Wandering Monster Summary

So, I actually spent, like, the last 5 blog posts or so considering issues springing out of OD&D's Underworld Wandering Monster tables (Vol-3, p. 10-11), considering these as a presentation of a "basic" D&D monster ecology, and a comprehensive presentation of all the most common hostile monsters in the game. Here's some final thoughts:

First, it's pretty freaking cool. The different levels of OD&D monsters are fairly well balanced in both overall power (Hit Dice) and nicely scaling up the perceived frequency of exotic special abilities (poison, paralysis, spells, etc.) They're mostly all recognizable to the new or casual player, leaving crazy "wahoo" new monsters for later editions (and by necessity, special hand-placement by the DM); I think that's a good thing.

Secondly, it's specialized for one particular game campaign/setting (Castle Greyhawk, with its idiosyncratic Giant Hogs, Weasels, White Apes, Thouls, etc.), and you really should customize these tables if you use them elsewhere. The tables are so short and simple that it's really super-easy to do this customization. In comparison, I think the attempt in AD&D to create more expansive tables incorporating every one of a much larger encyclopedia of possible creatures is really a failed experiment. (Other examples of AD&D's frustrating project to generalize and disconnect rules from any specific setting/referent: Disease, Outdoor Movement.)

Finally, speaking as one of the rare gamers who received a copy of the old blue Basic D&D set tabula rasa (i.e., no contact with any older gaming community, always the initial point of contact for the game in my neighborhood using the official written text only), it's something of a shame that the original 1974 edition, with all of its intimacy and call to customization, underwent an effective "cover up" by TSR in the AD&D period. Literally not knowing what it was for many years, it's now definitely my favorite and most immediate version of the game.

1 comment:

  1. My exposure to D&D was also a basic set tabula rasa, though for me it was B/X, and frankly I had no idea of the existance of OD&D until you told me about it. However, that said, my recent re-purchase of that box set included a sales brochure for TSR products titled "Gateway to Adventure". Here's a picture:


    I don't know if the Holmes sets came with that as well, but somewhere towards the back you will indeed see an ad for OD&D, though even at this point (1981) it's already billed more as a collector's item than a playable game.

    I'm curious if there really was a "cover up" of the old edition, or if it was just viewed as out-dated and thus little worth talking about.