Basic and Advanced—the time Dungeons & Dragons split into two games (Part 1)

Dungeons & Dragons Basic SetIn the fall of 1977, I found a copy of the blue, Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set and devoured the rules. The game electrified me, but one thing also baffled me. The rules kept sending me to ADVANCED DUNGEONS & DRAGONS for more rules, classes, spells, monsters, and on and on. I wanted to feast on ADVANCED DUNGEONS & DRAGONS right now—except it did not exist yet. A few months later, the new AD&D Monster Manual reached the hobby shop alongside a “Collector’s Edition” of the original D&D rules. The Monster Manual proved as exciting as the Basic Set, but the original rules puzzled me. Their explanations rarely made sense. What did Outdoor Survival or Chainmail have to do with anything? The old rules wasted pages on castle construction, naval combat, and other things that never came up in the game. At least the box included some higher-level spells. For the highest-level spells, I learned that I needed to buy more books.

The AD&D Player’s Handbook would not reach stores until the next summer. That book collected all the game’s classes and spells, but lacked most combat rules. For those, D&D fans needed to wait another year, until the summer of 1979. Until then, we blended the rules sets, combining the combat system in that Basic Set with the monsters and characters in AD&D with the magic items in the original books.

All these rules mixed together well enough that I failed to notice the seams. When Gary Gygax printed an editorial in the June 1979 issue of The Dragon, his claims baffled me. “ADVANCED DUNGEONS & DRAGONS is a different game. Readers please take note! It is neither an expansion nor a revision of the old game, it is a new game.”

After almost two years blending three sets of D&D rules, I could not imagine why Gygax chose to argue this point, but he kept at it.

“It is necessary that all adventure gaming fans be absolutely aware that there is no similarity (perhaps even less) between D&D and AD&D than there is between D&D and its various imitators produced by competing publishers.”

To me, Gygax’s claims seemed silly. Even though his editorial reached me at about the same time as the Dungeon Master’s Guide, my friends kept playing as before. Nobody played AD&D by the book; we picked the rules that suited us.

Years later, I would learn the reasons for Gygax’s puzzling insistence.

Next: D&D’s new audience versus its original rules

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5 Responses to Basic and Advanced—the time Dungeons & Dragons split into two games (Part 1)

  1. The other day I was just telling somebody about the early days of the hobby when the rules just didn’t make much sense at the time yet somehow people had fun because the improvised.

    I started playing AD&D much later, under 2e. And even I was confused when I saw “D&D Rules” next to the advanced books at the store. “What’s the difference? Why are there two different games?”

    I look forward the rest of this series.

  2. raddu76 says:

    We started with the Mentzer basic red box in the late 80s. After a couple years we switched to AD&D 2nd edition and never looked back (although I do love the Basic works of My stats). It seems like Gary’s message eventually got through.

  3. I bought the original D&D rules book in the 1990s, so AD&D 2e was already on the market, but the Core Rulebook was the first thing I ever stumbled upon. In my very first ever attempt to run an adventure and help with character generation, I was floored by my friend’s rather poignant question: “Why can’t I be a ‘thief’ AND an ‘elf?'” I didn’t know the answer.

    A week later, I bought the 2e DMG and PHB. LOL

  4. Ut! I just turned in a research paper on the evolution of D&D, and this post would have been perfect as a source!

    Regardless, I’m looking forward to the rest of this series.

  5. J says:

    TSR created AD&D so they could stop paying royalties to the original co-author besides Gary. Thus the insistence that it was an entirely new game lol

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