Wednesday, April 7, 2010

An odd realization on the way to defining "real D&D."

So I'm thinking again, as I sometimes do, about how I define "classic D&D" or, to put it less diplomatically, "real D&D." That is, editions of the game that I consider worthy of the Name and playable without reservation.

It seems that there are three very specific rules that appear both in every single "real D&D" iteration and in none of their lesser aspirants:

a) Alignment language

b) Encumbrance measured in coin (cn) units


c) The designation of one player as the party caller

These three traditions all dropped off the map completely in the post-Gygaxian era and haven't been seen since.

I can't think of any other long-standing rules that vanished so cleanly from the published game at exactly that junction. How about you?


  1. The inane psionics system in AD&D. As well as the early version of prestige class that was the bard.

  2. XP for loot.

    Or am I guilty of a Silver Age 'folk D&D' solecism there?

  3. Death at 0 hp.

    I do miss the "caller" feature. Don't miss the cn encumbrance. I found it too detailed, and like the idea of using "stone-weight" instead. Alignment languages could have been interesting, but we never used them.

  4. "The inane psionics system in AD&D."

    Was revised for 2E. Also, psionics never made it into Holmes, Molvay, or Mentzer.

  5. To clarify: I'm talking about rules that appeared *in every version of the game before 2E*, but *never again afterward*.

  6. So could one tack on alignment languages, encumbrance values in coins, and party caller designation to the d20 SRD and make the easiest retro-clone ever?

  7. "So could one tack on alignment languages, encumbrance values in coins, and party caller designation to the d20 SRD and make the easiest retro-clone ever?"

    I'm not sure what you mean? Obviously, rules that were added to the game later on (as in d20 D&D) are a whole different issue than ones present from the start that were later abandoned, which is what I'm pondering here.

  8. XP for loot was optional in 2e, if I recall. It was (also?) an individual XP award for Rogue Group classes.

  9. Nothing serious was meant by my comment, merely poking fun at the idea that any particular subsystem contributes to whether or not a game is "Classic D&D" or not, a viewpoint which I understand is not the intention of your post, you were merely pointing out an interesting tidbit that may or may not contribute in some significant way to the (perceived by some, myself included) downfall of D&D.

    Honestly, I don't really see these rules in particular as having much of anything to do with the old school flavor. Take any of these rules out of OD&D and you're still going to have a decidedly different game than 2E and beyond. Not that you ever said or implied otherwise.

  10. (Here via Sandbox of Doom, btw.)

    In my experience (started playing in 1977, have been mostly on hiatus for the past 15+ years), most of the campaigns I played in dropped at least two of these. Granted, my experience isn't that broad, but I'd argue that seldom-used rules (especially ones that aren't part of the core of the rules set) are going to be easy to strip out.

    So for example, I *never* played in a game where the DM insisted on having a caller. Never. None of the people I generally gamed with (many of whom had broader experience than I) spoke fondly or nostalgically of having one in other games.

    Alignment languages made much more sense with the original 1-d alignment system; as soon as alignment became more behavioral than factional they were doomed.

    Encumbrances in coins is kind of like distances in scale inches--an artifact of the game's roots in miniatures wargaming. As such, I'm not surprised to see them go the same way as the miniatures combat equivalents that were (IIRC) dropped between Greyhawk and Blackmoor. Interestingly, the only game I played in that kept alignment languages also used metric measurements--encumbrance in kg, speed in m/sec, and a formula [1] for determining just how much that armor slows you down.

    [1] Variant rules set designed by bored maths PhD.

  11. The idea of the caller went by the wayside because the typical gaming group was so much smaller than it was in the early days back in Lake Geneva. Gary would speak of having 20 players at a session sometimes. In such a circumstance, a caller becomes a necessity.

    When you've got a party that consists of 3 or 6 players, it becomes much less of a necessity.