Monday, September 17, 2018

A Forgotten Variant: The Observers Book of Monsters


Sometimes chunks of gaming history come down to us without much context. That is the case with today's specimen, a crude British booklet "collected and compiled" by Chris Bursey called The Observers Book of Monsters. It contains a blend of new and recycled creatures for Dungeons & Dragons, of an apparently early date, but gives no direct indication of when or how it came to be made. But thanks to the invaluable fossil record of fanzines, we can connect a few dots and shed some light on its production.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Missile Fire in Chainmail, courtesy of Charles Sweet



When it comes to unearthing the influences behind Chainmail (1971), Gary Gygax and Jeff Perren's medieval rules with a fantasy twist, you need to cast a wide net. Many authors (myself included) have been guilty of singling out Tony Bath as the primary influence behind the mass combat rules in Chainmail, but that has always been something of an oversimplification. There are elements of Perren's medieval rules which drew directly from a 1957 archery system proposed by Charles Sweet, one that recurs in the Lake Geneva Tactical Studies Association (LGTSA) rules up to the publication of Chainmail. A clear connection can be observed in the values in this chart from Sweet's rules, originally published in War Game Digest Vol. 1 No. 4.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Dave Arneson's "Adventuring Is..." Cartoons


Sometimes you need to stop dissecting the roots of Chainmail for long enough to appreciate the humor that the authors of Dungeons & Dragons infused into the game. We see that playfulness on display in the Twin Cities work of VanGrasstek, and surely the Minneapolis Dungeon group inherited their zany antics directly from Dave Arneson. In the spirit of "Love is..." cartoons, Arneson doodled a series of "Adventuring Is..." situations that would not have been out of place alongside William McLean's humorous cartoons in the AD&D hardcovers. Unlike the idyllic couple depicted in "Love is...", the protagonists of "Adventuring Is..." are usually about to die.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

To-Hit Rolls in Individual Medieval Combat, from Phil Barker to Chainmail


Just months before Chainmail came out, when Gary Gygax put together the seventh issue of the Domesday Book, he included a ruleset submitted to the magazine without any indication of its author: a set of medieval skirmish rules Gygax jokingly attributed to "U.N. Owen." These incorporated a crucial precursor to Chainmail, a man-to-man table (shown above) requiring different to-hit rolls for various weapons against a progression of armor types, and thus an influence on the armor class progression and attack matrices of Dungeons & Dragons. Gygax hoped that "one of the readers can enlighten the rest of us" as to the author of the "U.N. Owen" rules -- ultimately, they trace back to a 1966 set by Phil Barker of the Wargames Research Group in Britain.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Mordenkainen, in 1974 and today.


This weekend at the Wizards of the Coast "Stream of Many Eyes" event I got my hands on a copy of Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes, which is "built on the writings of the renowned wizard from the world of Greyhawk." That magic-user Mordenkainen, one of Gary Gygax's earliest and most famous characters, has been with us since the start of Dungeons & Dragons. Gygax jealously guarded the statistics of Mordenkainen in later years, but this excerpt from a mid-1974 letter shows his favorite character as he was specified in his prime.

Friday, March 16, 2018

D&D in the News (1978): Funny Dice in Iowa, with Zeb Cook


"We're known down here as the strange people with the funny dice," begins Bob Waltman, describing the reputation of the group that met at the University of Iowa's Memorial Union. Before the game of Dungeons & Dragons became famous, it looked strange to pretty much anyone who saw it from the outside--especially reporters. But the game gets a favorable notice in this February 1978 article, "'Funny dice' creates Dungeons and Dragons' by Marlene J. Perrin.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

From Arbela to Alexander: Gygax's Ancient Board Wargame


In the early days of gaming, a title could pass through a lot of hands before making its way to market. The original design of Arbela came from Dane Lyons, but Gary Gygax took it over by 1969 and brought out his own revision called Alexander the Great through Guidon Games in 1971. By the time Avalon Hill worked the title over in 1974, Don Greenwood had replaced much of Gygax's work. Ironically, that Avalon Hill version probably reached a wider audience that year than another little game released months earlier that Gygax worked on--but you would only know Gygax's role in Alexander if you read the fine print in the rulebook.