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


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It did seem different. This is a succubus posing as a model for an art class who is getting sick of holding the same pose for hours in a row. The one in the MM is of one leaning in so you can see her cleavage better.


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I thought the definition of milieu in the index was interesting. It's notable that TSR had abandoned it by the following year.

The Greyhawk folio is called, in full, 'The World of Greyhawk Fantasy World Setting.'

Not 'The World of Greyhawk Fantasy World Milieu.'


Master of Mutant Design
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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.
I really dislike how 5e uses campaign for setting (keeping in mind that campaign is a military term). People can have very different campaigns within the same setting. It has happened how many hundreds of thousands or millions of times just for all the Realms fans, not to mention all the other rpgs out there.


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I really dislike how 5e uses campaign for setting (keeping in mind that campaign is a military term). People can have very different campaigns within the same setting. It has happened how many hundreds of thousands or millions of times just for all the Realms fans, not to mention all the other rpgs out there.
Yes, I think setting or world is the term to use.

"So what's the setting of your campaign?"
"What world is your campaign in?"


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Think of a setting as a class and milieu as an implementation of that class. TSR publishes a setting, and you turn it into your milieu.


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My Final thoughts
I thought about looking over the DMG section by section and giving my impressions on what I’ve gone through in retrospect, but decided against it for a couple of reasons: 1) I believe my overarching impressions are more important than thoughts on any individual page, e.g., whether the gem value determination system is too generous and could lead to too rapid a level game with a lucky roll. 2) The book’s organization was fairly arbitrary, so my final thoughts shall be ordered the same way. :p

Let’s start with the big thing about the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Masters Guide: E. Gary Gygax’s authorial voice. I personally like a strong authorial voice in my roleplaying games. I loved the tone of Unknown Armies 2e where the combat section opens with an essay on why you’re probably going to die if you’re facing people with guns and knives and lists steps you might want to take instead of fighting.

Gygax’s voice shines throughout the DMG. Of course, it’s not necessarily the best tone for an instructional manual. As was said near the start of this thread, he’s doing a sort of Jack Vance impression, and the purple prose that works so effectively to set a scene for a fantasy novel is not necessarily the one you want for an instruction manual.

One of the decisions TSR made with 2e and WOTC carried on was to make their writing as simple and neutral as possible. I understand the logic; it’s the biggest RPG in the world and wants to appeal to the broadest base possible. Peppering your text with Latin abbreviations like q.v. and obscure vocabulary is not particularly clear.

But it is evocative and I personally appreciate this.

Let me give an example by contrasting how the 1e and 2e DMG discuss alignment. Here’s the opening paragraph in the first edition:
DMG1e p 23 said:
Alignment describes the broad ethos of thinking, reasoning creatures — those
unintelligent sorts being placed within the neutral area because they are totally
uncaring. Note that alignment does not necessarily dictate religious persuasion,
although many religious beliefs will dictate alignment. As explained under
ALIGNMENT LANGUAGES (q.v.) this aspect of alignment is not the major
consideration. The overall behavior of the character (or creature) is delineated
by alignment, or, in the case of player characters, behavior determines actual
alignment. Therefore, besides defining the general tendencies of creatures, it
also groups creatures into mutually acceptable or at least non-hostile divisions.
This is not to say that groups of similarly aligned creatures cannot be opposed
or even mortal enemies. Two nations, for example, with rulers of lawful good
alignment can be at war. Bands of orcs can hate each other. But the former
would possibly cease their war to oppose a massive invasion of orcs, just as the
latter would make common cause against the lawful good men. Thus, alignment
describes the world view of creatures and helps to define what their actions,
reactions, and purposes will be. It likewise causes a player character to choose
an ethos which is appropriate to his or her profession, and alignment also aids
players in the definition and role approach of their respective game personae.
With the usefulness of alignment determined, definition of the divisions is
Here is how 2e starts:
2e DMG (revised) p36 said:
Alignment is a shorthand description of a complex moral code. It sketches out the
basic attitudes of a person, place, or thing. It is a tool for the DM. In sudden or
surprising situations, it guides the DM’s evaluation of NPC or creature reactions. By
implication, it predicts the types of laws and enforcement found in a given area. It
affects the use of certain highly specialized magical items.

