My Gods… what have I done. This review is going to be insane.
DnD was what I cut my teeth on. It’s how I discovered roleplaying. I went over to a friend’s house one night in the wild outback of Washington State, and I woke up chewing on his book. I was about 8 years old.
I don’t know if you’ve ever watched a group of four 7 to 9 year olds play Dungeons and Dragons, or any tabletop game, but they don’t precisely follow rules. We would roll up characters, and then roll a die randomly to determine what level we were, and then just pick a bunch of spells that were cool out of the book and hurl ourselves relentlessly at random stuff included in the books.
For those of you that don’t know what DnD one looked like, here’s an archeological reference:
See how it says “Read this book first” up at the top? With a fucking exclamation point? Yeah, obviously that didn’t apply to us. We picked through, tossed out all the bullshit rules (anything our 7 year old brains couldn’t comprehend) and started playing.
I remember half way through our first combat round we suddenly realized that we didn’t have hit points on our sheet. The monsters all had hit points.
Instead of looking at the rules, we deduced, by simple logic, that this meant that we couldn’t be damaged, and we pushed forward.
After about six months of regular playing, we shackled down my mother one night. She decided to make a witch… which broke our poor young brains. Well, she couldn’t be a witch. She had to be a wizard. There weren’t any witches, so she couldn’t be one.
Then she said that she’d play a wizard, but she wanted to be an elf. She couldn’t do that… elves were another entire class. You could either be a wizard, or an elf. Not both. That would break the world. She had, in under a half hour, completely screwed our collective pooch with her pursuit of "Things Which Could Not Be". This was my first lesson on how evil women are.
This broke down into about four hours of her actually reading the rules, and telling us how horribly wrong we’d been playing the game so far.
This has come to be known as My Fall from Grace. My PC had hit points, and therefore could now die… which I did. Over, and over. And over. And over and over and over and over. I’m pretty sure, somewhere, there was an entire nation of undead beings created from the bodies of my fallen characters.
Basic DnD is just that. It’s very basic. It’s a very swift system, with very little in the way of situational modifiers to confuse beginning players. Unfortunately, it also has a staggering amount of loopholes and situations that are not covered by modifiers which will confuse the crap out of beginning players. Basic DnD is the Catch 22 of the gaming world. It’s a great place to start, but only if you have someone who knows what they’re doing to show you how to start. The very nice thing about the system is that if you do have a DM who is experienced at just running games in general (not even DnD) that they can usually cover most of the situations with some off-the-cuff modifier or role-making decision. This makes a terrific game for a casual weekend with friends.
Basic DnD gets 6 crits out of 10.
And then the damn system evolved (or a new one was created, depending on your particular religious idiom) which just went further with the pooch screwing.
I hauled my bitter, broken, angry ten year old butt down to WarGames West one mid-summer afternoon, and ran face to face into this book right here:
I was stunned. ADVANCED Dungeons and Dragons? What the FUCK!? Were they trying to say I was some sort of feeble newbie? Were they trying to suggest that I, in all my 10 year old glory, didn’t have a flying clue what I was doing? I immediately ran shrieking to my father (who was bored, as he hated gaming stores) and informed him that he had to buy this book for me because the fate of nations depended upon it. Realizing the truth in the statement, he did just that.
I spent the rest of the vacation pouring over the various monster descriptions and thinking of how totally awesome they were, even going so far as to chatter my dad’s ear off about stuff he could never conceivably care about… like otyughs. He did his best feigning interest until I got tired of talking and went back to reading.
It wasn’t until I was back in Washington State that I realized I actually needed the rule books too. Yep, somehow, Advanced Dungeons and Dragons was more Advanced than normal Dungeons and Dragons, and you couldn’t play ADnD with the old rules. I think it was two or three months before I actually got the rules.
I was blown away. Was this the same game? It had HARD COVERS! On all the books!? No longer could we fold the cover back and show how right we were to Player X or DM Y with vicious stabbing motions of our pre-pubescent fingers. Now our game was Official. Now we treated the books like tomes of ancient lore, handling them with the utmost of care, and being careful to never put a single mark in them. Yeah. Right. Within a month, all the books looked like they’d been covered in meat and thrown into a pool of water filled with sharks that had pens and pencils for teeth. Rough doesn’t begin to cover it.
Everything fucking made sense. Races were races. You could be an elf AND a wizard! Classes were classes, and you could even, if you really kicked ass, be more than one! Monsters were even more super-deadly, the pictures were more super-awesome, and the modifiers were more super-modifier..ing. If you were carrying 90 lbs worth of gear on your back and you had to jump over a 15 foot chasm which was covered in oil on the other side… you could figure out exactly what you needed to roll in order to die horribly.
This, obviously, was the game for me. This was the ultimate in the gaming experience. I could never find anything better than this, and I played it faithfully for a long while... until this came out:
I completely lost my shit.
Up until current day, with all the editions, and rule changes, and errata, and random bizarre weapons out of Dragon Magazine, NOTHING has topped the Dark Sun setting in DnD. Nothing. Ever. Anywhere.
When it came out, I picked up a set. Many of my gaming group thought it was ‘too hard’ because of such rule tomfoolery as “You have to carry enough water to not die.” I could go on for hours about Dark Sun, but I won’t. Because I’m focused on (A)DnD right now. And also because the asshats at TSR came out with this: