May 26, 2011

A Question for Grognards about Early D&D

Despite playing D&D and other RPG games for over 30 years, I do not know much of the history of the game; I just play to play. However, the other day I was doing some thinking about the TPK (total party kill) and it suddenly struck me. How did the early player characters of D&D survive? Likely I am looking at this through skewed perceptions but my understanding of D&D is that in the early days of the game TPK were the norm, something to be expected and accepted.

So my question is, how did the likes of Tenser, Mordenkainen, Drawmij, Robilar, Terik, Murlynd, Melf all survive to reach high levels? These are some names that have been with us throughout much of the history of D&D, adding spell names and magic items to the lexicon of D&D, but at one point all of these were player characters facing the exact same challenges every other player character was facing at the time.

Heck, Tenser was created as one of the first two player characters ever created for the game that would be D&D. Robilar, Terik, Murlynd were all created at the second ever session of D&D (the day after the first game session). And yet, those characters managed to survive past level 1 and in fact made it all the way until they retired at high levels. I mean its easy enough to kill a character at 1st level but it doesn't get much easier after that. One inescapable trap, one unbalanced fight and the character is dead. And this is onoging over many levels. So, with all the talk of TPK how did they manage it?

I could speculate. Perhaps the players back then were cleverer than the ordinary person, perhaps the DMs were softer back then, perhaps they were being run through playtest dungeons and were thus facing weaker opposition, perhaps the TPK of early days has been exaggerated, perhaps these are the only ones to have survived the deaths of hundreds of other characters of the same time period, perhaps death was more of an inconvenience and resurrections were readily available. Honestly I don’t know and speculation is not an answer. I would be curious to hear from those who are familiar with the game play of those first days.

In an age said to be rife with TPKs, how did those early player characters survive to high levels?
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