In mid-December one of the folks over at DriveThruRPG gave me a call and told me that they were planning to start rereleasing the old D&D catalog as PDFs. He wanted to know if I’d be interested in writing a history for each of the products as it became available.
The deadline was too short, and the timing was horrible besides, but I couldn’t resist. I mean, I’ve been thrilled to be writing about the history of the roleplaying industry for the last six or seven years, so I really couldn’t turn down the opportunity to document the stories of some of the most pivotal releases in the industry.
DNDClassics.com finally went live yesterday and with it 47 of my histories, totaling about 25,000 words of text. On the site, my histories cover the Basic, AD&D 1e, and AD&D 2e lines — other than the Ravenloft and Planescape releases for 2e. Those and the material for 3e and 4e was instead written by EnWorld’s Kevin Kulp (and I’m very happy that he was there, as the 47 articles that I wrote were pretty much at the far end of my capability).
Below I’ve linked in all of my articles, with just a little bit of commentary. Thanks to DriveThru for reaching out to give me this opportunity!
You can find each of my histories under the main description of the product, in the section labeled “Product History”.
This article was originally published as Designers & Dragons: The Column #24 on RPGnet. Its publication followed the publication of the original Designers & Dragons (2011) and preceded the publication of the four-volume Designers & Dragons (2014).
The Basic Adventures (1978-1989)
DriveThru made the majority of the D&D Basic Set adventures available, along with the Moldvay edition of the game — which was my particular entryway to the game. They were a pretty fascinating series to write about, because you could see trends develop in the vast, 12-year span of the series.
Reading through all these made me want to start a Basic Set game.
- Basic Set 2e / Moldvay
- B1: In Search of the Unknown
- B2: The Keep on the Borderlands
- B3: Palace of the Silver Princess
- B4: The Lost City
- B5: Horror on the Hill
- B6: The Veiled Society
- B7: Rahasia
- B8: Journey to the Rock
- B9: Castle Caldwell and Beyond
- B11: King’s Festival
- B12: Queen’s Harvest
AD&D Rulebooks (1980-1990)
Other than that fine selection of Basic supplements, the rest of yesterday’s release was all AD&D. That included the first couple of non-core rulebooks for 1e and then all the rulebooks from the transition period between 1e and 2e.
Of them I was most impressed by Forgotten Realms Adventures, one of the few I’d never owned. It’s a beautiful book that really reminded me of the superficial things I loved about second edition when it debuted (basically: two-color printing and attractive layout), plus the substantive things I liked (lots of great content).
- Deities & Demigods
- Fiend Folio
- Manual of the Planes
- Greyhawk Adventures
- Forgotten Realms Adventures
The GDQ MegaAdventure (1978-1980)
Now we’re stepping back to the very first AD&D adventures. DriveThru offered them up in the form that they appeared in from 1980-1981 onward, when some of the original adventures were combined to produce ~24-32 page books. (I would have personally preferred the GDQ collection, to go with the T1-4 and A1-4 collections I actually have on my shelves, but these are still fine adventures in this format.)
Whatever the edition, this is AD&D in its rawest and most primordial form, as first envisioned by Gary Gygax and TSR.
- G1-3: Against the Giants
- D1-2: Descent into the Depths of the Earth
- D3: Vault of the Drow
- Q1: Queen of the Demonweb Pit
The Temple Adventures (1979, 1985)
1979 brought about what I feel was the true introduction of Greyhawk, with the Village of Hommlet being its first described locale that wasn’t just some dungeon or adventuring point. Then C1: The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan introduced a bit of Greyhawk’s history with the Olman race. Like Q1, T2 was another Gygax adventure that took years to appear (and like Q1, someone else had to finish it).
Oh, and Hommlet was the word I had the most trouble spelling when writing these histories. Yep, worse than Tamoachan, Inverness, or Castanamir.
The Competition Adventures (1979-1985)
I always loved the competion modules because they included ways to score the players (though I don’t think I’ve ever used those scoring methods). What I’d never realized before was that there was a big time gap between 1980 and 1984 where TSR wasn’t publishing them at all. I’m pretty sure I was able to figure out why (easy answer: The RPGA).
- C1: The Hidden Shrine of Tomoachan
- C2: The Ghost Tower of Inverness
- C3: The Lost Island of Castanamir
- C4: To Find a King
- C5: The Bane of Llewelyn
The (U)k Adventures (1981-1983)
TSR UK started writing adventures with the U series, set around the town of Saltmarsh. 30 years’ on, these are still quite interesting for how much they differ from the staid dungeon crawls then being prepared by US authors.
The Novice Adventures (1982-1987)
Four years on, TSR finally decided they should publish some starting level adventures. Actually, that’s not entirely fair because T1, L1, and U1 all predated the Novice series and they were all directed at beginning levels, but until 1982 TSR didn’t think it was important enough to be its own thing.
Two other things strike me about the Novice series. First, no attempt was made for the adventures to be “introductory” until Aaron Allston came along in 1987. (I have to presume that’s because TSR figured the Basic D&D adventures were doing that job.) Second, the adventures seemed to be dumped mainly on their new designers, which isn’t who I’d put in charge of designing the adventures that actually got people into the game. The results were, as you’d expect, mixed. N4 is great, and N1 is pretty good; as for N2 … you can read what Enworld thinks of it.
- N1: Against the Cult of the Reptile God
- N2: The Forest Oracle
- N3: Destiny of Kings
- N4: Treasure Hunt
Historical References (1992-1994)
These were the hardest books to write about because there isn’t a lot of interesting history behind the writing of them. They were released well into the period when TSR was writing and assigning concepts out to writers, so there wasn’t a lot of story behind each book’s creation.
So instead I talked about the uniqueness of each setting both for D&D and in the world of RPGs more generally.
- HR1: Vikings Campaign Sourcebook
- HR2: Charlemagne’s Paladins Campaign Sourcebook
- HR3: Celts Campaign Sourcebook
- HR4: A Mighty Fortress Campaign Sourcebook
- HR5: The Glory of Rome Campaign Sourcebook
- HR6: Age of Heroes Campaign Sourcebook
- HR7: The Crusades Campaign Sourcebook
Aurorar’s Whole Realms Catalogue (1992)
Then or now Aurora’s was a truly unique RPG supplement. Interesting to see that it dates from just a month after the start of the HRs: clearly TSR was looking for new stuff to do at the time!
The Fourth Wave of Greyhawk (1998)
And finally we have the only Wizards products that I wrote about: the three books that began their (unfortunately short-lived) revival of the world of Greyhawk. I loved these when they came out, and I loved them when I looked at them again for this project. They make me want to start a sandbox Greyhawk campaign driven by the players’ desires.
If you take the time to click through all those links, you’ll find lots and lots of good ‘ole RPG history, much like what I’ve been writing for Designers & Dragons. I hope you enjoy it! As DriveThru has announced, there should be more products rolling out in the months ahead. At the moment, I’ll be continuing to write histories of those products.
So check back here in a few months for a new set of links.