Friday, December 29, 2017
Early press about D&D rarely has the luxury of wading deep into the play of ongoing campaigns. That is what makes this piece by Philip Hilts in the Washington Post from August 9, 1976 so remarkable. It is a lengthy piece, with a lengthy title: "War Games, Tolkien, and the Fantastic Conflict Between the Duke and the Evil Balrog Masked by his Phantasm." This glimpse into the play of early adopters in Washington D.C. is especially fascinating because it shows D&D played as a wargame, with the players providing opposition to each other, and the dungeon master acting as a neutral arbiter between them.
Wednesday, December 20, 2017
It was early in November 1979: the publication of the Dungeon Masters Guide had recently completed the core Advanced Dungeons & Dragons trilogy, and thanks to the "steam tunnel" incident, D&D was suddenly famous. Gary Gygax was no stranger to game industry press interviews, but now the mainstream media began to shift its focus from the controversy surrounding the game to its success, and to Gygax himself. You know you've made it when you're summoned to the late-night talk show circuit, and Gygax arrived on Tom Snyder's "Tomorrow." It can be hard to explain the game to a general audience, but when Snyder asks Gygax if he could demonstrate it, his response is, "Certainly, instantly, right now." Listen for yourself, and/or follow along with the transcript of this long-lost interview below.
Or listen [on Soundcloud].
Wednesday, December 13, 2017
By 1977, the three letters "TSR" had long since lost their original association with Tactical Studies Rules. This let TSR Hobbies play with the acronym as a mnemonic for its three product silos: traditional tactical wargames, science-fiction games like Star Probe and Star Empires, and finally role-playing games, led by Dungeons & Dragons. That was TSR's umbrella, and when the industry thought of the gaming hobby, TSR hoped it would think of its tactical, sci-fi and role-playing games. The company was still small enough at this point for Gary Gygax to micromanage how they presented this message, as his hand corrections to the advertisement here show in a surviving TSR internal document.
Wednesday, December 6, 2017
The original Dungeons & Dragons books urged players to make the game their own, to devise their own characters, settings, and even rules. D&D was, as Games magazine mused in 1979, less of a game than a design-a-game kit. Some early adopters invented enough alternative and supplemental material that they declared their campaigns to be independent games--some of which became commercial products, but many more only managed to circulate as self-published curiosities. Catacombs and Caverns (1976) is one of the latter. In the runic script of the world of Tharin, the cover credits the game to "Scott Free", a pen name for Scott Aldridge of Minneapolis. Like the Rules to the Game of Dungeon, Catacombs gives us a window into how Twin Cities early adopters engaged with role-playing games.
Monday, November 27, 2017
Leslie Kemp, in the summer of 1977, gives us a rare mainstream perspective on the progress of Dungeons & Dragons, this time in the city of Tampa, Florida, for the Tampa Tribune. She reports the existence of four D&D groups known to her at the time, and calls it a game that "is just now gaining popularity." No doubt a notice in a major city newspaper would boost that, especially with the promise that "You, Too, Can Be a Wizard."
Monday, November 20, 2017
The debut issue of the Strategic Review carried the first expansions to Dungeons & Dragons to appear under TSR's imprint, including rules for solo gaming which Gygax credited to himself and George A. Lord. It can be hard to glean deeper insight into how these early systems came together, but the excerpt shown above relates a second-hand summary of Lord's initial correspondence with Gary Gygax about potential approaches to solo D&D. The account was written by Scott Rich, and it appeared in the eleventh issue of his Midgard Ltd. campaign's newsletter Midgard Sword & Shield from October 1974. Notably, Rich appends a parenthetical suggestion that has some striking similarities to the rules that TSR would imminently publish.
Thursday, November 9, 2017
This D&D advertisement dates from the second half of 1976, a stopping point when TSR would release no new material for the original Dungeons & Dragons game and hadn't yet put anything out to replace it. The body text is familiar from other contemporary advertisements, but the form given shown here let you order a white box, all the supplements, a Swords & Spells, and a subscription to bi-monthly The Dragon magazine. The cover of that magazine's first issue supplied the slayable fellow shown at the top.
