I Had That! #13: Advanced Dungeons and Dragons

I’ve been digging around and trying to figure out what the first incarnation of Dungeons and Dragons I owned was. I had the boxed Basic Set, but not the one with the Erol Otus artwork on the cover, which means it wasn’t the 1981 revision. It contained “The Keep on the Borderlands”, so it was a later printing of the 1977 edition. Most importantly, it came with chits, not dice, which means it was a 1979 printing, when TSR had a shortage. (I got dice soon afterwards; I don’t remember ever using the chits. The dice I first got were blue plastic and you had to color in the numbers with a crayon. They didn’t include 10-sided percentiles.) I didn’t actually get it in 1979, but more likely a couple of years later.

It doesn’t matter, because I actually want to talk about the three core books, which I got not long afterwards. I loved these things and “read” the hell out of them. On the lonely bus ride home from school I sat and pored over whichever book had my interest at the time. As expected, the Monster Manual was a huge favorite, though I liked reading the spell descriptions in the Player’s Handbook and the list of wondrous magical items in the Dungeon Master’s Guide (the Deck of Many Things fascinated me).

I played D&D with my friend Scott, but I don’t recall too many other players. I am 100% certain that although I spent hours immersed in the rulebooks, I never played correctly. I wasn’t a patient kid, and the actual rules didn’t hold my interest too much, just the flavor around them. Still, Scott and I had a good time. We somehow muddled our way through modules and devised our own dungeons, which we usually intricate maps drawn on graph paper with an absurd and illogical menagerie of creatures within. It was a revelation to us the day we realized we could create characters that weren’t first level and take on more powerful challenges.

This was the early 80s and sure enough, my interest coincided with the rise in anti-D&D sentiment. My mother, who was religious at the time (this would be a fluctuating thing with her), disliked the game and thought it was bad, though I don’t think I’d go so far as to say she thought it was evil. She never stopped me from playing it or anything. In fact, I am pretty sure I got the Dungeon Master’s Guide as an Easter present, which is kind of hilarious.

My interest in D&D caused me to toy with other role-playing games. I bought Star Frontiers but never played it. My friend Marc introduced me to Villains and Vigilantes, which we played a little of. I got heavy into Top Secret, TSR’s espionage game, but again, I’m certain I never played it correctly. In later high school and early college I didn’t do much RPGing, but I do remember an attempt at Paranoia, the game everyone loves and nobody plays. It wasn’t until I got to LSU that I encountered the second big explosion in my RPG interests, with D&D, Champions, Talislanta, and (god help us) Rifts. By that point D&D was in its second edition and my basic books were no longer necessary.

When did I get it? My memories of reading the books are focused on 8th grade, which would have been around 1981 or so. I know this because that was the year I was constantly bullied on the bus by this one kid. At one point he suddenly decided to be civil towards me and also took an interest, though it was limited to the pictures in the Monster Manual of the creatures with breasts. That didn’t last and soon he was tormenting me again until the fateful day when he just stopped showing up for school.

Do I still have it? I kept them for a long time but eventually they went out in an RPG book purge.

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