A (Typewritten) D&D Review from 1974 by Arnold Hendrick

"In general, the concept and imagination involved is stunning. However, much more work, refinement, and especially regulation and simplification is necessary before the game is manageable. The scope is just too grand, while the referee is expected to do too much in relation to the players. If you need ideas to help you along into your own fantasy adventure games, these booklets will be of use; otherwise your ten dollars will be wasted. I do not suggest these to the average wargamer." - Arnold Hendrick.


(O)D&D _Review_01.jpg

Rules Review
BY ARNOLD HENDRICK

DUNGEONS & DRAGONS BY GARY GYGAX & DAVE ARNESON

three soft-cover volumes, totalling 112 pages, with five chart sheets, availible from Tactical Studies Rules, 542 Sage Street, Lake Geneva, W.I. 53147 for $10.00

Subtitled "Rules for Fantastic Medieval Wargames Campaigns Playable with Paper and Pencil and Miniature Figures," these booklets attempt to outline a system for "playing" the kind of fantasy adventures one previously read about in paperpacks. The concept is remarkably interesting, since the same person interested in matching himself against Napoleon or Manstein might also find comparisons with Conan or John Carter enjoyable.

The "game" is played by various adventurers and a referee. The players, starting in near total ignorance, attempt to adventure in the wilderness around them, or in dungeons and underground chambers beneath them. The referee is informed of each action, and after consulting the maps he has made, the basic tables and information in the booklets, and his own imagination, gives the player a response. Those who rememeber Korn's "Modern Warfare in Miniature" will see the parallel, although Korn's rules were much more tightly constructed. Here, introductions are made into many possible areas of interest: finance, magic, fighting ability, language, and monsters of every type and description (from goblins, orcs, giants, and dragons to the more esoteric manticores, chimeras, wyverns, and the hollywood mummies, purple worms, green slime, grey ooze, and black pudding).

Vastly too much has been attempted in these booklets, with very little detail, explanations or procedures. For personal combat, "Chainmail" is referred to, but the multiple-damage characteristics of characters in this game does not fit with the life-or-death struggle in "Chainmail", and neither gives a clue for the effect of missile fire, save perhaps the firer's normal ability is extended up to the range of the missile weapon, with restrictions and special options as allowed in the multi-figure section of the "Chainmail" rules. The resulting mess in interpretations is enough to tax the patience of most gamers to the extreme. Worse, personal combat is the area receiving the most attention, things go downhill from there.

Play in person is usually impossible, since the referee can only show the adventurer the terrain he is crossing at that instant, plus whatever is in his sight. Only large battles are suitable for the tabletop. The optimim solution seems to be play by phone, or when distances are too great, play by mail. For those without gasoline to visit their fellow wargamers, or without a car, Dungeons & Dragons can be very, very interesting indeed. For example, in a test adventure recently concluded, the Acolyte Dorn from the village of Thane ventured into the ruins of Takator, opting for an underground Dungeon adventure instead of an above-ground wilderness expedition. After finding numerous doors beyond his strength to move, he finally opened one that woke four ghouls, who charged him directly. The well-equipped Dorn (with mail, shield, spear and crossbow) was allowed to fire by the kindly referee, and then strike first with the spear. Being rather handy with weapons and things, Dorn neatly felled two of the ghouls, but was then touched by the third, a circumstance which petrified him, while the ghouls proceeded to kill him, thus turning Dorn into a ghoul. So much for the Acolyte Dorn. Better luck in the next life!

Beyond the problems involved in play (find an intrepid referee), the other discouraging factor is price. These booklets are roughly comparable to "The Courier" in physical quality, but at $3.50 each are priced rather high. Worse, all three are necessary. Graphics, considering the format, are decent, with some excellent illustrations, but some space could have been saved without compromising appearance.

In general, the concept and imagination involved is stunning. However, much more work, refinement, and especially regulation and simplification is necessary before the game is managable. The scope is just too grand, while the referee is expected to do too much in relation to the players. IF you need ideas to help you along into your own fantasy adventure games, these booklets will be of use; otherwise you ten dollars will be wasted. I do not suggest these to the average wargamer.
 
