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It's so much fun raking D&D over the coals...

Dungeons & Dragons

A review of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons from Ares: The Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy Simulation. The core rulebooks of AD&D were published between 1977 and 1979, and this review was published July 1980. 

The timeline is important here, as Ares was founded and published by Simulations Publications, Inc. - which was also a producer of tactical and strategic boardgames... and role playing games like Dragonquest, coincidentally published later in 1980 (and obliquely mentioned in the final paragraph). Teaser ads for the core rulebooks of Dragonquest appear, coincidentally, in this very issue of Ares. The review of AD&D is certainly not unfair, but the context should also be taken into account.

Unfortunately, this was all for naught. SPI ran into financial difficulties, and, in 1982, the company was bought by rival TSR - publisher of Dungeons & Dragons. TSR continued to publish Ares for another two years, and after 1984, merged Ares content into Dragon magazine.


Advanced Dungeons and Dragons

It is difficult to find things to say about game which has been accused of playing part in the disappearance of precocious Michigan State student (which it did not), of being the guise in which Satan attempted corruption of innocent Utah school children, and is threatening to become the game phenomenon of this young decade. In world where publicity and hype determine the success of a product. Dungeons and Dragons is doing famously. The working press has only a vague understanding of how the game works, and, in their ignorance, have lauded it to the skies, while inflicting upon the cognoscenti such gaffes as references to "dragon-masters" and "incredible hulks." Hats off to TSR, which steadfastly promoted an idea which no wargamer could take very seriously six years ago into the first mass-market product to come from this hobby.

The fanfare has obscured the fact that there is a game, not a media event, known as D&D. The design has many flaws which have become apparent as it has aged and are magnified by TSR's intransigence when it comes to changing a system or rule in response to valid criticism from players. The presentation of the package is amazingly poor. The original rules rate as one of the worst of all time, including fractured English, garbled text, contradictory rules, a reinvention of mythology, and passing references to crucial rules. Advanced Dungeons and Dragons was meant to remedy this situation. 

Actually, in place of the previous rules maladies, the gaming public received an overwritten, jumbled mass of discourse upon D&D which can only be assimilated by making a life-long study of the text. Given choice between stringing together rules in AD&D and discovering the proverbial needle in the haystack, the adroit gamer would make for the farmhouse.

As for the game itself, six characteristics are generated by rolling three six-sided dice. These have great effect upon play, so one minute of good rolling can give a player an edge over his fellows which will take months to reduce. Characters are locked in to a particular class, with no chance for intermingling the various skills attendant to each. Characters progress by levels, which means that they spend a great deal of time before achieving a significant jump in power. For instance, a character can kill several fearsome monsters over a period of months, calculate the remaining Experience Points to reach his next level, and reach it by playing Jack the Ripper to the inebriated ladies of the night in the local skid row. The parameters for each monster are extremely narrow, so players engage in quick mathematical exercises to gauge their chance of surviving the encounters... and the list goes on and on.

It's so much fun raking D&D over the coals for its problems that one tends to forget its strong points. The dungeon format allows the inexperienced gamesmaster and players to learn and enjoy the game very quickly. The original design includes a simple combat system which, regardless of what has been said about it, is the best from a game point of view (despite Gary Gygax's fascination with the ten most obscure medieval pole arms). The magic spells and items give D&D and its FRP imitators almost limitless variety, as any desired effect can be introduced into play by the gamesmaster and any situation from fantasy literature can be reproduced.

Most important for the [Fantasy Role Playing] fan, D&D is the FRP game played most often in most places. Manufacturers of wargames are scrambling madly to produce a viable competitor, but as of now, D&D remains unchallenged and is likely to continue its rapid growth. There are at least three more FRP games due out before the end of the year, and it will be interesting to see if any of these can take on D&D. For the nonce, if the reader is interested in investing in D&D as the most prevalent FRP game, buy the collector's edition and Greyhawk, and ignore the rest. -- Eric Goldberg


You can find the complete run of Ares on the Internet Archive. It is pretty awesome.