Increased Complexity in D&D

I read a delightful article in The Dragon issue #39 (July 1980) last night, titled “Uniformity, Conformity, or neither?” by Karl Horak.  It’s a short little one-page article comparing editions of D&D and trying to calculate what areas have increased in complexity, and based on that predict the complexity of potential future editions.  It kind of reminds me of this Mike Mearls article which does pretty much the same thing.  However Mearls’ low end of the chart (AD&D 1st edition) is Horak’s high end.  Horak in fact only has three data points that may be surprising to some: the Chainmail Fantasy Supplement, OD&D, and AD&D.

His predictions really vary, some being extremely prescient, while others are downright humorous.  Here’s a sample:

Based on the numerical values in the list, one can expect an increase to 10 in the number of character classes, with subclasses doubling, in the next five years. A third dimension may be added to alignment, making 27 total variations. Standardized lists of equipment prices will exceed 300 items.

Since both hit dice and the average amount of damage per hit will have risen, the minimum rate of unassisted healing must increase in proportion.

I had to include that last one as I was shocked at just how on the money it was.  It’s the “unassisted healing” portion that really struck me, which pretty much exactly describes 4th editions “healing surges”.  Of course, on the other hand the idea of 27 alignments is pretty amusing.

All that said, it’s Horak’s opinion on where the best balance lies that most rung true for me:

Of course, in D&D the attempt is to simulate fantasy. Increasing complexity, and hence, more accurate simulation, is counterbalanced by a loss in playability. Most referees omit some standard material as well as many of the optional items. This is strong evidence that the point of equilibrium between accuracy and playability has been passed by the Advanced D&D project. The beauty of it all is that the individual campaign can be designed around the needs of the players, sacrificing some material for one game and reincorporating it in the next.

I think he’s hit the nail on the head here.  While AD&D really does strike some strong nostalgic notes for me, when I run it I definitely feel a little hampered by the lack of playability.  I spend more time digging through books to make sure I’m getting it right than I’d like to, and though I know this is ultimately my own bad habits (I probably should just make a call and move on), surely the text itself bears some level of blame for goading me into this behavior.  I mean, isn’t part of the point of AD&D to assure some level of uniformity to play across DMs (as the title of this article indicates)?  Still, I’d rather start with D&D (Original or Basic) and add in the couple additional complexities I like than start with AD&D and have to strip out all the stuff I don’t.

Anyway, I don’t mean to bash AD&D here, well not too much.  Also I think it really says something about TSR as a company that they would even publish this article at this time right after the AD&D books hit the shelves, not to mention the fact that the author repeatedly misspells Gary Gygax’s name.  Despite that, I still think this article is a really great read, and I highly recommend you check it out.

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