One of the peripheral consequences of working on my re-imagined Slave Pits of the Undercity (which itself is a result of WotC re-releasing the three 1ed core books) is my own casual re-assessment of ADnD. I have found myself more frequently perusing my ADnD collection than I have in years. There is one exception to this, however. Though I am very familiar with some sections within it, the ADnD DMG still remains largely impenetrable for me.
I am one of those life-long DnD players who was initiated into the game by those who already knew how to play, rather than someone who is self-taught. When it came time for me to try my hand at DMing (as I called it then), Holmes, Moldvay and Cook held larger sway on me than did Gygax because, despite my group playing “ADnD” these great editors were far more approachable in their advice. So, though I used ADnD rules and tables, my mentors were from the world of B/X and Holmes.
This may come as a bit of a surprise, given that there are so many out there in the world of the OSR that cite the DMG as this great and seminal work of the hobby that is a seemingly ever-changing treasure trove of gaming history and advice. This love affair is to the point that there are some who would choose the DMG as the only RPG book that they could have if stranded on a deserted island.
In a way, this reminds me of the Philokalia — a collection of Orthodox Christian spiritual writing compiled and published in the 18th century. In it one can find meditations from the 4th century through the 15th century by a total of thirty-six different authors. It has been described as a seminal collection of such import that it is second only to the Scriptures themselves in the spiritual life of the Orthodox Christian.
The compilers organized the book chronologically. If one attempts to read it thusly (cover to cover), however, the book is rendered impenetrable. Rather, it requires an initiation on how to read it and what order to read the various authors. There are several historical methods, but all of them parallel each other. They all form a key with which to unlock this precious gift.
As one who still finds the DMG to be something of a Philokalic mystery, and since so many of my generation had some kind of initiation process into the hobby, I am wondering if there isn’t some kind of pattern out there for tackling the DMG? Is there a particular order for taking advantage of all the goodness that lies therein?
I do not ask this only for myself, but for those who will be buying their first 1ed DMG sometime this summer. Unlike later editions of the game, ADnD is a bit of an editorial mess. In order that those who encounter it for the first time have the best experience possible, it might behoove those of us who love the old ways to make the world of ADnD a tad more accessible.