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Splenetics:

AD&D is the Tool of Satan!

By Gary Pellino

In which the author attempts to come to terms with his pathological hatred for AD&D and all it stands for

In case you were wondering, "splenetic" means "marked by bad temper, malevolence or spite".

I hate to admit it, but I actually agree with Pat Pulling on something. Raving loonies she and all her Fundamentalist cronies may be, yet I find myself concurring with them on one point: AD&D is very probably the tool of Satan. At the very least, it is a thing of evil that has less right to walk God's clean earth than Bill Gates. It is obvious to me that AD&D is a huge, rotting dinosaur that sticks out quite clearly as a low point in the world of RPG's. However, popular opinion seems to be against me in this respect. So I'd like to take this opportunity to try and explain myself. I have four points:

1. The system is seriously flawed.

For some more information about how D&D came about, see our article on the History of Roleplaying.

When D&D was first designed, not much attention was placed on making the rules particularly elegant or simple. This is because the market at the time was purely wargamers and the makers were wargamers. The system borrowed a bit here and there from wargaming, and ended up a mish-mash of ideas both bad and good. It was incomplete, confusing and lacking in any real design structure, but it was playable.

Since then, RPG rules systems have come along way. However, AD&D didn't come with them. Instead, every time they released a new edition or revision, they would simply graft on a few more reams of rules to the old system. They never thought to go back and refine, correct or eliminate all the old ideas that didn't work. Result? AD&D is now a huge, convoluted, mish-mash of ideas, over-complex and over-detailed and yet still containing the same flaws it always had. To be still using such prehistoric concepts as alignments and classes nowadays seems almost an insult to the intelligence.

Alternity is set to hit the shelves real soon in the US. As soon as we hear more, we'll let you know.

To be fair, TSR have recently caught up a bit. In the recent Skills and Powers expansion rules, a point-based character system was detailed. Gee, and only 14 or so years after the revolutionary Champions first pioneered that idea! And only after nearly every other game system has followed suit to some extent. Likewise, TSR is to make yet another "revolutionary" move in their new SF game, Alternity. Apparently, it will have (gasp!) a universal mechanic. Ars Magica introduced this elegant idea over 10 years ago, and it also has become a mainstay in the industry. I find it quite tragic when TSR actually boast in their press releases that these are somehow amazing steps in game design, rather than a last desperate attempt to get themselves up with the times.

Let's face facts, AD&D has a poor system. It is too regimental and complex, yet terrible in simulating reality. It is a system that actually encourages hack and slash: players can only advance by killing more things. It is also a system that actually encourages power gaming: at the higher levels, players can face off gods and not be fazed. Plus, it is a system that actually encourages rules lawyers: with all those complex rules, it becomes impossible not to have to delve into the book every five minutes to make sure you aren't contradicting yourself, or missing something that everyone else knows about. In short, it contains all the classic problems that can turn a good evening role-playing into a pathetic exercise in dice-rolling.

Though AD&D has an encyclopaedia's worth of rules, there have only ever been two editions released of the core rules - the first in 1979, and the second ten years later.

Of course, you could say that AD&D can be played how you choose, using only those rules you deem necessary. I'm sorry, but this is like allowing Catholic sermons to be in English rather than Latin. The AD&D system is rooted in so much anachronistic and irrational mumbo-jumbo that taking out a few bells and whistles aren't going to change anything very much. At least, not enough to make it enjoyable.

2. The game has no focus.

Originally, the styling of D&D was based on Tolkien's Lord of the Rings novels. The original rulebooks even mentioned Hobbits, until Tolkien's lawyers intervened. So D&D invented the "psuedo-Tolkeinish" fantasy world. This insidious creation spread throughout the industry just as a similar idea spread through the literary community. In the end, though, authors realised that merely copying Tolkein was not enough - they needed a distinct, intensive and intricately designed world to capture readers' attentions. Most RPG's also took the hint. Once more, AD&D was left behind, clinging on to its outdated ideas because it couldn't be bothered thinking of any new ones.

Forgotten Realms, you say? Bah - the worst offender of all the pseudo-Tolkeiners. The same goes for Krynn. These worlds have very little to offer in terms of depth, distinctness or any sort of ethos in which you could actually become engrossed. Consequently, every single AD&D adventure lacks any real punch. How many times can you meet at the Gold Dragon Inn to go off to far away StrangeLand and fight the evil mage BadGuy? This lack of focus robs the game of any possible emotional identification with a scenario, and thus destroys any remote possibility of role-playing that hasn't been already killed off by the invasive rules.

Speaking of Ravenloft, its campaign setting has just been completely revised, turning it into something far more permanent and, so we've heard, much scarier.

Lately, as with the rules, TSR have taken some steps to rectify this problem. Ravenloft is limited, but has potential. Planescape is bizarre, but quite intriguing. And DarkSun is one of the best campaign worlds ever designed, just bursting at the seams with powerful imagery and ethos. Once again, though, it seems to me to be a case of too little, too late.

