50 Games in 50 Weeks: 1974 Dungeons & Dragons

Sep 17 2012

'040 Witchcraft and Sorcery' by cthulhuwho1 on Flickr

‘040 Witchcraft and Sorcery’ by cthulhuwho1 on Flickr

While at PAX East this year, I was determined to play a game of original 1974 Dungeons & Dragons, primarily to be able to say that I’d played it.

Fortunately, I was at PAX East with the Gamer Assembly, and they were interested in the idea, too.

We played the Temple of the Ghoul scenario, my go-to adventure for old-school gaming. It has a skittish village population, an abandoned temple on a hillside, stirges, powerful supplies if the heroes are aware enough to notice them, a kitchen heaped with eviscerated adventurers, and of course, the ghoul.

In the months leading up to PAX East, I spent many hours poring through the original 1974 D&D pamphlets and gleaning the relevant tables and mechanics for the players. The system felt like a dark dungeon itself, full of confusing passages.

At the con, I gave the players a one-sheet summary of the core rules, and that’s what we used in play.

Everyone died in the first fight. Fortunately, the players took this with good humor, and everyone re-rolled characters and dove back in. Within a few hours they had found the ghoul and finished him/it off.

As expected, the system is relatively light and flexible, combat grows dull quickly if all you do is swing your sword, and there are a lot of awkward wargame-y mechanics (most of which we ignored in using my “core rule” sheet).

The system felt half-formed, like a child’s version of D&D. This is nothing against Gygax and Arneson; they were still feeling their way towards a completely new mode of play. Expecting an elegant system by modern standards would be like expecting the Model T to drive like a Jaguar.

Original D&D is a fine bit of engineering, though, that provides the raw mechanics needed to explore a dungeon and quell ancient terrors. If you want a bit of fun, you can find it in D&D.

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