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All of the Dungeons and the Dragons Part 1: The Olden Days

Hey you, yeah you! You like the idea of stumbling around dark holes searching for valuable treasure and bad guys to clobber? How about tossing fireballs at those dudes who mocked you openly the other day in front of your woman and/or man and stole your dog? Do you believe in the power of imagination? Well I hope so because in real life there ain’t no other way for you to experience such heights of triumph and the enjoyment of true success except in Dungeons & Dragons!

“Well bless me bagpipes, sign me up” you are no doubt thinking to yourself. Whoa whoa there pardner! Before you jump right in it’s best to do a quick run-through of the various editions of this venerable 40+ year old game. Everyone has their own expectations and their own preferences, so what we’re going to do in today’s blog (plus part 2)  is suss out which version will fit you best. And we’ll do it in chronological order, which is my very favorite order!

Well here it is, the very first release of the D&D game! While great for getting started in 1974, in this far-flung future time of 2018 the extreme cost and primitive editing, art, and layout pose a formidable barrier of entry for the new player. To fully take advantage of the game, you would need to track down not only the core box, but the first supplement, Greyhawk. An interesting historical artifact, the game is not much use except as a collector’s piece. As you will see in Part 2, the modern Old School Renaissance (OSR) movement has returned to the roots of the “feels” of 1st edition, but with a modern twist.

The Highlights:

  • Amateur art and layout
  • Confusing, scattered, incomplete rules
  • Marketed to miniatures and board war gamers
  • Gives you something to do with your old copy of Wilderness Survival by Avalon Hill
  • Worth more than your old Fiero sitting in the back yard

 The Conclusion: Looks great in a display case!

Wrought via the intense labor and even intenser wordsmithery of Gary Gygax, the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (AD&D) rules were slowly trickled out starting in 1978. AD&D compiles and edits the various rules spread throughout D&D 1st edition’s rules booklets, plus whatever errata was collected at that point. If you really want the old school flavor, from the art to the sesquipedalian writing style of Gygax, this edition is your huckleberry.

The Highlights:

  • Rules for everything, mostly
  • No unified task resolution system
  • The above two points make for over-complexity if you intend to follow all the rules
  • No skills system other than class or race skills
  • Modern players will dislike the Attribute Bonus spread
  • Full of gonzo classes like Thief-Acrobat and Cavalier
  • Great art. Like, super great.
  • Marketed to college educated smartypants
  • Outstanding reference, especially the Dungeon Master’s Guide (DMG)

The Conclusion: Purchase the DMG for inspirational reading!

Alrighty so this is a weird little story. Back before gaming companies realized you should not compete with yourself, TSR implemented a simple plan. They would release and support parallel product lines. One would be an easy to learn introduction to their game, and the other would be the full-fledged game. So while AD&D was going strong, the D&D Basic Set was put out there to suck in the players. This Basic Set included only the most fundamental rules necessary to play the game, and allowed for characters of experience levels 1-3. The 1983 version, by Frank Mentzer, spawned four additional sets over the next three years that provided rules for experience levels up to 36, and eventual attaining immortality! In 1993 the rules from the first four sets were combined and edited into one all-powerful tome, the Rules Cyclopedia. 

The Highlights:

  • Classes as races (ie a Dwarf is the Dwarf class)
  • Simple, intuitive rules (well mostly, see Weapon Mastery and wrestling)
  • Everything in one book
  • Initially marketed to teenagers and preteens
  • Fundamentally tied to the Mystara campaign setting (which is awesome btw)
  • Become a god with the Immortals set! (or later, the Wrath of the Immortals set)
  • Handy system for running domains and mass battles included!
  • Supported by the Gazetteers series, which is super cool.
  • Supports the best D&D adventure ever, B10 Night’s Dark Terror!
  • Until recently, out of print and expensive. Now available at RPGNow as print on demand.

The Conclusion: One book, one game! Does everything. Get it!

With advances in computer publishing technology, and exhibiting a remarked lack of game design progress, came AD&D 2nd edition. TSR spent 2 years and probably upwards of fifty bucks to develop this new edition of their flagship game. Ten years is a long long time to collect errata and not collect revenue for a new set of core rulebooks, and that’s how much time had passed since AD&D 1st edition. Numerous small tweaks were implemented to make this new edition of AD&D as unnecessary as possible. This was a chance to really update the game, and TSR blew it. I have it on my shelf only because it’s the edition of AD&D I started with and because I’m an old softy and can’t get rid of it. Also my name is written on the inside front cover of the books under contact paper. Nice job 1990 me.

The Highlights:

  • Introduced THAC0 instead of just fixing the task resolution system
  • Same old lack of a unified task resolution system
  • Added skills
  • The Monstrous Compendium experiment, which was a well-intentioned mess
  • Liquidated crazy classes like Barbarian and Thief-Acrobat
  • Introduced a cool magic school system with specialist wizards
  • Removed big words and suspect stuff like the Assassins and Half-Orcs
  • Marketed to teenagers
  • Responsible for just piles and piles of splatbooks jam packed with unbalanced character kits and the like

The Conclusion: You kind of don’t need it. Pass!

Stay tuned for the startling conclusion of this series when we enter the 21st Century with Dungeons & Dragons 3rd edition!