D20 20 Years on

Trippy

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So, roughly about this time (give or take a few weeks), I think I was attending GenCon UK in the year that D&D3rd edition had arrived. I think some third party had managed to get a D20 supplement released under the OGL just prior to this, but there was definitely a buzz about it. The internet hadn’t quite gotten a hold of absolutely everything back then, but for gamers it was the new tool of communication.

Over the next few years, we would see a huge glut of OGL/D20 titles which had a lasting effect by establishing new game publishers, and sparked new debates about game design. Trends in gamers changed - they stopped imagining themselves as counter-culture storytellers (á la White Wolf games), and began talking in business terms (á la Wizards of the Coast). 'Punk’ as a gaming theme was receding as fans turned to more positive ‘Pulp' themes instead. People were getting excited for a new Dune RPG by last Unicorn Games. Moon Design was releasing HeroWars to revamp Greg Stafford’s Glorantha setting. The whole drive towards updating older games with new editions became strong or just rereleasing old games with new formats The follow on trends of Indie and OSR, although palpably there, had yet to become culture war movements in gaming. PDF and POD were not business models, and the three-tier distribution was going strong.

Lord of the Rings had yet to be released, although there was a naff D&D movie released this year, but fantasy was generally starting to become more popular again - Harry Potter. Snatch and Gladiator were in the cinemas. Tarantinoesque was still an adjective. Anime and Manga was popular amongst western audiences. 9/11 hadn’t happened. People still argued for Fukayama’s End of History. Post modernism was still cool but in the descent. Transhumanism was becoming cool. The Millennium had just happened.

What else has changed since then? What else was big back then?
 
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Endless Flight

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Remember that awful forum that Wizards had; Gleemax? It was after they had a relatively normal forum, because I used to post on the Star Wars sub forum there for a couple years. Forums in general were starting to get huge after building up slowly in the late 90s.
 

TristramEvans

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the turn of the millenium and rise of D20 heralded the death of a lot of the classic RPG companies I grew up with - FASA voluntarily exited the scene, DP9 died off after the failure of their second editionSilCore, Guardians of Order imploded badly, White Wolf tried to reinvent itself and ultimately now exists only as an IP house, Hogshead Publishing let out a last gasp with a bunch of high concept auteur games (most of which were, though excellent, RPGs in name only) before closing shop, ICE lost it's Tolkien license and was bought out by a holding company in 2001, after an extended bankruptcy started in '98, West End Games' assets were bought out by Humanoids Inc in 2001 and have passed hands several times since, etc.

More significant though, from my PoV, was the rise of RPG online forum cultures, including the advent of competing RPG theory, and concurrently the popularization of online indy games. The concept of the retroclone was well-established before the letters "OSR" had ever been spoken, as the web amassed an ever-growing host of tributes to old systems, heartbreakers, and high concept games. The new venue and the freedom that offered, especially the destruction of any barriers to entry, led to a flood of creativity and amateur offerings that one could barely keep up with.
 

Trippy

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the turn of the millenium and rise of D20 heralded the death of a lot of the classic RPG companies I grew up with - FASA voluntarily exited the scene, DP9 died off after the failure of their second editionSilCore, Guardians of Order imploded badly, White Wolf tried to reinvent itself and ultimately now exists only as an IP house, Hogshead Publishing let out a last gasp with a bunch of high concept auteur games (most of which were, though excellent, RPGs in name only) before closing shop, ICE lost it's Tolkien license and was bought out by a holding company in 2001, after an extended bankruptcy started in '98, West End Games' assets were bought out by Humanoids Inc in 2001 and have passed hands several times since, etc.

More significant though, from my PoV, was the rise of RPG online forum cultures, including the advent of competing RPG theory, and concurrently the popularization of online indy games. The concept of the retroclone was well-established before the letters "OSR" had ever been spoken, as the web amassed an ever-growing host of tributes to old systems, heartbreakers, and high concept games. The new venue and the freedom that offered, especially the destruction of any barriers to entry, led to a flood of creativity and amateur offerings that one could barely keep up with.
There was certainly a turn-over in game companies, although I think that was happening in a more pronounced way in the 1990s previously. The big event of that particular trend came with the collapse of TSR in 1998. The purchase of TSR and D&D by Wizards of the Coast and then Hasbro was a shift in other direction for gaming, in my view.

