Saturday, February 1, 2014

Original Dungeons & Dragons reprint, brings back great memories

So, Wizards finally released the (announced over a year ago) Premium Edition of the Original Dungeons & Dragons set.

New reprint of Original D&D - recently arrived at Gaming with Chuck headquarters (picture from WOTC website)

This is the reprint, in the spirit of the other earlier edition reprints they have been doing, of the original white box version of Dungeons & Dragons, published once upon a time by TSR, thanks to the heroic writing and publishing efforts of the early greats of the industry - Gygax, Arneson, Blume, etc.

The original game came with three booklets:
Volume 1: Men & Magic
Volume 2: Monsters & Treasure
Volume 3: Underworld & Wilderness Adventures

Book one deals with building characters, and man-to-man combat, heavily dependent on Chainmail

Book two, with (you guessed it) Monsters and Treasures
Book three with campaign and adventure rules and guidelines

Following its release in 1973, there was a flurry of excitement and reprints as the popularity of the game took the fledgling wargaming company by storm, but by 1975, the Supplement train was going strong, and the original release was supported by:
Supplement I: Greyhawk
Supplement II: Blackmoor
Supplement III: Eldritch Wizardry
Supplement IV: Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes

The new set was received at Gaming With Chuck headquarters during the recent Snowpocalypse, and that gave me some time off from teaching at the university to spend a few hours perusing these little gems of nostalgia.  All the rules, text, descriptions, charts, tables, examples, and interior art is just as it always was (or, at least, as I remember it).  The biggest changes came in - (1) extremely clear typesetting (although that wasn't too much of a problem with the TSR originals), and (2) new cover art for each book. Sigh.  I miss the cover art, but still, as a chance to get this reprint, it is okay that they changed it (I suppose).  Still, they didn't ask me. I would have voted for the original.

The whole thing comes in a really nice dark wood box (with the stylized ampersand from the modernized game logo), with a felt lined well in the middle for the books, and smaller wells on both sides, to hold a large set of polyhedral dice.  I say large, because it also accommodates 4 d6, in addition to the rest.  This is very nice, and I dare say much, much nicer than the dice that I got with the redeemable coupon in my 1979 boxed set of Dungeons and Dragons.
The dice I got from the hobby store in Huntington WV, with the coupon from my set of Basic D&D

Rereading it is exciting, and the descriptions of the monsters, spells, abilities, and adventure ideas are all grand.  But, I am struck by how spread out everything is.  Basic monster abilities (descriptions and hit dice) in one place.  Details about how many attacks (monsters can get multiple attacks?  Cool new rule...), and how much damage each does (not everything does the same damage? Cool new rule...), are all in different places.  The release of the canonical spells for Magic Users and Clerics are in different places.  The introduction of the Thief (a player can play a thief?  Cool new rule...) - all this and other stuff, spread out over the different books.

Gathering all this, as well as "official" stuff that came out in The Dragon, and else where, was the reason for releasing the hardcover AD&D books.  It wasn't supposed to change the game (although it did) as much as it was supposed to make it easier for DMs and players to find all the stuff that came out in dribs and drabs over 7 books, and in magazine articles, etc.

In between the release of the White Box set, and the full set of the first three Hardcover books (released, in order, as Monster Manual, Players Handbook, and Dungeon Master's Guide), there was the release of the first box set since the white box edition - the first Basic Dungeons and Dragons set.  This was edited by J. Eric Holmes, and was the set that I first purchased (and played, and played...).  It wasn't fantastic, or extremely thick, but it captured all the rules (mostly) needed to play initial adventures, from the three volume set of 1974, along with some of the additional materials (spells, monsters, rule changes) from the supplements.

I had the 5th printing, identifiable because it came with adventure B1 and a coupon for dice
The edition I bought came with cut out chits for polyhedral dice randomization, and a coupon redeemable for dice (see picture above) from TSR at a local hobby store.  My set came from a small book story in Huntington WV, in the winter of 1979-80, called Nick's News.  There was a hobby store in town, where I had been buying some wargames (I bought both GEV and also the Hinchliffe Guide to Wargaming there, on my first trip), and had gotten interested in medieval miniatures (including some fantasy figures, in the Heritage "Fantastiques" line).  Then I saw the white box set, with the subtitle "Rules for Fantastic Medieval Wargames Campaigns Playable with Paper and Pencil and Miniature Figures". That was what I needed for my small, but growing, collection of medieval toy soldiers (including my first fantasy figures - a pack of beornings, that came with three Beorn-like figures and three bears).  But I also saw the first of the hard cover books, and a TSR rack of products - including some of the first packaged modules, the monster & treasure assortments, the geomorphs - all of it.
The book cover of the rule book in the Holmes box set. I still have a copy, and it is great reading.

It seemed to me that the 8x11 Holmes set would be a good bridge to the  hard cover books, and after all, it came with an adventure.  And - Oh! - what an adventure!  I got the fifth printing which came with B1 - In Search of the Unknown.  I STILL love that adventure.  And I can't think of anything better to teach a DM how to build their own dungeons.  It was a map, with room descriptions, and fill in the blank places for the newby DM to fill in monsters and treasures (complete with space for traps and containers), but the basic dungeon structure was done.  It was fantastic.  I was hooked - along with my two brothers, and anyone else we could get to play.
Best intro module ever made, in my humble opinion.

So, while WOTC has not reprinted the Holmes version of Basic D&D, they have done a good job of reprinting the White Box set, which is even more wonky, and more fun to read.  If they do a version of Basic D&D, honestly, I think I would rather have the Moldvay Version (Basic and Expert rulebooks), or the later B1-B5 version as it eventually ended up in the Rules Cyclopedia.  That was a fantastically complete ruleset, and loads of fun to play.  In the meantime, I think that the Labyrinth Lord game is a great modern replacement, and if you include the supplement Advanced Labyrinth Lord book, it is a pretty good replacement for both Basic D&D and also 1st Edition Advanced (this was the version we played over Labor Day Weekend at friends in 2013 - and my Daughter and Wife played in the same game, along with a pack of some of the best friends of the family who are all gamers).  Good times can still be had with this older version of the classic.

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