Wednesday, 18 January 2012

So why did I fall out of love with old D&D?

It’s a good question. I picked up the AD&D 2nd Edition rulebooks this week and I’ve spent the last couple of nights reading through them, trying to remember why it was I turned my back on the system way back in 1989/1990. After reading the Player’s Handbook and the Dungeon Master’s Guide I kind of remember.

First of all I loved looking at the books again. It’s been a hell of a long time and it was nice to go through the musty old pages. I know it was a long time ago but some of the art hasn’t aged well. I was screwing up my face a lot and thinking ‘why did they use that image?’, but then I got to the obvious image of the priestess from Red Sonja on page 80 of the PHB and figured, ‘well, they obviously didn’t give a toss.’ Some of the images are positively atrocious, but some of it was good. A lot of it was trying to do something sadly lacking from much of the art used these days – they were trying to impart a sense of reality.

I’ve addressed this in a previous blog entry, but the art used in modern D&D is far too stylised and cartoonish for me to take it seriously, and that kind of yanks me out of the reality of the game. The art may not be great in these original books but it tried to create atmosphere and didn’t try to impress with razzle-dazzle insanely impossible armour and weapons.

The way it’s written is quite cool, as well. It explains the rules clearly and is well presented, and it gives all kinds of flavour on how to run the game. It includes a lot of rules that are optional, depending on how detailed you want your game to be. You could run it as complicated as you wanted, or as basic as… well… Basic D&D. That’s a nice touch. It’s really well written and at times I could see myself playing it. I certainly remember sitting at a dining table back in 1989 and poring over the book, trying to decide what I wanted to play and how I wanted to play it. Those memories remind me of the music of Van Halen, for some reason, and Wagner’s Ring Cycle. Weird.

So why did I fall out of love with it? Well, looking at the books I’m sure it was a combination of things but the two main ones are:

1. Weighed down by rules. Yeah, a lot of them were optional but as you go through the book I just felt that I needed all these little extras to make the character better and fell into the trap of using them all. Basic D&D was nice and simple. It just seemed that they had the chance to really smooth out AD&D with the second edition but fell back on the old concepts, relying on those dodgy saving throws and pointless ability-based rules and adjustments – same basic system, just explained better. Not a bad system, by any means, and the fact it lasted so long speaks volumes.

2. The game I was in. I’m not going to name any names, but I was in a couple of different groups and I played semi-regularly so I was gaming with many different people. Anyway, one of the campaign worlds I was in wasn’t great. Ravenloft crossed with Dragonlance. It was a rules-twisting nightmare of a game with powerplayers, system abusers and egoists all vying for domination, and a DM who thought he was the dog’s danglies. I learned a lot from him, like, how not to do it. That didn’t help.

So, is that it? Could I have been turned off from D&D by the rules and the dodgy game I was playing in? Most likely, but I’m sure it must have been something else.

And it was.

AD&D wasn’t giving me what I needed anymore. I was turning to games that were a bit more skill-orientated with characters a little more defined by their capabilities. I started to play Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay and the Middle-Earth Roleplaying game where I could see on the sheet how good someone was with a sword or a bow and not wonder how good someone was based on that awful THAC0. AD&D just felt like it was lacking something and was starting to feel somewhat bloated with all the campaign settings, additions and the constant extra bits supplied by Dragon magazine (which, to be fair, I still bought long after I stopped playing the game). I felt like I was constantly playing catch up with it. And that constantly expanding Monster Manual Compendium thingy. Sheesh. I did love the Forgotten Realms setting and would have enjoyed getting into Birthright, mind you.

I don’t think I truly fell out of love with AD&D or D&D in general. I think we grew apart, that there were other, shinier games that attracted my attention, games I was much more compatible with and treated me well. As much fun as I had with D&D I had my best games and most memorable games with WFRP and MERP, powerful dramatic sessions with huge story arcs and detailed characters. Things I never got from D&D.

I had fun with D&D, I know that – after all, I played it for five years – but it never gave me the options I really wanted. It felt like they were bolting on rules and extras to a system that desperately needed a makeover, a makeover it didn’t see until 3rd Edition. That was a game a bit more up my street, and I didn’t even get hold of that until a year ago.

I do miss the game, but I think I miss it in a nostalgic way. As much as I’ve enjoyed reading these AD&D 2nd Edition books and seen areas where I might have enjoyed running it, I don’t think I ever can. It’s a first love kind of thing, an affair that I remember with fondness but can’t go back to. There are rules systems now that I can get much more enjoyment from.

I’m glad I bought them.

I'm not sure this blog post made much sense, to be honest. I blame the vodka.