What D&D Meant

Screenshot from Champions of Krynn

In the Early 90s

I started playing D&D in the early 90s, when I was around 11 years old. I actually started with Dangerous Journeys, which is really unusual, but I found that huge tome in a bookstore in the fantasy/sci-fi section (back when it was only a few shelves in a B. Dalton’s). I soon moved on to D&D – or what we called D&D, if we called it anything.

For us, D&D was a hodgepodge stitched together from disparate elements into something that I’m not sure Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson would have recognized. Here were our “core rulebooks” when we first began:

Those last three were ‘Gold Box’ games released in the early 90s. You’ll note, of course, that none of the books listed are part of the core rule-set of any edition of D&D. We used the Gold Box game manuals for some of the rules around character classes and leveling, since they were all based in the core AD&D rules. Parts of Dangerous Journeys got wedged into what we played as-needed – there is a robust character creation system in DJ, for example, that provides more interesting results than AD&D did. We also used Dragonlance Adventures for basic setting material and some special rules for that setting, but as you can see, we did not yet have copies of the Player’s Handbook, Dungeon Master’s Guide, or Monster Manual.

We had come to D&D through being fans of the Dragonlance novels, tearing our way through the Chronicles, and then Legends, and then Preludes and so on. But we didn’t even always play in Krynn – we used and hacked and adapted the resources we had for whatever purpose we had in mind. This was “D&D.”

I think this was the case for many groups, back in the day. Since 3.X, I think that the assumption of what constitutes D&D has become much more standardized, but I feel like earlier editions were more often cobbled together from hand-me-downs and whatever you might stumble across in a bookstore. There was no game store anywhere near us (at the time, walking or biking distance) and even if there was, our parents were primed to see “Dungeons & Dragons” as threatening and vaguely occult. But they knew we loved fantasy and sci-fi novels, so whatever silly game of pretend we were playing was no threat.

So, when you first started, especially if you are old like me, what was “D&D?” What resources did you have for roleplaying? Was it off the shelf core books, or did you cobble it together like we did? Let me know in the comments.

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