Tuesday, January 21, 2014

History of D&D in 12 Treasures

[for best results, watch on YouTube directly]

In honor of the fortieth anniversary of Dungeons & Dragons, and for a change of pace, in this video I review the development of Dungeons & Dragons through twelve rare artifacts from the period leading up to the first publication of the game. They include original documents from Braunstein, an early letter from Gary Gygax on the medieval setting, Dave Arneson's notes for his own early medieval game, fanzines and maps associated with the Castle & Crusade Society, and various pre-publication D&D rules. Readers of my book will see quite a few things from my personal treasure chest that I haven't discussed before. A full breakdown of the contents is after the jump.

1. Braunstein Order Card: Surviving written correspondence from Wesely's first Braunstein
2. Gygax Medieval Society Letter: 1970 letter from Gygax on a proposed medieval wargames group
3. Arneson’s Medieval Braunstein: A surviving set of instructions for a 1970 medieval multiplayer game
4. Domesday Book #3: Copy of the DB hand-addressed from Gygax to Arneson
5. The Great Kingdom Map: Map showing Blackmoor and other Castle & Crusade Society holdings
6. Don’t Give up the Ship: A pre-publication draft of Gygax & Arneson's naval wargame
7. Wizard Gaylord Sheet: A surviving pre-D&D character sheet from the Blackmoor campaign
8. Creative Publications Dice: a d20, including an instance with colored faces
9. CoTT 1972 Blackmoor: Last issue of Arneson's Corner of the Table before D&D collaboration
10. Greyhawk Dungeon: A player map from 1973 of Greyhawk, drawn by Mornard
11. Mornard Fragments: Pre-publication 1973 D&D rules
12. Dungeons & Dragons: 1974 first printing of D&D


  1. Very enjoyable. You now make me want to never throw anything game related away.

  2. Thanks Jon. Great video. Those really are treasures.

  3. Interesting video, thank you for sharing.

  4. Excellent Video! But you didn't show the whole of the Great Kingdom map! :-)

    1. My thoughts too, Rob. Any chance we'll get to see a scan of the whole map some day, Jon? Though I suppose the map is worth a whole book in and of itself...

    2. I now know of five pre-D&D maps of the Great Kingdom: the two macro-sized maps like this one, which is the same scale as the DB #9 map shown in PatW; two detail maps, one of an early version of Arneson's holdings, and another of the details of Walworth (which is in Bill Meinhardt's collection); and then the city-level map of the town of Blackmoor in DB #13. That isn't counting the later map of Blackmoor and its environs in the FFC, or the World of Greyhawk map in the 1980 Greyhawk edition that has many points of commonality with the map I show in this video. There are still a few gaps in our (or at least, my) understanding of how they all connect together. But at some point there's probably a scholarly piece to be written about what these all jointly tell us.

      As for the original of the map shown here, my immediate plan is to get it into a museum, as with many of the other things shown in this video. Expect more news about that soon.

    3. More maps still exist than I thought, I guess.,.

      But still... is there any way you can share that map in a more complete version as a full-sized scan, before it disappears into a museum collection?

      And does a list of the names of the numbered territories of the Great Kingdom still exist, or has that disappeared into the mists of time?

    4. Well, I don't lend things to museums if they're not going to put them on display, so I don't think "disappearing" is the idea there.

      As for the numbered territories in the Great Kingdom itself, there's still room for some scholarly analysis here, but my current thinking anyway is that those were the territories that the warring Society members would compete for, Diplomacy-style, in the game version of the Great Kingdom. So they weren't assigned to members in any permanent way. I did a post about what the game might have looked like on this blog a while ago, might shed some light:


    5. I spotted some cool stuff on that map in the video Jon showed. Blackmoor, the Egg of Coot and the Duchy of Ten are basically in the same spot I guessed they would be from the Domesday Book map + the one from FFC. There are some other familiar names: a "Perunland" to the Northwest of Nir Div, and a "Grand Duchy of Urnst" to the immediate SW, just as in the published World of Greyhawk. Where Greyhawk should be, there's "C. of Yerocundy" [sp?] and to the west, a "Kingdom of Faraz". Perhaps these were combined to "Furyondy"?
      Andre Norton mentions the name Faraz in the portion of Quag Keep printed in Dragon #12.

    6. There are a slew of place names that don't appear anywhere else than on this map, yes, and then quite a few familiar ones as well.

      The conjecture that "Faraz" and "Yerocundy" combined into "Furyondy" is an interesting one.

