Monday, January 27, 2014

Happy 40th, D&D!

Although I don't really hang on news of D&Diana and whatnot, I did just happen to see that researcher Jon Peterson determined that, as nearly as can be determined, the actual anniversary of the release of D&D--the world's first role-playing game, happened forty years ago yesterday (for what it's worth, I myself turned 42 about a week and a half ago.  Funny to think that the hobby is nearly as old as I am.

Although D&D isn't really my game of choice these days, a retrospective of some sort is in order.  I can't even remember when I first played D&D, but it was with the brown boxes, and it was prior to the release of The Empire Strikes Back.  My guess is sometime in late 1979 or early 1980.  It didn't take.  I didn't really get the whole point of this weird talky game that my friend was trying to subject me to, when clearly the whole reason I had come over was to play with his Kenner Star Wars toys collection with him.  In fact, I remember being a little bit irritated that he was trying to do something else, contrary to our regular habit.

Of course, later, I got it.  By about 1982 or so, I was playing a bit of the Moldvay B/X game, and even dabbled in AD&D.  For the next three or four years, I continually dabbled in the wonders of D&D, and other games by TSR (it either didn't occur to me, or at least I didn't realize that there might be other companies doing other things.)  Played a bit of Top Secret, and Star Frontiers, mostly, in addition to our D&D.  By about the mid-80s, I had mostly wandered out of the hobby altogether; I wasn't really playing it anymore, and I certainly wasn't a paying consumer; I played with my friends and mostly used their books (and even their dice.)  My parents weren't big fans--but not for the reason you might think.  Their concern was largely that I'd be distracted and waste too much time in a hobbyist endeavor when I had more productive things I could be doing.  What can you say?  They were almost certainly right in that regard.

Through high school (and college) I was mostly out of the hobby, although I still paid attention to what was going on, at least to some degree, by flipping through stuff at the bookstore and the comic/games store (where I became aware of more games by other companies and stuff.)  I also flirted with Warhammer and Warhammer 40k; based on doubt on the fact that I'd bought and painted a few Grenadier and later Ral Partha D&D minis back in the day, and had reasonably enjoyed that (today I have no interest in any miniatures combat game of any kind, except for a lingering love for Blood Bowl.  Although I no longer have anyone I can play that with, except via the online game from Steam.)  I finally got dragged back into the hobby in the later 90s by White Wolf.  I found their concept of "storytelling", held up in stark contrast to hack-and-slash dungeoneering, to be right up my alley, and certainly a major part of my prior dissatisfaction with D&D in the first place.  Of course, I later found White Wolf to be pretentious and hypocritical; since they are hardly rules-light or anti-hack and slash.  Plus, their political and social moralizing got to be extremely tiresome after a while.

By the time 2000 came around, I was recently done with grad school, and working full time, and flush with enough disposible cash that buying into the release of 3e seemed like a good idea.  I really enjoyed the flexibility of the system, and the fact that in spite of the "back to the dungeon" mantra, it easily supported the kinds of games that I wanted to play (which did not feature dungeons at all.)  This state of affairs lasted for quite a long time, and I see 3e (or 3.5, to be specific, since I somewhat reluctantly made the switch to it.)  d20 won me over with its elegant and consistent mechanical basis, its abundance of interesting character options to define my character, and its ability (proven conclusively, in my opinion, with the release of d20 Call of Cthulhu) to span multiple genres and styles of play reasonably successfully.  I tired of many of the D&Disms in D&D before 2008--mostly--but I was still going strong with my embrace of d20 at least. 

4e was part of what changed that for me.  4e and Pathfinder.  Naturally, I was more interested in following Pathfinder than 4e, but Pathfinder went too far in turning up the complexity.  By then, I was already struggling with a lot of issues with 3.5 as it was--high level play is terrible, I had to swap out most of the classes and the magic system with something else to get what I wanted, etc.  I could still play some d20 + E6 and enjoy it, but more and more I'm thinking that it's not my ideal after all anyway.

But the siren song of D&D still calls.  Given the recent anniversary, I'm tempted to propose to my gaming group that once we finish our current campaign (presuambly within the next few weeks) that we do a one-shot--or at least short-shot mini campaign, using the Moldvay rules.  Which you can download as pdfs for really cheap from WotC these days.  I think that'd be an appropriate celebration.


James Sullivan said...

I see it says you are playing Star Wars. Is that accurate, or have you moved on to something else?

Joshua Dyal said...

It's still accurate, but only for another month or so. We're nearing the end of the campaign; and even if we only average 1-2 sessions per month, we're still ready to talk about what comes next. I proposed the Keep on the Borderlands interim game, and got a pretty enthusiastic response. After that, a new, kickstarter funded Horror on the Orient Express Cthulhu campaign looks to be on the horizon. There is some doubt that it will ship before we need it, though, which was another point in favor of my Keep on the Borderlands interim session or two. If I need to, I'm sure I confince the guys (and one gal) to take on a Village of Hommlet or Isle of Dread as a follow-up to Keep, too.

Joshua Dyal said...

Just got an update from our GM. Rather than 2-3 more sessions, he said that we have 3 more episodes (i.e., modules?) to go through in the campaign (now 2.5) and at our current rate, that's probably more like 4-5 months rather than just a month or so.

Therefore, my proposal is, perhaps, not going to happen after all, unless it does on the side.

James Sullivan said...

Now that Cthulu/ Orient Express campaign sounds awesome!

My group,who I love, won't play anything but D&D/Pathfinder. Which I like. But I would love to get them to broaden their horizons.

Joshua Dyal said...

I'll admit, there's some hesitancy amongst some of the group on the whole premise of Cthulhu. Given that about 50% of us love the premise of it, though, the other 50% are willing to give it a try.

We also had some curious reluctance to Star Wars. One guy claimed that anything science fictiony just didn't do it for him in game. Although he's sure changed his tune; he reluctantly agreed to come along with Star Wars, and he's had a great time. I'm sure he'd be willing to give the setting another spin at some point in the future.

I guess the theme with my group is that they are kind skeptical of anything that's not D&D, but they are usually willing to give it a whirl before they completely write it off.