This thought often arises when I read about gamers attempting to explain to newcomers of the OD&D rules set. Referees talk about how simple it is ... then with no trace of irony offer up pages and pages of explanations regarding how to play this simple game.
One explanation I admire about OD&D and how to approach play came from a member of the pre-publication D&D campaigns. Using a warfare analogy, which makes sense considering the backgrounds of the co-authors and beta-testers of the rules, the following concepts were put forth:
- Fighters are the infantry, the ones bearing the brunt of the fighting.
- Magic-Users are the artillery, powerful offensively but weak defensively.
- Clerics are the support and medical corps.
- Thieves are recon and scouts, the providers of intelligence.
I like this parallel because it emphasizes salient points. Fighters are the backbone of any army and a good general will tell you no war can be one without infantry (dog-faces, ground pounders, etc.). A successful party will have several well-equipped fighters in it. Magic-Users, like artillery, have a lot of firepower and deal mass damage but are not intended to go toe-to-toe with the bad guys. Clerics are useful in either supporting the front-line fighters or healing (sorry to all the cleric players frustrated with being treated as combat medics, but if the magic boot fits ...). Finally, thieves are adept at reconnoiter and infiltration but should only be fighting as a last resort.
Like any analogy, the comparisons begin to break down with in-depth analysis, but doesn't this explanation just lay it all out in a row for you? Of course, after using this explanation I would go on to encourage tyros to the game to expand their characters in their own directions. Just as the rules are really guidelines, so is this just a nudge in the direction they may want to go. As a player gets a handle on the rules, these give an indication of how to approach problems presented within the milieu.