the pulsating heart of AD&D

Skidoo, one of the regulars in our on-going Pendragon epic, wrote insanely awesome combat charts for how to play Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (1e) “by the book,” near as he can figure out.  Everything is explained in flowcharts.  Because Skidoo has done this, and has spent session after session watching his knight’s agenda go down in flames before the titanic incompetence of my own Sir Carabad, I must conclude that Skidoo is a masochist.  But a devilishly handsome one.

But the files are right here (36 meg PDF), and this is Skidoo’s explanation for what he’s done:

skidoo’s explanation for spending time away from his family

Hi.This is a combat flowchart for AD&D 1st Edition, by the book.  It attempts to include all the rules in the three core rule books (PHB, DMG, MM).Everybody playing AD&D 1E ignores some of these rules.  I wondered if it was possible to include all of them in a game, when I joined a campaign that attempted to play AD&D strictly by-the-book.  I created this flowchart to see how all the combat rules fit together, to see if it’s possible to play through combat with all the rules, and what that might look like.I admit it looks nuts.
This is not:
How to play AD&D.
How I play AD&D.
How you must play AD&D to play it right.
One other point:
Because a flowchart gives as much space to a rule that’s used 2% of the time as one that’s used 98% of the time, the format makes it look like there’s a lot of rules to deal with in every combat, when there aren’t.  Many of the rules would only come into play at higher levels.  Multiple attack routines are not an issue at low levels.  BtB psionics will hardly ever happen.
In a way, it reminds me of a heavily house-ruled Basic D&D game.  I imagine many DM’s combat resolution systems would actually look just as crazy if you laid them out like this.  It’s just that the decision points and sequences are so ingrained from years of play that they don’t have to think, “Okay now I’m noting all of the spells in order of # of segments” or whatever.
I don’t have a big philosophical purpose for doing this.  I did it just so I could get my head around how it (might) work.  Kind of like dissecting a frog.  Or drawing what I think the dissected frog looks like.  Use it as you will.  Please leave a message in the comments if you have a different reading of a rule, or know one that I missed.

Special thanks to DM Prata for his ADDICT document, to which this project owes a lot, especially the chart illustrating how multiple attack routines work.  And to the makers of the game.

when you meet the buddha, kill him and take his flower sermon

(These are my opinions, not Skidoo’s.)

What I fucking love about this chart is that, at least for me, it ends the OSR as a rabbinical quest for The True Game Text.  (I suppose the rabbinical quest to play the game “as Gary actually played it in the year ______” can go on indefinitely, until we get a bunch of people with Gygax Number 1 together to thrash out that beast.)  This is Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. Everything else is just monster descriptions, maps, and character classes, all of which are simply inputs to the engine which Skidoo has exploded out for study.  And, uh, frankly it looks kind of un-fun.

This chart also ends the Edition Wars, at least for me.  I never cared about that stuff as an adult, but as a kid, even though I was playing a game called “Advanced Dungeons & Dragons,” it was the Second Edition.  I had this sneaking suspicion key things from 1e, such as demon tits, had been left out.  But dugs of darkness aside, I think Skidoo has pretty much demonstrated why creating 2e was a good idea, even if you don’t like the specific game that emerged from that redesign process.  It probably explains why the OSR seems to love Labyrinth Lord / BX and games derived from it so much.

Also, for me, this document kind of ends the OSR as an outlook.  My earliest interest in the OSR came from the puzzling realization that, despite mucking around with it for years as a child and teenager, I had never actually played Dungeons & Dragons, to the extent that “playing Dungeons & Dragons” meant playing by the rules.  But what these charts show is that, very likely, nobody has ever played Advanced Dungeons & Dragons by the rules.  Back in 2008-2009, there was a lot of reminding ourselves about “rulings not rules” and “if the rules have gaps, fill them in yourself,” and that kind of thing, as a rebellion against the comparatively rigid styles of 3e and 4e play.  But damn, man: the same problem of rigidity existed in 1979!  And people solved it the way people always solve it: by making up their own stuff to route around the bullshit: the hell with level caps and encumbrance rules.

In other words, no one has played 1e, 2e, 3e, 4e, or (likely) 5e by the rules.  Gaming didn’t need to be saved.  It had been saved the whole time. (“Saved” here of course isn’t meant to be taken seriously.)

