A monster on the verge of eating an adventurer.

The Spirit of the Rules

by Ramanan Sivaranjan on June 13, 2014

Tagged: od&d

People discuss playing OD&D ‘by the book’ online, though I’m not completely sure what that means. There are so many holes in the rule books that any attempt to avoid “making stuff up” is doomed to fail. Original Dungeons and Dragons is more of a framework to build your own fantasy RPG than an RPG, as we might understand one today, in its own right. This laissez-faire attitude towards spelling everything out can be seen in the earlier source material for OD&D, Chainmail:

These rules may be treated as guide lines around which you can form a game that suits you. It is a good idea to amend the rules to allow for historical precedence or common sense — follow the spirit of the rules rather than the letter. — Chainmail, pg 8.

Making the game your own seems to have been a core tenant of early versions of role playing games that starts to get lost with AD&D. Gygax seems to have an about face when it comes to playing D&D the official way. It’s possible this comes out of a need for consistent rules for tournament games, or annoyance at people making up dumb rules and telling him about them in the letters sent to Dragon magazine.

One of the biggest differences between what one might call old-school and new-school gaming probably hinges on how you feel about house rules and a poorly spelled out ruleset. 3rd and 4th Edition are notable in just how verbose and exacting they are: very little of the core elements of the game are left up to the DMs discretion. Some people appreciate that with 3rd and 4th Edition their gaming experience will likely be consistent, at least with respect to the rules.

I’ve come to really enjoy the variety that comes out of playing old-school D&D. Everyone has their own rules for this and that. I enjoy all the subtle differences.