07 September 2017

D&D And Me- Volume 1 : BECMI


 This post runs the risk of a reprint of things I've blogged before, but I'm writing from the hip and not checking what I may or may not have said in previous posts.  Since I'm covering my intro to D&D, I know I'll be talking about some of the same stuff.  Bear with me.  I want to be complete in this series about my experiences with each version/edition of D&D.
  This is about where I started in the hobby, BECMI D&D.  BECMI, for the uninitiated, stands for "Basic, Expert, Companion, Master, Immortals" which are the titles of the boxed sets that made up this edition of D&D.  They began publication in 1983, replacing the Basic and Expert sets by Tom Moldvay, Zeb Cook and Steve Marsh that appeared in January 1981.  This series was written and edited by Frank Mentzer, with artwork by Larry Elmore and Jeff Easley.  This triumvirate of talent had no small part in getting me hooked on roleplaying in general, and D&D in specific.  In Volume 0 of this series, I talked about how I was struggling with not fitting in, having a broken family, not having much in common with the family I did have, and relocating first from my native Texas to Florida, and then back to Texas.  The cruel part was we moved "home" only to be in the other middle school's area, so all the friends I would have been happy to see I wouldn't see again on a regular basis until High School, since both middle schools at that time fed into Round Rock High.  No, I was on the other side of town, which meant knowing no one when I began my sixth grade year.  I was looking desperately for companionship.  Enter D&D.
  That first encounter with actual play involved the "Red Box" and "Blue Box" simultaneously.  I remember that while Daniel's brother was rolling up his PC with the Basic Player's Manual, Daniel handed me the Expert Rulebook and I was immediately entranced by the "speak with dead" artwork under the Cleric section.  My brain tends to write volumes when inspired by a piece of artwork, and this was my first conscious memory of this happening.  Suddenly I wanted to play this game more than anything.  I wanted to be involved in the sort of magical quests where one might see this situation occurring.  It was what I'd always wanted in a creative endeavor.  As a kid, I'd assigned my stuffed animals crew positions and imagined my bed was a starship.  When I played video games I paid attention to the sometimes ridiculous backstories in the Atari game manuals and comics.  When there wasn't a backstory, I made one up to make the game more interesting.  Something inside me already knew how to play this game, and I couldn't wait to clatter the dice.
  That Summer day in 1986 started something the runs strong in me even today, and if asked my favorite edition of D&D, BECMI is the answer you'll get.  I've played each edition that came before and after.  I even played '74 D&D with Frank Mentzer DMing at North Texas RPG Con to show us how things really played.  I got to play AD&D Oriental Adventures with Zeb Cook.  So, I feel like my experiences with older editions are fairly valid given some of my DMs.  But my heart still rests with BECMI, and its near cousin B/X.  I quickly became a Dungeon Master in my own right.  I spent quite a bit of my youth poring over the rulebooks, graph paper, and the mythology section of Round Rock Public Library.  D&D and gaming of all kinds became my main hobby.  My first RPG that I purchased with my own money was Palladium's Robotech Book One: Macross, but I'd been donated D&D, Traveller, Cyberpunk and other games as the years went on.  I played so many more, mostly TSR, FASA and Palladium games but no game company was off the table.  Even Yaquinto.
  BECMI D&D colored the way I look at RPGs now and forever.  Even today, in the age of the full-color glossy hardcover rulebook I still daydream of my games coming in a box with a pair of saddle-stapled books with cardstock covers.  Throw in a module, an order form, a module, dice and maybe a crayon.  The newest game in my collection at the time of this blog is Modiphius' Star Trek Adventures.  It's a monster.  Full-color, beautifully illustrated, laid out like an LCARS display.  Production value that wasn't even possible in 1983.  And yet, I'd have been just as happy or happier to see it in a slim D&D-like box.  Why?  Well, part of it is my gaming brain's propensity to "run home to mama" out of nostalgia.  But apart from that, let's take a look at what the Basic Set in BECMI does.  In the 64 pages of the Player's Manual it teaches the player how to play the game through a method very much like the choose-your-own-adventure books of the 80s.  As the reader moves through this process, it introduces the core concepts of the game a bit at a time.  Throughout, the black and white illustrations by Elmore and Easley give some wonderful looks into the game world.  By the end of the Player's Manual, you've learned how the game plays, what classes are available, and what magics can be cast.  You're ready to go.  64 pages into Star Trek Adventures and you're still in the fluff section.  It's indulgent, and colorful, and flavorful, but the massive tome of a book makes for a daunting introduction to gaming, and is cost-prohibitive.  There is something to be said for brevity and concise writing.  I admire it all the more because I am obviously not capable of it.
  The DM's Rulebook is 48 pages, but manages to give some pointers to new DMs, a sample dungeon, lots of monsters, and treasure.  Again, concise and useful while still illustrated beautifully.  A bit of Jim Holloway art in the DM's guide.  Another favorite artists of mine.  The point is that in this box was everything needed for play.  The box retailed for $8.99 at Sears.  In 2017 dollars, that's $22.50.  The Expert Set was another $8.99.  So, one could  have years of D&D material, including a couple of sets of dice, for a little over2/3 of what the current Star Trek book costs.  I know, times have changed.  People want slick production, etc.  But me?  I want a game.  A game that won't intimidate the crap out of my players.  One where we won't spend most of our time referencing the rulebooks.  Basic D&D does that for me.  Expert, too.  Now, Companion and on?  Some complexity added.  We'll get to that.