Saturday, 5 February 2011

Original Dungeons and Dragons - et simulacra

PDFs of the Original Dungeons and Dragons (symbiotically bound up with the Chainmail Rules) can be found skulking around the internet if you look hard enough. There's currently a few of these mysterious PDFs lurking on a nearby forum. Click here to go there.  I am unaware of any profit being made from these scans which are mainly of interest to game-system archivists and very dedicated players.  Actual boxed originals seem to be very rare, especially outside of the US, so for many of us, this is the only of glimpse we'll have of the genesis of the role-playing hobby.  The Greyhawk and Blackmoor supplements make fascinating reading, especially for fans of 1st ed. AD&D which clearly has a closer relationship with OD&D than it did to Basic/Expert (and "Holmes" rules).  One shock to me was the inclusion of body hit locations.  For the length of my own playing life I asserted that a fundamental difference between Runequest and D&D was hit-location-damage and assumed that the authors of RQ had developed them from scratch.  I was clearly wrong!

For myself (who started playing in the middle history of D&D products) reading OD&D and Chainmail feels like the unearthing of a Rossetta Stone.  It's doesn't seem whole, and maybe seems a little broken to modern eyes - a chaotic set of rules allowing for interpretation and certain amount of freedom in play.  Many strange assumptions in role-playing games are explained by the presence of these early rules, such as Character Alignment being born out of the grouping of fantasy armies (see Chainmail).  What's clear from the very start is that the D&D fantasy genre, although heavily influenced by Tolkien was a very open mish-mash of monsters and settings.  The open settings of D&D are beautifully parodied in the "The Gygax - Arneson Tapes" a parallel gaming history suggested in this article - which spawns the Greek-myths-only Mazes and Minotaurs game (free PDF rules).  "It could have all been so different". :)  But enough of this introspective retro-cloning post-modern explorations in genre and game mechanics...! 

If you're any OD&D player and you use messageboards, or just curious, you'll be no stranger to  Dragons Foot Forums where older editions of D&D are king.

A retro-clone "simulacrum"  alternative to OD&D is the Swords and Wizardry WhiteBox rules.  Basically these are the S&W rules (a D&D retro-clone) reverse engineered to resemble the rules of OD&D.  Nice reading it makes too.  Here is a very concise D&D-style system open to "house" rulings.  Unlike OD&D, it's very "pick-up and play".  A fine, but controversial in this context, touch is the S&W one-save-throw feature - which may appeal more to modern players - than the confusing 5 D&D categories (Death Rays and Dragon Breath, spells etc.)

By the way "WhiteBox" is a winking reference to the early packaging on D&D, in case you were wondering. ;)  The Aceum provides a comprehensive guide to the early packaging and flavours of OD&D.

The free S&W WhiteBox PDF is available to download at the S&W home site.  With it's greyscale pictures it is extremely printer ink friendly.    

I was hoping to link to paperback and hardback publications WhiteBox on Lulu, but the Lulu copies have been removed, since the actual boxed versions of the game were produced last year.  They were available from Brave Halfling Publishing- but is possibly sold out at the moment.  So clues on a postcard please to where we can be hardcopies of these rules, please!   However, Grognardia provides a drool-inducing review of the actual box set (with a photo).

If link is broken go here

Get back to 1974, when the first dungeon masters were young, before bellies and the beards grew wide and long!

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