Saturday, September 05, 2015

AD&D Players Handbook part 1


It seems like not so long ago that I got done with the Monster Manual, and I've already reached another foundational work for D&D.  While the Monster Manual is officially the first book released for Advanced D&D, it's the Players Handbook that truly sets that version of the game in motion.  The Monster Manual still had a foot in Original D&D; the Players Handbook is Advanced all the way.

Before I get into the book proper, I want to make special mention of the cover by Dave Trampier.  It's been praised by many before me, but it deserves every accolade.  It's wonderfully evocative of the pulp roots of D&D, and it accurately represents the type of scene that would be common to most games.  It's also the single best piece of artwork that the game had seen at the time of publication, and it's a definite sign of the growing professionalism and design standards of TSR. The game is entering a new era.

For the unlikely reader out there who doesn't know what role the Players Handbook plays in the D&D game, I'll let the description on the title page do the work for me: "A compiled volume of information for players of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, including: character races, classes, and level abilities; spell tables and descriptions; equipment costs; weapons data; and information of adventuring."  Basically, it presents everything that the player needs to know to create a character and play the game.  Everything else (and I do mean everything) will be in the Dungeon Masters Guide.  From my perspective, having started with 2nd edition, I'm always surprised by what's not in this book.

But now, on to what is in the book.  First, the Foreword, in which TSR rules editor Mike Carr writes about the importance of players to the game, and suggests some rules of etiquette that players should abide by.  I'm amused by Carr's claim that D&D is special because "even a fair number of women are counted among those who regularly play the game".  And I dare say that his description of the game as a "cult" probably did it no favours when the game came under the scrutiny of busybodies and book-burners.  Otherwise it's an adequate opener that gets across how the book fits into the game (even though it does nothing to explain what the game actually is).

Next up is the Preface, and this is where Gary Gygax comes in with his signature prose.  (You know you're probably reading Gary when the word "perforce" gets dropped in the opening paragraph.)  AD&D was apparently begun a year-and-a-half before the PHB was published, with the Monster Manual chosen as the first product because it could be worked on piecemeal.  Gary's process for working on AD&D makes a lot of sense: get all the charts and tables sorted out, then write the stuff surrounding them.

Gary then goes on to describe how demanding the D&D audience is, and toots his own horn as a way of establishing his credentials to serve that audience.  I had to laugh at his description of himself as the "first proponent of fantasy gaming".  I wonder what Dave Arneson thought of that?  Although, come to think of it, Gary did design the Fantasy Supplement to Chainmail...  He might be right after all.

The rest of the preface is about the purpose of AD&D, and how it's going to bring a certain uniformity to the game across campaigns.  There's some baffling stuff here, though.  When he writes that there will be "no baseless limits arbitrarily placed on female strength" I have to scratch my head, because that's exactly what's in the game.  (Again, though, he's got a point by using the words "baseless" and "arbitrary".  I prefer not to limit character stats by gender, but there's no denying that the upper limit on male and female strength is different.)  I'm pretty sure he's taking swipes at some other fantasy RPGs when he disparages "ponderous combat systems with greater realism", and spell point systems.  Ah, what would a Gygax editorial be without some self-aggrandizement and pot-shots at the opposition?  This preface has it all, though couched somewhat more politely than at other times.

That's all I have time for today, unfortunately.  I'm running D&D for a friend's bucks party on the weekend, so I have to sign off and do some designing.  Alas, that means I have to cut this one short.  Next week I'll be back to dig into the meat of the book.

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