Originally Posted by runeghost
As someone who's played all of them, I can't resist putting in my two copper pieces. OD&D is probably not what you want to play, even if you can get a hold of the rules. As Roland St. Jude pointed out above, it was heavily influenced by wargaming. While there is still some charm and a few neat ideas in there (not to mention being The First) it has a very different feel compared to more modern versions of D&D. A kind of quaint charm mixed with occasional bizarre rules.
AD&D (1st Edition) is a much more polished and complete system. With the base three books (Players Handbook, Dungeon Masters Guide, and Monster Manual) you can do pretty much anything as long as it involves fantasy adventurers killing things. It's detailed, with lots of tables and charts (although nothing approaching Rolemaster) yet is still pretty straightforward and easy to play. A part of this is that so much of the rules are effectively completely independent little systems bolted on and only mentioned in the DMG, so that it's very very easy to ignore the parts you don't like and focus on the ones you do. For example, there are extensive sections on different Diseases and Poisons, but Assassins aren't 'balanced' around having poisons so you (as the DM) can take them or leave them, as you like. It still has its eccentricities (rounds divided up into segments, Weapon vs. AC modifier tables, Level Restrictions for races) but if you want the feel of 'old school' D&D then this (or Hackmaster
) is what you want.
D&D (Basic, Expert, Masters, etc.) Is even simpler than AD&D, lacking almost all the crunchy complications, but still keeping the spirit of the game intact. If you want to spend 5 minutes rolling up characters before descending into a dungeon, yet still be keep playing those same characters for years as they quest to become gods (sorry, Immortals
) then this is the game you want. The later books (and the Rules Cyclopedia) do add a few things, like skills and extra classes, but on the whole D&D is a very simple, straightforward system that can be a lot of fun. It does keep a few D&D quirks though, like Halflings (demihumans are classes in D&D) having only 8 levels, although later books have additional xp totals and attack ranks to keep the demihumans growing in power along with their Fighter, Magic-User, Cleric, and Thief colleagues on their way to 36th level.
First, like runeghost, I played most editions and can't help but reply.
I think knowing the history is very important. Having recently a) reread 1E and well as commentary on it from the boards, and b) played Castles and Crusades, I finally understand, thirty years too late, what Mr. Gygax was trying to do.
1E, and OD&D or BECMI before it, was just expanded wargaming or wargaming++, if you will. As others have said, the creators were wargamers that were looking to take that idea down to the individual level. So, instead of five people coming together with their armies and fighting on a battlefield, the idea is that one person has created a maze (dungeon) for the others to go through, with individual characters. (Although that's not exactly true but not sure it's important for this discussion.) To that end, the rules were created for dungeon delving and this is what I only recently figured out.
Time units, as others have said, were based on rounds, for combat, and turns for exploration. The idea was that your movement represented how far you could go in feet in one round during combat but also represented how much of a dungeon you could explore (looking for traps, checking for secret doors, etc.) in a turn. That's why spells had effects as rounds (combat) or turns (exploration). (It gets even more confusing when you add in wilderness, because then a turn represents yards, not feet, and let's not go there.)
So, at the end of the day, the rules of AD&D (1E), not necessarily the role playing, which is COMPLETELY SEPARATE, were there to facilitate going through a dungeon to get the treasure. They helped you track how long it took to go through this dungeon in terms of tracking consumables, such as torches, spells, food, water and other such things.
However, by the early 80s, it was obvious that's not how it was being used and TSR never responded quickly to it in terms of changing the rules but they did try and do so with the modules. This is when you get the "classic" modules of Temple of Elemental Evil, Scourge of the Slavelords and Against the Giants. These were more than going through a dungeon to get treasure. Now there was plot, hooks to get the player's and their characters involved and to try and tell a story.
So, if you are looking for some rules about dungeon exploration, then 1E or earlier will work for you. Yes, you have to answer if you want race and class or not but that's about it. Again, the role playing or WHY the adventurers went to the dungeon were completely separate from what the rules were doing. And that's fine.
Originally Posted by runeghost
AD&D (2nd Edition) is a basically a cleaned up, streamlined, and slightly more balanced version of A&D 1st Edition. Different source materials should pretty much be compatible between the two editions with very little if any tweaking needed. I think it looses a little of the charm of the original edition, but I played it in different groups from the late eighties until the late nineties, when most players I knew slid away from 3rd edition into other games. The biggest changes between 1st and 2nd are probably in presentation. Most of Gary Gygax's uniquely baroque writing style is gone and the DMG is much shorter and more straightforward. Everything is organized much better than it was in 1st edition, but some unique bits like psionics are gone or moved to seperate sourcebooks. 2nd edition has lots and lots of sourcebooks; their quality varies wildly, from excellent (Castles & Crusades was mentioned earlier in the thread) to just awful (Shaman's Handbook anyone?).
And here is where I'm going to have to disagree with runeghost. By the time of 2E, 1E had Wilderness Survival Guide and Dungeoneer's Survival Guide, which introduced Non Weapon Proficiencies and Unearthed Arcana, which introduced weapon proficiencies. To me (yep, it's my opinion), 2E was more of a 1E Revised and Expanded by bringing a lot of those ideas together. This was also the time of Vampire the Masquerade and you don't see a lot of role playing information in the core (PH, DMG, MM) DND books. Yes, there are examples in there of how a session might play out but there is still, imo, a lack of describing what role playing is and more what can be done with it. It's not until the Player's Option books that we start getting more role playing ideas in the kits. I think this goes back to pre 1E when the game was written for wargamers, who knew what fighters, rogues and even mages were. Now, though, as a new generation of gamers were learning 2E, the designers realized that they had to explain these things.
I think that cycle keeps repeating. I think 3E lost a lot of this history, including why spell durations were measured in rounds and turns, and this is where you start to see things happen a particular way because of tradition rather than any logic behind it, which 1E DID have. However, what 3E did do was allow characters to keep developing after tenth level in terms of game mechanics, all the way up to twentieth level. (And that's a different argument, both how well 2E and earlier run characters higher than tenth level and how well 3E goes to twentieth.) Now, you have classes and prestige classes that better allow you to define how you see a character and their powers. 3.5 was the designers changing their minds about spell durations but also spreading out class abilities a bit instead of having them so front loaded. Again, whether or not this works for someone is up to them to decide.
With 4E, then, I think some of the designers had
to go back to 1E to see how things were defined, which is how we got some of the Powers worked but I think that is beyond what the OP wanted.
With regards to "old school" games, then, I can only talk about Castles and Crusades, having recently played it. To me, this is a game that's trying to capture a "feeling" that people had when playing 1E but not using it as was intended, which was to explore dungeons as I said above. So, what you have is a system that fronts loads class abilities on more than half of the classes with a "grim and gritty" feel to it overall. imo, C&C does a very good job of capturing what it felt like when I ran or played 1E/2E back in the day. Again, whether or not that is a good thing, is up to each person or group that's playing in it.