Thursday, 21 February 2013

OD&Ds in 2013, and a brief history of the early game

Brendan and I are having a discussion over at his blog, Untimately, about a rerelease of Original Dungeons & Dragons (OD&D), and the value this has. You might be interested, especially if a favourite game or faction has ever been left hanging, as with some GW IP.

If the terminology is new, OD&D was the first edition of the game. It was published in 1974 by Tactical Studies Rules (TSR) as a supplement to the wargame Chainmail, and it's often referred to as 'White Box'. It was revised by in 1977 as the Basic set (Blue Box, Holmes), the year Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (AD&D) was released, revised again in 1981 into the Basic and Expert sets (B/X, Moldvay, Cook) and revised a third time in 1983 to begin the new series of Basic, Expert, Companion, Master and Immortal (Mentzer, BECMI).

The so-called 'retroclones' - many free - offer recodifications of the early rules using the Open Game License, making it easier to publish openly compatible products. They've been a driver of the OSR - often the Old School Renaissance - a movement focused on the early game that blurs the line between player and creator.

For D&D the best known retroclones may be OSRIC, Basic Fantasy Role-Playing Game (BFRPG), Labyrinth Lord (LL), Swords & Wizardry (S&W) and Microlite74. Systems like Lamentations of the Flame Princess (LotFP), Dungeon Crawl Classics (DCC) and Adventurer Conqueror King (ACKS) can be thought of as part of a 'second wave' offering other interpretations. RPGNow is an online store where most if not all can be found.

Any corrections gratefully received of course.


John Till said...

Hi Porky:

I enjoyed your comments on Brendan's blog. I agree that the cost is extremely high and feels misaligned with the spirit of the original game (the original box was affordable for may high school kids; I am not sure the new box will be affordable for many of the working adults who might want it). I doubt the box will include the OGL; the existing reprints failed to do this, which feels ungenerous and creates something of a limit on the value of the reissue.

As an interesting aside, I asked a 20 something at the FLGS "What is in the "Unearthed Arcana", since the "brand new" reprint is shrink wrapped, and I never had it in my youth. He became visibly irritated at me and said: "How would I know? I wasn't born when that book came out and I never played AD&D."

Anonymous said...

I can't agree with the statement that OD&D was published "as a supplement to the wargame Chainmail". To explain why I disagree would be lengthy.

I personally don't like the negative connotations that come with the use of the term "The so-called 'retroclones'", but I don't think you meant it in the critical way that most who use this term normally do. Retro-clones is accepted terminology by the majority, so why do some still insist on prefacing the term with "so-called"? Sounds all very King Canute to me.

My corrections done, yep, a very brief but to the point overview of the game Porky. :-)

Porky said...

@ John Till - Glad to hear it. I'll confess it hadn't even occurred to me they might use the OGL, but then we're now at the point it makes no real difference - there's no longer a need for that kind of gatekeeper, an overarching power. There's also very little to reward if rereleasing took no substantial effort, with the bulk of the work done decades ago. As I wrote at Brendan's, it's all well and truly out of that box now.

As for the Arcana, we're all getting old, every one of us, and there's not much point getting hung up on the way it was, or letting others get hung up on it either. I'd prefer that any community I was involved in didn't by default exclude any party, and that no one - like the guy you met - felt excluded in that way, and certainly not for something as fleeting and external as age. That way lies death too, but for the community. The essential point of the comments at Brendan's, and in this brief history, was inclusion, in the latter case a levelling of the informational playing field.

To digress on age, I've recently had a lot of fun introducing the game through a mix of Labyrinth Lord and other materials to a regular group who seem to be in their early 20s. They lit up when they saw just how open it was, how easy to sit down and play, free of electronic devices and software, free of modelled terrain and miniatures, and to play in a very comprehensively responsive world held not on a server, or even very much on paper, and mostly not in numerical form, but in the minds of the players at the table; a world where absolutely anything might be possible with application, and where entropy in many forms is snapping at the heels. I think this particular game is to a very large degree ageless, for having so little that actually can age, beyond us of course.

@ David Macauley - I certainly didn't mean it as critical of the rulesets, only as mild dissatisfaction with the term itself. Ater all, none of the clones are actually clones, as in initial identical copies, and I'd imagine that most often they're not actually played as clones either. The prefix 'retro-' is also only a part of the truth - these systems look to the future too. I think the term conveys a certain disrespect for the work put in by the authors, and the motivations of everyone involved. It's a similar resistance to an entrenched term like 'fluff' in wargaming, which suggests insubstantiality and is thus dismissive of the value of this kind of context. All such terms affect the perception of newcomers epsecially, and to some degree deny a choice.

If you won't argue with 'supplement', I don't need to defend it, but I will say I thought long and hard about the way I phrased the whole thing, mainly because it is aimed at readers who may know very little about the detail, and don't necessarily have the time to absorb that detail, or want or even need to know it. It's a useful approximation, a foundation for potential further research.

Regardless, I'm glad you're happy enough with the rest. I think we can get a little exclusive in the way we throw around obscure abbreviations and the like, and that probably limits interest and tests perseverance, arguably to the detriment of the hobby as a whole.

John Till said...

