First Post! Original D&D

Hi there, I'm Delta and I'm a complete old-school D&D junkie. I've started this blog to jot down random thoughts as I study old D&D texts and think about the game.

Frankly, I haven't played a game of D&D in about 1.5 years, since moving from Boston to New York City, at which point I lost my playgroup. Prior to that we had met every week for 5 years running (since about a year before the release of 3rd Edition D&D).

Here's the topic of my first post -- I recently procured a copy of the Original D&D set of EBay. That's the original white-box, three-small-booklets edition, copyright 1974. Of course, I've had copies (more than one) of 1st Edition rulebooks, Holmes blue-book sets, Basic D&D, 3rd Edition D&D, etc., but I never had the original white-box stuff, and I'm tickled pink to have it at this point. (Got it *relatively* cheap off EBay -- $45, 6th printing with slightly dented box, when lots of these sets go for over $100 these days). The other thing I do now is occasionally get old PDFs of stuff from RPGNow.com -- for example, I recently picked up the original Chainmail rules, and also Supplement I: Greyhawk, but the original rules haven't been released in digital form, so I went out and gave it to myself as a gift.

It's really intriguing to see the original D&D rules and consider exactly how they have evolved over time. On the one hand, they're fairly different in things like character classes, races, ability modifiers, how to run combat, and so forth. But on the other hand, lots of the text and ideas for certain spells and magic items has been nearly copy-and-pasted (at least in part) between every edition, from OD&D to 1E to 2E to 3rd Edition.

Some quick examples of the quirkiest things in the OD&D set: There are only 3 classes (fighter, magic-user, and cleric). Most ability scores don't have any modifier on combat actions, just experience award modifiers (just like Holmes Blue Book, in fact). All class and monster hit dice are d6's! (Which actually makes a heck of a lot of sense, since it's the most common die type on any table. Depending on class you might go 1d6, 1d6+1, 2d6, etc., for your hit dice.) Every hit from any weapon does 1d6 damage -- with certain exceptions like a giant or staff of striking that does 2d6 damage. Every magic-user or cleric apparently has a spellbook with all spells in the game included. Elves can function as fighters or magic-users, but must pick only one for a given adventure! There is no specification for what falling damage does (one example says a 30' fall should likely be fatal). A lot of stuff like what dice mean, or what happens when you run out of "hits", is entirely undefined in the rules, assuming they're just obvious common knowledge to gamers. Really fascinating material to me.

With the release of Supplement I: Greyhawk, a lot of changes were made that filtered seemingly verbatim into the AD&D books. For example, the thief class was added as the 4th primary class type. Classes were given stock die types (d8, d6, d4), and monsters converted to d8 hit dice. Varying damage types by weapon were given (including medium-vs-large targets), weapon type-vs-armor modifiers, and specific monster attacks and damage (which is a real pain because you then needed to flip between 2 books for a monster's full statistics). Ability modifiers were given for different abilities like Strength, including the exceptional d% component we all loved (explicitly to make fighters more potent and survivable). You've got the more familiar and wider multiclass mechanic where experience is constantly being split between two classes.

Another thing that interests me is that the rules were explicitly set in a medieval technology and time frame. (This pops up in discussions of equipment, ships, and the campaign.) It specifically cautions that you shouldn't think about other milieus like ancient or classical until your medieval possibilities have been exhausted (Vol. 1, p. 5). It's an interesting specification because modern rules try to genericize everything, and make it seem like any fantastic setting is equally supported by the rules.

Oh yeah, why were the ability scores in the order they were? (In 3rd Ed. they go Str, Dex, Con, Int, Wis, Cha, which does seem to make sense... physical stuff first, mental stuff second.). Why Str, Int, Wis, Dex, Con, Cha? (As in 1st. Ed.?) Well, it's easy to see from OD&D... they're just the prime requisites of the classes in the order they were invented: fighter, magic-user, cleric, and then finally thief in the Greyhawk supplement, etc.

By 1st Ed. AD&D, the spell lists were organized so that there was a plethora of 1st level spells, the same or fewer 2nd, same or fewer 3rd, etc. But that hadn't yet happened in OD&D: the numbers go up and down randomly, with the fewest spells of all at 1st level... You've got just 8 1st-level spells for magic-users, 10 2nd-level, then 14, 12, 14, and 12 again. Clerics have just 4 spells on their 2nd & 3rd level lists, 6 spells on the others.

In addition, there aren't any specific planes-of-existence yet... for example, elementals spring directly from the terrestrial substance itself (which to me is actually a lot more attractive in-spirit-flavor than the elemental planes concept). But, there is the prospect held out of other dimensions, times, trips to the moon or Mars, robots and androids, living statues (as-yet unnamed golems). And you do already have the contact higher plane spell with its big list of plane-levels (starting at 3rd? maybe 1 above "heaven"? on up to 12). It's kind of a mishmash of every fantastical place or concept that set the stage for a pretty complicated multiversal construction later on. (As opposed to say, most classical mythologies with their tripartite worldview of heaven-earth-underworld.)

More to come in a minute!


  1. Actually, the original rules are available on the 'net as .PDFs if you dig around. Google works well. I got them all as .PDFs before I ever bought my official copies (5th prints, non-OCE, nice condition).

  2. "You've got just 8 1st-level spells for magic-users, 10 2nd-level, then 14, 12, 14, and 12 again. Clerics have just 4 spells on their 2nd & 3rd level lists, 6 spells on the others."

    I just realized the genius in this approach; If you've got too many level 1 spells, you give just too many options to new players.

    I'm all in for endless spell lists, but now i think that they should be a separate from the players handbook. The later should only provide simple options to new players.

  3. Players are supposed to roll to learn their spells in Original D&D, the rules are clear they don;t automatically get to pick what spells they can know or cast.

    1. That's true as of Supplement-I (Greyhawk), but in the original boxed set, the idiom seems more clearly that magic-users get everything in published (short) list.