Last edited:
Russ Morrissey

Comments

Loonook

Villager
Why did you have to post this? Now all the Kornkobs will start an edition war over what version of Modern Warfare in Miniature is best!
 

GX.Sigma

Villager
An independent game being unfavorably compared to Modern Warfare. How times have changed...
 
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GreyLord

Adventurer
If I'm looking at it right you have to realize that much of the original was catered to Wargamers. D&D matched everything he stated in that context. Do you really think it's a particularly great wargame?

I think it started up a revolution with a new idea and created a rather new upstart genre called RPGs
 

pemerton

Legend
Personally I think this is a pretty fair review (though I've got no view on whether the price was reasonable or not). The conccept and imagination involved is stunning, but the game is very hard to work out from those 3 booklets, as is the interaction with Chainmail. And the refinement, regulation and simplification was achieved - via Holmes and then Moldvay Basic!

For me, the most curious part of the review is "play by phone". Why not just play in the same room but keep the maps hidden behind - I dunno, let's say - a screen!?
 

Hussar

Legend
To be fair, back then, the notion of a screen might have been kinda new. Possibly no one had thought of it. I mean, you don't generally do that in most wargames - you don't have one player hiding die rolls and information from other players. At least, not typically. I wonder if anyone has any idea when the first DM's Screen got used.

Fascinating read though. Would love to see more.
 

Arilyn

Adventurer
To be fair, back then, the notion of a screen might have been kinda new. Possibly no one had thought of it. I mean, you don't generally do that in most wargames - you don't have one player hiding die rolls and information from other players. At least, not typically. I wonder if anyone has any idea when the first DM's Screen got used.

Fascinating read though. Would love to see more.
In original D&D, Gygax sat at a separate table blocked from view by books. This idea was copied in the very early games that followed D&D, like Bunnies and Burrows. You really needed a caller then.

Sloghtly off topic, Bunnies and Burrows had some neat ideas, but it was expected that the rabbits would be adventuring mostly underground, exploring twisty passages. 😂
 

Sacrosanct

Slayer of Keraptis
Some things were spot on (the rules were a mess and no way someone new could learn how to play in their own without someone to teach them). And some things were way off (even if the day, the illustrations were not decent. They were horrible). Yes, I know why, and the history, but that doesn’t excuse them. If you’re gonna sell a product, you must compare to other like products of the time to be fair. And the art in OD&D was awful in that context.

Not gonna quote the above posters since they posted 6 years ago, but the price was also extremely high. Not just in general, but compared with other products that were way more professional looking and presented. It would be $53 in today’s money for 112 pages of very amateurish pamphlets.

I love OD&D for a lot of reasons, but we have to be fair, and in the above, those were the big glaring issues it faced.
 
The Acolyte Dorn from the village of Thane ventured into the ruins of Takator, opting for an underground Dungeon adventure instead of an above-ground wilderness expedition. After finding numerous doors beyond his strength to move, he finally opened one that woke four ghouls, who charged him directly. The well-equipped Dorn (with mail, shield, spear and crossbow) was allowed to fire by the kindly referee, and then strike first with the spear. Being rather handy with weapons and things, Dorn neatly felled two of the ghouls, but was then touched by the third, a circumstance which petrified him, while the ghouls proceeded to kill him, thus turning Dorn into a ghoul. So much for the Acolyte Dorn. Better luck in the next life!
Sounds like a really fun game. I can see why it became so popular.
 

Celebrim

Legend
Interesting perspective. On the one hand, I think that the statements, "Vastly too much has been attempted in these booklets...The scope is just too grand, while the referee is expected to do too much in relation to the players.", still have a certain ring of truth to them.

And yet, at the same time, despite the totally unfair demands made on DMs by attempting to simulate an entire world, and the completely ungameable scope that games sometimes reach, we've been muddling along for 40 years now.
 

TarionzCousin

Second Most Angelic Devil Ever
The optimim solution seems to be play by phone, or when distances are too great, play by mail.
We have been doing it all wrong for years!

Think of how little prep a DM would need! Or, when a PC suddenly went in an unexpected direction, you could simply hang up and later say "We were cut off."

I really need to step my DM'ing skills up.
 

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