Wednesday, November 1, 2017
The original Dungeons & Dragons rules invited fans to make their own additions and modifications to the system, and many early adopters took TSR up on that offer. While some of the unofficial supplements and variants they produced became classics, others fell into total obscurity. Keith Abbott's Loeran Supplement is one that received notices in many fanzines of the day, but ultimately reached a very small audience. It is of interest, however, as Loera was an early attempt to create a massively-multiplayer tabletop game: as the supplement says, "to create the first effective world-sized campaign."
Monday, October 23, 2017
There was little mainstream press dedicated to Dungeons & Dragons before the calamitous summer of 1979, and virtually none prior to 1977. This particular article by Mike Duffy is from the Detroit Free Press, from August 17, 1976, and it introduces us to D&D through the legendary Ryth campaign conducted by the Metro Detroit Gamers. It does a good job of explaining how D&D captivated early fans: as one put it, "All you can think about is the game."
Monday, October 16, 2017
From the summer of 1971, this excerpt shows the initial Wizard system developed for a game called Midgard, as disseminated through the seventh issue of Hartley Patterson's original Midgard fanzine. This issue dates a little after the release of first edition Chainmail, and a little before the additions to the Wizard rules Gygax would write up at the end of the year for the International Wargamer which divided Chainmail Wizards into level-like ranks. It is noteworthy for several historical reasons, not least for ostensibly being the earliest spell-point system.
Friday, October 6, 2017
This late-1970s variant on one of the earliest Dungeons & Dragon advertisements repeats some conventional wisdom of the day about female participation in the gaming community. But as the text suggests, D&D had the potential to be "a game which women play and enjoy equally with men." Women did take up D&D in numbers very different from prior self-identified wargames, though their integration into the community faced its share of challenges.
This advertisement could be found in the wild as a full-page in Fantastic Stories magazine, June 1977. TSR then actively targeted not just gamers but fans of fantasy fiction--by some estimates, about a third of whom at the time were women.
Saturday, July 29, 2017
This short piece "In Search of Pygmalion" from October 1974 has no byline, but it was written by Dave Arneson. It tells of an evil magician named "the GIN of Sailik" who spirits away the immortal Pygmalion. The zine it appears in, the Bel-Ran Rumormonger, was the in-character journal of Scott Rich's "Midgard Limited" game, where players would contribute background on their sections of the campaign world. As the story of the lascivious Gin and the ensorcelled Pygmalion may be familiar to fans of the Blackmoor setting, this piece provides a striking illustration of how Arneson recycled elements across the games that he played, and moreover of how hard it can be to impose firm boundaries around which game events were and were not components of a campaign like Blackmoor.
Friday, July 21, 2017
The Dalluhn Manuscript, a document that preserves early draft text of Dungeons & Dragons, has long defied any attempts at precise identification. In no small part this is because of its unsigned artwork, like this section title page for "Before Setting Out For Fame and Fortune," which has not been convincingly attributed to any of the artists who worked on D&D. Thanks to the discovery of still earlier material like the Mornard Fragments, and now the Guidon D&D first draft, we can show various ways that the text of Dalluhn obviously derived from prior D&D texts. But we haven't had any similar breakthrough with the art... or hey wait, isn't that a familiar face in the upper left hand corner of that letterhead? Who or what is CONTAX?
Friday, July 14, 2017
In celebration of its fiftieth anniversary, Gen Con will be staging a museum next month in Indianapolis. The museum will pay homage to Gen Con by showing how the gaming hobby has grown over the past half century from its humble origins to dominate the world. And there's no better way to demonstrate that than with a treasure trove of gaming history. Although four-day tickets for Gen Con are now sold out, if you are lucky enough to have a badge, do drop by the museum. You will be able to see some amazing artifacts like this: a first draft of Dungeons & Dragons.