Gamers on Their Own: The Challenges of Early D&D

Gamers on Their Own: The Challenges of Early D&D

D&D was originally created by Gary Gygax, but it evolved into a an entirely different monster with the help of its players.

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So true. Old folks always like to talk about how "kids today don't know how good they had it," typically following this up by how much candy could be purchased for a nickle, or how toys with batteries were inferior to those without.

But the thing kids today will never realize is the feeling of being completely cut off, information-wise, from the rest of the world. Having to spend time figuring stuff out by reading, straining over details, and maybe giving up in frustration due to no sympathetic ears isn't so much a fond memory, but it's definitely a nostalgic one. The internet makes having to make sense of strange material pretty trivial now - I'm guilty of it myself. If I'm confused by something, I am usually only a few web pages from a solution; I don't even bother to read most of the pages - if I can't figure out what's going on after scanning a page for a few minutes, I move onto the next until I find the resource that matches my learning style.

It makes it great for accumulating knowledge, but the fear of the unknown has been whittled away just a little more. When it comes to knowledge, there's really nothing today that any kid can't get for free, in minutes (including porn, which, in my day, was another huge adventure when it came to procuring it).

wow, it's great to see Monte Cook on the Escapist.. I read a lot of his stuff when I was in High School, and his work has long since fallen off my wagon.

Great to read your work again Mr Cook.

As for my own D&D experiences.. my friend and I played so much D&D just between the two of us, that we had lots and lots of little house rules for all sorts of things.. My favorite moments regarding D&D don't even involve playing - the real fun was in sitting down with my friends and trying to read all of the rules, and try to think where odd rules would fit into the game

Informative and interesting. I remember having one of those little notebooks filled with my own group's house rules, myself, I think it was mainly about concept of 'surprise'... which was described in an incredibly vague way in the AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide.

Since the 1st edition DM's guide was the only rulebook I had for a long while, I had to come up with rules for character classes and spells myself from what I could remember from the group I played with in school.

Also, since I didn't have any polyhedral dice we used a deck of cards and a coin toss for a d20.

Wow, all those memories of my early days of D&D have all come flooding back. I think that's possibly what's missing when I play new roleplaying games today - that sense of discovery perhaps. Or a sense of... I don't know, really, but like Altorin above said thinking about how the game *should* be played really was a new experience back then.

Now that most people, even brand 'new never-played-a-tabletop-RPG-in-their-lives' players seem to know what's expected of them and what the basic concept is. Not saying that this is a bad thing by any means, but these games are different for me now, and part of me misses that sense of discovering something new.

I remember all the number crunching shortcuts and alterations to the rules and classes my old crew and I would have to do just to make the AD&D faster. We made the game our own and it became something more
than just a game, it became a living work of which we were so proud of.

We were in an era before there were prestige classes and epic loot. Where bestiaries were more often locked in the DM's mind than written down in a "Critter Book" or "Monster Manual". We had to give life and form to something that only existed as an abstract thought in our minds.

It was beautiful. Its that sense of wonder that keeps me playing.

I think what caught people's imaginations (and what did it for me) was that for the first time ever, here was a game in which you could do anything, potentially. You didn't have to play according to some card you drew, you didn't have to stick to a particular path, etc. You could--within whatever reason your group shared and approved of--do whatever.
That sense of empowerment and freedom can still be found in today's rpgs--but you've got to throw out a lot of rules to get to it. On the other hand, I'm not sure the vast majority of even gamers today are willing to put in the time for that. People are too used to prepackaged entertainment that already has all the answers.

With more Pen and Paper content The Escapist really might be my one stop shop for pretty much everything entertainment related.

PedroSteckecilo:
With more Pen and Paper content The Escapist really might be my one stop shop for pretty much everything entertainment related.

I'm really happy to see all this pen-and-paper content myself. It's a really deep and I think important area from which computer games don't draw enough from. So it's great to see this sort of article, even if it's just one every fortnight.

