Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Notes on OD&D - Part 1

I thought, since I happen to be re-reading the original D&D Manuals, that I might go ahead and take some notes while I'm at it. Why not share the fun? Ok, here we go.

First, I should say that I got my copy back in 1978 when I started GMing, and the rule in our GM club was you could use the three OD&D books as the basis for your own rules, but in no-wise were you allowed to use them as-is. Every GM in our club had to create their own rules system. Right of passage; that sort of thing. Ok.

So I got the three books and to be honest at the time I only skimmed them, as clearly to our club they were only to serve as the basis for new rules systems, and to be otherwise disdained. I gleaned what I needed, and moved on. So now, yes, after having these booklets around 30 years, I'm FINALLY going to go over them in detail and see what's up with them. Here we go. Yay.

  • General Notes
    • The Covers
      • Made of thick parchment paper, has lasted 30+ years and still solid.
      • Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson co-wrote the books.
      • There is a GK symbol on the bottom of the cover in fancy calligraphy next to the publisher's name, listed as TACTICAL STUDIES RULES I've got no idea what the GK symbol stands for. Curious...
    • Men & Magic Volume 1 of Three Booklets p1
      • The rules are based on CHAINMAIL Fantasy Rules, with special thanks to Midwest Military Simulation Association, the Lake Geneva Tactical Studies Association, Rob Kuntz and Tom Keogh (in memorium).
      • Illustrations are by Keenan Powell, Greg Bell, C. Corey, D. Arneson, T. Keogh, and David Sutherland
      • Copyright 1974 * Tactical Studies Rules
      • p2 - Index (Table of Contents)
      • p3 - Forward
        • Castle & Crusades Society created CHAINMAIL. (Sub-Note: Gygax founded the Castle & Crusades Society, and CHAINMAIL was one of his first products. For more detailed information read this Wikipedia Article).
        • Dave Arneson decided to created a medieval fantasy campaign for the Twin Cities Club, and used the map of "The Land" of "The Great Kingdom" which was the territory of the C&CS. Dave placed "Blackmoor" between "The Great Kingdom" and "the fearsome 'Egg of Coot' (an ego-maniacal mental monstrosity bent on the conquest of pretty much everything around itself) ". I suspect the Egg of Coot may have been a localized game-purposed version of Gharlane of Eddore. Just a hunch.
        • Quote: "While it is possible to play a single game, unrelated to any other game events past or future, it is the campaign for which these rules are designed." Sooooo! The rules are designed for Campaigns, not one shots. This is an interesting point, as I was under the impression from general readings previously, that in the very original D&D pretty much no one was expected to survive. The rules were simply too harsh to play as-is and expect to last more than a game or two. Clearly, however, this was not Gygax's intent, and so I will now regard those rumors as untrue.
        • You do not need miniature figures to play ("although their occasional employment is recommended for real spectacle when battles are fought"), and it will cost you almost nothing to set up a campaign. The most extensive requirement is TIME. Specifically the Referee's time (Sub-Note: the term Game Master or Dungeon Master has not been used yet).
        • He promises no shortage of Players "as there is unquestionably a fascination in this fantasy game". Players are not necessarily wargamers.
        • The longevity of Blackmoor (Twin Cities) and Grayhawk (Lake Geneva) are given as evidence, and the demand for the rules by other communities outside those areas, that suggests a bright future for D&D. How true that was!
        • The Rules are strictly Fantasy. Those wargammers who lack imagination and don't care for fantasy literature (numerous examples are given, including Conan, John Carter, etc) "will not be likely to find D&D to their taste" (Shocking). Those with imagination "will find the rules are the answer to their prayers".
        • Forward was written Nov 1, 1973 by Gary Gygax
      • p4 - Introduction
        • It is noted that the rules are "as complete as possible within the limitations imposed by the space of three booklets".
        • They cover the main aspects of fantasy campaigns but still remain flexible.
        • They are described as Miniatures Rules.
        • They are to be considered as Guidelines "to follow in designing your own fantastic-medieval campaign", and are intended to "provide a framework around which you will build a game of simplicity or tremendous complexity - your time and imagination are about the only limiting factors".
        • Fascination with the game will tend to make participants find more and more time for it.
        • Gygax and Arneson advise that a campaign be begun slowly, following the steps they outline in the booklets, "so as to avoid becoming too bogged down with unfamiliar details at first". I think there is good reason to build a campaign slowly for other reasons as well. For one thing, it allows the story to unfold and breath. I usually start my campaigns with the player characters at home doing chores, or some such, and then building up the adventure as news and stories of local events build up to the need for someone to rouse themselves up for an Adventure.
        • They recommend this so that the campaign will build naturally, and also recommend allowing the "laws" (rules, I assume) to be altered as the campaign makes progress in order to keep things continually new and provide for different situations to occur.
        • If you are a Player, the author approves and recommends you read the rules in order to gain "great advantage" during the game that might otherwise evade you. "A quick check of some rule or table may bring hidden treasure or save your game 'life'". Hence at the very beginning it seems Gygax encouraged (without so much as realizing it, perhaps) Rules Lawyering and Munchkinism. This in fact has to have been (I think) an outcome of the TSR business model - sell as many rules books as possible, which necessarily (and unnecessarily) spawned many evils. Naturally, Gygax wants to encourage Players to buy the rules as the expectation was that there would be 20 Players for each Referee, and TSR would rely on rules book sales to generate revenue for the company. Wouldn't you encourage Rules Lawyers, too? I'm sure we all would. Unfortunately. On the other hand things could have gone differently, but that's a topic for another blog post.
        • Men & Magic details what characters can be played, provides growth paths and limitations to them, and offers a selection of magic spells. Monsters & Treasures, it says, will describe beasts and creatures which can be encountered, as well as treasure amounts and so on. The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures book tells how to setup and actually play the campaign. He recommend reading the books in the order in which they are written.
Ok well that's as far as I'm planning to go with this today. I've read ahead several more pages and know what I want to outline, but as this is the first book I wanted to cover the Forward and Introduction in detail. Going forward I will focus on key points and provide my personal observations, critiques and corrections where I feel necessary. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to ask or tell. I'm quite curious what others might conclude from these rules.

I would post photo images of the rules book pages, but I'm afraid I might run into some kind of copyright issues with WotC (or whomever owns the original D&D copyright at this point). If that is not the case, and there is no legal restriction, please let me know and I may go ahead and share images of selected pages. Thanks.
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