Rules Organization

A number of people, when discussing the merits of retro-clones vs. the original game rules, point to the notion that the retro-clones are “better organized”. I confess to being a little puzzled by this, as I can find my way around the old AD&D rules with very little problem.

Although I am very happy to admit that my own experience of the AD&D rules is colored by the fact that I know them so well, and can often just quote them from memory, and have an idea of where to find just about any tidbit of information I happen to need at the time. Not everybody has been pouring over these books for 30 years.

So I’d like to open up a discussion about this, if I may. What specifically is better about the organization of games like OSRIC, Labyrinth Lord, Sword & Wizardry, etc. than the original D&D and AD&D books? Is it that they’re all in one book? Do the chapters “flow” more logically? Something else? Looking at the tables of contents, they don’t seem all that different to me, so I think I’m just missing something…

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Wargamer and RPG'er since the 1970's, author of Adventures Dark and Deep, Castle of the Mad Archmage, and other things, and proprietor of the Greyhawk Grognard blog.

12 thoughts on “Rules Organization

  1. "Not everybody has been pouring over these books for 30 years."

    You have answered your own question. Most gamers born in the last 30 years haven't been pouring over the 1E rules enough to know where to find anything without considerable fumbling. Heck, the PHB doesn't even have an index! Simple things like spells arranged alphabetically (not by level) make the "newer" rules better organized. By any standard the retro clones have better organization. Doesn't mean a better or worse game, just means the newer compilers were able to use modern sensibilities to arrange the rules so they are an easier read.

  2. I think part of the 1st Edition popularity comes from the informal tone of the core books. It was interesting to have tidbits thown in about stuff that didn't really belong to core rules. I think the lack of effecient organization compared to the way we see things written today comes from the newness of the authors as authors and newness of the game itself in 1977-1979. So therein lies the paradox, the worst organized edition of the rules are probably the best because of the exiciting tone in which they are written.

  3. By any standard the retro clones have better organization.

    Well obviously not by *any* standard (mine, for instance). 🙂

    You did give two specific examples; an index and alpabetically-organized spells. Any others you can think of?

    Personally, I find alphabetical spell listings to be quite counter-intuitive. If I'm a cleric looking to memorize spells for the day, I'm going to go about it level by level, so I'll look at my first-level spells first, my second-level spells next, etc.

    But that's just my own preference. I'm really interested in hearing what others think. Thanks to all for the input so far.

  4. I can't speak for AD&D ( I know those rules pretty well myself); but, as someone who only in the last year or so started getting interested in the older editions, both S&W and LL are easier to navigate than the LBBs, Holmes, etc (although Moldvay/Cook is relatively well-organized). For instance, looking at Holmes: Want to know all about making a character? Pages 6 & 7. Want to know his hit dice? Page 11. And is initiative even mentioned in the LBBs? Or are you expected to have Chainmail for that? I found it in Holmes (highest dex. goes first!). And weren't you supposed to have a copy of Outdoor Survival for some other info?

  5. I don't think it's in the table of contents but more with the explanation of the rules and how they are presented on the page. It's one thing if you've been playing RPGs for 30 years and memorized where things are in those rules, but imagine if you are a first time player who doesn't know what RPGs actually are.

    The best example that I can give is Holmes basic blue book and Moldvay's basic red book. Now both books generally have the same information. Though I like the text in Holmes better, in my mind, the red book's information is better organized. Holmes has little (important) items buried within the text that some may miss even over multiple reading. Moldvay's red book's sections are broken down into more specific sections and important items are highlighted.

    Many of the new retro rule books follow more of Moldvay's presentation and not just a bunch of text that is not broken up for emphasis. For me, that's an additional appeal.

  6. As a Moldvay/Cook/Marsh fan, the one big problem with that rule set is the way that spells, monsters, and treasure are divided between the two booklets. This is especially an issue for monsters, where the division isn’t quite as clear-cut and you’re more likely to want quick access to it.

    That said, I’d started the work of making my own combined version before LL came out. While LL is nice, I’m thinking about restarting that effort.

  7. The issue of rules organization is most pertinent as regards OD&D and the LBB's. I would have a hard time believing that anyone considers the information in the LBB's to be well organized. Having said that, I cherish the LBB's precisely because of their haphazard presentation. It allowed for a great deal more "reading between the lines" that has been lost in the retro-clones, gawd love 'em.

    I don't recall OSRIC being undertaken for the purpose of better organizing AD&D. Perhaps i've been misinformed?

  8. I still find things in the Dungeon Masters Guide that I hadn't noticed before after all these years, and I like that.

    I'm sure the clones are better organized, but I enjoy rules delving nearly as much as dungeon delving.

    I've probably eaten too many dice.

  9. I don't recall OSRIC being undertaken for the purpose of better organizing AD&D.

    You're probably correct that it wasn't done for that purpose, but that doesn't mean it isn't, incidentally (or that the claim isn't being made).

  10. Organizing spells by level is really awful from a utilitarian standpoint. The only time that's useful is when you're picking your spells for the day, but in general that's NOT when you need the full rules for a spell: All you need is the list for the spells available at each level.

    You're generally going to be looking for the full rules for a spell as you're using it. And at that point, sorting them by levels is going to be a problem at any point when you aren't sure what level the spell is.

    This is less of a problem for a PC, but it's a frequent problem for a DM.

    Now, after using the manuals for 30 years this is largely irrelevant for you because you've memorized the level for every spell. You know that fireball is a 3rd level spell. Heck, you can probably tell me what page number it's on.

    This is really a situation where you can have your cake and eat it, too: Spell lists organized by level for character creation and spell prep use; spell descriptions organized alphabetically for rapid reference.

    Gygax got this dead wrong.

  11. Actually, organized by spell level is useful when you’re creating PCs and NPCs. When you’re picking your spells for the day, you have already read the descriptions at least once. When you’re picking spells for a new character or picking new spells for an existing character, that’s when you want all the descriptions by level.

    And while I liked the idea of the by level lists with short descriptions in 3e, the short descriptions weren’t really enough for me.

    But I’ve also experienced the “what level is that spell” problem. Arranged by level also has the “see the Cleric spell of the same name” problem.

    This was perhaps the thing I liked most about the d20 SRD. (And which I would apply to free retro-clones.) I could fairly easily import the spells into a database. Then I could do things like query for all Sorcerer spells with no somatic component arranged by level.

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