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


Hail Tzeentch!
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This is coming from someone who never played AD&D but did play a lot with people who did play a lot of AD&D; the purpose of it felt like you were supposed to "solve" the game. The point of the game was to gain as much treasure with as little personal danger, which lead to a sort of arms race of one-ups-manship. RPGs are really a weird pasttime where you're sort of playing against one of your friends but really if everything goes well everyone wins. There's no sport where both sides can win even though they played against each other, no board game or card game where one side is the opposition but everyone comes away feeling like they won. RPGs are a pretty unique niche in that regards and that sort of bond is not explicit in this text when it really should be.


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This is true. I'd say this was compounded by the fact that he wrote it toward adults, but the big influx of new players at the time were younger, so much of the tone went over their heads...
The tone of both texts is pretty obviously tongue-in-cheek. Pretty much all of the so-called passive aggressive bits are clearly not meant at all seriously. From the above, it's clear that miscommunication happened as he was writing toward a mature, experienced group and many (most?) of the audience ended up being relatively inexperience, teens. It happened, but I wouldn't say he was guilty of anything more than failing to anticipate the massive up-swell in popularity that would follow on the heels of AD&D's publication.
In the 40 Years of Gencon book David Arneson notes in 1976 that there were 'loads of young kids' playing D&D at Gencon and that pissed off the older war miniature players. So there were a lot of kids playing before the AD&D DMG was released and Gygax had to be aware of that. And most of the humourless, nit-picking letters I've read in early Dragon were from apparent adults not kids.

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.
I don't think it was misunderstanding, a lot of fellow wargamers thought Gygax was wrong about a lot that he wrote. Just check out the criticisms in Alarum and Excusions and Imagine that drove him to rant in Dragon magazine and even close down Imagine.

There's a lot of good advice in the DMG but there's also the advice to sic ethereal mummies and lighting bolts from the blue on annoying player's PCs. This is clearly terrible and not tongue-in-cheek advice.
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Random rolling time! :D

Your adventure notes indicate the PCs will encounter a Dwarven thief, but you forgot to figure out what he’s like. Luckily, there’s a ton of tables here to help.

First we roll up the stats for the character using the information all the way back on page 11 (3d6 for non-prime reqs.; add one to each die for the prime reqs., Dexterity here, If the die is below 6), getting S6 I12 W15 D12 Co10 Ch9. We then apply the NPC race stat adjustments (NPC Half Orcs don’t get the same bonus/penalties PC ones do), and the NPC Class bonus (+2 Dex, +1 Int for thieves) for an adjusted stat of S7 I13 W15 D14 Co11 Ch8.

Next we’ll determine anything that seems appropriate on the random tables so the DM has an idea of how to play him. Which you aren’t encouraged to do, since you should probably have an idea of e.g., alignment.

We randomly find, and come up with the character as we go along:
Alignment: Chaotic Evil
Possessions: Superabundant (obviously purloined)
Appearance: Young and Clean (this supposed youthful look may be a disguise, the GM thinks, to make people underestimate him).
Sanity: Normal
General tendencies: Moody (Brooding?)
Personality: Well spoken (He is neither an introvert nor extrovert, and with his charisma/intellect that probably means he can inform well but not persuade).
Disposition: -- (we rolled a 1, Cheerful, which doesn’t work with a moody tendency and is thus ignored.)
Intellect: Scheming
Nature: Hard-hearted
Materialism: Intellectualist
Honesty: -- (We rolled very honorable, which doesn’t seem to work with the image of a chaotic evil schemer)
Bravery: Normal
Energy: Driven
Thrift: Thrifty
Morals: Normal
Pierty: Average
Interests: Hunting

Mathematical digression: The morals and sanity chart have a few “bad” options which you are required to reroll and only keep if the second roll is the same. Otherwise you go with the second roll. However, to use the sanity table, a 9 indicates the character is insane and a 10 indicates they are maniacal. Which means if you roll a 9 initially, the NPC has a 1-in-10 chance of being maniacal, and a 1-in-10 chance of being insane. (And an 8-in-10 chance of being somewhere between very stable and unstable.) I don’t know if this is the intended reading, or if you’re only supposed to give them a bad result if there are two identical die rolls in a row.

