Tuesday, July 22, 2008
I believe I've mentioned on more than one occasion that my introduction to Dungeons & Dragons came in the form of the boxed edition released in 1977 and edited by Eric Holmes. This edition is sometimes called "Holmes Basic," although my copy of the rulebook doesn't use the term "Basic Rules" or anything of the sort. Instead, it's simply Dungeons & Dragons without qualification. My set included a monochrome cover version of module B1-In Search of the Unknown and included chits and a coupon for polyhedral dice from TSR when they became available.
The funny thing about the Holmes edition is that, while it was clearly intended to be an introduction to the forthcoming AD&D rules -- the Players Handbook would be released a year later -- it's not wholly compatible with them. Or rather, the Holmes edition has its own idiosyncrasies not found in either OD&D or in AD&D. Chief among is the use of the fivefold alignment system (Lawful Good, Chaotic Good, Neutral, Chaotic Evil, Lawful Evil) and the fact that, until the release of 4e, it was the only version of D&D where magic missile required an attack roll to hit.
When I first started playing in late 1979, we used the Holmes rules as our starting point, modified with the rules from the three AD&D rulebooks, since they were already out by the time I entered the hobby. When conflicts arose, I generally favored the AD&D tomes over Holmes, but Holmes had the advantage of being nice and short and generally clearer (to my young mind anyway), even if it wasn't written by the Dungeon Master himself.
One of the things I loved about Holmes -- and the thing that hooked me forever -- was the equipment list. And I mean loved. That list sealed my fate forever. You see, it was that list that helped everything fall into place for me. Without it, D&D might appear to be just a fairly complex board game, with characters and monsters just being different types of "pieces." Remember, too, that I had played Dungeon! and that brilliant game does just that -- makes a board game of dungeon delving.
Throw in an equipment list, though, and suddenly (for me at any rate) the essence of D&D is clear: this is a game about outfitting an imaginary expedition into a fantastic underworld filled with mythological beasts and legendary treasures. Why else would their be entries and costs for 50' rope, small boats, sacks of various sizes, iron spikes, and weeks' worth of rations? Take a moment to think about that. Weeks' worth of rations. This isn't some quick smash and grab operation, but rather a carefully planned foray into the unknown. It was like nothing else I'd ever seen or even imagined -- Lewis & Clark setting off into the ruins of Zothique by way of the Hammer horror films. What's not to love?
Over the years, I've met fewer and fewer people who love equipment lists -- indeed many loathe having to choose equipment for their characters. Me, I don't mind so much, although, to be fair, I tend to be the referee rather than a player nowadays. Many games don't even bother with them, preferring to treat necessary equipment as a background assumption rather than as an important part of play. D&D in all its editions seems to have (mostly) stayed true to this tradition, although 4e is the least true to its heritage, with fewer odd bits of "exploratory" equipment and magical food that takes up little space and can feed a grown person for 10 days.
To that I say, "Bah." That equipment list in Holmes fired my imagination in innumerable ways. All the 10' poles, lanterns, different types of mirrors, and the like made me ask questions, both as a player and as a referee. Why exactly was there a silver mirror as well as a steel one? For that matter, what difference did the material from which my cleric's cross was made make? And so on. Buying equipment, planning a dungeon expedition, thinking ahead not just to six hours from now but six days from now -- these are the essence of D&D for me. This is what grabbed me as a 10 year-old in the winter of 1979 and I would miss it if it were gone from my games.