The first true D&D rule set is often referred to as either "original D&D" (OD&D) or "White Box D&D". The latter appellation comes from its packaging. It was packaged in a white box. However, the famous white box came later. The first three printings (January 1974, January 1975, and April 1975) were packaged in a faux wood grain
. The first three printings had a white label affixed to the front featuring the image of a mounted warrior. This mounted warrior image was reused on the internal Men & Magic booklet. Each box and internal booklets credited Gary Gygax
and Dave Arneson
as the authors.
Print runs for the first three editions were as such:
First 1,000 copies
Second 2,000 copies
Third 3,300 copies
Each box was hand assembled by Gygax and his friends. With a cover price of $10, this little garage operation grossed over $60K in a bit more than a year. If you consider a decent wage was about $11,000 a year in the early to mid '70s, this little home operation grossed nearly $250K in today's dollars. Not a bad bit of work.2
The fourth printing (November 1975) introduced what many now call the "White Box" edition, as it featured a pure white box. The mounted warrior image on the box cover was replaced with the now familiar, iconic, albeit much crappier image of a wizard casting a spell at some orc
s. The fourth printing, which was ramped up to 25,000 copies, marks the moment when D&D went from obscure localized hobby to a growing national phenomenon.3
The sixth printing (1977) marks the moment when even lawyers started to hear about D&D. Up until the sixth printing, the D&D booklets and supplements made references to hobbit
s, and even Tolkien himself.4
Naturally the Tolkien estate came calling and forced the changes. Hobbits became Halfling
s and ents became treant
s. Balrogs became Type VI demon
s . Years later Christian fundamentalists, who only bought D&D to burn it, forced the morally bankrupt T$R
incarnation to remove demons altogether, replacing them with some totally gay moniker
The sixth printing was released in conjunction with the more user friendly D&D Basic Set
(sometimes referred to as the "blue book" edition because the 8"x11" rule book had a blue cover). To distinguish between white box D&D and blue book D&D, the white box now featured a little starburst on the cover that said "Original Collector's Edition".6
The Books Themselves
At this juncture
one might get the sense that D&D was all about purchasing a box.7
What was inside the box was what really made D&D. Inside were three booklets titled Volume 1: Men & Magic, Volume 2: Monsters and Treasure, Volume 3: The Underworld and Wilderness Adventures.
Men & Magic
The first volume dealt with the generation of abilities, character classes, spells, combat and experience/level advancement. In OD&D, higher abilities did not confer many bonuses, like extra damage or better savings throws. Higher abilities did, however, help characters accumulate experience points faster if their prime requisite ability was high for their character class. For example a magic user with an intelligence of 15 or more received a 10% bonus on accumulated experience.
Men & Magic offered only three character classes. One could be a Fighting Man, a Magic User, or a Cleric. (The thief and paladin classes were added in the Greyhawk
supplement and the Monk and Assasin character classes were added in the Blackmoor
A numbered character level system wasn't actually used. Characters advanced via their titles. What we would think of as a Level 3 fighter was simply known as a "Swordsman
". A Swordsman eventually advanced to the Hero
level. Herein lies AD&D's odd inclusion of level titles which seemed pointless, inconsistent (e.g., a cleric progressing from "bishop
" to "lama
" made little historical sense) and highly afterthoughtish. In OD&D combat was based on your title. OD&D used the Chainmail
miniature combat rules. X miniature was a "Hero" which was more powerful than Y miniature which was a "Swordsman". (Again this all seems odd until you phrase it like "This miniature is a Tiger
tank which is more powerful than this miniature which is a Sherman
OD&D generally assumed one came to it via Chainmail and used the Chainmail combat system. It didn't actually republish the Chainmail combat system. For those without the Chainmail rules, Men & Magic did include an alternative combat matrix similar to AD&D's where titles could be converted to an attack level.
Armor class ranged from 9 (no armor) to 2 (plate mail and shield). There was no provision for lower armor classes, like 1 (plate mail and a +1 shield). Damage was purely 1d6. No distinction was made if one was using a two-handed sword or a dagger. All weapons did a single D6 of damage.
Magic spells went up to level 6 and there were only 70 magic user spells defined. Clerics had only 5 levels of spells.
