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

rstites

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How common were house rules in the wargaming community at the time? I feel that for most types of games what's in the book is considered canon and probably mandatory, and RPGs are a notable exception.
As already noted, it was a very DIY culture so everyone pretty much played around some houserules based off some base set of rules they'd either made up or purchased from some other people doing this in their basement. Most scenarios would need specific rules, and it was expected that you'd put those in place as a group. As noted, this wasn't so much competitive as revisiting historical battles and later experiencing the scenarios. Of note, Chainmail specifically mentioned that it didn't have rules that covered all situations and that people using it would need to make rulings as a group to cover situations when necessary. RPG's fit right into the DIY ethos of mini's wargaming. It isn't unique.

This did run counter to chit-n-hex wargames that tend to follow written rules closer, but those also weren't nearly as DIY in approach in general.

FWIW, most common household games tend to houserule. Lots of people's weekly card games have various options or houserules that are used. Almost everyone houserules Monopoly, and Risk, and a plethora of other common games.
 

MacBalance

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I feel like the question of "how common were house rules" misses the really important point that it was a very DIY hobby; when you bought a xeroxed booklet out of the back of a magazine, that whole game was basically somebody's "house rules." A big subset of wargaming at the time was very bespoke in its nature. I mean, even Chainmail was the result of Gary houseruling Perren's own bespoke rules (which I'm sure were almost certainly based on numerous other people's games).
I tend to agree. The early D&D I've seen (mostly 2e, but some 1e) is very high on 'Toolkit' value, which is a double-edged sword. The game was built to be customizable, but that meant things could get complex or confusing. A favorite example is how in 2e you had Proficiency slots as an option as of the PHB. However, I assume the community approved, as so much material seemed to assume their use, or basically say "If you don't use them, here's some ideas to help work around it." Proficiency slots were a method of sorts to balance out kits for example.

Something interesting I've considered with D&D (and other games) is how RPGs and especially D&D fare poorly if a new group forms by getting the books and trying to play. It happens, but it seems like a much rockier path than the more common scenario where a veteran convinces others to play. I feel like the veteran scenario was much more necessary early on due to the confusing way the game rules were arranged as well as difficulty explaining key concepts (like 'role playing'). Nowadays it is a bit easier: I hear a lot of groups inspired by podcasts/streamers like Critical Role or The Adventure Zone. TAZ wouldn't be my style of gaming, but I don't want to start saying it's wrong, either.
 

WistfulD

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I think understanding and acknowledging Gygax's legacy involves acknowledging that he brought a lot of negative things to the hobby, too. Punishing your players for listening at doors, opaque game design, and a generally adversarial nature to the game are all things Gygax's writing, if it didn't actually encourage it, at least didn't speak out against. Is there anywhere in this book where there's something like "Hey, this is a game, you're playing with your friends, don't be an asshole to your friends"?
Yes, we should acknowledge the limitations of this material. Not speaking against things is actually a pretty good explanation. Gary did not want people to be playing adversarial-oneupsmanship-fu with their supposed friends. He could have foreseen that his written words seemed to be advocating this mindset in DMs, but he didn't. That, hands down, was a failure in attaining the goal of perfection.

There have been, however, throughout the years, a whole truckload of digital ink spilled that confuses that with Gary actively advocating an adversarial DM-player relationship. I am going to use the Tomb of Horrors as an example. This was, no argument, a terrible choice as one of the first published adventure modules. It was a last-man-standing adventure model perfect for a one-off tournament using pregens. That was not well communicated, and set in many peoples' minds the idea of Gary as a killer DM that (by all accounts) was not how he actually played or saw the game. Gary and TSR could have realized the subtext communicated by the publishing of that module, and they didn't.

My point is not that we shouldn't acknowledge the misstep portion of all of this. Merely that, if you omit the subtle point of it being missteps, it can readily slide into a cartoonish interpretation left better to lampoonish sendups like Knights of the Dinner Table, rather than actual people making real world decisions.

I think Gygax's response to that would be, "Don't you already know that? Why do you need me to tell you that?"
And that was a failure on his part. He didn't apply the same parameters to the adversarial portion of his gaming advice. He could have foreseen that, at best, people would infer that he was overly concerned with players getting away with too much and not enough concerned with DMs devolving into jerks. As much as I want to defend Gary from the belief that he was... well, however we want to phrase it, he was absolutely the primary instigator in that perception.
 

rstites

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Something interesting I've considered with D&D (and other games) is how RPGs and especially D&D fare poorly if a new group forms by getting the books and trying to play. It happens, but it seems like a much rockier path than the more common scenario where a veteran convinces others to play. I feel like the veteran scenario was much more necessary early on due to the confusing way the game rules were arranged as well as difficulty explaining key concepts (like 'role playing').
This is why Basic D&D was first written. It was specifically designed to give a gateway into gaming. I've read B/X D&D (1981?) and will say it's absolutely excellent at exactly that. Of note, these tend to be fairly light mechanical games comparatively. The entire D&D game is clearly explained and contains all the rules to play entire campaigns in ~120 pages total, which contains all the monsters, etc. (OD&D was even simpler and smaller, if far less clearly explained.)

AD&D was aimed squarely at experienced players who already had command of the game before they started reading it. It never was meant to be a starting point for people, though as you note a veteran player could pull it off just fine.

