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Friday, January 13, 2012

Iterations of D&D

I have written before about how I play 1st edition AD&D, but it's really a mash-up of Holmes Basic, B/X, 1st and 2nd edition AD&D right? I even started writing a B/X WW II game. The other day it occurred to me that I have never actually played Moldvay Basic or even read through the book completely. I have read sections of it. I have looked things up in it. Moldvay's Red Basic book wasn't one I had as a kid though and I went straight to AD&D away from "kiddie D&D" as quick as I could. I think I have done myself a disservice. I have been reading through the Moldvay Basic book, straight through, since the announcement of D&D's impending "5th" edition. I don't really know why I picked it up, I had been reading through my GURPS Imperial Rome supplement, because I had just written about some old Roman campaigns I had run back in the 1990s and my interest was piqued.

But the more I read the Moldvay rules the more I like the simple elegance of them. Holmes Basic was really just OD&D cleaned up and edited into something slightly easier to wrap your head around; honestly after rereading the Holmes Basic book I am shocked that I ever figured out how to play D&D as a kid. Moldvay is pretty clear and simple by comparison. Holmes Basic will always be my first love, but I have to admit that B/X was really a better product.

Which leads me to this next point- I really want to actually play some B/X D&D, or DM it, since that's more likely to realistically happen. I skipped B/X back in 1981 for the most part on my way to AD&D with it's myriad of options and just the prestige of the "Advanced" version of the game being the more grown up one to play. Sure, there was a little confusion at the time, I bought a Basic D&D boxed set in 1980; Holmes Basic as it turned out; I got the Expert boxed set the next year (because it took us up to level 14!), although I already owned the AD&D Monster Manual; the obvious progression we all thought at the time was that you went from Basic to Expert to Advanced, not that Advanced was a totally separate, but related and nearly 100% compatible game. That I just happened to get caught in a different, earlier edition of Basic before moving on to Expert was just one of those odd growing pains I had on the way to Advanced D&D.

I'd like to give B/X a shot on it's own, without being stuck in the shadow of either Holmes or AD&D.

Who's with me?

I also had a few thoughts on TSR's last iteration of D&D, the one published postmortem, 3e and the D20 system. I might have liked the changes they made to the system in general if they had made certain subsystems optional and up to the DM's judgment. I am thinking particularly of the Feats and Skills, which seem like the core of the D20 system, but they're not; D&D is. Feats and Skills are an add-on that I think you could rip out and make the game pretty cool. Simplifying the saving throws was a good idea. Simplifying the Ability scores was a good idea, and it goes back to older editions of D&D than any edition of AD&D. Ascending AC was actually a pretty good idea, no matter how much me and the rest of the Grognards hate it; we only hate it because it's different and we hate change.

Now, this isn't going to turn into a 3e love-fest here, there's still plenty of stuff I didn't like. I didn't like renaming healing potions potions of cure light wounds for instance, or hyperfast leveling or the loss of multi-classing or the art direction that it took; but a lot of that could be house-ruled by the DM (except for the crap art, you're just stuck with that), once you ditch the feats and skills. Feats and skills are what made the entire D20 system slow and bound to the battle board. As a DM if you want multi-classing back in your 3e game, just do it, the same way you used to in previous editions. Too fast leveling? Double the XP required to level and reduce the XP/encounter to 10% of what it's "supposed" to be.

Now, you are going to say "What about thieves? (or Rogues I guess, right?)", OK, some skills can stay in the game, reduce drastically the number of skill points/level and limit them to "Thief" type skills. This works for Bards too, just give them even fewer. Never let someone just make a Search or Spot check, I am just brainstorming here, maybe we should just eliminate all the 3e/D20 skills and put in AD&D Thief Skills in their place. I haven't really thought it through too much. My point is D&D is the DM's game, he should be able to hack it how he wants to fit his vision; I don't understand how or why the D20/3e system's codification of everything scared us all and handed over our good judgment to the rules lawyers.

