See back in the late 60s to early 70s a bunch of miniature wargames nerds in the midwest were making their tiny niche products and sharing and evolving them as best as they could with the technology and networking available for the time as opposed to our modern and more interconnected methods where an idea from Russia can be translated into English in hours and spread all over the place to be morphed into something else in Japanese ow what have you.
Well some guys got together, smooshed miniature wargames together with a more freeform style of play and RPGs were born! Dungeons and Dragons is (sadly) the Alpha and the Omega of it all, largely being the main RPG of the English speaking world for about as long as I have been alive. (Almost 41 years now. OH GOD I AM SO OLD WHY HAVE I WASTED MY LIFE ON DUMB NERD CRAP?!)
(No Pathfinder's short run as king doesn't count because it is basically DnD 3.5 with a couple of tweaks. Which is the only reason anyone cared about it. DnD players seem to have issues playing anything other than DnD ruleset RPG Fantasy genre games. Only a massive departure like 4th edition, the previous publisher (TSR) being shut down for a year, or Games Workshop levels of customer abuse seem to make the game take any form of noticeable hit in popularity, most of which is short lived.)
So, let's see what old books full of rusting staples I have for the first RPG as we know it?
(As is my wont, feel free to click most images for a larger one.)
It took me many moons to get my "White Box" reprint set from the late 70s-whenever they stopped printing them in the 80s for a sub 100 dollar price but I eventually got it for like 50 bucks shipped. It merely looks like the box got ran over multiple times.
And what you got inside of the box! Three softback stapled books and a set of reference sheets. So even as early as 1974 we were getting cool box sets full of goodies and books in conveniently digestible booklets as opposed to these terrible monster coffee table books we have now.
(To be fair the Iron Kingdoms core rulebooks could probably knock someone the hell out if swung hard enough...)
And this is what the books looked like inside. As we generally know, the rules don't make a whole lot of sense and all but require house ruling, made worse given how few examples there are in the booklets. Not ugly in general though.
Well ok, the art is mostly AWFUL inside these things. But keep that last statement next to the swordy man. We shall see it again in this post.
If you want a retro laugh, here is the price TSR had for things in the mid-late 70s. Given that no ADnD books are listed this is a 1976-early 77 price list. For inflation fun purposes as of this writing One 1977 dollar is worth 3.85. While I do not completely agree with inflation dealies like this, it gives one a ROUGH idea of things. So a 10 dollar set then is worth 38 bucks or so now. Which is kind of close I guess? But a comic book at that timeframe was about 40 cents then, or worth 1.55 now. As opposed to how much most comic books cost now which is FOUR DOLLARS. Yeah. Inflation is kind of a troublesome thing. You can't just say WELL IT WAS X DOLLARS THEN AND SHOULD STAY THE SAME NOW but you can't go the other way either.
The sheets have lots of the charts you would want in a suite of loose sheets inside.
But unlike today where expansion products are designed to be bought for your game whether tabletop or electronic from the start and nigh unusable without them, back then they were merely cool options and add ons. Much of what would become standard core elements of DnD long term first appeared in these books, more Greyhawk than Blackmoor.
And yet even the Thief in Greyhawk is whined about by some idiot purists as being where DnD went off the rails. I will talk about that later in the post..
One of the first published adventures for DnD was in Blackmoor! The legendary Temple of the Frog which is closer to what many JRPGs on consoles do (as well as oldschool Ultima) where both Sci Fi and Fantasy were combined and worked together as opposed to the more stringent division so many nerds seem to insist on nowadays.
Because nerds are dumb.
And the next two supplements! Eldritch Wizardry is a collection of more epic stuff for the game. I have the little censor thing there because while you don't actually see any nipples on this picture THAT WAS DRAWN BY A WOMAN BY ALL REPORTS some people now as back then were rather puritan and OMG TEH CHILDRENS about it all. To be fair I don't much see the point of the image being there but nerds gonna nerd I guess.
Swords & Spells was basically a replacement for Chainmail which was the set of miniatures wargame rules Mr. Gygax and Perrin had made that was one of the initial default combat rulesets for DnD now that they discovered not too many people were using Chainmail for their DnD games or miniatures period!
(I also do not have the fourth supplement to Original DnD as it tends to go for much more than I want to spend for a mere historical artifact I have no real desire to actually PLAY GAMES WITH. And a semi recent deluxe ODnD rerelease WOTC did? Yeah I wasn't paying that when I am merely missing one book, awesome box or not!)
(I would also be remiss as to say I am missing an Avalon Hill boardgame that honestly serves no real purpose other than being a map board DMs could use to run overland campaigns on. Which is a cheap thing to buy but.. I am not sure I really WANT it, you know?)
Eldritch Wizardry added in some now legendary magical artifacts.
Swords & Wizardry is merely only worth getting for the really cute art in it, with the images basically being miniature models on their bases getting up to adorably amusing shenanigans.
But as the game spread throughout the English speaking world the mixture of semi amateur level writing and the sheer oddness of this new game would cause it to not just be people teaching it to others and sticking more or less to the styles of play the creators intended. People who simply weren't into Adventure Gaming would start picking it up and trying to self teach it to themselves and then their friends. And like the Telephone Game things would be "Lost in Translation". So an educator named Holmes would convince TSR to let him make a set of starter rules to ease folks in. (Again something that would basically become a fixture in the market.)
The very first Basic Set! This rulebook, dice, and tutorial adventure would help to introduce unconnected and antisocial nerds of the mid-late 70s how to play this weird new game!
