Sunday, February 16, 2014

A Fantastic Bestiary

When we study the monsters that populated the early setting of Dungeons & Dragons, sometimes we're at a loss to identify any particular source for them. The basilisk, for example, might have come to gaming through any number of fantasy authors or encyclopediae of mythology. But other times it's very clear from whence monsters came. Take the case of four lesser-known creatures from the Monster Manual: the Ki-rin, Shedu, Couatl and Su-monster. All debuted in Eldritch Wizardry (1976), and all have a mythological pedigree, but all certainly owe their appearance in Dungeons & Dragons to a particular work: Ernst and Johanna Lehner's A Fantastic Bestiary (1969). An image of the Japanese mythological creature the Ki-rin, probably the most famous of the four monsters, from that book is shown above. A thorough analysis of the Fantastic Bestiary demonstrates that its influence goes back much farther, to the very dawn of role-playing games.

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.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Gary Gygax's 1973 D&D Working Draft

Just in time for the fortieth anniversary of Dungeons & Dragons, some spectacular new historical evidence has come to light: a partial copy of a pre-publication working draft of Dungeons & Dragons, typed and hand-edited Gary Gygax. Credit for discovering this goes to Michael Mornard, one of the original D&D playtesters, who unearthed this material in an old storage box a few weeks ago. Gygax photocopied these selections from his working draft back in 1973, and gave them to Mornard for his personal use. In these “Mornard Fragments,” we can see examples (like the one shown above) of pre-D&D text like that preserved by the Dalluhn Manuscript – in fact, decisively similar to Dalluhn, and unarguably created by Gygax. These Fragments have a good deal to teach us about the development of D&D, and handily they also establish that Dalluhn was in fact a polished version of such a working draft, incorporating the authors’ edits of the time for wider distribution, probably for playtesting.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

When Dungeons & Dragons Turns 40

Many sources, including Playing at the World, assign to Dungeons & Dragons an initial release in January 1974. Our best evidence comes from contemporary notices like the one above, a letter written by Gary Gygax late in 1973 that foretells the imminent release of the game. Now, with the fortieth anniversary nearly upon us, a burning question arises: when exactly should we celebrate? While there is no shortage of anecdotal accounts describing when, and to whom, the first copy of the game was sold, there is little concrete evidence to indicate any particular birthday. This author, however, will be lifting a die to toast the anniversary on Sunday, January 26th, 2014, on the basis of the following chronology surrounding the release of Dungeons & Dragons.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Earliest Dungeons & Dragons Advertisements

In 1974, Tactical Studies Rules had a very limited advertising budget to promote their new game Dungeons & Dragons. Their first advertisements therefore appeared in fanzines, sometimes places that required no payment for running a promotional notice. That was the case with TSR's first advertisement, which Gary Gygax sent to the Great Plains Gameplayers Newsletter in February 1974, surely only weeks after Dungeons & Dragons was released. In it, we see the prototype for the advertisements that would follow in the first year of the game's life.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

The First Critical Hits

Nothing is more satisfying than rolling the dice and seeing not only that you hit, but that you hit exceptionally well. The adrenaline rush of critical hits proved so compelling that there is scarcely a game today, be it on a tabletop or a computer, where hits can be scored in which they don't have a chance to be critical hits, dealing additional damage. But the time-honored tradition of getting double damage on a natural 20 did not ship with the earliest version of Dungeons & Dragons. In fact, D&D spent decades resisting this idea of critical hits. Even without TSR's endorsement, critical hits still became a part of gaming everywhere, largely due to the impetus of fans like Gary Switzer, who sent the critical hit rules above to APA-L in May 1975.