I believe even now, there's an entry boxed set for 5e very specifically aimed new players. 5e is far clearer in presentation, and much lighter mechanically than the last couple of editions, but is still on par with 1e/2e (core) for heft. It'd be a hard entry point for a group where nobody has any background, I'd suspect.
 

DavetheLost

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Back in the early days our group had Holmes, and we had the core three AD&D books, and a few of the early modules. Tomb of Horrors, Hommlet, the G series, and the D series. That was it. No Dragon magazine, no letters from Gygax, certainly no internet. From that we had to figure out how the game was played. Gygax came across as rather an ass from those limited writings. DMs were apparently supposed to be rather adversarial, all traps were supposed to be lethal, wandering monsters frequent. Lots of pronouncements from on high about "Official AD&D" and "not playing real D&D". Time improved the tone of D&D, but in the early days we played in spite of Gygax, not because of him. It may well have been different in Lake Geneva or for those who got attend gaming cons or had been in the wargaming hobby before D&D. But for us D&D was really our introduction to the whole thing.
 

Sirharrok

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It would be something of a disaster if a group were to clear it out all in one go — you'd have to completely repopulate the whole thing!
As an exercise in nostalgia (for me) and an introduction to RPGs (for them), I ran a group through B4, the Lost City, a few years back.

They had a blast, but the amount of treasure they left behind was vast. Sometimes it was behind a secret door they walked past several times but they never thought to search there and the dice never quite fell their way.
 

SuStel

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Yes, we should acknowledge the limitations of this material. Not speaking against things is actually a pretty good explanation. Gary did not want people to be playing adversarial-oneupsmanship-fu with their supposed friends. He could have foreseen that his written words seemed to be advocating this mindset in DMs, but he didn't. That, hands down, was a failure in attaining the goal of perfection.
I doubt he or anyone at TSR thought they were going to achieve perfection when they were writing this stuff.

It is unquestionable that people who weren't involved in the wargaming culture misunderstood Gygax's writing. It is certainly the case that he did not correctly gauge the expectations of uninitiated players and DMs. But he wasn't just telling people to be jerks to each other, which is the usual reaction people have to what he wrote.

As for stopping players from listening at doors by putting skeletons behind them: the advice is not bad in the context of gaming culture at the time. Remember that the goal was to achieve a balance between a too-easy game and a too-hard game. If players learned that they could detect every monster behind a door by listening long enough, the adventure becomes too easy, so the DM's duty was to make it more challenging. That's not to say that if the players have listened to the last three doors and heard the monsters, that the DM should immediately just put a bunch of skeletons behind the next one. It means between sessions some skeletons can move into the area that he knows those players will be going to next. Dungeon repopulation and change was a big deal for the living dungeon.
 

DavetheLost

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I would say there wasn't "a" gaming culture then. Certainly not in RPGs and probably not in table top miniatures. There were lots of scattered pockets of gaming cultures. Some of them shared the same rules, some of them had representatives who went to gaming conventions, some of them had members who read any of a number of gaming magazines and newsletters, but there was nothing like the unified gaming culture there is today. For many of us, for most games, it was buy the rules and try to figure out the game by playing it.
 

Felix

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FWIW, most common household games tend to houserule. Lots of people's weekly card games have various options or houserules that are used. Almost everyone houserules Monopoly, and Risk, and a plethora of other common games.
This is true. However, IME until you find a group that plays the "correct" way you don't even realize these are houserules. With Monopoly, for example, I don't think I realized that you were supposed to have a bidding war if the player who landed on an unowned block passed up the opportunity to buy it until I was in my 20s. (Or maybe that was the house rule that the group I played with used and I'd been doing it right. I forget and don't care to look it up.)

It is unquestionable that people who weren't involved in the wargaming culture misunderstood Gygax's writing. It is certainly the case that he did not correctly gauge the expectations of uninitiated players and DMs. But he wasn't just telling people to be jerks to each other, which is the usual reaction people have to what he wrote.
Speculation: Early on in this thread, when we were talking about Gygaxian prose, someone said that it's like he was imitating Jack Vance. I've found that Vance's prose as a "so over-the-top it becomes a bit tongue-in-cheek" tone to it, and am now second guessing my interpretation of him being fed up with people listening at doors, as opposed to being "fed up."
 

yukamichi

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I honestly find the concept less "passive-aggressive" than I think it is more like a nudge towards getting people to actually understand the "purpose" of the kind of gaming Gygax envisioned D&D as encompassing but never really spelled out.

These aren't games that are supposed to be "solvable"; player skill in D&D is actually something that eliminates the fun that's supposed to come from novel, open-ended problem solving that I think the game was meant to hold at its core. When your players come up with a routine that turns the game dull, you throw a curveball at them not as a kind of punishment, but to force them to come up with new ideas, to make them think on their toes. It's not adversarial, it's a technique for helping the game evolve and grow.

To me, it almost feels like its admonishment for the DM as much as it is criticism of the players. If the game starts stagnating, then you've also failed as a DM for letting that happen. Get back in there! Mix things up! Drop a skeleton on their heads! The DM is supposed to be an active participant with agency, not just someone who reads off room descriptions and hands out treats to the players! Think, create, and imagine!

I think there's supposed to be a kind of symbiotic relationship there, where you challenge the players to force them to come up with new strategies, and in turn their new strategies force you back to the drawing board to come up with new ideas.
 
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