The other thing I wonder about, when looking at these charts, is about the design process in RPG’s.  I am, despite playing D&D almost exclusively for 5 years, a Forge guy at heart, and I do believe that game design is important: it’s why I love B/X so much, for example.  But these charts, man!  When I was 9 years old, we had the super-simple Mentzer Basic rules, and we couldn’t be bothered to actually understand the text, or even read it.  We made up our own rules as we needed them, and then broke them.  Years earlier, however, poor Gary or Dave or Larry Schick or Mike Carr or Zeb Cook or whoever else, was slaving away on Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1e, with a zillion times more rules.  What’s the ratio of design effort in Lake Geneva to fun at your table?  I think us kids had a far better labor-to-fun payoff.  No matter how old you are, nothing beats Super Awesome Let’s Pretend Time.  And maybe that’s what, in practice, the players of 1e figured out too.

23 Responses to “the pulsating heart of AD&D”

  1. June 5, 2013 at 4:19 pm

    “Back in 2008-2009, there was a lot of reminding ourselves about “rulings not rules” and “if the rules have gaps, fill them in yourself,” and that kind of thing, as a rebellion against the comparatively rigid styles of 3e and 4e play. But damn, man: the same problem of rigidity existed in 1979! And people solved it the way people always solve it: by making up their own stuff to route around the bullshit: the hell with level caps and encumbrance rules.”

    OK…so? How does this translate to “The OSR is dead”?

    I guess if you’re defining OSR as “a drive to play the platonic Gygax-game of 1e” but it seems pretty clear to me that the OSR is waaaaay broader than that. Yes, sure, there are some folks who hold to that. But there are the folks who are going ahead and using old games as a jumping-off point for their own creative drives, and that’s OSR too.

    “This is Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. Everything else is just monster descriptions, maps, and character classes”

    …oddly enough, I think that the “everything else” is far more AD&D than the combat rules. :P

  2. June 5, 2013 at 4:22 pm

    This is brilliant. Thanks for the work.

  3. 4 James N.
    June 5, 2013 at 4:41 pm

    Allandros, for me the OSR was/is basically about two things: (1) historical curiosity about what these games actually said as texts and how this did or did not show up in play, and (2) a strong desire to “find freedom” from a lot of modern-day prescriptive rules BS by returning to an earlier generation of design–i.e., the Old School still had something to teach us. (Again, this is my own POV. Other people can be into the OSR for other reasons, among them the fact that D&D is a pretty fun game.)

    At this point, approximately five years on, I think (1) has been pretty definitively settled through tons and tons of analysis by many, many people. But I think what’s interesting is that you’ve got the same rules-prescriptive BS in one of the OSR’s foundational texts. Which, for me, implies that nobody ever played this game “by the book,” and nobody’s forcing you to play 3e or 4e or whatever “by the book” either. You’re free. You’ve always been free. Attending class at the Old School isn’t necessary or even all that productive. Just do your own thing.

  4. June 5, 2013 at 8:20 pm

    I can say, honestly, that I spent years playing 1e by those rules, with AC adjustments per weapon on hand and a solid knowledge of the grappling and psionic rules in my head. Of course, back then I had the entire turn sequence of Starfleet Battles memorized, too!
    Heck, I think the fact that AD&D works with *or without* those rules is part of its strength. Also, the fact that there are tons of ways to modify them and not wreck the game is a testament to its resilience.
    I think that is what a lot of people in the OSR movement want – resilience and adaptability. And, face it, the very *flavor* of a game is heavily influenced by its mechanics because those mechanics reflect assumptions that seep into everything.

  5. June 5, 2013 at 10:39 pm

    Wow! To me that sounds crazy but I am happy you had a good time! Did you guys play with the rule in the DMG where the DM gives you a grade based on your performance and then that grade governs your XP accumulation or leveling time? I cannot determine if I love that rule or detest it, but it seems very 1e to me.

    I also agree 110% about how mechanics impact game play. We have played a few sessions of James Bond 007, which is a neat game, and does some cool stuff, but every roll means consulting three look-up charts including a multiplication table. Much as I enjoy the game, that actual process of consulting spreadsheets doesn’t feel very “James Bond” to me.

