How I Miss Early Edition Dungeons and Dragons

I Love this article…..

The dice can kill you: Why first edition AD&D is king – By David Goldfarb

Gaming since the 1970’s has changed. It’s become so complicated and focused on realism, power plays, and artifice its lost what made it great….IMAGINATION. The great Englishman Gary Gygax – who helped create the first edition Advanced Dungeon’s and Dragon’s game in 1977 – would be horrified by the 5 editions of his beloved game that have evolved since and its massive following.

Yet he would wonder at the thousands upon thousands of tournaments and millions of players around the world now consumed by role-playing and these more complicated fantasy gaming versions of his much simpler one. It’s become more popular than ever globally……but sadly it’s become more weighted down by rules, character development, the struggle to win and dominate versus the fun of pure adventure and exploration.

What inspired me to become a writer in 1989 was playing “Dungeon Master” to a series of long adventures I developed playing AD&D with my friends in the 80’s. As the coveted yet tortured “rules master” and “adventure builder”, as Dungeon Master I would become a sort of God over the game for the benefit of my adventurous friends, creating vast continents of magical elves, wizards in towers, goblin armies, kingdoms of storm giants, heavens of the Gods, dragon-filled catacombs, and the endless fantasy worlds they all inhabited.

It took everything in me to manage all of this of course…. to read and follow the vast rule books, organize dice and conflicts, and list the endless monsters my buddies would run into on these long campaigns. I illustrated many of my adventures, plotted thousands of beasts and monster encounters across vast maps and dungeons, and constantly randomly rolled treasures to be found by lucky players in some dusty corner of a dungeon on graph paper.

But I learned something about this early Dungeons & Dragons game in 1980……I discovered the vast, rich world’s of creatures and lands and magic that live in me.

It’s this discovery that our minds are capable of dreaming up such gigantic, wondrous places that I soon realized all that ever was or could be lived in our minds alone.

And I saw that a simple but well designed yet humble game could facilitate such Imagination in young minds. It convinced me of the genius of Gary Gygax and his vision in 1975 to help fashion such a game as 1st Edition Dungeons and Dragons.

Since then this amazingly simple but rich game has been destroyed by thousands of designers that came later. Layering into it their complex rules and realism it’s weighted players down such that they now are but zombies of themselves in this world, not the shallow adventurous avatars they once were (and our minds relished).

I’ve gone with my son to see the endless games derived from D&D and it’s truly amazing. Yet something remains in the original game I sense is missing in most of what I’ve seen created since…..and that is old-fashioned “wonder”.

In this article the author remembers his early gaming experience which minus the cigarettes was my own except I was the Dungeon Master always in control of the fates of my friend’s characters. And playing that very exhausting role taught me discipline, humility, flexibility, generosity, but also law, governing, patience, and kindness. For to have power means measuring it like drops of gold or water for the thirsty. It’s cautiousness and yet the freedom of wild adventure that came most into my style of play. But most it was limits…..limits in how many monsters cam to play or how a vast underground series of tunnels yet benefited from limited yet rich details, like the thickness of cobwebs in a cave, the sound of dwarves mining for gems in the distance, or the glint of a new magic sword found in a chest.

All these things made my mind realize what it held beyond the game and what secrets it still held deep in my imagination. Such was the wonder of 1st Edition Dungeons and Dragons in 1980.

The article says this…..

“There were other great things about AD&D too, the masochistic appreciation of “low level” gaming, something we have undervalued up until relatively recently in modern games.”

He nailed it in that one sentence.

A lot of what this article remanences about I said about 20 years ago as I left gaming behind, bored by the increasing complexity of the game, and really life.

What we fail to recognize is often the past hides brilliant, inspired people that perfected things. Whether it’s the right corporate tax, the end of a terrible war with contracts designed to avoid another, a humble heart, or an inspired professor at a sleepy university.

Gaming is no different. We assume things get better when they often just decline and by the time we finally recognize a Golden Age of civilization has long past we fall blindly into its decadent decay until we too fall with its traps into its bitter end.

D&D’s great days are probably long past. Kids are so into realism and power and fortune they are blind to humble adventure and the wonder of the Human imagination’s unknown country. So is America. We should think about that beyond the 1st edition game we lost years ago…..

– the Author



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