Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Vintage Ad: Think of TSR

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

A Forgotten Variant: Catacombs and Caverns

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

D&D in the News (1977): You, Too, Can Be a Wizard

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 Invention of Randomly Generated Dungeons

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

Vintage Ad: Slain Any Wicked Dragons Lately?

This D&D advertisement dates from the first half of 1977, 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

A Forgotten Variant: Loera, the Massively Multiplayer Tabletop RPG

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

D&D In the News (1976): Fazzle on the Ryth

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."