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Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Annoying Bits in AD&D

Jeff Rients is asking what the most annoying rule or subsystem in AD&D is. He offers a short list, all of which I find annoying to one extent or another, but I thought I'd comment in detail here, instead of there.

Demi-human Level Limits: Actually, not all that annoying. Same goes for demi-human class restrictions, which weren't listed, but are related (think of a ban on dwarf clerics as a level limit of 0.) I'm more annoyed by the term "demi-human" than the level limits. Still, it's a restriction I'm willing to lift; I think I'd just treat advancement beyond the level limit as changing classes (in other words, you need a 16+ in the prime ability and may need to do some specific questing.)

Weapon Speed: The basic idea isn't too bad, but I don't like the implementation. A crude guesstimate based on length is enough for me; looking up numbers and applying them to segment calculations is annoying. But that leads into...

Initiative: Discovered I don't need it. The original books don't mention initiative or anything like it. The side with the benefit of surprise gets to go first; otherwise, ask the players what they are doing first, determine the actual order of actions based on crude weapon length; Dex is a tie-breaker. If other actions are involved, use Dex to determine order. Much simpler than the fiddly AD&D initiative system.

Weapon vs AC: Used it a few times, found it annoying, dropped it. But I'm toying with a much simpler system, so it's not the basic concept, just the implementation as a bunch of numbers arranged in a table.

Material Components: Do magic-users really need to be more limited than they are in Men & Magic? It's like people are still afraid of magic, even in a made-up game. Again, additional look-up time involved in spell components (or casting times, or many other spell stats) just annoy me. I'd rather have material components as a way to expand standard spells, instead of as a requirement. So, adding powdered goblin heart when casting Monster Summoning I lets you specifically summon goblins instead of some random 1st level monster.

Psionics: It's the annoying subsystem: extra numbers to track, unique attack resolution that slows play and removes the participation of the non-psionics. Same applies to the grappling rules or the non-lethal combat rules. Why not just use the standard combat system with a couple adjustments?

Training to Level Up: Not a big deal, but it doesn't jibe with my interpretation of "level' as a combination of reputation and general experience. And honestly, I don't need a method of extracting more money from player characters; the 1% maintenance tax is more than enough.

What I find most annoying about AD&D is the minimum and maximum ability scores. Actually, pretty much anything to do with the way AD&D handles ability scores. But that's probably best reserved for another post.


  1. Good list. I agree with your comments on material components. Do DM's ask fighters if they remembered to sharpen their swords before combat? Nope. So why penalize the M-U's. I also dislike the entire AD&D magic system. Why didn't they make it more like the psionic system? Use a mana point system. The entire "memorize the 1 or 2 spells you *might* need today" is just lame. Thanks for the article(s)!

  2. I dislike nearly everything about AD&D magic, but then I didn't read Vance at an impressionable age. The whole setup seems anti-fun to me.

    I also think that, while power balance between different PC types is a genuine issue, pretty much every measure EGG and DA put in to enforce it is objectionable and/or plain bad thinking (including weapon/armour restrictions, level caps, punishing low level MUs in order to reward high level ones etc). On reflection, such measures were probably what prompted me to start designing my own games.

  3. As much as I love AD&D, I think TSR often ran into trouble trying to balance "realism" with "fun". Ironic, considering we're talking about a fantasy game. I never looked at any rule as mandatory, though - all were strictly on an as needed basis, and fun was my main priority. If I found that a rule was interfering with fun, it was out the window.

  4. @richard, Angry Monk: I'm pretty pro-Vancian magic, myself. Most of the spell-point magic systems I've used are too complicated, and many are bland. My objections to AD&D magic center around the added complications for the sake of realism and balance.

    I also think that when we talk about realism in RPGs, there's several different kinds of realism and reasons for adding realism. If you are using real-world examples to make a ruling, that's not too bad. If you are using realism to make D&D more detailed and less like a strategy game, that's great. If you are just injecting extra complication because you're disturbed by the incongruity between how the game world works and how reality works, that's not too good.

  5. I also like Vancian magic. I'm not fond of the word memorize, but substitute that for "prepare" and everything works much better. I like the preparation and resource management this engenders. I do think it might bog down a bit at high levels, given the number of spells that a magic-user is likely to have access to, but that has never actually been a problem in practice for me.

    I have always avoided training and AD&D psionics (a shame, because I like the idea of psionics).