Lots of interesting commentary resulted from my post yesterday about Chris Tichenor's chronology of D&D/AD&D products released by TSR between 1974 (the release of OD&D) and 1988 (the last year of 1e). Today, I'm going to offer my own rambling thoughts on the first part of the chronology, using each year as a touchstone for whatever comes to mind. I'll do a second post on the remaining years later today or tomorrow.
Not much to say here, since it's Year 1 and there's only a single product available.
In many ways, 1975 is the "true" birthdate of D&D, as we know it today, since the release of Supplements I and II was the first appearance of many of the game mechanics and features now indelibly associated with D&D (such as the thief class, for example). It's also also where the creation of D&D's own unique "mythology" kicks into high gear, with the addition of monsters like the beholder, umber hulks, rust monster, carrion crawler, sahuagin, and so forth. The LBBs largely content themselves with monsters from real world sources, but Greyhawk and Blackmoor describe far more monsters who have their origins in D&D campaigns rather than in myths or legends. This is the start of the game's creative self-referentiality.
It's also worth noting that, between them, the two supplements to OD&D constitute more pages than the three LBBs combined: 128 half-pages vs. 112 half-pages.
This is the year D&D was supposed to "end," according to the introduction to Supplement IV by Tim Kask, at least in terms of "official" supplements. That obviously didn't happen, but it's still interesting to consider a world in which Kask's proclamation came true -- where further development of the game was confined to periodicals like Dragon and where published support came in the form of products like Dungeon Geomorphs or related spin-off games like Swords & Spells.
This year is an interesting year. We see the first AD&D product -- the Monster Manual -- as well as re-working of the LBBs into an "intro" product. The only support products are more geomorphs, monsters and treasure assortments, and character sheets. From my perspective, the complexion of the game hasn't changed all that much. The MM is still, in many ways, a support product for OD&D, despite its branding, since the stats are quite compatible (indeed there are some OD&D-isms scattered throughout the text) and the monster format of OD&D isn't conducive to ease of use. Granted, I do think the MM frequently provides too much information for my tastes, but I suspect I'm in the minority on this score.
A big year -- an annus mirabilis, as Delta called it. We see not only the release of the Players Handbook, but also a series of superb adventure modules. Nevertheless, you can detect a shift in the game. The PHB added a fair amount of complexity to the game, both in terms of detail and rules. Likewise, the appearance of modules marks a move away from homebrew adventures as the default way that people played D&D. I don't think these shifts are, in and of themselves, bad ones and I actually think there's much to be said in favor of modules -- in another post perhaps -- but the game is clearly changing by this point.
A strangely sedate year. Yes, there's the release of the Dungeon Masters Guide, which is, in some ways, one of the most important books ever released for D&D. Beyond that, though, support for the game is sparser than in 1978. Only three modules are released -- all classics, again -- and the remainder consists of record sheets and a referee's screen. I can't help but wonder if perhaps TSR was, at this stage, under-staffed and over-worked, which is why you see many new employees in 1980 and '81.
The fourth AD&D hardcover appears, along with a handful of modules, most of which have their origins in convention play, a phenomenon that becomes ever more important to the way the game is designed. We also see the first official campaign setting for D&D.
The Fiend Folio marks the rise of the game as an international hobby. The slew of modules are a varied lot, but what stands out is the presence of so many new writers. The big events of the year, though, are the release of the Basic and Expert Sets, which were the first serious attempts to make the game appealing to the mass market.
Modules have obviously become a mainstay for TSR, which releases nine of them this year. Again, they're a varied lot with a variety of authors, among them Tracy Hickman, whose Pharaoh, while still rooted in many aspects of the old school, points the way to the future of both module design and D&D itself.