  6. 7 Brendan
    June 6, 2013 at 1:00 am

    Attending class at the Old School isn’t necessary or even all that productive. Just do your own thing.

    Of course it isn’t necessary, but for me at least it has been (and continues to be) tremendously interesting and inspirational. I mean, why not? So many people are working on new, compatible things. Or noticing previously ignored or overlooked features of old texts and seeing what comes out of them (the 9 and 30 Kingdoms blog sticks out as an example of that for me).

  7. June 6, 2013 at 4:04 am

    This isn’t the AD&D I played growing up either – but it looks like a lot of fun for someone with an attention span greater than that of a twelve year old. I would print this out and play it immediately, although I’m equally tempted to start fiddling with the bits now that they’re laid bare (Weapon Speed Factors really should be more than just a tie-breaking mechanic; adding them to every initiative role just seems more sensible).

  8. June 6, 2013 at 6:21 am

    Well, I think that this may mean that the OSR could be done for you, but other people (such as myself) have come at the OSR with different goals and agendas. For myself, the OSR is about a rejection of the primacy of story that ultimately led to the Forge and the concept of “story games” or “story now” play styles (and I was once very interested in Forge-style gaming – it was when I discovered that I wasn’t having much fun playing that way that I looked around and found the OSR). It is about emphasizing actions over the alleged meanings of those actions. It includes a return to the wargaming roots of the hobby, and regains for logistics and strategic thinking a place in play that informs player choices rather than being abstracted away as supposedly “un-fun”.

    If your approach was instead one of a merely antiquarian approach to game rules themselves, a close reading like this one may indeed obviate any further interest (though it might not: now it might be interesting to explore other early play styles, such as the ideas regarding competing player groups in Witch Hunt or the flow of play in Traveller, which haven’t been given such deep exegesis as yet).

  9. June 6, 2013 at 6:45 am

    It would be fascinating to compare/contrast this with other editions/version. Is there any equivalent flow-chart for 0D&D, Holmes, B/X, BECMI or 2e(core)?

    I realize 2e+Options/3x/4e are probably far too complex to do; Though I’d be happy to see them also.

  10. June 6, 2013 at 9:04 am

    Apparently I was never concerned about this – I’ve always considered myself free to rewrite the rules or write my own game from scratch… and I’ve always shaken my head in puzzlement at anyone who didn’t get this. Welcome home, James?

    But then, I’ve never been into the archaeological end of the OSR either, nor have I ever put on the shackles (that I’ve heard about) that come with 4e.

    Someone wrote a great little piece on game designs that are broken enough that you have to house-rule them, comparing this to Betty Crocker recipes where you have to add an egg (that being your own contribution, that makes it yours not merely something out of a packet). Alas now I can’t find it. But its point was that once you’ve written your first house rule you’ve broken a barrier – from there it’s mere incremental steps to becoming a game designer yourself. This was certainly how (B/X) DnD was for me:* it turned me into a hobbyist (and later pro) game designer. I don’t know if it was intentional, but it came out of an environment where everyone was doing exactly that.

    * I found it to be broken – others didn’t, of course.

  11. June 6, 2013 at 12:10 pm

    I guess I see a distinction between the OSR, as an historical research project and ideology, and gamers who dig D&D, which is about digging the game we all love. Clearly there’s a tight relationship, but I wouldn’t say they’re identical. (And yes, I agree that the OSR should have spent a lot more time looking at Traveller, Tekumel, Metamorphosis Alpha, Villains & Vigilantes, and Rune Quest.)

  12. June 6, 2013 at 2:21 pm

    C’est magnifique, mais ce n’est pas le jeu.

  13. 14 James N.
    June 6, 2013 at 4:07 pm

    Exactly: but what do you need it for, if it’s not the game?

  14. June 7, 2013 at 1:05 am

    Spice is not the food, but you need it to cook well. Sometimes, at least.

  15. 16 Porphyre
    June 7, 2013 at 6:52 am

    Hi, the flowchart is a mind-boggling, but brilliant piece of work!
    Not knowing how to contact the author, I’m going to post the question here: the french OS conmmunity has a free Webzine that would be eager to include a traslated version of this work. Would the author give his permission?

