Dungeons & Dragons - A Retrospective

This post is somewhere between a couple of book reviews and just some general commentary. I can do that, it's my blog and I'll organize however I see fit :-) Turns out I'm just going to go down memory lane. I'll post more about the 4e products another time ....

The venerable Dungeons & Dragons is getting a new version this week. The fourth edition rules are supposed to be available on Friday (you can easily find PDF's via BitTorrent if that's how you roll (pun not intended)), but there's a wealth of information you can soak up now if you'd like. A good place to start would be at the D&D Insider web site, but there are also two books Wizards of the Coast released about the new edition, and already one adventure is available with "quick-start" rules and pre-generated characters that lets you play in advance of the full rules dropping.

I should probably talk a little bit about D&D and me I suppose. I remember the original "box set" game but we didn't do much with that. I have memories of my Dad trying to figure out exactly what it was, but not much more. At some point later we got the Advanced D&D books (back when there were only three). I still have those three books, they are probably some of the oldest books I own. The Player's Handbook has lost the spine and they are in general completely beat up. I have a second copy of the first edition Player's Handbook in the more "modern" orange spine covers. I played AD&D with my Dad for years. In my mind we did it throughout my entire childhood, but looking back with an adult eye, it couldn't have been more than a couple of years tops.

As I became a teenager the system was getting ridiculous. I just counted, I have *8* different orange back books as well as the five volumes they put out before adopting the orange spines. Believe it or not, at one point in time I could navigate that fluidly and tell you (without looking) where a particular obscure rule was. Oh, and there's so much stuff I didn't keep - years of Dragon magazines, modules by the linear foot, it's crazy.

Looking at my 2nd edition Player's Handbook that's copy-righted 1989 - my freshman year of college. Which surprises me, I thought I was playing second edition in high school, but yeah I definitely think of 2nd edition as my college game. Of course, I spent a lot of time in college with GURPS, and even with DC Heroes for a while (I never gamed in the DC setting, but those were really good rules for running a superhero campaign.) The campaign withered and died after college though, and there's been no significant RPG'ing since then.

There was third edition D&D - the first version done by Wizards of the Coast after the buyout of TSR. This is also the first version where the "Advanced" moniker disappeared and it is not AD&D anymore. I have the basic books for that set but looking at them next to the first and second edition books tells the tale. As I said, my first edition PHB doesn't even have a spine anymore, and I think the binding was starting to fail. I know I wouldn't let anybody but me touch it for a few years - that's what the second copy was for. My 2nd edition PHB isn't that bad, but it's been through the wars. The black spine is worn white in spots, the corners of the binding are rounded from countless trips in backpacks. The 3rd edition PHB? Still pristine. No noticeable wear and tear. It is copyright 2000, and I'm somewhat humored to notice there's a CD-ROM tucked in an envelope in the back that claims to have "Character Generator" software on it. So high tech! (It also has a "GDC Hotel Information Card" from 2003 stuck in it as a bookmark.) I remember when the 3rd edition PHB came out - Jeff Gregg and I spent an awfully long lunch one day trolling for copies. We talked about playing but I think we both knew we wouldn't ever do so. It was just nostalgic then, seeing what they've done with my old toys.

I was aware of a revised "3.5" edition of the rules, but by then I couldn't see the value of buying another PHB. I mean, the last one won't even lay open flat on a table! Practically virginal, which is perhaps a poor choice of words, considering how "virginal" the entire topic is ;-) Amazon says that the 3.5 PHB came out in 2003, but I don't have a copy of that.

Wow, I ran really long just looking at the old books. I suppose it's somewhat telling that I can put my hands on all this old crap and do so almost instantly. It's easily fifteen years since I opened a first edition book but I knew exactly where they all were in my office. GURPS may have more primary shelf space than the AD&D books but I can't imagine setting up my office without a place for those thieves prying the gem from the statue.