Dan’s Top 19 RPGs - #7 - Advanced Dungeons & Dragons
This was one of the tougher games for me to place. For a long time, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons was the main game I played. I’m going to commit some old-school heresy and link the first and second editions of the games together - though there certainly was some stylistic changes, AD&D 2nd edition was more a change along the lines of editions of Call of Cthulhu than the leap between AD&D and Dungeons & Dragons 3rd edition. One could even make the argument of linking AD&D and B/X D&D but given the number of differing assumptions between the two parallel game lines, I’ve chosen not to do that - though truth to tell, my groups, like most, happily cross-pollinated between the two lines - but we usually preferred AD&D.
What was it about AD&D? I think what I liked about it was that it was a dense game. The early books were tomes you could explore. It was a crunchy game - not Aftermath crunchy but compared to B/X D&D there was a lot to the game. I don’t know if anyone used all of the crunch. For example, it was only a few years ago that I finally understood how speed factor worked in the 1st edition - each weapon had a speed factor assigned to it, though it was apparently only significant in the cases of a tie for initiative. There were rules for aging, diseases, saving throws for equipment carried by characters, etc. I think what I loved most was the feel of the game. It was a less brightly lit world than that of B/X D&D. Characters were generally assumed to be opportunists and evil characters seemed to be expected - though I recall a lot of debates in Dragon magazine’s old forum section. Of modern games, I’d say Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea, Lamentations of the Flame Princess, and Dungeon Crawl Classics come closest to the tone of AD&D’s 1st edition. You won’t see LotFP on this list alas, as while I’ve borrowed from it, I’ve never actually had the opportunity to play it and I’ve limited my list to games I’ve played or run at least once.
I do wonder if I perhaps ranked AD&D a little too high - I suspect given the opportunity to play AD&D or AS&SH I’d probably pick the latter. On the other hand, I’ve such powerful memories of AD&D - I think we’re giving a bit of a nostalgia bump...
Looking back, I do think AD&D 2nd edition is a bit unfairly maligned. It provided some much needed cleanup of the rules - in AD&D 2e I actually understood how speed factor worked. It is regrettable how much tidier AD&D got - demons no longer in the game, no more assassin player characters, etc. The cleanup probably was necessary - I wasn’t in an area hit hard by the anti-D&D craze of the 1980s, but it was a real thing - I remember Gary Gygax on 60 Minutes. The 2nd edition did go for more plot-driven adventures, sometimes with PCs relegated to being mere observers. However, late 2nd edition adventures experienced a bit of a renaissance after Wizards of the Coast bought TSR. There were some interesting experiments in that era - one of my favorites was Reverse Dungeon, where the PCs played the humanoids whose lairs were being attacked by adventurers.