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

In Search of the Unknown; TSR, Inc.It’s hard to believe that Dungeons & Dragons is celebrating its 40th anniversary this week! 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 two of this two-part celebratory series.

Wolfgang Baur

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

Wolfgang: I played the blue box with my sister and a neighbor, and later tried it out on my parents (they didn’t quite get it, but seemed to sense my enthusiasm for it). I was a DM from the start, and really only got to play an adventurer a year later.

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

Wolfgang: It’s impossible to pick from the blue box, but my favorite art from that edition is the cover of B1 In Search of the Unknown. I loved the adventure by Mike Carr, and I think the simple sense of newness and exploration was what drew me into the game. It’s impossible to capture that wonder in a bottle, but exploration and strange sights have remained my favorite parts of D&D. Dave Sutherland and Trampier were the defining artists of my first impression.

What’s the quirkiest thing about that edition?

Wolfgang: I think the use of dwarves and elves as both race and class was still a holdover in that edition, and I think it worked very well for getting people into character quickly. Most people wanted to play a defined role that they already knew from books. Those categories included things like rogue or wizard or elf. I recently ran some games for young players around 8 to 11 years old. All of them immediately knew what they wanted, and “elf” was a perfectly good choice. The complexity and class/race split that came later in the game looks completely unnecessary to a beginner. So… After a long time in which I’d say that was a mistake, I’d now say that quirk actually does what it needs to do.

What flavor of fantasy RPG are you playing now?

Wolfgang: I’m playing in a D&D Next game focused on classic dungeon crawls, and I’m writing a fast-and-furious fantasy game that may never see print. I’m looking to reboot a Pathfinder game in April.

~ ~ ~

Ed Greenwood

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

Ed: First Edition; that is, the original three booklets. I remember when the Greyhawk (fourth, or “Supplement I”) booklet came out, and the game suddenly went from “this is nice” to EXCITING!

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

Ed: It’s a toss-up for me between the illustration of the thief (above the archway that an angry minotaur, who is presumably looking for that thief, is framed in), and the deadpan stare of the beholder on the cover of the Greyhawk booklet.

What’s the quirkiest thing about that edition?

Ed: How the published wording of many of the rules allow for multiple valid interpretations, and therefore lots of arguments.

It’s a good thing gamers never argue over anything, isn’t it? ;}

What flavor of fantasy RPG are you playing now?

Ed: When I’m not playtesting, I’m still happiest playing as I did when I first started running my world, the Forgotten Realms, as a D&D campaign: everyone around the table speaks as their characters, there’s lots of acting, lots of atmosphere, and the unfolding action is heavy on intrigue, subplots, and diplomacy, rather than on hacking monsters (or worrying about the rules, of any edition or game nameplate). So when the beasties DO appear, they make skin crawl and adrenalin pump and players shout.

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Ben McFarland

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

Ben: I played basic D&D, the Moldvay edition.

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

Ben: It’s the cover. That Erol Otis style, the magic-user and warrior against the dragon. It was so different from the Hanna-Barbera animation of the day, I was hooked.

What’s the quirkiest thing about that edition?

Ben: Looking back, that book feels like all quirks—the demi-humans’ “race as class,” the level limit for the book capping at 3, yet the inclusion of dragons! I can’t tell you how many characters died going into the Caves of Chaos.

What flavor of fantasy RPG are you playing now?

Ben: Now, my time is split between Ars Magica and Pathfinder, about 65% / 35%, but that’s because I’m sharing the Storyguide duties for an Ars saga, and only playing in a Pathfinder campaign. I really love Ars Magica because the magic system is so elegant and robust, the troupe style play means I have many characters to invest in, and the historical nature of Mythic Europe means the whole history section of the bookstore is my supplement shelf. However, there’s something very liberating about being able to create whatever mechanics or setting I want on the fly with Pathfinder. And the martial types die pretty quickly in Ars, so I’ve started leaning toward magus and “fighter with a dash of magic” characters in Pathfinder.

