Thursday, 8 April 2010

Bugger the Notes Just Play the Music

(Being a slightly scruffy post in which Coop clumsily tries to cram two arguments into one.)

There are a number of reasons why, despite the consensus of the OSR that it's actually Holmes, Mentzer Red Box is the best version of D&D ever released. Here are four.

1 - It is the first one I owned.
2 - It has a funky cover that screams "PLAY ME! NOW!!", despite the fact that we know the situation presented is a bit of a lie under the included rules.
3 - Dead Aleena is DAT ASS.
4 - It is the first one I owned.

All of these reasons are why the old Red Box holds such a place in my heart. It carries onto the artwork as well, Erol Otus for me looked as if his work belonged in some weird 60s counter-culture scene (Keep On HackandSlashing!) as a Brit growing up in the 80s, the mono artwork that sold me on fantasy gaming was the likes of John Blanche, Gary Chalk, Iain McCaig and Russ Nicholson. Everything before was primitive, everything after just changed everything and ruined it. (This is not a unique case - notice that videogamers adore the games they started with and much of what came after but can't stomach the generation of games that came before them). I like Elmore and Easley, I know others don't but for their illos were the first exposure I had to what I regarded as "D&D" art.

On a more serious note, I've never subscribed to the school of thought in the OSR that seems to look at differences between the rules with a critical eye, mainly because I've never cared and mainly because I don't find differences between the flavours of D&D pre-3rd edition are important at the workface when the game is undergoing, where I aways adopted a "soft" approach of rulings as I went along and rules that seemed, well, reasonably close to the original words and intentions.

For example, the only differences I have ever taken note of between AD&D and 2E are

1 - I didn't like the new logo
2 - They changed the names of the classes which is enough to damn it in my eyes. Marathon and Opal Fruits please, not the US-centric globalisation bollocks of Snickers and Starbursts.
3 - The Monster Manual was a ring-binder which seemed to me a good idea but went down like a lead balloon.

So, when your game is Red Box with a bunch of stuff ripped from AD&D and ran in fashion that owes a great deal to just chucking a d20 and comparing it to a stat, who really cares which is the best version? The game is never tight enough to end up banging it's head against different versions of rules. It just works. I even managed to use both Holmes Basic and Menzter BECMI together in the same game without ever noticing that actually they shouldn't fit.

As for the title, it comes from something Keith Horsfall, my old music teacher said. Exasperated by the way our schools orchestra kept stumbling over a complicated and dynamic few bars of music he put down his baton and calmly and slowly declared "Bugger the notes - just play the music".

Never was a wiser word spoken.


  1. Sod the rules, it has the best cover.

  2. [insert standard "+1, what Coop (and his music teacher) said." response here]

    I liked cross-legged, praying Aleena, despite her oddly huge eyes and hairdryer helm. Her fresh-faced 'California girl' look suited the All-American tone of Mentzer in much the same way the twisted, scratchy b+w linework of the FF books suited their British nihilism.

  3. To me Aleena always looked like the attractive elder sister of a mate whom you found it difficult to speak to with feeling nervous.

    You're right though, I can see what you mean by "California Girl". I never thought of it like that before.