28 March 2009

The generic unified RPG unsystem

Once Dungeons & Dragons was published and was really taking off, it became clear that the game—the booklets themselves—wasn’t very accessible. I’m sure whilst writing them, Gary never dreamed the game would end up on the shelves of a mall bookstore. He was writing to fellow wargamers. Along came Dr. John Eric Holmes with a proposal to do remedy that. Thus, the first Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set.

Dr. Holmes brought some of his own ideas about how the game should work. Later, as the successor to his Basic Set was coming out, he wrote an article for Dragon magazine in which he discussed some of the changes to the game he wanted to make that Gary veto’d. Also, TSR decided that first Basic Set should include bits of and advertising for the forthcoming Advanced D&D game.

I never had the Holmes Basic Set—though I bought the PDF and have it around somewhere—so I don’t know it very well. Jeff posted the following quote from it (emphasis mine):

A final word to the Dungeon Master from the authors. These rules are intended as guidelines. No two Dungeon Masters run their dungeons quite the same way, as anyone who has learned the game with one group and then transferred to another can easily attest. You are sure to encounter situations not covered by these rules. Improvise. Agree on a probability that an event will occur and convert it into a die roll — roll the number and see what happens! The game is intended to be fun and the rules modified if the players desire. Do not hesitate to invent, create and experiment with new ideas. Imagination is the key to a good game. Enjoy!

That pretty much lays out the “generic unified unsystem” that I try to use with any system. I think it is a subtext in many early role-playing games. (And now I know it’s a part of the text of at least one as well.) I particularly like that he used the word “agree”.


clovis said...

that spirit was not completely killed until 4th edition "Good players will always recognize that you (the DM) have ultimate authority over the game mechanics, even superseding some-thing in a rulebook. Good DMs know not to change or overturn a published rule without a good, logical justification."
Monte Cook, July 2003

jax said...

Yeah, ok, that was very interesting. I love D&D, and history, so you know I gobble this stuff up. But I am not really leaving a comment about this D&D post. There is just no other place on your blog to say what I really want to say. And what I really want to say is this:


so, so jealous,


Robert said...


I made my Will save and will refrain from making additional commentary on that fortune. ^_~

Sign up for Twitter or Facebook, and you can comment on tweets directly.

Robert said...

Having only the 4e PHB, I can’t confirm or refute that it killed that spirit.

I have a lot of respect for Monte. Not least of which for admitting that “taking the DM out of the equation” might have been a mistake. I believe that he always expected experienced gamers to put the DM back in.

Don the Bassman said...

As you pointed out to me once Robert, I don't let the rules get in the way of the game. In fact, I really like to wing it at times.

I have all 3 of the core books for 4e and I have felt that it has lost a lot of the feel of D&D. However, in 4e's defence, I have only played it for a little bit. It seems that 4e leans more towards feeling like a video game to me rather than a table top RPG. But I will reserve final judgement for when I get to play or run it a bit longer. But, with how fast the games change up for our gaming group, 5e will have been out for a while.