Friday, September 18, 2009

Basic Sets - a review

I like the old box sets for D&D - a rules booklet, an adventure some dice...they were a good way to start the game. At different times I had all 3 versions of the basic set.

I can't objectively review the Holmes edition as it was my Radioactive Spider Bite.

The 1981 Moldvay basic set was very cool too, if somewhat different from the earlier version. The rules were a little simpler and the monsters were different. The one thing that still stands out to me now is the artwork. I would call it and the associated expert set the last of the old-school artwork sets - Bill Willingham, Erol Otus, and Jeff Dee all had pieces in this version and they made a very strong impression. Most of my friends had this version when I was starting out so I spent much time with it in the early 80's.

The 1983 (and final) Red Box set was much more sophisticated than the earlier versions - 2 separate rule books, much more polished art, and a stronger emphasis on training the new player to play rather than being a reference book. The artwork was mostly Larry Elmore pieces which I liked, but his style in this always felt more like a children's book illustration rather than the edgy, sort of comic book/sort of just weird art of the earlier versions. It was still good, but it was just a different tone. Reading through it the first time I felt it was a much stronger introduction to the rules, but that maybe it had lost something as far as atmosphere and tone.

I know there were later starter sets than these but I never owned them so I can;t comment on the good/bad points.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Early Years 1979-1981

After beginning with the Holmes basic set I started reading through the AD&D books and Dragon magazine whenever I came across them. being only 10 years old I couldn't afford them but I began to pick up on what went on in the game beyond 3rd level. This is the time where I discovered the joys of Graph paper - so much graph paper. I only had one other friend who would play so i spent a fair amount of time rolling up characters and making up dungeons. 'Rolling' might be a bad word to use here too - my set didn't come with dice. Instead it came with cut-apart cardboard 'chits' numbered 1-20, 1-12, 1-8, etc. I put them in paper cups and drew numbers when a random roll was called for. It was cumbersome, but it worked. It also made me love my first set of dice that much more when I eventually acquired them.

Origin Story

In 1979 I read an article in the local newspaper about a game people were playing that was new and different and it mentioned one player being chained to a wall and being bitten by a vampire. It also talked about swords and magic and dragons and it sounded like a blast. I began looking for this game in stores and finally found it in the local K-Mart. I talked my mom into buying it for me and that's where it really began.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Beginning

Background: 100 years ago the sorcerer Zenopus built a tower on the low hills overlooking Portown. The tower was close to the sea cliff west of the town and, appropriately, next door to the graveyard. Rumor has it that the magician made extensive cellars and tunnels underneath the tower. The town is located on the ruins of a much older city of doubtful history, land Zenopus was said to excavate in his cellars in search of ancient treasures.

Fifty years ago, on a cold wintry night, the wizard's tower was suddenly engulfed in green flame. Several of his human servants escaped the holocaust, saying their master had been destroyed by some powerful force he had unleashed in the depths of the tower. Needless to say the tower stood vacant for a while after this, but then the neighbors and the night watchmen complained that ghostly blue lights appeared in the windows at night, that ghastly screams could be heard emanating from the tower at all hours, and goblin figures could be seen dancing on the tower roof in the moonlight. Finally the authorities had a catapult rolled through the streets of the town and the tower was battered to rubble. This stopped the tauntings but the townsfolk continue to shun the ruins. The entrance to the old dungeons can be easily located as a flight of broad stone steps leading down into darkness, but the few adventurous souls who hove descended into crypts below the ruin have either reported only empty stone corridors or have failed to return at all. Other magic-users have moved into the town but the site of the old tower remains abandoned.

Whispered tales are told of fabulous treasure and unspeakable monsters in the underground passages below the hilltop, and the story tellers are always careful to point out that the reputed dungeons lie in close proximity to the foundations of the older, pre-human city, to the graveyard, and to the sea.

Portown is a small but busy city linking the caravan routes from the south to the merchant ships that dare the pirate-infested waters of the Northern Sea. Humans and non-humans from all over the globe meet here. At the Green Dragon Inn, the players of the game gather their characters for an assault on the fabulous passages beneath the ruined Wizard's tower.

-From the 1977 D&D Basic Set also known as the Holmes Basic Set, the Red Dragon cover set, or the Blue Book set. This was my entry into the game.