      Before everyone scrambles for their "World of Greyhawk" Gazetteers, one more point worth raising is that Walworth as shown here was later replaced by the Shield Lands - but if you read the WoG Gaz, it does volunteer that the regent of the Shield Lands is the "Earl of Walworth." There are many such connections to be drawn here in a larger scholarly examination.

  5. Fantastic Jon, thanks for sharing.

  6. I still think the story of how you acquired all these treasures is one worth telling. Assuming that it didn't involve breaking-and-entering, of course. :-)

    1. You know, the normal way. Meet people, talk to them about the history, buy documents from them. The trick is to meet the right people.

  7. Thanks for sharing! If I understand correctly, Creative Publications is the company that produced the pre-inked "low impact" dice sold by TSR in the '70s and included in the Holmes Basic Set?

    1. That's right. Terrible dice. I spent like six minutes rolling that d20 to make the one-second intro to my video there, and it really impressed on me how shoddy those dice are. But historically, they're pure gold.

    2. Originally they were made by some educational toy company as a Platonic solid set. My original dice, which I still have, were in a little plastic bag with a small card explaining the wonderful world of Platonic solids. No longer have it, sadly.

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  9. Brilliant work, Jon. As someone who studied history in college and has played D&D since 1982, I find this incredibly fascinating. Thanks for sharing!

  10. So if I read that character sheet right:

    Brains | Horsemanship
    Looks | Woodsmanship
    Credibility (spelled incorrectly) | Leadership
    Sex | Flying
    Health | Seamanship
    Strength | Cunning

    Did I read that right? "Sex" was a stat?

    1. Yes, well, "Sex" as in "sexual prowess" played a large role in the Blackmoor setting. The strong debt that Blackmoor owes to the Gor setting informs this. Early Blackmoor documents refer quite frequently to situations where a "Sex" stat would come in handy, if not downright essential to survival.

      This sheet is reproduced in PatW, and there's some discussion about its properties to be found there.

    2. * Pete Gaylord --> sexual prowess *

      * claws own eyes out *


  11. Very interesting items! So Dave Arneson's Medieval Braunstein goes back to 1970? That is a pretty good find...

    Loved seeing the map. Would this have been distributed to the C&C Members? I can see the Great Kingdom being divided into numbered regions. Are these the ten provinces of the Great Kingdom that have been mentioned elsewhere?

    1. To be clear, Arneson's medieval Braunstein shown in #3 is not related to Blackmoor, it was just a one-shot game he ran at somebody's house. There are other data points from 1970 that show Arneson experimenting with various pre-Blackmoor (and non-fantastic) medieval scenarios.

      I haven't seen anything to indicate that the #5 map went out in the mail to people, say. The intrepid Mike Mornard rescued this copy from oblivion. I speak to the numbered territories in one of the responses above.

    2. Thanks! I assume that by not related to Blackmoor you mean that it was not set in Blackmoor (since that realm had not been created yet). It is hard to see this as anything but one of Arneson's early steps towads what would one day become Blackmoor (and later D&D). I'd love to hear more about Arneson's other pre-Blackmoor scenarios. :)

  12. One of the interesting things is that by the time I started playing D&D in 1972, the "Great Kingdom" and the "C&CS" were, at least in Rob and Gary's mind, long dead and buried.

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    2. Indeed; thanks, Mike... Well worth pointing that out for those who believe in a linear evolution towards D&D rather than highlighting points of collaboration and mixing of ideas along a timeline.

      When Rob and Gary started trying out Dave's new paradigms and rules within roleplaying, they initially went back to hexcrawl mode before adopting the same convenient "dungeon" framing device to constrain the action.
      As you point out, in the process the worldgaming element /and/ the fictional space was jettisoned: why have a Great Kingdom when all that is required is a town to restock, next to the dungeon?
      For Lake Geneva, if anything it was more Rob who broke boundaries to bring new worlds back in as Gary was probably too busy with business - and sometimes playing, too (which is usually forgotten). Elsewhere, around Blackmoor John Snider had gone far, far beyond...

      Given that D&D as published was, inevitably, more focused on the dungeons, it's no surprise that it took one of the early-adopters and their Middle Earth campaign from 1974, where worldgaming was still to the fore, to see the value in selling supplements with a wider scope (Judges Guild, of course).

      So; put me down for a "disagree" with regards to "The Great Kingdom defined the fictional space where Gary and Dave would play through the fantasy campaign that evolved into Dungeons and Dragons", please.
      The dungeons were self-sustaining in isolation - there was no Great Kingdom "campaign" continuity across the paradigm switch, or perception, or intention of such.
      (Compare also vs. the "disconnect" one gets when attempting to argue that WoM is a RPG above or below ground...).