So the PCs want to engage this thief in a mission. How will he react?

Basically like you’d expect. Many of the above traits can offer some minor adjustments to the roll. The fact he has a hard-hearted nature might mean that if you’re asking him to save puppies he might take a -1d4 penalty to the roll. But if you could make this an intellectually satisfying mission somehow to satisfy his materialism, you could add 1d20 to the roll.

We roll on the Height and Weight Determination Chart, getting a 24 and a 32, meaning he’s of average height and weight. Average height for a Dwarf is 48”, and the roll to see what minor adjustments get made indicated 0. Average weight would be 150 lbs., but it’s adjusted by +1d8 according to the adjustment roll, and winds up at 156 lbs.

As a Dwarf, he knows by default common, dwarven, gnome, goblin, kobold, and orcish. An Intelligence of 13 would indicate he could know three extra languages, but the PHB tells us they can only learn two more. So let’s randomly roll a D100 and consult this chart to see what they are: 05= Black Dragon; 99=Human other or some foreign race not on this list. Let’s just say he picked up German from a human visiting from another plane, since I know that a German speaker visited Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser once so it makes sense ;).

Note this table can also be used for magic swords, so you may need to learn Lammasu to command your blade to glow.

DMG p102 and 103 said:
As the DM you are game moderator, judge, jury, and supreme deity. You are
also actively engaged in actual role playing throughout the course of the
campaign, from game to game, as you must take the persona of each and
every henchman and/or hireling involved. (See also Monsters, hereafter.) To
play such roles to the hilt, it is certainly helpful to the DM if he or she has
player characters of his or her own in some other campaign.
Henchmen should have their personality developed as soon as play begins “without recourse to book characteristics,” which I assume means that you don’t need to have the Int 6 bodyguard talk like a complete idiot. Remember that they tend to look out for their own interest, especially if the PC hasn’t been treating them well, and they are unlikely to just give important items to the PC without sureties.

Sometimes a PC will roleplay their own henchmen, which is fine as long as the servant doesn’t become just an extension of the PC.

Hirelings serve strictly as employees, “mercenaries interested in doing their job and collecting their pay,” and should be treated as such. Gygax takes this attitude with a lot of NPCs; even if they have a distinct and memorable personality, they won’t go out of their way to help the PCs without a good reason, such as a bonus. Of course, the PCs are far more likely to ask for help clearing out a nest of trolls than preparing a few extra plates for a banquet, so it’s probably a good attitude.

Monsters: While it is not usually tricky to play monsters, especially humanoids,, “sometimes it is hard to get into the personae of particularly nauseating creatures or minions of purity or whatever.” In that case, try to play them according to their stated characteristics.

Also, make sure you play intelligent monsters intelligently. If they can cast spells or have magic devices, they’ll try to do what they think is most effective. They’ll also be willing to flee if the fight is going against them.

Other Non-Player Characters: I think this section makes the most sense if you remember the inspiration for much of D&D was non the good vs. evil epic fantasy of Tolkien, but the sword and sorcery genre where everyone is out for their own self interest. The example suggests that while everyone has a distinct personality and alignment, a bit of coin is also important. “Dealing with all such NPCs should be expensive and irritating.”

It’s accompanied by an example of Celowin Silvershield, a fighter who needs a wizard to cast Stone to Flesh on a companion. He enters a strange town, and nobody in the bar will tell him how to find the wizard until he’s bought a few rounds to loosen tongues. On the way there he meets a beggar who asks for help, and either he is endlessly pestered, gives him a coin and gets pegged by all the other beggars as someone who they should hit up, or calls the watch who don’t take kindly to strangers narcing on townspeople. He can’t even get into see the wizard Llewellyn ap-Owen until he offers the right incentives to an apprentice, and the wizard will claim that in addition to the spell he needs to be compensated for all the work lost in the valuable experiment he was conducting.

