Wednesday, July 29, 2020

GenCon 1971 and the Castle Sewer Game

On the eve of virtual 2020 Gen Con, let's turn back the clock a half century and look at one of the more obscure Gen Cons: the fourth, held in 1971. The above gloss on the event appeared in TSR's 20th Anniversary chronology, which unfortunately is not notable for its accuracy: elsewhere on the same page, it asserts that Chainmail was published in 1969, say, and that its "Fantasy Supplement" would not be added to the game until 1972. For that reason, I've long dismissed its report of a "castle sewer" game as entirely spurious... but it turns out there was a man-to-man scale miniatures game at Gen Con in 1971 that involved sneaking through the sewers, and that it did not go unnoticed -- it was actually the hit of the convention.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Dungeons & Dragons at a Distance: Early Play-by-Mail D&D

Sometimes, for whatever reason, you can't get together with your Dungeons & Dragons group in person. Long before D&D came out in 1974, people had used the mail to play games like chess or Diplomacy, even when conquering outer space. So, in the first two years of D&D's existence, a time over which only a few thousand copies of the game had sold, scattered early adopters began to play D&D by post. Of course, given the dynamic, immediate experience of D&D, this is easier said than done, but nonetheless these activities were a significant component in how the fan community first approached this new game -- that is to say, with a certain amount of social distancing.

Monday, April 20, 2020

Dave Arneson's Origins 1977 Tournament

The Dungeons & Dragons tournaments run at the 1970s Origins conventions are the stuff of legends: there was the Tomb of Horrors (1975), the Expedition to the Barrier Peaks (1976), and then the famous Against the Giants trilogy (1978). So... what happened in 1977? TSR boycotted Origins that year, and the D&D tournament was thus administered by a recently-departed employee: Dave Arneson. Today, we will look at that tournament through contemporary reports of players and a few surviving play artifacts -- like this list of the twelve pre-generated characters who made up the tournament party.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Identifying the Dice of the 1970s

How can you recognize a polyhedral gaming die made in the 1970s? The video above gives my tips for collectors and researchers who want to roll old school. After the cut, I give a quick reference guide to identifying these dice.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

The Complete OD&D Illusionist

The Illusionist in Dungeons & Dragons was created by Peter Aronson, an early Boston-area fan. In 1975, Aronson submitted an initial description of Illusionists to TSR , who ran it in the fourth issue of the Strategic Review. Then the following year, Aronson's additions with system for higher-level Illusionists appeared in the debut issue of The Dragon. But Aronson didn't stop there - he made a number of further expansions and corrections which he circulated informally in 1977, of which the first page is shown above. Today, we're looking at the complete Illusionist subclass for OD&D as Aronson envisioned it, and the implications it created for "schools" of magic in role-playing games.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

D&D's 45th Birthday

Back when D&D turned 40 in 2014, I put up a post about the date I favored for celebrating its anniversary: the last Sunday in January. Today, January 27, is the last Sunday in January 2019, and the day that I will be tipping a glass to Gary Gygax, Dave Arneson, and the many others who made D&D possible 45 years ago. Above is an excerpt from a letter that Gygax sent to Arneson -- as it reads, just days away from the printing.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Artistic Arcana: Scruby Fantasy Miniatures and TSR

Dungeons & Dragons grew out of a tradition of miniature wargaming, and distributors of figurines were among the first companies to supply D&D to hobby shops. Although the D&D rules downplayed the necessity of using minis, they do tout their value in adding "real spectacle" to the game through "the eye-appeal of the varied and brightly painted miniature figures." Miniatures were to early D&D what graphics became for computer games. Supplying miniatures suitable for fantasy RPGs ultimately grew into a substantial industry of its own, but at the humble beginning, the first miniatures that TSR sold along with D&D were made by the father of American miniature wargaming: Jack Scruby. Above are examples of some of these early Scruby miniatures arrayed for combat.