Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Heroic Worlds on the Holmes Basic Set

     Heroic Worlds is a 1991 encyclopedia of role-playing games, written by Lawrence Schick, formerly of TSR, where he is probably best remembered for authoring the module S2 White Plume Mountain. It covers most game products that had been published up to the time, including many obscure games, although the folks at the Acaeum have found some that are not covered. It's still in print and remains an excellent resource for those interested in the first two decades of rpgs. As I wrote on the Acaeum in 2007 when I first found my copy: "The product lists are comprehensive, well-organized (by genre) and have well-written capsule reviews of each product. There are a nice quantity of illustrations recycled from covered products (with permission). For example, Tramp's Lizardman from the Monster Manual squats threateningly at the top of page 104. The short essays are a real treat (by EGG, Greg Stafford, Ken St. Andre, Dave Arneson, Tom Moldvay, Sandy Peterson, Paul Jacquays and others). Law Schick's intro covers the history of RPGs, starting with Dave Wesely's Braunsteins."

     Here's what Schick has to say about the Basic Set in his History section:

     "By 1977 TSR realized they would never be able to meet the demand for D&D products by simply releasing more rules supplements. The game was so succesful that even the big toy store chains were starting to sit up and take notice, bu tth eoriginal three-book set would never do for distribution to the mass market - it didn't look or read like a mass market product. TSR decided to publish a simplified, easy-to-learn version of D&D in a larger box with new artwork. Writer J. Eric Holmes revised the rules for mass consumption, and the first Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set was released to the toy stores of America in time for Christmas. It was the first attempt at a really introductory role-playing game, and it was a big hit. Suddenly obscure little D&D was being printed in runs of 100,000 - unprecedented numbers for anything resembling a "wargame". TSR had hit the jackpot.

     The Basic Set was revised in 1980 [released Jan 1981 - Z], and again in 1983, improving each time as TSR's game design and graphic standards improved. Over ten years several million copies of the D&D Basic Set have been sold. It was an remains the single most common introduction to role-playing gaming. Today's Basic Set contains only enough rules for character classes to advance to the third level of skill - if they want to go further, players have to buy the Expert Set. In 1977, when Basic was first released, there was no Expert Set and no plans for one; instead, players were directed to buy TSR's new improvement on D&D, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons.

      Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, or AD&D, was intended to consolidate all the many and contradictory D&D rules into one comprehensive game, a system that reflected author Gary Gygax's opinion of how D&D ought to be played. It was originally conceived as the replacement for Original D&D: new players would buy the D&D Basic Set, then move on to AD&D, and the Original D&D boxed set would be phased out. Two factors derailed this agenda.

     The first was the incredible popularity of Original D&D, which wouldn't die no matter how popular AD&D became (and it became very popular). TSR kept Original D&D in print long after it became an embarrassment because they couldn't bear not to sell it if people wanted to buy it.

     The second factor was the perceived legal necessity to separate D&D from Advanced D&D after Dave Arneson sued for royalties from Advanced D&D, which bore Gygax's name alone. TSR had to contend that AD&D was a different game from D&D, so that the differences between the two were exaggerated and eventually AD&D actually became a different game from D&D. The Arneson case was ultimately settled, but by the time things were straightened out the two games had acquired quite different identities."

     Frank Mentzer, writing on Dragonsfoot in 2008, commented further on the print run info:
     "Before '77 a large print run in gaming was 10,000. A huge run was 50k, and iirc that's what 1st print Holmes was, maybe 2nd print as well. Most of the reprints were 100,000 each (I think Law mentions this in Heroic Worlds) except for the last one (down to 50-75k iirc since TSR was planning a new version)."

     There are at least eight distinct printings of the rulebook between 1977 and 1980, so if these numbers are correct, there were at least 600,000 copies in total during that time.

     And here's the Basic Set entry from Heroic Worlds, page 130-131. It covers all of the basic sets together but I've extracted the information for the Holmes edition:

     Dungeons & Dragons Basic Rules Set

     Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson; 1st ed. edited by J. Eric Holmes

     The rulebook covers character levels 1-3 and dungeon adventuring, with an emphasis on easy introduction to the concepts of the game. The 1st ed. incorporates concepts from Greyhawk, Blackmoor and Eldritch Wizardry supplements and leads the players who want to go beyond third level to the AD&D system.

     The set also includes an introductory scenario designed to ease new players and GMs into the concepts of D&D. For the 1st ed., this was B1, In Search of the Unknown, replaced toward the end of its run by B2, The Keep on the Borderlands. [HW is missing mention of the earliest printing having a set of Geomorphs and Monster and Treasure Assortment - Z]

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