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Dungeons and Dragons

The d20 Made Me Who I Am Today

Yes, I fit into that geek cliche - I spent a huge portion of my youth, and not-so-youth, playing D&D. I started with 1st Edition but all my significant years were spent playing AD&D 2nd Edition.

We played through high school and through college. I played a wee bit after college too, even after my first child was born, but admittedly young kids and real-life have cut off my playing for now.

But of all those warm, overly-fond memories of youth, few compare to my time with D&D. Other players will know what I mean. It was truly magical for many reasons: time well spent with close friends, the chance to be someone else particularly at a time in your adolescent life when a little escape from what you are feeling is a good thing, and the excercise of your imagination.

While the chance to hang out with your friends was great, I was definitely the type of player that loved the game. I spent untold hours reading material even when not playing, creating characters and monsters and adventures that might never get used. Re-organizing scraps of papers and photocopies from Dragon Magazine in 3-ring binders. To continue the gushing for just one moment more, there was no part of the game I did not love.

I very briefly played the 3.5 Edition and have read the 4.0 Edition rules. It seems, from a little bit of googling, that AD&D 2nd Edition is not necessarily remembered all that fondly. For example, the 1st Edition of the game seems to be much more warmly remember from a nostaglia viewpoint. To me, 2nd Edition was in fact the golden age of the game.

I know THAC0 and other convoluted rules seem to take the brunt of the 2nd Edition dislike, but I don’t think we ever chaffed under the rules. And while I did not know it then, I can definitely see that why it might not have been the most profitable time in TSR’s history with the game - they were publishing a ton of material, its hard to imagine that every book made back its cost to publish (in fact, I did not really know any of the history of the business side of TSR until later in life, but its an interesting read over on wikipedia).

To me, it was exactly these “problems” that I loved and still love about 2nd Edition.

  • The huge volume of material was wonderful to a player like me, that wanted to read and be immersed in the game even when not playing: there was no shortage of material to immerse myself in.
  • While the sprawl of rules across what probably amounts to hudreds of rule books was undoubtly daunting to a new player, to a seasoned player it made for wonderful variation in the game. We played so much and so long that those variations are what really kept us going from a rules and inspiration perspective. Yes, good players really just need a good DM and a great adventure, but some new classes, kits, weapons and monsters are all just inspiration to the imagination side of the game. And after all, what new player didn’t have a seasoned player there showing them the ropes?
  • The creativity that the authors of that generation of the game put out is still astounding to me: a distopian future following environmental disaster fully 10 years before enivronmental disaster would be the disaster du jour to hollywood and other media, steampunk fully 10 years before its current surge in popularity, and so on.

Its not my intent to critize the 4th Edition of the game, Wizards of the Coast or Hasbro in this post. But I will say that in reading the 4th Edition, as well as reading about the changes to the Forgotten Realms setting, these changes don’t appeal to me. It is entirely possible that makes me the cranky old coger of the table top roleplaying world, but the fantasy setting of World of Warcraft (which lets face it, represents a trend in fantasy that undeniably influenced that edition of the game) holds exactly zero appeal for me. Off on a tangent for a second, its interesting to note that Neal Stepheon’s novel Reamde deals, in a tongue-in-cheek way, with this exact same “riff” in the world of fantasy: between those that want floating islands and cat-people, and those that want knights in armor and a good, trusty longsword.

This post, in addition to being a dump of some of these feelings, is a declaration that I want to find some way to recapture some of that feeling of 2nd Edition and what D&D meant to me. I don’t know how yet, I am pretty curious to see the trend in self-written games based on the open-source parts of the d20 system, and in on-line publishing of game material. I need to explore all that further. Even without knowing how though, I wish and want to project that world of 2nd edition forward to future players: a sprawling multiverse of creativity and a sense that variations of the rules can be an inspiration to different play.

In its very small way, this post is also an homage to those minds that made 2nd edition so great: so here’s to Zeb Cook, Rich Baker, Tim Brown, Troy Denning, David Cook, Roger E. Moore and everyone else that worked on 2nd edition!

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