Just three days left in October...and to make it worse, I'm writing this on my deathbed.
Well, not really. I'm really just very unwell, as I have been off-and-on for three weeks now. It's a tendency, however, to exaggerate things, such as how sick we are, how tired we are, how difficult a thing is ... and so on.
I'm thinking in this case of all the people who proudly hail the "Red Box" set as though it is some genius work of simplicity, an example of D&D brilliantly reduced to its fundamental, important principles, with none of those unnecessary and troubling gray-area mechanics that make other more complicated editions so very, very UN-FUN.
I can recall the first time I saw the Red Box set. Now I have to get precise about what I mean when I say "red box" ... because there's the Red Box set released by Robert Moldvay (1977?) and the Red Box 'starter' set released in 1983. When I hear people say "red box" I have no idea which one they mean. But then, who the fuck can? It's a matter of great humour that the 'basic' game was re-released so many freaking times under the same name between 1977 and 1983, meaning that no two people today can really agree on what the red box set "is." At least when I mention the original DMG, there was only ONE DMG ... and even now, when I refer to it as I often do on this blog, no one that I know has ever mistaken my reference for the bullshit re-title that came out with 3.0-3.5.
But putting all that on a shelf.
Very well. I remember the first time I saw this Red Box set. It was at a gaming shop in downtown Calgary called 'Catch the Wind.' Just imagine, a gaming shop selling D&D that could afford to be in the downtown mall of a city of half a million (Calgary has a million now, but it was smaller then). Every gaming shop I've seen since was in some industrial park somewhere.
It's a rare gamer around now who remembers that place. Catch the Wind's primary business was in Kites - which is even odder for a downtown shop - but they had a wall that was dedicated to roleplaying games. I bought my Unearthed Arcana and my original Deities & Demigods there (the one with Melnibonean & Cthulhu myths ... but sadly my copy is long gone from this earth).
I was with friends when we saw the Red Box set. By then we had been playing AD&D for four years. I believe our general response was, "What the fuck is this?"
The Owner, who was a sort of grumpy hippie-like dude, thin with a bald head and beard, muttered that it was D&D for kids.
That seemed pretty goddamn obvious to us. To begin with, there was that little label on the box that said, "For Ages 10 and Up" or something to that effect (this was 30 years ago), and that was always something they ONLY put on kiddie games. And when we soft-talked the owner into letting us open the box (in those days there was no tape, no plastic wrapping, you could just open shit), we stood at his counter for a few minutes laughing our goddamn asses off at what a bullshit simple-Simon game system it was supposed to be. I mean, seriously! Real players played AD&D with all the rulebooks we could get our hands on.
Hell, it used to be a sort of pride when I'd tromp off to run D&D, pull out my handful off hardcover books and let them drop, THUMP, on the table. It was a way of letting the players know, "Okay, this is fucking serious, and you better bet I know these rules cold - I have freaking memorized them."
D&D was serious to us. Players who vowed to progress their way to being DMs knew they were going to be held on account for knowing those damn books backwards and forwards and we all thought that was damn fine. Why should anyone be allowed to DM if they weren't going to prove they were committed to the ideal?
Over the next five or ten years, the Red Box set was around, sure. It was something someone's baby brother was using to play with his kid friends. It was always for sale at the Cons we went to and yes, now and then we met people who actually played the Red Box. But we just sort of looked down on those people as probably retarded or possessing of some other mental deficiency. It certainly never crossed our minds that anyone would actually preach the Red Box as some sort of superior thing. That was inconceivable.
I even remember one of those embarrassing moments when a relative gave me a copy of the Red Box set because they had "heard I liked Dungeons and Dragons." Major gift failure. I remember I read it all the way through and obtained absolutely not one idea from it.
By the late 90s I had pulled back from 'the community' in every respect. If I ran my world, it was almost solely with people who hadn't played for a very, very long time, or who had never played before. I did not play in anyone else's world. And that's how things were until I came across the on-line community of bloggers sometime around 2007. I'd say there was a 15 year gap in my social memory of the progression of D&D.
When, apparently, reading 400 pages of a text-book (the equivalent of D&D, Player's Handbook and Monster Manual) became so HARD that no one of any reasonable, ordinary willingness to run D&D would actually do it. I mean, seriously ... 400 pages? What the fuck? Am I taking a medical degree here? I thought this was supposed to be fun!
So now I converse with and compare notes with people who play the Red Box set with the understanding that I'm not supposed to look down on them. After all, it's not about the rules, it's about the imagination and the FUN. Nevermind that it would mean - were I ever to play in one of those games - that I'd have to rely almost entirely on the DM's Judgement anytime I wanted to do something that wasn't covered in the Mickey Mouse rules as written. I mean, its not like I have an imagination. It's not as if I'm going to butt heads with the DM every time my imagination includes things that aren't included in a 64-page booklet. It's not as though the DM isn't going to use the tiny size of that booklet to contain my imagination in a bottle. No, that would be inconceivable.
But let's be honest ... I am never going to play in a campaign run with a Red Box set. Even if I were at a Convention (I'd better be a paid speaker there, I don't know why the hell else I'd go ... except possibly to sell a DM's Book I may imaginably write some day), if a bunch of really, really excited people really, really wanted me to play, I'd have to tell them I'd rather pop up to my room, take a swim in the hotel pool, get Vodka'd in the hotel bar or, you know, sleep. Because I really just don't fucking care to play kiddie games.
There you have it. I'm a snob. It's a common failing with experts.