Thursday, December 17, 2020

A Forgotten Variant: Mythrules (1978)

The Elusive Shift talks about around 50 games published before 1980 that we might consider role-playing games -- "we might" because there was so much contention then about precisely what qualified as an RPG. Among the early games that self-identified as RPGs was the obscure Mythrules (1978) by Colin R. Glassey and Aaron Richardson Wilbanks. It escaped the attention of Heroic Worlds, and reportedly had a print run of just 100 copies. It is thus a game that is of interest not for any vast influence it exerted on posterity, but instead, as a manifestation of the creativity unleashed by the publication of Dungeons & Dragons, and the way that early adopters made role playing their own.

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

The Elusive Shift, My New Book

Since Playing at the World came out, I've been asked now and again about extending its historical timeline for just a few more years. After toying with a few potential approaches to that, I ended up writing The Elusive Shift, which focuses on what gamers meant when they called something a "role-playing game" once that term came into fashion. Thus, The Elusive Shift is first and foremost an early history of RPG theory, and an exploration of whether the 1970s community succeeded in delineating a new genre of games from previous practices -- which is the "elusive shift" in the title. The book is also my love letter to the many small press games and fanzines through which gamers explored the possibilities of this new genre in the first five years of its existence.

Friday, November 13, 2020

Fredda Sieve and Her 1963 "Zazz" Dice


Dungeons & Dragons required the use of five polyhedral dice when it first came out, and back then in 1974, the only place TSR could acquire them was from Creative Publications. But theirs were not the first set of plastic Platonic solids marketed in America as dice. A decade before, Advertising Attractions, Inc. of New York sold the Zazz "Polyspheres" game, an invention of Fredda Sydney Sieve, which featured all five polyhedra with numbered faces. Today, we're going to look a bit at Sieve and how she came to make these plastic polyhedra.

Friday, October 9, 2020

d6s to Roll for Wandering Monsters in 1980


It doesn't get more old school than rolling a d6 to check for wandering monsters in a dungeon. In the early 1980s, rolling a "1" meant you were in for a fight. Back then, you could even acquire dice which replaced the "1" with a monstrous face: like the Flying Buffalo "Death Dice" (above left), or Lou Zocchi's Gamescience "Demon/Orc Dice" (right). But the very first dungeon delvers encountered wandering monsters when the die came up "6" -- the rule shifted to encounters resulting from a "1" around the time these two dice appeared. Read on for a bit more about dice in this tradition, and the change in the wandering monster rules that went along with them.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Early Play-by-Post D&D in Britain


Earlier on in our quarantined year, this blog reviewed how some of the earliest adopters played Dungeons & Dragons by mail, as far back as 1975 -- but socially-distanced role playing was not exclusively a North American phenomenon. Today, in solidarity with social distancing on the other side of the Atlantic, let's look at early play-by-post D&D in Britain, including dungeons like the Anubis Labyrinths, which was carried in the zine Leviathan: the cover of issue #3, from September 1976, is shown above.

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.