The hobby and industry was in fact so new that TSR couldn't even source enough of the funny dice people would need back then so they made chits you cut out and drew out of a cup to get you by!
And even Gary Gygax got into the tutorial scheme with The Keep on the Borderlands which is a now legendary adventure module.
The main book looks VERY similar to the design of the then in development ADnD and in fact is some weird hybrid of Original and Advanced, kind of ending up as it's own thing.
Obviously things are evolving and the company is becoming more and more professional.
You can see in this edition of the module it is full of things of use and help for a beginning RPG player, even including some explanations of odd terminology most people wouldn't know back then or now! And plenty of reference material and advice through the book to help you understand how to do this game stuff.
LOOK AT THAT FAT WIDDLE STIRGEY-WIRGEY!! WHOSE DA FATTEST BWOOD SUCKA? IS IT YOU? YES IT IS!! :3 Anyhow, you can tell this is the Holmes edit version by the stat lines you can see as in entry 64. This module will show up again when BX/BECMI DnD would be born in the early 80s. But that is a tale for another time..
Now we must get into a hot topic. THE OSR which stands for Old School Renaissance/Revival. With 3rd edition and later 4th changing much of what the Original through 2nd edition DnD rulesets had as sacred cows, these aging people who refused to move on now had access to each other through the Internet. Add in the Open Game License which gave people the ability (with limits) to basically redo and rebuild early DnD and modern advances in desktop publishing and we had a storm of people both reviving, adding to, and enhancing the editions they preferred as they formed communities dedicated to it.
This has lead to things like fans making free fanzines and enhancements like this small one designed to expand the Holmes Basic set into a fuller featured RPG that doesn't really require anything else for those who have decided HOLMES EDIT IS MY GAME AND THE ONE TRUE D UND DEE and want to just run it and not really go beyond.
You see, this is one thing with the OSR. Many of them sadly have their heads shoved firmly up their own asses, insisting whatever version of DnD they grew up with is the only good one. This has lead to such inane things as the dismissal of even the Greyhawk supplement for Original DnD, or anger over the BECMI DnD over the BX one even if they are 95% exactly the same in rules and charts.
It gets even more absurd with AD&D and 2nd edition. This is why people keep getting into smaller and smaller niches of Internet Echo Chambers where they just encourage more "partisan" forms of thought. And I REALLY need to cover this sort of partisan thinking on consumer products in a post all to itself. So let's just say people like to get a bit too invested in a memory that is probably not even entirely real.
But for our purposes, ODnD got it's own rather well regarded rewrite called Swords & Wizardry. Being three formats with varying levels of adherence to the ODnD rulebooks and expansions, it makes the original books both unnecessary but even allows people to play for FREE. And thanks to Print on Demand services like Lulu you can have reasonably priced physical copies!
I have more properly covered Ruins & Ronin a few years ago here: http://wargamedork.blogspot.com/2010/01/review-corner-rpg-review-of-ruins-ronin.html and a bit more about Swords & Wizardry here: http://wargamedork.blogspot.com/2009/04/retroclones-primer-and-swords-and.html .
Sadly I never did get the game beyond that one play session and the RPGsite became such a miserable and hateful place I have left it far behind.
For a free or inexpensively purchased physical product, Swords & Wizardry looks quite good. I actually printed out the entire rulebook. Of course as these ongoing projects tend to do, things have been updated and improved which almost makes buying a physical version or wasting ink and paper printing them out kind of pointless. Luckily modern portable phones and tablets are fantastic for holding PDFs to read and use on the go. (And laptops of course.)
There are even a lot of great fanzines you can either download for free or buy such as this one, Knockspell!
Knockspell is more or less for ODnD primarily, while the other big paid fanzine
Fight On! (Told you that would come back!) is more ADnD focused but still heavily supporting the original. Fight On! has far more issues out than Knockspell and even will release massive collated editions like the first four issues combined into that one massive book to the left.
Again, our modern technology makes these fan driven projects look better than even the pro ones they were inspired by.
Yet the best thing is not merely when fans remake the old rules as an excuse to shove in their house rules or make them as a way to rationalize releasing new adventures and support material for sale.
(Some claim it is because the older books are difficult or expensive to find which is honestly incorrect. Between RPGNow/DrivethruRPG, Ebay, and WOTC's own reprints only the ODnD we are covering here is expensive to acquire in some legitimate form.)
Some folks take the OGL and make all new games, like one of my favorites:
X-Plorers is basically retro DnD but Sci Fi oriented and with some modern touches to make it FUN. Sadly it never seemed to take off and just got spread from publisher to publisher and mostly just farted out.
See? All one really needs for a quick and fun Sci Fi RPG! It works so well I made some posts allowing you to use it instead of more complicated and boring RPGs like Mechwarrior or Prime Directive or Gurps.
If you want to see more about it and some of what I came up with: http://wargamedork.blogspot.com/2010/01/review-corner-review-of-rpg-x-plorers.html
This ought to give you something to go on. (I had quite a few early 2010 X Plorers posts but I think those two links are enough to start you on your path!)
So there we go! My Original 1974 White Box/LBB DnD collection! Eventually I will get those two final products I mentioned above and more of those fanzines but I am mostly set! I have the Dragon Magazine Archive CDs somewhere around here which is full of support material for early DnD and the RPG download site I mentioned above sells some of the third party support material as well such as that from Judges' Guild.
But.... ODnD really isn't my jam. I like it for being fast, light, and flexible but it is too confused and scattershot, plus it not being the system of my rose tinted nostalgia goggles.
Whenever I move on to the next DnD Game Collection post I might cover it eh?