In 1987 I had been playing RPGs for less than a year when I met AD&D. At that time it was just the Dungeon Masters Guide, and though I had to spend the best part of my savings to have it, I still don’t know what made me do it. I mean: I had been mostly playing Das Schwarze Auge/The Dark Eye (in its very good Italian translation) and BECMI (actually just B or maybe BE, since the remaining boxes had not yet made their appearance on the Italian market, and I hadn’t yet resolved to get the original English edition), and I considered AD&D a kind of upgrade of Basic D&D; still, I was a bit awed by the all-compassing and complicated rules, which fascinated me but, due to my still lacking knowledge of the English language, were a bit more than I could chew.
So I kept on playing BECMI (which eventually became BECM, since I never got the Immortal box), left DSA for MERP and bought both AD&D Players Handbook and Monster Manual; I still had had no chance to test the game in an actual play but I was more and more resolved to correct the situation, and when I eventually managed to convince my friends to have a try, I was already madly in love with the system. In the following years I played many campaigns and, though AD&D wasn’t the only system I used, I managed to burn myself out. At that time my AD&D had got mixed with rules taken from the 2nd edition, and my campaigns were definitely more of the storytelling than the sandbox sort. I was growing uncomfortable with the system and my own playing style, and eventually in the late 90s I quitted playing.
My comeback to the world of roleplaying games is due to D&D 3.0; I played it quite a bit without ever experiencing the same thrill I had felt for AD&D 1st, but I’m not going to indulge in any edition war: after 3.0 came 3.5, and after that Pathfinder (not counting a quick dive into D&D 4). My uneasiness, however, kept growing as the rules became more complicated, and I found myself yearning for a simpler system, but not just that. I still wasn’t happy with my own DMing style. I wanted to give my players more freedom, but I couldn’t: I kept on writing campaigns where the main story had already been decided (by me), and I got frustrated at my inability to have the players freely choose their own course of actions. I tried The Burning Wheel too, and that’s an astounding game, but the rules are not simple enough for my taste and they require very committed players. And then I discovered the Old School Renaissance.
It was a true eye-opener for me. Reading Grognardia or The Society of Torch, Pole and Rope (just to name two of the blogs I am currently following) I suddenly understood what I wanted for my campaigns: old school play. So here I am, back to AD&D 1st, to sandboxes and to players’ freedom, and I’m going to stick to the lesson I learned. Storytelling is not for me, though I enjoy playing almost every game system if that means spending an evening with my friends, and whether I’m DMing AD&D, Rolemaster or Runequest (the two latter possibly in their earlier editions) I really can’t conceive anymore playing in a style that is not old school.
AD&D is not by far a perfect system: there are many useful rules and many useless ones, but I still prefer it to even simpler games like OD&D, D&D Basic, Labyrinth Lord (even though I’m prepared to adopt any of these if such is the inclination of my players; and, I must confess, LL does exert a kind of fascination over me). If none other, the great D&D family has got one big plus side: you can convert adventures and campaigns (and modules, if you prefer) from one system to another with relative ease. My Fortress campaign, written and insofar played with the AD&D 1st rules, could be very quickly translated for any of the systems above mentioned. This flexibility is a priceless issue for a DM without players, such as I am at the moment!
In my next posts I’m going to delve a bit deeper into AD&D 1st rules and to expose my humble thoughts about their usefulness (or lack thereof).
Until then, gentle readers, may your steeds be swift and your blades always sharp!