Monday, November 29, 2021

How to read the AD&D Rulebooks, Part I

Recently, the blokes over at the GGNoRe podcast decided to roll up 1e AD&D characters. [The episode in question is on their Patreon feed, so you'll have to cough up a dollar--or more, if you like--to listen.]  Abunch of non-old timers try to spelunk their way through the rules, hampered by the fact that only the DM has access to the PHB; hilarity ensues. They're trying to do it rules as written--which, I will argue, is not practical and has never actually been done before--except as short lived experiments by people hoping to prove that AD&D was no fun. They're doing this for entertainment value so carry on.

But, inspired by their bumbling attempt at deciphering the rules, I decided to compile guidelines for reading and interpreting the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons rules not as written but as played back in the day. Hence:

Dice Chucker's Guide to AD&D

First of all, you'll want to avoid reading the text as much as possible. Gygax liked to use a lot of words where only a few were needed, so perusing his verbose explanations can be very taxing on your attention span.

Instead, you'll want to skip the text and check out the tables and illustrations, they do a pretty good job of explaining most of what you actually need to know to play the game; assuming you already have a basic understanding of how the game is played. Treat the tables like stepping stones and the text as a pool of murky sludge. You'll want to stay on the stepping stones as much as possible, dipping into the murky sludge only on those occasions when you're fairly certain there's a piece of treasure to be had not far below the surface.

With that in mind, if something is not immediately obvious from the table, scan the adjoining text for clarification. If no clarification is provided in the text on that page, it can probably be safely ignored. In fact, 

Ignoring/altering rules is absolutely imperative to playing a functional and historically accurate game of AD&D. 

To this end I've come up with some guidelines for helping you determine whether a rule should be ignored--or at least altered in some way. 

DiceChucker's Rules for Ignoring Rules in AD&D

Please feel free to ignore a printed rule if any of the following conditions apply:

  1. The meaning of the rule is not made clear using a table, illustration, or concise paragraph of text--if you have to read several paragraphs, refer to a second volume, or turn more than a single page to get an explanation of a rule then it is probably going to be ignored.
  2. The rule defies common sense--use common sense here.
  3. The rule was made solely to thwart the PCs--some rules just seem like they were dreamt up by an angry DM who was tired of his plans being foiled by clever players.
  4. The rule is too complex or impracticable to have a positive impact on your game--how many people pay attention to encumbrance rules in any edition?
  5. The rule just doesn't come into play--maybe it's made superfluous by some other rule or is just not relevant to the way you play the game. This is the classic "It's not you, it's me" situation. 

For organizational reasons, I'm going to end this post here, but fear not bored individual, I shall return shortly with some further guidance on reading and rendering fruitful the wondrous tome that is the AD&D Players Handbook.


Dennis Laffey said...

That pretty much squares with how my friends and I played AD&D back in the day. If the AD&D rules were more baroque or opaque than what was in the Basic or Expert sets, we used the BECMI rules instead.

5E people, I can vouch for this!

Rick said...

This is so so true.

We basically used Becmi mashed, and used AD&D whenever we thought we needed a rule for something weird, like sailing or something...