Alignments were present although limited to the Law/Netural/Chaos axis.
Monsters & Treasure
Monsters & Treasure featured a line drawing of a dragon
on its cover. As the name implies, the booklet covered what monsters and treasure adventurers might encounter. The booklet listed roughly 50 monsters. Most were out of either Tolkien (orcs and ents) or standard monsters from mythology (dragons, hydra
s, etc.) The only novel monsters were the purple worm
and the creeping Lysol nightmare variants: green slime
, yellow mold
, grey ooze
, black pudding
, et al.
There was the standard treasure type/treasure in lair table. Magic swords and armor were introduced as well rules on how to use them in combat. A +1 shield did not lower your actual armor class (from, say, 2 to 1). The +1 was to be subtracted from the attacker's roll.
The Underworld and Wilderness Adventures
The third and final booklet in the OD&D set covered some of the finer points of creating and mapping a dungeon
, populating it with monsters and treasure, and filling it in with traps and tricks.
The booklet also covered the all important aspect of time and movement, within a dungeon and when in the wilderness. In a dungeon the tradition 1"=10' square miniature system was used. When the adventure busted out into the open sky, a hex
system was suggested.
The wilderness adventure section dealt mainly with random wilderness encounters and what sorts of castles one would find out or could construct in the world and how many fighting men and magic users would be living there. This all seems like a hold over from the Chainmail days. Many things that found their way into AD&D which seem to have a prominent place within the game system but are almost never used (like the aforementioned level titles or the number of men at arms a Fighter can command) owes a lot to the Chainmail days. Role playing in its infancy seemed to be concerned with your characters growing in wealth and power so they could afford castles and armies and then wage war game style combat.
The last part of The Underworld and Wilderness Adventures
dealt with conducting larger scale combat in the air and on sea. This all pretty much made its way into the AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide
. Again, it seems another item that not many gamers ever employed but was important and of interest to the Chainmail generation.
Comparing OD&D's packaging to TVs, station wagons, and home video game systems like the Atari 2600
of the day, one can rightly conclude you simply could not release a product in the 1970s without the addition of wood grain. What the fascination was with faux
wood grain remains a mystery to this author. My connection to the '70s, my older brother, has been unable to shed any light on this phenomenon.
My inflation calculation would mean the D&D box cost $41 in today's dollars.
Most of D&D's early players were ex-military, notably ex-navy. The military connection no doubt helped vector
and spread the game, transmitting the game from ex-military to current military and then to all the locales from which the services drew these recruits. I believe at one point every submarine in the navy had a D&D group.
Despite Tolkien references replete within the game system, Gygax seems to swear up and down that D&D was not at all based on The Lord of the Rings
. In an attempt to distance himself from the book, an attempt that really no one finds convincing, Gygax claims he found Tolkien's works boring. In His words "I'm not a big Tolkien fan, though. I did love the movies, but I yawned through the books. I found them very droll
and very dull. I still don't give hoot about Hobbits.".
Really, I hope all the people who worked at T$R during that era burn in hell
. Buncha fuckin' pussies. And when did "gay
" become defined as meaning ONLY "homosexual"? Last time I checked it also meant that something was without serious meaning.
An appellation that, based on auction history, fails to prove itself out. Lawyers today would no doubt have included a disclaimer, someplace, that notes "original collector's edition" is a forward looking statement
and in should no way be construed as a guarantee of the edition's future value. While a mint
OD&D first edition can fetch $2000, a mint "Collector's Edition" might only fetch $100. If you invested in the Dow Jones
Index in 1975, your $10 investment would be worth $125 today. Operating under the assumption that what makes something collectable
is that it increases in value, your Collector's Edition would not have kept pace with one of the most brain dead forms of investing.
Getting an empty box to market has massive costs. Usually one needs to put something it the box to get sufficient numbers of people to purchase the box to make a profit. It's been suggested that there are a handful of companies out there that have such a loyal, salivating, mindless zombie like army of followers that they could make a go of it. To wit, "Microsoft Box" would probably make a profit. TSR
was at that stage once too.
See also for the original D&D supplements:
I - Greyhhawk
, II - Blackmoor
, III - Eldritch Wizardry
, IV - Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes
, V - Swords & Spells