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Little beige books

December 5, 2012

(Because “brown” seems a tad inaccurate.)

In a couple of days’ time it will be my birthday. I share it with such luminaries as Tom Waits, Noam Chomsky and the great Eli Wallach. (When I say I share it with them, I just mean it’s the same day, not that we all get together for cake and beer. More’s the pity.) Anyway, recently I spotted something on eBay and decided to dig deep and buy myself an early present. So it is that for the first time I find myself in possession of the three volumes of Gygax and Arneson’s original version of Dungeons & Dragons.

Little beige booklets

These are from the “OCE” boxed set, printed between 1977 and 1979, so balrogs, ents and hobbits have (mostly) been excised from the text. The booklets came sans box, otherwise frankly I couldn’t have afforded them. (As it is, I’ll be eating crusts for Crimbo.) So, not totally original, but close enough for me.

It’s almost thirty years since I started roleplaying, but this is the first time I’ve seen OD&D in the flesh, as it were. Not that I haven’t read the LBBs before. I’ve seen PDF copies, but I dislike reading PDFs and somehow, in physical format, these rules make a good deal more sense to me. (Probably I’m just more patient and less irritable when I have an actual book in my hands than I am when squinting at a screen. No doubt it also helps that I’ve been reading Jon Peterson’s Playing at the World so all the useful contextual information is fresh in my mind.) I’m a born-again B/X evangelist, but over the last couple of days I’ve been poring over these 112 dinky little pages and I could easily be seduced. The Gygaxian prose is entertaining and, perhaps surprisingly (given OD&D’s reputation for opacity and muddle), lucid. The illustrations are charming. I especially like Keenan Powell’s languid-looking, almond-eyed medusa. (She looks stoned. Irony, perhaps?)


Shortly I’ll post a few idle thoughts occasioned by the content of the LBBs. Right now, I’m just basking in the beige glow of their none-more-old-school goodness.

Finally, a gentleman by the name of James Edward Raggi IV also shares my birthday, and he is partying like a loon. You might like to take advantage of the revelry and pick up an early birthday or Christmas present of your own.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. December 5, 2012 10:05 pm

    I think the lucidity comes from conciseness.

    Though there are several gems like “non-harmful weapons” (check the entry for gray ooze).

    In any case, they are wonderful little books.

    • December 6, 2012 5:23 pm

      For some reason, Volume 3 held the most immediate appeal so I read that first, then Men & Magic, and I haven’t started Monsters & Treasure yet, so the oozes are yet to come!

      With three decades’ experience of B/X, then AD&D 1e and 2e, it’s pretty easy for me to grasp what Gygax and Arneson were getting at in the LBBs. It’s harder to say how comprehensible I’d have found them back in the day, before I’d encountered any later versions, let alone S&W WhiteBox. In general, though, it strikes me that while the layout and organisation could be improved (and it was, of course, in later editions) and the references to Chainmail, Outdoor Survival and Fight in the Skies are maddening if you don’t have those games to hand (and I don’t), the actual text is pretty clear in most cases. Not all, but most. And I agree that concision helps retention.

  2. December 6, 2012 1:34 am

    Happy birthday, and congratulations on eBay score!

    There are still reasonably priced sets to be had if you’re patient and not concerned about getting mint condition books. Still, OCE is what I *really* want to see WotC re-release.

    • December 6, 2012 5:50 pm

      Thanks! The books I got are in very nice condition, which is satisfying but also makes me feel sad because they look like they’ve hardly (if ever) been used. No box, but that doesn’t bother me. A box is a box. The ones from my beloved B/X rules disintegrated long ago. Anyway, I was never that bothered about having the LBBs, and I bought them more or less on a whim, but now that they’re here I’m surprised by what attractive physical objects they are. It would be fantastic if WotC republished them in some form.

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