I’m enjoying going through a recent purchase from Noble Knight Games – Best of the Dragon, Vols. I-IV. I particularly like the collection of From the Sorcerers Scroll articles in Vol. II. If you haven’t heard of them, these are Gary Gygax’s articles/editorials from the early days, in this case, from 1978-1980, during the development and publishing of AD&D 1e.
We take for granted now a rich ecosystem of old-school fantasy RPGs and retro-clones, along with an overload of new ideas and rule variations from the OSR community. But back then, D&D was pretty much it for fantasy role-playing, and you can see how the nascent house-ruling movement really bothered Gary. Here are some fascinating quotes from the article Realism vs. Game Logic in Dragon #16, this was July of 1978:
The D&D game encourages inventiveness and originality within the framework of its rules. Those who insist on altering the framework should design their own game.
The same reasoning precludes many of the proposed character classes which enthusiasts wish to add. Usually such classes are either an unnecessary variation on an existing class, are too obtuse to be interesting, or are endowed with sufficient prowess to assure that they would rule the campaign…
Combat is the most frequently abused area, for here many would-be game inventors feel they have sufficient expertise to design a better system…The “critical hit” or “double damage” on a “to hit” die roll of 20 is particularly offensive to the precepts of the D&D game.
There are a number of foolish misconceptions which tend to periodically crop up also. Weapons expertise is one.
Of course, AD&D itself would later include weapon proficiency rules, clearly he had not considered them much at this point. With the benefit of hindsight, we can say that these ideas were helping to inform Gary’s own thoughts and to spread D&D, not hurt it.
The article Much About Melee, from Dragon #24, April 1979 solidifies the abstract nature of D&D combat:
During the course of a melee round there is movement, there are many attacks which do not score, and each “to hit” roll indicates that there is an opening which may or may not allow a telling attack… three sorts of attacks were continually taking place during melee: 1) attacks which had no chance of hitting… ; 2) attacks which had a chance of doing damage but missed as indicated by the die roll; and 3) attacks which were telling as indicated by the die roll and subsequent damage determination.
and this from Looking Back, and to the Future from Dragon #26, June 1979:
The ADVANCED DUNGEONS & DRAGONS (R) rules comprise a different game… Where the D&D rules are a very loose, open framework… the AD&D rules set forth a much tighter and more structured game system… The original version of the D&D rules was hurriedly compiled, assuming that readers would be familiar with medieval and ancient history… It was aimed at males. Within a few months it became apparent to us that our basic assumptions might be a bit off target. In another year it became abundantly clear to us that we were so far off as to be laughable… because the initial batch of DMs were so imaginative and creative, because the rules were incomplete, vague and often ambiguous, the D&D game has turned into a non-game.
Of course, these same ambiguous rules are still preferred by many tinkerers and imaginative players and DMs who dislike the structure of the later editions. That was something no one at the time anticipated.