Dungeons & Dragons and the Old School Revolution.

Way back in 1981, I used to get to middle (or junior high, whichever you prefer) school early. I mean, real early, as in have nowhere to go but the school cafeteria early. A good hour and a half before school began early. This was mainly due to my mom having to get to work, and with her being my only way to school. I mean sure, I could’ve rode (ridden?) the bus, but damn it was a walk to get to the bus stop (nearly a mile, mostly uphill), and then depending on when you got there you had to spend so much time waiting. So all in all it was better to just get there early.

Luckily for me, I was not the only one to be at school at such an hour. There were other cafeteria dwellers in those dim hours of the pre-middle school day. And to pass the time, these croatoans liked to play a game called Dungeons & Dragons.

D&D was a mystery to me: what was this game with its strange dice and graph paper, its walls made of pasteboard covered with delicious David Trampier illustrations? In those wee hours I delved into the likes of  In Search of the Unknown, Keep on the Borderlands, and eventually Tomb of Horrors, which I died in at least twelve or thirteen times. Even after such punishment, I thrilled at yet another chance for ADVENTURE — and even more at creating  similar perilous realms of my own.

Needless to say, the game became an obsession for me, as it did for several young men and women back in the ’80s. I had my stepfather go with me to the local bookstore in downtown Knoxville and purchase the precious tomes known to all informed of 1st Edition AD&D (Advanced Dungeons & Dragons): The Players Handbook, Monster Manual and Dungeon Masters Guide, copies of which I own today. I even managed to find (at the local five and dime, no less) a copy of the White Box, that most hallowed sacrament of D&D that contains the original three booklets by the great gods Gygax & Arneson. Sadly enough I don’t have these anymore, but only PDFs of them (join me in kicking myself in the ass, won’t you?). I ended up becoming a savvy Dungeon Master, the person who leads players and their characters into the depths of peril and glory. I had players taking on the likes of Norse Gods, demons, devils, and even beings from other dimensions and universes. It was fun, not only for me but for the players as well. That was the true thrill of the game — creating a world in which the players could freely explore their own personae and still meet my own creative criteria. It was an amazing rush to literally place the road upon which they tread one brick at a time, due to the fact that they decided not to go where I had placed the detailed dungeon adventure — both frustrating and enthralling. I found out being prepared not only meant knowing the material inside and out, but having the theme or spirit of the game in mind in case things went beyond those boundaries. It was an experience unlike any other I had ever experienced, and have yet to even today.

Time passed, and later came 2nd Edition AD&D, which most of my friends liked but I never cared for. It seemed to tie down all the flapping sails of the 1st Edition AD&D, and dispose of the demons, devils and angels (or devae) of the former game. In short it seemed to take a good bit of breadth of what I considered D&D, and hampered the freedoms that I once had as a DM. Mind you, I could’ve surmounted these obstacles, but never tried to. D&D seemed to have left me behind, but I didn’t mind, since videogames were all the rage, and I happily plunged myself into my Atari 2600 or a rousing game of Tempest at the local stop-and-shop. What a time to be alive.

Flash forward several more years, after 3rd and (gulp!) 4th editions of the game known as Dungeons & Dragons. Apparently these games had little or no similarity to those before them (I never bothered, myself), and a group of enthusiasts calling themselves the Old School Renaissance decided they’ve had enough. Their credo is that of imaginative and fast paced gaming as opposed to slower and overly-detailed forms of roleplay, and have managed to create game systems which are hybrids of the original D&D rules and the more streamlined d20 systems available during the former 3rd edition. Gone are the nitpicking and excessive concern over what a fantasy campaign should or shouldn’t be — in this new era the game was only as deep as the DM’s imagination — and he or she was the final arbiter of what could or could not function in a given campaign. This revolution has stuck a major chord among the denizens of the internet, who have vigorously supported the use of such had and fast rules for gaming — so much so that the official Powers That Be (in this case Wizards of the Coast, who took over the right to Dungeons & Dragons in 1997) have decided to release yet another version of D&D — a fifth edition of the game. This sort of thing leaves me curious, but not without a sense of dread.

In any case, I’ve decided to delve into the OSR and see what I could make of the current state of roleplaying. In this new age of internet solidarity and software infrastructure I see much potential, and I would dearly love to experience the thrill of a rousing campaign again. More to come…

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