Everything printed after the original three little booklets having to do with OD&D (the game as it was played before the publishing of AD&D) was about suggestions, not rules. One of the founding tenets of D&D as it was played in its formative years of ’74 to ’77 was about rulings, not rules. Another was that it was expected that Dungeon Masters (DM’s) would mine for ideas wherever we could find them: books, fairy tales, movies, old comics, the pulps--all were fair game for ideas upon which to build an adventure or campaign.
OD&D (what the original, first version has come to be called) was simple, as in rules light, certainly not simple to understand in reading the three. (Often the term “Old School” (OS) and “OD&D” are used more or less interchangeably.) Every DM sculpted his campaign as he (they were all males in the beginning) saw fit. DM’s in those heady, halcyon days when everything was new and wonderful were direct descendants of our Neolithic ancestors who threw sheep shoulder bones into the fire and read the cracks. We “read” something just as exotic—platonic solids made of pretty colored plastic and covered with numbers. (The original d20’s had no “-teens”, just 0-9 twice. We rolled a d6 alongside to add 10 or not.) There were no Jump Across a Chasm charts; we had Dexterity (Dex) and Strength (Str) we could factor in to determine the chance of a Player Character (PC) making it. Folks with high Dex stood a better chance of jumping the chasm through which a raging torrent flows; they rolled a d20, the DM rolled a d20 and the DM made a ruling. Was it arbitrary? Mostly not. I treated dice like Nordic runestones; rolling high numbers was good; rolling 4 or less often meant it did not work out so well—everything in between was where we read the cracks in the sheep shoulders (and most of the time I paid no attention whatsoever to the die I rolled). Oftentimes, just “rolling under your Dex” was all it took.
We all as DM’s created our own worlds in which things worked in certain ways. Don’t like psionics? Fine, they don’t exist in your world. Think that vampires as presented are too tough or not tough enough? OK, make them fit your world. Think something ought to work a certain way, or not work a certain way? No problem, they worked the way you felt “right” in your world.
When I took the first set of rules to the Southern Illinois University-Carbondale’s Strategic Game Society (The SIUSGS) in the autumn of ’74 shortly after the GenCon I attended that summer, a few of the guys (no lady members, back then as all we played were boardgames and miniatures (minis)) asked to see them, just to look at them. They were flustered and could make little sense of them just casually scanning; it did not seem to bother anyone in the slightest that only I “knew the rules”. We played 6 or 7 times a month for at least six months before any of the dozen or so players felt like buying a set of their own. It was two months before anyone else bought dice. The point? You did not need a bookbag full of books to play Old School. You did not have to familiarize yourself with dozens of charts and tables to be able to play. All you needed was dice, pencil and paper and imagination. We had no minis in the beginning; we used dice to teach ourselves mental spatial reference skills. “Greg, you’re blue; Tom, you’re green and the orcs are red”. To this day I prefer an OS type of melee, where it is flowing and fast and one-on-ones only happen later in subsequent rounds; you might be fighting three goblins but have hit each one only once so far… .
By now most everyone knows that TSR published the G Series of modules to serve as a common framework for convention games and tournaments (which were, in and of themselves, a perversion of the game’s ethos). We had to standardize play and grade behavior against a rubric.
The untold story up to this point is why we published the Supplements. I will give you my perspective:
Greyhawk (GH) was the only “true” supplement in that it contained the Alt Combat system and a few other things that simply could not be squeezed into the three original little brown-boxed booklets referred to often as the 3LBB’s—the three little brown books. It was truly supplementary material to flesh out the game. At first it was thought that miniatures gamers (the original target audience) would be more comfortable with the standard weapon damage. At some point someone had a “What were we thinking?” moment and admitted that minis players were already inveterate tinkerers , and Damage by Weapon Type was born.
As GH was named after Gary’ campaign, it was widely perceived as “Gary’s supplement”. Wishing to be fair, TSR told Dave that he could have a supplement also, and refine and tinker with the overall system should he wish to. This became Blackmoor, the second supplement, so named for his seminal campaign. As he stated frequently before his death, Dave was not very happy about “his supplement”. (The reasons behind that have all been dealt with at length in other venues. I go into a chunk of all that on the thread I have on Dragonsfoot.org.) In it we introduced new ideas and suggestions for building a temple and cult around it and making it a focus in a campaign as an example for others to mimic; remember that “borrowing” was encouraged. We showed players ways to go underwater and adventure. We were literally trying to open minds to possibilities. It was the last true supplement; the following books were horses of different colors.
Gary had very distinct ideas on how he thought his game should be played. One quirk? He found it intellectually incomprehensible why anyone would wish to play anything but a human Player Character (PC). He found the idea of “half-breeds” to be repugnant, and not just half-orcs, either. He simply could not wrap his head around it at first. However, he knew there were some battles he could win and some not worth fighting, especially if they drove sales. There were other challenges to the game, which brings me to the subject of hubris.
Dictionary.com defines hubris thusly; “…