Wednesday, April 1, 2009

A Special Reference Work, Indeed

I have kind of a history with the first edition Dungeon Master's Guide. When I was in fifth grade, I used to check it out from the local library over and over. Much of what I thought D&D was in those days what I managed to extrapolate from that book, Oriental Adventures, and the book Fantasy Role-Playing Games by Eric Holmes, which contained a simple little fantasy adventure and rules in it. Yeah, from those sprang a bizarre homebrew D&D that persisted in our group until one of my buddies got the AD&D 2nd Edition books and I got the D&D basic set with the red dragon on the front. Earlier this week, I finally got my own copy of the DMG.

Man, what a hot mess this book is. No chapters, information provided in an order that I'm sure makes sense to someone, but not me. It also contains a lot more information on the "True Way" of doing things than I remember, and some of the information seems to contradict the supposed tenants of old school play. Consider that the book actually advocates skipping wandering monster tables if the dungeon is well stocked or the players are eager to get to the heart of things. One of the thing about our recently ended game of S&W I often found frustrating was just getting from the damned dungeon to town and back. The wandering monster dice rolls punished us again and again with trolls, a cockatrice, and (on two separate occasions) adult dragons. This, for first level characters. In fact, ol' Gary says that the most important part of the game is "action and drama."

Zounds! Drama? Isn't that for all them new-fangled White Wolf games*?

I'm enjoying reading through the book, and it is making me think that maximum lethality is not something strictly "old school" and not an inherent part of the game. Hell, at one point, the book even refers to the player characters as "larger than life heroes and villains", which also contradicts the boot-camp, "you are nobody" feel that is often evoked in the name of retro play.

Plus, you know, it had that comic strip about Papers and Paychecks, and that shit was golden, baby.

*I actually like, run, and play White Wolf games, but I can't help but disparage even the things that I like.


  1. I cannot believe you have never owned a copy of the Dungeon Masters Guide until now. I want to hug you and strangle you all at once. Go now and read.

    You have just taken your first step into a larger world, my friend.

    Bill, the last apostle of the church of AD&D.

  2. Again, I'm not sure if your DM was really setting something up in line with old-school play..

    My defensive nature suggests this was basically setting things up to fail, or being "out to prove" something with the merciless encounters and the gotcha trap stuff. "See, doesn't rigid simulationist/btb play suck?" said the DM who knowingly ran it improperly...

    But that's just me not giving the benefit of a doubt. If I'm way off base, I apologize.

  3. Well, when I started gaming, AD&D 2nd edition was out. (The books I got from the library were already old and musty looking) I have owned copies of several Dungeon Master's Guides, just never for first edition.

  4. K. Bailey:

    I don't think he was out to prove anything, (he's a pretty nice guy) I think he was just running the game with strict impartiality.

    That being said, while I am no advocate of pulling punches, I do think that if the DM doesn't cut the players a break now and then, the numbers of low level play will certainly grind the party to nothing. Towards the end, when fatigue was visibly setting in amongst the players, he stopped rolling wandering monster checks, and let me do a few final things without rolling die. (Such as taking sweet revenge on an NPC)

  5. The Gygax writing in DMG is contradictory.
    It's a really personal work of writing I think - so much of it is given over to Gygax's observations - but man I loved the tables! Just goes to show that anytime goes through the trouble of explaining the 'One True Way', they point out the existence of all the others!

  6. When I was in fifth grade, I used to check it out from the local library over and over.

    Your library carried the DMG?!?

  7. It sure did.
    It carried the DMG, Oriental Adventures, and the Dungeoneer's Survival Guide. Also, I noticed last night that the copy I bought recently has the faded stamp of some other public library on it.