Saturday, April 30, 2022

E'a, Chronicles of a Dying World

 

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

Alistair MacIntyre's 1974 Dungeon Designs

 

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

The Deadly Illusion of GenCon 1978

 

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

Arneson v. Gygax: The Freeman Deposition

 

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

Game Wizards: The Evolution of TSR Contracts

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.

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Arneson's Hit Points for Characters

 

Game Wizards is very decidedly not a book about who invented which system in D&D. But early drafts of the book did track one design choice in D&D that Dave Arneson perennially criticized: the system wherein characters gain more hit points as they go up in level. Arneson held that character hit points should instead be fixed at character creation, and that characters should become harder to hit as they rise in level. While that story thread failed its save against manuscript bloat, restoring it does add context for Gygax and Arneson's subsequent disputes. Probably the most well-known place Arneson mentioned his system was in the introduction to the First Fantasy Campaign (1977), as shown above.

Friday, October 15, 2021

"Game Wizards" the Game

 

Game Wizards has "turn results" at the end of the annual chapters to track the big picture, while casting the business of D&D as the sort of game that Gygax and others often made it out to be. Early drafts of the book actually had a 1970s-style Diplomacy variant serialized from the beginning, with installments throughout, which both served as a sort of ersatz dramatis personae and also would have made the chapter closer look more like what you would have seen for turn results in an actual Dippy zine back in the day. I was eventually persuaded it was too obscure and gimmicky, and scaled it back to its current form. But for the amusement of anyone digging into the book now, this is an (unpolished) excerpt of what that might have looked like.