, all players get a a chance to play exceptional, normal, and sub-par characters at different points in their career. This allows a wide range of different playing experiences, and is one reason why there's less need for player-customizable dials and switches in old school characters -- they're not just defined by a feat picked at 3rd level, but by widely varying levels, random rolls in ability scores, and chance magic item finds.

Also, note the characters in G-1-2-3 are exceptional in many ways. Not a single one of those 9 characters has a Constitution score of less than 15, and the average is above 16. They're tournament characters, designed to be tough enough to survive a deadly set of dungeons, not organic characters who developed over the course of a campaign.
 

Sleeper

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Those G module names look like they were generated by one of those wacky neural net websites. And not humanoid names, but something like paint colors.
They're almost all real but obscure words. Gygax was having fun.

For instance, Cloyer Bulse the Magsman: Cloy is to to gratify beyond desire, bulse is a purse or bag for diamonds, and magsman is another word for thief.
 

Sleeper

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I don't think you'd find many of those in a thesaurus, they're a little too antiquated. But he did love The Canting Crew enough to name one of his later books after it. For those who aren't familiar, it's a famous volume filled with the jargon used by the footpads and cutpurses of the 17th century. Gygax's homage is part of the Gygaxian Fantasy Worlds from Troll Lord Games.
 

Felix

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I wonder what he would have thought about Sigil and its use of old slang in other circumstances. (I am assuming he had issues with 2e on personal grounds).
 

Felix

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GLOSSARY
In a slightly unusual formatting choice, the glossary is single column instead of the usual two column layout. Not that this has any bearing on this one way or the other.

I wonder if at some point someone said to Gygax, “You know, some of your audience may not be used to scholarly references,” because he peppered the books with q.v.s and cf.s and N.B.s and he explains these terms here.

A few entries, I think he was just having some fun, such as with “Bolt -- 1. Missile from a crossbow. 2. Bar locking a door. 3. Streak of lightning. 4. To flee.” That’s not like the entry for Level where he does need to legitimately provide multiple definitions.

I’m not going over every entry because you know what a level and PC mean in context of the game, but a few that struck me:
  • I have been treating the terms milieu and campaign as basically synonyms, but Gygax envisioned them differently. The term campaign referred to the series of games run by a DM, and milieu to the world created for the campaign. I think the distinction between the campaign and campaign world has blurred a bit, if it ever existed.
  • Since there was some debate in the Artifacts section, the glossary specifically says that these items are of a) great power and b) very old.
  • The term Death Magic refers to “Death rays, Fingers of Death, and other magicks which will kill a victim which fails its saving throw. Which is a useful clarification in games with spells like Animate Dead. Also, I didn’t realize until now that Gygax preferred to add a k when he pluralized “magic” but looking back he did.
  • Dweomer — From dweomercraeft, the art (craeft) of magic (dweomer)” is an interesting way of defining a really obscure word you wanted to bring to the forefront.
  • It is strange that “Mezzodaemon” and “Nycadaeomon” get their own entries in the glossary, presumably as a reminder you can ignore it if you don’t have D3: Vault of the Drow.
  • I wish the explanation of Tricks had come in Appendix H and not the Glossary, because it is a bit non-intuitive. A trick is “Any device or machination which is more likely to be solved by wits rather than force, and need not involve any physical harm to the PCs. It really clarifies their purpose.


We conclude with a brief, all caps, afterward:
p230 said:
AFTERWORD
IT IS THE SPIRIT OF THE GAME, NOT THE LETTER OF THE RULES, WHICH IS IMPORTANT. NEVER HOLD TO THE LETTER WRITTEN, NOR ALLOW SOME BARRACKS
ROOM LAWYER TO FORCE QUOTATIONS FROM THE RULE BOOK UPON YOU, IF IT GOES AGAINST THE OBVIOUS INTENT OF THE GAME. AS YOU HEW THE
LINE WITH RESPECT TO CONFORMITY TO MAJOR SYSTEMS AND UNIFORMITY OF PLAY IN GENERAL, ALSO BE CERTAIN THE GAME IS MASTERED BY YOU AND
NOT BY YOUR PLAYERS. WITHIN THE BROAD PARAMETERS GIVEN IN THE ADVANCED DUNGEONS & DRAGONS VOLUMES, YOU ARE CREATOR AND
FINAL ARBITER. BY ORDERING THINGS AS THEY SHOULD BE, THE GAME AS A WHOLE FIRST, YOUR CAMPAIGN NEXT, AND YOUR PARTICIPANTS THEREAFTER,
YOU WILL BE PLAYING ADVANCED DUNGEONS & DRAGONS AS IT WAS MEANT TO BE. MAY YOU FIND AS MUCH PLEASURE IN SO DOING AS THE REST OF US DO!
That’s followed by a picture of an angry looking NSFW succubus who glares at use as the sun sets behind her.

INDEX
I’m not going over this too carefully looking for in-jokes, so two comments:
  • This is a combined index for the PHB and DMG. Entries for the DMG are in bold, so for example combat says 61-84; 104-105.
  • There’s two cute illustrations. One is of a peasant farmer running away from a giant praying mantis. The other is a clever way to catch a snake, by Will McLean:

Spoiler: Show




SInce I’ve been working off the WOTC PDF, the index is followed by an ad for the Gygax Memorial Fund (whose website now seems to be defunct). I don’t know what appeared here in the TSR days, I assume an ad for more products.

Then the book ends with a collection of charts we’ve covered, presumably here for quick reference. For some reason, the attack matrices and saving throw tables are not included here, even though I’d think that’s what every DM needs quick access to. Instead, they are the charts on creating NPCs (personae, height, stat adjustments, etc.), encounter reactions, list of encumbrance of various items, hireling costs, morale tables and loyalty modifications.

And that ends the book. I have a lot of thoughts, some of which I’ll try to sum up tomorrow. It’s been a great read and I’ve loved the comments and discussions.
 

Dr. Jerry Hathaway

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DMG said:
IT IS THE SPIRIT OF THE GAME, NOT THE LETTER OF THE RULES, WHICH IS IMPORTANT. NEVER HOLD TO THE LETTER WRITTEN, NOR ALLOW SOME BARRACKS
ROOM LAWYER TO FORCE QUOTATIONS FROM THE RULE BOOK UPON YOU, IF IT GOES AGAINST THE OBVIOUS INTENT OF THE GAME.
Interesting thoughts, given that Gary would go on to tell us,
POKER said:
The AD&D game system does not allow the injection of extraneous material. That is clearly stated in the rule books. It is thus a simple matter: Either one plays
the AD&D game, or one plays something else, just as one either plays poker according to Hoyle, or one plays (Western) chess by tournament rules, or one does
not.
 

Sleeper

Red-eyed dust bunny
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That’s followed by a picture of an angry looking NSFW succubus who glares at use as the sun sets behind her.
Look at the artist's name.

Yep.

Now take a second look at the body proportions.

It's an interesting piece. It's not great art, and it's a standard cheesecake shot. But it's from a woman's pen, and based on a realistic female body type, and thus very different from a lot of male gaze art.
 
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