Dungeons and Scanners: The Return of Downloadable D&D Material

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It goes without saying, in this era of the long tail, that canny publishers with niche products know all about electronic publishing and make their wares available legally (and profitably) to those who want to throw money at them. Well, most canny publishers, that is, for Wizards of the Coast, current license holders for the Dungeons and Dragons role playing game, stopped making their back catalog of long-out-of-print adventure modules and rules supplements available for legal download several years ago for reasons they never quite explained. Perhaps they didn’t like making money — or perhaps some wrinkle in their license terms prohibited the sale of scanned .pdfs of the products.

In any event, like a lich with an intact phylactery, Wizards of the Coast couldn’t keep their archive down, and they have brought their back catalog, er, back, at dndclassics.com. According to Wired‘s GeekDad, the products have been re-scanned as well. From the one module I’ve downloaded so far, the new scans are a serious improvement over the original offerings from several years ago, which had some instances of iffy scanning.

The downloads, ranging from classic adventure modules for Basic D&D through to rulebooks for the not-so-well-regarded D&D Fourth Edition, come as watermarked .pdf files with, wonder of wonders, searchable text. The watermarking is unobtrusive, placing your name and the order number in faint, tiny lettering at the bottom left corner of each page. Prices seem reasonable, in the $5 to $7 range for D&D and First Edition AD&D modules and rulebooks around $10—and really, who needs anything else?

Detail of a classic adventure

For a limited time, the site is offering a free download of Basic Module B1, In Search of the Unknown, so go give them a try and, if you’re of a particular age, relive some of your childhood as well.

The Past Remade: Baldur's Gate Enhanced Edition

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Baldur's Gate CDBack in 1998, a gargantuan computer game burst upon the scene, stored on five CDs and taxing the modest hard drives of the era with its multi-gig installation. That game, Baldur’s Gate, matched its digital size with an epic role playing story based on the Dungeons & Dragons ruleset (second edition AD&D, more precisely).

Though it hid the complexities of its rules behind the screen, as it were, the game made no apologies for its complexity or its scope. This was gaming nirvana: hours and hours (and hours) of herding a party of adventurers through an intricate web of plots and quests and events, all told from an isometric perspective with pausible combat and the elaborate branching conversations that would become the hallmark of its developers, BioWare and Black Isle.

Baldur’s Gate spawned expansions and sequels and devoted fans, but eventually the isometric, text-heavy, detailed role-playing game would become the purview of independent developers like Spiderweb Software as the industry moved to shorter, more easily digestible (read: simpler, dumbed-down) games. BioWare would move on to more action-oriented role-playing games, but even in light of such successes as the Mass Effect franchise, they’ve never recaptured the glory of Baldur’s Gate.

Or perhaps I’m just seeing this game in a rosy, nostalgic light. Given that Baldur’s Gate has just been re-released in an “enhanced” edition, optimized for modern operating systems and generally cleaned up and given a polish, I’ll have the chance to see whether my fondness for the game stems from a general belief in the superiority of the ’90s to the ’00s or if the game actually is that good. It certainly was that good, but how it stands up to that proverbial test of time is a question I’m looking forward to answering.

"The Game is the Thing": Gary Gygax on Rules

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Gary Gygax, the co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons, passed away on March 4, 2008. His influence on role playing games of all types is inestimable.

61-68 gets you an Otyugh!

One of the richest sources of his thinking on rules and games is the original Dungeon Masters Guide (TSR, 1979). The DMG, while a thick book of rules itself, contains many exhortations to use the rules as tools to further the game rather than as constraints. Yet he was also mindful that too loose an interpretation of the rules could undo the base consistency he felt players had a right to expect from the game.

A collection of Gary Gygax’s thoughts on gaming and rules from the DMG, after the jump.
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