Me and my friends, we've only just started playing Dungeons and Dragons. I personally have more experience than all of them, and chose to DM the 4th Edition of the game for them, and it's working really well. While the rules are far better defined than of old, and there's less inherent complexity than 3rd and 3.5 editions, the core of the game is still there. Do anything. Roll, add your modifier, and compare with my roll or DC. I'm still making judgement calls, and rules interpretations, though. Two-weapon fighting in 4th Edition outside of Rangers (and even with them!) is a real mystery to me still. So I'm sort of making it up as I go there, but that's a big part of the attraction - if the rules aren't there for it, I'm strongly encouraged to improvise.

I really do love DnD. Why is it so hard to get people together for it, though? You'd think "Every Sunday at 12, right here" would be easy, but it's not. Between other external pastimes, and work, and Uni, and Fathers' Day, and all this stuff, it's impossible. I'd love a well-made online venue for the game.

However, because of the intense customisation and modularity of DnD, it's very hard to find a good program. I'd be very happy if someone knew of a program with a grid, some tool for me drawing on it, dice-rolls, and tokens on the board. As well as multiplayer and chat support, of course. That'd be fantastic. I've checked out rptools, and will look soon into Vassal, but I don't want your fancy done-up map. I want a board I can draw lines on.

Anyone know of anything to suit?

PS: If anyone can help me with 2-weapon fighting in 4th edition, throw me a PM, or just quote me in your reply!

Fenixius:

PedroSteckecilo:
With more Pen and Paper content The Escapist really might be my one stop shop for pretty much everything entertainment related.

I'm really happy to see all this pen-and-paper content myself. It's a really deep and I think important area from which computer games don't draw enough from. So it's great to see this sort of article, even if it's just one every fortnight.

Me and my friends, we've only just started playing Dungeons and Dragons. I personally have more experience than all of them, and chose to DM the 4th Edition of the game for them, and it's working really well. While the rules are far better defined than of old, and there's less inherent complexity than 3rd and 3.5 editions, the core of the game is still there. Do anything. Roll, add your modifier, and compare with my roll or DC. I'm still making judgement calls, and rules interpretations, though. Two-weapon fighting in 4th Edition outside of Rangers (and even with them!) is a real mystery to me still. So I'm sort of making it up as I go there, but that's a big part of the attraction - if the rules aren't there for it, I'm strongly encouraged to improvise.

I really do love DnD. Why is it so hard to get people together for it, though? You'd think "Every Sunday at 12, right here" would be easy, but it's not. Between other external pastimes, and work, and Uni, and Fathers' Day, and all this stuff, it's impossible. I'd love a well-made online venue for the game.

However, because of the intense customisation and modularity of DnD, it's very hard to find a good program. I'd be very happy if someone knew of a program with a grid, some tool for me drawing on it, dice-rolls, and tokens on the board. As well as multiplayer and chat support, of course. That'd be fantastic. I've checked out rptools, and will look soon into Vassal, but I don't want your fancy done-up map. I want a board I can draw lines on.

Anyone know of anything to suit?

PS: If anyone can help me with 2-weapon fighting in 4th edition, throw me a PM, or just quote me in your reply!

I've been looking into d20 pro (link below). I've played since 1974 and it is hard to get a group together in one location these days, real life gets in the way. I haven't switched to 4th edition, it just didn't seem like the same game to me. I preferred 3.5 and am using the new Pathfinder RPG rules from Paizo (a version of 3.5 D&D with improvements). Anyway, a link to d20 pro:

http://www.d20pro.com/features.php

Hope it helps.

All Hail Monte Cook! I've loved your work sir. You are truly a star in the firmament of D&D.

Gushing aside, it's interesting to read about the early days of D&D, and it does hit my early experiences of the game right on the head.

Arguing was a great part of the social aspect of the game, and I have many fond memories of arguments. The rules required interpretation, and that allowed players to get away with all sorts of mayhem. As one of my old players used to conclude when he knew he'd won his argument for using Magic Missile to plant corn in a field (or whatever) "It doesn't NOT say that, does it now?"

Hit points was always an assumption that got increasingly difficult the more you had of them. Eventually computer games gave us the health bar which, bizarrely, I believe helped alleviate the fundamental difficulties in determining what they represented. Anyway, these days nobody ever asks what they are :)

Fenixius:

Anyone know of anything to suit?

