Friday, February 5, 2016

A Conversation with Len Patt


Following the revelations published two weeks ago here about a set of 1970 fantasy wargame rules that exerted a clear influence on the Chainmail Fantasy Supplement, one burning question was on everyone's mind: who is Leonard Patt? He can be seen in the picture above in an issue of the Courier from 1970, gaming with fellow members of the New England Wargamers Association. Thanks to the almost frighteningly quick work of Internet detectives (especially Casey Harmon and David L. Johnson), the community ascertained that Len Patt is alive today and living in Seattle. I recently had the opportunity to ask him a few questions about his sudden historical prominence.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Video Episode on Original D&D

Back in 2014, I expressed my intention to celebrate the birthday of Dungeons & Dragons on the last Sunday of January: since it happened to be January 26th, that is commonly given as the anniversary. But in 2016, it falls on the final day of the month, and to honor the occasion, today I'm inaugurating a new Playing at the World video series. This first episode is focused on the original Dungeons & Dragons boxed set; I am joined today by my friend and fellow collector Bill Meinhardt, who graciously provides his hospitality, expertise, and amazing collectibles. Even if you're not in the market for the physical boxes, you can still experience the game, as Wizards recently released PDFs of their eighth printing of the original Dungeons & Dragons books - on January 26th, it turns out.

You can see the video on my YouTube channel here: [Playing at the World Episode #1]

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

A Precursor to the Chainmail Fantasy Supplement



Chainmail (1971) is correctly regarded as the first commercially-available fantasy wargame system. The Fantasy Supplement that Gary Gygax and Jeff Perren tacked on to the end of Chainmail inspired Dave Arneson as he created the Blackmoor setting, and formed the basis for the original set of monsters and spells underlying Dungeons & Dragons. Something has been forgotten, however, in the forty-five years since Chainmail was published. Chainmail itself drew on a two-page set of rules developed for a late 1970 game run by the New England Wargamers Association (NEWA), which were designed by one Leonard Patt. Patt’s system shows us the first fantasy game with heroes, dragons, orcs, ents, and wizards who cast fireballs at enemies, though his contribution today goes entirely unacknowledged. The picture above shows this system in play at a Miniature Figure Collectors of America convention in October 1970 representing the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, a demonstration that won a “Best in Show” award.

[Updated: Now read Jon's conversation with Len Patt about these rules!]

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Samurai in D&D, via Bruce Sterling


Oriental adventures become a part of Dungeons & Dragons long before TSR released a book by that name. The creativity of the vibrant fan community expanded the game far faster than its designers could, and sometimes, when you find out who the fans are, their creativity is unsurprising. One early version of the Samurai class is of particular note because of its designer: science-fiction author Bruce Sterling, whose Samurai rules went public shortly after he published his first novel, Involution Ocean.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

To Hit Armor Class Zero


The die roll value required for an attack to hit an armor class of zero, or "THAC0," is the signature combat mechanism of the second edition of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. Revered by some and reviled by others, THAC0 replaced the combat matrices of first edition AD&D with pre-calculated values intended to be faster and more intuitive. Astute observers have long noted foreshadowing of a THAC0 system sprinkled throughout some first edition AD&D texts. It is however less widely known that THAC0 was in use with the original Dungeons & Dragons game, prior to the publication of the Players Handbook or Dungeon Masters Guide. The excerpt above is from Alarums & Excursions #31 (February 1978), and it describes the contemporary use of THAC0, including the acronym itself.

Monday, May 25, 2015

World At War, the TSR of the Twin Cities


In some of the earliest games produced by Tactical Studies Rules, we see a mysterious credit to an entity called "WAW Productions." WAW gets a prominent nod on the cover of the TSR hit location rules Bio One (1976). More striking is the 1975 notice on the title page of Empire of the Petal Throne that it is "Presented in Association with Mr. William J. Hoyt, W.A.W. Productions." That hints at a long forgotten fact: before TSR licensed Petal Throne, WAW had already secured an option to publish it. To learn the origins of some of TSR's seminal titles, we must therefore study the history of the obscure Twin Citites imprint known as World At War.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Fortieth Anniversary of Games Workshop


In February 1975, the circular above went out to a few hundred members of the hobby game community. It announced the formation of a new partnership in the United Kingdom called the Games Workshop, founded by Ian Livingstone, Steve Jackson, and John Peake. Their endeavor marked a crucial turning point in gaming as an international hobby: this British start-up operated by eager young fans would provide a launch pad for many games that might otherwise be overlooked by the European audience. Their discovery of one obscure American game in particular would have huge ramifications.