@Porky: I couldn't agree more. In fact, the guy in his twenties and I moved on immediately to talk for about a half an hour about our experiences running and playing Ubiquity games ("Hollow Earth Expeditions", "All for One: Regime Diabolique" and "Leagues of Adventure"). For quite a while I was the sole booster for these games locally, but recently he and his co-workers have really taken Hollow Earth Expeditions and run with it. Their PCs have been members of the International Brigades in Spain! This is all quite wondrous to me.

Porky said...

Wondrous to me too. It's the perfect progression, the interest going autonomous and moving out from the first group to get more games running and draw in even more players, ideally with more interpretations, more fusions of systems and more worlds - and overlapping worlds too of course.

Anonymous said...

On the use of the term retro-clones - when a phrase becomes common usage, to the point where the vast majority of people understand and accept what the phrase means, having an individual or tiny minority speak out against the term because they view it as inaccurate seems to me to be a pointless waste of time.

So while I can understand the reasoning behind your mild dissatisfaction Porky, I don't understand the need to voice it. It comes across as unnecessarily inflammatory.

On OD&D being a supplement of Chainmail - given that you say "it is aimed at readers who may know very little about the detail", I feel that it goes from being simply inaccurate to misleading.

A close examination of the two games demonstrate a huge difference between them mechanically - or more specifically, between D&D and the Fantasy Supplement of Chainmail. If anything, despite being the earlier game, it would be more accurate to call Chainmail a supplement of D&D as it gives rules for large scale combat that are missing from the D&D game.

There are only a handful of references to Chainmail in the 3LBBs, none of which are necessary for the playing of the game.

To me this is very much like the argument presented by those who believe the Holmes rulebook is an introduction to AD&D, despite all evidence to the contrary.

I'd certainly be interested to see any statements you could point to by the early TSR crew suggesting that D&D was a supplement to Chainmail. I'd happily eat my words then. :-)

Porky said...

I'm assuming that by the passage "to the point where the vast majority of people understand and accept what the phrase means" you actually mean "to the point where the vast majority of people in a niche area of a niche hobby understand and accept what the phrase means". The vast majority outside at least the first niche - the people the brief history is primarily aimed at after all - could well have their understanding coloured or stained by the suggestions in the constituent elements 'retro-' and 'clone', which are far from neutral in descriptions of creative work, suggesting - rightly or wrongly - lack of true development and possibly even plagiarism. I'm not sure the disinterested would instantly assume that a 'retroclone' is a thing of value, or worth their time. My feeling is that all currently do have value and may well be worth the newcomer's time.

Regardless, I'm not sure how voicing my mild dissatisfaction - a moderate, reasoned dissatisfaction even, and in an out-of-the-way place like this blog - can be viewed as "inflammatory". As for "unnecessarily inflammatory", that moves towards browbeating, stifling of fair and healthy disagreement. It strikes me as a little territorial, perhaps fearful. The game itself belongs to no one - neither you nor I. The speech used to describe it is free. We may have emotional ties, but we share the thing whether we like it or not. And time continues to pass, and the world moves on.

On to 'supplement' then, I wrote that the use of the term "is aimed at readers who may know very little about the detail, and don't necessarily have the time to absorb that detail, or want or even need to know it" and that the term is "a useful approximation, a foundation for potential further research". The point may simply be that the "close examination of the two games" you mention is something that few - even in the niche in the niche - have time or inclination enough to perform. If the rules in the one work build on the rules in another, 'supplement' does the job. I'd imagine that one or other of us - if we had the time and the inclination - could write a supplement which turned tic-tac-toe / noughts and crosses into something far, far beyond what it is now in terms of complexity and potential. But it would be reasonable to call that a supplement too, for anyone who took a passing interest in our endeavour. If they stuck around, they could of course examine it more closely and come to their own conclusions, and maybe 39 years on someone would still have enough invested in the thing to give it a go in a whole other context.

I'm worried by this statement: "If anything, despite being the earlier game, it would be more accurate to call Chainmail a supplement of D&D". That looks to me to be a very significant revision, almost like crying: 'It was always D&D! Even when it wasn't!'

Anonymous said...

Porky, I'm horrified and disappointed that you feel I have attempted to browbeat you and rob you of free speech. That wasn't my intention at all. This is your blog and you're entitled to say whatever you want.

Because I feel you've both misjudged me as an individual and misinterpreted the things I was saying, it would seem pointless to attempt to continue this discussion and so I will bow out. Life's too short and thus too important to invest too much time splitting hairs and definitions involving trivial matters, such as our hobbies.

Porky said...

Let's not go overboard. I wrote that it "moves towards browbeating" not 'is browbeating', and towards stifling not quite of free speech, but "of fair and healthy disagreement".

I'd add that it's not the fact that this is my blog - and it barely even is after all - that gives me the right to say whatever I want - that right has its source elsewhere. That said, I'm not convinced it's an absolute. The term 'free speech', in practice at least, seems to mean 'free within accepted limits'. We debate every day where the limits are, or whether they should be there at all. I referenced the concept believing that what I expressed came nowhere near those limits and the discussion here is possibly most useful, appropriately or not, for shining a little more light on this more serious problem, and maybe also on the contours in our own particular spaces of communication.

At any rate, I can assure you that any misjudgement or misinterpretation wasn't intentional, and I'm glad when it comes to down to it we can both see how wasteful it is to worry about certain things beyond certain points.