Archives of Candlekeep: The Fraternal Twins: AD&D and the Basic Set…

Archives of Candlekeep: The Fraternal Twins: AD&D and the Basic Set…

This article was first broadcast in Episode Forty-Five on 13th October 2018.


The fifth edition of Dungeons and Dragons is arguably one of the most popular iterations of the rules, but it’s taken some time to get to where we are today. In honor of the upcoming Art and Arcana book, releasing October 23rd that showcases all the artwork and tells the evolving story of D&D over the years, we decided to take a look back at this hobby of ours ourselves and see where it started, and how it’s evolved over time.

By 1977, four years after the original release of D&D, the game had obviously grown. All of the expansions were printed and published, Dragon magazine was a thing, and a few other publications from D&D’s wargaming roots had 3rd party stuff that proved really popular. Everyone agreed that the rules needed to be pulled together and streamlined; at the time people needed to have rule booklets from three different games, probably a couple of supplements, and issues from at least two different magazines to find all of the rules people were using.

As covered briefly last week, the first attempt was actually made by an outsider. John Eric Holmes approached Tactical Studies Rules (the company publishing D&D at the time, started by Gygax and Don Kaye) about putting together the D&D rules into a starter set. Gygax and the team were already working on doing the same thing as Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, but Holmes’ idea was simpler and faster so they gave it their blessing, hoping it would drum up excitement for when AD&D finally came out.

The “Basic Set” compiled the original D&D rules and the Greyhawk expansion into a booklet and added some tweaks to make the game more accessible to people not familiar with miniatures wargaming. It was originally designed to help people play characters from levels 1 to 3, and then they would pick up Advanced D&D to continue. Thus was born Advanced Dungeons & Dragons: The Fantasy Roleplaying Game; better known today as “1st Edition”

AD&D saw the first instance of the now familiar holy trinity of core books — the “Players’ Handbook, Monster Manual, Dungeon Master’s Guide”, although in this case the Monster Manual was published first, followed by the Player’s Handbook and DM’s Guide. Unlike later editions, the AD&D books didn’t actually change or add many rules; they simply collected all of the rules that existed in multiple locations and made them “official”. For example, the bard, illusionist, and ranger classes had previously only been present in magazine articles. The Players’ Handbook made them official.

Still, even though these rules were present in a familiar format, picking them up today would have many players scratching their heads. While the now common nine alignment options were available for character creation rather than the original three, little else was the same. Races had limits on how high their statistics could go, and classes had statistic prerequisites – half orcs couldn’t have a wisdom score higher than 14, for example, and Monks had to have at least a 15 in Dexterity and Wisdom and an 11 Constitution. This ended up shutting a lot of non-human races out of certain classes.

Speaking of the non-human races, a lot of them couldn’t actually progress very far in levels either, and (rather bizarrely by 5e standards), non-human races were the only ones who could multiclass, which involved splitting your experience points between multiple classes. This would mean that, unlike later editions, you essentially only got new abilities etc. every two or more levels, but when you did you suddenly got an explosion of new things you could do.

Armour Class is something that would also be familiar, but totally foreign at the same time to players of more modern incantations. In AD&D, AC went from 10 to -10, and was actually a bonus or penalty applied to the attacker’s roll. An unarmored opponent would have an AC of 10, and so would give the attacker a +10 bonus to their roll, whereas a heavily armored opponent would have up to a -10 penalty to the roll.

Beyond the specifics, general rules concepts were very different from modern D&D. All of the mechanics of combat and saves were listed in the DM’s guide. The player’s handbook mostly contained statistics about character creation and advancement; if you wanted to know what your attack bonus was, you had to ask the DM. Also, percentile dice and d6s were used to make saves and checks just as often as d20s, if not more so.

AD&D lasted until 1989, when work on Advanced Dungeons and Dragons 2nd edition (known by most as simply “2nd edition”) finished and the new rulebooks were released. In the intervening time, the Monster Manual 2 and Fiend Folio books had expanded the monster set, as well as books like Unearthed Arcana and Oriental Adventures for more material, and two other books that expanded rules for wilderness and underground exploration. Unearthed Arcana fixed the issue of non-human races having level limits, and introduced a few new specializations for fighters, alongside some new classes that were slightly more powerful. Dragon magazine also continued to provide new material for use in the game. Eventually setting guides were also produced for Greyhawk, the Forgotten Realms, Dragonlance, and even Conan.

It was also during this time that D&D picked up one of its more infamous characteristics. In 1982 a D&D player by the name of Irving Pulling tragically committed suicide. Through her grief, Irving’s mother, Patricia Pulling, sued her son’s high school principal, claiming that he was responsible for cursing her son’s D&D character, which ultimately lead to his death. Pulling herself then went after TSR, suing them for the wrongful death of her son and claiming that D&D encouraged devil worship, as well as promoting demonology, witchcraft, satanic rituals, the list goes on. Pulling then set up a public advocacy group named “Bothered About Dungeons & Dragons”, also known as BADD, in 1983. This lead to a number of changes in later editions as Dungeons & Dragons tried to distance itself from the demon-worshiping brand it seemed to have be struck with

Because of its status as a partially separate rule system, the legacy of the “Basic Set” held on for a bit longer, with reprints and repackaging of rulesets continuing until 1995, when most of the company’s focus had fully shifted to 2nd edition — the last edition of D&D that Gygax worked on, and the last that TSR would publish before D&D was picked up by another games publisher. All of which will be the subject of the next installment in this series. Everyone bring your THAC0 tables!