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Richard Pett

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

Richard: The old blue book, a very battered and mouldy copy of which still sits at my desk when I write. Blimmey, 2nd Edition November 1978, I’m so old…

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

Richard: I love the original adventure; it sets such a great scene. For some reason, the edition, because of its lack of choices, somehow seems to make the game simpler. The group I play with keeps harking back to old editions in a sentimental way—I guess it’s because we’re so ancient now. Also the feeling I can still recall when I first started writing adventures for that edition.

Plus we love the Tom Wham pictures.

What’s the quirkiest thing about that edition?

Richard: Besides the Tom Wham pictures: When we started playing we wrongly assumed each player should run a party of characters—don’t ask me why. That makes me smile, as well as the fact that it’s just so old and battered, almost as well thumbed as my first edition DM’s Guide, which I still use regularly for inspiration.

What flavor of fantasy RPG are you playing now?

Richard: I think we must be the only group in the world still playing Flashing Blades; we have an historic nut and he continually hits us with awesome adventures. Pathfinder, of course—in fact we’re playtesting the 10 part AP I’m working on right now. I also love the darker stuff—hotwar was a great favourite, as well call of Cthulhu, and I’d love to dabble more in steampunk.

And thank you very much for asking—40 years, flippin’eck…

~ ~ ~

Mike Selinker

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

Mike: The blue book from the 1978 Dungeons & Dragons basic set, fourth printing. My mom’s boyfriend gave it to me. I immediately took the grease pencil to the dice and rolled them to their nubbins. We played through third level—that’s as high as it went—and then played to third level, and then played to third level again. I can’t imagine how much time we invested in mastering that box. I still own those dice, and roll them on important occasions.

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

Mike: The adventure—B1: In Search of the Unknown—didn’t have any monsters or treasure in any room. Instead, I was prompted to choose what I liked in each encounter. This taught me the bizarre ecology of the dungeon—an orc in a room behind a wall of yellow mold, for example—and made me into the creative I am today. I really want the guys making D&D Next to find a copy of that adventure and get the legions of new DMs to write in their own monsters and treasure. Give a DM a fish, and he’ll DM for a week. Teach a DM to fish, and he’ll create some new horrible fish monstrosity that everyone will fear.

What’s the quirkiest thing about that edition?

Mike: Oh, there was so much—the class called “fighting man,” the 10% tax on your gold and items when your character dies, the fact that over three levels the thief’s climb sheer surfaces ability goes up from a low of 87% to a whopping 89%. But I think the thing that’d be most bizarre to current players would be the example of play on pages 40-41, in which the role of the “caller” is highlighted. The caller announced to the DM the entire actions of the group. So in the example’s byplay, the DM speaks 23 times, the caller 22 times, and all the other players speak a grand total of 3 times! Including one time where it’s just “Somebody: ‘Here it is.’” I can imagine the reaction of my players now if I said, “I speak only to Miranda. Miranda, what does Wolf do? Pipe down, Wolf. Miranda is speaking.”

What flavor of fantasy RPG are you playing now?

Mike: Is the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game an RPG? A lot of people are divided on that, so I won’t claim it as one. Obviously I’m spending a lot of time reading awesome Pathfinder books, since the adventure card game is derived from those. I’ve also played D&D Next a couple times with WotC’s Rodney Thompson and Greg Bilsland to benefit the charity Extra Life, and it’s a brilliant system. But the fantasy RPG that I’m most excited about is Mike Krahulik’s Thornwatch; since we work in the Penny Arcade building, I’ve gotten to influence that a little bit. I think Thornwatch is going to be a landmark game, and I’m thrilled that I get to see it before literally anyone else does.

Mike also shared a love letter to D&D, so venture forth to read it!

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Stan!

D&D Coloring BookWhat was the first edition of D&D you played?

Stan!: The very first version of D&D I ever played was the little board game that was included in the center-spread of the Official Dungeons & Dragons Coloring Album. Y’see, I’d heard about D&D and desperately wanted to play it, but the local stores that had heard of it were completely sold out. But at that time there was a fad of hyper-detailed coloring books for grown-ups, and the Barnes & Noble had a copy of the D&D book in THAT rack.