There aren't any D&D groups where I live, so I tend to use http://mydndgame.com/ for playing (it has a chat room with a dice roller). Sadly keeping games going on there seems to be hard, and it lacks map facilities. Have you tried http://www.maptools.com/ ? I've attempted to use it before but it's always been hard to use due to problems with setting it up and the fact that I'm unable to save my token (admittedly, I find I get on fine with just using a chat feature when playing D&D).

EDIT: http://www.nbos.com/products/screenmonkey/screenmonkey.htm was just mentioned in this website's chat but it's incomplete at the minute.

r_Chance:
http://www.d20pro.com/features.php

Hope it helps.

Hey, this is looking pretty good. Pity it'd cost me $60US to have a 5-person server.

Tempest Fennac:
There aren't any D&D groups where I live, so I tend to use http://mydndgame.com/ for playing (it has a chat room with a dice roller).

Alas, to play 4th edition, you -need- a map with grid. So many push and pull effects. Which I'm okay with - it makes it much easier for new people to get to grips with, and is a great way to make sure everyone is visualising the same thing.

I only play 3.5 due to not liking 4th Edition when I tried it (I know what you mean about the need for maps for that based on what happened when I tried it, though).

Great article--nice to see a description of the earliest days of D&D, and it gives a lot of insight into the evolution of D&D (maybe I'd venture to say the whole systems was a constantly shifting thing rather than a given set of 'editions'). We are very lucky to be able to have things like the Internet for our rules collaborations these days... though of course it increases the amount of arguing as well.... (I am imagining the "liar/lair" debate in internet trollspeak... hee).

Love seeing some tabletop gaming discussions at the Escapist, and wow, Monte Cook! I realize this site is primarily a video gaming site, but after all, most video games have their roots in tabletop gaming so it's great to have the occasional insight on that aspect of gaming here as well.

Fenixius:

r_Chance:
http://www.d20pro.com/features.php

Hope it helps.

Hey, this is looking pretty good. Pity it'd cost me $60US to have a 5-person server.

Tempest Fennac:
There aren't any D&D groups where I live, so I tend to use http://mydndgame.com/ for playing (it has a chat room with a dice roller).

Alas, to play 4th edition, you -need- a map with grid. So many push and pull effects. Which I'm okay with - it makes it much easier for new people to get to grips with, and is a great way to make sure everyone is visualising the same thing.

There are some open source / free projects, but the speed of development is limited by the nature of the dev team and you could be waiting for the features you want for quite a bit. If "free" helps (and we all know it does) check sourceforge.net for virtual tabletop software projects. There are many in various stages of development, with various combinations of features.

I'm currently playing 2nd ed after starting on 3rd ed. Never playing 4th. I'm not playing Hero Clix, I'm playing D&D. Anyways, I'm loving 2nd ed. It's fun, a bit more involved, and you can make 1 roll for 1 thing rather than 10 rolls for 1 thing like in 3rd ed. Crit threat? I don't care for that rule. I do miss the feats, however. That's ok, though. All in all, I more or less prefer 2nd ed. out of all of them.

It is interesting how D&D's players really saved what was initially an obscure, niche pursuit and there's a lesson for every game developer in that story.

My group played D&D (and later, AD&D) in the early 80's but we found ourselves endlessly deconstructing the rules and disagreeing with each other over their failings.
"Why can't the cleric stab the orc with the knife? It's the only weapon available!", "If elves live for centuries then why can't they get higher levels than humans?" and "If I'm holding off the orc horde on the ropebridge suspended over the Endless Chasm Of Doom, how does wearing 50 kilos of plate armour make me 'harder to hit'?
After too much of this, we started playing other games like Runequest and we liked that so much, most of us never went back to AD&D. Speaking for myself; I grew to dislike any part of the hobby being associated with AD&D. AD&D was 'ridiculous' and like a comicbook fantasy populated by rainbow-alliance nerd characters locked into job descriptions. More fundamentally, it was choked with arbitrary rule patches to balance out it's inherent failings. It wasn't a working system, it was a massive legal timesink.

It's also interesting how gamers made D&D so famous by making so many copies to share around. The original adventure modules used to have their maps printed in cyan to prevent photocopying. It didn't work - we just used to trace them out in ink, then photocopy them.
But when we could manage to find an original copy and (remember that we were teenagers) afford the price on the cover, each book was treated with love and care, to be pored over late at night.
There's a lesson right there for all those copyright crusaders spending fortunes on pointless DRM.