I would note that Hogshead Publishing, established in 1994 by James Wallis, only really published WFRP - licensed from Games Workshop who had largely given up on it themselves, and high concept auteur games - following on from their Inter-Active/IF journal. They can be seen as a forerunner to The Forge in a number of publications (Baron Munchausen, Puppetland, etc). I think their last big release, also out in 2000 was Nobilis 2nd edition. White Wolf’s decline can be spread out over both the late 1990s and throughout the 2000s, as their hold of the zeitgeist faded.

Game Designer’s Workshop was another old company that collapsed in the 1990s, although the republishing of the Classic Traveller books by Far Future Enterprises, in a new landscape format, was my personal first brush with what you might call an OSR game.
 
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Endless Flight

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I think the end of West End Games were pretty big. Besides TSR products, I saw WEG products in the stores back in the 90s more than anything else.
 

Malleustein

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Remember that awful forum that Wizards had; Gleemax? It was after they had a relatively normal forum, because I used to post on the Star Wars sub forum there for a couple years. Forums in general were starting to get huge after building up slowly in the late 90s.
Damnit! I had successfully scoured Gleemax from my memory.

The demise of Last Unicorn Games was unfortunate. My group was, and still is, very keen on their Star Trek books.

Otherwise, I mostly remember becoming increasingly disappointed by White Wolf's new World of Darkness. The core game worked, but each of the supernatural creature lines was varying degrees of bad. Mage: The Atlantis (Awakening?) killed my interest entirely through the impressive combination of being impossible to read, boring as hell and confusingly directionless.

Looking through the d20 games and licenses of the time, there are some hidden gems that still hold up; Mongoose's Slaine: the Game of Celtic Heroes, AEG's Farscape, Green Ronin's Testament.
 

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Otherwise, I mostly remember becoming increasingly disappointed by White Wolf's new World of Darkness. The core game worked, but each of the supernatural creature lines was varying degrees of bad. Mage: The Atlantis (Awakening?) killed my interest entirely through the impressive combination of being impossible to read, boring as hell and confusingly directionless.
I'll give a more thorough post about the thread topic later, but I have to weigh in on this one. There was a thread online that sold me on the concept of the game as a supernatural espionage game. The cosmology had some cool ideas in it once I made it through the dryness of the core book as well. The real killer was the character archetypes. One of the strengths of the oWoD was that you could explain any of the character archetypes in most of the games in seconds. The archetypes in Mage: the Awakening failed at being archetypal. They just didn't stay in my brain at all.

I vaguely recall illustrations of a guy in a sparkly cowboy costume and girl on a unicycle, but I couldn't get a handle on what the hell they were. Even if I'd managed to get a campaign together, I couldn't imagine showing these archetypes to potential players as a way to get them interested in the game. If archetypes were the secret weapon of oWoD, they were an impenetrable barrier in Mage: the Awakening (Also, how frickin' annoying is it that it had the same acronym as Mage: The Ascension, forcing you to write the whole thing every time for clarity).
 

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What else has changed since then?
Also, to give a quick answer to this that hasn't been brought up yet: PDFs and POD. On the consumer side, you can get your hands on almost any RPG book that has ever existed instantly and at a reasonable price. On the creator side, anyone can self-publish now, and aside from wasted time, there is little financial risk. It's the biggest change of the last 20 years, with open licenses and Kickstarter coming in behind it.
 

