Friday, December 19, 2014

Delving into AD&D: How combat is supposed work.

+Erik Tenkar blogs on casting time segments in ADnD 1st edition. For me the gold standard for figure how combat is supposed to work by the book in first edition is DM Prata's A.D.D.I.C.T essay over on Dragonsfoot.

The two main things I learned from reading ADDICT is that
  • Speed Factors only come into play with a tied initiative.
  • That side (or individual) starts on the segment indicated on opponent's die roll.
The second point needs some further explanation. What the convoluted explanation in the DMG boils down too is that if I rolled a 5 for initiative and you roll a 2 for initiative. This means you start on segment 5 and I start on segment 2. If I was a spell caster, that would mean that I would cast any 1 or 2 segments spells before you could act. If  I cast a 3 segment spell we would go at the same rime. Or rather we would then go to the speed factor rules to see who go first. If you have  a speed factor 2 or less weapon you would go before me because of the 3 segment casting time. If you had a speed factor 3 weapon, then the spell and the melee attack would be simultaneous.

The most important thing about ADDICT is that it reinforced the feeling I was developing about ADnD 1st Edition. That the game as a system didn't deserve to be on the pedestal I placed it on. Don't get me wrong, I think the writing and aides in the DMG are pure gold, I think the PHB reflects what most people want for their characters when playing classic DnD. The Monster Manual likewise is still a classic in my eyes. But is more of a ODnD book than a ADnD book.

With Playing at the World and Hawk and Moor documenting and explaining the genesis of Dungeons and Dragons, I fine myself respecting ODnD far more than ADnD. Why? Because it was developed as a direct result of Gygax running his campaign. Despite is poor presentation almost everything in that book was actually used at some point by Gygax. 

In contrast ADnD 1st edition feels more or less designed. I haven't read any account of Gygax actually using the combat system in the DMG, or other subsystems like Pummeling, Grappling, and Overbearing. The few accounts of I read suggest that there is a whole lot of "Well that seems like a good idea, lets put it in." and little actual playing of the content. And on top of that, TSR was being bombarded by rule questions, and having to deal with tournaments*. Which I feel had a major influence on what Gygax focused on.

I realize that Gygax did play some of ADnD but it wasn't developed the same way as DnD**. I do realize that some parts of ADnD improved on ODnD especially in terms of clarity.

However the differences in how they were developed is why I opted to build the Majestic Wilderlands on top of Swords and Wizardry instead of OSRIC. The Majestic Wilderlands is born of what I actually did in my campaigns and ODnD proved to be a better fit than ADnD.

*Organized play has been both a boon and a bane for tabletop RPGs from the beginning. in the 1970s to today.

**For modern example of a RPG designed this way, look at Goodman Games DCC RPG. +Joseph Goodman+Harley Stroh, and their team spent countless sessions of actual play, playtesting the game before it was printed. It is my opinion is that it is best way to a good design if you have the time and resources to do it.


Chris C. said...

Very interesting observations Rob.

Roger G-S said...

A very good point. I often goggled at sections of the DMG like training costs, disease percentages, etc. and wondered how anyone could run a campaign like that!

Alec Semicognito said...

I'm sure you're right about evolution being behind OD&D and design behind AD&D. Meanwhile, isn't it amazing that in 2014 there are still serious discussions to be had about how AD&D is supposed to work? ;)

Chris Mata said...


Point 2 is something I have never noticed in 30 years of gaming.

did that carry over to 2nd ed?

Terrex said...

Segment-based initiative gives a host of interesting combat choices, esp. when both sides are employing spells. It's one of my favorite aspects of AD&D.

Rob Conley said...

@Chris Mata,
I understand completely I tried to run AD&D by the book several times back in the day and I missed it as well. I understood that the losing die roll had something to do as to when the spell started to be cast. But I followed the steps of the example that Gygax gave.

It wasn't until I read ADDICT that I realize what Gygax was getting at.

William Dowie said...

I wanted to have something cool to add to the conversation here, but everyone else seems to have beaten me to the punch; so all I can say is I agree, it does seem that much of AD&D was not playtested and I didn't really understand AD&D combat until I read the ADDICT essay. Additionally, I also believe that the Monster Manual was really just the last OD&D book more than it was the 1st AD&D book and Gygax really seems to have never actually moved on to AD&D except, perhaps, as a revenue stream for TSR.

Ken H said...

@William: I think you may be right about the AD&D 1e Monster Manual, particularly in light of the publication date (1977) versus the PHB (1978) and DMG (1979). OD&D and the supplements were still the ruleset, along with Holmes.

As AD&D was slowly being rolled out, there was also a whole series of Basic releases. Based on my reading of that period at TSR, it seems things were chaotic, to say the least.

Matt Celis said...

People put roleplaying game books on pedestals?