Sunday, August 3, 2014

First RPG Purchased: Advanced D&D Players Handbook

I bought the Players Handbook after discovering Dungeons & Dragons in the Winter of 1978-79. Thirty years later Tim Kask would declare:

So I guess I was late to the party, as always.

In seriousness, I agree with Kask that the seeds of what was to later go wrong with the game were contained in that book--the legalistic codification of the rules, the excessive detail offered in the spell descriptions, the further importance placed on superior ability scores and thus the ability score "inflation" that went with it, and finally the additional class and race options for player-characters--something that at the time probably seemed like an undeniable good, but would lead down the road to "kits" and "builds" and all sorts of other horribles.

But, we're taking about the seeds. Both at the time and looking back, the book itself was stunning--perhaps the best single RPG product ever.

And of course it began with the art. That cover summed up Dungeons & Dragons for me--and it still does: In a room, presumably somewhere deep in the dungeon, we are witness not to a scene of combat but to the aftermath of one. Two characters (thieves?) are attempting to pry the jewel out of the eye of a grinning idol. Two others are consulting a map--where to go next? A fighter is sharpening his sword next to the bloodied corpses of some kind of reptile, while a magic-user, leaning on a staff, looks on.

The interior art by Trampier, Sutherland and others contains some of the best illustrations the genre has ever produced. For me, this piece in particular is iconic:

And of course there was Gary Gygax' wonderful prose and, well, opinions:

You will find no pretentious dictums herein, no baseless limits arbitrarily placed on female strength or male charisma, no ponderous combat systems for greater "realism", there isn't a hint of a spell point system whose record keeping would warm the heart of a monomaniacal statistics lover, or anything else of the sort.

Let's give him the last word:

All in all, this is a game for enjoyment. We are certain that it will provide endless hours of entertainment and excitement. That is the sole purpose for its creation. So enjoy, and may the dice be good to you!

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