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I vaguely recall illustrations of a guy in a sparkly cowboy costume and girl on a unicycle, but I couldn't get a handle on what the hell they were. Even if I'd managed to get a campaign together, I couldn't imagine showing these archetypes to potential players as a way to get them interested in the game. If archetypes were the secret weapon of oWoD, they were an impenetrable barrier in Mage: the Awakening (Also, how frickin' annoying is it that it had the same acronym as Mage: The Ascension, forcing you to write the whole thing every time for clarity).
The second edition is better as the "clans" are a more archetypical take on magic users, i.e. "The Shaman", "The Wizard", "The Necromancer" etc. They don't have those phrases as their primary names, but that's in essence what they are.
Brookshaw also overhauled the setting into something much more coherent, a sort of Platonism meets the Matrix meets the Dresden files.

Unfortunately the rules are terrible due to the typical CoD effect of wanting to be a narrative game but being GURPS-level mechanically heavy in the direction of combat.

A pity. I hope somebody takes the ideas and makes a good lighter game out of it someday.
 

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The second edition is better as the "clans" are a more archetypical take on magic users, i.e. "The Shaman", "The Wizard", "The Necromancer" etc. They don't have those phrases as their primary names, but that's in essence what they are.
Brookshaw also overhauled the setting into something much more coherent, a sort of Platonism meets the Matrix meets the Dresden files.

Unfortunately the rules are terrible due to the typical CoD effect of wanting to be a narrative game but being GURPS-level mechanically heavy in the direction of combat.

A pity. I hope somebody takes the ideas and makes a good lighter game out of it someday.
That makes sense to me. I read through the 2nd edition CoD core book when it came out. It seemed clever but overly crunchy, not just in combat, but in it's narrative elements as well. I don't have any issue with narrative elements, but I like games that use them to be light. HeroQuest and DramaSystem are my speed when it comes narrative games.
 

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Remember that awful forum that Wizards had; Gleemax? It was after they had a relatively normal forum, because I used to post on the Star Wars sub forum there for a couple years. Forums in general were starting to get huge after building up slowly in the late 90s.
I own my domain name and tend to use the website name as my email address for spam tracking purpose. So guess who's gleemax@fhhdidu.org?
 

Malleustein

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I'll give a more thorough post about the thread topic later, but I have to weigh in on this one. There was a thread online that sold me on the concept of the game as a supernatural espionage game. The cosmology had some cool ideas in it once I made it through the dryness of the core book as well. The real killer was the character archetypes. One of the strengths of the oWoD was that you could explain any of the character archetypes in most of the games in seconds. The archetypes in Mage: the Awakening failed at being archetypal. They just didn't stay in my brain at all.

I vaguely recall illustrations of a guy in a sparkly cowboy costume and girl on a unicycle, but I couldn't get a handle on what the hell they were. Even if I'd managed to get a campaign together, I couldn't imagine showing these archetypes to potential players as a way to get them interested in the game. If archetypes were the secret weapon of oWoD, they were an impenetrable barrier in Mage: the Awakening (Also, how frickin' annoying is it that it had the same acronym as Mage: The Ascension, forcing you to write the whole thing every time for clarity).
For all the faults of the original World of Darkness, at least the clan/tribe/traditions were memorable.

"What's a Verbena?" "Pagan blood witch".

"Can I be a necromancer?" "Euthanotos."

While White Wolf fumbled the concept, at least the Ascension War was something you could wrap your head around as an ongoing conflict. It just sort of fell apart when the Technocracy ended up as popular with players as the Traditions.
 

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I think, fundamentally, the drive by White Wolf to create a New World of Darkness was a mistake for them. It broke their own market. I can understand the frustration with edition wars, which plagued all their Revised editions (particularly Mage), but they should have kept going with new editions and just braced themselves for the inevitable fan backlash as is always the case.

Indeed, although White Wolf is commonly noted as declining in the 00s, they actually held their No2 Retail ranking behind D&D for most of this period. The Trinity games were, by most accounts, a flop but Exalted and their own D20 products sold well I think. I also think that, with a more concerted effort, Scion could have been a bigger hit had it been released earlier. It was the sort of setting they excelled at and it could have been released as a more heroic counterpoint to the WoD games.

All speculation of course, but it is clear that White Wolf are one company that has changed more than most since 2000.
 

TristramEvans

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I think, fundamentally, the drive by White Wolf to create a New World of Darkness was a mistake for them. It broke their own market. I can understand the frustration with edition wars, which plagued all their Revised editions (particularly Mage),

Prior to internet forums, I was (and would imagine most players were) completely oblivious to the concept of edition wars.
 

Trippy

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Prior to internet forums, I was (and would imagine most players were) completely oblivious to the concept of edition wars.
Yep. I think they were a natural extension. The Mage editions were the first I experienced and were particularly bitter. However, my understanding is that Traveller: The New Era picked up a lot of rejection and anger at the time of its release in 1993, when it attempted to adopt the 'house rules' of other games to its system design. Apparently, some fans held a staged vigil to mourn the ‘death' of the game in a conference, according to some anecdotes at least. Games Designer's Workshop folded not long after. The difference with the internet is that it all went online and into mass discussion.
 

TristramEvans

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Sadly, I never, during the entire 90s, met a single person that had ever played Mage. The WoD groups I encountered generally fell in to 2 types: those who played just Vampire, and those that played Vampire with Werewolf, Changeling, Mummy, and a few of the other offshoot games thrown in (for some reason, Mage was the redhead stepchild excluded from those games, in at least one case because the GM thought they were too powerful to mix). I attempted to run a Wraith game, but the combination of my inexperience as a GM with the wrong group of players meant it crashed and burned fast. So I ended up running Changeling whenever I could, as it was the only way I got to play it.
 

Trippy

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Sadly, I never, during the entire 90s, met a single person that had ever played Mage. The WoD groups I encountered generally fell in to 2 types: those who played just Vampire, and those that played Vampire with Werewolf, Changeling, Mummy, and a few of the other offshoot games thrown in (for some reason, Mage was the redhead stepchild excluded from those games, in at least one case because the GM thought they were too powerful to mix). I attempted to run a Wraith game, but the combination of my inexperience as a GM with the wrong group of players meant it crashed and burned fast. So I ended up running Changeling whenever I could, as it was the only way I got to play it.
I played Mage throughout the 1990s, although it should be noted that it was the one WoD game that was not originally penned by Mark Rein-Hagen (it was originally created by Stewart Weick).

In my view it didn’t quite fit the rest of the WoD in terms of backstory (how could the cold rationalist/materialist Technocracy supposedly be dominating the paradigm of reality when vampires and other supernatural beings were also?). I also felt that the ongoing development of the game made it messier and too eclectic in style and scale to implement over time - with Mage edition wars being a symptom of this. Much of the protest of the Revised edition was against the attempt to scale down the game to a more street level, while many just took entirely different takes on what the game was fundamentally about. The vast 700 page bulk of the 20th Anniversary Edition illustrating this still.

My understanding was that Mage was the second most successful WoD game, however, although Vampire sold at least double everything else.
 
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TristramEvans

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My first taste of it was on Dragonsfoot, with their TETSNBN nonsense.
My only taste of Dragonsfoot was the occasional missionary they sent to other forums to tell us all how we were playing RPGs wrong. There were a few hilarious ones at the site back in the day.
 

Malleustein

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Sadly, I never, during the entire 90s, met a single person that had ever played Mage. The WoD groups I encountered generally fell in to 2 types: those who played just Vampire, and those that played Vampire with Werewolf, Changeling, Mummy, and a few of the other offshoot games thrown in (for some reason, Mage was the redhead stepchild excluded from those games, in at least one case because the GM thought they were too powerful to mix). I attempted to run a Wraith game, but the combination of my inexperience as a GM with the wrong group of players meant it crashed and burned fast. So I ended up running Changeling whenever I could, as it was the only way I got to play it.
Mages were potentially powerful, especially against the other supernatural creatures with well-known weaknesses. When you can shift time, turn something into silver or cold iron, you can quickly dispatch your foes if you catch them unaware. However, rage or celerity tended to keep them from getting too cocky. Mages are still just squishy Humans and half a dozen claw attacks makes spellcasting a tricky proposition.

Our favourite trick was to turn vampires into deck chairs. Deck chairs that burst into flames at dawn, just to confuse any passers by.
 

