|Dungeons & Dragons:|
Basic Set (1977-1983)
Dungeons & Dragons has a strange history. Although the game first appeared in 1974, written by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, would eventually be divided in 1977 into two different games: Dungeons & Dragons and Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. The “basic” form of the game would eventually be released from 1977 to 1986 in several boxed sets with multiple revisions, labeled as Basic (Red Box), Expert (Blue Box), Companion (Green Box), Master (Black Box), and Immortal (White) sets. These would eventually be compiled into the Rules Cyclopedia in 1991, corresponding with several mass market items, including the “Big Black Box” and its progeny. The interesting consideration is that for nearly two decades, Dungeons & Dragons had two distinct forms with contradicting rulesets and approaches to play.
My first Dungeons & Dragons set was the BECMI Basic Set, a system of sometimes questionable acceptance in the greater D&D world. I really liked it at the time and I thought it was a great way to learn about the game. The rulebook had a solo adventure to show you how things worked and it provided content to unleash upon your unwitting friends. To this day, I rarely see role-playing game products that introduce players to the game quite like the old Red Box did. There is something about thrusting a potential player right into it through a solo adventure that so many games fail to do. When they created a new mass market product, the “Big Black Box,” they made an even bolder attempt at the solo adventure concept. It used a map, paper stand-up characters, and an involved packet of tabbed pages. However, outside of those products, I did not see that kind of introduction to a role-playing game until the new D&D Essentials Red Box and the Pathfinder Beginner Box. What sets the old Red Box apart for the discussion here was the way that edition of Dungeons & Dragons approached the concept of class.
|The "Big Black Box" of the early 1990s.|
|This guy is a Fighter.|
|What do you mean Halfling is|
a "class" in this edition?
|Hey! These guys are Fighters, too.|
|The Druid, relegated to|
level 9 Cleric upgrade.
At later levels, the core classes began to see some variety in the options available. Fighters could choose to become Paladins, Avengers, or Knights. Clerics could choose to become a Druid. Wizards and Thieves would have to choose whether to become free agents or lords. Although available, these options to further customize your class were few and far between. In fact, most characters would have roughly one or two choices to make throughout the adventuring career. They usually amounted to choosing between a traveling lifestyle or that of a landed ruler. Would you have a stronghold or would you become an agent of an existing lord, guild, or priesthood? With all that being said, the mechanical elements were light compared to later editions of the game. It made character advancement simple but not terribly enthralling.
It seems very strange to look back on so definitive a game and realize that it did not provide a great deal of options for players with respect to character advancement. A player could make two Fighters, creating one as a fur-clad barbarian with axe and the other a dashing swashbuckler with rapier, and both would function identically outside of their randomly rolled ability scores and weapon choice. Maybe this dearth of features or options are why an Advanced version of Dungeons & Dragons felt so necessary for some players. Perhaps this fundamental lack of options, features, or interesting things to meddle with is why so many people who played the game began making up their own rules. Class provided you only the most limited framework with which to build a character. It was up to you, be it player or Dungeon Master, to fill in the interesting details. Maybe wearing lighter armor gave your swashbuckler a bonus in a way that an armor-clad knight would not have. Maybe your group felt the need to create your own classes to fill the holes. Nonetheless, I cannot help but feel like it would have been nice if the game gave players something to make each character feel unique from another character of the same class.
|Madness? No, this is Dungeons & Dragons!!!|