- It's an utterly banal observation, really, but as Milan Kundera once remarked (in one of my favourite quotes), it's often the most banal observations which intrigue and surprise us the most: the cover and title page of Men & Magic make no mention of 'role playing', because at the time it didn't exist. Instead, the game is described in a rather cumbersome and innaccurate way as Rules for Fantastic Medieval Wargames Campaigns Playable with Paper and Pencil and Miniature Figures. (It's often complained that 4e D&D 'requires' minatures while older editions don't. Whether OD&D required miniatures is debatable, but you can certainly argue that their use was encouraged.)
- Gary Gygax, in his dedication, thanks the people who helped expand on the Chainmail rules (what we would now call 'playtesters', I suppose) and then remarks: "Here is something better!" A great line. I wonder if early players realised just how much better this strange new world of gaming was.
- The Gygaxian writing style is immediately noticeable: enthusiastic, verbose, and unselfconsciously flowery. The sly digs and put-downs that he would become infamous for are present even in the 'Forward' (sic): "Those wargamers who lack imagination", he announces sniffily, "will not be likely to find Dungeons & Dragons to their taste."
- In its own very simple way the introduction provides one of the most inspiring manifestos for the roleplaying hobby that has ever been written:
[These rules] provide the framework around which you will build a game of simplicity or tremendous complexity — your time and imagination are about the only limiting factors, and the fact that you have purchased these rules tends to indicate that there is no lack of imagination — the fascination of the game will tend to make participants find more and more time.
- Number of players: "At least one referee and from four to fifty players can be
handled in any single campaign, but the referee to player ratio should be about
1:20 or thereabouts." I believe that bears repeating, in bold type: The referee to player ration should be about 1:20 or thereabouts. (!)
- I quite like how IMAGINATION is stressed on virtually every page of the set-up as the key ingredient to a successful game.
- Another banal-yet-intriguing observation: this was a game about dungeons (hence the title). The referee's job is to map out levels of his 'underworld', people them with monsters 'of various horrid aspect', and create 'a huge ruined pile, a vast castle built by generations of mad wizards and insane genuises'.
- Fuck balance. Right from the off, it is explicitly stated that Magic Users are the strongest characters in the game at higher level, but the weakest at the beginning. I'm not altogether sure why, twenty-five years later, that idea suddenly became anathema to the people at WotC. It always seemed like a fair trade-off, to me.
- I love how one of the key examples of a magic item is an X-ray vision ring: the one thing that geeky 12 year old males prize above all others. I think when I was 12 I would have sold my soul to Beelzebub for an X-ray vision ring.
- These were medieval military history enthusiasts, alright: not 10 pages in and we're already discussing units of horsed crossbowmen of the 'turcopole type'. Look it up on wikipedia.
- The iconic dwarf is armed with a sword, not an axe. As somebody who makes a point of always arming dwarf characters with swords just to be contrary, I appreciate that picture.
- "There is no reason that players cannot be allowed to play as virtually anything": you want to be a dragon? Go for it!
- For some reason, one of the cleric ranks is a 'Lama' - maybe the only intrusion of non-European culture into the entire book.
- THAC0 was a real Godsend: one look at the combat matrixes and my eyes are already glazing over and I'm beginning to experience brain-stem death.
- In finest 'Players Handbook' tradition, the section on spell descriptions is about as long as the entire rest of the rules put together.
- There are naked breasts and a self-confessed "beautiful witch" on page 27; meanwhile, on page 29, there is a goblin who looks...well...nothing like how later editions of the game have envisaged goblins to be. (There is an even more surprising picture of an elf on page 32; I'll Winshot it in to the bottom of the entry, for those who are interested.)
Volume II tomorrow.