The art in D&D started going down the tubes the same time the game did. As the art in TSR’s products became more “professional,” it became more soulless and lacking. Gygax himself was a big part of this problem. He notoriously preferred the ugly, uninspired second edition cover of the DMG to the iconic first one.
Some of us have seen people seeking to back-date their FRP involvement to a point before the actual D&D game appeared on the market. In some cases, I suspect, this a more or less transparent attempt to disavow D&D’s direct influence on them. As such, it tends to fool exactly no one. But in other situations, it represents the way that the world was waiting for D&D, that the time was right for it, and that- when the game appeared – we were prepared.
Did you play D&D before there was D&D?
1) I was friendly with Connor from the time we were in Nursery School together. This school was housed in a giant Victorian-era home in our town, and it stood complete with a covered driveway port, a carriage house, and other unusual, period amenities. It had, over the years, served as a retirement home and a hospital for invalid WWI soldiers. Failing to meet certain codes, it existed only because it was continually operating before the laws had changed – and the people running it knew that if it were ever to cease operations, it would never be allowed to reopen.
The first edition of D&D included Tolkien’s Balrogs as monsters for the game – and they also appeared in D&D’s miniature game precursor Chainmail. Tolkien’s lawyers put a stop to this, along with other examples of unauthorized appropriations from his work, and the later editions of the game never included them. I had no idea that the first version had these monsters and we never encountered any Balrogs when I played with the “White Box” back in the day…
I’m actually one of the people who bought The World Book of Khaas, Legendary Lands of Arduin – the enormous Arduin supplement, notorious for its total lack of stats and mechanics. I had thought that it was the ultimate in the kind of “D&D supplement as produced by frustrated novelist” product.
Then I encountered the Harn materials.
“One of the most difficult tasks men can perform, however much others may despise it, is the invention of good games and it cannot be done by men out of touch with their instinctive selves.”
– Carl Jung
Original, 0e, “White Box” D&D was impossible to learn to play by just reading the rules. You had to have someone else, who had been taught by someone else, teach you how to play. D&D was, at that sweet, sweet point in the ’70s, an initiatory system. Someone taught you and, if you were like me and the game “possessed” you, you went on to teach others.
So it went.
“There are many retro-clones
Of that old game D&D
But the one called Swords & Wizardry
Always seemed the best to me.”
Everyone has their favorite clone – just like everyone has their favorite edition. Over the last year, I’ve come to appreciate each of the clones I have studied. All have strengths and all have weaknesses, just like each of the editions they seek to emulate. Of course, given the unique features of this particular enterprise, some of what appear to be weaknesses and failings are actually strengths and some of the supposed strengths turn out to be weaknesses. All of that said, S&W is still my favorite clone.
Much has been made about the shifting role of the DM as D&D changed – or, for some of us, devolved. The DM started out strong, in complete control and was empowered to adjudicate all matters. In time, however, “game balance” and intensive character generation began to predominate.