When it comes to tabletop RPGs, I've learned that there's far more to the adventure than meets the eye. When two universes collide, merge, and become as one, we bear witness to an unlocking of the true power of the game.
I first learned of 1e AD&D in 1978, when my parents moved our small family from Vermont to New York. We settled down in the sprawling suburbia of Long Island, along the Lynbrook/Malverne border. I was in 3rd grade at the time. In the house next door to ours, there lived a family with three sons. The youngest of these three brothers was my age. We became good friends, he and I. He and his two older brothers played D&D, and they listened to Queen on vinyl.
The oldest brother homebrewed his own dungeons on graph paper, and he was the first DM that I'd ever met. The DM mostly kept to himself, and didn't socialize with me very much at all. That's what I remember about him today, more than anything else. The private manner in which he carried himself, and that involuntary aura of mystique. I thought he was a genius. Perhaps he was. The youngest brother would sometimes tell me stories about his older brother's D&D adventures, and how ruthless of a DM he was. Being an imagination-oriented lad, I was hooked. I wanted to join in and play. One day, they let me roll up a character, and sit in on a session or two. Little did I know how much of an impact that would have on me. I had joined a secret society, that only we knew about. We had separated ourselves from the rest of the world. No one else would see what we'd see. I had crossed over, and I had witnessed the merger of two universes, theirs and mine. It was exhilirating. It was a feeling that I would reacquaint myself with time-and-time-again, for more than three quarters of my life.
After a few years of gameplay exclusively with TSR products, I began to explore other game systems. I began to experiment. Before too long, I was cherrypicking elements from this system or that system, and integrating them into 1e AD&D. It came naturally, and I remember being surprised that more DMs in my area weren't trying different things like I was. Looking back on it all, I believe that the other DMs in my area were TSR purists. There were quite a few DMs in my area in the early 1980's. Generally speaking, each DM had their own group, and they rarely (if ever) branched out to enjoy gameplay with other groups. Some DMs frowned upon the ways in which other DMs ran their groups. Some of this "frowning upon" was justifiable (if another DM was running hack/slash or monty haul or super-leveling). If anything, I was more of a "live and let live" DM. As such, I didn't lose any sleep at night.
In 1981, Arms Law and Spell Law were published by Iron Crown Enterprises. These books contained many new character classes, and many new spells, all of which were easily adpated to 1e AD&D, if a DM were so inclined. I was. And I did. These books also introduced me to critical hits/fumbles tables. I never saw a natural 20 in the same light again.
Soon after came the Fantasy Wargaming book in 1982, written by Bruce Galloway, published by Stein & Day. This rather unwieldy tome contained the Bogey Table; a random table on page 86, for character handicaps/boons/quirks/flaws, which fascinated me to no end. Here was something outside of TSR, which found a home at my gaming table. It wasn't long before new characters in my groups were regularly rolling on the Bogey Table during their character generation.
Hot on the heels of all that, in 1983, Bard Games published a delightful series of books, which also became part of my D&D arsenal. These books included the Arcanum, The Compleat Adventurer, and The Compleat Spellcaster; opening a door to a wide range of new character classes, and shedding light upon a new spellcasting system to the forefront. Want to play as a necromancer or a warlock? No problem. Want to be a beastmaster or a corsair? No problem. It was all inside the covers of those Bard Games publications.
The early 1980's was certainly a renaissance period for the RPG community, the likes of which we've not seen since. Competition, growth, and expansion are all necessary for any industry to remain healthy in a free market economy. If I could shake hands with I.C.E., Bruce Galloway, and Bard Games, you know I would. I'd also thank them for teaching all of us that there's always room for fresh ideas.
Now, thirty years later, I stand upon the precipice of another gaming system called Hackmaster (published by KenzerCo). 2013 will be the year in which I learn to play this new system. It remains to be seen if I'll cross over once more, grafting pieces from Hackmaster onto our 1e AD&D gameplay, or if I'll enjoy Hackmaster as an entirely separate system on its own. Only time will tell. If my RPG history has taught me anything though, its taught me that crossing over never subtracts from the 1e AD&D experience. Crossing over leads to enlightenment and enrichment. It is nothing to be afraid of.
Sure, being a TSR purist has its boons. But remember, it's a great big world out there too, with ideas aplenty. Enjoy.