  16. June 12, 2013 at 2:55 am

    I forget who it was who said this (Rob Conley?), but most of the people “playing AD&D” back in the ’70s and ’80s were actually just playing basic D&D with a very small handful of extra options from AD&D that looked interesting to them. The AD&D rulebooks were so poorly designed and so poorly organized and so poorly written that basically nobody bothered trying to unravel the insanely byzantine system they were describing.

    Gygax was also quite open in his later years about the fact that he never played with even 90% of the rules found in the AD&D rulebooks. If you’re looking to take a good lesson about game design away from AD&D I’d suggest that’s the one: Rules should be designed around the actual experience at the table and they need to be tested during actual play at the table.

  17. 18 skidoo
    June 12, 2013 at 3:42 am

    Porphyre: That’s fine. It’s for all to use as they will. I would appreciate it if you printed my introduction with it.

  18. 19 Porphyre
    June 13, 2013 at 7:23 pm

    We will…

  19. April 23, 2014 at 4:00 pm

    At this point, approximately five years on, I think (1) has been pretty definitively settled through tons and tons of analysis by many, many people. But I think what’s interesting is that you’ve got the same rules-prescriptive BS in one of the OSR’s foundational texts. Which, for me, implies that nobody ever played this game “by the book,” and nobody’s forcing you to play 3e or 4e or whatever “by the book” either. You’re free. You’ve always been free. Attending class at the Old School isn’t necessary or even all that productive. Just do your own thing.

    I think you’re missing one key point: social context.

    There is a strong social context to play modern iterations, especially 3e, RAW. 3e specifically embraced that with the OGL by creating a way for all material to be official.

    In the context of the late 70s and early 80s things were much looser. Sure, the DMG was this big pile of rules but people never thought of it as a proscriptive text in the way people in the 3e era did. At least, I encountered much more RAW fetish in the 90s and aughts than I did in the late 70s. I remember when Gygax started publishing the articles in The Dragon about if it’s not RAW it’s not D&D (despite what the introductions to those books said) and my reaction as well as 90%+ of the people I knew was “piss off”.

    Paul Montgomery Crabaugh captured that era best in Dragon 109 by opening his article on building B/X classes with “In the Good Old Days, the days of the original three books of the DUNGEONS & DRAGONS® game, the number of variants on the rules was roughly equal to X, where X was the number of players of the game.” Can you honestly say that could be written about the 3e or 4e era? The wargaming culture of the time was nothing was played RAW or very little was outside of tournament play at conventions or AREA play of boardgames for the old Avalon Hill system.

    I think you have pointed to a narrower view of the OSR than I’ve gotten. The OSR seems to love B/X more than AD&D because, as you do correctly point out, AD&D is the start of the line to 3e. Even Gary tried to sell that line where AD&D was tournament poker and OD&D was poker at your house although even then all variants of the others were codified. In each case: AD&D, AD&D2, 3e, and 4e the RAW were counter to the culture of gaming in the 70s where D&D was born.

    It’s also little discussed even in the OSR, although there more than other places, that the drive to RAW was economic as much as gaming derived.

    You even reveal a 3e era mindset (and a Forge mindset) here:

    This is Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. Everything else is just monster descriptions, maps, and character classes, all of which are simply inputs to the engine which Skidoo has exploded out for study.

    One of the great advances of The Forge was in game design as games with specific and tight objectives. The 70s milieu in which D&D was born is the antithesis of that mindset. You were supposed to drift games to be what you wanted. In the Forge view drift is a failure to design a game well. In the 70s view lack of drift is a failure of imagination in making the game your own.

    TSR wanted AD&D to be what was in the books, inputs to the flowchart, but it took them over a decade to achieve that. Even then they did it more by “electing a new electorate” than by changing minds. People drifted to their own games that weren’t D&D anymore whlie D&D products from BECMI/AD&D2 on emphasized RAW and TSR as the only (or at least main) source.

    I think I’m rambled enough but just to reiterate my key point I think you’re missing the social context the various books encountered in comparing the idea of RAW from 1995-2009 to 1974-1987.

  20. June 21, 2014 at 2:48 pm

    These diagrams are great.
    I’ve been pining for the same thing for GURPS for years. Even small rules that aren’t on the DM screen but seem important, like how different types of damage hurts certain beings less and so on. I never got very far in implementing it since I can’t even begin to grok GURPS. I did manage to make one for scoring in the card game Bridge, though. But it wasn’t really useful.

