At long last I have coerced my friend Bob into playing D&D. More specifically, the original D&D as published in 1974. Well that’s not quite true either, we’re going to play Swords & Wizardry, a—pardon me—retro-clone. Man do I hate lingo like that, but that’s what the kids are calling it these days. Since I am a card carrying absurdist and a contrarian of the highest order, I have decided to refer to the game—both my game specifically and all other versions, be they the original or an homage version—henceforth as “Old Style.”
It all began when Bob and I started spending the occasional Saturday night—after the wives and kids go to bed—getting together to play games and drink beer. Usually they’re games of strategy: Chess, Stratego, Risk, Axis & Allies; crap like that. And usually Bob beats me pretty handily. I tend to take either a ridiculously conservative approach and lose in a long, tedious war of attrition or else I take humongous, ill-conceived gambles that, though they sometimes make the game interesting, have yet to result in victory for the good guys.
Anyway, we both played a lot of (A)D&D back in the day (80s) but haven’t really played it or kept up with the hobby since. A few years back I invented this thing called the internet and, at first purely for nostalgic reasons, started loitering in RPG boards, seeing what people had to say. I found some interesting facts. Apparently TSR kept publishing more gaming material after 1986; I had no idea. Also, there was some magic card game in the 90s that was so popular that it ate D&D like a giant frog swallowing a halfling. Stranger still, the company that bought TSR was located in a shitty suburban office park within walking distance of where I was working in the late 90s. I was that close to Lake Geneva West and had not a clue.
Eventually I got married and settled down and found myself with free time in my evenings that had, for many years, been occupied with beer drinking, show-going, laid-getting and various other activities of young adulthood. That’s when Bob and Saturday game nights come in.
So anyway, Bob and I had often reminisced about our D&D days though neither bothered to broach the notion of playing such a game. Then about a year ago, after losing my 237th consecutive strategy board game, I finally had had enough. “Let’s try D&D, man,” I said.
I had secretly been working on some Byzantine house rules for AD&D in my basement laboratory and when I presented them to Bob for possible playtesting, he scoffed. I won’t go into details, but he had every right to do so. I had cobbled together an ink and paper golem from vintage 80s rule books that I’d been slowly acquiring over the last 5 or 6 years. Besides D&D I have DragonQuest, MERPS, GURPS, Fudge, Heroes, Call of Cthulhu, Champions… you get the picture. Though in my opinion I had created a Frankenstein’s monster akin to the Mary Shelley version—strong, fast, sinister, yet eloquent and introspective—Bob felt that it more resembled the Mel Brooks rendition: clubfooted and a bit Abby Normal in the head.
The relative worth of my house rules aside, the real problem was that Bob had his own ideas about how he would re-make the game in his own image, and they differed greatly from mine. After a few rounds of verbal taunting and outright mockery, we both agreed that we couldn’t really sit down and play AD&D without drastically altering the rules, nor could we agree on how they should be altered.
That’s when I came across the blog of a one Mr Grognardia. His little piece of the internet is chock full of really cool content: book and game reviews and retrospectives, interviews with historic figures of the game, opinion pieces that are informative and enjoyable to read—not like anything you’ll see here—and posts on his own campaign, which he is running using the original D&D rules as published in 1974, Old Style gaming at it’s purest. Also, he just can’t be beat for the amount of content he chucks up every day.
Now neither Bob nor I have ever played Old Style—we started with Holmes and/or Moldvay Basic back in the very, very early 80s—so we thought this would be enough of an unknown entity that we could look upon it with fresh eyes yet it’s also the root of the game that we gleefully wasted our adolescence playing so it’s familiar enough that we’ll know what we’re doing.
That’s where this here bloggy thing comes in. I decided to document the development of our game as we play it; mostly for my own nefarious purposes but I’m putting it out there on the old intertubes as well ‘cuz I’m an exhibitionist at heart. If, somehow, someone manages to extract a milligram of amusement from this, then I’ll call that gravy.