01 March 2018

D&D And Me Supplemental: My Gaming Timeline

  Sometimes it takes me a while to organize my thoughts. Lately, it's taken way too much time.  By the time I'm in a writing mode, I've got to move on to other tasks like parenting, day job, etc.  As excited as I am to write this D&D And Me series, it's taking quite a bit longer than I'd like.  Also- I want to do it right.  So today's post is going to lay the groundwork for the future posts by laying out when I was exposed to various versions of D&D.  The interesting thing to me, looking back, is that I didn't really go backward until I'd already moved forward in some cases.  Like many players, I jumped in at the year I was introduced to D&D, and didn't see the value of looking at what had come before until a bit down the road.  So, here we go- the Old Dragoon's D&D timeline.

  • 1982: First became aware of D&D thanks to hearing the name here and there, and seeing the brief scene in E.T. where the older boys are playing and Elliot wants to join in.  Didn't think much of it at the time.
  • 1983: The Cartoon and the LJN action figures hit my awareness.  The D&D animated series was, and continues to be, a favorite of mine.  I watch it with my kids even now.  
  • 1985: My first gander at a D&D book.  My friend Eric had an older brother who played AD&D.  We paged through his books- they were the '83 Easley cover AD&D PHB, DMG and MM.  I could swear that he had a box or folder set that had one of the hex-grid transparencies to overlay onto maps, but I'm not sure of those came out until the Forgotten Realms box released later.  But I was extremely intrigued- all the numbers, math, etc.  But if this had something to do with the cartoon, it MUST be cool, right?  And the cover art was amazing to my ten-year-old eyes.  Sadly, the big kids wanted nothing to do with us come game time.  My intro to D&D would have to wait.
  • 1986: Summer before I started the 6th grade, I met Daniel Varner.  That was the start of my D&D sojourn.  We played Red and Blue Box, the '83 Mentzer versions, all summer.  And all of Middle School.  As chronicled in my first D&D And Me post, this was where it all really started for me.  I immediately started collecting non-D&D RPGs once I got the idea of what an RPG was- my first two were Palladium's Robotech and FASA's Star Trek.
  • 1987: We dipped our toe into AD&D, but haphazardly.  First we used the MM with our BE games.  Then we used Oriental Adventures to take classes and monsters and put them into our BE games.  Eventually we got our hands on PHBs and a DMG and tried AD&D, but found BE to be more our speed.  We also got the Companion and Master rule boxes and found them to be awesome, so we played BECM more than AD&D.
  • 1988: The Satanic Panic hits our church in the form of a single guy who raised a stink about RPGs.  I debated him and won, feeling smugly happy to do so at age 13.  We kept branching out to other games, but D&D was still the core of our gaming.  Marvel, Star Frontiers, Palladium Fantasy, etc.
  • 1989: AD&D 2e drops, and we all start High School.  It's at this point that we're all briefly overtaken by the "AD&D is the adult version" bug, but I never completely left BECMI behind.  In fact, my regular Friday night campaign in High School was BECMI for most of my four years, with some Shadowrun in there after 1990.  This was my first edition to release after I had already begun the hobby- so we got in on 2e on the ground floor and hung on for the ride.  Larry Elmore's painting of the proud Dragon Hunters still makes me feel nostalgic for the age of MTV and my high school campaigns.  From here on out, I pick up new editions as they arrive, but I've still not discovered all the older editions.
  • 1991: I got my hands on a Moldvay Basic book in a trade.  No idea what it was, I hadn't even really thought about D&D pre-Red Box.  I liked the holes drilled in the book and put it in my Trapper Keeper and basically had a D&D book with me at all times at school. I found the compactness of a single rulebook that was very close or identical to the rules I most enjoyed to be extremely convenient.  This was also the year of the Rules Cyclopedia and the Black Box of D&D- both of which I relish to this day.  The Dragon Cards to teach the game in the Black Box were kind of neat, and the Rules Cyclopedia is still my Desert Island D&D book.  You could run campaigns from here to Judgement Day with just that one book and some dice.
