Longtime readers will recall my posts from last year wherein I spoke about how we played D&D back in the early days. D&D was a catchall term describing whatever edition was being used at the time. At one point back then, the following editions were being actively used by various players: OD&D, AD&D 1E, Holmes Basic D&D, Moldvay/Cook D&D. One could easily move between editions with no issue whatsoever. Most players eventually graduated to AD&D 1E as it was nice owning the large hardcover books. The thing is, due to the methods by which most of us learned to play, few if any really played AD&D 1E by the book. It was just D&D.
The most obvious rules differences in each game of D&D had little to do with edition at all. All of the above mentioned versions had a shared concept which was clearly understood by all involved. Players didn’t seek out particular editions simply because there wasn’t that much of a difference between the way they were used back then. The variations came from the individual Dungeon Masters. It was commonly accepted that each game would have house rules and unique interpretations. I cannot recall many players at that point who cared to point a finger and say “Hey, this isn’t AD&D here!”. It was just D&D. It wasn’t until years later that I encountered rules lawyers who probably knew nothing besides AD&D 1E. Sure I used those hardcover books more than any other in all of my campaigns because they were very useful, but really we could’ve run our campaigns without them just as successfully.
As a culture we feel compelled to categorize and label everything. It’s a requirement when there becomes a proliferation of any item. From art to music, and even D&D now, there is a need to fit things under a title simply to keep them organized. D&D appears to have these categories covered since the editions all have their own names, so it’s not quite the same as pigeonholing music into the Bluegrass category, or Art under the Cubist movement. It’s just that now, with the multitude of editions, there is a need to clarify what is meant when one says D&D.
It’s not enough to simply say D&D anymore. We have managed to classify the versions by edition. For better or worse, we pigeonhole the grand old game of D&D into nice, neat categories. I always played a hodge-podge game, with influences from various early editions, as well as additions from whatever seemed useful or inspirational at the time. Such influences included not only Arduin but later even things from Dark Sun and The Forgotten Realms. I knew no other way to play D&D. Nothing was forbidden, nothing was sacred, and nothing was off-limits or out of bounds. If I wanted to bring some Fascist Ninja Wombats with powers derived from the Champions game, I did so. It was still D&D.
No one should be able to tell you how to play D&D. Each game should feel unique. The experience should be different from one GM to another, and from one play group to another. That is one of the endearing aspects of the game, in my opinion. It’s probably exactly why we were never specific about our games. It was D&D. We didn’t come out and declare we were playing OD&D, or Holmes Basic. We were simply rolling dice and exploring our imaginations.
When pressed about my favorite edition, I answer OD&D. The reasons are simple and quite clear to me now. OD&D exemplifies the pure concept better than any other version. I can get away with a lot more and still declare that I am running OD&D. The original volumes are littered with reminders that the rules are simply guidelines; that each referee should be running the game his or her way. Imagination, creativity and flexibility are the cornerstones of OD&D.
Surely at some point, if you declare you are running OD&D, though, even with these notions ingrained in those little brown books, you are opening yourself up to scrutiny. It’s best to just call it D&D.
~Sham, Quixotic Referee