Thursday, December 11, 2014

A New Dungeons & Dragons Timeline

Following on the official release of the Dungeon Master's Guide, and thus the completion of the core 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons rulebooks, Wizards of the Coast has put up a new timeline of the history of Dungeons & Dragons on their web site. It replaces an older one dating to shortly after the turn of the millennium, which had been cited by numerous Wikipedia articles--but which unfortunately contained a few inaccuracies. I worked with Wizards to clean these up and provide a sturdier historical account of the game for today's readers.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Sheets Before Characters

When Dungeons & Dragons popularized the simulation of characters in games, it entailed that players fill out quite a bit of paperwork. Characters require a record of their names and ability scores as well as their dynamic attributes like equipment lists and hit points. As a way of preserving the state of the game for each player, the character sheet thus became an essential accessory in role-playing games. But before characters, there were similar record sheets used in some types of earlier simulations, and their continuity with the later Dungeons & Dragons accessories is immediately apparent upon inspection. Above is a sheet that shipped with Gygax and Arneson's first collaboration, the naval wargame Don't Give Up the Ship (1972).

Sunday, October 5, 2014

The First Female Gamers

Over on Medium, I posted a new and lengthy piece about the first female gamers, and how Dungeons & Dragons managed to win the interest of women where prior wargames had not. The process of making the hobby more inclusive was not an entirely smooth one, as the illustration above might suggest. You can read the essay here:

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

1974 Dungeon Variant, Now for Download

One of the many pleasures of writing about the history of games is receiving unexpected correspondence from the people whose work I study, sometimes people who are very surprised to learn that a pastime they briefly enjoyed decades ago has brought them to the attention of posterity. Such was the case with Craig VanGrasstek, whose 1974 Rules to the Game of Dungeon I covered on this blog (and in Playing at the World) as the earliest known Dungeons & Dragons variant. Craig wrote to me having long lost any copy of the Rules and understandably curious about my interest. This is easily explained: the Rules provide one of our earliest windows into fantasy role-playing as practiced by some of its first fans, a tradition that has survived as "Minneapolis Dungeon."

In the course of my exchange with Craig, he volunteered to make his work available to the readers of today. We therefore present this week the complete text of the Rules to the Game of Dungeon [download PDF] as Craig VanGrasstek originally wrote it up in the summer of 1974. I provide a bit of commentary and context in an Afterword and in endnotes. After the jump, we review three of Craig's play records from 1974, which give further insight into how this important early community went about dungeoneering. Give it a try the next time you want an "old school" experience, and see how it plays!

Monday, August 11, 2014

Gen Con 1968 and Today

With Gen Con in Indianapolis this week, today we're exploring what is almost certainly the first press coverage of the convention, just following its debut in 1968. This comes from a regional paper, the Beloit Daily News, and it ran two days after the first Lake Geneva Wargames Convention - no one called it Gen Con yet. We can read within that Gary Gygax hosted the convention, and other familiar names from the International Federation of Wargaming feature into the story as well, among the "over 90" gamers who attended.

Expect attendance to run a bit higher than that this weekend, but you still might stumble over me wandering the halls: and on Saturday afternoon at 2:00, I will be appearing on the D&D Documentary panel at the Westin (the room is Capitol I,

Monday, July 28, 2014

How Gary Gygax Lost Control of TSR

Yesterday was Gary Gygax's birthday: an occasion to celebrate his achievements and successes. Today, I'm releasing a long piece about another, less cheerful part of his story: the upheaval of TSR's corporate governance which ultimately led to Gygax's ouster in 1985. I have noticed over the years that there has been some confusion about the details of company ownership, structure, and performance which led to this turn of events. I therefore spent some time building a historical record based on the evidence as I see it today. You can read it here:

The Ambush at Sheridan Springs

I tried to keep the narrative high level and uncluttered with footnotes, so there are a number of details that would benefit from further explication. Below we will consider just one of them: the situation that, in 1981, TSR was named one of Inc. magazine's ten most profitable privately-held companies due to an apparent misrepresentation of their revenue.

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Legacy of Gygax's Armor

Recently, the Basic Rules of the next edition of Dungeons & Dragons became available for download. While for most, this presents an occasion to ponder the future of the game, for this blog, it inevitably turns our gaze back to the past. To magnify one microscopic detail, we find in the new rules a division of armor into familiar categories, with "studded leather" and varieties of mail including ring, scale, splint, chain and finally plate. These types seem to have been with the game since its inception. So where did they come from? We can gain some initial insight from this article by Gary Gygax in Panzerfaust #43, from April 1971: about a month from when the game Chainmail first became available.