So, again, let's face facts: the AD&D "standard fantasy setting", which has now become a mainstay, is probably the least interesting setting for any RPG. It has too much scope and hence fails to cover anything with sufficient depth and detail to make it believable. And if the players aren't engrossed in their world, the game is never going to work, no matter how good the GM is.

Of course, you could always take AD&D and play it in the world of your choice. But it seems well established these days that game systems should be written to fit a game world, or be purely generic. And why should you have to go to the arduous task of adjusting their clunky system to your world? Games should provide for this sort of thing, or at least, expediate it.. As it stands, AD&D offers a pathetic excuse for a setting, and a limp system which is not particularly designed for one setting or another. This is just not good enough in a modern RPG.

3. The game involves a closed mindset.

You ever notice how whenever people outside of the hobby mention role-playing games, they invariably talk about AD&D. It's fair enough: it is the original, the oldest and the biggest of all RPG's. What is a problem is when this same narrow-mindedness pops up in people inside the hobby. So many gamers I've met have never played anything in their life but AD&D. Some of them'd probably be surprised to hear there ARE other games besides AD&D!

It has been brought to our attention that some unkind people refer to TSR as T$R. Of course, we'd never stoop so low...

To make it worse, TSR encourages this sort of thing. Within the AD&D universe, there is enough scope for players to never really run out of games: TSR produce so many different settings, campaigns, modules and rules options every year that you could never hope to play them all. Yet each is essentially exactly the same game, and is based on exactly the same mindset. And if you do get bored, well you could play the Official TSR CCG's, or CDG's, or read their sanctioned magazines and commissioned novels, or play their affiliated computer games, or wear their line of clothes, etc etc etc. You can effectively get all your leisure needs from TSR without ever having the problem of facing a new idea.

TSR loves this idea because it means they have a constant market of fan-boys ready to snap up whatever piece of crap they choose to produce next. But this closed mindedness stops people from going on to other, better games. From finding the world outside the AD&D paradigm, from experience new worlds and new systems, from getting the most possible out of their hobby. It locks people into one small area of the hobby, which, as I have demonstrated, is far from being ideal. On top of this, the snobbish attitude that this creates in AD&D disciples is destructive to the gaming community in general. Inducing such a closed mindset in its players is probably the worst of AD&D's crimes.

4. The end is nigh.

There is one more reason why I harbour a deep hatred for AD&D. It stems from the fact that it was recently purchased by Wizards of the Coast. Now, Wizards are a big company, and enjoy making loads of money from things like CCG's, rather than barely making a profit from RPG's. In fact, the last three RPG's that the Wizards "absorbed" where fairly quickly shut down or discarded, including the legendary Ars Magica. Given that Wizards bailed out TSR from deep financial doo-doo, how long is it going to be before the Wizards decide AD&D just isn't cutting it?

The recent AD&D campaing, "The Rod of Seven Parts", does in fact suggest using TSR's SpellFire CCG to simulate magic.

Oh, it'll be slow at first. First they'll introduce a new CCG, based on AD&D. Then they'll give you rules for using it in AD&D. Eventually, the dice will be replaced with the cards. And slowly, AD&D as we know it will evaporate into thin air, until it is just another Magic clone, and being sold in gift-shops for five bucks a bag. And given that AD&D players probably make up over 50% of the entire RPG industry, and given that it is still one of the major games that introduce newcomers into the hobby, this is not a good thing. This is a very, very bad thing. Oh sure, the old hard-timers won't stop, but this would not stop such a move from being seriously damaging to the whole hobby, if not fatal.

AD&D's to blame, of course. It is because of their slackness towards producing a playable system and an interesting world that they went bankrupt. It is because of the closed mindset it projects that when it goes it will take its audience with it. And so the rotting hulk collapses and takes our hobby down with it. Or, alternatively, people start realising there's more to role-playing than AD&D. People begin to realise that TSR are NOT the RPG gods, and, in fact, wouldn't know a good RPG if it biffed them in the face with a frying pan. People begin shake off the old ways of gaming and try something new in - turn away from elves and dwarves and play ghosts, or FBI agents or (heaven forbid!) ordinary people.

If you'd like to take issue with the author over any of his points, or just scream at him for a while, you can mail him via us.

Hey, I started with AD&D. We all did. I know how easy it is to get sentimental about it all. But sometime you have to grow up. AD&D is the godfather of role-playing, and will never be forgotten for what it was. But it is also completely outdated, outmoded and outclassed in today's gaming world. In all ways, AD&D represents the past of our hobby. Isn't it time we stopped living in the past, and embraced the present?


Splenetics is a column for writers to express their viewpoints on the hobby, whatever they may be. If you have something you'd like to get off your chest, write it down and send it to us at editors@ptgptb.org The opinions put forward here are not necessarily the views of PTG, PTB or its editors.

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