The Big Black Box

Travis has reminded me that I meant to put something in my last post about the 1991 basic edition of D&D, labeled “The New Easy to Master Dungeons & Dragons Game” seen here:

This edition of the game came in a very large rectangular box, similar to board games of the time.  Unfortunately the board was flimsy poster paper, but it was still pretty neat.  It also included a ton of card-stock tent figures for both players and monsters.  Strangest of all was the format of the book.  The red sort of folder-ish thing doubled as both a DM screen (there’s a third panel that folds out, which is hard to see in this picture) and the rule book.  The left-most section was a large pocket that contained the rulebook printed on heavy cardstock with color-coded tabs for each chapter.

If I recall correctly, I think the adventure was incorporated into the cards.  The adventure was your basic prison break, but the funny twist was that the whole point was to introduce you to rules one at a time.  The characters start with literally nothing, maybe a name.  In the first scene they introduce stats, so everyone rolls stats.  Later comes combat.  As rules are introduced you fill out more and more of the character sheet.  While it struck me as odd that you didn’t know if you were a human or dwarf until several rooms in, and there was a point where suddenly you realized you knew magic, it still seemed pretty clever to me.

I bought this when it came out, I must have been 13 or 14.  At that time I would have bought anything that was labeled Dungeons & Dragons, and the big full color art on the back showing the cool map and character tents was definitely a selling point.  Now at that time I maybe had one or two friends who played, and they already knew the game, so an intro game was kind of pointless, and I never really played it.

I’m pretty sure I have a copy of this hidden away in my closet now, likely purchased on eBay some years ago in a nostalgic attempt to reacquire every mis-treated game I owned as a child.  I’ll have to go dig it up and see if there’s anything worth mining out of it.  If nothing else, I kind of dig the idea of using a prison break to start with very stream-lined characters.  No equipment, no spells, just a stat block and we’re off.  Things like equipping the characters can then become part of the game as the party breaks into the armory.

Anyone own and use this game and actually use it to introduce new players to D&D? 

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2 Comments

  1. I don’t own this but I still introduce new players with this mechanic. It greatly reduces char-gen fatigue and in my experience it gives players something to do immediately.

    Also, once the game is going they start to identify needs. They begin to make statements like “can I pick a guys pocket” or “I wish I had a rope”. Suddenly the game features that are added fill voids and are readily welcomed.

    With their wings stretched a bit they say “can I cast spells”. My secret joy is to identify their class as they play before they even know classes exist!

  2. I love the concept, but perhaps as you saw in my follow up post, I was a bit disappointed by the implementation once I dug up the box. Some of the ideas I really like, such as doing a prison break where the PCs have no equipment, were better done in the module A4 In the Dungeons of the Slave Lords. Of course in this case the purpose was opposite what it is here – to take players well used to the rules and make them improvise by removing all their equipment and spells.

    Still, it would be interesting to start with the concept of a prison break with little to no rules and only introduce concepts as we play. A writing project for the future I suppose.

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