|"... and we liked it."|
Most of you reading this article already know how to play a D&D or AD&D game. Most of you learned how to play by watching a game or having a friend guide you through your first game. If you have seen a game played, the rules are pretty easy to understand.
But the D&D Basic Rulebook is written for people who have never seen a game. It is intended to teach the game to someone who’s coming to it for the first time. All other considerations should be secondary to teaching how to play the game with a minimum of confusion. I like to think that the first Basic Set did just that.Now, as much as I love the Blue Book and revere the memory of Dr. Holmes, I can't say that his basic set succeeded in his intention, at least for me. My friends and I were powerfully intrigued by D&D after reading the Blue Book; we wanted to play the game as written, but we just didn't get it. It wasn't until my friend's older brother deigned to explain everything to us that all the pieces started to fall into place. Only then could we make heads or tails of the Blue Book and use it as a reference for running our games and teaching others how to play in turn.
Back in the late 70s and early 80s, this pattern seemed well-nigh universal. Nearly everyone I met, through school, at the hobby shops, or at games days, had learned to play RPGs not because of a rulebook but because someone else, who already knew how to play, took pity on them and explained the rules to them. To us, that was simply the way of things, a way that we all perpetuated by initiating others into our "Secret Club." I can tell you for a fact that that was a big part of the appeal to the hobby back then: unlike other games, you couldn't just pick up a copy, read the rules, and play -- you had to have someone "on the inside" willing to teach you the ropes, like becoming a Mason except without the aprons and trowels.
I'm very fond of looking back and trying to pinpoint change points in history. Biased though such exercises are, I find them useful nonetheless. One of the change points I recall quite distinctly was sometime in the mid-80s, when I first started running into guys, usually younger than myself, who weren't part of the Club. They were these mysterious kids who, to my friends and I, who liked to think of ourselves as well connected within the local gaming scene, had just popped up out of the woodwork. We'd never taught them how to play and none of the older guys who'd taught us had taught them, so where'd they come from and how'd they learn to play?
Intellectually, I understand the need for a game to be intelligible in its own right. On some level, it is a flaw if a game's rules can only really be understood if taught by another human being. At the same time, that was part of the magic of gaming for us in those days. It was a hobby so arcane and esoteric that mere written words were seemingly inadequate to convey it. Only by finding a "master" willing to share his wisdom with you could you enter into the most hidden of human entertainments.
And we made a lot of friends to boot. Back then, we knew lots of other gamers all over the place and, while we didn't play with them regularly, we still felt as if we were all part of a larger community. That's why we could get together every month or so at the library to play pick-up games together and would swap stories with one another at the hobby shops we all frequented. There was a sense of connection, a common bond born out of the fact that there was almost no way any of us could ever have started gaming if it hadn't been for someone else who'd taken it upon themselves to teach us what no rulebook could adequately do.
I won't deny that I miss those days. Maybe it's just nostalgia talking, I don't know. The hobby felt a lot "tighter" back then, even without the undreamed of wonders of the Internet. There were lots of personal bonds between players in the area, with many of them having learned to play the game from the same guys as each other. It probably seems silly, but knowing that some guy you never met first entered a dungeon refereed by the same guy who did the same for you used to be enough to establish a weird kind of kinship between you and I oftentimes think there's not enough kinship in this hobby.