East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Red Box Nostalgia


D&D_1983_Basic_Rules_coverI was talking with a friend today about this sick nostalgia thing that has swept the culture ever since the nerds have won weltanschauung hit us hard.
Case in point, and the subject of our discussion today – people waxing nostalgic about the D&D Red Box.
I mean, really?
Don’t get me wrong – the Basic Set Red Box was certainly the first form of roleplaying game for a lot of people, including my brother (me, I started playing with Call of Cthulhu), but really thirty years on people still consider that their best, and most memorable gaming experience?

Rules_Cyclopedia_coverTalking with my friends today, we came to the conclusion that we were playing stories, not maps, and therefore what remained in our hearts and our memories are the worlds, not the mechanics of those early games.
And while I still consider the Rules Cyclopedia as the highest point ever reached by the D&D system, what I remember fondly is the world of Mystara, in which the adventures we played were set. A world detailed in a series of much cherished Gazetteers.
And by that time, we were using a home-brew system that was a Frankenstein monster of D&D and AD&D, plus a number of copybooks filled with notes and sketches and stuff.


But none of us is moved to tears today remembering the Red Box – apart from myself, probably, at the thought that a first level thief was supposed to know how to use a dagger but not a cudgel. Hitting someone on the head with a chunk of wood would be something only the Blue Box would allow me.

But apart from these silly memories, I’m sometimes worried by this good old days feeling that’s sweeping what I once considered my culture.
And I found myself thinking back at Billy Joel’s song, Keeping the Faith

A1BMJ-XU9fL._AC_UL320_SR248,320_You can get just so much
From a good thing
You can linger too long
In your dreams
Say goodbye to the
Oldies but goodies
Cause the good ole days weren’t
Always good
And tomorrow ain’t as bad as it seems

So yes – we had fun with D&D.
But not because of the rules.

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

6 thoughts on “Red Box Nostalgia

  1. Gazeeteers were a legit middleschoolish setting, with a gonzo and weird vibe that make them fully resonate with our osr taste (and they had a high fantasy groove that many autors should try to understand if they want to sell widely). That said, they were nothing revolutionary (bit Glantri and Shadowelf were gold).
    Red box itself was quite of a mess… But in a good way. It enjoyed a franciscan simplicity, which made a true outlier for the laye eighties.
    Adventure modules spanned from “eternal masterpiece” (Moldvay’s trilogy, b10) to very good (x11, cm1, deserto nomads) to forgetable (x6 x9).
    The real actual work of wonder was the Blue expert set. That was a book of unmatched informational economy and evocative sense of openness. That was really something.


  2. Played with my italian-language Karameikos setting up to consume it! 😀
    Then I learned the strict necessary of english and bought Ierendi and the wonderful Ylaruam (so 1001 night’s dreamish! :D) and mixed the settings and stories… Rules? Screw the rules! Our d&d sessions were most narrative and interpretation games, with just a bit of d20-things.
    About the whole “nostalgia syndrome”… I must admit that I love basking in nostalgia, some days, but I love much more trying to remember what were the feelings, the atmospheres and the sensations that I loved and still love, so that I can try to give something similar (or maybe better!) to my little daughter. 🙂

    Ugh, never like now I wish I had the same language skills in english and italian… It’s really hard to explain something when you don’t know the right words. :/


  3. Reblogged this on Iho's Chronicles and commented:
    I agree, the game was fun for the stories told with it, not cause of the rules.

    Since balancement wasn’t percieved as a problem and the rules where relatively simple, they could be customized to accomodate the story.


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