Dungeons & Dragons
Written by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson
Art by Keenan Powell, Greg Bell, C. Corey, D. Arneson, T. Keogh, and David Sutherland
The product listing on drivethrurpg includes four PDFs – Book I: Men & Magic, Book II Monsters & Treasure, Book III: The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures, and a set of reference sheets with the various tables and such in the booklets. The PDFs for the booklets include bookmarks. The reference sheets do not. The three PDFs for the main booklets are from the Original Edition Premium Reprint released in 2013 by Wizards of the Coast. The reference sheets PDF appears to be a scan from an early printing, but it’s impossible to tell which one.
History and Trivia
The one that started it all. Originally released in January, 1974 by TSR (Tactical Studies Rules), the original version of Dungeons & Dragons was an outgrowth of miniatures wargames like Chainmail. Its history has been extensively covered elsewhere, most notably by Shannon Appelcline in his Designers & Dragons series. The premium reprint that these PDFs are taken from was packaged in a gorgeous wood box along with the four OD&D supplements and a set of dice. I very much regret selling my copy.
Is it Pretty?
The cover art for the three booklets is new for the 2013 reprint and thus has a decidedly more modern flair to it than the original cover art from the ‘70s. The interior art from the original printings is preserved (including a topless amazon) in this edition and is a bit, well, less professional looking than the new covers.
Is it Professional?
The layout of all three main booklets was completely revamped for the reprint. I don’t have any interior pages of older printings to compare it to, but it was quite well done. The reference sheets are a bit less polished but still look pretty decent.
The organization of the booklets sets up the Player’s Handbook (Men & Magic), Monster Manual (Monsters & Treasure), and Dungeon Master’s Guide (Underworld & Wilderness Adventures) triad of core books that most later editions would follow. That said, the organization of the booklets themselves is scattershot, making it difficult to create a character or find a certain rule during play. The list of monsters isn’t even alphabetical.
Is it Useful?
Its clear from the onset that this game is not beginner friendly. Like Chainmail (which is listed as one of the required items for play), this game assumes some level of familiarity with wargames. There are no patient explanations as the game dives right in from the get-go.
The original edition only included three classes – Fighting Men, Magic-Users, and Clerics. Races include dwarves, elves, halflings, and humans. The non-human races are limited in their advancement, making them a bit less appealing to play.
Monsters are presented in a large table with descriptions following. That isn’t exactly user friendly compared to the monster formats of later editions. The descriptions are mostly limited to game details and composition of forces, offering little to no explanation of what the monsters actually are, what they look like, etc.
Dungeon design, at least according to the advice given in the third booklet, borders on the bizarre. I guess the idea of coherent ecosystems and logical reasons for dungeons to exist hadn’t emerged, yet.
The rules are unclear in most places and/or involve difficult math. I’m not exactly stupid, but, for example, calculating experience points looks like a nightmare with this version. It should also be noted that the original D&D was not a complete game. Chainmail is referenced in several sections, as is Outdoor Survival, a board game published by Avalon Hill in 1972.
So, would I play it? Nope. Zero stars.
Is it Affordable?
Given that original printings of OD&D are often several hundred dollars or more and the premium reprint, also now out of print, is now just as pricey, getting this historical artifact for $9.99 in digital form is an absolute steal. One star.
Is it Fun?
I have tried to run this version of D&D a couple of times and it was a bit of a disaster. I imagine it was fun for folks playing it in 1974 but to a modern audience there just isn’t much fun factor. That said, it is interesting to see D&D’s roots and, from that perspective, it’s a fun read. One more fun little sidenote – the game includes references to Mars as portrayed by Edgar Rice Burroughs, as well as to robots and androids. There was very much a science fantasy element to the original D&D. So, we’ll go with a ½ star here.
Where to find it
The PDF version of Original Dungeons & Dragons 3-Volume Set can be found on drivethrurpg.com as OD&D Dungeons & Dragons Original Edition (0e). Print versions (both original and reprint) can be found on ebay and similar sites but prepare to pay a bucketload of money for them.
Very cool to have as a historical artifact but not really a playable game. 3 ½ out of 5 stars.
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[3 of 5 Stars!]