But we never forgot that we'd started with AD&D. Those days were the start of the grand adventure. I've even still got my original adventure modules and basic rulebooks.

I remember finding a copy of the players guide (second edition) and not having any clue about how the game worked when I was thirteen. So I played Hero Quest and Space Crusade instead! :P

Keshie:
"If I'm holding off the orc horde on the ropebridge suspended over the Endless Chasm Of Doom, how does wearing 50 kilos of plate armour make me 'harder to hit'?

I too never understood why it was not simply damage reduction.

I think the idea is that armour can potentially block attacks by shielding your flesh from attacks (eg: an attack which misses a heavily armoured character would just bounce off them while an attack which beat their AC would penetrate the armour).

I had to laugh when he mentioned utilizing rats as trap-detectors. That was a standard in our game XD

I've played D&D since the infamous white box came out and followed it through its many incarnations. I remember the random dungeon creator, the infamous Bard class (which require the player to start as a fighter, then become a thief after 5 lvls, then a druid after 5 more lvls, and THEN they could become a Bard), being called a Satanist (thanks to the demon holding the naked woman on the rulebook), and watching 17 characters die in the original Tomb of Horrors. We even played Dungeons & Beavers (where you take 20th lvl PCs into a first-level dungeon... usually resulting in hilarity as the PCs killed themselves with their powers). I miss those days a lot.

With the advent of 4th Edition, I don't consider the game D&D any more. It's all measurements and maps and miniatures. The fun of playing a /character/ rather than a game piece has disappeared. In a way, we can thank Warcraft and other Online RPGs for that change. Still, now some 30 years down the line, I'm glad to see the wonderful gift Gary gave us live on in some form or another.

Personally, I found the changes to D&D in 4th edition refreshing. I had played since 2nd ed, and it was a nightmare that most people never had the patience to learn. I could take 4th ed, and get players excited and having fun that would have been bored to tears by 2nd or 3rd ed. I think that you really had to WANT to like 2nd or 3rd, and the rules complexity was a nightmare at times even for someone with a great deal of patience such as myself.

Love the article, Monte. It brought back lots of memories and in some ways made me wonder if modern pencil & paper RPGs have more depth but less wonder. The geeks who stormed the technology and entertainment worlds were immersed in the RPG gestalt, and they have given birth to visually compelling and immersive worlds. These in turn have heightened people's expectations about what a fantasy experience should be like. But there's also something marvelous about minimal rules, a healthy sense of experimentation, and game experiences that are truly unique.

Keshie,

Amen. Runequest 2/3ed are still the benchmark for me. We moved away from D&D and played all kinds of other games, many of which we preferred to D&D (though I don't bash D&D - to each his own). But the game that started it all still holds a special place in our hearts, no matter what it has become.

Having first played in 1981 (at the ripe & ready-to-game age of 10/5th grade) I remember not fully grasping the rules but being in awe of the kids who got me into D&D (thanks Ryan Fowler, wherever you are!) who said they'd read the AD&D books (PH, DMG, MM, etc) cover-to-cover (which, also at 10, I'm sure wasn't true but I was gullible.) What we didn't get rules-wise we made up because it was about having fun adventures like the fantasy books and mythological tales we were reading at the time (not to mention seeing films like Clash of the Titans and, later, Conan the Barbarian and Krull.)

In 6th grade, not having the books myself, I made up my own D&D-like adventure game for my friends and I to play until my 12th birthday when I got my own copy of the D&D Basic (red boxed) set. From then on, despite playing many other RPGs over the years, it was always D&D for me.

I can tell you one thing, even if Chainmail were more widely found, it would not have made any difference. How Dungeons & Dragons and Chainmail were meant to work together is not readily apparent. In fact, Chainmail is unnecessary since the rules that because Dungeons & Dragons (THAC0) were right in the three-booklet set as "alternative rules." So Chainmail was unnecessary and dropped from the game entirely by the time AD&D came out. But even if you did own Chainmail, it was not readily apparent how to make that work. Chainmail was all over the place. The fantasy supplement in the third edition of Chainmail did not mesh well with the actual game. It was like a separate set of rules in itself.

 

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