Excerpts Archive | 10/15/2013
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OD&D Excerpts
Book I: Men & Magic

T he original Dungeons & Dragons game, published in 1974 and aimed at wargamers and medieval fantasy enthusiasts, created an entire industry of roleplaying games, as well as legions of D&D fans worldwide. It included three small rules booklets in a white box.

On November 19th, the deluxe reprint version of Original Dungeons & Dragons releases, which includes seven booklets (the first three rules booklets and four supplements) and dice within an engraved and illustrated wooden storage case.


First Three Booklets

Essentially, these were OD&D's precursors to the Player's Handbook, Monster Manual, and Dungeon Masters Guide. As described within Men & Magic:

Men & Magic (Book I) details what characters can be played, potentials, limitations, and various magical spells. Monsters & Treasure (Book II) describes the beasts and creatures which will be encountered, as well as the kind and amount of treasure they are likely to guard, including magical items. Finally, The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures (Book III) tells how to set up and actually play the campaign. It is presented last in order to allow the reader to gain the perspective necessary—the understanding of the two preceding booklets.

In today's preview, we consider just a few of the details that stood out within Book I: Men & Magic, as well as look at the new cover art. However, let's first look at the foreword to the book, as beautifully written by Gary Gygax. It starts, as good stories so often do, with "Once upon a time…"

OD&D Foreword (60 Kbs PDF)

Book I: Men & Magic

In 1974, the very concept of a roleplaying game was uniquely new. As explained:

The referee bears the entire burden here, but if care and thought are used, the reward will more than repay him. First, the referee must draw out a minimum of half a dozen maps of the levels of his "underworld," people them with monsters of various horrid aspect, distribute treasures accordingly, and note the location of the latter two on keys, each corresponding to the appropriate level. This operation will be more fully described in the third book of these rules. When this task is completed the participants can then be allowed to make their first descent into the dungeons beneath the "huge ruined pile, a vast castle built by generations of mad wizards and insane geniuses." Before they begin, players must decide what role they will play in the campaign, human or otherwise, fighter, cleric, or magic-user. Thereafter they will work upwards—if they survive—as they gain "experience."

Book I largely went on to describe the relatively limited classes/races available to players, along with equipment and spells. As far as classes, "Fighting-Men includes the characters of elves and dwarves and even halflings. Magic-Users includes only men and elves. Clerics are limited to men only." And that was that.

As further notes of miscellany, dwarves were "the only characters able to fully employ the +3 Magic War Hammer," while elves "can begin as either Fighting-Men or Magic-Users and freely switch class whenever they choose, from adventure to adventure, but not during the course of a single game."

Yet however baseline at the start, OD&D still began with the game's spirit of potential options and creative flexibility. Stated general in the Other Character Types section: "There is no reason that players cannot be allowed to play as virtually anything, provided they begin relatively weak and work up to the top, i.e., a player wishing to be a Dragon would have to begin as, let us say, a "young" one and progress upwards in the usual manner, steps being predetermined by the campaign referee."

For today, let's end with a look at the original cover art for the booklet, and how it's been translated for the reprint.

Click below for a larger view of the new cover:

Bart Carroll
Bart Carroll has been a part of Wizards of the Coast since 2004, and a D&D player since 1980 (and has fond memories of coloring the illustrations in his 1st Edition Monster Manual). He currently works as producer for the D&D website. You can find him on Twitter (@bart_carroll) and at bartjcarroll.com.