TristramEvans

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I think oWoD mistakenly presented it's gamelines (on the surface) as compatible, when they really weren't for the most part. When nWoD came out, with it's single overall rulebook and then supplementary gamelines, I thought this was an attempt to address that, but ultimately it didn't work out that way. I'm not sure if that's because the games didn't have an overall single authorial vision, or what.

The closest they ever came, I think, was the Vampire: The Dark Ages line, that introduced medieval versions of the other WoD creatures that all worked rather well reenvisioned in the constraints of the folklore of that particular historical setting.
 

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I quickly decided not to crossover the World of Darkness creatures. I played some bloody terrible chronicles where assorted undead, lycanthropes and so on co-existed without issue. I inevitably instigated bloody conflicts or wiped out whole factions with explosives and cave-ins. These were very stupid campaigns.

Vampire: the Dark Ages is my favourite World of Darkness game. Not the later Dark Ages: Vampire, just the original.

The compatibility between lines was poorly realized due to conflicting mechanics and radically different themes. A short crossover was easy enough though. The Chaos Factor remains the pinnacle of dumb fun in the original game line. I have played it twice and refereed it once, and it's always a hoot. I can't imagine taking it even faintly seriously though.
 

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D20 got me back into RPGs. I played it for almost a decade with several groups of friends and loved every minute of it.

I don't think I would want to GM it. I understand the idea of making monsters with as much detail as players. It sounds so cool for them to be more than a single line if stats. It is. And it isn't. It can be so much more work than it needs to be. It doesn't have to but it's easy to fall into it.

I missed 1990-1999 rpg scene.

For me this was the first D&D I could build a character I had in my mind. In that regard it reminded me of Rolemaster.

Where it went wrong was when I started playing with character optimizers. Nothing wrong with that really and later I would enjoy it but at that time it revealed how badly the game can be bent. I wasn't optimal at that time. Half my friends were. If we hadn't had a good GM it would have sucked. As it was the GM gave me interesting problems while also giving a horse of powerful opponents for my char op friends. They would slay 5-10 for every one I took down. I had fun but my weakness wasn't lost in me. I didn't make that mistake again. Which I think ruined the game for the next group I played with because now I was the guy taking out 10 opponents for every one they did.
That's the thing with 3.X. You all need to be on the same page.
 

Malleustein

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D20 got me back into RPGs. I played it for almost a decade with several groups of friends and loved every minute of it.

I don't think I would want to GM it. I understand the idea of making monsters with as much detail as players. It sounds so cool for them to be more than a single line if stats. It is. And it isn't. It can be so much more work than it needs to be. It doesn't have to but it's easy to fall into it.

I missed 1990-1999 rpg scene.

For me this was the first D&D I could build a character I had in my mind. In that regard it reminded me of Rolemaster.

Where it went wrong was when I started playing with character optimizers. Nothing wrong with that really and later I would enjoy it but at that time it revealed how badly the game can be bent. I wasn't optimal at that time. Half my friends were. If we hadn't had a good GM it would have sucked. As it was the GM gave me interesting problems while also giving a horse of powerful opponents for my char op friends. They would slay 5-10 for every one I took down. I had fun but my weakness wasn't lost in me. I didn't make that mistake again. Which I think ruined the game for the next group I played with because now I was the guy taking out 10 opponents for every one they did.
That's the thing with 3.X. You all need to be on the same page.
The secret to a successful D&D 3.5 campaign is to make the Hypertext d20 SRD webpage your rulebook. All the core material is there (included psionics and most of unearthed arcana), everything is easy to find, everything is hyperlinked, bloody fantastic tool.
 

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The secret to a successful D&D 3.5 campaign is to make the Hypertext d20 SRD webpage your rulebook. All the core material is there (included psionics and most of unearthed arcana), everything is easy to find, everything is hyperlinked, bloody fantastic tool.
Automation whether through the hypertext SRD or through Fantasy Grounds make it much easier to run. There is still a ton of detail in a monster constructed as a character that just is overwhelming to a GM.