For those of you who don’t know, the D&D Coloring Album featured text by Gary Gygax, and a dungeon exploration board game in the center spread, not to mention awesome line drawing renderings of classic D&D creatures like a beholder, an ettin, a xorn, and even Tiamat herself. To my mind, it remains one of the best introductory D&D products ever produced.

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

Stan!: Well, there wasn’t a lot of crunch. I mean, except for the fact that it completely taught you what your characters should do in a proper game of D&D. That’s a big part of what makes it such a great intro product. But my favorite piece of art has to be the page with the umber hulk bursting through a wall and grabbing one of the elves. Either that or the one with the bulette rising from the ground and eating a horse. Guess I like weird monsters . . . and sneak attacks.

What’s the quirkiest thing about that edition?

Stan!: Ummm . . . it’s a coloring book.

What flavor of fantasy RPG are you playing now?

Stan!: I’m playing in a lot of different ongoing campaigns—D&D Next, D&D 3.5, Pathfinder, Numenera, and Call of Cthulhu, plus other one-off sessions and board games whenever possible. It’s a good time to be a gamer!

~ ~ ~

Steve Winter

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

Steve: It was a mix of OD&D and the “Basic D&D” set (the book with the blue cover), which was brand new at the time. The DM could have been the model for the stereotypical DM of the 1970s—bearded, overweight, wearing a stained t-shirt. He went by the nickname Standing Bear, and that was a pretty fair description of him. My first character was a dwarf. He lived about twenty minutes. My second character was also a dwarf. He lived about 30 minutes. You can see the pattern.

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

Steve: Beyond a doubt, my favorite illustration from the Basic Set is the frontispiece by Dave Sutherland. Dave’s cover for that edition might be the most iconic D&D illustration ever, but for me, the frontispiece showing a pair of fighters holding back a wall of orcs while a magic-user flames them from the stairs is D&D. That exact scene played out in just about every one of our adventures.

What’s the quirkiest thing about that edition?

Steve: This is a quirk of the time and the way we played as much as of the edition, but it’s the overwhelming internal inconsistencies. The Basic D&D rules were reasonably clear and consistent, but our group never ran with just those. Players and DMs were referencing the OD&D books, the Holmes book, the AD&D hardcover manuals, and articles from dozens of third-party products, magazines, and fanzines—not just official material from The Dragon but also from Judges Guild, The Dungeoneer, Alarums & Excursions, White Dwarf, anything that contained a D&D variant probably showed up at some point. Balboa’s Complete Warlock was especially popular because it had a completely new version of the thief that was way better than any official version. Needless to say, all that unregulated cherry-picking led to a lot of confusion and arguing, but we played through it somehow.

What flavor of fantasy RPG are you playing now?

Steve: D&D Next, of course. When I get to conventions, I tend to focus on Basic/Expert D&D and various OSR clones such as Labyrinth Lord and Swords & Wizardry. We’re also using Savage Worlds to play in a fantasy, mythical China that’s quite different from a typical fantasy setting.

5 Replies to "D&D’s 40th Anniversary: Words to Celebrate, Part Two"

steve

January 27, 2014 at 11:46am

Wait, our Scaly Overlord is writing a new RPG? Way to bury the lede!

James Thomas

January 27, 2014 at 9:30pm

The “Blue Box” including B1: In Search of the Unknown was my introduction to D&D.
The adventure had great maps and room descriptions, but the best part was that the monsters and treasures were listed in the back of the book from which the Dungeon Master stocked the dungeon. I have always really liked the concept. If a publisher would be interested I’d like to use that approach again in a future adventure pitch!

Ben.

January 27, 2014 at 10:08pm

Oh, god, the role of the “caller!” I remember that! Wow, that was terrible! :D

-Ben.

Mike Selinker

January 28, 2014 at 2:44pm

The Official Dungeons & Dragons Coloring Album was the greatest D&D product of all time. Not even joking a little.

Charles Carrier

February 2, 2014 at 3:10pm

Yeah, I don’t think we ever tried using the “caller” rule even once. One of the best things about old-style D&D was the fact that it invited / forced you to implement House Rules from the very beginning. That encouragement / necessity to use my brain, to figure out things on my own, stretched my creativity in ways that continue to pay dividends to this very day.

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