2024 marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of Dungeons & Dragons. Nailing down the exact release date of a product as informally produced as D&D is difficult: I've written about that before (and amended it a bit further). Personally, I still choose to celebrate it on the last Sunday of January, which this year is the 28th. A lot of things will be happening in 2024 to mark D&D's birthday: among them, a re-issue of my first book, Playing at the World. But 2024 also marks another momentous occasion, one that we should honor along with D&D's release: the 200th anniversary of the 1824 publication of Reiswitz's Kriegsspiel, the game that pioneered many fundamental system concepts that would later underpin role-playing games.
Saturday, January 27, 2024
Sunday, December 11, 2022
Of all the things that I never imagined I would end up working on, I was asked to help put together the Trivial Pursuit D&D edition, which has just been released. It is, well, Trivial Pursuit, but with D&D-specific questions: on monsters, spells, campaigns, characters, and of course the game's fifty-year history. If that sounds like something you'd be interested in, you can find it at the usual places online and in person -- my FLGS just got it in this weekend.
Saturday, April 30, 2022
David M. Fitzgerald's E'a: Chronicles of a Dying World is one of the more obscure digest-sized unofficial supplements to early D&D, little known even in the community of its day. E'a did warrant a blurb in Heroic Worlds (1991), and now even has an RPGGeek entry, so it cannot be considered entirely forgotten, but very few were printed. As with many small-press items of this era, trusting the 1979 copyright date inside the book is risky at best -- but through equally-obscure catalogs, it is possible to establish roughly when it became available.
Sunday, January 30, 2022
As another anniversary of the birth of Dungeons & Dragons passes, let's look back 48 years to the heady days of 1974, when the idea of dungeon adventuring had only just started to capture the imagination of gamers at large. Alistair MacIntyre had long run "Operation Contact" for the International Federation of Wargaming, so he knew everyone and viewed the release of D&D with some interest -- though he confessed, "I don't have the time or knowledge of fantasy to participate in your underground adventures." He was however "fascinated by the dungeon mazes," and came up with a number of devious dungeon layouts that he photocopied and shared directly with Gary Gygax and others that summer of 1974. Above you can see a dungeon entrance from the wilderness that MacIntyre proposed -- and at the bottom of the cut below, there's a little trick from Gary himself as well.
Tuesday, November 23, 2021
As much attention as Game Wizards lavishes on conventions, there was more still before the manuscript was cut down to size. Convention tournaments in particular received more attention, and GenCon 1978 had a anecdote that began as follows: "Even the tournament was something of a shambles, with only one group surviving the second round: seven out of eight parties died to an illusion, mistaking for a teleporter something that was actually a deadly pit." This account follows Jon Pickens's description in A&E #39, which makes for something of a funny story, and lets us see with fresh eyes the encounter with Silussa the succubus and her vampire beau Belgos in D3 Vault of the Drow.
Sunday, November 7, 2021
When Dave Arneson's lawsuit against TSR was nearing a trial date at the end of 1980, his legal team recruited an expert witness in the person of Jon Freeman. Freeman, who wrote for Games magazine and had recently produced The Complete Guide to Board Games, was a longstanding D&D fan who drove one of the earliest computer adaptations of dungeon-crawling to see a commercial release: The Temple of Apshai (1979), first of the "Dunjonquest" series. Today, we'll take a look (a layman's look, not a lawyer's) at Freeman's argument, beginning with his chart above, which shows how Gary Gygax's earlier Chainmail rules contrasted with both D&D and AD&D.
Thursday, October 28, 2021
This single piece of paper constitutes the entirety of the understanding between TSR and the authors of the 1975 Greyhawk supplement: most significantly, it covers a copyright assignment to TSR and an agreement from TSR to pay royalties based on "the cover price of the game rules or game on each and every copy sold." It is quite short, having been drafted pro bono by Gary Gygax's uncle at a time when Tactical Studies Rules was still a partnership, and D&D had sold perhaps 1500 copies. This language is of especial interest because the same form was used for the 1975 D&D contract, and famously Dave Arneson would later sue TSR on the grounds that his rights to royalties extended to titles like the Holmes Basic Set and the AD&D hardcover books. This is a major focus of Game Wizards.
Over the next five years, TSR refined the language of their new agreements to be clearer about what rights authors were assigning, and for which sales they would receive compensation. I am definitely not a lawyer, but I am going to offer below a few layman's thoughts about the evolution of TSR's contract language during this period.