It was a heady, exciting time to enter the hobby, because
it was still a single hobby at this point [at the end of 1979/beginning of 1980]. ...
Though only a young person, these were interests I shared
with the older guys and together we formed a single hobby. Of course, the
reason we formed a single hobby is because I had adopted my hobby from the
older guys. ...
But then something happened and that something was the mass
marketing of D&D to appeal to people outside of this little brotherhood
into which I'd been initiated. The Basic Rules of 1981 (Moldvay) and 1983 (Mentzer)
were attempts to broaden the appeal of the game and make it more accessible to
people who, either by circumstance or disposition, weren't able to hook into
the network of masters and padawans that I'd so gleefully joined a few years
The mass marketing of D&D succeeded and succeeded brilliantly, bolstering the ranks of people who bought TSR products. However, it was also a hammer blow to the common culture of the old school. The people who entered the hobby with Moldvay and Mentzer were (largely) those who discovered fantasy in the post-D&D world. They weren't into Howard or Moorcock; they were into "fantasy," this suddenly-popular genre of literature that had sprung up in the aftermath of D&D's amazing success.
- Braunstein (played
- Blackmoor (played circa 1970-71)
- Dungeons & Dragons (1974)
- Rules to the Game of Dungeon (1974)
- Tunnels & Trolls (1975)
- Empire of the Petal Throne (1975)
- En Garde! (1975)
- Boot Hill (1975)
- Bunnies & Burrows (1976)
- Metamorphosis Alpha (1976)
- Monsters! Monsters! (1976)
- Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set (ed. Holmes) (1977)
- All the Worlds’ Monsters Volume 1 (1977)
- The Fantasy Trip: Melee (1977)
- AD&D Monster Manual (1977)
- Traveller (1977)
- Chivalry & Sorcery (1977)
- Arduin Grimoire (extensive D&D variant) (1977)
- RuneQuest (1978)
- The Complete Warlock (extensive D&D variant) (1978)
- AD&D Players Handbook (1978)
- The Fantasy Trip: Wizard (1978)
- Gamma World (1978)
- AD&D Dungeon Masters’ Guide (1979)
- Bushido (1979)
- Tunnels & Trolls Fifth Edition (1979)
- Villains & Vigilantes (1979)
- Adventures in Fantasy (1979)
- The Fantasy Trip: Advanced Melee, Advanced Wizard (1980)
- The Fantasy Trip: Into the Labyrinth (full RPG) (1980)
- Thieves’ Guild (1980)
- Basic Role-Playing (1980)
- DragonQuest (1980)
- The Morrow Project (1980)
- Space Opera (1980)
- Land of the Rising Sun (1980)
- Rolemaster (beginning with Arms Law, 1980)
- Top Secret (1980)
- Call of Cthulhu (1981)
- Stormbringer (1981)
- Aftermath! (1981)
- Champions (1981)
- Merc (1981)
- The Mechanoid Invasion (1981)
- Thieves’ World (1981)
- Crimefighters (1981)
- Wild West (1981)
- Universe (1981)
- D&D Basic Set (ed. Moldvay) and Expert Set (ed. Cook and Marsh) (1981)
This list does
not include the countless variants published by enthusiasts in independent
zines and professional magazines. It does not include the innumerable
supplements, setting guides, adventure modules, and expansions. (If you have more from this period through 1981 that I should add to the list, let me know!)
Many of these games used mechanics far divergent from those of D&D. There were games without character classes, hit points, armor class, levels, and experience points. There were many kinds of magic rules. There were games with nothing like dungeons. There were games with more abstract combat systems and games with combat systems that aimed at detailed realism to the point of unplayability. There were games with rules for religions and cults, rules for character personality features and for character disadvantages, family background and personal relationship generators, world generators, random adventure generators. There were games for competitive tournament play, games for story-telling, games with rules for PC biography generation. It was a massive outpouring of creativity, most of it, in its published quantity, non-D&D.
There were games about dungeon adventures, wilderness adventures, fantasy city adventures, outer space adventures, Bronze Age adventures, post-apocalypse adventures (both soon after and distantly after the apocalypse), super-hero adventures, horror adventures, far-distant alien future adventures, alien invasion adventures, fantasy Asia adventures, cowboy adventures, roaring '20s adventures, modern tactical insurgency warfare adventures, early modern European adventures, pulp action adventures, and adventures emulating very specific works of fiction. There were games about playing monsters instead of heroes.
Within a few years of 1981, when Moldvay Basic D&D came out, we would also have mafia games, dystopian future games, cartoon games, Vietnam War games, humor games, games based on specific big-budget films, and many other kinds.
Before the end of 1981, there were many other table-top role-playing games that did totally different things. The differences between these games and D&D make the differences between any edition of D&D with any other edition of D&D into minor matters of taste.
If Moldvay's Basic D&D has become a leading standard for "Old-School" gaming, then by the list above, that kind of D&D may seem late, not "old-school." It all depends on where your point of view begins.
Such games as these are quite recent phenomena within the OSR. For the Early OSR, D&D was the only "old-school" game in town, making for many missed opportunities and giving non-OSR gamers and young newcomers to the OSR the false idea that D&D and sandbox dungeon crawls and hexcrawls were all that anybody played in the Old Days.