But automation doesn't alter the character optimization issues. That takes a different solution.
 

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Automation whether through the hypertext SRD or through Fantasy Grounds make it much easier to run. There is still a ton of detail in a monster constructed as a character that just is overwhelming to a GM.

But automation doesn't alter the character optimization issues. That takes a different solution.
True, but it's less an issue if you stick with core material and ignore the supplements. Core 3.5's only real optimization option is "be a wizard" after all. Thankfully, my groups nowadays don't go for optimization.

Monsters as characters are still a bit of a nightmare though, I won't argue that. One of my players loves harpies, and D&D 3.5 allows them as monster PCs, it just takes a bit of effort to figure it all out.
 

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True, but it's less an issue if you stick with core material and ignore the supplements. Core 3.5's only real optimization option is "be a wizard" after all. Thankfully, my groups nowadays don't go for optimization.

Monsters as characters are still a bit of a nightmare though, I won't argue that. One of my players loves harpies, and D&D 3.5 allows them as monster PCs, it just takes a bit of effort to figure it all out.
Sure sticking to Core helps but limiting it to that can leave the feeling of going to a buffet and being told you can only eat from the salad bar.
 

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Sure sticking to Core helps but limiting it to that can leave the feeling of going to a buffet and being told you can only eat from the salad bar.
I suppose it could, but it hasn't been an issue for my groups in all these years. Between core races and classes, the psionics, monster pcs and the options of unearthed arcana, there is still more than enough options to keep things interesting. My groups just aren't that demanding, I haven't time for players who demand to play something really awkward or unbalanced.

I'm not saying it is the solution to all problems, but as someone who genuinely and unironically enjoys D&D 3.5, I've found the hypertext SRD to be invaluable, and it's got plenty of player options.
 

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It, along with NWoD and AOL buying Time Warner and the like , heralded "the fall of civilization." :clown: (But really, how far off am I?:hehe:)
 

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Anyone else really want to see one of these now? I do.
net.games.frp circa 1986

Apparently one Rich Magill has the honor of being the first troll to take a shot at AD&D.

AD&D sucks for all the previously given reasons. Try The Fantasy Trip
or better yet *****TRAVELLER******!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Rich Magill
Then this is the earliest "thoughtful" exchange I found on the group.

It opens with this by Tim Maroney

In a possibly vain attempt to get some discussion on this group, I will now come out of the closet publicly and say I think that Advanced Dungeons and Dragons is a very poor excuse for a game. Gary Gygax has no conception of how books are actually used in a play situation, and a very poor ability to understand hand-to-hand combat. Further, the magic system is totally counter-intuitive. Finally, the importance of magic items (as well as the ideas of class and level) depersonalizes characters, leading to a "rogue"- type environment. (Oh yes, the description of gods in terms of hit dice, etc., is totally useless to the DM, and the unarmed combat system is an atrocity; sorry to have forgotten these.) The only reason that AD&D is the most popular FRP game around is that it has a major lead on the others--unfortunately, TSR has not used this time to improve the rules, only to lengthen them.
 

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He wasn't wrong assuming he meant the original '77 Traveller and not that '81 abomination. :devil:
 

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net.games.frp circa 1986

Apparently one Rich Magill has the honor of being the first troll to take a shot at AD&D.

Then this is the earliest "thoughtful" exchange I found on the group.

It opens with this by Tim Maroney
To early for my access to the internet... Skimming through the archives I did see a post from a former co-worker though...

I'm not sure, but I think there was some edition warring in The Wild Hunt which would have predated these internet exchanges... I do know the "old guard" who also were Wild Hunt editors and contributors (including Glen Blacow) tended to prefer OD&D over AD&D, though Glen Blacow was happy to play in my AD&D games, he just used OD&D when he ran his own games.
 

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While White Wolf fumbled the concept, at least the Ascension War was something you could wrap your head around as an ongoing conflict. It just sort of fell apart when the Technocracy ended up as popular with players as the Traditions.
Decent villains are tough; you need them to be interesting enough that the players care about them going down, but not so cool that players want to swap teams.
 
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