Tuesday, August 7, 2018
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
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
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
"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
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.
Tuesday, February 20, 2018
Early in 1980, TSR Hobbies circulated a slender booklet containing graphics and copy for hobby stores to reuse when advertising TSR products. It was called the Print Advertiser's Source Book. Effectively, it is a collection of high-contrast clip art, showing TSR products and logos in various sizes redrawn and optimized for monochrome printing. Retailers wanted these specialty graphics for advertisements in black-and-white newspapers: photographs of actual TSR product covers converted poorly to that medium. They are ripe for reuse in all sorts of retro graphic projects.
Tuesday, February 13, 2018
Gary Gygax explicitly called the Guidon Dungeons & Dragons document the "first draft" of the game in a cover letter. In that draft form, the game circulated to a number of playtesters in the Midwest. Some early adopters quickly engaged with the rules and produced their own versions: various structural properties show us that the Dalluhn Manuscript cribbed directly from the pages of Guidon. But it wasn't alone: the Prize Matrix shown here is from a partial draft similarly based on the original 1973 text, a draft we will here call the X-Fragments (compare this table to other post-Guidon drafts).
Friday, February 2, 2018
If anything could draw the attention of the mainstream press of 1976 to an obscure pastime like Dungeons & Dragons, it was the apparent endorsement of an elite university like Princeton. Is this how our brightest minds were squandering their gifts? Readers of the March 22, 1976 issue of the Trenton Evening Times, could find answers in Madeleine Blais's article covering the first PrinceCon: "In Dungeons & Dragons, you're either a fighter, magic-user, cleric, or thief."
Thursday, January 25, 2018
Two years before Chainmail was released, and a year before there was a Castle & Crusade Society, Gary Gygax was something of a rocket man. When he took over development of the War of the Empires system in 1969, and with it the administration of its play-by-mail campaign, he helped to usher in one of the earliest games where players would command space empires that deployed scouts to explore solar systems, expanded by colonizing those planets and exploiting their resources to build war ships, and finally used their military might to exterminate rival empires and dominate the sector.
Monday, January 15, 2018
Early in 1976, no one had any idea that Dungeons & Dragons would go on to transform the gaming hobby. It had then sold a little more than 4,000 copies, which made it TSR's bestseller. but TSR wasn't putting all of its eggs in that one basket. This advertisement, which would clamor for attention on one eighth of a page -- all TSR could afford at the time -- in magazines for hobby store owners, relies on the truism that selling rules for miniatures would bring in more sales of miniatures themselves: paper was cheap, but metal was profitable. So this advertisement stresses miniatures rules like Boot Hill, Chainmail, Classic Warfare, and Panzer Warfare over "historic wargames" like Fight in the Skies or even the "fantasy games which have become the latest craze," D&D, Dungeon! and Empire of the Petal Throne.
Friday, January 5, 2018
Of the gamers who assembled and self-published variant fantasy role-playing rules in the 1970s, few showed the dedication of Michael Brines. Over the course of four years, he came out with three Sir Pellinore's Game editions with increasing levels of sophistication: Sir Pellinore's Book of Rules for a Game of Magic Mideval Adventures (1978), Sir Pellinore's Game (1979), and Sir Pellinore's Favorite Game (1981). These early rules are especially noteworthy because they drew more from the baseline of early Tunnels & Trolls than original Dungeons & Dragons -- we would be hard pressed to find an earlier published variant of a variant.