AD&D is fairly notorious for not really explaining itself well. The game was written with the assumption that it would be played in the first instance by players of the original Dungeons and Dragons (OD&D) which had been published a few years earlier in a set of 8 small booklets (three core "little brown books" and five supplements, with an additional mass-combat expansion too). In fact, the original little brown books suffered even more from this and were practically written from the point of view that you had met the authors or at least knew someone who had and could rely on them to tutor you in the play of the game. Thankfully, "The Dragon" magazine had helped a lot with OD&D but even that failed to resolve some questions and hardly tried to introduce the new edition when it came out.
So, what is Advanced Dungeons and Dragons? I'm assuming you know what role-playing in general is.
It's a role-playing game centred around the episodic adventures of a group of characters in a gameworld, whose ongoing sessions constitute a "campaign" wherein time passes from game session to game session according to several differing timescales depending on what is happening in the game.
"Episodic" is a key point here. AD&D was not designed with the goal in mind of representing every day of the characters' lives in detail. The game in fact has a "grand turn" sequence something like this:
- Run an adventure (1 or more sessions of actual time).
- Count up experience (xps) gained from adventure (often takes a half session, sometimes even more).
- Decide what everyone is doing between now and the next adventure. Some of these things are mandated, many are optional. Here's some examples all taken from the rulebooks:
- Anyone taken to <1 hp: 1 week's bed rest.
- Anyone wanting to heal up: variable up to a month.
- Training: variable: up to a month/4 weeks. Pay for training.
- Scroll preparation: 1 day per level of spell. (This may also cover the time taken to put spells into spell books).
- Potion preparation: 1-10 days
- Research poison manufacture: 20-32 weeks
- Poison preparation by assassin: 1 week
- Sage consultation: 0-40 days
- Spell research: 1 week per spell level or more
- Enchant an item: 3-10 days
- Recovery from making a +3 sword: 2 weeks (plus actual making time)
- Casting Legend Lore: up to 12 weeks
- Holy water fount construction: 4-10 weeks
- Henchman recruitment: 2-8 days
- Simple spy mission: 1-8 days
- Recovery from severe infection: 3-7 weeks
- Recovery from being raised: 1 day per day dead
- Recovery from casting resurrection: 1 day per level of resurrectee
- Buy spell components - DM's discretion depending on component.
- For each day that has passed since the last adventure session ended, one day passes in the gameworld. If the adventure that was finished last week ended on the 6th in-game and a week has passed then it is now the 13th.
- The players who wish to play together must figure out when they have characters available in the gameworld at the same time, depending on the above time requirements. If Bill is working on scroll making until the 5th and Ted is training for a new level in druid until the 9th then they can't adventure together until the 10th. If the calendar says that it's the 13th then they've missed the chance to do any adventuring on the 11th or 12th.
The intent is to simulate fantasy short-stories, particularly the "pulp" stories of Howard, Haggard, Merritt, Leiber, Vance and their ilk, where the reader joins the characters for an interesting episode from their lives, enjoys it and then leaves them until the next exciting incident. We never see Conan arguing with his landlord over leaky rooves or the Grey Mouser training unless it leads into something more exciting.
When we see the characters at the end of an adventure they are battered but rich; when we see them at the start of an adventure they are generally well equipped, prepared, and somewhat low on cash.
The game has mechanisms to encourage this style of play, and in particular it gives out a lot of money and takes it back almost as quickly. Gold washes through player characters' hands like water through a sieve, leaving only a small residue.
AD&D's mechanics are frequently those of resource management - hit points, food, spells, arrows etc. but the top-level resource is time. So, for example, players who ignore charisma and thus henchmen will be less productive than those who cultivate a circle of assistant henchmen who can do things in between adventures as well as within them, and those who play magic users will eventually face the question of whether to take a different character on adventure while their main one concentrates on some great work.
None of this is written in stone, and when you start you can safely ignore some of it (since low level characters don't have so many options) but if you want to tinker with the game it's worth knowing what the assumptions are. That way you might be able to foresee what knock-on effects your changes might have. And for those that just want to play the game "by the book", having an idea of what the book expects play to be like is very useful.
So, AD&D is an episodic adventure role-playing game. That's the big-picture; I'll look at filling in some details in my next post.