I was in the book store the other day and I wandered over to see if there were any interesting new chess books in the Games section. There weren’t, but they had a shiny new set of manuals for D&D (4th edition, I think it was), and I spent about twenty minutes thumbing through the Dungeon Master’s Guide, the Player’s Handbook, and my old favourite: the Monster Manual.
Back in the day (read “the early 80s”), I was nuts about AD&D (Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, as it was called). I went to a handful of SF/fantasy conventions—pretty much exclusively to play in and host single-session adventures, and among my own regular group, I was the Dungeon Master. Gosh, I spent hours and days constructing maps on graph paper in school, which worked out really well because, hey, I looked like I was working—and that was better than the usual dead-eyed stare of a chronic day-dreamer.
The game was a great creative outlet and a powerful venue for escapism; for four or five of us, D&D had the power to collapse entire weekends in ways that not even video game consoles have managed since.
Then I went to university, got in with a different crowd, and eventually started to cultivate a healthy obsession with chess. Even as my interest in D&D started to wane back then, a contributing factor was the appearance of some game materials that seemed to me to be… “unpure” somehow. Character classes started multiplying. Monster-Manual-type books kept coming out that defined an ever larger and increasingly strange menagerie of nasties. (“What the hell is an aurumvorax!? Should we retreat or throw rocks at it??”, etc.)
Ultimately, there was even a book that gave stats for the gods & goddesses of different pantheons—in case, I suppose, your 87th level Paladin-Ranger-Druid decided to go kick Thor’s butt because a thunder-clap woke him from a really excellent dream one stormy night…
Whatever. For me, there is nothing better than when a modest party of adventurous mortals stumbles into a forgotten graveyard, concealed by swamp, and then gets attacked by a gang of mossy zombies. Good times!
Anyway, as I poured over the newer guide-books the other day, I found that my nostalgia for the goofy artwork and simple fantasy genres of the 70s and 80s version (back when the brand was owned by TSR) waxing pretty large. In those innocent times, people were happy to rip off Tolkien and Lewis very directly and without a trace of irony. The zine-like artwork seemed somehow to illustrate that the ability to create worlds was open to all—and more dependent on imagination than talent.
By contrast, the new edition actually left me a bit cold. I don’t even know why, fully—but I think it’s got to do with the spirit of the game. The artwork’s too glossy, maybe—and perhaps with too much emphasis on urban intrigue. The monsters?… well, you can still find most of the classics, but for me, the extra-dimensional cyborg aliens are not really a welcome touch. The whole thing seems like an attempt to retro-fit a dark, ironic version of World of Warcraft into a game you can play with dice.
Maybe it’s simply that the current offering marks such a dramatic departure from the game I fell in love with, waaaay back when there were probably still a few real dragons lurking about. ;-)
Anyway, there’s no saving throw against time and progress, and I don’t really mean to criticize the current version. (With my total lack of real experience of the new game, I’ve certainly got no right.) But the new books certainly gave me a great excuse to pause and reflect (for the first time in a long time) on one of the most important—even formative—pastimes of my late childhood.
I only wish I’d held on to all that stuff. Nowadays, I don’t have a 20-sided die to my name—and with current commitments (to chess, for one), I don’t think I’ve got the time (or the cash!) to start over with the new version. Maybe my son can introduce me to 6th or 7th edition in a decade or so…
Anybody out there old enough and faithful enough to have transitioned from the AD&D of yesteryear to the D&D of today? I’d love you hear your thoughts.