    I’d like to use graphviz or something so I could comment out things that weren’t used in the game.

    It’s my belief that every game designer should do one of these for their games. It helps to see where complexity can be consolidated.
    I’ve also really wanted one for the totality of ACKS! Everything from creating the map, the regions, trading, the dungeons, the turn structure and torch consumption, etc…
    I’ve said before that ACKS is written as an encyclopedia where I need an algorithm or a cookbook. Or, ideally, a flowchart.

    The first RPG I ever read, a Swedish game popularly nicknamed DoD91 originally based on BRP and Magic World, had a flowchart for its combat — though only the general gist of it, not every detail and class feature and special skill or ability that could affect it. Though we never got as far as combat with that game because the rest of it was so hard for me to understand. :/

    I love the “Random Dungeon Generator as a Dungeon Map” poster (based on the AD&D 1e DMG) you could buy a few years ago, I’ve got one right here and have been having fun with it today. That’s just a translation from an already algorithmic format, though: tables that send you to other tables. While I *much* prefer the visual/spatial version, I have no problem with the dungeon generator as written in the DMG, because it’s still just following an algorithm located compactly within a few pages.

    Something more sprawling, such as the entirety of the rules, or just a subset like exploration and encounter turns and rounds, translated into a flowchart or even translated into straight forward tables a la the DMG’s dungeon generator, is very impressive. And something I really wish for.

    I’m not saying there isn’t room for special rulings and imagination and exceptions. Again, the dungeon generator is the perfect example. There’s no space for a room there? Just skip it. Etc.

    BTW, this is the core of Apocalypse World’s greatness — it’s consistent interface with moves and fronts.
    While I don’t particularly like the game, I love it’s presentation and “do this, this, or this” mentality rather than a weird little “The ranger reduces chance of surprise” clause buried in some forgotten chapter.
    As an example, I realize as I’m re-reading ACKS that I think I forgot to apply the prime requisite XP bonus when playing in our Lab Lord game.

    For me, what I wanted out of the OSR, it’s far from over. My platonic D&D is a game I’ve seen glimpses of while playing — the feeling of interacting with the world and it’s inhabitants as a “living system” rather than trying to stumble through a “story” or trying to attain realism by fiat. Turn tracking, wandering monster rolls, hex encounters — these things make the game something more than just GM whim. We have this location, this dungeon, this wilderness. We can interact with it, poke at it, try to figure it out like a toy or a puzzle. How many torches do we bring? Where can we ambush the skeletons? etc.

    So I guess what I’ve wanted for a long time is something that rules-wise, system-wise is isomorphic to the best B/X, BECMI or ACKS can offer, but presented with the chops of something like DW or AW or, even better, these diagrams by Skidoo but applied to the totality of the rules rather than just a given fight.

    Something that includes everything from tracking in-game time (like when and what to write down in a campaign log and keep track of years and dates in Mystara [or wherever you are], down to things like turns and hours, even rounds in fights), stocking and creating dungeons and hexes piece by piece, creating characters, managing domains, figuring out populations and prices and availability…
    Is it lifeless to see everything in a confined, hand-holding way like that? Sure.
    Would it see even more criticism than 4e with its power cards and strictly defined playstyle? I guess.
    But it would be the perfect game for me.

  21. June 21, 2014 at 2:56 pm

    Oh, I didn’t realize that this was from june of LAST year. Sorry I’ve lost touch, Tavis.
    I’ve been having some troubles.
    Herb, for me 3e is no better for the simple reason that when ever I lurk on 3e or Pathfinder boards it seems that at least 90% of DMs (among those who post — vocal minority, perhaps, but it creates a culture) are fudging a lot.
    It’s more than just “drift, the rules are too complicated, we can’t keep up”. It’s the case of players playing RAW and putting work into creating characters via these complex rules, and DMs then fudging and changing monster HP and stats and sometimes die rolls in order to simulate that the game is working as intended.

    To me, there’s something unsatisfying in participating in such a system.
    I love the Forge mentality and that’s what’s attracted me via story games to OSR D&D. Here we have rules for the DM running not just a combat but a world.

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Past Adventures of the Mule

June 2013

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