Kobold Press

D&D’s 40th Anniversary: Words to Celebrate, Part One

In Search of Adventure; TSR, Inc.It’s hard to believe that Dungeons & Dragons is celebrating its 40th anniversary today! To help commemorate this most glorious occasion, we asked several folk who are working in or who have worked in the RPG industry to share their memories of the game with us. Come see how they answered four questions we posed in part one of this two-part celebratory series.

David “Zeb” Cook

What was the first edition of D&D you played?

“Zeb”: The first edition of D&D I played was the original white box (not the woodgrain box, though). Actually at first I think I was playing from bad photocopies. That was back in about 1974-1975, I think, definitely when I was in college. Eventually I found a copy of the box (and had the money to buy it!) at a local campus bookstore. It’s a classic early adopter story for D&D.

What’s your favorite piece of crunch, fluff, art, or text from that edition?

“Zeb”: Typos and the complete lack of explanation of how to do things! There were great typos in the box, some that could really twist meanings—% Liar was the best, since some people could and did argue it meant what it said. DMs and players could go to lengths creating justifications for why that stat was needed. Then there were the charts and tables that didn’t really explain how they were used. You just had to puzzle it out.

What’s the quirkiest thing about that edition?

“Zeb”: For me the quirky part was that at that point the game had just barely crossed over from being a set of miniatures wargame rules to being an RPG. There were a lot of miniatures conventions still in place and some assumptions that it wasn’t unreasonable to expect players to have large retinues and fight out tabletop battles as part of their adventures.

What flavor of fantasy RPG are you playing now?

“Zeb”: These days I find myself more and more off in fringe genres: pulp, steampunk, dieselpunk, alternate histories, and of course Call of Cthulhu. My day job is all about Elder Scrolls Online, so I get plenty of straight on fantasy at work. I still tend to run Basic/Expert games at conventions. They’re fast and fun games for me still.

~ ~ ~

Bruce Cordell

What was the first edition of D&D you played?

Bruce: Dungeons & Dragons “Basic Set.”

What’s your favorite piece of crunch, fluff, art, or text from that edition?

Bruce: The art from the cover of the Dungeons & Dragons “Basic Set.”

What’s the quirkiest thing about that edition?

Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set; TSR, Inc.Bruce: The 3rd-level magic-user spells are listed along with the 1st- and 2nd-level spells, but they are not actually otherwise described. Instead, we get: “Third Level Spells can only be used by magic-users of the fifth level and above. They are listed above to give some idea of the range of magical possibilities.” I call that brilliant marketing, because, oh how I wished to know what a spell called fireball or lightning bolt could do!

What flavor of fantasy RPG are you playing now?

Bruce: Numenera and The Strange!

~ ~ ~

Jeff Grubb

What was the first edition of D&D you played?

Jeff: I started playing in the fall of 1975, and our gospel was the original (brown fake-wood) boxed set, plus the Greyhawk supplement.

What’s your favorite piece of crunch, fluff, art, or text from that edition?

Jeff: Wow, there was so much from the Greyhawk books—Thieves! Paladins! Random eye-effects of the Beholder! The Deck of Many Things! The Greyhawk supplement really showed how far the system could be modified and present a cool game. But the favorite piece of art for me would be the pumpkin-headed bugbear.

What’s the quirkiest thing about that edition?

Jeff: In the versions of the D&D set, there was a typo that said %Liar as opposed to %Lair. Our DM at the time ruled that this was the chance for the monster to lie to you. We also had no idea how to pronounce anything, so the chimera was pronounced “chimmera” in our group.

What flavor of fantasy RPG are you playing now?

Jeff: The past year has been a combination of D&D Next and Call of Cthulhu. In the new year, we’ll keep going with Call of Cthulhu, but I find new systems such as Numenera and 13th Age to be very intriguing.

~ ~ ~

Colin McComb

What was the first edition of D&D you played?

Colin: I first played a hodge-podge of the Blue Box and 1st Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. My mom wasn’t sure which to get, so she picked up the Player’s Handbook, the Dungeon Master’s Guide, and the Blue Box for us. We picked up the rest (Deities & Demigods, Monster Manual, and a pile of modules) ourselves. That was a great incentive to get a job.

What’s your favorite piece of crunch, fluff, art, or text from that edition?

Colin: I’m going with art, even though all the other categories are full of excellence. Now, it’s hard to nail this one down definitively, because there were so many good, thought-provoking pieces there that shaped my entire persona. The Blue Box cover was great, and that’s high on my list, but the one that really jumps to mind first is the Melnibonean section of Deities & Demigods. The picture of Elric holding Stormbringer was so evocative, so dangerous, that I had to roll up a character to go beat up Elric and steal his sword right away.

What? I was 12!

What’s the quirkiest thing about that edition?

Colin: Oh man. There were so many things from 1st Edition that were (in retrospect) hastily bolted onto the frame of earlier rules that it’s hard to pick. But (apart from the psionics being horribly, horribly different from the rest of the game mechanics) I think my favorite quirk was the bard character class. It was a prestige class before such a thing ever existed, and as such everyone wanted to make a bard. And by everyone, I mean me. I wanted to make a bard.