    3. I'm not so sure. PatW cites a summer 1973 description from the Twin Cities of the "Fantasy (Sword and Sorcery) simulation being run in conjunction with Gary Gygax's group in Lake Geneva." I see plenty of evidence that it was equally a campaign as it was a rules collaboration. And the localities of that campaign, places like Blackmoor and ultimately Greyhawk, were nestled into the original Great Kingdom. So even though I don't disagree that the dungeons might have survived in isolation, the historical reality appears to be they didn't.

      If anything, the transitional map I show (courtesy of Mr. Mornard) illustrates more starkly how the Great Kingdom evolved into the World of Greyhawk, and how its various locales were the setting of early dungeon scenarios (like the original Tomb of Horrors, or Expedition to the Barrier Peaks). Of course Gygax could have set those dungeons elsewhere - but he didn't.

    4. Gary needed a map at a particular moment in time: why start from scratch when he had something convenient to resurrect/rework?

      Play in 1973 did not revolve around "The Great Kingdom as a fictional space" within which players "campaigned" unless you're meaning that in the most generous possible terms (pointcrawling with virtually the whole map inaccessible and most of the locations in actual use not actually shown on the map) and certainly nothing akin to the original worldgaming intention. This was discussed while Gary was still around.
      A Twin Cities player could go down to Lake Geneva and play in their dungeon or vice versa. That has also been attested to often enough. Rules collaboration also, yes, that's another matter.

      If there was an agreed shared fictional space in 1973, why would Rob have created Kalibruhn, sited ERK there, had Gary adventure there with Mordenkainen, far less link into Mythos and other extra-planar locales?
      Likewise, why would Blackmoor have splurged into outer space?

      As Mike implied - and you can check whether Rob concurs - over late 1972 and during 1973 "Greyhawk", "Blackmoor", etc., evolved within their own niches without any further specific referral back to the Great Kingdom map.
      I'm fairly sure China wasn't on that, either. : )


    5. This is a really almost a semantic question. "Defined the fictional space" means, to me, that Greyhawk and Blackmoor were in that space. They were. I wouldn't refute that the rest of the Great Kingdom temporarily receded into the background in 1973 - until it was returned to the fore a year or two later because Gary renamed the Great Kingdom the "World of Greyhawk."

      I did not intend for my words in that video to impart some greater sense to "defining the fictional space" than that the Great Kingdom is where the activities of Blackmoor and Greyhawk were located. I don't think John Snider's (only tenuous connected) space campaign, or Rob's activites, have any bearing on that.

    6. And yes, I know Gary didn't formally christen it the "World of Greyhawk" until a few years later, but he located his early ongoing work in it (like ToH). Don't need to step on another phrasing landmine as I try to defuse the first one...

    7. *g* No problem, Jon.
      Discussion/clarification for the benefit of the lay person looking at their (invented) "World of Greyhawk" set who might not be aware that play in late 1972/1973(/1974) made little or no reference to that map, but considerable reference to other maps.

      The fact that the name "World of Greyhawk" was chosen rather than "World of Blackmoor and Greyhawk" or "Great Kingdoms of...", etc., speaks volumes for the lack of collaboration.
      The fork in the paths was, however, very early indeed and that shouldn't really be any surprise given that the framing device of the dungeon pushed any overarching considerations of surface mapping to one side (no need to "link" Blackmoor and Greyhawk save in an abstract manner vs. the requirements of the proto-JG Middle Earth campaign or a WoM Barsoomian campaign, say) and by the time Gary and co. emerged from the dungeons they were starting afresh.
      The pace of activity was also, of course, dramatically faster than the original worldgaming intentions.

      The activities of Rob, John and others do have bearing, I think, as most of the actual play occurring would either have been "off map" or "under map", if they'd actually been using the map in the first place. ; )

    8. You're kind of losing me here, both in terms of what you're pushing back against and what you're arguing for. The line I say in the video isn't saying anything that the first paragraph of the Foreword to D&D (1974) doesn't say: that the play that led to D&D came out of the fictional space of the Great Kingdom. I would have thought this was a widely-accepted and uncontroversial fact.