“These examples show how varying roles are played without great difficulty simply by calling upon observation of basic human nature and combining it with the particular game circumstances applicable,” the DMG notes.

There is a list of cleric spells you will be able to get for hire. The cost assumes sympathetic alignment and no travel time for the cleric. Faithful characters might get a discount, especially at low level, so you have a good excuse to let the low level PCs afford the Raise Dead price. On the other hand, and risk with even minimal travel could quintuple the price. Constant requests for spell casting will also cause them to raise their prices; they’ve got lives of their own you know and these interruptions just aren’t worth it.

Generally, the higher the spell level or level of caster, the higher the cost. Bless costs only 5 GP/level of the caster, though since the spell lasts six minutes this seems like a very situationally useful. Asking them to Detect Magic on a device is 150 GP; Cure Disease 1,000 GP; Raise Dead 1,000 GP + 500/Caster Level; Earthquake 10,000 GP; Gate 50,000.

With the possible exception of Earthquake, there are no offensive spells because the DMG wants to discourage. Specially hired casters do not accompany a party unless the plot calls for it (or you have a henchmage).

But wait, you may be saying, why would a Lawful Good cleric charge such exorbitant prices for people who share their cause of bringing good to the world? Gygax suggests quoting Luke 10:7, “for the worker is worthy of his hire,” at them or similar Scriptural quotes. “If death results due to payment failure, point out that the player has ‘gone to his (or her) reward’ — how can that be bad?” Though if the PCs legitimately can’t pay now, allow them to pay more later if it would benefit the deity’s cause.

For those who try to Charm the NPC casters into casting what they want, there’s a 1 in 4 chance they’ll accidentally cast the wrong spell -- in fact as close to the opposite as possible -- due to befuddlement from the spell.

I’ll just observe this is much different than what 3.x would do, where magic became an accepted commodity with basically fixed rates in cities.

Next time: Monsters and Organizations. Which has some fascinating examples.


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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.
The more I think about it, I realize that these guys had rules for how to play games, and they even had individual named characters represented on the war game table, which means to a great extent that this back and forth mind game played between Gary and his players, was the new and interesting part of the game. The back and forth escalation of challenges and tactics was like some sort of story game being played out with the container of a war game. Everything else going on had already been done.


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In the 40 Years of Gencon book David Arneson notes in 1976 that there were 'loads of young kids' playing D&D at Gencon and that pissed off the older war miniature players. So there were a lot of kids playing before the AD&D DMG was released and Gygax had to be aware of that.
Yes, and Basic D&D was released in 1977 so it seems like he was receptive to the idea of putting something out to help people get into the game. I won't argue that perhaps he should have taken them into account when he wrote AD&D, but the fact is pretty clearly that he didn't. Perhaps writing for that age was simply not in his skill set. At the best of times, clear, concise writing wasn't really his strong suit! ;)


Weird and pissed off
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Regarding the advice in the DMG to blast PCs for the misbehavior of their players, I found this discussion illuminating. For his own game, Gygax simply rolled dice and informed the problem player their PC was taking damage.

ETA: I think I fixed the link.
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I don't think it was misunderstanding, a lot of fellow wargamers thought Gygax was wrong about a lot that he wrote. Just check out the criticisms in Alarum and Excusions and Imagine that drove him to rant in Dragon magazine and even close down Imagine.
Speaking of which, there's a session report in an early Alarums & Excursions from somebody who got to play Tomb of Horrors during its debut as a convention game and came away very annoyed with Gygax for forcing him to pixelbitch. (Basically he assumed that the elves' detection abilities would passively pick up the traps and secret doors, and it took him nearly the whole session to realize that they weren't. He was kind of set up to have a bad experience anyway-- of the 15 players in his party, 11 had never played D&D before!)
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