  • Mid-1990s: I saw my first copy of Holmes D&D, and like the idiot teen/twentysomething I was I kinda shrugged and shelved it.  It wasn't until I was in my late thirties that I realized the significance of what Dr. Holmes had done- until I had a good solid look at the original 1974 books and seen how necessary an accessible basic rules could be.  The mishmash of Basic and AD&D in the book threw me, and I ignored it until relatively recently, when I started to really study my editions out of curiosity in the development of the game and the hobby.
  • Mid-1990s: The 2.5 revision.  You know, the abomination.  They reformatted AD&D 2e to include inferior art, layout and trade dress.  AD&D 2e was meant to look like it did in 1989, dammit!  In retrospect, this may be my very first "Get Off My Lawn!" moment in my 20s...  But seriously, I disliked the entire presentation of the revised 2e so much that I've never purchased a black-border book.  I've gotten a couple in donations and trade, but I dont' go out of my way to put my hands on them.  *shrug*
  • 1999: What?  There's going to be a THIRD edition?
  • 2000: 3.0 releases.  The OGL happens.  D20 everywhere.  Some great stuff comes out of it.  Some less-than-great stuff comes out of it.  We rapidly learn Feats can be a two-edged sword, Attacks of Opportunity are sometimes complex, and BAB means multiclassing out of a martial class kinda sucks.  BUT- it is the new shiny, and everyone plays it!
  • 2003: A new edition?  ALREADY?  3.5 arrives, fixing some of the problems of 3.0 and generally cheesing off anyone who had invested heavily in 3.0.  Like I did.  Ugh.  BUT- it was an improvement, and it led to some more OGL products that were awesome.  Enough people loved 3.5 that when 4.0 was announced, Pathfinder (3.75?) took the sales lead for a long while.
  • 2008: 4.0 Arrives.  I'll admit it- I tried 4.0 with gusto.  I liked some of the new mechanics, but found combat to take far too long.  I ended up embracing it as I was running games at Rogue's Gallery as part of league play, but something about it just felt off to me.  This is the year I first got my hands on copies of the original 1974 books- in PDF.  I was now able to trace my hobby lineage all the way back to the first release.  I could see how the game evolved, and what the original core ideas were.
  • 2010: D&D Essentials.  For all my dislike of 4.0 as it existed at launch, Essentials hit a sweet spot for me.  Something about the reworking of 4.0 to give it a more old-school feel and progression clicked with me.  Combat still took too long- but the Warpriest felt like a BECMI Cleric to me.  It felt more like traditional D&D than 4.0 ever had.  It was still very much a different game, and to this day I maintain it's great if you want to play Final Fantasy on the tabletop, but it's not good at traditional D&D the way I run it.
  • 2014: 5e.  This may be my second-favorite edition of D&D after BX/BECMI.  It seems to be the best parts of D&D, AD&D, 3.x and 4E all thrown in a blender and what comes out is a sweet, smooth mixture of D&D essence.  It fixes a lot of glitches, but it introduces one or two of its own.
So this brings us to present day 2018- no further editions have released after 5e in 2014.  In fact, WoTC has kept the 5e release schedule admirably slow and steady, without the splat creep that so often occurs.  This keeps 5e lean and mean when games like 2e and Pathfinder were deep into the creep at four years of age.  Now, this only lists official D&D variants aside from a mention of Pathfinder (since it was kind of the spiritual continuation of 3.x.)  I have left out the OSR, Retroclones, DCC, etc.  That's because D&D And Me is specifically about my feelings and experiences with actual D&D.  I may discuss retroclones etc. in the main articles about an edition- I will probably talk about Blueholme when I talk about Holmes D&D.  But for the most part, I'm trying to stay on task.

So, aside from Supplementals, here's the order in which I'll be talking about editions.  The order in which I first experiences them.  In some cases, it's chronological with the release of a given edition, but as with B/X, Holmes and 0e, sometimes it's not.  I look forward to chronicling this journey.