      You say that play in late 1972, 1973 and 1974 made "considerable reference to other maps." Sure, John Snider's space campaign (which led to Star Probe) didn't take place in Faraz, because it took place in space. Similarly, if Twin Cities folks played dominoes in 1973, they didn't set it in Yerocundy, because it's an entirely different game. Saying that there were other games that had nothing to do with the Great Kingdom in 1973 does not detract from the point above, not even a little. Rob setting an occasional game in an area not connected to the Great Kingdom does not mean that Blackmoor wasn't in the Great Kingdom, nor that Greyhawk and Blackmoor were not part of a connected campaign, nor does it in any way establish that the map I show in the video contains areas that were not reachable in that campaign.

      So what exactly are you trying to say, here?

    9. The D&D intro context you note is further back in the history. Later on that page is the reference to Greyhawk and Blackmoor as two separate campaigns; never as a single campaign. Hence my "fork in paths" note, above...

      The fictional spaces being created in late 1972/1973 in the lead-up to Dungeons and Dragons were overwhelmingly new; both for the DMs and players.

      However, as Mike states, the Great Kingdom was "long dead and buried" - no surprise given the (apparent) change of requirement from worldgaming to D&D's initial dungeoncrawling while they were playing around with those new paradigms.
      That the map provided a familiar "coathanger" and a source of names and suchlike is almost by-the-by. Additional new worlds below, worlds alongside, were all involved in the play that led to Dungeons and Dragons.

      We'll have to agree to disagree, I guess. I'll go with the replies received to questions asked many years ago, other research and primary source material for the period in question. You, undoubtedly, have yours too. : )

    10. I'm not even sure we are disagreeing. If we are, it's not about the (narrow) statement I made in the video, but some very broad implication you're reading into it. My statement in the video does not make any assertions about when the Great Kingdom served as a fictional space.

      The C&CS surely was dead and buried by the summer of 1972, as Mike says, and the "game" part of the Great Kingdom never fully manifested. The map itself was, as you say, a sort of "coathanger," a thing to draw names from and so on. But what else is a fictional space? That, again, is entirely compatible with what I'm saying and does not detract from it, not even a little bit.

      And yes, I do have primary sources that lead me to believe that the world of the Great Kingdom, as it transmogrified into the world of Greyhawk, was still in that use in the mid 1970s. I do agree that there were two campaigns; I think we're just quibbling here over the minor issue of how separate they were. The 1973 excerpt in my first response above, about the "Fantasy (Sword and Sorcery) simulation being run in conjunction with Gary Gygax's group in Lake Geneva," is evidence of collaboration at the time. To me, that "in conjunction" is an important data point. Or take Gygax's description of the connection between Blackmoor and Greyhawk in Alarums #15. He's pretty specific about how you get from one place to another, say. Does it make more sense to think that practice was newly-invented post-D&D, or that it was a remnant of the original campaign?

      But I'm the only one providing citations and references here, and if you know better, don't just mysteriously hint that you have access to illuminating resources. School me, please. Both of us can do better than agreeing to disagree. If you'd rather take that offline (and this format sucks for debates, btw), you know where to find me.

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  14. Thanks for posting this. Love your book!

  15. Uhhhhh... the "C&CS" and ITS "Great Kingdom" may have been dead and buried...

    But when I moved from Lake Geneva to Minneapolis in 1973, Gronan of Simmerya sailed from Greyhawk to Blackmoor, using the Great Kingdom map.

    So at least as a "folk memory" it survived. If I had wanted I have no doubt I could have gotten "Ram's Horn" placed on the GK map as well. And if D&D had sold like a popular wargame instead of Crom-knows-what, the Great Kingdom probably would have become its default setting.

    And Robilar did indeed settle down and build a castle and moved out of "adventuring"' and being a "Power." I wish that there had been a fourth volume on the Endgame.

    Of course, I suspect that the OD&D rules are the shape they are because Don Kaye ripped them out of Gary's hands so Gary didn't spend the rest of his life fiddling with them. And once 1975 hit, TSR was so busy trying to keep up that the "Endgame" never returned.

  16. And let's not forget that by the time "World of Greyhawk" was published LONG after the lawsuit, which in and of itself meant that TSR was trying to separate what had originally been one thing. Using events of 1978-1980 to try to "back engineer" the attitudes and ideas of players from four or five years earlier is foolish. Especially when many of those players can simply be ASKED.

    Look for actual facts on the Internet instead of just making something up? That's just crazy talk!

  17. Every time I saw your fingers on those paper objects (maps, etc), I felt myself cringe a little. Shouldn't you be wearing gloves?

  18. History treasures: 3d bioprinting = immortality = go to stars