I gave up playing AD&D sometime in the early 1990s, and switched to largely Rolemaster for a good period of time, only coming back to D&D with 3rd edition after a very system-agnostic friend recommended it. For all that time I never regretted leaving AD&D behind, though I have many fond memories of it. My problems with it were primarily that for all the crunchy system and complexity, you just didn’t get a particularly big benefit in terms of realism or diversity of gaming experience. Maybe also I got bored of playing the same system for 8 years or so (what can I say? I was young!)
So recently I was surprised to have my nostalgia for the system reawoken by a most unexpected agent: Mobbunited. I don’t know if this is well known around the traps, but this most new school and anti-OSR of bloggers has spent a long time now GMing AD&D first edition, in a campaign known as the “100 Million Days.” His explanation of why he likes playing AD&D and its good points made me think about my experiences of the game and its complexities, and I think I agree with Mobbunited’s experience: I never really played it properly as a child. So many of the rules that make AD&D so complex I just dropped, and reduced it to a kind of second-rate version of 3rd edition, all THAC0s and spells. But Mobbunited says of the game he plays:
Once you look closely, you come to understand that with all the bells and whistles intact, AD&D1e is a game of remarkable cohesion and subtlety. You can encounter some crazy things, but encounter reactions determine whether you’ll step right in to a fight. Charisma is an extraordinarily powerful ability score because it influences henchman and hireling numbers and loyalty. Weapon vs. AC adjustments justify the large weapon table. So do the special abilities of certain weapons. It’s not a perfect game, but it’s not just a bunch of crazy shit hacked together in the way even supporters claim. It sure seemed that way to me when I was a teenager, but I played it in an impatient, edited form.
The key points that he identifies here are all the rules I ignored as a child, and his revelation as an adult gamer was that the system is completely different without these special rules, and the hacked together version doesn’t work without them. He shows this in some of his play reports, where the interaction of random encounter tables, the module design, and the reaction charts really makes interesting things happen. The game he describes sounds like something I want to play and, perversely, something that the younger me, shifting from AD&D to RM, was definitely looking for. I could have tried re-reading those books and incorporating all that crunch, and no doubt the game would still have been easier to GM than Rolemaster, but perhaps with all the additional excitement and interest that comes with the well-designed Rolemaster crunch. Who can say, now, when I’ve lost the books and haven’t played anything like it for years?
Out of interest I downloaded the OSRIC pdf to investigate it and see how it matched Mobbunited’s description, but it doesn’t have anything like the same depth and complexity that I remember from the original rules. Cracking open the 1st Edition Player’s Handbook really was like opening a lost tome of secrets, and poring over the spell lists and equipment tables in those books really did feel like entering an arcane world (especially given the obscure references and complex layout of the book meant playing it was a bit like decoding ancient writings). But OSRIC is simple and streamlined and much of the depth and complexity has been taken out of it. Mobbunited himself says that “It looks to me that this half-game is the AD&D OSRIC emulates.” I think I agree with him and, if I were to consider an AD&D excursion again, I think I would try to do it in the original form, perhaps using some of Mobbunited’s altD&D rules. In fact, just for the sake of nostalgia, getting hold of the original AD&D rulebooks would be a pleasant idea. Perhaps I should do it, and see where all that crunch leads me … Who said this dog is too young to learn old tricks?