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Classic D&D: I used to think...

I moved pretty quickly from the classic D&D I started with circa 1981 to AD&D, thinking that AD&D was clearly superior. Later on, I moved from AD&D to other games thinking they were clearly superior. During the later 1990s I looked back at classic D&D & saw a lot that I liked. (In fact, my initial excitement about 3e was because of the similarities to classic D&D that I saw in it.)

I first wrote some of the following “I used to think...now I think” snippets in 2004 on Wizards’ of the Caoast “D&D Out of print” forum. By then I had regained a lot of respect for the classic game.

I had found that there were still people playing the old games despite knowing the “modern” alterantives. Instead of looking at aspects of the game & seeing them as broken, I tried to see how they could work.

It was wonderful in those early days—before I really discovered AD&D—how I just blindly accepted the game for what it was. Somehow I started having different notions of what the game should be instead of just taking it for what it was. In some of the cases below, I think I originally held the “now I think” position, but somehow drifted into the “used to think” position.

Another interesting thing is that my “now I think” bits sometimes contain two seemingly contradictory statements.

I used to think: The classic D&D race classes are silly. Don’t elves & dwarves have clerics?

Now I think:

  1. Not every option available in the world needs to be available to PCs.
  2. There’s a common idea in sci-fi & fantasy that humans’ advantage is their adaptability. Race classes support that idea.
  3. I prefer demihumans to be rarer than humans. Guess its something I picked up from my favorite legends & literature in which the non-humans tend to be sidekicks. Race classes tend to make demihumans rarer.

I used to think: Classic D&D doesn’t offer enough flexibility to create the character I want to.

Now I think: It’s a game. It’s a game of coöperation between players. A game of coöperation between players is often better when each player has more limited options. PCs created by the rules can be just as much fun (if not more fun) to play than my favorite book/movie character or munchkin idea.

I used to think: Priests shouldn’t fight better than magic-users.

Now I think:

  1. Clerics aren’t priests.
  2. NPC priests don’t need to follow PC rules.

I used to think: Classic D&D wasn’t detailed enough.

Now I think: Classic D&D lets you make the game your own by filling in the details yourself.

I used to think: Classic D&D isn’t rich enough. Not enough classes, races, spells, monsters, treasures, &c.

Now I think:

  1. More options do not necessarily make a better game.
  2. Those are opportunities to exercise your creativity & make the game your own.

I used to think: Skill based systems are better.

Now I think: Skills & classes are two ends of a continuum. I prefer the more abstract end & find it—under a good DM—provides more versimilitude in a simpler package than a system with extremely discrete skills.

I used to think: Classic D&D isn’t consistant enough mechanically.

Now I think:

  1. Different things deserve different mechanics. One size does not always fit all.
  2. Classic D&D is so mechanically simple, consistency wouldn’t really buy you much. There aren’t very many subsystems, they are all dead simple, & only a few make up the bulk of play.
  3. See On unified mechanics

I used to think: Classic D&D combat needs more tactical options to make player decisions more important.

Now I think:

  1. A complex rule system only makes player decisions important if one participant has mastered the system & knows the optimal strategies while his opponent hasn’t. If both sides know the optimal strategies, the outcome of the complex system isn’t very different from the outcome of a simple system.
  2. To make their decisions matter, players need to think strategically, at a higher level than the combat rules.

I used to think: Classic D&D doesn’t tell me how to handle spotting, swiming, climbing for non-thieves, &c.

Now I think: The DM can rule on such things using common sense. He can augment his judgements with ad hoc die rolls.

I used to think: It was silly that non-thieves couldn’t sneak or hide or climb.

Now I think: See On thief skills in classic D&D

I used to think: Save or die was unfair.

Now I think: Save or die is gracious. If you are rolling a saving throw to avoid death, it means your PC did something worthy of death. Be thankful for the chance to survive that you don’t deserve. Be more cautious in the future.