The Most Mystifying Game of All – AD&D Trivia

Sometimes, works of art get forgotten after their own time. They may be rediscovered decades, even centuries later, to face re-evaluation by critics and perhaps be inducted into the canon of classics.

Of course, sometimes the re-evaluation concludes that it’s a dud and deservedly forgotten.

So, which one is the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Trivia Game?

Released in 1991, two years after the release of AD&D’s second edition, it’s what it says on the tin. It comes with 600 question cards organized into five levels (100 per level except 200 for third). First-level questions are usually multiple-choice and easy (one might say “trivial”), while fifth-level questions are often long descriptions of a game situation that then asks the specifics of the rule being applied in the situation. Because the questions are about game rules. They’re specifically drawn from the Player’s Handbook, Dungeon Master Guide, Monstrous Compendium Volume 1 and Monstrous Compendium Volume 2. That was before the 2E hardcover Monstrous Manual, when they were still doing the ring binder experiment with the monster collections.

I do not remember why I own this game. I believe I may have picked it up for a nominal sum at Ropecon some year in the early 2000’s. I had never played this until this past month when I was browsing BoardGameGeek, which unbeknownst to me was bugging (or I looked carelessly) and it showed zero logged plays for this undoubted, unsung masterpiece. I posted about this on Facebook and somewhat surprisingly was met with enough enthusiasm that I scheduled two sessions of the game on Discord.

Rules

This is not a board game, strictly speaking, as there is no game board. Every player gets a character – Fighter, Priest, Rogue, Wizard, or Monster. These are only identifiers and have no class abilities. There are two character cards and sets of tokens per class, making this a ten-player game if one can scrounge up sufficient AD&D nerds for such madness. The cards are beautiful. While the art assets are recycled, TSR’s character image bank is a really good place to recycle from. There’s all the big hits, like Larry Elmore, Clyde Caldwell, and Jeff Easley, plus the then-new hotness of Brom, and a rogue from the underrated Robin Wood, who sadly passed earlier this year.

Every character has six tokens. Their tokens are put into a cup – or an Italian bersaglieri fez in our case – and you pick one token blind. That’s the first player, after which the round moves clockwise. The player whose turn it is picks a question level, and the player to their left – their Question Master – draws a question card and reads it. If the player’s answer is wrong, their turn ends and it’s the next player’s turn. If they’re right, it gets interesting. They take the question level’s worth of tokens from the cup. If they’re the other players’ tokens, they take that much damage and the tokens are put on their sheets. The player’s own tokens heal damage. Once all six of a player’s tokens are on their sheet, they’re dead. There is thus an indirect PvP element – you can’t choose who you attack, but attacking is baked into the procedure of play.

The last character alive is the winner. Simple.

Of course, since we were playing via a Discord video call and I had all the question cards, we had to modify the procedure slightly. I asked all the questions and took care of the tokens.

Comments

It’s a weird game. The mechanics of it work, and made for nice 30-minute session with three players. It was easy to explain and fast to learn, but there was also a thematic connection with the question levels. I do not feel the player-versus-player element is quite as thematically strong, as to me AD&D is a game of cooperation, but I do get that it’s traditional for there to be one winner. The token system also brings in some interesting complexity and reduces the probability of someone getting eliminated right out the gate. Since damage tokens are removed from the cup, you’re less likely to draw all six of someone’s tokens immediately. The more you have players, the more the probabilities will even out – and all of this just happens and you don’t have to know or think about it. That’s solid design, there.

And then there’s the question cards. 600 cards of game rules. It boggles my mind that anyone thought this was the way to make a trivia game. Here, let me give some examples, one from each level.

What is a hireling?
a. A type of pole weapon
b. A small, scaly creature found in caves
c. An NPC who can be employed by a player character
d. A tool used to scale walls

The bardiche, ranseur, and spetum are all examples of what?
a. Foul creatures from the Outer Planes
b. Polearms
c. Orc spittle
d. Druid spell components

Gragmore the Warrior is attacking an opponent in a barroom brawl. He punches the drunk with his hand, which is equipped with a metal gauntlet. How much damage can Gragmore inflict (not including a Strength bonus)?

Of all the giant-kin, which one has innate magical abilities?

Underwater settings can offer unique opportunities for adventure (ever had a carp nibble your toes)? On the other hand, underwater adventures can pose problems. How far can characters see while exploring a murky lake, 50 feet below the surface?

The first is too easy, really. The second is a bit more difficult but still trivial, especially as one of the options is a clear joke answer. Three I could’ve guessed, four I would’ve guessed wrong, and five I could not even begin to answer. Three, by the way, is an example of how many of the question cards tell a little story to set the stage for the question. I like the idea.

My problem with this is that rules questions age fast and they’re kinda boring. If you do not play this particular edition of the game, you have little to no chance. I played AD&D for years, but that was over 20 years ago. While obviously all trivia games age to some degree – our family copy of an early 1980’s Trivial Pursuit Genus Edition is notorious for the Sports & Leisure category being all but impossible today – I feel this one became obsolete far faster than if it had been, say, Forgotten Realms trivia.

Really, what this feels like is a joke on ruleslawyers that’s gone too far: it’s nothing but rules knowledge without the distraction of story or role-playing.

Answers: 1. c, 2. b, 3. 1d3, 4. firbolg, 5. 10 feet.

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