Dan's Top 19 RPGs - #9 - Dungeons & Dragons (B/X, BXCMI)
I got my start in the B/X version of D&D and it’s still a game I really like, though it’s been years since I’ve played it. I’m lumping the Basic/Expert game with the later Basic/Expert/Companion/Master/Immportal sets, later consolidated into the Rules Cyclopedia, one of the greatest single volume games I’ve ever seen. I am keeping it separate from AD&D which will appear in one of the remaining 8 slots - I was a bit torn as to which to rank higher. Part of me wanted to link them all as one game but my own gameplay experiences had them feeling rather different from each other. I certainly borrowed material from one game and used them in the other.
With that out of the way, what was the appeal for me of D&D? As with manu others of my generation, this was my first exposure to role playing. In some ways the game is a bit kludgey, with a variety of mechanics - lots of x in 6 chances, percentile chances, d20 attack rolls, low armor classes are good, etc. Nowadays that’s part of the charm and nostalgia of the game, but in all honesty it got rather confusing when learning. But once I grasped the basics of the game it was a joy to play - four main classes, three demi-human classes and that’s it for your character options. Spell lists of moderate size, not a gazillion special abilities to keep track of.
As I’ll mention with AD&D, part of the appeal of this game was the setting and adventure modules. The Keep on the Borderlands and Isle of Dread are two of my favorite gaming locations. A small fortress on the wilderness with monsters nearby and a “lost world” island to adventure on. The Companion series opened up a frontier region of Norwold, inviting players to settle down and rule their own realms, getting involved in fantasy medieval politics. One area of D&D that I preferred to AD&D was how it handled high-level play, with rules for domain management and its War Machine rules for simple mass combat resolution.
D&D also had a default world that developed slowly over time - from a simple presentation in the Expert set of the “Known World” to more developed Gazeteer modules to the Voyage of the Princess Ark exploring the whole planet. The immediate are, as covered by the Gazeteers, was my favorite. It was a shameless amalgamation of cultural riffs on human cultures - Vikings, Bedouin, Mongols, a Byzantine Empire, etc., all shamelessly close together. You had your Principalities of Glantri, a realm ruled by competing wizard families with a canal city for a capital.
I know there was a certain amount of politics at TSR that kept D&D and AD&D separate games. They definitely had different tones but keeping them as separate games was an incredibly odd business decision it is very understandable that Wizards of the Coast brought the two lines back together for D&D 3.0.