Now, I will repeat my call for Wizards of the Coast to publish the next D&D under the TSR imprint, out of respect for the continuity for the game and it's creators; and because the only version of D&D that they were solely responsible for caused more division in the D&D playing community than any other edition ever published. Resurrect TSR, and bring back the older edition TSR stuff in at least a PDF format legally. You say D&D next is going to be compatible with all of the older editions anyway, right? So sell us all that older edition stuff we missed out on too! PDFs and print on demand services cost you nothing, they do make you profits though and they generate goodwill with the fan base that you have alienated.


  1. I grew up on B/X, which is probably why Labyrinth Lord is my retroclone of choice nowadays -- it's smack in the center of my comfort zone. At the same time B/X/LL are simply strong in their own right (though my admittedly irrational level of attachment is rooted in nostalgia).

    For the record, too, I would definitely pay a reasonable price for pdfs of materials from earlier iterations of D&D. I'm sure there are other people like me out there who would do so as well. I find it hard to belief that WoTC wouldn't make a profit off selling that material...

  2. Sorry,again, WotC were wholly responsible for 3E as well. No TSR there.

  3. If you like the changes they made with 3E, but want to ditch the feats and skills nonsense, check out the Microlite system at

  4. I love B/X. I never played it when it was new (it came out only a few years after I was born). But now, going back and reading all the various iterations, it strikes me as the most balanced in the sense of not being too complex and detailed and also not being too free-form.

    @Chris Wellings

    I'm not an expert, but my understanding is that 3E was a TSR project before they were owned by WotC, but only came to fruition under WotC.


    Have you ever checked out Castles and Crusades? My understanding is that it is more or less 3E minus feats and skills but plus some strange side mechanic called "primes" which allows character to be better at tasks involving a certain ability score (I haven't read it yet, so I am not sure). It also has a much more grounded visual aesthetic.

  5. "Who's with me?"

    When we ever manage to synchronize schedules, I'm with you. B/X is my preferred version, and I'd be more than happy to get in on a pure B/X game! (I'll gladly run, but it would also be nice to play. I've not had the pleasure to play too many games of any version of D&D, and I've never had the joy of playing a full game session of B/X.)

    As for C&C, Brendan called it. IMO, C&C takes the best of 3E and AD&D to make a tight, streamlined game.

  6. OK, I tracked down Jonathan Tweet on Google+ and asked him directly about the development of 3e and, despite being one of the chief designers of the system and a TSR employee that transitioned to WotC, he really didn't seem to have a great, definitive answer about 3e and it's design. What I did glean from his conversations and reflections on D&D though, was that TSR originally wanted to use Alternity as a basis for a new edition of D&D, and he didn't like that. He stated that "TSR probably anticipated doing a new edition". He also said that 3e, was the "Godchild of Peter Adkison", which I assume means that, since Adkison was CEO of WotC when TSR was acquired by them, that he forced the project through to fruition.

    Now, I am not really sure what all this means, other than Jonathan Tweet is bad at answering a direct question, but it would certainly seem like TSR started research and development on a new edition- Alternity; which certainly would have sucked more for D&D fans than 3e did. Alternity was a commercial and critical failure (although not without it's fans), they seem to have backed off for a bit on revamping D&D and instead went bankrupt due to some really poor business decisions, and then were bought by WotC.

    Now, it was never in dispute at all that WotC had 3 years of R&D time to create 3e, just whether or not 3e was started under TSR; according to Mr. Tweet, TSR would have given us a new D&D edition if they had survived. Considering that all of the chief designers of 3e were TSR employees that transitioned to WotC I think we might have ended up with something like 3e under TSR anyway.

    Clear as mud, right? But I guess Chris Wellings is right, it looks like TSR never had anything to do with 3e, not in the form it reached us anyway. If TSR's 3rd edition of D&D had hit the shelves it would have been a fantasy version of Alternity; which was only going to happen if Alternity had been a success for TSR, at least according to Mr. Tweet.

  7. Interesting, thanks for that research.