What flavor of fantasy RPG are you playing now?

Colin: Perhaps understandably, I’m pretty much playing Numenera these days!

~ ~ ~

Wade Rockett

What was the first edition of D&D you played?

Wade: 1st Edition! When I was in junior high school, my friend Chris bought the books and invited me to play. I rolled up a half-elf assassin named Sindar and went on all sorts of shady adventures in a gritty urban setting. Eventually we broadened our group to include other players, but to do so we had to abandon one of our house rules: to simulate combat we would actually hit each other with stuff.

What’s your favorite piece of crunch, fluff, art, or text from that edition?

Wade: I have to give the boring answer because it’s true: the Player’s Handbook cover, the single most iconic image in roleplaying. One look at that illustration and I knew that whatever was going on in that dark place full of monsters, treasure, and sinister idols, I wanted to be a part of it.

What’s the quirkiest thing about that edition?

Wade: The writing! I re-acquired the books at a used bookstore recently and reading through the manuals I thought, “This is rules text?” I’ve gotten so used to writers striving to be concise and clear that I’d forgotten how dense, convoluted, and polysyllabic Gary Gygax’s prose was. But when I was 14 years old, I really appreciated that the author wasn’t talking down to me. He assumed I was smart enough to know (or figure out) what he meant by “the antithesis of weal.”

What flavor of fantasy RPG are you playing now?

Wade: I’m running a 13th Age campaign and enjoying it hugely. In the years since my first experience with D&D I’ve mainly been playing horror, science fiction, and superhero games. But now I’m back in the dungeon, and remembering why the dungeon is awesome.

Robert Schwalb

What was the first edition of D&D you played?

Rob: I learned to play D&D with the red box D&D basic set.

What’s your favorite piece of crunch, fluff, art, or text from that edition?

Rahasia; TSR, Inc.Rob: I have two. Sorry. I love the cover of In Search of Adventure. And the cover of Rahasia, the first adventure I purchased.

What’s the quirkiest thing about that edition?

Rob: Two “quirky” things from that edition come to mind and they both had to do with classes. Making dwarves, halflings, and elves classes certainly provided a character creation shortcut, but level limits made them unattractive options. Even though our characters were not going to bump up against those limits (I suppose they did, now that I think about it), being told when you stopped getting stuff was kind of a downer. This said, I like the idea of just playing a dwarf or an elf a lot.

What flavor of fantasy RPG are you playing now?

Rob: A little of this and a little of that.

~ ~ ~

Margaret Weis

What was the first edition of D&D you played?

Margaret: I’m not sure. I knew nothing about D&D when I played my first game. A friend ran that for me and my kids back in 1982.

What’s your favorite piece of crunch, fluff, art, or text from that edition?

Margaret: I have no clue. Someone always had to tell me what dice to roll. :)

What’s the quirkiest thing about that edition?

Margaret: I remember playing Tomb of Horrors and coming to realize after the entire party had died about halfway through that nobody could possibly live through that adventure (unless maybe you were 100th level!).

What flavor of fantasy RPG are you playing now?

Margaret: The new Firefly RPG from Margaret Weis productions! Of course!

8 Replies to "D&D’s 40th Anniversary: Words to Celebrate, Part One"

Tom

January 26, 2014 at 11:35am

The illustration that always stood out above the rest was the “Emirikol the Chaotic” from the 1st Edition Dungeon Masters Guide.

Todd Gdula

January 26, 2014 at 3:02pm

I’m with Wade on the Player’s Handbook cover. Definitely iconic.

Wolfgang, this is a great piece. Thanks for pulling everyone together and asking all the right questions. And thanks to the gang for participating!

Wolfgang

January 27, 2014 at 2:55pm

Thanks, Todd! All credit goes to Miranda Horner for making it happen. She rules the website roost.

Todd Gdula

January 27, 2014 at 3:57pm

Well, then. Thank you Miranda!

Henry W

January 27, 2014 at 4:34pm

A great article, thanks for putting it together. And onto part two.

Mark

January 28, 2014 at 2:27pm

Nice article!

I’d have to say it was David Trampier’s art that impressed upon me the most.

Charles Carrier

February 2, 2014 at 3:40pm

“I’ve gotten so used to writers striving to be concise and clear that I’d forgotten how dense, convoluted…”

Yeah, but the wording of those early editions always gave me the feeling that Gary had opened his toybox to share his personal treasures with me. Later editions (even including my current favorite, Pathfinder) lack that personal, friendly charm. The modern, slick, professional RPG writers all seem to be dictating to us from on high. None of them convey the feeling that we are all here to have a friendly game together.

Well, *almost* none. What made me a fan of Kobold Quarterly was that it brought back that old feeling of personality and friendliness. KQ was less loquacious than Gary, but it revived that feeling of friends sharing ideas with each other.

I challenge any modern RPG author to write “the antithesis of weal” with as much panache as did Gary Gygax. :)

Joshua Robertson

February 5, 2014 at 6:35am

This is an excellent article. It brings back so many memories!

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