For all the things alignment is, there are some very important things that it is not.
It is not a hammer to pound over the heads of player characters who misbehave.
It is not a code of behavior carved in stone. It is not absolute, but it can vary from
place to place. Neither should alignment be confused with personality. It shapes
personality, but there is more to a person than just alignment.
Since I’m not doing anything today, I ran both those sections through a Reading Analyzer and they rate the 2nd edition passage as an eighth grade reading level -- appropriate for a 13 or 14 year old -- and Gygax’s 15th grade -- appropriate for someone with three years of college. The difficult word score is 1408% vs. 2328%. There’s a lot of other stats which are probably more meaningful but much more obscure and you can look up yourself if you wish.

Which passage is better? I guess that’s subjective. If your only purpose is to convey information, 2e’s is superior. But if you want to inject flavor, drama, and the idea that as a dungeon master you are being treated to arcane (in the non-magical sense of the word) secrets, Gygax clearly shines. And regardless of which section is more readable or better, Gygax’s prose is far more memorable. I definitely prefer it, though freely acknowledge there’s some contemporary RPG writers like Jenna Moran and Greg Stolze who do a much better job combining clarity and authorial voice.

Speaking of what's better, I love the description of Alignment here; it’s my favorite in any of the editions. I love the idea of alignment as focused on humanity. I love the fact you don’t need to get into arguments over what “following the Law” means and if lawful good characters need to follow a rule imposed by a chaotic monarch -- being lawful is putting society as a whole over the individual. Being Evil does not mean cackling in a sinister fashion; it means that you think your determination to accomplish things should be more important than the liberty and pursuit of happiness of others. It’s a pity that the planes seem to be set up in a way where Evil is stabbing people with pitchforks, but maybe I’m misreading that and there are beings from the evil planes who say “Now I know that trains don’t exist in this plane so some of this won’t make sense, but if you read this copy of Atlas Shrugged you’ll know why you need to overthrow Good King Givesalot so the people can truly prosper.”

Alignment languages was something I’d heard of and assumed was stupid, because why should all people who believe in preserving the balance of power on both axes be able to talk to one another in True Neutral? But it too makes sense when you think of it as limited jargon for discussing the ideology of your alignment. I now think of them as a sort of political language. The following isn’t a great example, but it avoids any contemporary references that could lead to flame wars :oops: : To people advocating the overthrow of the French aristocracy in the 1790s, who probably saw themselves as lawful good, putting down a lawful evil government, saying “sans cullotes” meant a very specific movement. To those of the wrong alignment, it sounded like they were discussing a type of legwear. (I know that doesn't quite work and isn't actually accurate, but you get the idea.)

One thing I have seen throughout this let’s read is that details matter. I think a lot of things that other games would handwave away as not that relevant to the main part of actual play matter just because they are spelled out in the text. In the 5e DMG, less than a column is spent on building a stronghold. Where in 1e finding the proper spot for a stronghold, mapping the area and clearing it of monsters is an adventure in itself that can take months, 5e just talks about buying a plot of land, and gives fixed prices and building times. Something which could occupy a group of players for months with sandbox play is glossed over to spending a few tens of thousands of GP. A similar example might be how research is handled, with the complex Sage mechanic vs. the three paragraphs on how research is conducted in 5e.)

I wonder if I should have done more comparison between the editions during the course of this thread. Too late now; even if I had a Wish spell available, I’m not about to use a Wish to go back in time and start it over again, especially with the aging penalties :).

Which is probably a good segue into another issue: this book needed some better organization. I would imagine the fact that casting Wish ages you 3 years would be either in the spell description, or at least the DMG’s section on secret details of the spell description. Not in between a section on how age adjusts characteristics and what causes disease.

One thing I’ve noticed which is usually in the background is how much the implied setting really assumes everyone will be humans and that humans are The Best. We’ve recently discussed demi-human level limits. One of the implications of these is that Level 6+ MU spells are only accessible to humans (and their cleric lists are for NPCs only and also low level). The small section on Tribal Spell Casters suggests that most humanoids can’t even muster that. This is a huge change from 3e+, where you fully expect the goblin sorcerers capable of calling down Meteor Showers.

Another thing I quite like which has been diminished in later editions is the embrace of truly obscure possibilities -- what happens when a druid casts Pass Plant underwater? (A: It doesn’t work) -- and also the roll of randomness. An NPC who knows an extra language may wind up knowing Lamassu or Salamander as well as Elven or Orcish.

The magic item section is also a delight. I feel like the odds of getting a cursed item (one with unwanted effects, if not actually needing the Remove Curse or Wish spell) are pretty high, but it’s clear that the characters as well as the PCs are supposed to be rolling the dice when they come across a musical instrument in a dungeon. Will playing it collapse the ceiling? Cause you damage because you aren’t a bard? Charm rats? Or just make some noise? Maybe that isn’t just a sword +1, but an intelligent sword. And maybe not just intelligent, but with vast powers. It’s probably just an magic sword -- and hopefully not a cursed one -- but the dice may turn it into something amazing.

