One of the more absurd bits of misinformation I've seen mentioned in reference to myself is that I hadn't been playing D&D for many years prior to Gary Gygax's death in March 2008, the implication being that my current love affair with OD&D is, at best, a passing fancy or, at worst, a put-on. The truth of the matter is that, as I've explained here numerous times, Dungeons & Dragons is my perennial roleplaying game. Since I first entered the hobby in late 1979, I've gone through several periods during which I dropped D&D for a time, sometimes in disgust at some aspect of it, but I've always returned to it later, often with a better understanding of just why I so strongly enjoy it.
My longest stretch of not playing D&D occurred during the 2e era. Between about 1996 and 2000, I didn't play D&D at all, after having been involved in a long-running campaign since Summer 1992. The end of that campaign was partially due to external factors, but a good part of it was unhappiness with the way TSR was shepherding the game. Even the best D&D products of the 90s have an "autumnal" feel about them -- brightly colored leaves whose beauty signalled the inevitable coming of winter. And the latter half of the 1990s definitely was a "winter" for D&D, at least as far as I am concerned. I gave up playing the game entirely and might well have never returned to it at all had it not been for a wholly unexpected turn of events.
That turn of events occurred in 2000. At the time, I was writing for the now-defunct InQuest magazine and was given the opportunity to produce an article on the then-upcoming Third Edition of Dungeons & Dragons from Wizards of the Coast. As part of my research for the article, WotC sent me a large number of playtest files for the game, including the entirety of the Player's Handbook. I was initially quite unenthusiastic about the assignment, but, reading through the files WotC sent me, I slowly found myself becoming rather impressed with the way that my favorite game of old had been given a revamp. I liked it so much, in fact, that I decided to start a D&D III campaign once I was given the OK to share the files with my friends, several months before the game was released. I was thus what you'd call an "early adopter" of 3e.
And so it was that I was reunited with my first love, thanks to Wizards of the Coast. Lest anyone find this implausible, let me reassure you that, from the first, there were things I disliked about D&D III -- the unified XP table, ascending AC, and, most of all, its obsession with "balance." I learned to live with the first two and simply ignored the other one, running the game the way I'd run 1e and 2e in the past. Unsurprisingly, I had few problems with this approach. Indeed, it was remarkably easy to use old materials with the new edition; hardly any conversion was necessary.
That was what I found most impressive about the new edition, actually: though it was clearly rebuilt from the ground up, the old foundations were still there, as were a myriad of little details. I once did a comparison of spell descriptions from OD&D through 3e and what's amazing is just how much continuity there is, not just in conception but even in verbiage. D&D III contains a surprising amount of Gygaxian text -- not mere echoes of his words but the actual words themselves. That's why, for me, despite the dropping of the word "advanced," I still look on Third Edition as Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, Third Edition. There's simply too much continuity, both mechanically and, especially, flavor-wise to think differently.
This isn't to suggest, by any means, that 3e is the game Gary would have written had he retained control over the game into the 21st century. Given the direction he was already taking the game in the late 1e era, I'm not certain I would necessarily have enjoyed what he'd have done with latter day AD&D anyway. But I think it's important to point out that, for all the clear deviations from what had come before, D&D III still recognizably possesses Gygaxian "DNA." I thought that in 2000 and I still think that now, after several years of examining and playing the original game. This is an undeniable truth, as anyone who's used the 3e-derived D20 SRD to retro-clone old school rules can tell you. If there weren't a lot of similarity between D&D III and its predecessors, games like OSRIC and Labyrinth Lord would have been impossible.
Which brings me to another important point: the Open Game License and SRD. Together, these two things "freed" D&D forever, making most of its core concepts and ideas the property of us all. Looking back now, a decade later, as piles of D20 shovelware clogs up bookshelves and (no doubt) landfills across the world, it's hard to remember just how amazing things felt back then. To a lot of us, it felt, if only briefly, like we were on the cusp of a new Golden Age, one where gaming was every bit as vibrant, varied, and imaginative as it had been back in the heady times of my youth. Sure, there was a lot of junk being made, but there was also a lot of amazing product being released and, best of all, shared. For several years, it was 1979 again, at least for me, and I'm glad I got to experience that.
But it was no new Golden Age but rather a Gilded one. The advent of v.3.5 -- even its self-designation is awful -- presaged a shift in tone, content, and business plan that slowly lost me. I continued to play D&D, of course; I was involved in two very lengthy campaigns, including the continuation and conclusion of the one I'd begun in early 2000. I had a lot of fun and my love for D&D had been successfully reignited. And thank goodness for that, because, if my love had not genuinely returned, I probably would have again dropped the game, thanks to the endless churn of splatbooks, rules expansions, and increasingly ridiculous material WotC was producing in the wake of v.3.5. I stopped buying D&D books entirely and felt ever more strongly that many of the things I first disliked back in 2000, particularly the obsession with balance, would be the death of what was, at its roots, a very good iteration of Dungeons & Dragons.
During 2006-2007, I started casting about for alternatives, a path that ultimately led me to where I am today. Had things been different, had D&D IV not shed its Gygaxian heritage and fixed the things I actually thought were wrong with 3e, I might well have never taken up OD&D. Consequently, I feel I owe a debt of thanks to D&D III, first, for having restored my love for D&D and, second, for having taught me what it was I loved about it in the first place. Without 3e, I probably would never have played Dungeons & Dragons again at all. And while I now look back on it as a game I would never choose to play again if other alternatives are available, I cannot say it was a bad game. It's a game with some serious flaws, chief being its balance fetish, but I enjoyed it for quite a few years and whose design does more than pay lip service to the game's past.
So, here's a tip of the proverbial hat to Third Edition.