The Red Box Was a Freer Time for D&D

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In the eighties, Dungeons & Dragons was just you, your dice and miles and miles of open graph paper.

It’s been nearly 30 years since the release of the “Red Box” edition of Dungeons & Dragons, and tabletop RPG design has changed a great deal since those halcyon days in the early eighties. But in Issue 271 of The Escapist, Tavis Allison explains why groups all over the United States and Canada are still dedicated to playing the Red Box rules because of the freedom it represents.

“The strength of the original Red Box,” [Red Box Vancouver] founder cr0m says. “Is that it consistently delivers discovery to everyone involved. The players are surprised as they explore the dungeons and overcome challenges. The DM is surprised when he randomly stocks the dungeon, rolls reactions to player activity, and otherwise determines ‘what happens’ through the application of dice and tables.”

The mind-blowing thing about D&D is that it opens a window into another reality; its fans grew up to become game designers because there weren’t job openings for gods. Tabletop games run on human intelligence so the imagined world can have unlimited interactivity, unlike games that rely on AI for their physics engine and NPC behavior. In Red Box D&D, you just have to make up the rules for it as you go along.

Dungeons & Dragons has changed hands and gone through numerous editions, but Allison says the appeal of the Red Box remains strong. You can read more about it in his article “Imagine Your Perfect Arcade Game.”

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