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What Up, Holmes?
I mentioned a while back that I ordered a copy of Holmes edition D&D, and wound up with just the box and some other odd items. Well, I was able to purchase the missing books individually on eBay and yesterday the last part arrived, so now my Holmes edition box is complete (except for dice).

The Holmes rulebook is a very interesting read, and clearly the missing link between the Little Brown Books (LBBs) of OD&D and BX edition. There are a few oddities unique to the edition, including a 5 part alignment system (LE, LG, N, CE, CG) and a stance on race as class vs. race and class that seems to sit on the fence. The book hints at race and class being separate, but then only provides one class option for each of the non human races, referring the reader to AD&D for more options. In fact, it seems this edition refers to AD&D quite a lot, and is a much more obvious attempt at an introduction to AD&D than a separate game unto itself like BX.

Recently I've been keeping my 1st edition DMG at my desk at work, originally brought in to get a rough idea for how much to charge my lunchtime players for the services of an alchemist to identify the potions they've found. (An idea they've talked about, but not implemented yet.) I've since found it useful for esoteric items like that, where I have really no idea where to start with a ruling. I don't always go with the DMG's rule, but it at least gives me a launching off point.

This combined with reading Holmes I think has given me a little more appreciation for how these various editions really interrelate. As I've re-acquired these old editions, I've tried to consider each in a bubble as it's own game. I think BX holds up pretty well in this case, but I never was able to read through the entirety of the DMG and as such 1st edition still has an odd vagary about it for me. Between the PHB and DMG, I just couldn't seem to nail down the basics of how to run a 1st edition game.

I now think it's a mistake to consider 1st edition all on its own like that. The DMG has become much more valuable to me now that I treat it like a reference book rather than trying to read it cover to cover. I think that's likely the way it was intended. I suspect that the intended audience for AD&D was people who already knew the basics on how to play, whether from OD&D, Holmes, or Moldvay.

In fact, if you take basic gameplay knowledge for granted, each of the core 1st edition books has a clear role. The PHB isn't a manual for how to play the game, it's a player's reference geared mostly at creation and maintenance of player characters, with a few odd core mechanics rules added for quick reference. The monster manual is clearly a reference book, it's a dictionary of monsters. The DMG, as I've said, seems to work much better when used to look up rules when you don't know where to start, and otherwise ignored.

The evolution is now really starting to gel for me. Once you had BX and the core 1st edition books, there was clearly still a book missing: an intro to AD&D. Of course, with all the above material an intelligent person can (and I'm sure did) extrapolate that information. However, I think we can see how in 2e the PHB starts to take on that role as well, becoming both the introduction and the player's rules reference, leaving the DMG and MM to remain as reference books. By 3e, the PHB is starting to take over the DMG's role as a complete rules reference, and the information in the DMG is becoming so esoteric it's almost completely unused.

I wonder what the game would have been like if the Basic/Advanced divide never happened. What if BX had gone the route of really being just like AD&D but stripped down to solely levels 1-3 and dungeon environments. What if they had stripped the word 'Advanced' from their branding, and there was simply an 'Intro to D&D' box set, plus the PHB, MM, and DMG. Would this extra cohesiveness improved the game? Would the game still have evolved into the board-game/MMO wannabe it is today?

I don't know, maybe it wouldn't have changed anything. Though at least I would've been slightly less confused about what the hell to spend my allowance on when I was 8.
July 22nd, 2009 - 11:14 am | Comments (0) | PERMALINK

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