There’s a lot of highlights, and to be fair a lot of messy parts that just don’t work (grappling rules, level training costs).

There’s also assumptions that I think have vanished from modern roleplaying. Such as that a single DM might have dozens of players in a single asynchronous campaign. Or the fact players won’t address the DM directly but through a caller.

One minor surprise: I was expecting something a little more misogynistic. I remember reading in a lot of 80s games that they were using masculine pronouns by default even though it could be played by men or women. While Gygax preferred terms like “lizardmen” to “lizardfolk” he always seemed willing to use “his or her” even if it made the prose a little longer. I know early gaming culture had some gender issues but I don’t think the writing style of the book was a real cause.

Was this worth reading? Absolutely. Even if you don’t play 1e, adapt and steal. Embellish your dungeons; make travel more exciting than ‘three days pass and *roll* no monsters encountered.’

Would I play a 1e campaign? Yes. It’s less confusing and intimidating than I expected/remembered. I don’t think I’d start one from scratch though it’s tempting.

Would I run a 1e campaign as a DM, since that’s the purpose of reading a DMG? It’s one of those books that makes me want to generate a world, though I don’t think I’d have time to properly devote to running one.

Is it a good game? Yes, but with reservations. It can be hard to parse the DMG, and some rules clearly weren’t ever playtested. I would put it in the “glorious mess,” category. My last Let’s Read was for Pendragon, a game where the mechanics were designed by one man to achieve a very specific goal. AD&D definitely has a more thrown together vibe which may be unpalatable if you started gaming with RPGs created this millenium. Still, picking up a die and generating a quick high level PC or seeing what sort of weather you encounter while sailing and rolling with the punches has a hypnotic charm.

What’s next? My next Let’s Read will either be the First Edition Monster Manual (technically a reading of Appendix E) or MM2, since apparently there aren’t any Let’s Reads of those. I’ll probably take a couple of days off. On one hand, I like the idea of “uncharted” territory and really don’t know MM2 at all. On the other hand, there have been enough comments on Appendix E and the details like demon names and stuff that I am curious about that.

Anyway, keep an eye out. Thanks for reading.


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Gygax's unintentionally hilarious condescension makes these books entertaining, I'll say that much.


Serene Green Queen
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It's been fun. Thank you for doing this.

While Gygax preferred terms like “lizardmen” to “lizardfolk” he always seemed willing to use “his or her” even if it made the prose a little longer.
I remember being disappointed when 2e hit the stores, because they had to put in a little paragraph about how "he" was gender-inclusive. It's really not, unless you would feel comfortable pointing to me in person while saying "he." One small way in which the newer edition took a step back. Not that 1e was a wonder of gender egalitarianism, of course, but it wasn't bad for its time.

Would I run a 1e campaign as a DM, since that’s the purpose of reading a DMG? It’s one of those books that makes me want to generate a world, though I don’t think I’d have time to properly devote to running one.
It really does. It's the RPG book that, more than any other, makes me want to create a world for its own sake. Getting players would be an excuse for seeing it in action. It's a completely different thing from wanting to run a group through a predetermined story, because the world would be totally responsive to whatever they did.


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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.
In my mind's eye, that has always been a nighttime picture with the moon and sky being in negative. The clouds being only seen because they are illuminated by the nearby source of light coming from behind. The succubus being probably caught or revealed and reacting instinctively to try and hide her true nature or identity.

Thanks for the read.

In the past few years, as I've been running my own campaign in PF, I've come to really appreciate the 1E AD&D DMG much more. While designing things in PF, I'd go to look for things I would expect to be there such as encounter by terrain or city encounter charts. Details on building strongholds or buildings. Random dungeon creation method. Follow loyalty. Etc. Usually only to find that these things didn't exist, let along things like being able to recut gems. I think there is certainly a wider game than is usually expected in later editions here. With each edition, they seem to just redo a mediaeval combat simulator and leave any depth out. Sometime such things show up in later books but rather being redone and refined from previous editions, they just create a whole new thing, rough and untried out of whole cloth. I wish they'd kept all those other things as besides those that are very nice tools for a DM to have when needed, they made for a deeper game besides hack and slash. It's one fo the reason I'd fall back to 1E AD&D over 2E or even Castles and Crusades.
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